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Authors: Mary Manners

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Miracles and Dreams (6 page)

BOOK: Miracles and Dreams
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“Easy.” Jack took a slight step back. “You bumped your head on the counter when you went down.” He swept hair from her forehead, placed a cool cloth along her brow before running his fingers along the side of her head. She winced when he hit a tender spot. “I’ve never seen you faint.”

“You’ve never disappeared for six years, and then, out of the blue, come back.”

“Yeah right.” He paused. “How bad does it hurt?”

“My head?” With great difficulty, Misty managed to pry open her eyes. His face, still scruffy with the unfamiliar beard, came into focus. “Or my heart?”

“Your head—for now.” Jack’s lips curled into a half-grin. “We’ll get to your heart later.”

“I’m OK. Just give me a minute.” She clenched her teeth, scanning the room. Her gaze caught the time on the DVD player’s digital clock. “Oh! I have to get Allie. She’s done at lunch today—teacher work day.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Misty.” Jack pressed a hand to her shoulder, forcing her to lie back again. “You’re in no condition to drive.”

“I promised I’d pick up Ralph, too.”

“Ralph?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Just move, please.” Misty swung her legs over the edge of the couch and lifted her head from the pillow Jack had tucked beneath her neck. The room swayed, and she fought a wave of nausea. “Ugh.”

“Easy.” Jack settled in beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Just relax a minute. Get your bearings. Allie’s fine. Your mom went to pick her up.”

Misty drew a breath, waited for her vision to clear. “Mom? But how did she know?”

Jack waggled his cell phone. “I gave her a call.”

“Oh, no. You shouldn’t have done that.” Misty scooted away from him, to the far end of the couch. “She’ll be worried about me—and shocked you’re here.”

“She knows I’m here.” He watched as she nudged to her feet and took a tentative step, clinging to the arm of the couch. “I stopped there last night—I mean early this morning—before I came here.”

“Trying to butter her up, get your hooks into me again?”

“My hooks?” He shook his head, whistling. “Wow, haven’t you become the cynical one?”

“Comes with the territory.” Misty released the arm of the couch, took a step toward the window. The storm had passed, and sunshine streaming through the window hurt her eyes. How long had she been out?

“I didn’t know where to find you, so I tried there first.”

“Oh.” The nausea faded; her vision cleared.

“I called Mimi right after you passed out.” He crossed the room to hand her a glass of water. “I think you were more tired than anything. How long has it been since you’ve had a decent night’s sleep?”

“I’m elbow deep in a project.” Misty drew a long sip of water and set the glass down on the cluttered coffee table. “There’s no time to sleep.”

“I see.” But Jack’s narrowed gaze said, clearly he didn’t. “Anyway, Mimi offered to get Allie while I took care of things here.”

“Oh, you’ve taken care of things, all right.”

“Just give me a chance, Misty. I deserve that much, don’t you think?”

“I think it doesn’t really matter what I think.” She shook her head, and even that slight movement cost her. She gritted her teeth, spoke through clenched lips. “Look, Jack, what matters is what Allie thinks.”

A car door slammed in the drive. Misty’s nerves chilled to ice as her belly welled with dread.

“Well,” Jack turned toward the door. “I guess we’re about to find out.”

 

****

 

“Mama, I’ve got Ralph!” Allie’s voice echoed through the open window as her shoes clattered up the stairs and over the porch planks. “Look, Mama. Grandma’s carrying his playhouse.”

She raced through the door, took one look at Jack, and skidded across the wood floor before she came to a stop at Jack’s feet.

She gazed up, puzzled, and then threw her arms around his thighs, squeezing tight. “Daddy!”

Tears welled in Jack’s eyes. Allie knew him, but how?

She pressed her cheek to his legs. “You came from ’fornia—to see me?”

She knew that, too? Jack glanced at Misty, who nodded slightly, clearly resigned to the Powers that Be. He fell to his knees and gathered Allie close. She smelled of strawberries and sunshine and bubble gum. “Yes, I came to see you, princess.”

“You have a beard.” She smiled and stroked the hair on his cheek, coaxing tears to his eyes. “It tickles. I didn’t see it in the picture Mama gave me.”

“Your mom gave you a picture of me?”

“Uh huh. For my family tree.”

Her giggles made the tears spill over. Jack couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried.

The night I drove away from Mill’s Landing—and Misty. The tears came with a vengeance then.

