From This Moment(8)


by Melanie Harlow

“Can I help you?” Wes called from the doorway.

“I can reach it, I think.” Kneeling on the counter, I opened the cupboard door and peered in.

Wes came up behind me. “Let me help you.”

“I guess I should move things to where I can reach them, but this is where he always kept light bulbs, so…” My voice trailed off. “That sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Wes said. “It doesn’t at all.” With his left hand, he pulled down a box with two big bulbs in it. “These?”

I nodded, sitting back on my bare heels. Then I embarrassed myself completely by bursting into tears. “Oh God, I’m sorry. It’s just one of those things, you know? That he always did.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.” He looked around, grabbed a tissue from the box nearby, and handed it to me.

“Thanks.” I blew my nose and kept talking. I have no idea why. “Sometimes it’s those small things that make me miss him more than the big things. I just picture him. Changing the porch light. Mowing the lawn. Moving a heavy piece of furniture. Stupid, mundane, everyday things that he should be here to do. But he isn’t.”

“I know.”

I felt a hand on my back. A couple awkward pats. I frowned. Drew would have wrapped his right arm around my waist, buried his face in my neck, and swung me down before teasing me about being too short to reach the high cupboards. Fuck, I missed that kind of touch. Playful and tender and loving. I missed it so much that some secret place in me wanted Wes to do it—grab me and touch me that way. I wanted to do what Abby had done, bring a memory to life, pretend he was Drew, act like nothing had changed. Let me feel his touch and his kiss and his body against mine just one more time. Let me feel like everything is okay. Let me forget I’m alone.

“Sometimes I get mad at him for it,” I whispered, clutching the tissue. “For leaving me alone to do everything—the trivial shit like this, and the huge stuff like parenting our daughter. I didn’t want this. He left me. He left us.”

“Hannah.” His palm stilled on my back, warm and reassuring. I didn’t deserve it. What kind of person gets mad at her dead husband?

“Isn’t that horrible?” Another sob worked its way free from my chest. “That I feel anger at him for something he didn’t choose? Go ahead, you can say it.”

“It’s not horrible. It’s grief. Earlier today, Mom was digging at me about something and I thought, Damn you, Drew, for leaving me alone to deal with Mom for the rest of my life. And then I felt like shit.”

“Exactly. It makes no sense.” I wiped my runny nose with the back of my wrist.

He handed me another tissue. “It never will.”

Nodding, I closed my eyes against the tears. He rubbed my back again, and for a moment, just for a moment, I let myself pretend.

He’s not gone. Everything is gonna be okay.

But then Wes took his hand off me, and I was alone again. Alone and snot-nosed and embarrassed. I got down from the counter, keeping my face to the floor. “Screwdriver is in here,” I said, pulling open the junk drawer. My fingers were shaking. “I need to get Abby in the tub.”

“No problem. I’ll get this changed and head home.”

“Thanks.” I didn’t even look at him as I left the room. I couldn’t.

I bathed Abby, read her a story, sang her a song, and tucked her in.

“Everything okay?” I brushed her hair from her face. She’d been uncharacteristically quiet since we’d gotten home, and I was still worried about her.

“Yes.” But she didn’t sound sure.

“Want to ask me a question?”

“Yes.” She looked up at me. “Are you sure he’s not Daddy?”

The desperate hope in her eyes crushed my broken heart. “Yes, honey. I’m sure.”

“He looks just like him.” She glanced at the photo on her nightstand.

“I know. That’s because they’re identical twins. Remember, I told you it might be strange to see him.”

“And he likes Moose Tracks, too. Just like Daddy. And he’s a doctor just like Daddy.”

“Lots of people like Moose Tracks. And lots of people are doctors. Uncle Wes is not your daddy. He’s a different person.”

She turned onto her side and hugged her new stuffed elephant close.

“Want me to sing another song?”

“No. I’m tired.”

“Okay. Night, baby.”

“Night.”

I kissed her forehead and left the room, leaving the door open.

Downstairs, I noticed the porch light was on, the front door was closed, and Wes’s car was gone.

Thank God. I’d had enough for one night. And I’d have to think up an excuse for tomorrow. Clearly, Abby needed some time to process the fact that Wes was not Drew and couldn’t fill that role.

To be honest, so did I.

Four

WES

I rolled down the windows and took the long way home, needing some time and space to think before facing what would surely be an inquisition by my mother the moment I walked in the door.

She’d annoyed me earlier when she said she didn’t want to go see Abby with me because she never felt comfortable in Hannah’s house. She’d wanted them to come to her house. “Well, that’s not what I suggested, Mom. I want to make this as comfortable as possible for them, and she accepted my offer to drop by. I don’t want to switch things up on her.”

“But six is dinnertime, and I’m making my gourmet mac and cheese for dinner. You love my mac and cheese.”

“Save me some.”

Except I’d eaten dinner at Hannah’s house. I could just imagine how that was going to go over.

Propping my left elbow on the window, I rubbed my index finger beneath my lower lip. She still has the prettiest smile.

But there was so much sadness in her eyes. She only really smiled when she looked at her daughter. Was she happy?

I frowned. No, asshole. Of course she’s not happy. She lost her husband, the person with whom she had a child and an entire life planned. You saw her nearly fall apart tonight just because she can’t bring herself to put the lightbulbs on a shelf where she can reach them. There must be a hundred moments like that in a day.

My heart ached for both of us. I couldn’t get the memories of Drew out of my head, and she couldn’t stop thinking about what should have been. I wanted to help her, but how? Did she even want me around? Tonight had seemed comfortable enough—maybe a little tense at the start, but I felt like she was able to smile and relax a bit. And I loved that she felt close enough to me to break down a little. To tell me what she was feeling. It felt like trust, and it had made me want to wrap my arms around her and hold her tight, tell her I missed him too, but everything would be okay.

But I hadn’t. I couldn’t. She wasn’t mine to touch that way—she never had been.

And then right after that, something changed. She hadn’t even looked at me when she said goodbye. Come to think of it, she hadn’t even said goodbye. It was like she couldn’t get away from me fast enough.

You shouldn’t have touched her at all.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Was that it? Had she been upset that I’d rubbed her back? I’d only done it to soothe her, to let her know she wasn’t alone, to be there for her. And if I left it there a little too long, it was only because I knew the power of human touch. Not only as a physician, but as a person who often felt that words failed him. Or maybe it was me who failed words. Either way, I’d only wanted to comfort her.

Are you sure? asked a voice in my head.

Frowning, I pulled into my parents’ driveway and tried to convince myself that there was nothing untoward about my concern for Hannah. That was ridiculous, wasn’t it? So many years had gone by since I’d harbored that stupid, one-sided crush. For God’s sake, I’d been the best man at their wedding, and I’d been genuinely happy for Drew even as I continued to silently envy him and admire her. And maybe I still found her pretty, but I wasn’t drawn to her any longer because of my feelings. We had a connection—we had both loved Drew more than anyone else in the entire world, and we felt his absence most deeply.

The front door to my parents’ house had barely clicked shut behind me when I heard my mother’s voice.

“Wes? Is that you? Come on in here,” she called from the great room.

I slipped out of my shoes in the foyer—house rule as long as I could remember—and headed into the great room, where she was curled up on one end of the couch reading a magazine and my dad was on his recliner doing a crossword puzzle. The TV was on, tuned to the baseball game, but the sound was off. I leaned on the far arm of the couch and eyed the screen, looking for a score.

“Well? How’d it go?” My mother’s tone was a little impatient.

“Great. Abby is adorable.”

“Isn’t she? Don’t you think she looks just like Drew?”

“I think she got the best of both parents.”