Once the words were down on paper, she felt her heart heave and crack, as if writing it down made it more real. Smoothing her hand across the paper, she tried to block out the funeral. Despite the fact that Jimmy had been an amazing man, no one came to the funeral. Many sent condolences from their faraway homes, sending her anecdotes of her father’s life, which she would always cherish. But at the brief graveside service, it had just been Rick, Lee, the minister and her.
She had stood alone at the casket, her hand resting on the smooth wood surface. The minister’s voice had drifted around her, the words seeming to disappear into the cloudless blue sky. She had stayed as the casket was set into the ground... not moving away until the minister had departed and Rick had grasped her arm. His touch was gentle but firm and she allowed him to escort her back to their car.
Back in the present, she laid her head down on her desk, her forehead pressed against the ink black writing she had just completed. She barely stirred when she heard the doorbell ring. Rick and Lee were still living at Tamarack but immediately after the funeral, she had returned to her studio at the Glover Lane house, wanting to be alone. The doorbell rang again, followed almost immediately by loud knocking. Squeezing her eyes shut, she willed whomever it was to go away.
The subsequent knock was on her studio door. “Go away.” she whispered against the desk top.
Even though the voice was soft, she knew who it belonged to. After a moment of silence, she heard the doorknob turn and the door push open.
She just didn’t feel like lifting her head and after another few minutes of silence, his legs came into her view.
“Jim would not want you feeling this way.” Rick admonished quietly, a big hand stroking her back.
“I don’t want to feel this way.” she mumbled. “But he gave me no choice.”
He knelt down next to her and looked into her sad eyes. “You can choose to remember Jim as a happy and vibrant man. You can choose to recall the joyous times you had with him. You can move forward with your life in memory of him instead of letting yourself get dragged down by sadness.”
“Go away.” she repeated, closing her eyes to the sight of his handsome face.
“I’ve been doing that for two weeks, honey... don’t make me get tough with you.” He trailed the back of his hand along her rounded creamy cheek. “I miss you... Lee misses you... we need you back in our lives.”
“I can’t pretend like it didn’t happen.” she whispered tearfully, feeling her eyes fill again.
“No one expects you to forget, we just want you to move forward a little. All you have to do is take one step and you don’t even have to do it alone. And once you take that one step, then you take another. Before you know it, you’ll be moving.” he promised. “C’mon, come back to Tamarack and lets go see your plants. Just give me an hour or two, okay?” Pushing to his feet, he held out a hand.
It took every ounce of energy she thought she had to let him help her to her feet. She allowed him to lead her from the house, watching mutely as he locked up behind them. Just a few minutes later they were on the road back to the Tamarack house.
Leaving her alone with her misery for two entire weeks had been extremely difficult for Rick. Not only had he missed her company, but it hurt him to see her so closed off to everything and everyone around her. He knew what it was like to lose a parent, to mourn the loss of a loved one, to withdraw behind the wall... but Andrea seemed to have sunk into a depression he couldn’t understand.
He looked out the back window, spotting Andrea and Lee walking carefully along the path in the garden. Her usually bright eyes were sunken and pale and her normally ready smile was missing in action. And even now as she moved along the path, her interest in her plants was forced.
What could he do to snap her out of it? What could he do to help her move forward, he amended. She was hurting and lonely, probably feeling like she was the only one left in her family. How could he fix that for her?
He knew that in the past her poetry had been her catharsis, but he didn’t think that was working for her either. Could he find a way to distract her? He needed some way to keep her busy, to keep her mind occupied. After considerable thought, he set aside some plans that would require Lee’s assistance. In the meantime, he didn’t want to give up any more time with Andrea so he opened the back door and trotted out to join her and his brother among the trees.
Monday at breakfast, Rick announced that he had to go into the city to the office for a few hours.
Andrea watched him leave, then turned to Lee with what she hoped was some semblance of a smile. She was trying, she really was. “So, what would you like to do today?”
He smiled in return and leaned forward, as if he were ready to share a secret. “We need to plan a surprise birthday party for Rick.” he announced.
“His birthday is in a couple of weeks. He’s going back to London for two weeks and that should give us plenty of time to plan something fun.” Lee explained.
Rick was going back to London? Why was he going back to London? Why hadn’t he told her?
