Ignoring the work waiting on her desk, she again read the scrawl she could scarcely believe had come from her sonâ€™s hand. How could it be his, when the memory sheâ€™d carried for the last eighteen years was of a tiny, red-skinned infant, barely able to keep his eyes open? Even the yearly pictures his mother sent hadnâ€™t erased the memory of his birth or the one time sheâ€™d been allowed to hold her baby. To count his fingers and toes and kiss his soft cheek before telling him good-bye.
|Redeeming Sarah's Present Series:Route 66 By Mildred Colvin|
Dear Miss Maddox, My mom asked me to write to you. My parents told me about the agreement they made to allow you to meet me on or near my eighteenth birthday. We talked it over and have decided the best thing would be for us to come to Chicago where you live. We could meet in a public place such as a shopping mall. Thereâ€™s one just off old Route 66 near Ogden. Iâ€™m not good with directions, but weâ€™ve shopped there before and know the area. I printed a map off Google for you.
Since my birthday is March 17, and thatâ€™s on Thursday, we thought it might be best to meet on Saturday, March 19, right after lunch at about one oâ€™clock. If that wonâ€™t work for you, please let my mom know. I look forward to meeting you.
Sincerely, Trey Miller
She grabbed a tissue and blotted the tears blurring her eyes. For eighteen years sheâ€™d looked forward to this day. For the last several months sheâ€™d counted the time until she could meet her son. Now the wait was almost over. Today was March 17. Trey would celebrate his birthday with his parents today. Saturday would be her turn. Just two more days.
The intercom on her desk buzzed before Triciaâ€™s voice spoke. â€œSarah, I have a call for you from Dr. Jenson.â€
â€œOh wonderful.â€ Sarah jumped from her desk. â€œCan you hold on just a minute?â€
Sarah stuck Treyâ€™s letter in her lap drawer and slammed it shut. She hurried to the door, grabbing her purse as she went. In the outer office, she paused beside Triciaâ€™s desk, mouthing the words. â€œTell him Iâ€™m out.â€
Triciaâ€™s chuckle followed her across the room. As she closed the outer door, she heard her assistant speak into the phone. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Dr. Jenson. Miss Maddox is not in her office.â€
Sarah clutched her purse as she stood in the hall trying to decide where she could hide. When Dr. Harold Jenson asked her to the hospital staffâ€™s Christmas banquet last year, she hadnâ€™t known he was divorced, and she was flattered. He was good-looking, with a successful practice, and drove a flashy sports car. Nurses often gave Sarah envious looks when Harold sought out her company in the hospital cafeteria or at hospital-related functions. Sarah liked Harold and enjoyed the attention, but lately heâ€™d been pushing for a commitment she didnâ€™t feel like making. She wasnâ€™t sure she wanted to be involved in his problems with his ex-wife and their young daughter.
At the moment, she wanted to bask alone in the knowledge she would soon meet her son. A few minutes in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee to start the day would be a good excuse for leaving her office and hurried down the hall to the elevators.
Sarah went through the line in the cafeteria, glancing over the dining room. She took her coffee to a small empty table. Two seconds later, her heart sank, as over the rim of her cup she watched Harold stride toward her, an indulgent smile on his face.
â€œI thought Iâ€™d catch you here.â€ He pulled out the chair facing her and sat as if sheâ€™d invited him. â€œI called your office. When your secretary said you were out, I figured you hadnâ€™t had your morning caffeine yet.â€
Sarah smiled. â€œYou figured right. So why arenâ€™t you treating the little ones today?â€
â€œAll in good time. Even pediatricians get a few minutes to chase beautiful women.â€
Sarah shook her head. â€œI donâ€™t see you chasing beautiful women.â€ She inclined her head toward a couple of nurses who walked past, giving Harold a quick appraisal. â€œThere go two right now, and I didnâ€™t notice you looking.â€
Harold chuckled, his gaze meeting hers. â€œI saw a couple of nurses, but Iâ€™m looking at the only beautiful woman in the hospital.â€
Sarah felt the color rise to her cheeks while she stared at her coffee. â€œI wish you wouldnâ€™t say things like that.â€
â€œWhy not?â€ He reached across the table and took her hand. â€œIâ€™ve told you how I feel, Sarah. Iâ€™d like for us to be more than friends. A lot more.â€
â€œI know.â€ She slipped her hand from his and nestled it in her lap. "But right now isnâ€™t a good time for me. Iâ€™ve got a lot on my mind. Iâ€™m still fairly new at my job and itâ€™s very demanding.â€
â€œPersonnel director.â€ Haroldâ€™s blue eyes smiled at her. â€œSure, thatâ€™s a big responsibility and Iâ€™m proud of you. I have no doubt you will do great. You already are. But thereâ€™s more, isnâ€™t there?â€
â€œThereâ€™s also my son.â€ Sarah watched his expression cloud. He didnâ€™t approve of her upcoming meeting with Trey.
â€œThatâ€™s Saturday, isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œYes, in the afternoon.â€
â€œWhat about his father?â€
Sarah frowned. â€œHis parents will be with him, both of them.â€
â€œI mean his birth father. Will he be there?â€
Air rushed into her lungs at the thought. â€œNo, of course not. Why would he?â€
Haroldâ€™s voice softened. â€œHe has as much right as you do, Sarah. Why wouldnâ€™t he be there?â€
The thought of Kevin Nichols showing up after eighteen years, shoving his way into her sonâ€™s life after what heâ€™d done, filled Sarah with dread and a touch of anger.
â€œHe wonâ€™t be there. He didnâ€™t care when Trey was born, why would he care now? Iâ€™m the one who was left with the decisions and had the baby. Iâ€™m the one who chose the adoptive parents and made arrangements to keep in touch with my son while Kevin finished out his senior year playing football and dating cheerleaders.â€
Harold sighed and leaned back, keeping his intense gaze locked with hers. â€œPeople change, Sarah. Thatâ€™s something you might want to consider. How old was this boy when you got pregnant?â€
Heat filled Sarahâ€™s face at Haroldâ€™s bluntness. She thought back to the teenage boy Kevin had been. To the love she thought theyâ€™d shared. The plans theyâ€™d made. Until they went too far and sheâ€™d been caught.
â€œHe was barely seventeen when I told him about the baby.â€
â€œJust a child.â€ Harold shook his head.
Sarah nodded, remembering. â€œWe both were. He offered to pay for an abortion. When I refused, he walked away.â€ She looked up at Harold. â€œHe offered to kill his own son. I hated him for years. I was scared; he was terrified. I havenâ€™t seen him since before Trey was born.â€
â€œThatâ€™s probably for the best.â€ Harold smiled at Sarah. â€œIâ€™m sorry, sweetheart. I didnâ€™t mean to dredge up old memories. How about I make it up to you? I donâ€™t have Katie this weekend, so letâ€™s go out Saturday night after you meet your son. You can tell me about it then.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, Harold.â€ Sarah forced a smile. â€œI may not be good company. If you want to call or come by the house, that would be fine.â€
â€œHey, Iâ€™ll take what crumbs I can get.â€ Harold looked at his watch and stood. â€œMy break is over. Keep smiling, and Iâ€™ll see you Saturday if not before.â€
Sarah watched him walk away. She took a sip of her now tepid coffee and frowned. She needed to get back to work too. Saturday would be here before she knew it, and that would be soon enough to go down memory lane.
