From This Moment(11)


by Melanie Harlow

Remembering what I’d told my mother, I hesitated. But I didn’t want to say no to Hannah. “Sure.”

She’d seen my hesitation. “You don’t like potato salad?”

“No, I do.”

“Do you like curry? Drew hated it, but I have this recipe for curried potato salad that I really like.”

“I love curry.”

She smiled, looking genuinely happy for the first time this morning.

The door to the kitchen swung open and Georgia peeked out. Immediately I retracted my hand. “Hey, Wes. Heard you were here.”

I stood up and we met halfway across the room, exchanging a hug. “Good to see you, Georgia.”

She patted me on the back. “I’m so glad you came in.”

“Me too.” We let go and I glanced at Hannah, who had stood and was refilling my coffee cup. “I heard about the breakfast here and couldn’t resist.”

“Oh, you won’t regret it. She’s making champagne waffles this morning.”

I cocked a brow at Hannah. “Champagne, huh?”

She blushed as she set the pitcher down. “They sound fancier than they are.”

“Ready, Han?” Georgia asked. “Waffle irons getting hot. Want to mix up the batter?”

“Yes.” Hannah gave me a smile before heading for the kitchen. “Hope you enjoy your breakfast.”

“I know I will.”

The table filled quickly—with guests, with locals hoping to get in for breakfast, with regulars who talked nonstop about how much they loved coming here since there was no menu. You got what was fresh and available, and that was that.

Pete hadn’t lied, the waffles were akin to a religious experience. Light and fluffy, a little crunchy, a little soft, topped with real blackberries and cream. Several times I found myself closing my eyes just to savor the bite in my mouth. And it wasn’t just the food—being home again felt good. Reconnecting with my roots felt good. Spending time with people from my past felt good. Until my mother called and asked me to please consider coming home and relieving the professional burden on my father, I hadn’t really planned on coming back. But now I realized how much I’d needed this.

I kept glancing at the door to the kitchen, but Hannah never appeared again. Margot brought out the dining room meals alongside another server who worked the front rooms as well. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wanted today to be perfect, and I was going to do everything I could to make her and Abby feel comfortable, safe, and welcome. I owed it to my brother.

Didn’t I?

Five

HANNAH

“So how did it go last night?” Georgia asked as we worked alongside each other in the inn’s kitchen.

“Good, I guess.” I poured waffle batter into the two irons on the counter and closed the lids. “But it was strange for Abby, I think. She asked me later if I was sure he wasn’t her dad.”

“Awww, that had to be hard.”

“It was,” I admitted. “It felt like telling her Drew was gone all over again.”

“Do you think she understands?” Georgia went to the fridge and took out more eggs.

“Yes.” I sighed. “But I think she also hoped for a different answer.” I lifted the lids to check on the waffles, but they needed about thirty more seconds. “Wes thinks the best way to clear up any confusion is to spend more time with him.”

“He’s probably right.” Georgia dropped a few eggs into the frying pan and stirred her Hollandaise. “Don’t you think?”

“He has me mostly convinced. We’re supposed to go over to his mom’s this afternoon and I tried to get out of it, for Abby’s sake. But he says it would be better to come.”

“I think he’s right,” Georgia said confidently. “You should go. It will be fun for Abby and for you. When’s the last time you spent an afternoon at the beach?”

“I can’t even remember.” Carefully, I took the waffles from the irons, plated them, and added the blackberry compote and crème fraîche. Margot breezed in and scooped up both plates for serving.

“Two minutes on the eggs Benedict,” Georgia told her.

Margot nodded and hustled back out the door.

“So what about you? Georgia asked, pouring sauce on top of the eggs. “Was seeing him as painful as you thought? Did you have a seismic emotional meltdown?”

“No. More like a mini emotional quake. But we handled it. Actually, it sort of helped to talk to him. I felt like he understood.” And then I pretended he was Drew while he rubbed my back.

“See? This could be a healing relationship for both of you.”

“Maybe.”

Margot and the other servers swung into the kitchen again, and we got busy with new orders, which left us less time to talk. But what she’d said made sense—as did what Wes said. Maybe the best way to drive home that Wes was not Drew was to let him in, not shut him out. Maybe keeping him at a distance would only feed Abby’s hopeful confusion. Maybe what we really needed was more time together, not less.

But just to make sure, I called Tess on my way home from work. Of all the women in my widow support group, I felt the closest to her, maybe because our journeys were the most similar. We also shared a therapist, which was how both of us found the group, and we often called each other to agonize or celebrate a particularly difficult session.

Tess listened to my side of the story, murmuring sympathetically and assuring me my reactions were totally understandable.

“Even wanting to pretend he was Drew just to feel his arms around me?” I asked doubtfully.

“Totally. It would be understandable even if you didn’t want to pretend he was Drew, and just wanted to feel a man’s arms around you!” she cried. “My God, look what I did with the tree man. Sometimes you just want that. Not love, not a relationship, not a date, but arms. Chest. Shoulders. Skin. Stubble. Muscle. The smell of a man. The solidity of him. Remember how those things used to make us feel?”

Did I? “Vaguely.”

“Well, it’s okay to want them again. To want to feel that way again—taken care of. That’s all you needed. It had nothing to do with him being Drew’s brother.”

I wasn’t sure about that, but I went with it. “Right.”

“And I think he’s right about letting him into your lives,” she went on. “It’s like Exposure Therapy. Remember that shit?

“Ugh, yes. It was so hard.” Exposure therapy involved us sort of deconstructing the event of our husbands’ deaths, facing all of our fears and anxieties about it. It was excruciatingly painful, and I wasn’t entirely sure it had worked for me, since I still had boatloads of anxiety, but after those sessions, I’d at least been able to get off the pills I’d been taking to cope.

“So I think this could be like that for you and Abby. Stare that fucker down. Look him in the eye and tell yourself, ‘This is not my husband because my husband is gone. This is his brother and he is going to be part of our lives from now on.’”

“Okay. I’ll try. Thanks, Tess.”

“You’re welcome. Of course, fuck if I really have any answers, I’m feeling my way just like you are.”

“I know you are. How’s the weekend going for you?” Weekends were always tough for widowed people. If we got invitations at all, we felt like the fifth wheel, the odd man out, the third person on a bicycle built for two. It’s one of the reasons I liked my job—it kept me busy on weekends.

“It’s okay. Kids will be back tomorrow, so I’m doing all the laundry and cleaning. Boring stuff.”

“Want to come to the beach with us this afternoon? I’m sure it would be okay.”

“No, no. I’m fine, really. I’m getting to the point where I can enjoy a little solitude again.”

“Good. Call if you need anything.”

“Same. Have fun today.”

We hung up, and I took a quick detour to the grocery store to get the ingredients I’d need for the potato salad. I didn’t want to show up empty-handed today, although sometimes with Lenore it was hard to tell if she was more put out when I brought something for the table or when I didn’t. Inside the store, I filled a small hand-held basket with what I needed along with a bottle of wine, and got in one of the long lines to check out. Holiday weekends were always busy.

“Hannah? Is that you, dear?”

I turned and saw my mother-in-law behind me. “Oh hi, Lenore.” Dutifully, I left my place in line and went to kiss her cheek.

“Is Abby with you?” she asked, looking around.

“No, she’s with the sitter. I just got off work, and I wanted to pick up a few things to bring to the house later.”

Lenore clucked her tongue. “You don’t have to bring a thing, dear! We’re just so glad you and Abby are coming over.”

“It’s just a curried potato salad,” I said, shrugging it off.

“My, that sounds exotic. I’ve never cared for curry myself.”