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A girls guide to moving.., p.29
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.29

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  By the time the last stragglers had left we were all exhausted. The only one who showed any real life left in her was Kaylene.

  “Best Christmas ever,” the teenager boasted.

  “Better than last year?” Rocco asked, and then whispered in my ear, “She got an iPad, which was at the top of her list, and a cell phone.”

  “Yup, even better than last year.”

  “Why’s that?” her father asked.

  Kaylene flopped down on the sofa next to where Rocco and I had crashed. “Because I’ve never seen my dad so happy,” she said. Her eyes lit up as she looked to me. “Thanks, Nichole.”

  “You could be jealous, you know.” I’d heard plenty of stories where the daughter of a single father resented the dad’s love interest.

  “I could be, I guess,” Kaylene said, weighing my words.

  “Don’t give her any ideas,” Rocco whispered, and then nibbled on my earlobe, sending chills racing down my spine.

  “It isn’t only that you’re good for my dad,” Kaylene said, growing thoughtful. “You’re good for me, too. You’re teaching me how to be a woman.”

  “I am?”

  “She eats her pizza with a fork now,” Rocco muttered, and he didn’t look happy about it.

  “And you know about fashion,” Kaylene continued, “and makeup and all the things a woman my age needs to learn.”

  “Woman?” Rocco repeated, lifting his brows with the question.

  “I am a woman, Dad,” Kaylene insisted, and then as quickly asked, “Can I watch TV? There’s a movie on Hallmark I want to see.”

  “By all means,” Rocco told her.

  Kaylene jumped off the couch and headed into the other room.

  Rocco had his arm around me. My tired feet were tucked alongside me on the sofa and my head rested against his shoulder.

  “Didn’t you love seeing Shawntelle with Jerome?” Rocco asked me.

  The memory of the two brought a smile. “They’re certainly an odd couple.”

  “So are we,” he suggested.

  “No, we aren’t,” I argued, lifting my head from his shoulder.

  It seemed like he was too exhausted to disagree. “Did you notice the way Jerome looked at her? It was as if that woman could do no wrong.”

  I had noticed and been touched by the tender looks Jerome gave Shawntelle.

  “I recognized it because that’s the way I look at you,” Rocco whispered, nuzzling his nose in my hair. “Have I ever mentioned how much I love the way you smell? It’s like nothing I could name—a combination of roses and almonds.” He paused and then groaned. “Don’t go mentioning that to my friends, or they’ll think I’ve turned into a woman.”

  “My lips are sealed.”

  He grumbled about something else, but I didn’t catch it. I closed my eyes. I could fall asleep right here with Rocco’s arms around me.

  “I love you, Rocco,” I said on the tail end of a yawn.

  He went still and quiet, and for a moment I was afraid I’d said the wrong thing. I knew some men freak out when women profess their feelings. This wasn’t the first time, either. I’d said it that day just before I fell on the sidewalk.

  A number of people had mentioned to me that Rocco loved me, so I wasn’t expecting it would upset him if I said what was in my heart.

  “I love you, too,” he whispered, after what seemed like an eternity. “When you told me you wanted to stop seeing me it felt as if my entire world had imploded. I half expected you’d want to break it off with me at some point, but when it actually happened it was so much worse than I imagined. The only point lower was when I was tossed into a jail cell.”

  “It was a low point for me, too,” I told him. “I wasn’t even half alive afterward. Ask Leanne. It was worse even than the day I found out that Jake had been cheating on me. When I learned my husband had gotten another woman pregnant I was filled with righteous anger. When I broke up with you all I felt was this horrible sense of grief. The only thing I can compare it to was the feelings I had when my parents died.”

  “You should have been honest with me.”

  In retrospect, he was right; I should have told Rocco about Jake’s threat right away. It would have saved us both a lot of unnecessary suffering. Still, I believe everything worked out the way it was meant to. In other circumstances, Rocco might have talked to Jake with a lot of anger and resentment clouding his head.

