Barnes & Noble
The Official site of Jordan Hall
Journey's End is a family romantic saga, which fuses the lives of a young mother and a rock musician for twenty-five years. Their separate lives are filled with love and hope and dogged by heartache and tragedy until they meet their journey's end.
“SORRY I’M LATE,” Vanessa Markham gasped, out of breath. “The traffic was abominable and I couldn’t find a parking place.” She leaned forward and kissed her friend Marcie’s cheek. “How are you?”
“Fine, looking forward to your anniversary dinner next week. Where’s Cory taking us?”
Vanessa sank into a chair and reached for a sip of iced water. “It’s supposed to be a secret, but I know for a fact he’s made reservations at Emilio’s.”
“Wow, I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard that they serve wonderful food.”
They examined the menu and both decided to have chicken Caesar salad. When the waiter brought their order, Vanessa realized that she had forgotten to eat breakfast and was ravenous.
“That was good.” She pushed her plate away. “I was so busy getting Cory off to his opening event this morning that I forgot to have anything to eat.”
Marcie cast an envious look at Vanessa’s slim figure. “No wonder you never put on an ounce, you hardly eat anything.” She glanced down at her own plump form. “I only have to look at food and it settles on my hips.”
Vanessa laughed and pulled her friend onto her feet. “Come on, an afternoon’s shopping will sweat pounds off you.”
They drove to a quieter part of town and parked outside a small boutique. The window display overflowed with a mixture of day and evening dresses. Vanessa gazed at them while Marcie turned off her car.
A small bell tinkled as the two women entered the store and a tall, slim, exotic-looking woman approached them. Her thick, dark, long hair hung to her waist, as straight as a die and her skin was tanned.
“If you need any help, I’ll be over in the lingerie department,” she said, showing off a mouthful of sparkling, white teeth.
Full-length mirrors on all the walls gave the store the appearance of being twice its size. Racks of dresses had been arranged with the customers in mind, allowing them plenty of room to move around and see their bodies from a variety of angles. A large circular seat, upholstered in red velour, sported a tall vase of fresh tropical flowers on a shelf behind.
The heady scent of hibiscus and frangipani filled Vanessa’s nostrils, bringing back happy memories of her honeymoon in the Caribbean. She closed her eyes for a moment and reminisced. The sand had been soft and hot under her feet when Cory led her down to the water’s edge. The sound of a steel drum band wafted in the distance as Cory pulled her into his arms. Their bodies moved in unison as they danced to the romantic music, the surf rolling and splashing over their ankles.
“What do you think?”
Marcie’s voice jolted Vanessa back to the here and now. “Excuse me?”
“I said what do you think of that black one over there?”
Vanessa’s eyes picked out the large dress. “It’s nice. It would suit you.”
Marcie took the dress from the rail and went in search of the assistant while Vanessa perused another rack. She lifted down a white, grosgrain dress, but when it wasn’t her size, she returned it to its place.
Across the other side of the room a flash of color caught her eye. She stood in front of a rail and reached forward. Hidden between two other dresses she spotted red silk and pulled it forward. She gasped. Soft folds fell from the scooped neckline to the waist, from which flared out a circle skirt. The short, capped sleeves scalloped at the edges, were in a lighter shade. The effect was dramatic and she held her breath as she reached for the tag. Relief flooded over her when she saw it was a four, her size.
She walked toward the ssistant. “Can I try this one, please?”
“Yes, follow me.”
They walked over to a line of cubicles and Vanessa entered the first one. She peeled off her tee shirt and pants and undid the zipper on the red dress. With knees shaking, she turned to look at her reflection. Her hand reached for the band on her hair, letting it fall loose around her shoulders. The dress molded itself to her slim form and the flared skirt accentuated her long legs. She twirled around and felt the soft material caress her thighs.
“Are you in there?” Marcie’s voice came from outside her cubicle.
“Yes.” She slid back the curtain and sashayed out.
Marcie’s jaw dropped in amazement.
“Wow, you look fabulous! Why can’t I look like that in a dress?”
“Madam looks neat and smart in that little black number.” The assistant said from behind.
Marcie grimaced. “Oh, yeah, but I want to look something else instead of smart one day. Buy it—that dress was made for you.”
As Vanessa looked in the mirror, large brown eyes stared back at her. The red silk suited her tanned complexion, so she nodded her assent and returned to the cubicle to change back into her day clothes.