Sarah had no trouble finding the shopping center Saturday afternoon. In fact, she arrived fifteen minutes early. Her hands trembled as she reached for her purse. She pulled Treyâ€™s invitation out and read it through one more time before tucking it back and finding her hairbrush.
The car mirror reflected her long, straight hair as she pulled the brush through. According to his pictures, Treyâ€™s hair had been blond like hers when he was little, but had gradually darkened, until now it was as dark as Kevinâ€™s. With a sharp intake of air, Sarah pushed Kevinâ€™s image from her mind and replaced her hairbrush. She unsnapped her seat belt and opened the door. Today was her time to spend with Trey. Kevin had no place in either of their lives. Not even in her memories.
She walked quickly across the parking lot and paused just inside the mall entrance to smooth her hands down the sides of her new black slacks. She pressed one hand against her fluttering stomach and looked around. Shoppers filled the large open area, as they hurried from one place to another, ignoring her while she stood trying to gather enough courage to take another step. When several people brushed past to go out the door, she stepped out of the way and kept walking, although she was tempted to turn and follow them outside.
Sheâ€™d looked forward to this moment for eighteen years and now it was upon her, she would grab any excuse to hide from the one person she longed more than any other to see. Treyâ€™s map said they would be waiting in the food court. Would she recognize the young man she still thought of as a tiny baby? If only he wouldnâ€™t be disappointed in her. Or be ashamed of her.
Each year, beginning with his first birthday, as part of the agreement sheâ€™d made with his adoptive parents, she received a picture of her son enclosed in a letter telling of his accomplishments. She always kept the latest picture on her mirror where she studied his little boy face until she wouldâ€™ve recognized him anywhere. When another birthday rolled around, and a new picture came, the old one found a special place next to the accompanying letter in her scrapbook dedicated to Trey. But even knowing Trey was now a young man didnâ€™t erase the image in her mind of the infant sheâ€™d held such a short time, before relinquishing him to the Millers.
Sarah stopped at the edge of the food court and saw him immediately. She focused her attention on the dark-haired young man walking toward her. Shock coursed through her at the remarkable resemblance to Kevin. A resemblance his pictures hadnâ€™t captured. Or one sheâ€™d refused to believe. For a moment she didnâ€™t see Trey Miller her son, but she saw the boy sheâ€™d given her heart to years before. The boy whoâ€™d taken all she had to give before trampling her love into the ground with his rejection of her and their unborn child.
Treyâ€™s hesitant smile brought Sarahâ€™s mind to the present, and she focused on his face, while she forced a smile to her lips. â€œTrey?â€
His smile widened. â€œThatâ€™s right, and youâ€™re Sarah Maddox, arenâ€™t you?â€
Her name spoken with an impersonal tone, as if he were speaking to a stranger, caused a heavy weight to settle near her heart. But what did she expect from a boy who probably saw her as an interruption in his life? A boy to whom she was a stranger. She shouldâ€™ve never insisted on meeting him. Why hadnâ€™t she left well enough alone? She glanced to the side as the urge to flee pulled at her.
â€œMiss Maddox?â€ Treyâ€™s smile faltered. â€œIs anything wrong?â€
â€œNo, nothing.â€ Sarah shoved her misgivings aside and again smiled up at her son. My, but she did have to look up at him. Never again would she picture him as the tiny baby whoâ€™d stared into her eyes so trustingly when she kissed him good-bye. â€œThereâ€™s just a lot to take in. Meeting you again, I mean.â€
He gave a quick laugh and motioned to the side. â€œYeah, I know. My folks are waiting over there.â€
Sarah followed Trey as they wound past several tables before stopping by a middle-aged couple who sat looking as uncomfortable as she felt. The man stood with a welcoming smile and extended his hand. As Sarah shook hands with Tom and Mavis Miller, she recognized the people sheâ€™d met briefly when theyâ€™d come for Trey. Theyâ€™d been in their early thirties then, about the same age she was now. Funny how old that seemed eighteen years ago.
â€œWe wonâ€™t stay.â€ Tom stepped back from the table as Mavis stood. â€œWe figured youâ€™d like to visit with Trey alone.â€
â€œThank you.â€ The anxiety sheâ€™d carried all morning eased.
As soon as his parents left, Trey motioned toward the table. â€œWould you like to sit here, Miss Maddox?â€
â€œCertainly. But please call me Sarah.â€
Trey nodded with a quick flash of dimples that again brought Kevin to her mind. â€œOkay, Sarah it is.â€
She shook off the intrusive image of Kevin and eased the package she carried to the table as she sat across from Trey with her purse in her lap. â€œI brought you a gift. I hope thatâ€™s all right.â€
Trey grinned as he took a gaily-wrapped box from a bag at his feet. He handed the package to Sarah. â€œLooks like we both had the same idea. This is my gift to you. Please, Iâ€™d like for you to open it first.â€
Sarah tore the paper wrapping while Trey watched. She lifted the lid from the box inside to reveal a white leather Bible with her name imprinted in the lower corner in gold leaf. â€œOh, Trey, this is so nice. I havenâ€™t had a new Bible since I was about fourteen years old. I will treasure this one always.â€
His clear gray eyes so like Kevinâ€™s met her gaze across the table. â€œIâ€™d really like for you to read it. Mom helped me pick it out especially for you. It has extra helps and study guides just for women. I hope you like it and find a blessing from its words.â€
â€œI will. I promise.â€ Sarah didnâ€™t specify what she was promising and hoped Trey wouldnâ€™t push the point. He seemed like such a nice boy, and she liked that he was interested in the Bible. She always carried a Bible to church and followed the scripture reading there, but she hadnâ€™t spent time studying Godâ€™s Word since her early teen years.
â€œGood.â€ Trey tore the last of the paper from his gift. He held the picture album in one hand and opened the cover. â€œWhat is this?â€
Fear he wouldnâ€™t understand or appreciate her gift clutched Sarahâ€™s heart. â€œItâ€™s sort of a history of your biological family. I hope you donâ€™t mind.â€ She shrugged, trying to keep the concern from her voice. â€œI thought you might like to see what some of your ancestors looked like.â€
â€œWow!â€ Trey glanced up with shining eyes. â€œThis is way sweet! Are you saying these people are my own blood relations?â€
Sarah nodded. â€œYes, they are, but Iâ€™m not sure how sweet most of them are.â€
They laughed together, and Sarahâ€™s muscles relaxed. She pointed to the first couple. â€œThis is my mom and dad. Their names are David and Linda Maddox. They still live in Litchfield, the small town I grew up in, and they wouldâ€™ve been here with me today if they could have. Theyâ€™d love to meet you. Hereâ€™s my brother John and his family. My grandparents are on the next page.â€
When they reached Sarahâ€™s high school graduation picture, Trey looked across the table with a question deep in his eyes.
