She and Goodness should have it so easy. As for herself, Mercy was batting zero when it came to helping Leah, and from what she heard, Goodness wasn’t in much better shape. If anything, matters had gotten progressively worse. In the last report from Goodness, Mercy had learned that Monica Fischer had stretched the truth in an effort to seek out Chet Costello. For a woman who prided herself on rigid honesty this was not an encouraging sign.

“I don’t mean to sound so bossy,” Shirley explained, looking apologetic, “but Gabriel could have your wings for this.”

“My wings! I don’t think so.” It would take a whole lot more than tapping out “Hit the Road, Jack” on a car horn for that to happen.

“I’m only trying to help you.”

“I know, but . . .”

A whoosh of warm wind accompanied Goodness, who arrived breathless and impatient, with her feathers ruffled with indignation. “What is going on with you two?” she demanded.

“Shirley decided to appoint herself as my guardian and—”

“I was watching out for your best interests.”

“Stop! Both of you!” Goodness cried, tossing her arms in the air. “I had to leave Monica and Chet at the worst possible moment for this.”

“Not really, we were—”

Goodness cut her off by stamping her foot. “Shall we all get back to our jobs? Humans are trouble enough without the three of us squabbling.”

“I was only looking to help,” Shirley offered with an injured look.

When Leah pulled into her driveway, she wasn’t sure what to expect. The business with her horn had ceased the moment she started the engine. Since Andrew took care of the maintenance on their vehicles it was something she should tell him. But how could she explain her horn going all weird on her?

The front door to the house opened even before she had a chance to climb out of the car. Andrew’s large frame filled the doorway as he rushed out to meet her.

“Where were you?” he asked, his face tight with concern. “I must have made a dozen phone calls and sounded like a complete idiot looking for my wife.”

“I . . . I drove over to Pam and Doug’s.”

“Pam and Doug,” Andrew repeated and stabbed his fingers into his hair as if to punish himself. “I should have tried them first—it makes perfect sense, the way you love those kids,” he said, steering her toward the house. He closed the door, shutting out the cold.

“You weren’t ready to talk, remember?” Leah said. “You were preoccupied with the sports news and needed time to sort through your feelings. Or so you said.”

Andrew nodded. “I behaved like a fool. I’m sorry, Leah.”

“You? I was the one who owed you an apology.”

“You gave it,” Andrew reminded her, and something she couldn’t read flared in his eyes, “Hell, I don’t know what was wrong with me.”

“You needed your space,” Leah supplied, removing her coat and hanging it in the hall closet. “We all do at one time or another. I understand.”

“I should never have let you go. You wanted to settle matters then and there. I was the one who made everything so difficult.” He brought her into the circle of his arms and sighed as she relaxed against him. “I love you so damn much,” he said.

“I know,” she whispered. His fingers lovingly worked through the tangles in her hair. “I love you too. You’re right, Andrew, I realize that now and I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you—”

“Hush,” he whispered, gently kissing her. “It’s forgotten.”

“You’re the most important person in my life.”

“I found the record book in the garbage. Do you mean it, honey? Can we stop worrying about a pregnancy and concentrate on each other?”

Leah understood what he was asking. He wanted her to let go of the frantic need she had for a child, to stop looking for a pregnancy to fulfill her as a woman.

She’d cheated her husband out of far more than she realized. All these years she’d been subtly and not so subtly telling him his love wasn’t enough. Every time she’d dragged him to another doctor, to another fertility clinic, through another series of tests, she in essence said she found him lacking and that she needed something more. She tagged a condition onto her happiness, insisting she needed a child, the child he should give her.

Wrapping her arms around Andrew’s neck, Leah slowly nodded. The dream was dead. It had been from the moment she realized what she’d done to him.

“Mom.” Timmy greeted Jody at the door the minute she walked into the house after work Monday morning. “A package came for me from Grandma Potter. Can I open it?” He was hopping up and down like a pogo stick, following her from one room to the next. “It’s addressed to me.”

“A package?”

“It’s probably for Christmas. You’re not going to make me wait, are you?”

Jody moved into the family room and stopped short. Timmy hadn’t exaggerated, the package was huge. She was curious herself. Gloria was very good at remembering Timmy on his birthday and Christmas, but she generally sent a check, claiming he should save for his college education.

“I don’t think it’d do any harm to open it up,” Jody said, curious herself.

“I’ve got the scissors all ready,” Timmy said, racing into the kitchen.

“Don’t run with scissors in your hand,” she warned.

“I’m not a kid!” Timmy chided, walking back with exaggeratedly slow steps.

