Excerpt from Keep My Secret

Chapter I

“There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple. If the ill spirit have so fair a house, good things will strive to dwell with’t.”

“That sounds familiar, but I can’t say I know exactly where it comes from. Is it Shakespeare?”

“Yes. It’s not one of the important speeches, and the temple really refers to a man, but it so suits this place, that it came back to me. I played the woman’s part, you know.”

Caroline Kent studied the profile of her companion. Meredith Hackett was looking through the window of the gazebo and gazing contentedly at the ocean below. The water was calm in the late afternoon, the tide gone quietly out. The face of the woman opposite Caroline was fair. And handsome despite a sharp nose and a long neck. The auburn hair was pulled off the actress’s forehead to show a distinctive hairline and a face which while no longer in its first youth, retained the vigor of youthfulness. Theater audiences could always be counted on to respond to Meredith Hackett’s strong looks and her rich, textured voice. Not yet forty, she had an uncommon power beyond her years to take on heavy, dramatic roles.

“Let me guess,” Caroline said. Although she and Meredith had acted together on several occasions, they had never played Shakespeare together. Caroline tried to remember her classical training. “I suppose it couldn’t be Juliet talking about Romeo.” Meredith shook her head. She seemed to be enjoying the game. Caroline hadn’t seen her this relaxed since she had arrived at  Kenwood Court three days ago. “But, it is a woman.” The affirmative nod. “A woman in love?”

“You could say that.”

“Where did you play it?”

“In a Godawful theater in the center of New Jersey. Before anyone had ever heard of me.”  Meredith was smiling as she turned to look straight at Caroline. “It’s from The Tempest. Now do you know?”

“Of course.  Miranda. You would play Miranda.”

“As you could, Caroline. You’re just as talented as I.”

Caroline found herself blushing. Unlike Meredith, her career on the stage had not led to the leading roles and critical acclaim which had come so easily to Meredith Hackett.

“But, you think the house,” Caroline answered, looking up at the broad white shape of Kenwood Court, sitting majestically on the hill above the gazebo, is a temple. What was it?  So fair a house…‟

“Nothing ill can dwell… with’t.”

“Nothing ill,” Caroline repeated. “It would be nice to think so.”

“Newport is so lovely, a fantasy of place.” Meredith was being dramatic now, turning away from the house to allow her arms to take in the Atlantic Ocean, the green lawns, the grand old beechwood trees, and even the sky over Rhode Island. “You’re so lucky to be able to live here, Caroline.”

“Lucky,” Caroline murmured. The events which had brought her to this place were in fact not charmed at all.

“Oh, no.” Meredith’s hand flew to her face. It was as exaggerated as a stage gesture on the platform in that long ago New Jersey playhouse. “I didn’t mean that.  Honestly, Caroline. I don’t know what’s come over me. It’s the air. It’s intoxicating.”

She was out of the wicker chair and at Caroline’s feet. Again, the stage gesture. Caroline allowed her hands to be enfolded in the long, tapering fingers of the other woman. Up close, in the harsh daylight, Meredith’s hazel eyes looked tired and the lines around them unexpectedly deep. “Can you ever forgive me, Caroline? I didn’t meant to be so damned asinine.”

“I understand.”

Meredith let out a sigh, continuing to hold her friend’s hands tightly. For an instant, Caroline wondered who was comforting whom. It had been an interesting several days. First the phone call on Monday night. Meredith’s voice intimate and lilting, as if it hadn’t been over two years since they had last spoken. Now this rush at closeness and understanding.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come to Reed’s funeral,” Meredith said, breaking into Caroline’s thoughts. “I was in Chicago, performing. I always thought the show must go on and all that, and I would go on despite my grief.” She paused, looking straight into Caroline’s own eyes and added, “I was doing Strindberg, you know.”

“How did you learn about his death?” Caroline thought she saw a flicker of disappointment when she didn’t ask which Strindberg play.

“Tom called.” Tom Benton was a fellow actor during the years Meredith and Caroline had known each other in New York City, three of many aspiring actors looking for work on Broadway and other stages where real drama was still put on. “A car crash. It was awful to hear about.”

Caroline flinched. Her husband Reed had been killed instantly in a late night car accident, the blue black rainy November night providing the scene which at that moment was as fresh in her mind’s eye as if it had happened yesterday. Caroline had also gotten a telephone call. Unlike Meredith, she had once imagined she couldn’t go on.

“But you’ve done things so well, Caroline,” Meredith said, loosening her grip and rising to her feet. She looked tall and fit. “I’ve watched the way you work so hard around here. Coming back to Reed’s old home to re-build your life. And bringing his mother with you. I don’t know if I could have done it.”

“I had no choice,” Caroline said. “Looking back, I see that after Reed died I had to will myself to go on living in whatever way I could manage it. Once I didn’t think I could, but, time… well it will soon be two years.”

“Time,” Meredith said. She repeated the word in a whisper.

“Time heals,” Caroline said. She had learned to believe it was so. She had learned to live without Reed.

“Does it?” Meredith asked. “I never thought so.”