â€œWhat?â€ Sarah held her breath, not sure what he would ask.
Trey looked away for a moment and then back with a half laugh. â€œSo you did graduate from high school?â€
â€œYes, I did.â€ Pain she thought forgotten, touched her heart. â€œI missed a couple of months my junior year, but was able to keep up and return the following year.â€
He nodded and stared at the picture. â€œI see.â€
â€œNo, I think thereâ€™s more. What is it?â€
He looked up to meet her gaze. â€œWhy?â€
For a reason she didnâ€™t understand, tears burned her eyes. â€œI donâ€™t know what you want, Trey. What are you asking?â€
He continued to stare into her eyes as if trying to see her very soul. â€œWhy did you give me away?â€
Each word slammed against her heart. Give him away? Didnâ€™t he know how much she wanted to keep him? How sheâ€™d ached for him with every fiber of her being for the past eighteen years? But of course not. How could he?
She could scarcely force the words past the lump in her throat. â€œYou were never mine to keep, Trey. I gave birth to you, yes, but I was only seventeen. I had no job, no diploma, no husband, no future for a baby. Oh, I tried to keep you. I fought my parents and the social workers when they told me adoption was the best choice for both you and me. I fought until the day after you were born. I thought I loved you before you were born, but in the last twenty-four hours you were mine, I knew how wrong Iâ€™d been.â€
She wiped a tear from her cheek. â€œI held you in my arms and counted your fingers and toes. I dreamed of taking you home and watching you grow. Seeing you smile, teaching you to say â€˜Mama,â€™ and helping you take your first step. I wanted that so much, only I didnâ€™t have a home. I couldnâ€™t take care of myself.â€ Her voice dropped to a whisper. â€œI couldnâ€™t take care of a baby.â€
She touched his hands clenched in front of him on the table. â€œIâ€™m a stranger to you, Trey, but youâ€™ve lived in my heart for every minute of the last eighteen years. I gave you away because I loved you.â€
Trey turned his hands over and held her hand between them. His eyes shone with a suspicion of tears. â€œThank you. I want you to know, I think you did the best thing possible for me. I had a childhood other kids can only dream about. My mom and dad love me and I love them. They are the best.â€ A wide smile split his face. â€œNow I know where I came from and thatâ€™s really sweet, you know? â€™Cause in my book, youâ€™re the best, too.â€
Sarah laughed through a sheen of tears. She couldnâ€™t be the best in anyoneâ€™s book. â€œThanks, Trey. Your parents did a good job raising you, and Iâ€™m thankful. Are you interested in seeing more of where you came from?â€
â€œSure am.â€ Trey turned back to the picture album with a light of interest in his eyes that Sarah didnâ€™t think was feigned.
As they poured over the album, advancing a few pages then back for clarification before going on, the time flew. Trey seemed genuinely interested in each picture and the stories Sarah told about his blood family, as he called them. Before she was ready, his parents returned.
â€œYou two seem to be getting along fine.â€ Mavis Miller rested her hand on the table, as she smiled down at Sarah. Her husband stood behind her with a smile just as warm.
Sarah wondered at the sincerity of their friendliness. She couldnâ€™t share such a wonderful boy with anyone else, especially not the woman whoâ€™d given him life. Werenâ€™t they afraid she might steal his affections? She glanced from the parents to her birth son and saw something deeper behind their smiles. Security? Peace? A connection that made them a family? Something she resented and longed for herself.
She stood, knowing her time with her son had come to a close. â€œThank you for letting me meet Trey. Iâ€™ve enjoyed our visit more than you can imagine.â€ She gave Mavis a quick hug and shook Tomâ€™s hand. Then she walked around the table to enfold the tall, young man in a heartfelt embrace. She choked back tears when his strong arms held her close for a moment. She smiled up at him and spoke to keep from crying. â€œMaybe we can keep in touch.â€
He grinned. â€œYeah, Iâ€™d like that. In fact, Iâ€™d like for you to come to my high school graduation. If you donâ€™t mind, Iâ€™ll send you an invitation.â€
â€œOf course, Iâ€™ll be there. Just try to stop me.â€ Sarah blinked away tears and managed a smile for both Trey and his parents. They seemed to hold such easy acceptance of her intrusion into their lives that she couldnâ€™t help but like them.
Trey held up the album Sarah had given him. â€œThanks for the pictures. I like having the background. Especially the medical information. You never know when that might come in handy. But mostly it sort of gives me a feeling of connection. Itâ€™s great.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ Sarah clutched her Bible close. She would treasure it always because it came from her son. â€œThanks again for my gift. You couldnâ€™t have given me anything nicer.â€
He gave a quick nod. â€œAll I ask is you read it often. It holds the answers to all our questions.â€
â€œYes.â€ Sarah turned away knowing she might cry at any moment. â€œIâ€™ve got to go, but please, write to me.â€
â€œAre you on Facebook?â€
At her nod, he smiled. â€œIâ€™ll find you there. Bye, Sarah.â€
â€œBye, Trey. Tom. Mavis.â€ She gave a brief wave and walked away before the tears came. While she could still see where to walk without making a fool of herself.
As she ran a fingertip under one eye, she bumped into a man standing at the edge of the grouping of tables. She swung to face him. â€œOh, excuse me.â€
He touched her arms to steady her and jerked back as if sheâ€™d burned him. â€œNo problem, although I hadnâ€™t expected to run into you. Literally or figuratively.â€
Sarahâ€™s gasp caught in her throat, as she looked up into the clear gray eyes of Kevin Nichols. She stepped back and in a low voice ground out, â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
Kevin kept his voice as soft as hers. â€œSame as you. Meeting Trey.â€
Sarahâ€™s glare matched Kevinâ€™s frown. She started to tell him exactly what she thought of him. He hadnâ€™t wanted Trey eighteen years ago, why would he now? Then she glanced over her shoulder.
Trey stood beside his parents watching. He couldnâ€™t hear them, but the troubled expression on his face brought her to her senses. She would not let Kevin Nichols create a scene that might ruin her fledgling relationship with her son.
She stepped around Kevin, turning back with a false smile Trey could see and spoke with a soft voice he couldnâ€™t hear. â€œI donâ€™t know how you found out about him, and I donâ€™t know why you want to meet him. But remember this. Trey is a wonderful boy, and youâ€™d better not do anything to hurt him.â€
Before Kevin could respond, she waved at Trey and walked away.
Kevin stared after Sarahâ€™s retreating form. Was there ever a woman as beautiful as Sarah Maddox? Sheâ€™d been beautiful as a teenager, and she far surpassed that as an adult. He hadnâ€™t seen her since heâ€™d left for college. Until today. Obviously she still hated him.
