Sunday dawned a sunny hot July day. Their telephone conversation last night concluded with the decision that Connie would pick her up at the end of the drive today at 11:30 am. They planned to have a birthday lunch and then Connie would take her over to get the car. She dressed and arrived in the kitchen to find everyone already at the table eating. Since they were all dressed up, she assumed they were going to church together. Instantly, access to the building was uppermost on her mind. Yancey eyed her blue sundress critically. Judging by his expression, he probably thought it was provocative. After last night, she had decided to keep things professional between them. She was an open book to him and he was obsessed with the idea of reading it. Neither of them was looking for a mate. It simply happened that they were attracted to each other. Ahead of her lay college and a possible career in journalism. Ahead of him was the possibility of a jail sentence. If Len was right, it might be a lifetime of hiding. She pulled out a chair.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you all would be up so early. I was planning on fixing breakfast. Are you all going to church this morning?”
Yancey cleared his throat. “They are. I have an appointment. I thought you might want to go with Mom and Tammy.”
“It sounds good, but I’m supposed to meet Connie at noon.”
“I guess that would be for your birthday.”
“Yes, among other things.”
Sarah glanced at Yancey. “You didn’t tell us it was her birthday.” Her attention switched to Lisa and she smiled. “Happy Birthday.” She looked uncomfortable. “I wish you had told me.”
Lisa glanced at Yancey. “I wish Mr. Giddon had not.”
Yancey gave her a stern look. “Yancey,” he corrected, “and I didn’t know it was a secret.”
Lisa sat down and accepted the bowl full of scrambled eggs Sarah passed to her.
“It wasn’t a secret. I simply didn’t want your mother to feel uncomfortable.”
He glanced at his mother and colored a little. “Oh.”
Touché! She glanced up in time to see his mother give him a knowing look. She looked down at her plate before they discovered they had been observed. What was that all about?
Yancey stood. “Well, I’d better get going.” He motioned to Lisa with a quick beckoning of the hand. “Come here a minute.”
She followed him to the front door and looked up at him inquisitively. He leaned forward, as if to say something in her ear. She leaned forward and he quickly kissed her on the mouth.
“Happy birthday and have a nice day.” He grinned and winked.
It wasn’t the kiss that bothered her so much. It was the deception. He had become far too familiar and apparently assumed a relationship that didn’t exist. On the other hand, hadn’t she put that idea into his head last night? She spoke her mind.
“Last night shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry I acted that way.”
His gaze searched her eyes, but for once apparently found no answer.
“Well I’m not sorry, and I don’t know why you should be. Why shouldn’t it have happened?”
She took a step back from him. “Because it was unprofessional. Because we barely know each other. For a lot of reasons.”
He sighed and rubbed his head as though the whole idea gave him a headache.
“I don’t want things to be professional – not for you here and not between us. This isn’t an office. It’s our home and you’re more than a sitter or maid to all of us. You must know that.”
Actually, she didn’t know that. It was a romantic idea, but she hadn’t been there long enough to mean that much to either Tammy or Sarah. The only person who didn’t view her as a sitter or maid was Yancey, and his viewpoint was as a lover.
“I know I’m mostly to blame for last night, but I’m not here to entertain you.”
His somber gaze was alluring – probably because he was unaware of how attractive it was. For a moment she wanted to retract the part about being entertainment, but when he spoke she realized it might have been exactly what she needed to say.
He tipped his head to the side. “I never meant to make you feel that way. I’m sorry if I offended you.”
She met his sober gaze. “I’m not offended. It’s just that I got derailed and I need to get on track.”
Her own words bounced off the wall and came back as a flash of memory and imagination. Her expression must have looked stricken, because he reached for her.
“It’s alright to grieve,” he said, pulling her into his arms.
There was nothing sexual about his embrace this time. It was pure consolation. She snuggled into his arms and felt safe for the first time since the accident. Tears filled her eyes, but she forced the memories from her mind. Finally she pulled away.
“Thank you. I didn’t mean to make you late for your appointment.”
He nodded, still watching her soberly. She followed him out on the porch.
“I hope your meeting goes well.”
He smiled down at her. “Don’t drive so wild today.”
For a moment she was shocked by his words. How did he know she was getting her car today? Did he overhear her conversation with Connie? Then something else crossed her mind.
“Connie is picking me up. She’s driving.”