“So he’s leaving Thursday,” Lee was saying, his hand fiddling with his spoon. “I can’t remember the last time we spent a birthday together so I can’t wait to surprise him.”
“What do you think we should do?” she asked, pushing aside the questions whirling through her head.
“Well, he’s going to be back late on a Thursday... actually, early Friday morning. He’ll probably want to catch up on some sleep and I thought we could have the party on Saturday. We can certainly invite people from his office and my office...” he laughed. “Okay, I guess it won’t be a big party, but still, it would be something.”
“Should we have it here?” she suggested, already thinking about decorations and food.
“We would have to hide all the decorations and then setup while he was sleeping Friday night.” Lee tapped a finger against his chin. “That might be tough. Maybe we could figure out a way to have him go straight to the house on Glover from the airport. That way we can have Tamarack decorated and just bring him here on Saturday.”
“We could say we had the carpets cleaned and they aren’t dry yet.” she thought out loud. “You know, if we’re going to pull this off, we have to get started right away. Especially if we’re going to send out invitations.”
“And lucky for us, we’re going to have two whole weeks without him here.”
Her heart stuttered just slightly at the thought. When had she grown so attached to Rick?
“We’re going to need streamers and balloons and horribly cheesy noisemakers... maybe those paper hats and groucho marx glasses or whatever.” he laughed and clapped his hands like a kid. “This is going to be fantastic!”
For Andrea, Thursday came too quickly. Rick had spent most of his waking hours the past two weeks either in the city at work or on the phone to his headquarters in London. He had no conversation with her about his plans for his time in London and she hadn’t had the courage to ask him. She kissed him softly before he left for the airport on Thursday and that was it. He had promised to call, but she wasn’t expecting to hear from him for at least a couple of days.
Instead he called her Friday evening at about ten thirty, which she knew meant he was awake into the wee hours of Saturday morning in London.
“Hi.” she greeted him, almost breathlessly.
“Hi. How are you tonight?”
Sighing, she settled onto her bed, her broad shoulders against the wall, her legs stretched out in front of her. With the flick of her hand, she turned out the bedside lamp and the room sank into darkness. “A little sad, a little tired.” she said honestly.
“I wish I were there with you.” he responded huskily. “I know a hug would help.”
Her throat closed up as his words sank in. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. If I didn’t have so much to do here, I would have invited you along. As it is, this is pretty much my only downtime.” he told her.
“Oh, no, then you should be sleeping!”
“I caught a few hours before I called you. Don’t worry, I’m taking care of myself and before you know it, I’ll be home.” It was funny how quickly Tamarack had become home again after all those years away in London. Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with the house. “So, what are you and Lee going to do this weekend?”
She pictured the shopping list they had compiled over dinner. “Maybe a movie or a picnic in the park... nothing exciting.” she lied.
Grinning, he tried to keep his voice casual. “Well, enjoy your relaxing weekend for me. I’ll be in the office probably all weekend. If you need to find me, call me there, okay?’
“I don’t want to keep you up too long. Will you be able to sleep again for a bit?” she asked.
“I’ll dream sweet dreams of you.” he promised, knowing that he really had no choice.
“Is there anything I can do here for you?”
“Just take care of yourself and Lee. I’ll be home soon.” he repeated.
“Okay. Good night, Rick. Sleep well.”
“I’ll call you again.” he said before telling her good night and placing the receiver in its cradle. He was quite sure she was going to have a busy weekend as well as a week ahead. He knew from an earlier conversation with Lee that their plans had taken root. Andrea would never leave Lee to do the bulk of the work for his ‘surprise’ birthday party. Unfortunately some time later they would have to explain that his birthday was still several months away. For the second time he was surprised to find that lying had become a necessary part of his life. And for a second time he found that lying to someone he cared about had become almost imperative. He had to keep in mind that those lies would not end up hurting anyone, but instead were being told to help heal.
Rick had been fabulous, calling her every night, even if only to say he was thinking of her and he was hoping that she would sleep well. For her part, Andi practically lived for those stolen few minutes at the end of her day. And finally, after what seemed like months, the two weeks passed and Wednesday evening rolled around.
“I can’t wait to get home.” Rick told her. “I’m looking forward to seeing you and Lee and getting some downtime.”