He watched her blend with other shoppers and disappear into a store. Still his heart hammered. Heâ€™d known sheâ€™d be here. He just hadnâ€™t planned on getting close enough to speak. Or to touch her. His hands still tingled from holding her shoulders.
â€œSheâ€™s really pretty, isnâ€™t she?â€
Kevin turned to find Trey beside him, a hesitant smile on his face. Kevin gave a short laugh. â€œSheâ€™s more than pretty.â€
â€œYeah, I guess so. Would you like to meet my parents?â€
â€œSure.â€ Kevin saw a lot of himself in the boy who led him across the food court. He had his height and his coloring. But except for the dimples, Sarahâ€™s smile sat easily on his lips. Seemed strange to analyze a person heâ€™d never met, seeing some of himself and some of Sarah in him. But Trey was not just any person off the street. He was the product of a love Kevin once thought would last for all eternity. A love that might have stood a chance, if he and Sarah had waited.
â€œHello, Kevin Nichols?â€ The older man held out his hand. â€œIâ€™m Tom Miller and this is my wife, Mavis. Weâ€™re glad to see you again.â€
Kevin shook hands with the man, and then the woman. â€œGood to see you, too. Sorry Iâ€™m a little early.â€
â€œThat isnâ€™t a problem.â€ Tom shrugged. â€œWe were running late, but these things happen. To be honest, we didnâ€™t expect you and Sarah to run into each other.â€
â€œQuite literally, in fact.â€ Kevinâ€™s heart still raced from his encounter with Sarah. â€œShe obviously didnâ€™t know Iâ€™d be here.â€
â€œNo,â€ Mavis said. â€œShe never mentioned you in a letter, so we respected that and didnâ€™t tell her we also corresponded with you.â€
â€œI appreciate your willingness to share your son with Sarah and me through the letters and pictures.â€ He turned toward the teenager. â€œAnd, Trey, thanks for agreeing to this meeting. Your parents made a gentlemenâ€™s agreement with two teenagers that theyâ€™ve honored better than many men do a signed contract.â€
Mavis gave Kevin a quick smile. â€œWeâ€™re not as selfless as we may look. Weâ€™ve seen other adopted children who had no knowledge of their background. They are often like a ship without an anchor. We all need some tie to tell us where weâ€™ve come from so we can better move into our adulthood. Otherwise thereâ€™s a void that hasnâ€™t been filled. We were glad to provide that for Trey with both you and Sarah.â€
â€œI hadnâ€™t thought of that.â€ Kevin studied the woman and man who stood before him and wondered at Sarahâ€™s wisdom in choosing them. Before she stopped talking to him, she told him the social worker had thirty applications for her to look at. He should have helped her. But heâ€™d been so scared heâ€™d wanted the whole, frightening experience to go away. So he turned his back on it. An option he now understood Sarah hadnâ€™t had. No wonder she hated him.
As soon as he heard sheâ€™d had the baby, he went to the hospital. There he saw his son in the nursery, and he also met the Millers. When they told him theyâ€™d be keeping in touch with Sarah, he realized he wanted that, too.
He gave Mavis a quick nod. â€œStill, you couldâ€™ve told me to get lost that day at the hospital.â€
He glanced at Trey, and a connection he hadnâ€™t expected gave him closure he hadnâ€™t missed as well as a new beginning he wanted. â€œIâ€™m glad you didnâ€™t, though.â€
Tom slipped an arm around his wifeâ€™s shoulders. â€œDidnâ€™t you say you wanted to do a bit more shopping? Letâ€™s leave Kevin and Trey to get acquainted.â€
The couple strolled off arm-in-arm, leaving Kevin alone with a grown son he didnâ€™t know. He glanced at the table and chairs but didnâ€™t want to sit. Seeing Sarah again stirred old memories that pushed him to run away, just as heâ€™d done long ago.
Trey seemed to be waiting for him to make the first move. Maybe he was nervous. Kevin couldnâ€™t fault him there as heâ€™d never felt more unsure of how to act. How did one relate to a son heâ€™d never met? But Kevin didnâ€™t have a son. Not really. Heâ€™d given up that privilege before he was mature enough to be a father.
â€œI saw an arcade back that way.â€ Kevin motioned over his shoulder.
Trey nodded as he hoisted a backpack. â€œThatâ€™s fine. Maybe walking around would be a good idea.â€
â€œYeah, probably.â€ Kevin stuck his hands in his pockets and fell into step with Trey. He noticed Trey moved with the same easy grace heâ€™d always admired in Sarah.
â€œSo, youâ€™re eighteen now. That makes you a senior, right?â€ Kevin mentally shook his head. Stupid question, but what else was there to talk about?
â€œThatâ€™s right.â€ Trey smiled. â€œIâ€™d like to invite you to my graduation if youâ€™re interested in coming. Itâ€™s still a couple of months away, of course.â€
â€œSure.â€ Connecting the baby he remembered with this tall young man was harder than heâ€™d imagined. â€œJust let me know when and where.â€
â€œThatâ€™s great.â€ Trey beamed at him. â€œIâ€™ll send you an invitation. Weâ€™ll probably have it out on the football field, because thereâ€™s more room there than in the gym.â€
â€œSounds good. How many are in your class?â€
â€œWe live in a small town,â€ Trey stepped aside to let Kevin go in the arcade ahead of him while a group of kids walked out. â€œI think we have about a hundred and twenty graduating this year.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good size.â€ Kevin longed to ask if he invited Sarah, but he couldnâ€™t. Did he even want to know? If she came, he wouldnâ€™t have to see her. How hard would it be to get lost in a crowd that size? Heâ€™d have to think of something special to give Trey for a graduation gift, and he didnâ€™t know what Trey liked.
Kevin stopped beside Trey as they watched some kids at the games. â€œWould you like to play?â€
Treyâ€™s smile appeared sheepish. â€œActually, I donâ€™t care much for stuff like this. I mean, I play video games once in a while with my friends, but Iâ€™m not into it like some guys are.â€
Really?â€ They turned and ambled from the store. â€œWhat sort of things do you do for fun?â€
â€œI play football at school.â€ Treyâ€™s eyes lit up. â€œI went out for track my freshman year and got hooked on running. I guess Iâ€™m more interested in something with a little action.â€
Kevin shook his head, amazed at what Trey had unknowingly revealed. â€œSarah ran in high school. She won second place in district her sophomore year and first place the next year.â€
By the summer after her junior year, she was pregnant with his babyâ€”with Trey. He didnâ€™t mention the obvious. â€œFrom her looks now, Iâ€™d guess she still runs for exercise.â€
Trey gave Kevin a searching look but only said, â€œThat must be where I got that. Did you play sports?â€
â€œYeah, I played football, was a quarterback all through high school, and I played a little in college.â€ They stopped back at the table in the food court. â€œHey, would you like a drink of something? My treat. Iced tea sounds good to me, but I think they have pretty much anything here.â€
â€œSure, thanks.â€ Trey followed him to the counter. â€œTea sounds good.â€
They settled in with their drinks on the table and relaxed as they talked, getting acquainted, as Trey asked, â€œWhat do you do for a living?â€
â€œI work for an accounting firm here in the city. Iâ€™ve been with Parker Accountants for about eight years. I also buy and sell real estate on the side.â€
â€œSounds interesting.â€ Treyâ€™s light gray eyes seemed a reflection of his own.
