He was Carrie’s Tuesday-night theater date. “Probably not.”
“Because of this other guy?”
Sophie was digging for information, but Carrie wasn’t going to let anything out. In response, she shrugged.
“David’s a prize, you know.”
“For someone else, maybe.”
“From what I’ve seen, he’d like to be more than a friend.”
Carrie had sensed as much. But even before she met Finn she knew it wasn’t happening for her. She felt vastly different when it came to Finn. He was a man’s man. Dave was personable and fun, but he wouldn’t be able to last a day on his own in an Alaskan winter. He wouldn’t even know where to start in order to survive. Oh, he could dress like a male model and flatter a woman with compliments and sweet talk. In simple terms, he wasn’t, and would never be, another Finn.
As they munched through their meal they quickly pared down the guest list. Sophie promised to send out email invites that afternoon. A little more than two weeks wasn’t much notice, but it should be adequate.
Eager to hear from Finn, Carrie rushed back to the office and straight to her cubicle. She still had one sleeve in her coat when she grabbed her cell phone and texted Finn.
I’m back in the office.
It didn’t take long for him to reply. Snoopy friend?
Need to be careful; suspicions running rampant. Told her you were from Seattle, which you are, right?
Yes. Talk tonight?
Carrie had her phone tucked back inside her purse and her coat off when her desk phone rang. She answered the way she always did. “Carrie Slayton.”
The voice on the other end of the line was vaguely familiar.
“It’s Joan Reese, Finn Dalton’s mother. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but I hadn’t heard from you and I’ve been anxious for news of my son.”
Carrie felt dreadful that she’d delayed getting in touch with Finn’s mother. “Joan, I am so sorry. I’ve been meaning to call.” She started to make a convenient excuse, the way she had with her own family, then stopped herself.
“Were you able to talk to Finn?” Joan asked.
“Yes.” Carrie couldn’t find the words to tell this gentle woman that Finn wanted nothing to do with her or the wedding band Joan had asked her to deliver.
“Did you give him the ring?”
“I tried.” That should tell her what had happened without Carrie going into a long explanation.
“Oh.” In a single word, her disappointment rang like a cathedral bell.
Carrie lowered her voice for fear someone might be listening in on the conversation. “I spent two days alone with him at his cabin outside of Fairbanks. Well, his dog was with us, too.”
“How is he?” Joan asked, with such longing that it nearly brought tears to Carrie’s eyes.
Carrie hardly knew how to answer, knowing she meant more than Finn’s physical well-being. Joan hungered for information, and Carrie didn’t have those kinds of answers. “He’s doing well,” she started off. “He looks good. He has a big dog named Hennessey.”
“Yes. When I first saw him I thought he was a wolf, interested in dinner and that meal was me.” She hoped the story would bring levity to their conversation.
Joan laughed softly. “Paul must have named him. Hennessey was his mother’s maiden name.”
Carrie remembered how the large dog had spent the night warming her and longed to see him again.
Joan hesitated. “Finn wouldn’t take the ring, would he?”
“No, but he did ask after you.”
“He did?” How quickly joy flooded her words. “That gives me hope.”
“It’s a positive sign. Given time, I think Finn will come around, I really do.” Carrie couldn’t leave the older woman without some positive news. Perhaps in time Carrie would be able to influence Finn to give his mother another chance.
Joan softly sighed. “I hope you’re right. I really appreciate your efforts.”
“He might not realize it yet, but one day Finn will figure out that he needs you, too.”
“Thank you, Carrie.” Joan said, and she seemed to struggle to sound encouraged. “I won’t keep you any longer. I apologize for contacting you at your work.”
“Joan, before I let you go I need to ask you something …”
“Of course, anything.”
“Finn mailed me a gift. It’s a toaster, a really old one. I asked him about it, but his answers have been vague. Is there some significance to it?”
His mother started to laugh. “He gave you the toaster?”
“Yes. I have it in my kitchen … I’ve been using it.”
Joan exhaled and seemed to be gathering her thoughts. “Paul bought that toaster for me when we were first dating. My goodness, I had no idea he’d kept it. That toaster is nearly forty years old. It was the first sign I had that Paul had any feelings for me.”
“Why do you think Finn would want me to have it?”
“My dear, isn’t it obvious?” she asked, and appeared to get real enjoyment out of the telling. “My son is crazy about you. He’s repeating what his father did when he first fell in love with me. Finn is telling you the only way he knows how that you’re important to him.”
“He’s important to me, too.”
The line went silent for a moment. “Oh, dear. Are you in love with my son?”
