A Time to Forgive and Promise Forever (22 page)

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Miranda slipped into a pew, putting her hands on the wooden seat back in front of her and leaning her face against her hands.

Father, I don't know what to think. Is Gran right? Have I been hiding?

She longed to reject the thought, but Gran knew her as well as anyone.

I want to be the person You expect me to be. If I have been hiding, please help me see what to do about it.

No immediate answer leaped into her mind, but that didn't matter. The answer would come. She had confidence in that.

She stood, feeling better than she had since the moment she'd seen Tyler standing in the hallway, and returned to the flowers.

Half an hour later, she'd finished the two vases that stood on either side of the communion table and begun work on the arrangement for the bracket behind the pulpit. One of the double doors at the rear of the sanctuary swung open, letting in a shaft of sunlight. Tyler walked toward her.

Please, Lord,
she murmured silently.

“Your mother told me you'd be here.” He came to a stop a few feet from her. “She said you were arranging the flowers for tomorrow's service.”

Miranda gestured with the narcissus in her hand. “As you can see.” She hesitated, not sure she wanted to ask him what he was doing here.

“Very nice.” He touched the delicate blossoms of the white lilac. “Where will this one go?”

“There.” She nodded. “On the dolphin shelf.”

Anyone would think Tyler was here for no other reason than a casual conversation with her. Anyone would be wrong. Tyler never did anything casually.

He moved toward the shelf, his long stride bringing him within inches of her. “Wasn't there some old family legend about that?”

“Yes.”

He stopped, looking at her with a raised eyebrow. “Just yes? You could tell me about it, you know.”

He almost seemed to be teasing her, and she didn't know how to react. It didn't help that her heart was thumping at his nearness.

“A wooden statue of a dolphin once stood there, carved by the first Caldwell on the island.” She mentally deleted all the references to the special blessings that were supposed to come to those wed under the dolphin's gaze. Tyler didn't need any reminder of weddings. “It disappeared a long time ago, when my father was a teenager.” Tyler also didn't need to know how her father and uncle had been entangled with that disappearance.

“But you still put flowers on the shelf.”

Unnerved by his closeness, she jammed a tulip into the arrangement too hard and broke the stem. “Yes, we do. And I need to get on with it.”

Tyler shrugged. “Don't let me stop you.”

She could hardly say the truth—that his very presence was enough to disrupt just about anything she might be doing. He moved away, and she could breathe again.

“I'd forgotten how peaceful this place is.” He walked toward the side of the sanctuary.

She ought to be able to concentrate on the flowers now that he was at a safe distance. Instead her senses followed him, informing her when he stopped and what caught his attention.

With jerky movements she tucked the rest of the paperwhites into the vase and lifted it to the shelf. There, it would have to do. She could come in early in the morning and adjust it if she had to. At least then Tyler wouldn't be around to distract her.

“This is new, isn't it?” Tyler had stopped in front of the stained-glass window depicting a dolphin surging from the water.

“Yes.”

Again he lifted his eyebrows, and again she knew she was being ungracious. It was a bad sign that Tyler brought out the worst in her. Unwillingly she crossed the sanctuary to stand on the opposite side of the window from him.

“It's the Caldwell dolphin. My cousin Adam's fiancée designed and made it.”

Tyler touched the crest of a glass wave. “It's beautiful. She's a skilled artist.”

“Tory brought back our dolphin, in a way.” Things had come full circle. Tory's mother had caused the
loss of the dolphin, but Tory had created this beautiful tribute in its place.

Miranda felt Tyler's gaze on her face as she stared at the dolphin. Why had he followed her to the church? She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

“Your family must be very pleased with this.”

It was certainly easier to talk about the window than about the situation between them. “We are. Although I think Gran still believes the original dolphin will come back someday.”

“Hardly likely after all this time, is it?”

“No, I guess not.” You came back, Tyler. What am I going to do about it?

She took a breath, summoning her courage. Tyler had something on his mind besides the Caldwell dolphin. She'd better try to find out what.

“Why did you come here looking for me?” It sounded blunt, but it was the best she could do. “Did you want something?”

Tyler's chiseled features seemed to tighten. “I want to talk with you about Sammy.”

She saw again his expression when Sammy had gone off with David that morning. Tyler probably didn't experience rejection very often. She suspected he didn't know how to cope with it.

“What about Sammy?”

He moved restlessly, the colored light from the window touching his cheek, then his shoulder. “The point of my staying here is for us to get acquainted. That's a little tough to do when he doesn't want to spend any time with me.”