His eyes twinkled with humor. “So when are you getting your car?”
She smiled. “Since you asked, I’m getting it today. Connie is taking me by to pick it up.”
At the car, he opened the door and glanced back at her, his expression reflective.
“I’ll see you later. Try to stay out of the woods.”
With that said, he climbed into the car, shut the door and started it. When he turned it around to leave, he waved to her.
She walked slowly back to the kitchen. It always came back to that. What was in the building that he didn’t want her to see? Didn’t he know that the more he didn’t want her to see it, the more she wanted to see what it was? It was hard to believe he didn’t know. Was it merely another game he was playing with her mind? No, nothing could explain the exchange she witnessed. She had to get back there and see what was in the building. This was a relationship she might want to pursue if he wasn’t involved in something illegal.
She felt the attention before she actually saw it. Both Sarah and Tammy were watching her.
Sarah smiled. “I don’t know what he wanted, but he certainly put you in a reflective mood. Why don’t you sit down and finish your breakfast.”
Lisa sat down at her plate. How much had Sarah heard? She finished her breakfast with little conversation and saw Sarah and Tammy off to church. Connie wouldn’t be there for another hour. She had that much time alone. Enough time to walk back to the building. She stared through the window at the trail. Not today. She turned away from the temptation and went to her room. Thirty minutes later she was walking down the drive to meet Connie, never having betrayed his trust. It felt good.
When Connie arrived, Lisa had barely buckled her seatbelt before she started asking questions.
“Have you discovered anything more about him yet?”
“No.” Nothing she wanted to confess.
“Is he sweet on you? Are you sweet on him? Come on, inquiring minds want to know.”
Lisa laughed. “I can just imagine how much of that Howard would want to know.”
Connie grinned. “Howard? Who cares about Howard? Tell me.”
Lisa shook her head. “It’s an easy job, like I expected. Mrs. Giddon is so nice, and Tammy is adorable. Most of the time I’m at the pool or resting in the air conditioned house.”
Connie glanced at her. “Fine, but that’s not what I asked.” She maneuvered the sharp turn and started up the hill. “And what about Mr. Giddon?”
“He’s nice too, but he’s gone a lot of the time.”
Connie frowned as she turned the other corner and picked up speed. “He’s gone most of the time, but he doesn’t have a job? Can’t you simply ask his mother what he does for a living?”
Lisa looked down at her hands. Why hadn’t she anticipated these questions? How could she answer them without implicating Yancey? Finally she shrugged.
“I guess if he thought it was any of my business, he’d tell me. He hired me as a sitter and maid. The money comes on time and he has fulfilled all his promises. I’m not about to jeopardize my job by asking all kinds of questions.”
“Oh.” Connie contemplated the answer and nodded. “I guess when you put it that way....” She tipped her head to the side and smiled at Lisa. “Still, you must have some personal observations...thoughts...feelings?”
Lisa nodded. “How are things at the house?”
Connie laughed. “All right. I’ll let it go – for now. Everything is going fine with the house. I paid the electric and water bill this week....”
“Just a minute,” Lisa interrupted. “You’re paying the bills?”
“Well, yes. You gave Howard access to the checking account. Don’t you remember?”
“No. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I don’t remember. I need to start taking care of that. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.”
Connie patted her hand. “Because you had something else on your mind. Don’t worry about it. You’ve never had to pay house payments or utilities. Of course it never crossed your mind. I’ll tell Howard to get everything together and you can drop by to pick it up next week.”
Lisa stared out the window. “I feel like I just started living again. Things are coming to me like waking from a nightmare. I haven’t dreamed about it for a week.” Her throat constricted. “I didn’t want to think about it. I kept seeing little Nick’s face in the window when they left the house.” Her voice broke and she stopped, wiping her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever stop seeing that.”
Connie was silent a moment. When she did speak, her voice was filled with emotion. “I think the best thing to do is try to remember all the good times you had. When you start seeing Nick...that way, try to replace it with a warm family moment. I can’t believe that it’s healthy to push them from your mind altogether. Maybe if you took some pictures from the house and put them in your room.”
She was probably right. Certainly placing the family picture face down on the coffee table had done nothing to ease her pain. Maybe it would help her remember who she was. The Giddon’s had filled the role of family only to an extent. It was the mystery surrounding the family that kept her mind occupied – and Yancey.
