From This Moment(17)


by Melanie Harlow

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” I hugged my knees to my chest and wiggled my toes in the sand. “I couldn’t believe how different you two were.”

He smiled slightly.

“You were always such a gentleman, and he was so obnoxious. I couldn’t believe some of the things he said.”

“Yeah. But it worked for him.” Wes looked at me. “He got everything he wanted.”

“You think so?”

“I know it.”

Tears blurred my eyes, and my throat tightened. What the hell? I’d been having such a good day, and suddenly my emotions were all over the place. What came out of my mouth next shocked me. “Drew cheated on me.”

Wes froze. “What?”

“Once. When Abby was a baby and things were tough at home. She wasn’t a good eater or sleeper and things were difficult. I wasn’t paying attention to him.” The words gushed out like blood from a wound.

Wes opened and closed his mouth several times, then focused on Abby again, clearly at a loss for words. His hands had closed into fists.

“You don’t have to say anything.” A tear slipped from one eye, and I wiped it from my cheek. “He told me afterward. He felt so bad about it. He cried. I’d never seen him cry before. But I was so hurt and angry. Because he’d promised me, you know? He’d promised me.” I looked at Wes, watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “I’ve never told this to anyone before. I don’t even know why I’m telling you now.”

Wes’s lips were pressed together in a thin line, but he still didn’t respond.

“I think it’s that…I forgave him, but I’m still angry about it. And there’s nowhere for that anger to go now. How can I be mad that he cheated on me in the face of what happened? What’s one transgression, for which he was truly, deeply sorry, compared to all the wonderful things he was? He didn’t deserve to die.”

“Of course he didn’t.”

I sniffed, wiping another tear from my cheek. “But what kind of person am I to hold on to anger like that? I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my therapist, because it felt so disloyal to speak ill of him.”

“Fuck, Hannah. You’re human. He hurt you.”

“Yes.”

“He shouldn’t have done that.” Wes’s voice was low and hard.

“No, but it was just one mistake. He was so much more than that. You know he was. But no one else does. They might…judge him.”

“Of course I know it. But he wasn’t perfect. And we don’t have to pretend that he was just because we loved him and he’s gone now.”

I took a few deep breaths, letting that sink in. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I guess it’s just one more thing that feels…I don’t know. Unresolved. But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

A few minutes passed before he spoke again. “I’m sorry he did that to you.”

“You don’t need to apologize for him.”

“It’s not for him. It’s for me.”

“Thanks.” I couldn’t resist leaning his way and tipping my head to his shoulder, the way I used to do with Drew. “I’m sorry I just unloaded that on you. It wasn’t fair.”

“It’s okay.” A moment later, he went on. “I’m here for you. I always will be.”

I wished he would put an arm around me, but he didn’t, and I decided I’d imagined his earlier touch. It couldn’t have been Wes. It was something Drew would have done—he was casually affectionate like that—so my mind, knowing how desperately I missed his touch, had played a trick on me.

Just another ghost.

I had trouble sleeping that night, dreading the sunrise that would officially make it the day before Abby started kindergarten. All I could think of was how Drew would miss it. Just like he’d missed her first day of preschool. Just like he’d missed her first wiggly tooth. Just like he’d miss every conference and concert and school play. Her Prom. Her graduation. Her wedding. It would be me alone through it all, watching her grow up until finally she left me, too. What would I do then? Who would I be? How would I survive when she no longer needed me?

I was bleary-eyed and silent the next morning at work. Georgia would have forced me to talk about it, which probably would have resulted in a meltdown right there in the kitchen, but thankfully, it was Pete working the Labor Day breakfast shift. If he noticed something was off with me, he didn’t mention it.

After work, I tried to combat the feeling of impending doom by taking Abby to the park, helping her pack up all her new school supplies in the pink and purple backpack she’d picked out, and letting her help me make Italian meatloaf for dinner. It was my mother’s recipe, and made me a little lonesome for her. I thought of calling her, but she’d ask me how I was doing, and I didn’t feel like I could answer that question without breaking down.

After dinner, Abby asked if we could walk into town for ice cream.

“Sure,” I said, not particularly eager to start the bedtime routine.

“Let’s call Uncle Wes.”

An alarm bell pinged in my head. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing Wes tonight. “Oh, honey, let’s not bother him.”

“But I told him we’d call him next time we got ice cream,” she wailed. “We have to.”

I thought about pretending to call him and saying he didn’t answer, but felt too guilty. This is not just about you.

He picked up quickly. “Hello?”

Maybe there would be a day when the familiar sound of his voice—so like Drew’s—didn’t throw me, but that day wasn’t today. “Hey, Wes. Abby and I are about to walk into town for some ice cream and wondered if you’d like to come along.” Say no. Say no. Say no.

“I’d love to. Give me ten minutes?”

“Of course.”

We hung up, and I told Abby to use the bathroom. While she did, I went upstairs into my bathroom and dug around in my makeup bag. Dabbed some concealer on the circles under my eyes. But it didn’t do enough to erase the anxiety or exhaustion from my face, so I added a little blush and mascara. Ran a brush through my hair. When I was putting my makeup bag back in the drawer, I noticed a bottle of perfume in there. I took it out and sprayed my throat.

But the scent, Drew’s favorite, was both a painful reminder of happier days and an accusation—why are you putting on perfume for another man?—and a few choked sobs wrenched free from my chest.

Stop it. Get yourself together. You have Abby to think about. And Wes is on his way over. Do you want either one of them to see you like this?

A few deep breaths later, I’d wrested control of myself back from my feelings. The damage to my face wasn’t too terrible, and I repaired the eye makeup best I could, figuring a pair of sunglasses would hide the worst of it.

Abby and I waited for Wes outside, and my heart beat erratically when he pulled up and got out of the car. It kept up its uneven rhythm as we walked into town, and I tried to tame it by keeping my eyes on the sidewalk.

“Everything okay, Hannah?” Wes asked when we were halfway there.

I nodded. If I opened my mouth to speak, I knew I’d cry.

It didn’t help that Abby insisted on being carried on his shoulders again, and he was all too happy to do it. I envied both of them their carefree smiles, the brightness of their faces, the excitement in their voices as they talked about what flavors they’d get. I wanted to feel that way, too. As we walked, I spun my ring around my finger.

When we got to the shop, I said I didn’t want anything, but Wes bought me a cup of pistachio anyway. “You need this,” he said as he handed it to me. “Ice cream makes everything better. It’s a medical fact.”

I managed a smile. “Thanks.”

I ate a few bites on the walk home, but couldn’t taste it.

“Mommy, can I play on the swings for a little bit?” Abby asked as we walked up the driveway. “Uncle Wes said he’d give me an underdog.”

“Five minutes, okay? We have to get you in the tub soon.”

“Okay.” She grabbed his hand and led him around the house into the yard.

I went inside, tossed my ice cream in the sink, and threw away the cup. Through the window, I watched as Wes pushed Abby on the swing, ducking beneath it as he ran forward and she squealed with delight.

My legs wobbled. It was all so perfect—the sunset and the ice cream and the swing and the first school night of the year and my daughter and this man, this beautiful, kind, smart, sweet, sexy, adoring man here making her laugh. Why couldn’t I feel it? Why wasn’t I a part of it?

Make me laugh too, I begged silently. Make me smile. Make me feel things again like you did yesterday. Take this pain away. Take this loneliness. Take this suffering. I’m so tired of being alone.

For a moment, I let myself fantasize—not that Wes was Drew, but that Wes was my husband and Abby’s father. That it was Wes who’d asked me out all those years ago. That it was Wes who’d swept me off my feet, married me, shared my bed every single night.