There were a lot of answers to that—that Sammy didn't want to, that she wasn't going to force him, that there wasn't anything she could do.

Gran's words echoed in her mind. If what Gran said was true, it was time she did something about it. No more hiding. She couldn't run from the pain of what she and Tyler had once had. She could only try to repair the damage she'd done when she'd kept Sammy from him.

“It's hard,” she said, not sure whether she was talking about Sammy or herself.

“Most things that are worthwhile are hard.” His face was uncompromising. “I don't plan to give up on this, Miranda.”

Where was the courage Gran insisted all Caldwell women had? Maybe it had skipped her.

“I think it might be best if we planned to do some things with Sammy together.” She didn't know she was going to say it until she heard the words come out of her mouth. She'd asked God to show her what to do, and He had immediately given her an opportunity to find out. She couldn't back out now.

Tyler's gaze seemed to probe for the truth beneath her skin. “The three of us together.”

She forced herself to meet his eyes. “That will be easier for Sammy.”

“It won't be easier for you, will it?”

For an instant she thought she saw sympathy in his face. She must be mistaken. Tyler could hardly feel sympathy for the woman who'd wronged him in such a fundamental way.

“Maybe not. But it's the right thing to do.”

He gave a curt nod. “Very well, then.” He seemed to slip into his businessman persona. The brief flicker of feeling vanished.

That was for the best. She was only going to get through this if she didn't have too many more disturbing glimpses of the man she'd once loved.

Chapter Six

T
his wasn't exactly what he'd thought Miranda meant about spending time together with their son. Tyler sat at the round oak table in the parlor on Sunday night with Sammy opposite him, homework spread out between them. Sammy looked as doubtful as Tyler felt about his ability to help with homework.

“How about a snack to help the studying along?” Miranda put a tray down between them. “Do you have a lot for tomorrow?”

Sammy brightened a bit at the sight of oatmeal cookies and milk. “Just my report.”

Wonderful. What did Tyler know about the kind of report a second grader would write? He didn't even remember second grade. This evening was as out of tune with his normal life as the rest of the day had been, including sitting in church with the Caldwell clan and enduring a huge family dinner.

Sammy bit into an oatmeal cookie and smiled at
his mother. His son, it seemed, smiled at everyone but him. For Tyler he always had a wary look.

Well, maybe homework help was the route to a smile. “What's your report about?”

Sammy flattened a lined yellow sheet on the table. “I'm s'posed to write a whole page about the dolphin from the church. And draw a picture, too.”

“That doesn't sound too hard. Your mother told me a little bit about the dolphin yesterday.”

Sammy picked up his pencil, then put it down again. “I don't know what to put in and what to leave out.”

“Why don't you just talk about it first,” Miranda suggested. “Tell your father the story.”

Sammy heaved a sigh, prompting an involuntary smile to Tyler's lips. Homework reluctance didn't seem so far away, after all.

“Gran says the first Caldwell on the island made the dolphin,” Sammy began. He slanted a look at Tyler's face. “Did you know he was in a shipwreck?”

“I don't think I heard that part.”

Sammy nodded. “Maybe it was even a pirate ship.”

Miranda's eyebrows lifted. “Now, you know that's not true.”

“It'd be a better story if it was a pirate ship.”

“Maybe we ought to stick to the facts,” Tyler said. “What did your great-grandmother tell you about it?”

“He was almost ready to drown when he was saved by Chloe and her dolphins.” Sammy clearly thought a pirate ship would be more exciting. “Gran
always says he took one look at her and loved her.” He wrinkled his nose. “Mush.”

“He took one look and knew he'd love her forever,” Miranda said, her mouth curving softly.

Tyler felt an unexpected, unwelcome tenderness at the sight and had to beat it down. “I don't think Sammy wants to include the mushy part.”

“True love isn't mushy.” Miranda looked ready for a fight.

“It is when you're seven,” he said.

They looked at each other over their son's head, Miranda's eyes very bright. Then she shrugged, long lashes sweeping down to hide the green. “I guess you can just say he carved the dolphin for the church as a way of thanking Chloe and the dolphins for saving him.”

Miranda obviously preferred the more romantic version. Had she ever told him that story when they were dating? Somehow he thought he'd have remembered if she had. He took one look and knew he'd love her forever.

“Okay.” Sammy picked up his pencil. “I can do that.”

Miranda crossed to the shelves that covered one wall. “I'll find you a picture of the dolphin.” She knelt, sliding a fat leather album from a whole row of similar albums. “It should be in here.”

