From This Moment(7)


by Melanie Harlow

“Thanks.”

“And everything is good with the house?”

“Yes. I’ve had a crash course in things like mortgages and taxes and insurance in the last year and a half. Your dad has helped me a lot.”

“Good. I’m always happy to help you out, too. Don’t ever hesitate to ask.” He paused with his glass halfway to his mouth. Was his top lip a little fuller than Drew’s? Maybe it was that he wore his scruff a little shorter than Drew had. “I feel bad that I haven’t been here for you, Hannah.”

“Don’t. Really, don’t.” I met his eyes, and we exchanged a look that felt like a conversation. I couldn’t have handled your being here anyway. I can barely handle it now.

But I feel guilty.

There’s nothing you can do.

There must be. Tell me what it is. I’ll do it.

“It fits!” Abby came bounding down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Glad for the intrusion, I focused on my daughter, who twirled happily in her new dress, which was ruched with elastic across the bodice and halter style, but the straps were hanging down. “Come here, let me tie it.”

“I want Uncle Wes to do it.” She stood next to his chair, presented her back and lifted her hair off her neck.

He looked at me, eyebrows raised, as if to ask permission.

I shrugged. “She’s all yours, Uncle Wes.”

He smiled back and set his glass down before reaching for the straps. His fingers looked big and masculine as they gently worked the straps into a bow. I almost laughed at how hard he appeared to be concentrating on the task.

“There,” he said. “How did I do?”

“Good.” She twirled around again.

“What do you say, Abby?” I prompted.

“Thank you.” She beamed at him. “I love it.”

“You’re welcome.” He picked up his fork again. “I’m so glad it fits.”

“Can we go for ice cream now, Mommy?”

I looked at Wes. “She wants to walk into town for ice cream. It’s no problem if you don’t have time.”

“Of course I have time.”

“Abby, let Uncle Wes finish his dinner, and then we’ll go, okay?”

“Okay. Can I go back outside?”

“You can go in the backyard. Not the front.”

“Kay.” She went out the back door, leaving us alone again.

“She’s so cute, Hannah.”

“Thanks.”

“How is she doing with…everything?”

“Pretty well, I guess.” I sighed, lifting my shoulders. “She was so young, you know? And sometimes I’m torn between hoping she remembers everything about him and how much he loved her, and other times I’m glad she probably doesn’t. I don’t want her to have the pain of missing him the way I do.”

He nodded. “I get that.”

“She doesn’t talk about him a lot,” I confessed. “At least not with me. Her therapist thinks it’s probably because she thinks it will make me sad, not because she doesn’t want to remember him.”

“Makes sense.”

“So each night at bedtime, she’ll ask me something about him, or I’ll tell her a story.”

“That’s a good idea.” He picked up his wine. “I could tell her some, too, if you’d like.”

“She’d love that. In fact, she just asked me last night what Drew looked like at her age. I told her maybe Nana had a picture at her house.”

“Definitely. Albums full of them. And she loves looking through them. Why don’t you bring Abby over tomorrow? Mom would love to see you both.”

“I have to work,” I said, glad for the excuse.

“All day?”

I hesitated. “Until two. She’ll be here with her sitter.”

“Bring her after that. We’ll swim and have a cookout or something. I can show Abby how her dad and I grilled hot dogs over a bonfire at the beach. And made s’mores.”

“She does like hot dogs and s’mores,” I admitted.

“Good. Then it’s settled.” He finished eating and carried his dishes to the sink, and I followed with two empty wine glasses. For a moment, we stood shoulder to shoulder looking out the window into the yard, where Abby was sitting on a swing Drew had hung from a tree for her. We could hear her singing “Lullaby of Birdland” softly through the screen.

“She sings Sarah Vaughn,” he said. “Just like you used to.”

I looked up at him in surprise. “How do you know that?”

He shrugged. “My mom loves those old standards. I grew up hearing them.”

“No, I meant how do you know that about me?”

He met my eyes. “You used to sing along to the music at the diner while you worked.”

“Did I?” I laughed, a little self-conscious. “Sorry. You were probably trying to study.”

He looked out the window again. “Don’t be. I liked it. You had such a pretty voice. I never forgot it.”

Something warm hummed beneath my skin at the compliment. Something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Something just for me.

It was a nice feeling, and I held onto it, worried that any minute, Grief and Guilt would rear up and snatch it from me. But it lingered as we wandered into the yard to collect Abby. The sun was setting behind the trees, throwing dappled light onto the lawn and giving the air a golden quality so pretty I wondered if I was imagining it.

Abby jumped off the swing when she saw us. “Uncle Wes, will you carry me on your shoulders?”

Oh, God. The contentment I’d felt a moment ago vanished in an instant. My world was full of shadows again. “Abby, no.”

“It’s fine. I’d like to, actually.” Wes picked her up and swung her onto his shoulders, and she laughed gleefully. “Point me in the right direction, okay?”

“Like I’m the princess and you’re my ship!” she squealed. “Go that way!”

Abby pointed toward the street, and I followed them silently around the house to the sidewalk. Abby chattered the entire way into town, playing the princess game, and Wes played along, doing her bidding. I stayed quiet, arms crossed over my chest, worried about what was coming. I knew it. I knew this would be confusing for her.

At the ice cream place, it went exactly as I’d feared. When Wes ordered mint chocolate chip, Abby balked and tugged on his arm. “No, you have to have Moose Tracks in a waffle cone. And Mommy will have pistachio in a cup, and I will have Birthday Cake in a sugar cone.”

“Abby,” I scolded. “Let Uncle Wes order what he likes.”

“No, it’s okay.” He patted her head. “I love Moose Tracks. I was having trouble deciding. Thanks, princess.”

She grinned, satisfied.

My stomach was upset, but I ordered the pistachio ice cream anyway and protested when Wes insisted on paying. “You don’t have to,” I told him, pulling a twenty from my pocket. “You already brought gifts for her.”

“I want to.” He gently gripped my forearm, and we locked eyes. “Let me.”

He’s too close. He’s touching me. “Okay,” I said, mostly so he’d let go of my arm. “Thank you.”

We walked back slowly, and I ate a few spoonfuls of ice cream without tasting it. Had this been a mistake? Was Abby going to confuse Wes with Drew from now on? Would they somehow merge in her mind? Did she plan on acting out every memory she had of Drew with his brother in order to feel like she had her daddy back again? I watched her slurp happily on her oversized scoop of Birthday Cake, skipping along between Wes and me. She certainly didn’t look traumatized. Maybe I was overthinking things.

Although she ate it too quickly for it to drip down the front of her dress, ice cream was all over Abby’s mouth and in her hair by the time we got home.

“You’re a mess,” I told her. “I should turn the hose on you.”

“Yes!” She clapped her hands.

“How about a bath instead?” I asked, glancing up at the house. “And then we can—oh, our porch light is out.”

“Do you have a bulb?” Wes asked. “I’ll change it for you.”

“You don’t have to. I can reach it with the stepladder.”

“It’s no big deal, really. It will take me two minutes.”

I hesitated. On one hand, I didn’t want Wes to feel he had to step into the role of handyman around here. I was perfectly capable of changing the porch lightbulb. On the other, I’d likely put it on my endless list of things that needed to get done around the house and check it off sometime next year.

“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom.” Abby hopped from one foot to the other.

“Go on,” said Wes, nodding toward the house. “I can wait.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Inside the house Abby scurried up the stairs and Wes stood in the front hall, hands in his pockets. I tossed my half-eaten ice cream in the kitchen trash, slipped my sandals off and climbed onto the counter to reach the high cupboard where Drew had always stashed the light bulbs.