Kevin laughed. His heart warmed with the knowledge that this boy was the baby he and Sarah could have raised if only things had been different. â€œIt can be interesting. Iâ€™m either rolling in the profits or Iâ€™m broke. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m still an accountant.â€
Trey laughed with him. â€œI donâ€™t know what Iâ€™d like to do. Iâ€™m going to college this fall. Maybe Iâ€™ll figure things out then.â€
â€œAre you good with math?â€
Trey shrugged. â€œNot bad.â€
Pride swelled in Kevinâ€™s chest. He bet Trey was a whiz at math, just like him. â€œYou could be an accountant. Or a math teacher. Youâ€™ll find something.â€
â€œYeah.â€ A grin lifted the corners of Treyâ€™s mouth and his eyes sparkled. â€œOne thing I know. Iâ€™ll be playing football.â€
â€œIs that right?â€ Kevin grinned. Just like heâ€™d done. â€œWhere are you going to college?â€
â€œIllinois State University.â€
â€œThatâ€™s great. So youâ€™ll be a Redbird then.â€
Trey laughed. â€œLooks that way.â€
Kevin took a swallow of tea. â€œI played at SIU in Carbondale. The Redbirds were worthy opponents back then. How about baseball? Or is that too tame for you?â€
â€œSure, I like baseball.â€
â€œHave you been to a White Sox game?â€
â€œActually, no. Dadâ€™s been intending to take me, but our schedules never have meshed just right.â€
â€œMaybe I can take you and your dad.â€ Kevin shrugged. â€œYour mom, too, if sheâ€™d like to go.â€
Trey grinned. â€œYeah, to be honest, sheâ€™d probably enjoy a game more than Dad. I think thatâ€™s been one of the problems with our scheduling conflicts.â€ He pulled a wrapped package from his backpack. â€œI hope you donâ€™t mind I brought you a gift.â€
Kevin hesitated before he took the package. â€œI didnâ€™t bring you anything.â€
Trey shrugged. â€œI didnâ€™t expect you to. Hey, if you get me into a White Sox game, I wonâ€™t complain.â€
They laughed together, and Kevin tore the wrapping from a dark blue leather-bound Bible. Kevin ran his hand over the cover and across his name in the lower right corner. He looked up, meeting Treyâ€™s gaze. â€œThis is really nice, Trey. Thanks.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ Trey seemed suddenly shy. â€œI know gifts arenâ€™t supposed to come with conditions, but Iâ€™d really like for you to read it at least a little bit each day.â€
A lump formed in Kevinâ€™s throat. He didnâ€™t know what to say. Would he read from the Bible? He didnâ€™t know, and he didnâ€™t like making promises he couldnâ€™t keep. He searched his brain for a way to agree without committing.
â€œSo, howâ€™d it go?â€ Tom Millerâ€™s unexpected voice behind him brought a welcome interruption.
Kevin stood and turned to greet the older couple. â€œYou have a great son, Mr. Miller.â€
Sarah glanced out the window where she browsed through blouses she had no interest in and didnâ€™t need. She had tried to leave the mall. Twice sheâ€™d got as far as the entrance and turned back both times. She wouldnâ€™t interfere with Kevinâ€™s visit, but she couldnâ€™t make herself leave either. So when she saw Kevin and Trey step out of the arcade, sheâ€™d darted into this department store. Now she was stuck here for fear they might see her if she left. She occasionally drifted near the window and glanced out to see if they were still there.
They were, and they seemed to have hit it off great. Too great. But who wouldnâ€™t get along with Trey? Kevin, on the other hand ... If she had her way, Kevin wouldnâ€™t get within ten miles of Trey. How could he sit and smile at her son after telling her to get an abortion?
She made a disgusted sound and picked up a blouse for a better look. But instead of seeing the blouse, she saw Howardâ€™s face and heard the words heâ€™d said, People change, Sarah. He has as much right to see Trey as you do.
She glanced out the window again and saw Treyâ€™s parents heading toward the table. They stopped and Kevin stood. He would be leaving soon. Surely she could slip out without anyone seeing her.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kevin saw a woman leave the store across the way, and his heartbeat increased. No other woman had ever affected him the way Sarah did. As quickly as possible, without seeming to hurry, he told Trey and his parents good-bye, promised to get in touch with them when he could set up a date to go to the stadium, and left.
Had he lost her? No. Her long blond hair flew out as she pushed through the front doors. He broke into a fast lope to catch up. At the doors, he paused when she crossed the parking lot. Keeping well back, Kevin followed Sarah until she stopped beside a late model forest green sedan and got into the driverâ€™s side.
All right! He had her now. He turned and retraced his steps to his own car, parked not far away. But as he slid behind the wheel, he stopped. What was he doing? Why did he want to follow her? Even if he caught her or found out where she lived, what would he do? Seeing her after all this time brought her back to life in his mind. Touching her had broken through a barrier against her heâ€™d built around his heart when they were teenagers. But so what? They had nothing left for each other. Their love had died more than eighteen years ago. He slumped in the seat. Nothing remained to resurrect.
He started his car and drove from the mall, turning to the south, the opposite direction from the way Sarah had taken.
â€œYou have a call on line one.â€ Triciaâ€™s voice cut through Sarahâ€™s concentration. â€œDarlene at the shelter. No doctors lurking today.â€
Sarah answered the intercom. â€œThanks, Tricia, for that uplifting bit of info. Iâ€™ll take the call.â€
She heard Tricia giggle, and her phone rang. She lifted the receiver to her ear. â€œDarlene, hi. How are things going?â€
â€œOh, the girls are fine right now.â€ Darleneâ€™s voice sounded harsh, which was unusual for the soft-spoken woman. â€œOf course, they may be homeless by evening.â€
â€œHomeless?â€ Sarah straightened in her chair. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€
â€œIâ€™m talking about some heartless developer whoâ€™s coming in here and tearing our home down.â€ Darlene sniffed. â€œIâ€™m holding the paper in my hand.â€
Sarah shook her head, trying to make sense of what her friend said. â€œThatâ€™s insane. Why would anyone want that old building in the first place? And how could anyone be heartless enough to throw five pregnant teens out in the streets just so they can tear it down?â€
â€œSix, Sarah.â€ Darlene sounded tired all at once. â€œWe took in another girl over the weekend.â€
â€œOh,â€ Sarah propped her head into her hand with her elbow on her desk. She could never understand the heartlessness of some businessmen. Someone with money wanted their building, or more likely, the land it sat on. Why would he care if six young, scared girls lived there? No doubt, heâ€™d never made a mistake so far reaching and irreversible that he had to grow up overnight. Or had to make decisions that would affect another totally innocent human.