She brought the book to the table and began looking through it. For a few minutes there was no sound but the scratching of Sammy's pencil and the ruffle of pages as Miranda leafed through the album.

It should have been boring, but instead Tyler felt oddly relaxed. Maybe this was the way he'd envisioned his life for those few summer weeks when he thought he'd found the love of a lifetime—the shabby, comfortable room, the boy's intent face, the gentle curve of Miranda's cheek.

“Here it is.” Miranda shoved the album across the table to Tyler, and he and Sammy leaned close together to look at it.

The dolphin was pictured on the shelf he'd seen in the church, against a white wall. Probably an expert would say the carving was crude, but emotion radiated from the form as the dolphin arced upward.

“I can draw that.” Sammy pulled a sheet of plain paper toward him. “I've seen lots of dolphins.”

Tyler propped the album page in front of him, then slid a book behind it to give Sammy a better angle. His son glanced up with a tentative smile.

“Thanks.”

The smile, slight though it was, reached straight for his heart. He glanced at Miranda to find her watching them. She looked down quickly but not before he caught a glimpse of tears in her eyes.

The image was oddly disturbing. Was Miranda that moved to see his son warming to him? Or was she upset at the thought that he and Sammy might find some common bond?

“You know what I think?” Sammy's crayon paused on the dolphin's back.

“What?”

“I think the dolphin's hidden someplace.”

Tyler glanced uncertainly at Miranda. She'd said the dolphin disappeared. Tyler had the impression she didn't believe it would ever turn up again.

“Sammy, I don't think—” Miranda began.

“I do.” Sammy touched the faded photograph. “Somebody hid it, and Gran would be really happy if we found it for her.” He gave Tyler a questioning look. “I want to look for it. You wanna help me?”

He could practically hear Miranda's thoughts. She didn't want him to encourage Sammy's search. She thought it futile, and she was probably right. But the first time his son asked something of him, he wouldn't say no.

“I'd like that, Sammy. It sounds like fun. Almost like a treasure hunt.”

Sammy's blazing smile grabbed his heart and squeezed it. “Okay. We'll find it. You'll see.”

Miranda was undoubtedly going to tell him how wrong he was to encourage Sammy in this. He didn't care. Any amount of censure was worth it for that small step into his son's life.

 

“That's enough chapters for tonight.” Miranda put the book on Sammy's bedside table. She knew stalling when she saw it. Even Tyler, standing behind her, probably recognized that. “Prayers now, and then into bed.”

Sammy seemed to calculate whether he ought to push for more, then slid to his knees on the rag rug next to the brass single bed that had been his since he'd outgrown his crib. He folded his hands to recite
the Lord's Prayer, proud that he'd outgrown the simpler prayers she'd taught him when he learned to talk.

“And please God, bless Momma, and Grandpa and Grandma and Gran, and my aunts and uncles and cousins.” There was a hesitation, so slight she wondered if Tyler, lingering in the doorway, noticed it. “And my father. Amen.”

Sammy hopped into bed, pulling up the patchwork quilt Gran had made for him. “'Night, Momma.” He paused again, his gaze not quite meeting Tyler's. “'Night.”

“Good night, sugar.” She tucked the quilt over him and bent to kiss his forehead, glad he hadn't outgrown good-night stories and kisses yet. “Sweet dreams.”

“Good night, Sammy.” The low rumble of Tyler's voice set something vibrating inside her.

This was like those dreams she'd never shared with anyone—herself and Tyler looking at their son, telling him good-night. In that dream she could feel his solid presence near her, sense his support in all the troubling questions about how to raise a boy to be a good man.

A dream, just a dream. It was as unreal as all those other dreams she'd had over the years of Tyler holding her hand when Sammy was born, standing proudly beside her at the baptismal font, clapping when Sammy recited his verse at the Christmas pageant. None of them were real.

A spurt of panic touched her. Tyler must never
know she'd spent the past eight years dreaming he was here with her.

She walked from the room, hearing Tyler's footsteps behind her. Just dreams, except that now they were coming true in a skewed, hurtful way.

Tyler followed her into the parlor. It was still empty. The rest of the family had apparently decided she and Tyler needed time alone to settle things. They were right.

“About looking for the dolphin,” she began, turning to face him.

His eyebrows lifted. “You don't like the idea. Why?”

There were too many answers to that. Maybe she'd best stick with the easiest one. “Because it's hopeless.”

“Most treasure hunts are. That doesn't mean they're not fun.”