  “Leanne met Carlie, the woman Jake’s currently seeing,” I told Rocco, “and she thinks this is exactly the kind of woman her son needs.”

  “You’re exactly the kind of woman this man needs,” Rocco returned. “And I need you bad.”

  How I loved hearing the things this man said.

  “How long do you think it’s going to take me to convince you to marry me?” he asked.

  That was a heady question. “We haven’t been seeing each other that long,” I reminded him. “We should give it at least another six months, and a year would probably be better.”

  “It’s hard for me to wait another six minutes,” he grumbled. “You’ll move in with me, won’t you?”

  “No.” Although I had to admit the offer was tempting.

  “I had a feeling you were going to say that.”

  “Let’s give it a year before we make a serious commitment.”

  “A year,” he groaned, as if I was being utterly unrealistic. “You want me to wait that long? Woman, be reasonable. This man loves you and you love me.”

  “I do,” I said, kissing him with all the stored-up love I had in my heart.

  “Then why make me suffer like this? I need you. Kaylene needs you.”

  “I want to be sure, Rocco.”

  “What do I have to do to prove to you no one will ever love you more than me?”

  I hugged him close, savoring everything about this man who had proved himself over and over. “I don’t know…possibly wait a year so we can both be sure of our feelings. For all you know I might have disgusting habits you can’t live with.”

  “You mean other than eating pizza with a fork? Or slicing a friggin’ expensive piece of chocolate into four sections before you eat it?” he muttered, and rolled his eyes.

  I elbowed him in the ribs, which of course didn’t faze him. “Something like that,” I muttered.

  “A year,” he grumbled.

  “I promise you it will be worth the wait.”

  “I can’t convince you otherwise?” he asked, nibbling on my ear again.

  “Well, maybe…”

  “Let’s negotiate,” he whispered, turning me into his arms, and then he went about convincing me in the best possible way.

  Sean died February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day. By this time he was in hospice care, as I was no longer able to look after his needs on my own.

  Both Jake and I were with him when he passed. We sat on each side of his bed, holding his hands. I prayed as my husband breathed his last while Jake stared stoically into space, grieving in his own way. Sean and I had already made his funeral arrangements, and I was grateful not to have to make those decisions now. We’d purchased his grave site and bought the marker.

  The funeral was much larger than I anticipated. I was humbled at the friends who turned out to pay their respects. The church I’d attended was full and the pastor gave a wonderful message even though he’d come to know Sean only in his final weeks. I was comfortable knowing that my husband was at peace at last.

  When we came to the burial, I looked out over the landscape and was glad he had chosen a cemetery with a view. It’d seemed silly at the time, but I realized the view wasn’t for him so much as for me.

  Nichole attended the services with Rocco. The two stood side by side at the grave site in front of Sean’s casket with Jake and Carlie. Owen stood between the two couples, one hand holding his mother’s hand and the other holding on to his father’s. He was four now, and I wasn’t sure he fully understood what was happening or why. Jake had wanted him there.


  Sean had come to deeply love his grandson in his final weeks. The last picture I have of my husband is with Owen sprawled across his chest, his small arms locked around his grandfather’s neck. Owen’s sweet head rested against Sean’s shoulder while they were both sound asleep. I’m saving it for Owen when he’s older, in memory of the grandfather he barely got to know.

  My marriage hadn’t been a happy one, especially the last ten years. We were divorced, but Sean remained my husband in my mind these last three months. Those weeks I’d spent with him helped me remember why I’d fallen in love with him as a young woman. Although he was sick and often in pain, he never let on, and rarely complained. I admired his courage as he faced death, his acceptance and, in the end, his faith.

  When he died I grieved for all the years we’d wasted and thanked God for the opportunity to love him again. He never let me forget how grateful he was for my care or how sorry he was for hurting me. I believe that he came to realize that the one he’d punished was himself for all the closeness and intimacy we might have had if he’d been faithful.

