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Authors: Sharlene MacLaren

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Tender Vow (25 page)

BOOK: Tender Vow
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That had comforted her. “And He has.”

On his way out, he’d paused at the door and turned. “As for what happens between you and Jason, well, that’s you-all’s business—I just want you to know that.”

“I appreciate that, but nothing’s going to happen, so you can relax.”

“Both my sons are fine boys. I need to let my younger one know that more often.”

She’d leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Yes, you do.” When he’d left, she’d watched him out her front window and thought she detected a lighter step to his gait.

Jason had called three days later, making simple conversation about his busy work schedule and asking about Johnny and Meagan for the first few minutes until she’d told him his dad had stopped by to see her. “He did? What’d he say?”

“He apologized,” she’d answered. “And I accepted it.”

“That’s great. He’s coming around, Rach. I don’t see anything holding us back, do you?”

“Jason.”
How can I make him understand I’m not ready to commit to a relationship?
she’d wondered. Yes, it did appear the doors of acceptance had started opening, but with that knowledge came a newfound fear. Perhaps
fear
was too mild a word.
Panic
seemed more fitting. Whatever feelings she had for Jason remained clouded over by grief and loss, and she would not give her heart to another man, Jason or anyone else, until she’d finished trudging through the valleys. The act of trying to sort through all those emotions put her in a real frenzy.

For years, even while she’d been married to John, she’d felt a special bond with Jason. After all, they’d been good friends since childhood. But that had been the extent of it. She’d fallen in love with John. Sure, folks had teased her, saying she ought to marry them both, considering how the three of them seemed to be attached at the hip. Yet it had been John’s stubborn love, his relentless chase, and his driving passion to make her his bride that had finally won her over, heart and soul.

Oh, Jason had pursued her, too, but not with the same diligence, and not when he had a dozen other girls all vying for his attention. Besides, the chemistry between them had changed entirely once she’d given her heart to John. Still, she may have harbored an ounce of attraction to Jay, even after accepting John’s proposal. For how else could she explain having allowed that foolish kiss?

But did she love Jason today in the way he claimed to love her? Before, she’d been able to lean on the pretext that people wouldn’t approve—Tom, in particular. But now that he’d started backing down and apologized for intruding, her wall of protection had begun to crumble.

“I’ll give you time, Rachel. Just tell me how much you need.”

“Jason, I don’t know how much time I need. In fact, it may be that no amount of time is enough for me to be ready to be in a relationship again.”

“You were ready for Luigi.”

“Would you stop? That was just a casual date.”

“I thought you said that wasn’t a date.”

She’d rolled her eyes. “Oh, Jason. What am I going to do with you?”

“How about going out with me on New Year’s Eve?”

“No.”

“I’ll take you to the same diner Luigi took you to.”

“He would hate it if he knew you were calling him Luigi.”

“I know.”

“I can’t, Jay. Don’t ask me again, okay?” Silence had answered her on the other end. “I’m sorry, but it’s the way it has to be for now.”

“Well, I guess I can accept that, but only because ‘for now’ gives me hope that this is just temporary.”

So, here it was, December 31, and Rachel found herself treading in a pool of regret for having no one with whom to spend New Year’s Eve. There was simply no satisfying her. She could almost imagine John teasing her with the words, “Fickle woman!”

“Mommy!” Meagan bellowed with joy when Rachel entered the living room armed with dusting spray and cloth, followed by Johnny with a stuffed toy in hand. In less than a week, he’d learned to maneuver himself quite efficiently with one arm in a cast. “Watch me jump!” she announced, leaping from a chair onto the sofa. Johnny let out a whoop as he toddled past her. Before Rachel had a chance to protest, she jumped to another chair and then another.

“Meagan, get down. We don’t jump on the furniture. You know better than that.”

“Mommy, these are not furnitures,” she insisted. “These are my boats and my island.”

“Really?” Rachel paused, intrigued by her daughter’s imagination.

“Yes!” Meagan spread both arms out. “This room is the ocean, and the mean sharks are trying to get me, so I have to jump really high from this flower boat to this striped boat. And that”—she pointed at the sofa—“is the island, where it’s safe.”

“I see. Well, why don’t you just leap on back to that island and stay there?”