“I can’t wait to see you. I hope you got to everything you planned and that it will be a long while before you have to go back.” she murmured.
“So I should be home around two or three a.m., depending on whether the flight is on time.” he continued. “I’ll be glad to sleep in my own bed.”
Uh, oh. “Um, actually, now that you mention it...” she stammered. “We have someone coming in on Friday to clean the carpets and it’s going to take almost all day. The carpets will be wet at least overnight so Lee and I are going to be over at Glover Lane Thursday night. You might as well join us when you come in Friday morning. That way you can pretty much sleep uninterrupted on Friday.”
“You’re having the carpets cleaned?” he questioned.
“Yeah. Lee and I noticed they needed cleaning and Friday was the earliest they had available. I’m really sorry... I know it’s inconvenient...” she started.
“Andrea.” he interrupted. “It’s no big deal. I get to see you and that’s the most important detail.”
“I’ll wait up for you.” she whispered into the phone.
“You don’t have to do that, Andrea. Just knowing you’re there will be good enough for me.”
Despite the fact that she couldn’t tell him about the birthday party waiting for him, she had a surprise of her own to share. “I’ll be awake.”
“We’ll compromise.” he instructed. “I’ll call you when I leave the airport, okay? That way you won’t have to stay up all night.”
“You have yourself a deal.”
And so this was how Andi found herself being awakened by the telephone at one thirty in the morning. She snatched up the receiver after only one ring, hoping to stop it from waking Lee. “Hello?”
“Oh, Rick, you sound exhausted!”
He sighed into the cell phone. “It was a tough day and then a long flight. I’m ready to crash.”
“Well, you’ll be here soon and I’ll have a cup of tea waiting for you. By the time you’ve finished it, you’ll be settled and ready for bed.”
“That sounds perfect. I should be there in about forty minutes.”
“I’ll be waiting. Drive carefully.” Hanging up the phone, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. She grabbed her robe, wrapped herself in it and checked the pocket for the envelop she had put there earlier. The house was quiet as she tiptoed her way down the stairs, through the foyer and into the kitchen. Filling the kettle with water, she put it on the burner but did not turn it on yet. She crossed to look out the back window over the yard. It had been some time since she had opened her life to someone new. Jimmy had always been there and Lee had merely slipped beyond her defenses in his own amazing way. But Rick... there was no way he could slip by. She was going to have to open up and let him in. Fear crept up along her spine, making her shiver. She was still there, lost in thought when the front door whooshed open.
Rick found her in the dark kitchen, her back to him, her arms wrapped loosely around her body. “Andrea?”
She whirled around at the sound of his voice. “You’re here already!”
Smiling, he barely had a moment to take in her sleep-tousled curls and the long cotton robe that seemed to cover her from head to toe. “Hi.” he grunted as she rushed into his arms. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”
She laughed and hugged him, crushing her small breasts against his chest. “It’s so good to see you. And feel you.” she told him, her hands brushing over his face.
“I missed you, too.” he murmured, pressing a kiss to her temple. “I’m so glad to be home.” And he realized that he was home, but not because of geography. He was home in this bright, beautiful woman’s arms.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to turn the kettle on!” she cried, pulling away from him slightly.
He wrapped his arms around her again and held her tightly. “Forget the tea... you’re all that I need.”
A slow smile slid across her face and she buried her head in the curve of his shoulder. Maybe she had been wrong... maybe he had already slipped past her defenses. Even so, she had something important to give him. “Rick?”
“I have something for you. It’s, a, uh, gift.” Stepping back from his embrace, she dug into her pocket and removed an envelop. Her hand shaking, she held it out to him.
“What’s this?” he asked, touching it but not taking it from her.
“It’s for you... so you know.” she responded, pushing it into his hand.
Doubt and fear pressed against his chest as he held the sealed envelop.
“Go ahead, open it.” she encouraged with a small smile.
“It’s late and dark and...”
“Rick.” she chided. “Trust me.”
In two strides he was standing next to the small florescent light over the kitchen sink where he tore open the envelop and pulled out the papers that were inside. Several words leapt out at him from the top sheet of paper and as his heart pounded furiously in his chest, he turned back to face her. “What...?”