  After we’d finished with the burial, Jake remained at the grave site, looking down at the casket in the ground. I saw Nichole and Rocco talking to Carlie. I walked over to my son and put my hand on his shoulder. Jake’s shoulders shook with heart-wrenching sobs. It was the first time I’d seen my son weep since his father’s death.

  Carlie came to stand with him and her hand brushed mine as she placed her arm around him. I’d met her a few times now and liked her a great deal. She was a no-nonsense kind of woman and I thought the two were well suited. I didn’t know what the future held for them, but Jake seemed to be serious about her. I was glad to see it. He needed a woman who would ground him.

  After I left Jake with Carlie, Nichole came to me and slipped her arm around my waist.

  “You doing okay?” she asked.

  Her gentle care was a soothing balm to me. Nichole was as close to me as if I’d given birth to her myself. I rested my head against her shoulder. “I’ve been better.”

  “No doubt.”

  “Are you up for the wake?” she asked.

  I assured her I was. The reception was held at the country club. Jake and I mingled with the crowd, thanking our friends for their condolences. In lieu of flowers Sean asked that donations be made to the American Cancer Society. I’d already heard that several hundred dollars had been given in his name. So few people had come to visit Sean while he was sick, it surprised me how well attended his funeral was. Of course, this included Jake’s coworkers and friends along with my friends, too.

  At the end of the reception I was exhausted and ready to unwind and be alone. I returned to the house. It would go up for sale now. Sean had changed his will when we divorced and I assumed the majority of his estate would go to Jake and Owen or perhaps to charity. Over the last two and a half months we’d talked about almost everything, but this was one subject Sean and I had never discussed. The divorce settlement left me in fine shape financially. I didn’t need anything more from him and he knew that.

  It wasn’t until a week after the funeral that I learned that Sean had changed his will and he’d left me the house. Almost everything else went to Jake, with a college fund set up for Owen. When Sean’s attorney notified me that I’d inherited the house, I was stunned. Other than the time I’d spent there while caring for Sean, I no longer considered it my home. I’d moved on. My apartment was plenty big and I fully intended to continue living in the heart of downtown Portland. I loved city life.

  Now that Nichole and Rocco were seriously involved, I intended to buy a condo, hoping to find one in the same neighborhood in which I now lived. I was in no rush, however.

  Because my time and energy had been taken up caring for Sean, I feared I would be at loose ends once I returned to life in my apartment. I wasn’t. I found that I was emotionally and physically exhausted. My days were taken up with long delayed projects that kept me at home. I read one book after another, immersing myself in fiction. In the mornings I worked the newspaper’s crossword puzzle and book upon book of Sudoku. I napped every afternoon, sometimes for as long as two hours. My body demanded it.

  —

  Before I knew it, March had slipped past. One morning I woke with the compelling urge to bake bread. I’d promised Nikolai I would never use a bread machine again, and I kept my word. I remembered everything he’d told me about mixing the flour and the water with the yeast. I found kneading the dough to be therapeutic. My first loaf turned out heavenly. I shared it with Nichole and Owen.

  Nichole gave me high marks. “This is some of the best homemade bread I’ve ever tasted. Well, other than…” She didn’t need to say it. I knew she was about to mention Nikolai and stopped herself in the nick of time.

  Spurred on by her encouragement, I continued baking: bread, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, everything that took my fancy, and I fancied a lot. I loved every minute of it.

  Every day I felt myself come more alive. The grief that consumed me left slowly, in degrees. Soon I found I could smile again, laugh again. I started taking long walks in the afternoons, replacing my naptime with exercise. I returned to the apartment feeling refreshed and exhilarated.

  The more I baked, the more my thoughts drifted to Nikolai. I hadn’t heard from him in all these months and I expected he’d moved on. On impulse one afternoon I walked to Koreski’s Deli. I had a loaf of bread for Nikolai and hoped to say with bread what I couldn’t with words. I chose a time when I knew the deli wouldn’t be extra-busy.