Meagan’s eyes went round as the sun as she exclaimed, “’Cause I like to live dangerously! How else you gonna learn not to be scared of stuff?”

Suddenly stricken, she found herself sitting down in one of Meagan’s “boats.” How was it that a four-year-old could pack such a punch with so few words? Was that what she herself had been doing then? Staying put where life was safe? Never straying too far from shore, to places where she’d be expected to take risks and trust God with the unknown?

Around five thirty that afternoon, the doorbell sounded. Rachel had just popped in a movie for Meagan, set up a little TV tray for her with a sandwich, applesauce, and some chocolate milk, and put Johnny in his high chair with a few crackers and a sippy cup of juice. It wasn’t the norm, but with its being New Year’s Eve, she figured they would have a little party.

She looked out the window to see a police cruiser in her driveway. The sight unsettled her until she looked through the front window and then flung wide the door. “Larry! For goodness’ sake, I wasn’t expecting you.”

A hangdog expression whisked across his face. “I know, I’m sorry. Am I interrupting something important?”

“No, no, of course not. Come in.”

He stepped over the threshold and wiped his feet on the welcome mat. She closed the door behind him and felt a gust of icy air curl around her ankles. “Well, I was just on some routine calls in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by to say hello,” he said, removing his hat. “Everything going well for you?”

“Yes, thanks.” It was nice of him to think of her, although she wouldn’t have said she appreciated his dropping in unannounced. “Um….” She clasped her hands. “Happy New Year.”

He smiled and nodded. “Same to you!”

Meagan was hanging over the back of the sofa, staring at them. “Are you that police guy who brought Mommy over to Mrs. Bronson’s house?”

“Well, I certainly am. Good memory. You’re Meagan, right? Do you remember my name?”

“No, but I remember your gun.”

“Oh, well.” He chuckled and glanced at Rachel. “Most kids do remember that.”

“This is Mr. Rossini, Meagan. Can you say hi?”

“Hi,” she said, still gawking. The Disney movie played on, unwatched.

Larry gave a hurried look around and spotted Johnny across the room. “Well, for cryin’ out loud, what happened to that little guy?”

“He broked his arm at my grammy’s house on Christmas night when he falled down the stairs,” Meagan informed him.

“Aw, poor kid,” Larry said.

“Mommy wasn’t watching him.”

Rachel would have loved to have some sort of magic button to turn Meagan on and off at the appropriate times. She looked at Larry and shook her head. “She’s right, unfortunately.”

“Hey, don’t worry. My mom tells me I fell down a flight of stairs in my walker when I was about one. Stuff happens, you know? ’Course, my brother never fails to bring that up every so often, saying it’s the reason my brain’s slow.”

He meant it as a joke, of course, so Rachel laughed.

He looked at Johnny. “He doesn’t look like he’s suffering too bad.”

“No, he’s doing fine. So, you said you were making some routine calls?” She hadn’t invited him to sit down and decided to keep it that way for now.

He turned his hat in his hands and shifted his weight. “Yes—let’s see, a domestic dispute a few streets over, a shoplifting incident at the Shop-N-Save, and a little fender bender over on Harvey Street.”

“Ah, those fender benders,” she said with a chuckle.

“Yeah, hope you haven’t had any more run-ins with SUVs.”

The phone rang, and, as usual, Meagan leaped at the chance to answer it. “Where’s the phone?” she asked.

Rachel looked around. “It’s not on the hook? Oh, I think I walked off with it. Check the kitchen, Meaggie. And be polite when you answer. Remember the rules!”

On the one hand, she was glad to see Meagan bound out of the room momentarily. On the other hand, one never quite knew what might pop out of her mouth. She prayed that the caller would be her mother.

“I shouldn’t keep you, really,” Larry said, shifting his weight again. “Like I said, I was just in the neighborhood, and…uh, decided to stop by. Um, I was wondering…would you maybe care to go out again sometime?”

***

“Uncle Jay!” Meagan’s excited greeting did its usual job of boosting his ego. “Are you coming to my house? We’re watchin’ a Disney movie tonight.”

“Sounds fun. I might do that. Is your mommy available for me to talk to?”

