From This Moment(6)


by Melanie Harlow

“Thanks.” I set down my fork. “I’ll text him back.”

Hi Wes. Yes, tonight is fine. Six o’clock will give me time to feed Abby dinner first.

Georgia patted my shoulder and started prepping for dinner, and I picked up the fork again and ate a few bites, tears dripping into my chicken salad.

When I got home, I made spaghetti for dinner and sat at the table with Abby while she ate. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat anything, despite what felt like an ever-widening pit in my stomach. Instead, I poured a glass of wine, hoping it would take the edge off my frazzled nerves.

“So you remember I told you about Daddy’s twin brother, Uncle Wes?”

“The one that looks like him?” she asked as a blob of meat sauce fell off her fork and into her lap.

I got up to get a paper towel. “Yes. He’s been in Africa for a while, so we haven’t seen him much, but he’s home now.”

“Does he live at Nana’s?” She shoveled in a forkful of pasta.

“Yes,” I said, wiping up what had spilled. “But he wants to come over here for a visit. Would that be okay?”

“Sure.”

“It might be a little strange because he looks just like Daddy, but it’s not him.”

“Okay.” She reached for her milk.

“And it’s okay to feel sad about it.”

After a few swallows, she set down the cup. “Okay. But does he have any kids he could bring?” Abby had recently learned what cousins were and was desperate to have some of her own.

“No, he doesn’t have kids. Maybe he will someday, if he gets married.”

“Oh.” She dug into her spaghetti again, and I lifted my wine glass to my lips. I was tempted to keep talking about Drew and Wes, press further, tease out any ambivalence she might be trying to hide from me, but it appeared the only mixed feelings about Wes around here belonged to me.

She’s five, reasoned a voice in my head. She doesn’t realize how difficult it might be.

I’d keep a close eye on her while he was here. If the visit seemed too traumatic for her, I’d cut it short. “Do you have any other questions about him?”

She thought for a moment. “What time is he coming?”

“Six.” I glanced at the clock on the wall. “In about half an hour.”

“Maybe he’ll want to get ice cream. Daddy liked to get ice cream after dinner.”

I wasn’t sure if she actually remembered that or if it was a memory manufactured after the fact based on stories I’d told her. It was one of my favorite memories, going to get ice cream after dinner on summer nights, and Abby asked me about it often. We’d walk into town, and he’d carry Abby on his shoulders. We always ordered the same thing—Moose Tracks in a waffle cone for Drew, pistachio in a cup for me, Birthday Cake in a sugar cone for Abby, which would drip from the bottom of the cone all down her shirt. God, we’d had everything in those days. And I thought we’d have it forever.

“Mommy?” Abby was looking at me. “Do you think he likes ice cream?”

My throat had gotten tight, and I swallowed hard. “Um, yes. At least, he used to. You can ask him.”

She looked happy about that, and I peeked at the clock again before taking another sip of wine.

He was a few minutes early.

Abby had insisted on waiting for him outside, so I was sitting on the porch when he drove up, my stomach in knots. He parked a black Cadillac I recognized as his dad’s in the street in front of the house, and waved at us through the passenger window. Abby, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, waved back before scrambling up the walk to stand next to me. I rose to my feet, feeling a little dizzy and short of breath.

Wes got out of the car, and Abby took my hand. Together we watched him walk toward us, carrying a brown paper bag in one hand. He smiled at both of us, and it was so familiar I wanted to cry. To throw myself at him. To beg him to be someone else and give me my life back.

My knees felt weak.

“Hey,” he called as he came up the walk. “How’s it going?”

Abby looked up at me, and I knew I had to keep it together for her sake. “Good,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Abby, do you remember Uncle Wes?”

She looked at him and shyly shook her head. But then, to my amazement, she let go of my hand and went right to him with open arms. He crouched down and hugged her, balanced on the balls of his feet. Over her shoulder, he looked at me and smiled in surprise. Then he closed his eyes a moment, and I knew he had to be thinking of Drew. A huge lump formed in my throat.

