"What do you mean, you can't have lunch with me today? We've been doing this for years-how could you forget?" "I didn't forget, Dad, I just can't do it today. We'll pick it up again next week, okay?" Jeb Blake paused on the other end of the phone, drumming his fingers on the desktop. "Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me something?" "There's nothing to tell." "You sure?" "Yeah, I'm sure." Theresa called to Garrett from the shower, asking him to bring her a towel. Garrett covered the mouthpiece and told her he'd be right there. When he returned his attention to the phone, he heard his father inhale sharply. "What was that?" "Nothing." Then, in a tone of sudden understanding: "That Theresa gal's there, isn't she?" Knowing he couldn't hide the truth from him now, Garrett replied: "Yeah, she's here." Jeb whistled, obviously pleased. "It's about damn time." Garrett tried to downplay it. "Dad, don't make a big deal out of this. . . ." "I won't-I promise." "Thanks." "But can I ask you something?" "Sure." Garrett sighed. "Does she make you happy?" It took a moment for him to answer. "Yeah, she does," he said finally. "It's about damn time," he said again with a laugh before hanging up. Garrett stared at the phone as he replaced it in its cradle. "She really does," he whispered to himself with a small smile on his face. "She really does." Theresa emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later, looking rested and fresh. Smelling coffee brewing, she went to the kitchen for a cup. After putting a piece of bread in the toaster, Garrett walked to her side. "Good morning, again," he said, kissing the back of her neck. "Good morning again to you, too." "Sorry about leaving the bedroom last night." "Hey, it's okay. . . . I understand." "You mean that?" "Of course I do." She turned and faced him with a smile. "I had a wonderful night." "So did I," he said. Fishing a coffee cup out of the cupboard for Theresa, he asked over his shoulder, "Do you want to do something today? I called the shop and told them I wasn't coming in." "What did you have in mind?" "How about showing you around Wilmington?" "We could do that." She didn't sound convinced. "Did you have anything else you wanted to do instead?" "How about we just sort of hang around here today?" "And do what?" "Oh, I can think of a couple of things," she said, putting her arms around him. "That is, if you don't have a problem with that." "No," he said with a grin. "No problem at all." *  *  * For the next four days, Theresa and Garrett were inseparable. Garrett ceded control of the shop to Ian, even allowing him to teach the dive classes on Saturday, something he'd never done before. Twice, Garrett and Theresa went sailing; on the second night they stayed out all night on the ocean, lying together in the cabin, rocked by the gentle swells of the Atlantic. Later that evening she asked him to tell her more adventure stories about early sailors, and she stroked his hair as the sound of his voice reverberated against the interior of the hull. What she didn't know was that after she'd fallen asleep, Garrett left her side as he had their first night together and paced the deck alone. He thought about Theresa sleeping inside and the fact that she would be leaving soon, and with that thought came another memory from years before. "I really don't think you should go," Garrett said, looking at Catherine with concern in his eyes. She stood beside the front door, her suitcase beside her, frustrated with his comment. "C'mon, Garrett, we've already talked about this. I'm only going to be gone for a few days." "But you haven't been yourself lately." Catherine felt like throwing up her hands. "How many times do I have to tell you that I'm fine? My sister really needs me-you know how she is. She's worried about the wedding, and Mom isn't much help at all." "But I need you, too." "Garrett-just because you have to be at the shop all day long doesn't mean I have to stay here, too. We're not joined at the hip." Garrett took an involuntary step backward, as if she'd struck him. "I didn't say we were. I'm just not sure whether you should go when you're feeling this way." "You never want me to go anywhere." "Can I help it if I miss you when you're gone?" Her face softened just a little. "I may leave, Garrett, but you know I'll always come back." When the memory faded, Garrett walked back inside the cabin and saw Theresa lying under the sheet. Quietly he slipped in beside her and held her tightly against him. *  *  * The following day was spent at the beach, sitting near the pier where they'd first had lunch. When Theresa got sunburned by the early morning rays, Garrett walked to one of the many shops right off the beach and brought back some lotion. He applied it to her back, rubbing it into her skin, as gently as if she were a child, and even though she didn't want to believe it, deep down she could feel that there were moments when his mind was drifting somewhere else. But then, just as suddenly, the moments would pass and she would wonder whether she'd been mistaken. They had lunch at Hank's again, holding hands and staring at each other from across the table. They talked quietly, oblivious to the throngs around them, neither one of them noticing when the check was brought to the table and the lunch crowd emptied out. Theresa watched him carefully, wondering if Garrett had been as intuitive with Catherine as he seemed to be with her. It was as if he could almost read her mind whenever they were together-if she wanted him to hold her hand, he reached for it before she said anything. If she just wanted to talk for a while without interruption, he listened quietly. If she wanted to know how he was feeling about her at any particular moment, the way he looked at her made it all clear. No one-not even David-had ever understood her as well as Garrett seemed to, yet how long