Jack stood, gathering Allie into his arms. He held her tight, trembling. “Such a pretty girl. You look like your mama.”

“Why are you crying, Daddy?” Allie’s sweet voice questioned as she placed one small hand on his scruffy cheek. “Do you have to go away again?”

 

****

 

The words stabbed Misty. Of course, Jack had to leave again—maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually. Where would that leave Allie?

Where would that leave
her
? What now?

Misty felt as if the earth’s axis had shifted ninety degrees. Her belly listed, and the living room walls seemed to close in.

“Are you OK, sweetheart?” Misty’s mom stepped through the doorway, a huge plastic enclosure in her arms. Ralph, wedged in a tunnel, peered at them, his tiny, pink nose twitching.

“I’m…” Misty couldn’t find words to describe what she was feeling. There weren’t any. It was…beyond impossible.

“Let me take that.” Jack set Allie on the ground and stepped forward to grab the cage. “It looks heavy.”

“That’s Ralph, Daddy.” Allie tapped the plastic gently and waved to the long-haired rodent. “He’s going to stay here this weekend. I have to play with him and feed him carrots and celery and maybe some lettuce, too.”

“Sounds like a tall order. Where would you like me to put him?”

“In my room, away from Lucky.” Allie’s voice darkened and she covered her mouth, finishing in a whisper as Lucky, perched on the arm of the couch, looked on. “Mama thinks the cat will make Ralph a snack.”

“I see.” Jack nodded. “And where is your room?”

“I’ll show you.” Allie grabbed the hem of his T-shirt and tugged. “Come with me.”

The scent of cedar wood shavings wafted as Allie and Jack, together, crossed by on their way down the hall. Misty pressed a fist to her mouth as she watched, helpless to stop the waterfall of emotions that coursed through her.

Their gait held the same swagger, and Jack reached for Allie’s hand as they turned the corner.

“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” Misty’s mom settled in the arm chair.

“I’d hardly call it that, Mom.” Misty crossed the room as Allie’s giggles drifted down the hall. “It’s a shock…a nightmare…an abomination of justice.”

“That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“Not at all.”

“How’s your head?”

“I’ll live.”

“Do you need anything?”

“Where should I start?”

“In that case…” Her mom rose, gathering her purse in her hands, and stepped over to kiss Misty’s cheek. “I guess I’d better skedaddle and give you two some space to start working this out.”

“Don’t go, Mom.”

“It’s for the best, Misty.”

“I need you.”

“No you don’t. You need to talk to Jack.”

“I don’t want to talk to him.”

“Regardless…” She winked and turned toward the door. “I’ll be praying for all of you. Keep an open mind, sweetheart…and an open heart.”

 

 

 

 

8

 

Allie’s giggles drew Misty down the hall. She found her daughter seated on the bedroom floor along with Jack. Both had the bottoms of their shoes touching and their legs outstretched to form a diamond. Ralph scurried between them, encased in a plastic ball.

“Look, Mama. Ralph likes it here.” Allie glanced up, grinning. “Do you want to play, too?”

“Not now.” She shook her head, unable to fathom the scene that unfolded before her. This morning, when she dropped Allie at school, Jack was nothing more than a distant memory. Now he was stretched across the floor, laughing as the hamster rolled the length of his leg. “I’m going to make lunch. Nothing fancy, but filling nonetheless. Come wash up soon.”

“Is Daddy going to eat with us?”

Misty glanced at Jack and his eyes implored her. She sighed. How could she possibly say no? “I guess there’s plenty to go around.”

Without another word, Misty turned away and padded back toward the kitchen. As if moving through a fog, she took wheat bread from the cabinet and cold cuts from the refrigerator. Remembering that Jack liked spicy brown mustard on his sandwiches, she frowned because she didn’t have any.

“Need some help?”

Misty turned to find Jack leaning against the doorjamb. His height filled the doorway, and the way he looked at her dislodged a few of the bricks in the wall she’d so painstakingly erected around her heart.

“You can set the table.”

“OK.”

“Let me move the files and my laptop, first.” She went to the table, set down the platter of lunch meat and then began to gather file folders.

“What are you working on?”

“A project for the City Commission.” Misty tucked the laptop beneath her arm and relocated it to a far corner of the counter, along with the files. “Revamping their Website. The deadline’s tomorrow, and I’d planned to get everything finished this morning.”