“Uh-uh. She gots company.”

“She does? Who is it?”

“Some police guy. Mr. Rosy, or something like that.”

“Mr. Rosy.” He let that piece of information sink in, and, as it did, his stomach soured. “You mean, Mr. Rossini?”

“I guess. He has a big gun on his belt. He bringed her home that night of the big snow and we went over to Mrs. Bronson’s house and played games an’ stuff. Mr. Rosy took Mommy on a date after that.” She giggled. “He prolly likes her.”

Why, that lowlife. “What’s he doing there now?” He felt like a bum trying to finagle answers out of a four-year-old.

“I don’t know. They’re laughing and talking.”

Inside, he seethed. She would turn down a date with him on New Year’s Eve and accept one with Luigi Rossini? “Want me to tell Mommy you called?”

“No; could you please tell her I want to talk to her?”

“’Kay. Mommy!” she bellowed. He held the phone away from his ear.

“Hello, Jay,” came Rachel’s voice a few seconds later.

“Luigi’s there? Let me talk to him.”

“What? Absolutely not.”

Of course, he had no idea what he’d say to a guy with a gun. He might politely ask him to leave his girl alone, but then, he had to remind himself he had no claim on her. Good grief! How could he possibly compete with someone like Luigi Rossini, a strapping, masculine cop? “What’s he doing there on New Year’s Eve? I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re planning to ring in the New Year with him.”

“I—”

“And you find him attractive.”

“I think he’s very nice-looking, yes.”

“Well, this is just great, Rachel. I go and bare my heart to you, and you turn around and rip it to shreds.”

“Jason, if you could just hear yourself—”

“I just told Meagan I might come over and watch a Disney movie with her.”

“And I already told you I had plans for New Year’s Eve.”

“No, you didn’t mention plans. You simply turned me down.”

“Jay, listen. I—you need to give me some space, all right?”

“So you can fill it up with Rossini?”

“Jay, I’m hanging up now. I will talk to you another day when you’re a little calmer and less insane.”

Argh! He could string Rossini up by the neck—if he could find a rope big enough to fit around it. If he recalled correctly, Rossini was no dwarf.

God, what’s happening to me? I’m losing my mind over a woman!

Before he had the chance to put in another word, he heard a click on the other end. In all his born days, he could not dredge up a single memory of a woman ever hanging up on him.

***

Larry stayed another half hour or so before bidding Rachel good-bye, and when they parted, they did so strictly as friends, she making it clear she wasn’t ready to date and he graciously accepting that fact. Now, if she could just convince another man she knew to cooperate in the same fashion. Clearly, she just did not know her own heart right now, only that it felt muddled.

As she got ready for bed that night after tucking her kids in, she prayed, “God, show me Your ways. If I am to love again, please give me peace and assurance that I am following Your plans and purposes for my family. Sometimes, I am so afraid of what the future holds.”

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

She recognized the words from fourth chapter of 1 John, having read them that very morning during her quiet time.

Do you love Me, child?

Yes, Lord.

Then trust Me to reveal Myself to you and guide you down each winding path. Love Me first, and everything else will follow accordingly.

She switched on her radio and turned the knob to her favorite Christian music station. Words of hope rang out over the airwaves like cool, soothing liquid sliding down a parched throat. She flung herself onto the bed and indulged in a moment of rest and reflection. Staring up at the ceiling and then closing her eyes briefly, she allowed the music to permeate her soul. After a while, she rose and went to her closet to put on her pajamas. And that’s when she saw it—John’s box of mementos on the floor beside her shoe rack.

Was tonight the night to delve into it? “Happy New Year,” she muttered to herself.

Bending down, she gripped one end of the box and dragged it out of the closet to the middle of her bedroom. The possibility of investigating its contents had long felt like intruding on John’s very thoughts, for amid his personal items like watches, old photos, files, financial papers, college essays, and books were also his journals and diaries. An easy flick of the wrist and a light tugging motion would have the lid off in no time. Rachel took a deep breath to gather courage, then lifted it off with trembling hands and let her eyes slowly take in the sight—beginning with a silver-framed 5 ☓ 7 photo from their wedding day lying right on top.

BOOK: Tender Vow
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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