had she known him? A few days? How, she wondered, could that be? Late at night, she thought about the answer as he lay sleeping by her side, and the answer always came back to the bottles she had originally found. The more she had come to know Garrett, the more she believed that she was destined to find his messages to Catherine, as if there were some great force that had directed them to her, with the intention of bringing them together. On Saturday evening Garrett cooked another dinner for her, which they ate on the back deck under the stars. After making love, they lay in his bed, holding each other. Both of them knew that she had to return to Boston the following day. It was a subject they had both avoided talking about until now. "Will I ever see you again?" she asked. He was quiet, almost too quiet. "I hope so," he said finally. "Do you want to?" "Of course I do." As he said it, he sat up in the bed, pulling slightly away from her. After a moment she sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. "What is it, Garrett?" "I just don't want it to end," he said, looking down. "I don't want us to end, I don't want this week to end. I mean, you come into my life and turn it upside-down, and now you're leaving." She reached for his hand and spoke quietly. "Oh, Garrett-I don't want it to end, either. This has been one of the best weeks I've ever had. It seems like I've known you forever. We can make it work, if we try. I could come down here or you could come up to Boston. Either way, we can try, can't we?"
"How often would I see you? Once a month? Less than that?"
"I don't know. I think that depends on us and what we're willing to do. I think if we're both willing to give a little, we can make it work." He paused for a long moment. "Do you really think it's possible if we don't see each other very much? When would I get to hold you? When would I be able to see your face? If we only see each other once in a while, we won't be able to do the things that we need to . . . to continue feeling the way we do. Every time we saw each other, we'd know it's only for a couple of days. There wouldn't be time for anything to grow." His words stung, partly from the truth and partly because he seemed to want to simply end it here and now. When he finally turned to her, a regretful smile on his face, she didn't know what to say. She released his hand, confused. "You don't want to try, then? Is that what you're saying? You just want to forget everything that's happened-" He shook his head. "No-I don't want to forget it. I can't forget it. I don't know. . . . I just want to see you more than it sounds like we'll be able to." "So do I. But we can't, so let's just make the best of what we can. Okay?" He shook his head almost dismissively. "I don't know. . . . " She watched him closely as he spoke, sensing the presence of something else. "Garrett, what's wrong?" He didn't answer, and she went on. "Is there a reason you don't want to try?" Still he remained quiet. In the silence, he turned toward Catherine's picture on the nightstand. "How was the trip?" Garrett grabbed Catherine's bag from the backseat as she stepped out of the car. Catherine smiled, though he could tell she was tired. "It was good, but my sister's still a wreck. She wants everything flawless, and we found out that Nancy is pregnant and her bridesmaid's dress isn't going to fit." "So what? She'll just get it adjusted." "That's what I said, but you know how she is. She's making a big deal out of everything." Catherine put her hands on her hips and stretched her back, making a small grimace as she did so. "You okay?" "Just stiff, is all. I was tired the whole time I was there, and my back's been kind of achy for a couple of days." She started toward the front door, Garrett right beside her. "Catherine, I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry about the way I acted before you left. I'm glad you went, but I'm even happier that you're back." "Garrett, talk to me." She stared at him, concerned. Finally he spoke: "Theresa . . . it's just so hard right now. The things I've been going through . . ." He trailed off, and Theresa suddenly knew what he was talking about. She felt her stomach tighten. "Is this about Catherine? Is that what this is about?" "No, it's just that . . ." He paused, and she knew with a sudden sinking sureness that she'd been right. "It is, isn't it? You don't want to even try with us . . . because of Catherine." "You just don't understand." Despite herself, she felt a flash of anger. "Oh, I understand. You were able to spend time with me this week, simply because you knew I'd be leaving. And then, once I was gone, you could go back to what you had before. I was just a fling, wasn't I?" He shook his head. "No, you weren't. You weren't a fling. I really care about you-" She stared hard at him. "But not enough to even try to make this work." He looked at her, pain evident in his eyes. "Don't be like this. . . ." "How should I be? Understanding? Do you want me to simply say, 'Oh, okay, Garrett, we'll just end it here because it's difficult and we won't be able to see each other very much. I understand. It was nice meeting you.' Is that what you want me to say?" "No, that's not what I want you to say." "Then what do you want? I've already said I'm willing to try . . . I've already said that I'd like to try-" He shook his head, unable to meet her eyes. Theresa could feel tears beginning to form. "Look, Garrett, I know you lost a wife. I know you suffered terribly for it. But you're acting like a martyr now. You've got your whole life ahead of you. Don't throw it all away by living in the past." "I'm not living in the past," he said defensively. Theresa fought back her tears with effort. Her voice softened. "Garrett . . . I may not have lost a wife, but I did lose someone I really cared about, too. I know all about pain and hurt. But to