“I think I love him.”
Connie stared at her. “Who?”
She brushed the hair back over her shoulders. “Yancey.”
“Are you crazy? You barely know him. He’s handsome, mysterious and fills an empty spot...but love?” She was silent a minute - probably getting over the initial shock. It was a foolish thing to say. Finally Connie spoke again.
“Well, whatever it is, it probably won’t go down too well with Howard or Len. You better not tell either of them just yet.” She hesitated, glancing at Lisa. “Are you sure?”
Lisa shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s so...complicated.”
Connie smiled. “Well, don’t rush things. As you said, you’re just waking up from a nightmare. Don’t cling to the first thing you see.”
Good advice. But he wasn’t the first thing she had seen. Len was. Why couldn’t she feel the same excitement about him? She smiled at Connie. “It’s good to have someone to talk to.”
Connie nodded. “It’s good to be able to listen.”
They spent the rest of the day talking about college, clothes and all the other things that she had left behind. They were a long way from talked out when she got in her new car, but she felt much more alive and aware of her surroundings – much more in control of her life than she had since the accident.
She stopped at a light and glanced at a shop to her right where some people were standing around talking. What? No, her eyes weren’t deceiving her. It was Yancey standing outside that shop, and with him were the man from the building and Allen. A honk from behind drew their attention. The light was green and she accelerated across the intersection. Her heart was beating wildly. Why would Yancey be meeting with Allen? Only one thing came to mind – a drug deal. Had they recognized her? None of them would have recognized the car, but Yancey would recognize it after he got home. Maybe she shouldn’t go back to the Giddon home. Yet what had she seen? Three men talking to each other on a sidewalk certainly wasn’t enough to tell the police – except Len. She pulled over beside the road and dialed his number. It rang several times and then switched over for her to leave a message. She paused a few seconds and then disconnected without leaving a message. She dialed Howard’s number. Again she left no message. Connie would be on the road right now. She pulled the car back on the road and continued toward the Giddon place. If Yancey didn’t suspect anything now, he would if she didn’t show up tonight. Maybe she could act like she didn’t notice it was him. Who hasn’t sat at a stop light and been so distracted by something else that they didn’t notice the light was green? But then, the question would be; what distracted her?
Maybe it was curiosity that influenced her decision to go back to the Giddon home. Whatever the case, when she arrived, a birthday cake sat in the middle of the table. It was blue and white and red – a reminder of the last birthday cake she saw. She was staring at the cake, trying to find some fond memory to shove aside the pictures in her mind when Sarah walked into the room.
“You look more horrified than surprised,” she said. “What is the problem?”
Lisa tried to compose her thoughts and expression. Hopefully, her smile wasn’t as strained as it felt. “It’s very nice. I was just remembering....” Maybe it would hurt Sarah’s feelings less if she simply told the truth. “That night...was Dad’s birthday. I decorated his cake.”
Sarah put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
This time Lisa’s smile was genuine. “I can’t go the rest of my life avoiding birthday cakes. Thank you so much for the thought. It looks delicious.”
Sarah nodded, obviously still unsure about the situation. Her attention was diverted a few minutes later when Yancey arrived.
Lisa watched as he parked his car and walked over to examine hers. He walked around it and then leaned down to look in the window. Still looking back at it, he started for the house. When he came into the kitchen, his gaze settled on Lisa. His expression was unreadable. Whatever his thoughts, they were interrupted when Tammy sped into his arms like a bullet. He laughed and held her above his head, his expression once again, pure adoration. How could anyone who loved so thoroughly be guilty of the things she suspected? Of course, it could happen, but it simply didn’t fit his character. Not that she would know a drug lord from a prince. She hadn’t even suspected Allen.
Back in his arms, Tammy leaned forward with her nose on his, looking into his eyes.
“I wove woo,” she said with conviction.
“I wove woo too,” Yancey mimicked with equal enthusiasm, and kissed her on the cheek. “Now let’s have some of that cake.”
Tammy turned around and pointed at the cake. “I want a fwower on mine.”
They had cake and ice cream and talked for nearly an hour about one thing and another. If Yancey had noticed her earlier or was troubled by it, he gave no indication. But then, it was like him not to reveal his thoughts or concerns – unless the mood hit him.
With that dark thought, she excused herself and went to her room. There she changed into jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. It was time to test her freedom and go for that walk.