Authors: Julie Anne Lindsey
“I like Kid Rock,” he offered. “He does country sometimes, right?”
Her cheeks mashed into her eyes. “What?” Wait. The scenery registered at the same moment she wanted to lecture him on what was and what was no-way-in-hell country music. “We’re at my house.”
“You walked me home.”
“My mother.” On second thought, she did need a good talking to. Who in their right mind gave their single daughter’s home address out to a complete stranger? Well, therein lays the problem. Her mother didn’t fit the description. Not even close.
“I enjoyed the walk.” James turned to face her. He looked nervous and as sincere as she’d ever seen a man. “Would you consider having dinner with me Friday night?”
She pulled in a breath.
“I’ll buy the pizza.” He winked.
Okay pizza helped take the edge off an awkward dinner with someone she had little in common with. His face helped too. They might find things in common if they spent more time together. Clarissa would hate knowing she wasn’t the first on his list of available women.
“Friday night sounds nice.”
“Pick you up at six?”
“I’d like that. I guess you already have directions. Do you need my number?”
“Here.” He placed his phone in her hand, and she entered her number for him. The background was a fast looking car. She sighed. Hopeless.
“Tim McGraw?” He peered at his phone in the waning light.
“In case you know other
“Emma?” Dr. Kennedy smiled. A genuine look of interest on her face. “Have you met someone?”
“What?” Daydreaming at the shrink. Bad. Her eyes narrowed in embarrassment. Let the inquisition commence. Emma learned long ago not to try to slide anything past her therapist. She made the big money for a reason. She was good.
“Come now. You’re positively glowing. What were you thinking about just then?”
A journal I stole and make a conscious effort daily not to try to return because I fell in love with the man whose words make it live. My soldier.
She kept imagining his approach and her instant recognition. She wondered what she’d say. Whatever she said, the words had to be perfect, like him. Honest. She’d tell him she grew up on country music and played Johnny Cash when she danced alone in her kitchen. She’d tell him she could fish with the best of them, but never learned to ride a horse because they’re too tall and have scary big teeth. He’d want to know she wore pink and tan
to the prom under a full-length pink and silver sequined gown. The more she read the words from his heart, the more he became written on hers.
This train of thought always ended with her shrinking mentally away. If she ever met him, how could she admit her selfishness for keeping something so personal and reading it? Developing a relationship with a book bordered on nuts. Her gaze lifted to the patient doctor before her. This conversation could wait. Emma didn’t want to do the right thing yet. She knew Dr. Kennedy would expect her to return the journal. Then she’d ask her about it every week until she did.
“I did!” Emma nearly leapt from her chair, spotting an opportunity to tell the truth. Liars didn’t last long in this place. Her enthusiasm startled them both. She coughed and got comfortable in the chair. “There’s a new elementary school teacher in town. We met last night.” Self-satisfaction saturated the words. Ha. The truth had set her free.
On second thought, her James story seemed like a long shot. Telling about their walk home would tip her off. No way would she believe their short talk sounded like something worthy of a daydream. She needed a subject change.
“I brought you something.” Emma dug through her bag and pulled out a framed black and white photograph of the hummingbirds. She’d painted the frame scarlet and allowed only the purple of the flowers and a line of blue water to show their true colors. Everything else remained shades of gray. She thought it’d be a nice compliment to Dr. Kennedy’s snore bore office of monochromatic brown on tan on cream and
“Oh?” Dr. Kennedy’s face morphed from subdued nicety to awe. Her eyes widened, lips parted. “Fascinating.”
Not the compliment she expected, but on target for a therapist, she supposed. “Thank you.”
“I love it.”
It was Emma’s turn to smile. She loved it. “I laid on my stomach for almost two hours waiting for that shot. I took over 100 pictures that day, but only two captured the essence of the lake. This was one of them. I thought you’d appreciate the birds in flight, going nowhere, choosing to stay where they were.”
“I can’t help but notice you chose red for the frame.”
“I thought red accentuated the contrast between the vibrant purple flowers and soft blue lake.”
“Red is also the color most associated with love.”
Her tummy rolled into a knot. “I thought it could brighten your office, give you something cheery to look at during the day.”
“What was the other picture you approved of from this day?” She tapped the glass inside the frame.
The image of Nicholas staring at the sky came to mind. His posture intrigued her. He stood alone on the hill, clearly at ease, but what was he doing? She spent more time than she cared to admit wondering. No matter how long she looked, she didn’t see anything in the photograph to catch his attention. Peculiar. Time passed while she mulled it over without speaking.
“Tell me more about the schoolteacher then.”
“His name is James. He’s handsome. Educated. Likes cars, I think.” Emma slid her lips over their gloss and tried to remember something significant other than his love of hip-hop music. “He taught in Akron for a long while before coming here. He likes sports.” She hadn’t asked him which ones.
“Hmm. You enjoyed your talk?”
Sensing imminent defeat, she formed another plan. “There is someone else, but he doesn’t know how I feel.”
