Home > From This Moment(9)

From This Moment(9)
Author: Melanie Harlow

“I have to work,” I said, glad for the excuse.

“All day?”

I hesitated. “Until two. She’ll be here with her sitter.”

“Bring her after that. We’ll swim and have a cookout or something. I can show Abby how her dad and I grilled hot dogs over a bonfire at the beach. And made s’mores.”

“She does like hot dogs and s’mores,” I admitted.

“Good. Then it’s settled.” He finished eating and carried his dishes to the sink, and I followed with two empty wine glasses. For a moment, we stood shoulder to shoulder looking out the window into the yard, where Abby was sitting on a swing Drew had hung from a tree for her. We could hear her singing “Lullaby of Birdland” softly through the screen.

“She sings Sarah Vaughn,” he said. “Just like you used to.”

I looked up at him in surprise. “How do you know that?”

He shrugged. “My mom loves those old standards. I grew up hearing them.”

“No, I meant how do you know that about me?”

He met my eyes. “You used to sing along to the music at the diner while you worked.”

“Did I?” I laughed, a little self-conscious. “Sorry. You were probably trying to study.”

He looked out the window again. “Don’t be. I liked it. You had such a pretty voice. I never forgot it.”

Something warm hummed beneath my skin at the compliment. Something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Something just for me.

It was a nice feeling, and I held onto it, worried that any minute, Grief and Guilt would rear up and snatch it from me. But it lingered as we wandered into the yard to collect Abby. The sun was setting behind the trees, throwing dappled light onto the lawn and giving the air a golden quality so pretty I wondered if I was imagining it.

Abby jumped off the swing when she saw us. “Uncle Wes, will you carry me on your shoulders?”

Oh, God. The contentment I’d felt a moment ago vanished in an instant. My world was full of shadows again. “Abby, no.”

“It’s fine. I’d like to, actually.” Wes picked her up and swung her onto his shoulders, and she laughed gleefully. “Point me in the right direction, okay?”

“Like I’m the princess and you’re my ship!” she squealed. “Go that way!”

Abby pointed toward the street, and I followed them silently around the house to the sidewalk. Abby chattered the entire way into town, playing the princess game, and Wes played along, doing her bidding. I stayed quiet, arms crossed over my chest, worried about what was coming. I knew it. I knew this would be confusing for her.

At the ice cream place, it went exactly as I’d feared. When Wes ordered mint chocolate chip, Abby balked and tugged on his arm. “No, you have to have Moose Tracks in a waffle cone. And Mommy will have pistachio in a cup, and I will have Birthday Cake in a sugar cone.”

“Abby,” I scolded. “Let Uncle Wes order what he likes.”

“No, it’s okay.” He patted her head. “I love Moose Tracks. I was having trouble deciding. Thanks, princess.”

She grinned, satisfied.

My stomach was upset, but I ordered the pistachio ice cream anyway and protested when Wes insisted on paying. “You don’t have to,” I told him, pulling a twenty from my pocket. “You already brought gifts for her.”

“I want to.” He gently gripped my forearm, and we locked eyes. “Let me.”

He’s too close. He’s touching me. “Okay,” I said, mostly so he’d let go of my arm. “Thank you.”

We walked back slowly, and I ate a few spoonfuls of ice cream without tasting it. Had this been a mistake? Was Abby going to confuse Wes with Drew from now on? Would they somehow merge in her mind? Did she plan on acting out every memory she had of Drew with his brother in order to feel like she had her daddy back again? I watched her slurp happily on her oversized scoop of Birthday Cake, skipping along between Wes and me. She certainly didn’t look traumatized. Maybe I was overthinking things.

Although she ate it too quickly for it to drip down the front of her dress, ice cream was all over Abby’s mouth and in her hair by the time we got home.

“You’re a mess,” I told her. “I should turn the hose on you.”

“Yes!” She clapped her hands.

“How about a bath instead?” I asked, glancing up at the house. “And then we can—oh, our porch light is out.”

“Do you have a bulb?” Wes asked. “I’ll change it for you.”

“You don’t have to. I can reach it with the stepladder.”

“It’s no big deal, really. It will take me two minutes.”

I hesitated. On one hand, I didn’t want Wes to feel he had to step into the role of handyman around here. I was perfectly capable of changing the porch lightbulb. On the other, I’d likely put it on my endless list of things that needed to get done around the house and check it off sometime next year.

“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom.” Abby hopped from one foot to the other.

“Go on,” said Wes, nodding toward the house. “I can wait.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Inside the house Abby scurried up the stairs and Wes stood in the front hall, hands in his pockets. I tossed my half-eaten ice cream in the kitchen trash, slipped my sandals off and climbed onto the counter to reach the high cupboard where Drew had always stashed the light bulbs.

“Can I help you?” Wes called from the doorway.

“I can reach it, I think.” Kneeling on the counter, I opened the cupboard door and peered in.

Wes came up behind me. “Let me help you.”

“I guess I should move things to where I can reach them, but this is where he always kept light bulbs, so…” My voice trailed off. “That sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Wes said. “It doesn’t at all.” With his left hand, he pulled down a box with two big bulbs in it. “These?”

I nodded, sitting back on my bare heels. Then I embarrassed myself completely by bursting into tears. “Oh God, I’m sorry. It’s just one of those things, you know? That he always did.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.” He looked around, grabbed a tissue from the box nearby, and handed it to me.

“Thanks.” I blew my nose and kept talking. I have no idea why. “Sometimes it’s those small things that make me miss him more than the big things. I just picture him. Changing the porch light. Mowing the lawn. Moving a heavy piece of furniture. Stupid, mundane, everyday things that he should be here to do. But he isn’t.”

“I know.”

I felt a hand on my back. A couple awkward pats. I frowned. Drew would have wrapped his right arm around my waist, buried his face in my neck, and swung me down before teasing me about being too short to reach the high cupboards. Fuck, I missed that kind of touch. Playful and tender and loving. I missed it so much that some secret place in me wanted Wes to do it—grab me and touch me that way. I wanted to do what Abby had done, bring a memory to life, pretend he was Drew, act like nothing had changed. Let me feel his touch and his kiss and his body against mine just one more time. Let me feel like everything is okay. Let me forget I’m alone.

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