From This Moment(16)


by Melanie Harlow

Normally I wouldn’t have, but I’d skipped lunch, and I was feeling unusually hungry. “Thanks.”

We ate standing next to each other at the island, and he told me about how much fun he had reading Abby a story, eating the breakfast she helped make this morning (chocolate chip pancakes with bananas), and looking through the old photo albums with her. “She loved the ones of Drew and me from kindergarten. She’s so excited to go.”

I nodded, then shoved the thought aside as I rinsed my fork and put it in the dishwasher. I’d deal with the kindergarten thing eventually, but not today. “I’m just going to throw my suit on,” I said, grabbing my bag and heading for the first floor bathroom, which Lenore called the “powder room.”

“Okay. Want me to wait for you?”

“No, that’s okay. You can go down.”

Since the suit I’d worn yesterday was dirty, I’d brought a different one today. A two-piece. It was still modest by any standards, sort of a retro style with a high-waist bottom and a halter-style top that covered my chest completely. I did a quick assessment in the mirror, turning side to side. I wished I filled out my suit a little better, but I agreed with Georgia that a little sun on my face did wonders. I smoothed my ponytail, noticing the ends were pretty scraggly. I couldn’t even remember my last trip to the salon. Definitely time for a trim. Leaning closer to my reflection, I inspected a couple lines around my eyes I hadn’t noticed before and rubbed my lips together, wishing I’d brought along a lipstick.

What the hell are you doing? Why would you need lipstick at the beach?

As if I’d been caught misbehaving, I straightened up, snapped off the light, and hurried down to the beach. Why did I suddenly care about my appearance? And why did I feel guilty about it? Wouldn’t it be a positive sign if I put a little more effort into looking nice?

Not if it’s because of Wes.

Fuck. Was it? I stopped halfway down the steps. My eyes went first to Abby, who was standing ankle-deep in the water next to Dr. Parks, and then to Wes, who was dragging the canoe toward the lake’s edge. He’d taken his shirt off. My insides tightened, and I touched my stomach.

Just keep looking at him, I reminded myself. The more you do it, the less effect his appearance will have on you.

Except…I kind of liked the effect. How long had it been since I’d felt the long, slow pull of desire? Since I’d considered my body something other than a vessel for my emotions? Since I’d felt like a woman and not simply a widow?

A long fucking time.

And even though it was wrong of me to want to hold on to it for a little longer, given who was inspiring the feeling, I did. God help me, I did.

He looked up and saw me. “Hey, Abby and I were just going to go for a ride. Want to join us?” he called.

“Definitely!” I jogged the rest of the way down the steps. “Let me just get some sunscreen on.”

Dr. Parks greeted me with a wave. “Hi, honey.”

“Hi, Doc.”

“Mommy!” Abby came running over and threw her arms around my legs.

“Hi, baby! I missed you! Did you have a good time?” I ruffled her damp hair.

“Yes! Nana and I made pancakes, and Papa is teaching me to fish.”

“Fun!” She went back into the water, and I walked over to where Lenore was sitting under a big red umbrella. “Hi, Lenore.”

“Hello, dear.” Lenore looked at my swimsuit a little too long. “Make sure you put some sunscreen on that tummy. Are you sure you shouldn’t wear a shirt over that suit? I don’t want you to get burned.”

“I’ll be fine.” Pulling a tube of lotion from my bag, I rubbed some SPF 30 all over my face and chest.

“Only 30? Are you going to wear a hat, too? Oh, but then I guess you’ve got that olive complexion.” She clucked her tongue. “I always had to be so careful because I was so fair. Had that peaches n’ cream skin, just like Abby does. Abby,” she called out. “Come over here and let Nana put a little more sunscreen on you! I tried to get her to wear a hat today since she had so much sun yesterday, but she’s got quite a little stubborn streak, doesn’t she? Just like her daddy.”

Abby did have a stubborn streak, but I didn’t particularly feel like agreeing with Lenore on anything at the moment, so I stayed silent. Part of me wanted to put more sunscreen on Abby myself, but I let that go too, focusing instead on spraying my own arms and legs and stomach.