“Then I came along…”

“Yep.”

“I could take Allie to the park for a while after lunch and give you a little time to breathe.” Jack ran a hand through his unruly hair. “She mentioned that she likes to go there.”

“No!”

“What’s the deal, Misty?” His gaze remained glued to her as he leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms. “Wait a minute…you don’t think I’ll try to steal her or something, do you?”

“No. I just…”

“You couldn’t. Good grief!” His gruff voice skimmed over her, making her shiver. “I promise you, Misty…I’m not here to hurt you—or to hurt Allie.”

“I know that.” Misty nodded and placed a platter of bread on the table while Jack searched the cabinets for plates and glasses. “I’m sorry.”

“I saw your office down the hall,” Jack added napkins and silverware to the place settings. “Why don’t you work in there?”

“I’ve tried, but it’s gloomy. Makes it hard to get the creative juices flowing.” She gestured toward the bay window. “I like the light that spills in here much better.”

“I see.” Jack nodded. “Sounds like you need a window in the office. I can take care of that.”

“No, Jack.” She lifted her gaze to spear his. “Don’t get any ideas. I don’t need you to fix things here. I’m perfectly fine on my own.”

“Is that so?” He frowned. “Misty, sometimes you have to let in a little light.”

“I have plenty of light.”

“But not in the office—where it matters.”

Were they talking metaphorically? Misty’s head was beginning to throb.

“I’ll help make a window.” Allie’s tennis shoes slapped the wood floor as she scampered through the doorway. “Is it hard, Daddy?”

“That depends.”

Allie raced to the kitchen sink, climbing onto the step stool that Misty had placed there to help Allie reach the faucet. “On what, Daddy?”

He slanted Misty a look. “On how much you trust the person holding the tools.”

“Doesn’t Mama trust you?”

The words hung between them like dirty laundry. Of course Misty didn’t trust him now, and the very thought stung. But at one time, she had trusted him with her life. Could she ever again?

“Mama, it stopped raining.” Allie squirted a generous portion of soap into one palm. “Can we go to the park after lunch?”

“I can’t, honey. I have to finish the Parks and Rec project. I’m due to present it to Mr. Tucker tomorrow.”

“Daddy can take me.”

The mayo slipped from Misty’s hand. Luckily, the container was plastic and merely bounced off the tile and across the floor, coming to rest at Jack’s feet. He scooped it up and placed it gently on the table.

“Are you OK, Mama?” Allie hopped from the stool, dragging the dish towel with her. She wiped her hands and rushed over to pat Misty’s arm.

“I’m fine.”

“Your face looks white as glue. Are you getting that yucky flu bug like Mrs. Burnett had last week?”

“No.”

Jack stepped over to the fridge, opened the door to peer inside. “But, like I said, it’s not a bad idea…heading to the park with Allie.” He added a squeeze bottle of yellow mustard and the tomato Misty had sliced to the dinner table. “It makes sense all around. You can get your work done, Misty, and Allie and I can have a chance to—”

“Sit down, Allie.” Misty cut him off as she picked up two slices of bread. “What do you want on your sandwich?”

“But, Daddy was talking.”

“And now he’s not.” Misty kept her gaze lowered as her lips began to tremble. “Now, what do you want to eat?”

“Turkey and cheese.”

Misty plopped on the meat, a slice of American cheese, and added a dab of mayo, all without ever so much as glancing up. “Milk or apple juice?”

“Milk.”

“Apple slices or peaches?”

“Peaches.”

“Sit down, then.”

Allie climbed into a chair. “Can we save some lettuce for Ralph? Mrs. Barnett said he likes lettuce, too.”

“A small piece. You don’t want to give him a tummy ache.”

Jack poured a tall glass of milk, offered it to Misty. She shook her head as a tear plopped onto the table.

 

****

 

So much for a relaxing lunch and the chance to reconnect. He’d managed to oh-so-neatly sever the lines of communication once again.

“There’s sweet tea in the fridge. I’ll have that.” Misty’s voice trembled, and he sure hoped Allie didn’t notice. The kid seemed to have radar that picked up everything

Jack slid into a chair and kept the milk for himself, adding a stack of ham and Swiss, tomatoes and lettuce, to soft slices of wheat bread. His stomach growled, and he realized his last meal had been hours ago, before he left California.

BOOK: Miracles and Dreams
2.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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