“I think so,” Carrie said, lowering her voice. She wasn’t sure why she hesitated. “Yes,” she said, plainly, distinctly. They’d known each other less than a month and yet her heart knew. No man had ever made her feel the way she did about Finn.
“Proceed carefully, my dear,” Joan warned. “If Finn is anything like his father, and I suspect he is, then he doesn’t give his heart lightly; he loves deeply, completely, and when he’s hurt he’ll react like a wounded grizzly bear.”
Carrie mulled over Finn’s mother’s words the rest of the afternoon. The conversation with her own mother lingered in her mind as well. She and Finn were very different people, living in entirely different worlds. She was a girly girl, just as her email address claimed, and he lived and worked in the Alaskan wilderness. The practical side of Carrie reminded her that they had little in common, but her heart was unwilling to listen.
Carrie’s mother had referred to this as the honeymoon part of the relationship, when they were so caught up in the intensity of their feelings that they willingly ignored their differences. It was easy to do, which was exactly what her mother was trying to tell her.
Finn’s mother, too, had issued her own dire warning. It seemed everyone she told about her and Finn was filled with doubts about the two of them. One reason Carrie hadn’t told Sophie about Finn was because she knew her best friend would become a naysayer as well, and Carrie didn’t want to hear it.
That evening Carrie was anxious to talk to Finn. She sat on the sofa with her legs tucked under her and the phone clenched tightly in her hand, ready to answer the instant he rang. Her thick, wild hair was tied at the base of her neck with a scrunchie.
By the time he phoned, Carrie felt ready to weep. “I’m so glad you called,” she blurted out the minute she heard his voice.
“What’s wrong?” He was immediately concerned.
“Your mother. My mother.”
“What’s going on? You talked to my mother?” He didn’t sound happy about it, either.
“Oh, sure, get upset with me, too, that’s all I need.”
“Carrie, take a deep breath and start at the beginning.”
She inhaled deeply and then exhaled. “My mom and I spoke recently, and she warned me about falling for you … she said right now nothing seems impossible, but eventually we’re going to have to face our differences.”
The line went silent as he seemed to take in her mother’s words of wisdom. “And my mother said the same thing,” he said gruffly, sounding annoyed.
“More or less.”
“And that worries you?”
“Yes. I don’t want it to, but it does. It’s been nearly three weeks since I last saw you and it feels like an eternity. Is it really possible to feel this strongly about someone I’ve known only a short while?”
“Do you want to call it quits now and save us both a lot of hassle and heartache?” he asked starkly.
“No.” Her response was vehement and instant. “Are you saying that’s what you want?”
“No way. I found myself whistling the other day. I haven’t whistled since I was a kid. I climbed into bed at the cabin the other night and I felt your presence from just that small amount of time you slept in my bed. I rested better than I have in years.”
“Oh, Finn, you make me want to cry.” Carrie didn’t know why she’d thought this man couldn’t be romantic.
“Sawyer just looks at me and shakes his head, as if he no longer recognizes me. I’m not alone, either. Hennessey mopes around the cabin, looking lost and miserable.”
“It’s the same with me. What’s happened to us? I think about you and then my insides get all mushy and I feel like I want to cry because I have no idea when I’ll see you again,” she whispered.
She heard the sound of him exhaling. “We don’t have to make any decisions tonight, do we?”
“No,” she agreed.
“I can’t give you up yet, Carrie.”
“Do you have to give me up at all?” she asked. “Do I have to give you up?”
“Not now, and hopefully not for a very long time.”
“Good,” she whispered, “because I don’t think I could bear it.”
“Great,” he said with some enthusiasm. “Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about something else. Tell me about this hot date of yours.”
“Oh, Finn, honestly, you have nothing to fear from Dave.”
“Ah, so his name is Dave.”
“He’s a nice guy, but he would never think to give a woman a toaster. He doesn’t have a heart nearly as big as yours.”
“You realize I’m going to be worrying about you with this guy the entire time you’re out with him.”
His words cheered her considerably. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Well, sure. It will keep you on your toes. If this kind of competition continues, I could end up with a can opener that matches that toaster.”
The night of her dinner date with Dave, Carrie hurried home from the office in order to change clothes. Cool, suave, sophisticated Dave. Finn had been suspiciously quiet all day. She hadn’t received a single text from him in nearly twenty-four hours, which was unusual. She knew he was concerned about her going to the theater, even with a friend, and seemed to view any man she saw as a potential threat. It was clear he didn’t have a clue how head-over-heels nuts she was over him.
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