With the possibility that Megan might have MS, Troy had made the painful decision to sever his relationship with Faith. He missed her, missed their long telephone conversations, missed spending time with her. There was no alternative, though. Painful as it was to accept, Faith was out of his life.
Ironically, in a recent conversation Megan had implied that it was time he moved on with his life. Troy wished he could believe she meant it, but he was afraid to put too much credence in her words. Yes, she’d attained a new maturity and had reconciled herself to—maybe—living with MS. But her reaction when she’d found out he was seeing someone indicated all too clearly that his daughter was nowhere near ready for him to begin a new relationship. A woman in his life, a woman other than Sandy, seemed a betrayal of her mother’s memory. So, even though Megan was now saying what he wanted to hear, he’d reluctantly decided he couldn’t act on it.
However, whether she truly approved of the idea or not, Megan wasn’t the only one who’d mentioned that he should start dating. A deputy friend of his had suggested setting him up with his mother-in-law—Sally Something. Troy had absolutely no interest in a blind date. The only woman he wanted to see was Faith, and he’d ruined any chance of that.
“Last year,” Megan repeated slowly, breaking into his thoughts. “Mom was here…” The realization that Sandy had been with them for Thanksgiving had obviously just struck her. “Mom always loved the holidays, didn’t she?”
Troy nodded. Despite her physical limitations, Sandy had cherished family traditions and done her utmost to be part of them. He found comfort in the fact that his daughter was continuing where her mother had left off.
“You’re serving mashed potatoes and gravy, too, aren’t you?” He used the question as a diversionary tactic to turn their thoughts from Sandy.
“What about pies?”
“Pumpkin and pecan. Oh, and I have a small surprise to go with dinner.”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
Megan’s eyes sparkled with delight. “I have one jar of the sweet pickles Mom and I made the summer before last. I was saving them for a special occasion.”
Sandy hadn’t been able to do any of the work, but Megan had brought her mother from the care facility to Troy’s house. Together, they’d spent the day canning cucumbers, Sandy giving directions and advice, the two of them laughing often. That afternoon had been one of the best of the entire year for his wife. Sandy had treasured the time with Megan and loved being back in her own home, albeit briefly.
“Your mother will be with us, whether or not we have those sweet pickles,” Troy said.
“I know.” Megan shrugged helplessly. “It’s just that…”
Rather than watch his daughter get emotional, he said, “How about if I bring the dinner rolls on Thursday? And a bottle of wine.”
Megan seemed to struggle with her composure for a moment, then smiled. “Perfect.”
Troy left a few minutes later. The evening stretched before him, long and empty. Instead of going home immediately, he drove to the local Safeway store, still wearing his uniform. He needed a few groceries and since he was already there, he might as well pick up the wine and dinner rolls he’d promised Megan.
Troy reached for a cart and wheeled it toward the vegetable aisle, starting in the same part of the store Sandy always had. He wasn’t sure why he bothered to purchase anything fresh, because all it did was rot in his refrigerator. He was checking out the bananas when he saw her.
He stopped abruptly and stared at her. It’d been two weeks since they’d spoken. That conversation had been among the most uncomfortable of his life. When she’d answered the phone, she’d been so excited to hear his voice. She’d told him her Seattle house had sold; before he could say anything else, she’d announced that she was moving to Cedar Cove. She’d said this with such joy and enthusiasm, expecting him to be just as pleased. And then he’d told her he wouldn’t be seeing her again.
Even now he could clearly recall her pain. It haunted his sleep. He remembered how calmly Faith had listened as he haltingly explained about Megan. She hadn’t raised her voice or argued. In the end, she’d wished him well.
At that moment, Faith glanced up and saw him standing not more than two feet away. Her reaction was the same as his—she went completely still as their eyes met over the large pile of bananas.
Troy was good at reading faces. Her initial reaction was shock, followed by a flicker of undiluted misery. Both emotions were quickly gone as she visibly took a breath and schooled her expression.
“Hello, Troy,” she said pleasantly.
“Faith.” He inclined his head slightly and wondered if she heard the regret in his voice.
Looking at her cart, he was surprised to see it filled with essential items—flour, sugar, coffee, milk, some fruit and vegetables. That suggested she was already living in Cedar Cove. He knew she’d sold her home, but he’d assumed it would be months before he’d see her again—months during which he could prepare for her presence in his town. He certainly wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready for a face-to-face encounter so soon after their break-up.
“You’ve left Seattle?” he asked.
“I told you my house sold.”
“Yes, you did, but…” He couldn’t make his tongue cooperate. He was about to argue, to tell her this wasn’t fair. However, when it came to being fair, he didn’t have a lot of ground to stand on. He’d treated her badly.