be quite frank, I'm tired of being alone all the time. It's been over three years for me-just like you-and I'm tired of it. I'm ready to go on now and find someone special to be with. And you should, too." "I know that. Don't you think I know that?" "Right now, I'm not so sure. Something wonderful has happened between us, and I don't want us to lose sight of that." He paused for a long moment. "You're right," he began, struggling with his words. "In my mind, I know you're right. But my heart . . . I just don't know." "But what about my heart? Doesn't that matter to you at all?" The way she looked at him made his throat tighten. "Of course it does. It matters more than you think." When he reached out to take her hand, she flinched and he saw how much he had hurt her. He spoke gently, trying to control his own emotions. "Theresa, I'm sorry for putting you-putting us-through this on our last night. I didn't mean for it to happen. Believe me, you weren't a fling for me. God-you were anything but that. I told you I really care about you, and I mean that." He opened his arms, his eyes pleading with her to come to his side. She hesitated for a second, then finally leaned into him, myriad conflicting feelings rushing through her. She lowered her face onto his chest, not wanting to see his expression. He kissed her hair, speaking softly as his lips fluttered over her. "I do care. I care so much that it scares me. I haven't felt like this in so long, it's almost like I've forgotten how important another person could be to me. I don't think I could just let you go and forget you, and I don't want to. And I definitely don't want us to end right now." For a moment there was only the soft, even sound of his breathing. Finally he whispered, "I promise to do everything I can to see you. And we'll try to make it work." The tenderness in his voice made her tears begin to fall. He went on, almost too quietly for her to hear. "Theresa, I think I'm in love with you." I think I'm in love with you, she heard again. I think . . . I think . . . Not wanting to respond, she simply whispered: "Just hold me, okay? Let's not talk anymore." *  *  * They made love first thing in the morning and held each other until the sun had risen high enough to let them know it was time for Theresa to get ready. Even though she hadn't spent much time at all at the hotel and had brought her suitcase over to Garrett's house, she hadn't checked out, just in case Kevin or Deanna called. They showered together, and after dressing, Garrett made Theresa breakfast while she finished packing her things. Zipping her suitcase, Theresa heard the sound of sizzling in the kitchen as the smell of bacon wafted through the house. After drying her hair and putting on some makeup, she walked into the kitchen. Garrett was sitting at the table, drinking coffee. He winked at her when she entered. On the counter he'd left a cup by the coffeemaker, and she poured herself some. Breakfast was already on the table-scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Theresa sat in the chair closest to him. "I didn't know what you wanted for breakfast," he said, motioning toward the table. "I'm not hungry, Garrett, if that's all right with you." He smiled. "That's fine. I'm not that hungry, either." She got up from her chair and went to him, sitting in his lap. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. He held her tightly in return, running his hands through her hair. Finally she pulled back. Their time in the sun this week had left her tanned. In her jeans shorts and clean white shirt, she looked like a carefree teenager. For a moment she stared down at the small flower designs stitched into her sandals. Her suitcase and purse stood waiting next to the bedroom door. "My plane leaves soon, and I've still got to check out of the hotel and return the rental car," she said. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" She nodded, her lips pursed. "No, I'll be rushing just to catch my flight as it is, and besides, you'd have to follow me in your truck. We can say good-bye just as easily here." "I'm going to call you tonight." She smiled. "I was hoping you would." Her eyes began to well with tears, and he pulled her close. "I'm going to miss having you here," he said as she started to cry in earnest. He brushed away the tears with his fingers, his touch light against her skin. "And I'll miss having you cook for me," she whispered, feeling foolish. He laughed, breaking the tension. "Don't be so sad. We're going to see each other again in a couple of weeks, aren't we?" "Unless you're having second thoughts." He smiled. "I'll be counting the days. And this time you're going to bring Kevin, right?" She nodded. "Good, I'd like to meet him. If he's anything at all like you, I'm sure we'll get along great." "I'm sure you will, too." "And until then, I'll be thinking about you all the time." "You will?" "Absolutely. I'm already thinking about you." "That's because I'm on your lap." He laughed again, and she gave him a watery smile. Then she stood and wiped the wetness from her cheeks. Garrett moved to her suitcase and picked it up, and they both left the house. Outside, the sun was already climbing in the sky, and it was warming up quickly. Theresa retrieved the sunglasses she kept in the side pocket of her purse, holding them in her hand as they walked to her rental car. She unlocked the trunk, and he placed her things inside. Then, taking her in his arms, he kissed her once gently and released her. After opening her car door, he helped her inside and she put the key in the ignition. With the door open, they stared at each other until she started the car. "I've got to go, if I'm going to catch my plane." "I know." He stepped back from the door and closed it. She rolled down the window and put her hand out. Garrett took it in his for just a moment. Then she shifted the car