“He must have planned this for years.”
Grace had thought that, too. “I don’t know if he intended to kill himself right away…. I think he just wanted to escape. Dan loved the forest. He felt more at peace there than anywhere else. His moods got much worse after he lost his job as a logger. I just assumed…”
“You assumed the depression was caused by the loss of his job, which is only natural.”
“I did,” she said. “I realize now that he lost whatever sense of peace he had when he left the forest. That’s why he bought the trailer. He intended to live there for a while, I think, mull over his life…” She sighed. “I’d like to think that, but how true it is I have no way of knowing. He returned to the house once. I’m positive of that.” Still, Grace didn’t understand why he’d come home so briefly. She felt a wave of pity for him and wished again that she’d been more perceptive.
“Can I do anything for you?” Cliff asked.
Grace shook her head. “I’m so tired. I haven’t slept more than two or three hours at a stretch since Dan was found.”
He grazed her temple with his lips. “Sleep now,” he urged.
She reached for his hand and held it. “I don’t want you to leave.”
“I won’t. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Promise.” That was important to her for reasons she didn’t want to analyze.
“I promise.” He led her into the bedroom, and when she lay down on the bed, he covered her with a blanket, leaned over and kissed her cheek. Then he crept from the bedroom and turned off the light.
Grace closed her eyes and heard the door to her room close with a soft click. While sleep was tempting, all she really needed was to rest her eyes for a moment. But she instantly drifted off. Three hours later, when she woke, night had settled in and darkness surrounded her.
As she took a moment to orient herself, she heard someone in her kitchen. Tossing aside the afghan Cliff had spread over her, she climbed off the bed and came into the hallway.
“I’m here.” He appeared, wearing her apron along with an enticing grin. “I’ve made us dinner.”
He shrugged. “Don’t expect anything fancy.”
The table was set, with everything neatly in place. A tantalizing scent wafted from the oven. He’d put the roses in a vase on the table and had used her best china and linen. His care sent a feeling of warmth surging through her.
“Olivia phoned,” Cliff told her. “We spoke for a while. Maryellen checked in, too. You might want to give her a call later.”
“What about Olivia? Should I return her call?”
“Only if you want. She was more concerned that you not be by yourself, but I assured her I was here for you. I’m not going anywhere, Grace.”
His words comforted her. She’d felt so desperately alone since the discovery of Dan’s body. Even after he’d disappeared, she hadn’t experienced this cold loneliness in quite the same way.
Reaching for the pot holders, Cliff withdrew a casserole dish from the oven. “I hope you like shepherd’s pie?”
She didn’t feel like eating, but nodded. Since he’d gone to so much trouble, the least she could do was make an effort to show her appreciation. Only when she actually sat down to eat did she realize how hungry she was.
“You’re an excellent cook.”
“Thank you.” He smiled, apparently pleased by her praise. “My repertoire is pretty basic, though.”
When they’d finished with the meal, they lingered over coffee and then, because she needed to do something with her hands, she started clearing away dishes. Cliff insisted on helping and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“I meant what I told Olivia,” Cliff said as he set a dinner plate inside the dishwasher.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not leaving you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to set up camp in your living room, but I want you to know I’m here for the long haul.” He leaned against the counter and sighed. “Today, the day you’ve buried your husband, probably isn’t the right time to tell you this, but I care deeply about you, Grace.”
His words hung in the air between them.
“I care about you, too,” she said quietly. She knew that Cliff was meant to be in her life as surely as the sun shone in the sky.
“You feel the same way?”
“Don’t sound so surprised.”
“It’s just that—damn, you can’t say that to a man when he has a dishtowel in his hand.”
“Sure I can,” she teased, “and do you know why? Because I don’t plan on leaving you anytime soon, either.”
Then they were in each other’s arms again. They didn’t kiss; the day of Dan’s funeral was too soon for that. But the time would come again and they’d both know when it did.
“Are you sure your boyfriend won’t mind me stealing you on a Friday night?” Stan asked Olivia as they stood in line at the six-plex theater.
“Jack’s busy.” He’d phoned and invited her to come with him to the school board meeting, but she’d declined. Because Jack was so paranoid about Stan, she didn’t mention that she was going to an early movie with her ex-husband. She would tell him, though; she just didn’t want a big discussion about it.
“This is almost like old times,” Stan said.
“Not quite. Are you buying the popcorn or am I?”
“You are,” he said.