Dr. Kennedy’s expression didn’t change. “Would you like to tell me about him?”
“Okay.” Her mind raced. Where should she start? He was complicated, sweet and kind. He was frustrated sometimes, but introspective. Every bit as hopelessly flawed as herself. She couldn’t explain him without revealing her heart’s tender spots in the process. Protecting her heart was top priority. Emma squirmed.
“What’s his name?”
“No names.” She’d tried to think of a name to call him many times; none ever stuck. Assigning him a random name would take away from his truth. He wasn’t a story. He lived. Somewhere.
“All right. Tell me something else. What’s your favorite thing about him?”
Her heart cracked like a floodgate barely containing the water, unable to resist any longer. “Everything. I don’t know if there’s only one part that’s the best. He’s genuine and real. He doesn’t mince words or waste them either. When there’s nothing to say, he says nothing, and when there is something to say, he says it from the heart, with gusto and fervor. Passion. Oh, and he’s funny and kind. He gave his only lunch to a child once, knowing there’d be no more for him in the near future.”
Dr. Kennedy rested her chin in her hands and listened. When Emma paused, embarrassed, the doctor nodded her ahead.
“He loves his mother. His father died, and he couldn’t be there. He blames himself. Whenever he has to be away from his mother, he worries she’s unhappy. He cooks. She taught him. And I can’t be sure, but I think he’s an artist or he loves nature as much as I do because he draws and sketches lovely things.”
“Like your hummingbirds?”
“Sounds like you two have a lot in common. Do you think he might feel the same way? Has he said or done anything to make you think he might?”
“No.” Her heart plummeted. Remembering all her favorite entries had lifted her four feet off the ground and left her floating on hope and joy. The cloud promptly flew out from under her.
“Be open to it. I can’t believe you see all this in him and he hasn’t recognized the connection. Though, men are sometimes less intuitive about these things,” she mused, “and you are closed off by your own admission. Perhaps you should dip your toe in, test the water.”
“Very well. Then you have homework this week.”
“Homework?” Emma snorted.
“Yes. Your assignment is to talk to this man, about anything you want for as long or short as you want and memorize his reaction. Then come back next week and we’ll analyze it. Every facial gesture and syllable you can remember. What do you think? Remember, body language is important. Sometimes more so than the words themselves.”
She rolled away from her desk and stood. “Time’s up.” Her smile warmed the room.
Emma smiled back. If they weren’t in such an odd doctor-patient relationship, they could be friends. “Thanks.” She shook the doctor’s hand and received a clap on the back as well.
“You opened up more today than you ever have. Hearing you speak of this man was both insightful and delightful. He seems to bring out the best in you. If you’ll let it, love can bloom anywhere you know.”
Emma’s hand moved to her collar. The scar tissue burned under her touch.
“Emma. Love is resilient. Love doesn’t see with human eyes. Love sees with human hearts.” With gentle fingers, Dr. Kennedy dragged Emma’s hand from her neck to her heart and left it there. She swung open the door. “See you next week. Don’t forget your assignment.”
The old pickup ran on autopilot all the way back to Honey Creek. Emma swiped tears of frustration and tried hard not to think. She was surprised to see the lodge come into view instead of her house. Idling for a minute, she made her decision. The lake made her smile, and she could use a smile. Emma pulled her camera bag from the passenger side floorboard and slung it over one shoulder.
Getting some sunset pictures of the lake would improve the selection she’d gathered so far. Sunsets over the lake were magical, like anything was possible beneath them. Sunsets over the lake were second only to sunrises from her parents’ hayloft. Something about the natural array of colors felt promising. When either graced the sky, a new day wasn’t far behind.
She stopped a few yards away from the lake, pulled out her camera and adjusted the focus. Golden hues changed the look of the water. Fiery shades of orange and red set the scene ablaze, soon to be replaced with the indigos of twilight. She needed to move fast before they disappeared. Emma snapped several shots, hoping to catch a flight of swallows as they crossed over the crimson clouds.
Too soon, the purple clouds swallowed the golden ones. She folded herself into the grass and waited for the moon’s appearance. According to her almanac, the full moon was due. Photographs of the moon wouldn’t attract lodge guests, but they were mysterious and romantic, and she collected them for herself. The wall over her bed contained moon photos from every year since she discovered her love of photography. The moon never changed.
Night sounds amplified in the absence of light. Emma rested back on her elbows in the grass, waiting for the moon to show itself, willing a mass of gray clouds to move along. Fish jumped in the water, taunting night fisherman who’d arrived and set up an hour ago to trick them. The splashes were unusually loud, and a snuffling sound caught her attention. She sat upright as a cold wetness squished into her face followed by a sound the abominable snowman might make.
Emma squealed and grabbed her chest. “Oh no.” Pain burned around her sides, punctuated her ribs, and clenched her throat. Not again.
“Mavis!” A man’s voice increased her panic.