“If Sammy sets his heart on finding the dolphin for Gran, he'll be disappointed.”

Tyler frowned. “Being disappointed is part of life, Miranda. Sammy can learn to cope with that.”

“Are you telling me how to be a mother?” Better to be angry with Tyler than think about foolish dreams that would never come true.

“I'm stating the obvious. No reward comes without risk.”

Like the risk she'd taken when she fell in love with Tyler? She pushed the thought away. “That may be true, but there are things about the dolphin's disappearance you don't know.”

Tyler propped his hip against the round table, folding his arms across his chest. “If it's something
Sammy knows, maybe you'd better tell me, unless it's a family secret.”

You were my husband, Tyler. You had a right to know any of my family secrets.

She'd better tell him before he said something he shouldn't out of not knowing. “The dolphin disappeared when my daddy and his brother were teenagers. Turns out Uncle Jefferson took it from the church out to Angel Isle to impress a girl—a rich summer visitor. They were all at a party there. The girl's father and his friends raided it. I guess he didn't like his daughter associating with people like us.”

That hit too close to home, and for a moment she couldn't go on. Did Tyler see the parallels between that old story and the way his family had reacted to their runaway wedding?

“What happened to the dolphin?” Tyler, frowning, seemed to be focused on the disappearance. Apparently she was the only one who related it to their personal story.

“There was a lot of confusion, and my daddy was hurt in an accident. By the time anyone looked for it, the dolphin was gone.”

“So she took it away.” Tyler came to the obvious conclusion.

“That's what Daddy always thought, until the woman's daughter came to the island. Tory—the one who made the dolphin window in the sanctuary. She says her mother never took it off the island. It just vanished that night.”

“Sammy must think it's still on Angel Isle.”

He said the name easily, as if it were just any spot, instead of the place where they'd spent their honeymoon before coming back to face the music with their families.

“I suppose so.” She tried to say it with as much unconcern as he did. “I'm sure that's where he wants to look.”

Tyler pushed himself away from the table, the movement bringing him close enough she could smell the musky aftershave that clung to him. “Nothing you've told me seems a good enough reason for denying Sammy the pleasure of hunting for it.”

“All right. Fine.” She turned away, picking up the photo album to return it to the shelf. Anything to put a few feet between her and Tyler. “We'll look for the dolphin.”
And I'll try not to remember what Angel Isle once meant to us.

“You have more of those.”

She couldn't imagine what he was talking about. Then she realized he meant the photo album.

“A whole shelf of them.”

“Including pictures of Sammy.” There was an edge in his voice, but she thought it overlay longing.

“Yes. Of course.” She slid the old album into its place and touched the ones that chronicled Sammy's life—three fat albums stuffed with photos of all the things Tyler had missed. Would they make him hate what she'd done even more? Maybe that wasn't possible.

She pulled the albums out and carried them to the table. “Here they are.”

Tyler slid into the chair in front of them, then looked at her, a challenge in his dark eyes. “Don't I get a guided tour of my son's life?”

The lump in her throat threatened to choke her. She nodded, sat down and opened the first album.

“This is the day he was born.” Her fingertips touched the picture of a red-faced infant, squalling his indignation at being thrust into the world. “It's a little blurry. Daddy took it through the glass of the nursery window.”

Tyler pulled the album closer, his hand brushing hers and sending a shaft of awareness along her skin. “Your family was with you.”

“Naturally.” Did he think they'd have deserted her because she'd come home pregnant and divorced? “Momma was my labor coach. She said it was harder to do than to have all five of hers.”

Tyler's hand stilled on the page. “I should have been there.”

“You…” She caught the words that wanted to be spoken.

I dreamed you were there, Tyler. You held my hand, and I saw the incredible joy in your face when our son was born.

“What?” He turned, his face too close to hers.

“Nothing.” Where was this going? Panic ricocheted through her. How could she ever get out of this situation without her heart shattering into a million pieces?

 

Tyler leaned forward on the bench seat of the catamaran the next afternoon, watching Miranda ease the boat to the dock at Angel Isle. She had suggested
they wait until Saturday for this trip, but Sammy had been so eager she'd finally agreed to come today after school.

His son stood on the opposite seat, rope in hand, ready to tie up. Tyler resisted the impulse to grab the back of Sammy's shirt as he reached for the post. He wouldn't appreciate being treated like a baby.

Sammy made the rope fast, then scrambled off to loop the stern line around another post. His movements were as quick and efficient as any sailor's.

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