“Well, in that way, I guess, it is like old times.” With three young children, a night out for them had been infrequent. Going to a movie every six months was a big deal. In order to save time, Stan generally bought the tickets while she stood in line at the snack bar.
“Where is Clark Kent, anyway?” Stan asked as they walked into the theater.
He certainly was curious. “He had a meeting to attend.”
“Are you going to tell him about this? Because I don’t want to be a source of trouble between you two.”
“Of course I’ll tell him.” She wasn’t one who kept secrets, and Stan should know that. His questions irritated her.
They sat in the back of the theater, and as soon as they were settled in, Olivia took a handful of popcorn.
“You actually like this guy, don’t you?”
With her mouth full, she simply nodded. The truth of it was, she did. Jack was intelligent and argumentative and he had a sense of humor; he challenged her and he made her laugh. He was a bit insecure, too, but she was willing to look past that.
Stan seemed about to ask her another question when the previews started, for which Olivia was grateful. She didn’t want to spend the evening discussing her personal relationships.
After the movie, they stopped for coffee and dessert at the PancakePalace. That had also been part of their date-night routine. But as they sat in the booth across from each other, Olivia was determined not to let Stan sidetrack her, either with nostalgic references or with questions about Jack. He’d contacted her, wanting advice about his marriage. So that was going to be the subject of their conversation.
“Are you and Jack—”
“Wait a minute.” Olivia raised her hand. “Is tonight about you or me?”
Stan lowered his eyes. “Defeat has never come easy to me.”
Olivia had to bite her tongue to keep from reminding him that he’d been the one to pack up and move out of their home. He’d been the one to file for divorce and the one who insisted their marriage was over.
“What happened?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Marge wants out.”
“She says she doesn’t love me anymore—that we had something special once but we don’t now. She’s already filed for divorce.”
“How do you feel about that?”
Stan refused to meet her eyes. “It hurts like hell.”
Then, because her own experience had given her some insight into Marge, Olivia asked, “Do you think she’s met someone else?”
Stan’s gaze shot to hers as he slowly nodded. “I’ve thought that for some time.”
Olivia didn’t feel any sense of vindication at being right. She felt sadness for both her ex-husband and his second wife. Stan and Marge had once had a solid marriage, but apparently old patterns had reasserted themselves. She recalled that Marge, too, had been married when she’d met Stan.
He tried to make light of it, but Olivia knew him well enough to recognize the pain in his eyes. For the first time, she looked at him and didn’t see the strikingly attractive man he’d once been. Stan seemed old and somehow, worn-out, his skin sallow and lined.
They talked for nearly an hour and she was astonished to see that it was almost nine by the time they paid for their coffee and pie.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” he confessed as they drove back to the house on Lighthouse Road
. “I have to tell you, Olivia, this divorce business has really got me down.”
She patted his hand. “Life has a way of working everything out. Don’t give up on Marge yet.”
Stan pulled over to the side of the road. The sun was just setting, and the last threads of light cast a golden glow across the shimmering waters of the Cove. “I’ve always loved the view of the house from here,” he said, leaving the engine to idle.
Olivia did, too. She remembered when she’d first seen that old house with the For Sale sign in the front yard. She’d felt chills go down her spine. She didn’t even need to tour the inside to know this was the home she wanted for her family. Although the price had been a stretch for them, together they’d managed to come up with the down payment and get a loan. The twins had been four then, and it was the first time they’d had their own rooms. Unfortunately the house hadn’t been enough to hold their family together after the loss of Jordan. Yet in many ways Olivia viewed it as a symbol of everything that was best about their marriage.
“Marge moved out last weekend,” Stan admitted.
Olivia hadn’t known that. “I’m so sorry, Stan.”
He sighed and looked away. “Thank you for not gloating. This is what I deserve, isn’t it?”
“We’ve been divorced a lot of years.”
“Yes, I know, but you’ve been decent about it, Liv, really decent.”
She wasn’t sure that was entirely true.
“I don’t think I can face going home. Not tonight,” he said, sounding broken and tired.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll just get a hotel room.”
Olivia knew this could just be a ploy, but she did feel bad for him, and she understood his not wanting to go back to an empty house. “There’s no need to do that. You can sleep in James’s old room and drive to Seattle in the morning.”
Some of the stress left his face. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“No, but I do have an appointment tomorrow. I should leave by nine.” She and Jack were going to Sol Duc Hot Springs so he could do research for a travel article. Since she had the better car, she was picking him up.