The girls had to have a home. Several had been kicked out of their parentâ€™s homes, others had been placed by parents who didnâ€™t want the burden of a pregnant teenager. Some had been referred by the state.
When Kevinâ€™s face took shape in her mind, Sarah released a sigh. Okay, she was being unfair to the unknown man. Her anger and resentment were toward Kevin whoâ€™d participated in her mistake. Yet now sheâ€™d met Trey, she felt torn in her anger. She could never call her son a mistake. Trey was everything and more than sheâ€™d expected. Without Kevin, he wouldnâ€™t exist. If only theyâ€™d waited until they were old enough to marry. Then they couldâ€™ve kept their child, and this ache in her heart wouldâ€™ve been replaced with joy.
â€œSarah, do you know of anything we can do? Is there any legal action we could take?â€ Darleneâ€™s soft voice returned. â€œShould I call a lawyer? Iâ€™ve got the papers, and I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a thing we can do other than look for another place.â€
â€œIâ€™ll come by on my lunch hour.â€ Sarah tore her thoughts from Kevin and Trey. â€œIâ€™m sure youâ€™re right, but I want to see the letter.â€
Sarah hung up the phone and rubbed her forehead. How could this happen to those girls? Only two were going the adoption route. The others planned to keep their babies and raise them. With help, they might make it. With no shelter for support and a place to stay after the babies were born, they probably wouldnâ€™t.
Sarah stopped by Triciaâ€™s desk on her way out at noon. â€œI may take a long lunch, but Iâ€™ll be back in time for the meeting at two.â€
â€œWell, I hope so.â€ Tricia grinned. â€œIâ€™m no good with budgets and charts and such.â€
Sarah smiled over her shoulder as she headed toward the door. â€œPart of the job, Tricia. Iâ€™m starting to get used to it.â€
In the hall, Sarah couldnâ€™t believe her bad luck when she saw the tall man walking toward her. When he smiled and greeted her with more enthusiasm than she deserved, she wished she could feel more than friendship.
â€œDr. Jenson, what brings you here?â€
He fell into step with her as she continued down the hall. The warmth in his eyes frightened her. â€œIâ€™m hoping youâ€™ll have lunch with me.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry.â€ Sarah turned the corner to the elevators. She pushed the button and waited for the door to open. â€œI may not have time to eat. Iâ€™m on my way to the shelter.â€
â€œThe shelter?â€ Harold Jenson gave her a sharp glance. â€œAs in the girlsâ€™ home youâ€™re so fond of?â€
â€œYes, Harold.â€ She couldnâ€™t keep the edge from her voice. â€œThe home Iâ€™ve supported for the last ten years. The home I believe supplies a great need for young pregnant girls who might end up on the street begging otherwise. Actually, thatâ€™s probably the best scenario. I can imagine so much worse that could happen to girls who have no family support when they need it most. Someone has to be there for them, and thatâ€™s what the shelter does in a small way.â€
He held up his hands as if in surrender before opening the outside door for her. â€œHey, I never said anything against your shelter, did I?â€
She walked past him into the brisk breeze outside. â€œI guess not. Sorry Iâ€™m so touchy, but someoneâ€™s going to tear the building down and toss six girls out on the street. Iâ€™ve got to do something to stop them.â€
His sharp, quick laugh annoyed her, as did his question. â€œAnd how do you propose to do that? Does the shelter own the building?â€
â€œNo, they lease it. Theyâ€™ve leased it ever since Iâ€™ve been involved. Why would anyone take it away from them now?â€ She unlocked her car and looked up to find Harold waiting on the passenger side.
He grinned over the hood. â€œUnlock the door for me, Sarah. Iâ€™m going with you. Weâ€™ll stop at a greasy, fast-food joint on the way back. My treat. Does that appeal to you?â€
Sarah laughed and unlocked the door. So what if Harold didnâ€™t stir her blood the way Kevin used toâ€”and still might? Harold was a nice man, and he could be fun. At least he was comfortable. Unlike Kevin whoâ€™d invaded her mind all weekend no matter how hard she tried to shove him out.
She drove several blocks to an older business section of town and stopped beside a large, two-story frame building. Sarah looked at the building with objective eyes, and had to admit a bulldozer rammed into the side would probably topple the building without a problem. But that didnâ€™t matter. This was home to six girls, and had been home to many girls and their babies over the years.
A private institution, Marileeâ€™s Home began twenty years before, primarily supported with a trust fund from a donor whose daughter died alone on a city street after giving birth. The grieving parents, whose daughter had run away rather than tell them she was pregnant, started the home as a way to help other girls. The original donors were no longer living, but their vision continued with people like Darlene and Sarah, as well as those who had been helped, and others who believed in the work.
They never turned away a girl in need, and Sarah hoped they would never have to. If she could get the name of the man responsible for this threat, maybe she could talk to him. If she could at least get him to wait while they found another place to call home, itâ€™d be worth the effort.
â€œWeâ€™d better go in.â€ Harold touched Sarahâ€™s back, and she realized she was still staring at the old, dilapidated building that suddenly looked like a white elephant.
â€œYes.â€ Sarah moved toward the back door and pulled it open with easy familiarity.
Inside the kitchen, the aroma of stew aroused her appetite. She sniffed the air and smiled at an older woman standing at the stove, stirring the contents of a large aluminum pot.
â€œWell, if it isnâ€™t Sarah and the doctor.â€ Graceâ€™s wide smile welcomed them. â€œJust in time for lunch, too. Go on into the dining room and pull up a chair. Iâ€™ll have this in there, lickety-split.â€
Sarah glanced at Haroldâ€™s amused expression and said, â€œThis would beat that greasy fast-food you were talking about.â€
He laughed and swept his hand out toward the door leading into the next room. â€œBy all means, letâ€™s not pass up home cooking. You can always talk business as you eat.â€
â€œGrace, is there any way I can help?â€ Sarah turned from Harold to ask.
â€œNot a thing.â€ Grace turned the stove off and slid the large pot to the side. â€œThe girls already set the table. Iâ€™m bringing this in now.â€
â€œLet me carry that for you.â€ Harold plucked the potholders from her hands and positioned one on each handle. â€œWhy donâ€™t you lead the way?â€
Grace smoothed the apron over her ample middle. â€œSarah, you should grab this man before someone steps in ahead of you. Heâ€™s one of a dying breed. Not many charming gentlemen left in this world.â€
Harold gave Sarah a pointed look, although he didnâ€™t speak. Sarah laughed off the comment and said, â€œYes, youâ€™re probably right, but for now Iâ€™m starving and, as usual, canâ€™t wait to taste your cooking.â€
She took Graceâ€™s arm and together the women held the cafÃ© doors open for Harold. Several young women stood around the room or sat talking at the long table that filled the center floor space.
â€œSarah, hi,â€ several of the girls called out. â€œAre you eating with us?â€
â€œLooks that way.â€ Sarah included all of them in her smile. She saw Darlene standing to the side with a girl she didnâ€™t know. A girl that looked way too young to be expecting a baby. But most of them were too young. She remembered Molly, the twelve-year-old who almost died giving birth last year because her body hadnâ€™t developed enough for the demands placed on it. Her baby had died.