“Well, that didn’t take long.” Marcie said, as they headed for their cars with their dress bags. “Jim will be surprised. He always thinks I take too long to buy clothes. Mind you, he’s happy with slopping around in jeans all day, so I don’t know how I’m going to get him to dress up for your anniversary dinner.”
The now darkening sky caught Vanessa’s eye and she made a mental note to close her sunroof. Ominous, black clouds scudded overhead and litter swirled around, spiraling with the strong wind.
“He can wear jeans if he wants. I don’t think there’s any dress code at Emilio’s.”
“No way! He’s going to have to learn to wear something different. Next year he’ll be forty, but he still thinks he’s a teenager.”
“Don’t we all. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I’ll be twenty-seven soon. Cory wants to have a big party for my birthday, but I think I’ll wait until I turn thirty. Not that I’m looking forward to that—it sounds so old.”
Her friend gave her an exasperated look. “Believe me, it doesn’t hurt, it’s just another day. You’re lucky you’ve all that ahead of you. In a few years I’ll be hitting the big four ‘O’, too.”
Vanessa smiled at her friend. Although Marcie’s weight was on the heavy side, she had a beautiful face with high cheekbones. After having three children in rapid succession, her figure hadn’t had chance to recover between pregnancies and she had never managed to lose the extra pounds.
“Ah, but you have three wonderful children to make up for all that. I can’t seem to get pregnant. We’ve been trying for months now.”
“Maybe you’re trying too hard. I’ve heard of couples getting pregnant when they least expect it.”
They said their goodbyes in the parking lot, arranging to meet the following day to shop for shoes with their other friend, Jenna.
As soon as Vanessa climbed into the car, she reached up and closed the sunroof. By the time she pulled out onto the main road, large spots of rain plopped on the windshield. She switched on her wiper blades. The mid-afternoon traffic was light, so she decided to take a short cut home.
Once she had turned up the ramp to the highway, she found herself in a long line of slow moving vehicles and knew she had made the wrong decision. At the first opportunity she turned off that road and onto the cross-town expressway. The bad weather had brought a multitude of cars from the woodwork and Vanessa drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.
With limited visibility she screwed up her eyes and slowed, peering through the windshield. Rain ran in rivulets from the verges onto the road and the spray from the other cars was blinding. A glance at the clock on the dashboard showed that it had been an hour since she had left the dress store and she muttered under her breath.
The gap widened between her and the cars in front so she depressed the accelerator, increasing her speed. At this rate she would soon be home. From the corner of her eye, Vanessa saw a large tanker trundling up the ramp. It failed to slow and yield to the traffic on the highway. Red brake lights lit up her windshield. The cars in front slowed.
Vanessa swore and stamped on the brake. The vehicle riding alongside blared his horn. She gripped the wheel as her car aquaplaned. This time she pumped the brake. The car in front loomed closer. Her course didn’t change. She yanked the wheel and her car and the world spun. She ploughed into the other vehicle. The impact caused a pain to jar right up her arms to her shoulders and neck. Her chest slammed against the steering wheel. The noise was deafening.
She sat still for a moment trying to analyze where she hurt. Her body ached all over. Her wiper blades sloshed the heavy rain away from her windshield. A sudden movement caught the corner of her eye. Her head whipped round. Flames licked the underside of the tanker, two cars away. A wave of panic rushed over her. She tasted blood from her chewed lower lip and concentrated on trying to open her door. It was jammed hard and wouldn’t budge.
By now other people were getting out of their cars and moving around.
“Help me!” She shouted, pounding on the window with her palm. “The door’s stuck!”
She tried to shake the door, but no one came to help. Panic pumped through her and her eyes darted around the interior of the car. She spotted the catch for the sunroof above her head and tugged it with trembling hands. At first it wouldn’t budge, but then it began to slide back.
She stood on the seat, reached for her dress bag and hauled herself up swinging her legs round until she was sitting on the roof. The rain pelted down and people ran everywhere. Her long hair was in her eyes. She slid down the windshield on her belly and onto the hood. The flames outside the tanker had grown higher. She jumped to the ground swiping her soaking wet hair from her eyes. Another car was jammed into the rear of hers, so she scampered across the carriageway away from the accident site.
Her breath rasped in her throat and her feet pounded the tarmac. Her ankle twisted and she stumbled, leaving behind a sandal. She hurried on, limping as fast as she could. Crowds of people were bunched together talking, some on the road and others still sitting inside their cars. She waved her hands, trying to scream and warn them of the imminent danger, but her voice was barely audible. Just as she reached a grass verge, an enormous roar sounded from behind accompanied by searing heat. Voices screamed and then nothing.