“Here, let me get your back.”

I turned around, and Wes was standing there. “Um. Okay.” Handing him the can, I presented my back to him, hoping my face wasn’t flushed bright red. What the hell? It’s not like he’s going to give you a massage. It’s fucking sunscreen.

Still.

Wes sprayed my upper and lower back, and I’d have sworn you could hear my skin sizzle. “Want to lift up your hair and I’ll get your neck?”

I held my ponytail on top of my head while he sprayed my neck and shoulders.

“I smell cake. Is that your hair or the sunscreen?” He laughed. “Or do I just want dessert?”

My heart was pounding. “My shampoo, maybe?”

He came closer and sniffed my head. “Yeah, that’s it. Smells good.”

Next thing I knew, I felt his fingertips brushing down one shoulder blade. Too quickly to be called a caress, but too slowly to be ruled an accident.

I dropped my arms and turned around, but his expression gave nothing away. He smiled as he handed me back the can of sunscreen. I bent down and stuck it back in my bag, taking an extra moment to process what had just happened.

He touched me. And I liked it.

It made me feel pretty. And admired. And flattered. Things I hadn’t felt in forever. Things I’d never thought I’d feel again.

“If you’re hungry, I’d be happy to make you a plate, Wes.” Lenore finished rubbing lotion onto Abby’s scrunched-up face and recapped the tube. “It will just take a minute.”

“No thanks, Mom.”

“But you didn’t eat lunch yet, did you?”

“Actually, I did. Hannah brought something from the inn. It was delicious.”

“You didn’t tell me that.” Lenore sounded injured.

“Sorry, Mom. I’m a guy. We tend to eat and move on to the next thing. Ready to go, Abby?” he asked.

“Yes! Mommy, will you come too?” Abby’s voice yanked me out of my daze.

“Sure I will.” I stood up. My skin was still tingling from his touch.

“What was it?” Lenore asked.

Wes looked at me. “Uh…”

I smiled at his guilty expression. “Bacon, ricotta, and spinach crepes.”

He snapped his fingers. “That’s it. Sorry, couldn’t think. But they were amazing. Thanks for bringing them.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked them.” I began walking toward the canoe before Lenore could say anything else that would dull the pleasant hum beneath my skin.

Two hours went by, and I didn’t want to leave. Then three. Four.

Lenore and Doc had gone up to the house to get ready for a cocktail party friends of theirs were throwing, so Wes and Abby and I had the beach to ourselves most of the afternoon. We did all the things we’d done yesterday, but it felt more intimate today with only the three of us. We swam and played in the sand and walked along the shore, swinging Abby between us by the arms. This is what it would be like if Drew were here, some part of my brain kept reminding me. This is what we’d have.

It was hard to keep myself from running away with the fantasy, especially with the memory of his fingers on my skin. But other than that one incident, he never touched me again. He talked and laughed and teased me sometimes, but it was nothing that could be construed as flirting. It almost reminded me of when I’d first met him—I’d thought he was so cute and smart and sweet, and I’d hoped he’d ask me out, but when weeks went by and he didn’t so much as ask for my last name, let alone my number, I’d given up. And then Drew came on like a hurricane—just as good-looking, just as smart, but with all the confidence and swagger his brother lacked. Swept me right off my feet.

“Do you remember the day Drew and I met?” I asked. We were sitting next to each other on towels in the sand watching Abby play with her toy fishing rod in shallow water.

Wes laughed a little and glanced at me. “Yeah. I do.”

“What’s funny?”

“Nothing. I just…” He draped his arms over his knees. Stared straight ahead. “I think about that day a lot, actually.”

“You do?” That surprised me. “Why?”

He was quiet a minute. “It was an important day, wasn’t it? Lives were changed forever.”

“But we didn’t know that then.”

Another pause. “I think I knew.”

I looked at him, but he kept his eyes on Abby. When he didn’t offer anything further—not that I knew what I wanted him to say, just something—I went on. “I was thinking about that day just now.”