nyone passing by the Chesterfield Inn on that snowy November night would have felt drawn to the cozy warmth of the dining room’s brightly lit windows. The flickering candles and the cheerful fire crackling in the fireplace made the elegant table settings sparkle invitingly, but Mia and Thomas Graham were the only ones enjoying the inn’s charming ambiance and delectable fare that quiet evening. It was their fifth wedding anniversary, and despite the weather and Mia’s protests about the expense, Tom had insisted they celebrate in style.
Savoring her last morsel of apple pie, Mia pushed her dessert plate away, contentedly closed her eyes, and rhythmically stroked her smooth, round belly. “We’ve got one busy girl,” she said. “She’s always on the move.”
“She takes after her mom,” Tom said with a gentle smile, reaching for her hand. “By the way,” he asked, “how do you know it’s a she? Maybe it’s a he.”
Mia looked into Tom’s solemn gray eyes, sparkling in the candlelight. “Maybe,” she teased. “You can always hope.” She knew that her handsome, athletic husband would love nothing more than to have a son to mentor in life and on the playing fields. “But keep in mind, girls play sports too.”
“I know, but our first two seem much more interested in dolls and dresses.”
Mia smiled. “Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed if it is another girl.”
“You know I won’t be. It would just be nice to have someone on my side when the going gets tough. I’m not sure I can handle a house full of women—especially when they’re teenagers.”
Mia laughed. “I’m on your side,” she said with a smile.
“You know what I mean—my side of the gender gap.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll manage. They’ll have you wrapped around their little fingers, and when the time comes, you’ll be the one who’s teary-eyed when you’re walking them down the aisle.”
Tom laughed, knowing she was right. He often thought Mia knew him better than he knew himself. He gazed into her cornflower blue eyes and reached out to stroke her smooth cheek, as if trying to memorize its soft curve. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” she said softly. “More than you know.”
Tom smiled wistfully, picked up his fork, scraped his plate, and licked the last sweet remnants of chocolate decadence. He’d never been very good at serious, intimate moments, so the shorter they were the better. “Well,” he teased, his boyish grin returning, “have you two had enough to eat? Enough, at least, to get you home?”
Mia laughed. “I don’t know. I might have to stop at the diner for another piece of pie.” Tom stood to help her slip on her coat, kissed her softly, and then bent down and kissed her belly too. “Love you too,” he murmured, gently laying his hand on the roundness. “Hey, maybe he has a basketball in there,” he surmised, then felt a purposeful kick. “Or maybe he’s a soccer player,” he added brightly.
“Maybe,” Mia said with the smile that always had a way of stealing his heart.
They nodded to their waiter and stepped out into the wintry night. Tom put his arm around Mia and guided her across the snow-covered parking lot. “Told you it would stop snowing,” he said, pulling her closer and kissing her forehead.
She nodded and then almost lost her footing, but he held her tightly. “It’s still slippery, though.”
“I won’t let you fall—I’ll always look out for you,” he said with a smile, helping her climb into the passenger seat and blowing on his hands as he walked around to his side of the truck.
“How come you didn’t come out and warm it up for me?” she teased.
“I should’ve,” he said apologetically, starting the engine, turning the defroster on high, and reaching for his scraper.
While she watched through the icy stripes of slowly defrosting glass, she thought of all the times she’d shivered in the passenger seat while Tom cleared snow off frozen windshields: from the time he was sixteen, clearing off his dad’s Nova, to the cracked leaking windshield of the old Valiant her dad had given them when they got married, to tonight, through the window of his used, but meticulously maintained pickup truck. Intent on his task, Tom didn’t notice Mia watching him; he didn’t know she was thinking the years hadn’t touched him; that he still looked like the slender, dark-haired high-school sophomore she’d fallen in love with ten years earlier; he didn’t know she was considering how much more she loved him now, or that she was whispering a prayer, thanking God for giving her such a good man.
He climbed back in the cab, tucked the scraper under his seat, adjusted the defroster, and held his hands over the heat. “Warming up?” he asked.