  Mr. Koreski was behind the counter when I approached. He looked up and had an odd look, as if he wasn’t sure he remembered who I was.

  “Mr. Koreski, I’m Leanne Patterson.”

  Recognition flashed into his eyes. “Ah, yes, I remember now. You’re Nikolai’s friend.”

  “Yes.” I sincerely hoped that after all this time Nikolai still considered me a friend and hopefully a great deal more.

  “I have something for him, if you wouldn’t mind giving it to him for me.”

  The deli owner’s face fell. “Nikolai doesn’t work here any longer. I miss him every day.”

  My heart slammed against my ribs with shock. I’d never imagined he would leave a job he loved. “Oh,” I managed after an awkward moment. I set the bread on the counter. “Then please accept this and enjoy.” I didn’t give him the opportunity to respond before I abruptly turned and left.

  I was afraid that Nikolai had gone from more than his job at the deli. It felt as if he’d closed the door on me as well. Returning to my apartment, I felt empty inside, lost and alone. Worse, I felt old and used up, much the way I had when I’d first left Sean.

  The next day Kacey phoned with the offer to take me to lunch. Refusing would do me little good. Kacey was determined not to take no for an answer, and not having an excuse she would accept, I gave in. She’d been after me for weeks now and it was time I broke out of my protective shell. I’d tried earlier with Nikolai, only to quickly retreat back to where I felt secure.

  As always, Kacey was upbeat and lively, entertaining me with tales of life at the club. She’d been a rock while Sean had been ill, the one constant I could rely on. She sat with Sean on occasion, giving me a much-needed break. Although she wasn’t much of a cook, she made the effort to bring us casseroles and other dishes, relieving me to concentrate on caring for Sean. I would always treasure her friendship—now more than ever.

  I admit I did feel better after our lunch. It was later than usual when I took my walk. The weather in the Pacific Northwest in April was often unpredictable, so I grabbed my waterproof jacket. The skies were overcast and my phone app predicted rain later in the afternoon. Just in case, I brought along my umbrella.

  My route took me past a park and I was thinking about my conversation with Kacey when I felt someone step up and walk beside me. Looking over, I saw Nikolai. My heart zoomed up into my throat and I froze, utterly speechless.

  His smile was warm and bright.
“Hello, my Leanne.”

  “Nikolai.” I couldn’t believe it was really him. I reached up and touched his cheek just to be sure he wasn’t part of my imagination.

  He took hold of my wrist and brought my palm to his lips, kissing the sensitive skin there.

  “You baked me bread,” he said, as if I had gifted him with the Hope Diamond.

  “How…How did you know?”

  “My friend tell me. He say you come to deli with bread.”

  “Mr. Koreski said you no longer work there.”

  “No, I leave and start my own business.”

  “You did?” I had no idea this was in the works for him.

  “Yes. I now bake bread for restaurants. I rent kitchen.”

  I couldn’t stop staring at him and hardly knew where to begin. All I could do was look at him. When I could finally speak, my words were thick with emotion, wobbling from my lips as tears filled my eyes. “I don’t think I can survive another minute without you.”

  His smile was huge as he hauled me into his arms. He spoke in Ukrainian, his own voice filled with emotion. Although I didn’t understand a word, I knew exactly what he said. He told me he loved me and that he’d missed me. Then he was kissing me, his rough hands cupping my face as he spread kisses from my forehead to my chin. It seemed to take him forever to get to my lips. I melted into his embrace, relishing the care and love I felt being in his arms.

  We walked back to my apartment, our arms around each other. We kissed in the elevator and missed my floor and had to ride back down. Then we laughed at how silly we’d been. Once inside my apartment we kissed again and again. Tears shone in his eyes as he held my face and stared down at me as if even now he couldn’t believe I was his. And yet for the entire time I’d been with Sean my heart was with Nikolai. I never understood how it was possible to love two men at the same time. I did now.

 
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