Abby was an affectionate, loving child, but I’d never seen her cling like that to someone she didn’t know very well, especially a man. I miss him too, baby. I twisted my wedding band around on my finger.

Eventually she let go and he straightened up. “She’s beautiful,” he said to me.

“Thanks. She looks like her daddy.” Abby came and stood next to me, and I tousled her hair.

“I see a lot of you in her too,” he said, his eyes on her face, then mine. I’d forgotten how much more quietly he spoke than Drew.

I took a deep breath. “Would you like to come in?”

“Sure. Thank you.”

I opened the screen door and let Abby go in first, then Wes held it open for me. Automatically, I went into the kitchen. When I’m nervous, I tend to fall back on what I know how to do—feed someone. Pour them some coffee. Offer a drink.

“Smells amazing in here,” he commented, looking around. “And it looks great, too. But were the walls a different color before?”

“Yes.” I poured some more wine for myself. “Can I get you anything? A glass of wine? Some pasta? Are you hungry? Have you eaten?” Whoa, Hannah. Whoa.

“I’d love some pasta. It smells delicious.”

“Nothing fancy, just some tomato basil sauce.” I pulled the leftovers from the fridge, glad to have something to do.

“We growed the basil!” Abby climbed into her chair at the table. “And Mommy let me pick it.”

“She did? I bet you’re a great helper in the garden.” He set his bag on the table and sat down next to Abby.

He chose Drew’s chair. That’s Drew’s chair.

Squelching the urge to ask him to sit somewhere else, I stuck a bowl of pasta in the microwave. Don’t be ridiculous. Many people have sat in that chair since Drew died. And it’s not his chair anymore, because he’s gone.

“We don’t really have a garden,” I said, trying to keep my tone natural. “Just some pots in the yard. But I’d like to plant one.” It’s on my list of Things Drew And I Wanted To Do Together But Now I’ll Have To Do Alone. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

He glanced at the wineglass in my hand. “Sure, thanks.”

I poured him a glass of pinot noir and prepared a salad for him while he shared the gifts he’d brought for Abby from Africa—a hand-made musical instrument, a stuffed elephant, a bright yellow dress, and a children’s book about African animals. Abby loved it all and wanted to put the dress on right away.

“I hope it’s the right size.” He watched her run out of the kitchen with it, and a moment later I heard her feet on the stairs.

“I’m sure it’s fine.” I set the pasta and salad in front of him, placed a napkin and fork on the table, and took the chair across from his.

“Wow. This looks great. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He dug in, and I sipped my wine. For the first time since he’d arrived, I allowed myself to really look at him. He wore jeans and a white collared shirt that set off his golden skin, and his hair was closely cropped on the sides and back, just like Drew’s had been, and a little longer on the top where brown curls traitorously beckoned my fingers. I wanted to touch it.

Would it feel like Drew’s? Were his curls the same soft texture? Would they cling to my fingers as I ran a hand through them?

Jesus. Stop it. You can’t touch his hair.

I looked out the window, lifted my glass to my lips.

“This is delicious, Hannah.” He wound a huge mound of pasta around his fork. His wrists and forearms were nice and thick—a little thicker than Drew’s, and the slight difference pleased me. If I could focus on the differences, I’d cope better.

“Thanks. I got the tomatoes from work. Everything we serve there is grown on their farm.”

“That’s right. My mom mentioned you’ve been working at Valentini Farms.”

“At the new bed and breakfast, yes. Although we serve dinner now, too. But sometimes I work over at the farm if they need extra help with something.”

“I’ll have to check it out. I’d like to catch up with Pete. It’s been a while. Sounds like they’re doing really well with the new business.”

I nodded. “They are. Summer has been really busy there. And it’s completely booked this weekend.”

“High season up here. Things will seem quiet next week.” He set down his fork and picked up his wine. “So you’re enjoying the job? I remember how good your baking was.”