She nodded, admiring his rosy cheeks and then looking down at her wedding rings.
He put the truck in gear and slowly rolled forward, the tires crunching on the snow. “Look,” he said when they reached the road, “all that worrying for nothing. The plows have already been through.” Mia relaxed as he pulled onto the wet pavement.
“So,” he said, turning the fan down a couple of notches and switching the setting from defrost to heat, “I keep meaning to ask you—have we settled on a name yet?”
Mia adjusted her seat belt so it didn’t cross her belly and answered, “Well, if it’s a girl, how about Beryl?”
“Hmm . . . is that the name of another amazing female author who’s capable of doing anything she puts her mind to?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Mia conceded with a grin.
“How’d I know?” Tom said with a laugh.
“Well, our girls are going to be remarkable women, so they should have remarkable namesakes.”
“They’ll be remarkable if they’re anything like their mother—who, I might add, will be an amazing author in her own right someday.” He paused. “But what if it’s a boy?”
Mia looked thoughtful. “How about Thomas?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tom said, easing up to the light. “I think I’d rather give him a name of his own.” The light turned green and he eased into the intersection. “I’ve always thought naming your child after yourself is a bit . . .” He looked over at her, trying to think of the word he wanted. Unexpectedly, he saw the color draining from her face.
“Tom, look out!” she screamed. He turned in time to see blinding headlights hurtling toward them, and slammed on his breaks, but it was too late—the careening car smashed headlong into the driver’s door, pushing the truck off the road and down an embankment.
Mia felt her head hit the window, and heard metal and glass smashing as the truck rolled over and over like an out-of-control amusement park ride. Excruciating pain shot up her leg while the seat belt cut savagely into her abdomen and neck. Finally, the truck stopped, teetering precariously on its side and leaving her suspended by her seat belt. Gasoline fumes burned her nostrils and throat, and she felt something warm trickling down the side of her face. “Tom!” she screamed over and over . . . but there was only silence and darkness and dust.
In the days that followed, Mia read the accident report so many times it became etched in her mind. Their anniversary was scrawled in the upper right-hand corner in pencil:
November 15, 1968;
the rest of the report was typed. It stated that forty-eight-year-old Clay Davis had begun drinking when he left work; his blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was .25; the speedometer of his Buick Riviera was frozen at ninety-six miles per hour; there were no skid marks; and Clay Davis walked away from the accident virtually unscathed. The report went on to say that twenty-six-year-old Mia Graham received minor injuries, but her husband, Thomas, was thrown from his Chevrolet C-10 pickup and crushed by its rolling impact. He died instantly.
These words echoed through Mia’s mind and tortured her endlessly until the image of her husband’s body being tossed like a rag doll was the first thing she saw when she woke up and the last image in her mind before she finally fell asleep. But it was the very last words that haunted her the most:
He died instantly
. She kept trying to grasp this simple concept: Tom was alive in his body one second, but not the next. His spirit, essence, love, the sparkle in his dark gray eyes—everything that made him Tom—was all there one instant, but gone the next. Where did it go? Where did he go? Mia had heard the words,
countless times, but now that they applied to someone she loved—someone who was her whole life—she found it impossible to comprehend.
It was weeks before she began to remember actually being in the accident, before the jagged images flooded her memory and woke her, screaming from her troubled sleep. If they’d only left a minute sooner or a minute later . . . if he hadn’t had to clear snow off the windshield, or . . . if they hadn’t gone out to dinner at all . . . he’d still be alive.
The doctor had given her a prescription to ease her torment and help her rest, but she worried she wouldn’t hear the baby, so she refused to take it. Instead, she lay awake, night after night, her cheek, wet with tears, pressed against Tom’s pillow, breathing in the scent that lingered there and knowing she would never again wash that old blue pillowcase. She slipped her hand over to touch the smooth, cool sheets on his side of the bed, and her heart ached with grief as she prayed that the baby, born that same tragic night, would wake so she’d have someone to hold.