From This Moment(12)


by Melanie Harlow

I forced a smile. “No?”

“No, my family always preferred good old-fashioned American potato salad.”

My fingers tightened around the handle of my basket. “I mentioned it to Wes this morning, and he said he liked curry.”

“Yes, he told me about breakfast.” She sighed dramatically. “Guess his mother’s waffles aren’t good enough for him anymore.”

“I’m sure it’s not that,” I said. “Oh, I just remembered one more thing I need. I’ll see you in a little while. About four?”

“Perfect, dear. See you then.”

I made a beeline for the wine aisle and added another bottle to my basket. I had a feeling I might need it.

At a few minutes to four, Abby and I knocked on the screen door of my in-laws’ house. I’d never forget the first time Drew had brought me here—I’d been bug-eyed at how big and beautiful their place was. Expansive green lawn, gorgeous flower gardens, golden sandy beach, the view of the lake from almost every room in the house. The place had six bedrooms!

I’d grown up in a tiny, two-bedroom bungalow with a view of a Rite Aid parking lot, daughter of a single mother who worked her fingers to the bone at her family’s tailoring business but still found time to put a home-cooked meal on the table every night. We hadn’t had a lot, but it was a happy enough childhood. Although I’d never known my father (my mother said I was better off), she was part of a big Italian family and I had lots of cousins to play with at big, noisy, extended-family Sunday dinners. I wished Abby could experience something like that, but the Parks family was very different from what I was used to. We’d probably have linen napkins and crystal glassware on the beach for this cookout. Back when Drew was alive, we used to laugh about his mother’s insistence on formality and her not-always-subtle digs at my humble upbringing. Dealing with her had been so much easier when he was there.

Wes came to the door and opened it with a warm smile on his face. His smile was slightly different than Drew’s, I was beginning to notice. A little less crooked and rakish, a little more straightforward. “Hey, guys. So glad you’re here.” He held the door as we passed through, then reached for the bowl of potato salad I’d brought and the bag containing the bottles of wine. “Let me take those.”

“Thanks.” As soon as my hands were empty, I began twisting my ring around my finger.

“There she is!” Lenore came barreling around the corner and scooped Abby up, setting her on her hip, even though she was really too big for that. “I’m so happy to see you. And do you know what? I heard you wanted to see some pictures of your daddy when he was a boy and I’ve got just hundreds of them! Would you like to see them?”

“Yes,” said Abby happily, her feet swinging. She also clutched the little stuffed elephant Wes had given her yesterday.

Lenore glanced at me. “Hello, dear.”

“Hi, Lenore.”

“Make yourself at home. There’s lemonade and sweet tea if you’d like it, and I’ve set out some snacks on the island.”

“Thank you.”

She carried Abby off into the great room, sat on the couch with her, and opened a photo album on her lap, one of a stack of albums on the coffee table.

Wes appeared with both bottles of wine I’d brought in his hands. “Which one would you like?”

“The sauvignon blanc would be great.” Thank God for Wes. I did not want sweet tea right now.

“You can look at the pictures with them if you want. I’ll bring it out to you.”

I glanced at Lenore and Abby, who seemed thoroughly engrossed in the album, and decided it was a moment best left to grandmother and granddaughter. If I went over there, Abby would likely have climbed onto my lap, and as satisfying as that might have been, I decided against it. “You know what? I think I’ll let your mom spend a little time alone with Abby talking about Drew. I think it would be good for both of them.”

Wes nodded. “I think you’re right. How about the deck? Or we could head down to the beach?”

“Beach sounds wonderful.” I followed him into the kitchen.

While Wes opened the wine, I perched on a bar stool at the marble-topped island. “Where’s your dad?” I asked. Dr. Parks was wonderful, and I had a soft spot for him. I liked to think he had one for me, too.

“He got a call from his answering service and made a house call.”

“I love that he still does that. It’s so old-fashioned.”

Wes poured two glasses of pale amber wine. “It is. Although I’m kind of used to the idea that a physician should go where he’s needed.”

“So will you do that too?” I asked. “Make house calls?”

“Sure,” he said, sliding a glass toward me. “That’s one of the best parts about being a doctor in a semi-rural area. More flexibility to go where people need you.”

“Drew didn’t make house calls very often.” I shrugged. “But I don’t know if that’s because he didn’t want to or because your dad really liked doing it.”

“I don’t know either,” he admitted.

We were silent, both of us taking a sip of wine.

“Do you ever feel guilty about those things?” Wes asked. “Like the things you didn’t ask him that aren’t really that important big picture, but things you wonder about?”

“All the time,” I said. “For example, I’m not even sure what his favorite color was. Is that horrible?”

Wes cocked his head. “Was it blue?”

I threw my hands up. “I don’t know. I don’t think I ever asked. He had a lot of blue shirts, so maybe?”

“Maybe.”

“What’s yours?” I asked.

“I like blue. It reminds me of the lake.”

Both of us glanced out the windows toward the water. “Did you miss it?”

“I did. Africa is beautiful, though.”

I sighed and took another sip of wine. “I’d like to go there someday. I’ve never been anywhere.”

Wes took another drink too, his brow furrowing. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve never been anywhere far.” I lifted my shoulders. “Drew and I never quite made it to Europe like we planned, and I didn’t have the money growing up. The farthest I’ve been is probably Florida.”

“Where would you go? If you could go anywhere.”

“Hmmm. Maybe Italy? My mother is Italian and I really do love Italian food and culture. I think it would be cool to explore my roots. Or something.” I laughed, a little embarrassed. “That sounds silly.”

“No, it doesn’t. Not at all. I’ve been having those same kinds of feelings lately. Maybe because I’ve been away from home for so long. And even though it was by choice, there’s still something to be said for that feeling you get when you come back.”

“Yeah. I get that.”

A whoop of laughter made us both look toward the great room. Wes spoke softly. “This is so great for my mom. She loves Abby so much.”

“I know.” I stared into my wine. “I haven’t been that good about making Abby…available to her. I don’t know why.”

Wes didn’t reply, but his silence didn’t feel at all judgmental. I remembered that about him. His silences, and the way they invited confidence.

“My therapist said I might be punishing her.”

He tilted his head. “What do you mean? Punishing who?”

I took a deep breath and another gulp of wine. I’d never talked about this with anyone outside therapy, not even Tess. “My therapist thinks that I might be unconsciously trying to punish Lenore by keeping Abby from her, because I never felt fully accepted by her when Drew was alive. It always seemed like we were in this, I don’t know, competition for his affection. It sounds stupid and he always said I was crazy, but it was how I felt.” I met his eyes. “Do you think I could be doing that?”

He didn’t answer right away. He held my gaze, then dropped his to his wine, which he swirled in his glass. “I think,” he said, “that you’ve suffered a lot. And that it’s only natural to want to keep your daughter close to you.”

I took another drink and let that sink in.

“We’re not perfect, Hannah. And grief is overwhelming. It makes you feel helpless, like everything is out of control. Since time with Abby is something you can control, maybe you sort of cling to that as protection.” He paused before going on. “I think it’s why I threw myself into my work—along with being a distraction from grief, helping people made me feel more in control. Like I wasn’t powerless against death.”

“I hate that feeling,” I said, shivering. “The fear that no matter what we do, death is just coming for us when it wants to and there’s nothing we can do about it. Do you know I still hate the sound of my doorbell, because every time it rings I think it’s the police coming to tell me someone else is dead?”