“Sorry,” Jody said, smiling to herself.

The box had been carefully packaged, as if it contained something of exceptional value. Once the tape had been cut away they were able to peel back the cardboard lid. Timmy immediately starting digging when they discovered the box was filled with Styrofoam packing balls. The material flew in every direction. She laughed, watching her son virtually attack the present.

He bent over the top, his feet six inches off the ground. “There are a bunch of smaller boxes inside,” he called, lifting out the first of what proved to be several.

Jody lined them up on the coffee table and Timmy opened the largest one first. “What’s this?” he asked, bringing out a trophy.

Jody was puzzled herself.

“Look, there’s a letter in here for you.”

Jody took the envelope and ripped it open.

Dearest Jody and Timmy,

You’re were right, Jody. Jeff is dead and it’s time I accepted as much. Forgive an old woman who can’t bear to believe that her only son is gone. The truth was too painful to accept. Painful for you and Timmy too, I realize.

It came to me the other day that now Timmy’s growing up, he might be interested in having the things that once belonged to his father. Jeff’s childhood treasures are his now and don’t belong to a grieving mother. Take them, and treasure them, but most of all, remember Jeff.

“What’s the trophy for?” Timmy asked, turning it upside down and examining the bottom. “This is weird, the way they put it together.”

Jody could barely speak for the tears in her throat. “Your father won that when he was twelve,” she said, holding onto the statue with both hands. “For soccer.”

“My dad played soccer?”

Jody nodded.

“I didn’t know that.”

Jeff was wonderfully athletic, the same way Timmy was, but he’d concentrated on football and track in high school and college.

“Wow,” Timmy said, “look at this. It’s really old.”

“It’s your dad’s report card from when he was in the first grade.”

“He was smart, wasn’t he?”

“Very smart.”

“You were too, weren’t you, Mom?”

She nodded.

Timmy was hurriedly opening one box and then the next. “This stuff is really neat. I can keep it, can’t I, forever and ever?”

“Of course.”

“I’m never going to forget my dad. Never,” he vowed, sitting back on his legs and releasing a slow, uneven sigh. “You know, Mom, it might not be such a good idea for you to get me another dad. Not when I already have one. It was just that until now he was a face in a picture you keep by the fireplace. But he was really a neat guy, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” she agreed, “he was someone very special.”

Timmy’s eyes grew serious. “Then it’d be wrong to look for another dad.”

Chapter 8

Monica was in a tizzy. Chet had seen her standing outside of the Blue Goose, and knew she’d sought him out. Her first thought was that she should adamantly deny everything. That, however, would be a lie and she prided herself on her honesty.

“Couldn’t stay away, could you?” he said in that impertinent way of his.

“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” she snapped. The buzz of traffic zoomed past her as she stiffly stood on the curb, waiting for the light to change.

Chet laughed, the sound mingling with those from the street and the busy holiday shoppers. The signal changed and she remained frozen, unable to move with the others.

“I imagine that’s as close to the truth as I’m likely to get from you,” he said, and gripping hold of her elbow, escorted her across the street. He didn’t tell her where he was taking her and she didn’t ask. Although she had long legs, she had trouble keeping up with his brisk pace.

He steered her into Woolworth’s and over to the lunch counter.

“What are we doing here?” she demanded, disliking the assumptions he was making.

He ignored her and slipped into a booth. She would have brought attention to herself if she’d continued standing so she uneasily claimed the seat across from him.

“You hungry?” he asked nonchalantly, reaching for the yellowed plastic-coated menu tucked behind the silver napkin dispenser.

“I . . . as a matter of fact I am, but . . .”

“The steak sandwich is excellent and they don’t do a bad chicken-fried steak.”

“I’ll just have coffee,” she told him. By all that was right she shouldn’t be sitting with him. She barely knew the man and what she did know was a cause for a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil.

“Suit yourself.”

The waitress came, an older woman with gray hair in a pale pink uniform. She chewed gum and looked more worn than the linoleum in Monica’s kitchen.

“I’ll have a BLT on wheat, with coffee,” Chet ordered.

The waitress wrote down the order and looked to Monica expectantly.

“The same, only put mine on a separate ticket.”

The woman left, jotting down Monica’s order as she went.

“I saw you outside the Blue Goose,” Chet announced casually.

It was all Monica could do not to cover her face with her hands. It mortified her to know he’d seen her standing outside the tavern, debating whether she should go inside or not.

“I know why you were there too.”

“You do?” Her rebellious gaze shot to his. She was certain he could see her pulse beating in the vein in her neck, the sound echoing in her ear like thunder.

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