Grace helped Harold set the stew on a side table, while Sarah skirted the dining table to meet Darlene and the new girl. But before she could, Grace called out, â€œCome and get it.â€
Sarah joined the girls at the table while Harold sat across from her. She wouldâ€™ve loved to linger over the savory stew and the friendly conversation, but she wanted to talk to Darlene in private. She emptied her bowl and declined a refill when Grace offered.
Darlene stood, pushing her chair back. â€œSarah, if youâ€™ve eaten your fill, Iâ€™d like for you to look at some paperwork in my office.â€
This was the signal Sarah had been waiting for. â€œYes, Iâ€™m afraid I have. If you gave out doggy bags, Grace, Iâ€™d take a bowl home for supper tonight. As always, the stew was delicious.â€
â€œVery.â€ Harold agreed. He stood and moved to the side table, where he ladled out another bowl for himself. â€œYou go look at your paperwork.â€ He sat back down and snagged another light roll from the basket on the table. â€œI donâ€™t get to eat like this often enough.â€
Grace appeared pleased with his praise. Sarah smiled as she and Darlene left the room. Harold had won another admirer, even if she was old enough to be his mother.
Darlene left the door open as she entered her office. Sarah followed her inside and waited while she picked up an envelope and pulled the letter out. She opened the folded paper and handed it to Sarah.
â€œThis came in todayâ€™s mail.â€ She shook her head. â€œAfter all these years in this place, I canâ€™t believe someone would buy it out from under us.â€
Sarah read the letter, which appeared to be a standard impersonal notice of eviction giving Marileeâ€™s Home ninety days to find a new location. A construction company had purchased the entire block and would be building a mini mall. She started to refold the letter when the signature at the bottom caught her eye, and she looked closer. Sprawled below the closing, in barely decipherable letters, Sarah saw the name that had haunted her for eighteen years. Kevin Nichols.
Blood drained from her face as her heart refused to pump.
â€œSarah, whatâ€™s wrong?â€
Darleneâ€™s worried voice startled her, and she looked up. Sheâ€™d been staring at Kevinâ€™s name as if heâ€™d materialized in the room. She still didnâ€™t know why heâ€™d been invited to meet Trey, and she had no idea what business he had tearing down Marileeâ€™s Home. Did he know how much it meant to her? Heâ€™d already ruined her life once. Why, after all these years of silence, had he shown up to torment her?
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ she told her friend. â€œItâ€™s just the signature. Unfortunately, the letter seems to be official. I donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s anything we can do, just as you said, other than look for another building.â€
â€œWhat about the signature?â€ Harold spoke from the open doorway. â€œWhy would a signature make you look as if youâ€™ve seen a ghost?â€
Sarah handed the letter to him.
He looked at the bottom of the page and then at her. â€œSo, your nemesis strikes again.â€
â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€ Darlene frowned. â€œWhatâ€™re you two talking about?â€
â€œKevin Nichols.â€ Sarah took the letter from Harold and handed it back to Darlene. â€œHe signed this, so I assume itâ€™s his company who has purchased this block of buildings to tear down.â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t know he was in construction?â€ Harold asked.
She shook her head. â€œNo, I havenâ€™t kept track of him.â€
â€œWait a minute.â€ Darlene looked from one to the other. â€œAre you telling me you know this Kevin Nichols? Sarah, if you know him, maybe you could talk to him. Maybe you could get him to leave our building alone. What do you think? Could you do that for these girls?â€
Sarah turned from the pleading in Darleneâ€™s eyes to the bland expression on Haroldâ€™s face. Could she? Could she face Kevin again so soon? In the distance she heard the chatter of the girlsâ€™ voices and remembered how alone and frightened sheâ€™d felt when she learned she was pregnant. The fear had grown with the uncertainty in her life and all the changes her body and emotions went through. These girls didnâ€™t need to have their home ripped from them along with everything else they faced.
With a heartfelt sigh, she nodded. â€œYes, I know Kevin. Iâ€™ll contact him as soon as possible and see what I can do.â€
â€œI need a phone number.â€ Sarah paused by Triciaâ€™s desk long enough to add, â€œFor Kevin Nichols here in the city. He may be in construction, maybe a contractor, so you might look in business listings, too.â€
â€œIâ€™ll do my best.â€ Tricia twisted her chair around to reach the table behind her. She lifted the Chicago phone book and plopped it on her desk. â€œMight as well start in here. Assuming you havenâ€™t already tried this?â€
Sarah made a face at Triciaâ€™s saucy grin. â€œOf course not. I found out at lunch I need it. The guy is trying to throw our girls out on the street. The least I can do is give him an earful. The most is stop him in his tracks.â€
Tricia laughed as she flipped open the directory. â€œGo get â€™em, tiger. Give me a few minutes, and Iâ€™ll get that number for you.â€
Sarah went into her office and closed the door in case she decided to release some tension with a scream. If only she had the nerve. How could Kevin do this to her? Why would he pick on girls who couldnâ€™t fight back? Girls who in spite of the wrong they had done, or maybe because of it, needed understanding and help rather than rejection.
She sat down at her desk and tried to concentrate on her work, but her mind continually drifted back to Kevin. To the man she had seen Saturday, when in her mind, she had yet to give up the image of the boy he had been.
â€œSarah.â€ Triciaâ€™s voice came over the intercom.
â€œI found some numbers. Shall I bring them in now?â€
â€œSure.â€ Sarah glanced at the clock. â€œNo, donâ€™t bother. I donâ€™t have time. Iâ€™ll pick them up when I get back from upstairs.â€
â€œAll right. Iâ€™ll have them for you,â€ Tricia promised.
When Sarah returned to the office late that afternoon, Tricia stood and walked around her cleared desk. â€œI laid the phone numbers on your desk. I found three Kevin Nichols that might include the one you want. I hope one is right, but no guarantee.â€
â€œOkay, thanks.â€ Sarah tried to focus on Tricia rather than the meeting sheâ€™d just left. â€œAre you leaving?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Tricia grimaced. â€œDoctorâ€™s appointment. Yearly physical.â€
â€œOh, yes,â€ Sarah nodded. â€œYou mentioned that this morning. Seems like a month of Sundays has passed since then.â€
Tricia smiled. â€œI know what you mean. Howâ€™d your lunch with Dr. Jenson go?â€
Sarah laughed. â€œYouâ€™ve been spying out the window again!â€
Tricia waggled her eyebrows. â€œNatch, itâ€™s what I do best around here. I adjusted the blind and saw you drive off together. Does that mean youâ€™ve stopped running from him?â€
A long sigh spoke for her. She stopped in the doorway to her office. â€œNot really. Maybe if I stopped running, he would stop chasing. Do you think itâ€™s worth a try?â€
â€œOnly if you want to get caught.â€ Tricia headed toward the outside door. â€œWhile most men may be in the running for the chase, I donâ€™t think your doctor is. Heâ€™s really a great guy, and heâ€™s looking for wife number two, you know. Maybe you should stop running. Marriage isnâ€™t that bad.â€
Without waiting for Sarahâ€™s response, she slipped out the door. Sarah stared at the spot where Tricia had stood and let her parting words replay in her mind. Should she take Howard seriously? Did she want to be anyoneâ€™s second wife?
