Carly thought she heard her name whispered through the trees. “Don’t be silly. You know whispered endearments don’t count anyway,” she told herself. She went back to arrange the last load deposited into the trunk of her aunt’s car. It refused to fit.
She stiffened. Even having heard his voice so few times, she knew immediately it was him.
“Yep.” She returned her eyes to her task after a quick glance at the house. Carly wasn’t sure if she was hoping for the safety net of another adult or if she’d just as soon no one knew he’d ever been there.
“Ah. Well…” An uncomfortable silence screamed between them. “Look … I …”
No! He was getting out of his car!
“Carly, I … I never meant …”
She shook her head, turning away with his every attempt to move in front of her. “Please! Just … leave me alone.”
“I need you to know … You have no idea the hell I’ve been going through …”
“You’ve been going through?” Her anger flared and she squared on him. “You took advantage of a lonely kid, your own daughter’s friend! Then you left me to grow up early. You should have been the adult!”
“I know!” He ran a hand down his face. “What I did was wrong and selfish. I acted without thinking ... until the morning light made me see her in you.” He was silent for a minute before taking a deep breath. “The only reason my wife and I are still together is for our daughter - the same reason I ran from you. I just couldn’t hurt Allie like that.” He touched her arm. “Carly,” he whispered.
Carly froze as she looked into eyes that were as haunted as her own and, for a split second, she was back in his arms again. Over and over he’d whispered her name into her hair, their bodies entangled as he’d held her, making her feel wanted in a way she never had. How gentle he’d been, teaching her, coaxing her to uncharted places, leading her in a direction no compass could have. Places she went willingly.
And then … he left. He’d left her to answer all the angry questions with carefully woven webs of deception that ate away at her soul as she became someone she wasn’t. She returned to her lonely world where she walked through the pregnancy and brought their baby into the world alone. Yet, even then she’d wished every night that she was back in his arms, not alone.
And she’d hated herself for all of that then and now, especially now, as she stood looking at him again, wishing she felt nothing but bitter venom even though she didn’t.
Suddenly, she wanted him to vanish, as he had before. Carly cursed her bad luck as her aunt came around the front of the car. Shoot and double dadgumit! She had the baby with her.
“We need to test little Faith in her new seat … Hi! I didn’t realize anyone was out here. Well, besides Carly, I mean. Of course she’s out here!” Betsy laughed at her own silliness, smiling at the handsome stranger. It was obvious by her giddy behavior she was momentarily smitten by him. He laughed, his hand falling away from Carly’s arm as he stretched to see the baby
“Here!” Carly snatched the baby away, causing Betsy’s smile to turn to a frown. Uh oh. Carly did an internal eye roll knowing she had just alerted her aunt.
“Matt. Matt Thomlin.” He extended a hand which Betsy clasped.
“So, Matt. How do you know Carly?” She raised her brows, her lips thinning as she asked.
Carly slipped into the back seat with Faith.
“Carly and my daughter Allie are friends?” It should have been a statement but came out as a question.
“Ah. I haven’t heard Carly talk much about her friends. How many children do you have, Mr. er, Matt?”
Help! Carly’s eyes pleaded with him through the open car door, though it was Faith who came to her rescue. Before he could answer the baby began to squirm and fuss. “Oh! Bee! A little help here?”
Bee turned her attention to the two bodies in the back seat of her car and laughed as she leaned in and she and Carly began to wrestle with the tiny infant to get her in the seat.
“We forgot to take off the blanket! You know she’ll get fussy if she gets too warm.” Carly’s voice was beyond flustered. Betsy didn’t fail to notice it.
Laughter sounded outside the car. “She reminds me so much of Allie. That’s exactly how she acted.”
The gentle eyes that locked with Carly’s guilt-laden ones held nothing but love and compassion. “It’s okay, Babe. Everything’s okay."
Carly nodded, blinking back the tears.
* * * * *
“Feels more like October than March for some reason.” Her meaningless statement was nothing more than a cover for her nervousness. She sighed as they pulled onto the street and headed toward their new life.
One hand resting on her baby, the other against the back glass, Carly wondered if Bee had noticed his car parked down the street. She saw it out the window as she watched her childhood home becoming smaller. She could remember only one time when she’d felt truly alive in that house and yet it was still hard to leave. It was the only life she’d ever known.
She looked down at the tiny life created by that one fateful night. Faith squirmed beneath her hand, started to fuss, then decided a nap would be a better idea. Carly leaned down and kissed the tiny head. “I love you, Faith,” she whispered into her baby’s fuzzy hair.
Carly smiled. Some whispered endearments would always count.