His reaction apparently made her want to explain. “One of the stipulations was that the closing would be before the end of November, preferably before Thanksgiving.”
“You mean you’re living in town now?”
“I…yes.” She seemed as uncomfortable as he was. “I just never thought I’d run into you so soon—my very first day. I’d hoped…” She let the rest fade.
Troy knew exactly what she meant. He’d hoped, too. Hoped they wouldn’t see each other for a long time, because the pain of losing her, the disappointment of it, would be hard to conceal. Especially since he’d brought it on himself.
They had a history; they’d been high school sweethearts and then Troy had gone into the service after graduation to avoid being drafted for Vietnam. He’d planned to propose to Faith once he’d completed his basic training. Unbeknownst to them, Faith’s mother had thwarted the relationship by withholding Troy’s letters. Mrs. Carroll had decided they were too young to be so seriously involved.
Troy had gone on to meet Sandy later that summer, and Faith had left for college and met her future husband. Nearly forty years had passed before they reconnected—only to be separated by circumstances once again. Except that this time it wasn’t Faith’s mother but Megan who’d come between them.
“I saw Grace Sherman,” Faith murmured, breaking eye contact.
“It’s Harding now.”
Faith nodded. “That’s right. She’s remarried. And I met Cliff. They’ve both been a great help. I simply haven’t had time to look for a place to buy, and I didn’t want to make a hasty decision I’d later regret.”
“Of course.” He wasn’t sure if that was an oblique comment on their relationship.
Speaking quickly, she said, “I was visiting my son and his family last week. Scottie read the classifieds in the paper, and he mentioned the rental house on Rosewood Lane.” She took a deep breath. “A day or so after that, I ran into Grace. I’d taken my grandchildren to the movies, and Grace and Olivia were just coming out. When I told them I was moving to Cedar Cove, Grace said her rental house had recently become vacant. It turned out to be the same place.”
Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Troy grinned.
Faith frowned, obviously puzzled by the fact that he was smiling.
Troy felt obliged to tell her why. “Grace had bad renters, deadbeats who trashed the place, and it looked like it might take months to get them out legally.”
“I didn’t know that. So…what happened?”
“Cliff and Olivia’s husband, Jack Griffin, used a…rather inventive means of convincing them to move—that same night.”
“So that’s why the walls have all been freshly painted,” she said. He saw her fingers tighten around the cart handle and suspected she was about to leave.
Regardless of his own discomfort, Troy didn’t want her to go. He’d missed her even more than he dared to admit. Seeing her unexpectedly was simultaneously agonizing and exhilarating, like warming frostbitten fingers before a fire.
“You’re shopping for Thanksgiving?” he asked, gesturing at the contents of her cart, which included sweet potatoes and a bag of fresh cranberries.
She picked up a small bunch of bananas and added them to her groceries. “No. I’m buying a few things to stock my cupboards and my fridge. My daughter and daughter-in-law are at the house now, unpacking. I didn’t intend to be gone long.”
He should let her go, he realized, nodding mutely.
“Nice seeing you,” she said, but she was obviously just being polite.
She took a few steps, nudging her cart, then hesitated. “Listen, Troy, I don’t want you to worry.”
“Worry?” Was she talking about Megan? He’d made a point of not bringing up the subject of his daughter and was grateful that Faith hadn’t asked.
“I don’t plan to make a habit of running into you. I’m sure you feel the same way.”
“This was purely coincidental.” It wasn’t like he’d followed her into the store.
“I know. But I’ll do my shopping when you’re at work, and I doubt we’ll frequent the same places.” She threw back her shoulders as if that was her last word on the subject.
He managed a faint smile. “Good to see you again, Faith.”
“You, too, Troy.” Her steps were purposeful as she moved past him with her cart.
Troy watched her go, trying not to stare, forcing himself not to rush after her.
With a determined effort, he continued down the produce aisle and hurried through the rest of the store, collecting what he needed. Bananas. Paper towels. Cans of soup and chili, a couple of frozen entrées. Dinner rolls and wine for Thursday. When he’d finished, he pushed his cart over to the checkout.
As luck would have it, Faith was at the counter beside his, waiting her turn. He felt guilty glancing in her direction but caught her looking at him, too.
Finally he couldn’t stand it anymore. He stepped away from his cart and toward her. “Listen, Faith, let’s talk.”
Her eyes widened.
“Let’s go for coffee, all right? If now isn’t convenient, then perhaps tomorrow. If you prefer to do it after Thanksgiving, that would be fine, too.” He hadn’t figured out what he’d say to her, but he’d come up with something. At least he could sit there and look at her.
He could tell immediately that Faith didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Thank you, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”