She gave a sharp laugh. Did she want to be anyoneâ€™s first wife? Howard had never asked her to marry him, but heâ€™d dropped enough hints. She was thirty-five. Almost everyone else she knew was married or had been. Most long before her age.
So why didnâ€™t she marry Howard? Tricia was right. Even if she tried, she couldnâ€™t put her finger on any one thing wrong with Howard. He was kind, considerate, generous, mannerly. Nothing was wrong with Howard. Except she didnâ€™t love him.
As a friend, he was wonderful. As an escort, there was none better. As a husband, he would be comfortable. And comfortable made good shoes, not men.
She picked the note up from her desk and looked at Triciaâ€™s neat handwriting. The name Kevin Nichols jumped off the page at her. The room seemed to shrink so there was room for only her, the paper in her hand, and her memories.
She heard the football players calling to each other as practice broke up that day so long ago. Kevin ran across the field toward her. He lifted his helmet and tucked it under his arm. She saw his dark sweat-soaked hair and dirt-streaked face with the welcoming dimples just for her and wondered how sheâ€™d caught the attention of the most popular boy in school. She loved him so much.
Her hand jerked as a splash hit the note and spread, soaking into a damp circle. She sank into her chair, letting the paper fall to the desk while she covered her face with her hands and wiped the moisture away. The wound in her heart she thought long healed gaped with raw edges. Kevin had done this to her. By showing up at her meeting with Trey and by forcing his way into her life at the home, he brought memories to the surface better left forgotten. If only she hadnâ€™t seen him, hadnâ€™t felt his hand on her arm. If only she didnâ€™t have to deal with him now.
She stood, leaning her hip against her desk for support while she got her purse, took her keys out, and stuffed the paper inside. Sheâ€™d call Kevin from the privacy of her own home. Triciaâ€™s note said she only found residential numbers, so it might be late before she could reach him anyway. Right now, she just wanted to go home.
By the time Sarah parked in her garage and entered the kitchen, she felt numb. She walked through the house, until she reached the front door. Unlocking it, and she stepped outside to retrieve her mail. She flipped through the normal junk mail and circulars, glad there was nothing she needed to concentrate on. Tossing the entire bundle in the trash, she turned left into her living room and sank into the cream colored sofa, kicking her shoes off as she did.
With her bare feet tucked under her, she curled into herself and rested her elbows on her knees with her head held in her hands. Images of Trey and Kevin flashed through her mind faster than she could follow. She thought of Trey as an infant and as sheâ€™d seen him each year in his pictures. She saw him in her mind again at the mall, looking so much like Kevin.
Then there was Kevin at seventeen, holding her hand while they walked to class. Kevin on the football field running with the ball or stealing glances at her when she cheered with the other cheerleaders. Kevin holding her close in the front seat of his car, making promises he didnâ€™t keep. Once heâ€™d been hers. Now he could be married for all she knew.
She squeezed her eyes tight against the tears that tried to escape. She didnâ€™t want to think of Kevin with another woman. She lifted her head and stood with a sound of disgust. What difference would it make to her if he had a wife and a dozen kids? He could do anything he wanted. She didnâ€™t care.
She wouldnâ€™t cry over the spilt milk of their past either. With the phone in one hand and the paper with the phone numbers in the other, she took a deep breath and dialed the first on the list. A woman answered.
By sheer force of will, Sarah did not hang up the phone. She stuttered. â€œMâ€“Mrs. Nichols?â€
An invisible band squeezed her chest. â€œThis is Miss Maddox with Marileeâ€™s Home for girls. I need to speak to Kevin Nichols. Is he home?â€
â€œMaâ€™am?â€ The womanâ€™s voice faltered. â€œAre you sure you have the correct number? My husband was Kevin Nichols, but he never had anything to do with any girlsâ€™ home that I knew of.â€
Sarah lifted her head and stared at a bouquet of artificial daisies in the center of her table without actually seeing them. â€œDid you say â€˜wasâ€™?â€
â€œYes, my husband passed away almost two years ago.â€
â€œOh, maâ€™am, Iâ€™m truly sorry.â€ She couldnâ€™t keep the lilt from her voice as air rushed back into her lungs. â€œI do have the wrong number. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
The next number rang four times until an answering machine picked up. She recognized the voice immediately. â€œHi, Kevin here. If youâ€™re selling something, youâ€™re wasting your time. If you want me to call you back, leave a message at the beep. If not, hang up and I wonâ€™t bother.â€
Her heart pounded. Sheâ€™d found him and lost her voice at the sound of his. His answering machine beeped and she jumped. â€œKevin, this is Sarah.â€
Her mind went blank. Why had she called Kevin? Oh yes, the home. He wanted to tear down the home.
â€œI need to talk to you about Marileeâ€™s Homeâ€”â€
â€œSarah? Whatâ€™s this about Marilee? In fact, who is Marilee?â€
â€œMarileeâ€™s Home. Surely you know the name of the home youâ€™re planning to tear down.â€ Annoyance at him strengthened her voice.
He chuckled. â€œThis is Sarah Maddox, isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œOf course.â€ How many Sarahs did he know? Sarah tapped her fingernail. â€œBut what about Marileeâ€™s Home?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. You tell me.â€ Now he sounded annoyed. â€œI donâ€™t know anyone named Marilee, and I donâ€™t make a habit of tearing down peopleâ€™s homes, anyway. Why are you calling me about this Marilee?â€
Sarah took a deep breath. So much for getting off on the right foot. She should have had Tricia call him. She squeezed the bridge of her nose.
â€œMarileeâ€™s Home is a home for girls who have no other place to go. At present there are six girls living there and most of them are pregnant. One has a tiny baby. You signed a letter telling the director you would be tearing their home down to make way for a mini mall. I read the letter today. I saw and recognized your signature.â€
As soon as the words crossed her lips, she knew she shouldnâ€™t have admitted recognizing his signature. Why would she after eighteen years? With Kevinâ€™s ego, he would think sheâ€™d pined her heart away for him through each of those years. And she hadnâ€™t. Certainly not after the first year. By then she was totally over him. More or less.
She waited. Five seconds later, sheâ€™d waited long enough. â€œWhat does that mean? â€˜I see.â€™ Will you call off the bulldozers now? You canâ€™t be so heartless to shove those girls out into the street.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, Sarah. I need more information. Iâ€™ve never liked making important decisions over the phone. Why donâ€™t we meet somewhere? We need to discuss this. This is not something that can be fixed in five minutes. Have you eaten? We could talk over dinner. My treat.â€
* * *