into reverse. "You'll call tonight?" "I promise." She pulled her hand in, smiling at him, and slowly started forward. Garrett watched her as she waved one last time before driving off, wondering how on earth he'd get through the next two weeks. *  *  * Despite the traffic, Theresa made it to the hotel quickly and checked out. There were three messages from Deanna, each seemingly more desperate than the last. "What's going on down there? How did your date go?" read the first one; "Why didn't you call? I'm waiting to hear all about it," read the second; and the third said simply, "You're killing me! Call me with the details-please!" There was also one message from Kevin-she'd called him a couple of times from Garrett's house-and it seemed to be at least a couple of days old. She returned the rental car and reached the airport with less than a half hour to spare. Luckily the line to check her bags was short, and she made it to the gate just as they were boarding. After handing her ticket to the stewardess, she boarded the plane and took her seat. The flight to Charlotte was only partly full, and the seat next to her was vacant. Theresa closed her eyes, thinking back on the amazing events of the past week. Not only had she found Garrett, but she had come to know him better than she would ever have imagined possible. He had stirred deep feelings in her, feelings she had long thought were buried. But did she love him? She approached the question gingerly, wary of what an admission like that would mean. Idly she ran through their conversation of last night. His fears of letting go of the past, his feelings about not seeing her as much as he wanted to. These things she understood completely. But . . . I think I'm in love with you. She frowned. Why did he add the word "think"? Either he was in love or he wasn't . . . wasn't he? Had he said it to appease her? Or had he said it for another reason? I think I'm in love with you. In her mind, she heard him say it over and over again, his voice edged with . . what? Ambivalence? Thinking about it now, she almost wished he'd said nothing at all. At least then she wouldn't be trying to figure out exactly what he'd meant. But what about her? Did she love Garrett? She shut her eyes tiredly, suddenly unwilling to confront her warring emotions. One thing was for sure, though-she wasn't ever going to tell him that she loved him until she was certain he could put Catherine behind him. That night, in Garrett's dreams, a violent storm was well under way. Rain pelted hard against the side of the house, and Garrett ran frantically from one room to the next. It was the house he lived in now, and though he knew exactly where he was going, the blinding rain coming in the open windows made it difficult to see. Knowing he had to close them, he rushed to the bedroom and found himself entangled in the curtains as they blew inward. Fighting them off, he reached the window just as the lights went off. The room went black. Above the storm, he could hear the sound of a distant siren, warning of a hurricane. Lightning illuminated the sky as he struggled with the window. It wouldn't budge. Rain continued to pour inward, wetting his hands and making it impossible to get the grip he needed. Above him, the roof began to creak with the fury of the storm. He continued to struggle with the window, but it was jammed and wouldn't move. Finally giving up, he tried the window beside it. Like the first window, it was stuck as well. He could hear the shingles being torn from the roof, followed by the crash of shattering glass. He turned and ran to the living room. The window there had exploded inward, spewing glass over the floor. Rain blew sideways into the room, and the wind was horrific. The front door was shaking in the frame. Outside the window, he heard Theresa begin to call for him. "Garrett, you've got to get out now!" At that moment, the bedroom windows crashed inward as well. The wind, gusting through the house, began to tear an opening in the ceiling. The house wouldn't be able to stand much longer. Catherine. He had to get her picture and the other items he kept in the end table. "Garrett! You're running out of time!"Theresa shouted again. Despite the rain and blackness, he could see her outside, motioning for him to follow her. The picture. The ring. The Valentine's Day cards. "C'mon!" she continued to shout. Her arms were waving frantically. With a roar, the roof separated from the frame of the house and the wind began to tear it away. On instinct, he raised his arms above his head just as part of the ceiling crashed down on him. In moments everything would be lost. Not caring about the danger, he started toward the bedroom. He couldn't leave without them. "You can still make it!" Something in the sound of Theresa's cry made him stop. He glanced toward Theresa, then toward the bedroom, frozen. More of the ceiling fell in around him. With a sharp, splintering crack, the roof continued to give way. He took a step toward the bedroom, and with that, he saw Theresa stop waving her arms. To him it seemed as if she'd suddenly given up. The wind gusted through the room, an unearthly howl that seemed to blow through him. Furniture toppled over throughout the room, blocking his path. "Garrett! Please!" Theresa shouted. Again the sound of her voice made him stop, and with that he realized that if he tried to save the things from his past, he might not make it out at all. But was it worth it? The answer was obvious. He gave up his attempt and rushed toward the opening where the window had been. With his fist, he pounded out the shards and stepped out onto the back deck just as the roof was completely torn away. The walls began to buckle then, and as he jumped onto the deck, they crumbled into a pile with a thunderous boom. He looked for Theresa to make sure she was okay, but strangely, he couldn't see her anymore.