“But I’ve always had a hole in my life where she was concerned. It’s hard for a teenage girl to grow up with a single father. They don’t understand anything. And when he died a few years ago, I had nothing left.
“If not for the mixup, I would’ve woken up in the hospital completely alone and spent the weeks of my recovery without anyone who cared. Even though you aren’t really my parents, having you and George there for me these few short months has been priceless. I missed having family so much. I know speaking to me might be difficult for you both, but please feel free to keep in touch.”
Adrienne could see the tears in Pauline’s eyes even in the dark cabin of the car. “Thank you,” she said, leaning forward and hugging Adrienne. “I would love to keep in touch and see how you are doing, how your career is going.”
“I’m not sure I have much of a career left, but thanks for your vote of confidence. Actually, I don’t have much of anything left. It feels sort of odd to think of it that way, but it’s true. Everything I had was Cynthia’s.”
“I didn’t think about that. You lost it all in the crash, didn’t you? How terrible. How are you getting home?”
“I’m going to have my aunt wire me money for a bus ticket. Given I’ve been declared dead, she’s the only one with access to my accounts.”
Pauline’s hand reached out to rest on Adrienne’s knee. “I want to do something for you.”
Surprised, Adrienne turned to the older woman and shook her head. “No, you’ve done enough for me. That party had to cost you a fortune.”
“Nonsense. I want to help you get home, and I won’t take no for an answer. If you insist on the bus, so be it, but the train runs from Penn Station to Chicago and up to Milwaukee. I figure you’re probably not interested in flying, but if you’ll let me, I’d like to buy a ticket for you.”
“I can’t accept that. I feel like I’ve already taken advantage of everyone in Cynthia’s life. I wouldn’t feel right taking anything else.”
Pauline turned to her purse, reached inside and pulled out her cell phone. Before Adrienne could argue, she purchased a one-way ticket in a roomette for departure the following day. After she hung up, she looked at Adrienne with a smile. “The ticket will be waiting for you at the ticket counter tomorrow. The train departs at three forty-five in the afternoon.”
“That’s really not necessary.”
“I do what I want to, dear.”
She certainly couldn’t argue with that and frankly didn’t want to despite her protests. Three days of buses and sleeping in terminals was not her ideal trip. “Thank you. For everything.”
“You brought light into all our lives. Even Will’s. I know he’s taken all this pretty hard. I’m sorry if he’s been a little standoffish. But he was happier with you these past few weeks than I’d seen him in years. Watching you two dance at the party, I was certain he was in love with you. I’ll be the first to admit you were a better match for him than my daughter. Maybe once the shock wears off, he’ll realize he loves you the person, not the name.”
Adrienne tried to look embarrassed by her words, but inside she was really fighting back tears. She didn’t dare leave herself the hope of Will changing his mind. How could this woman understand the situation so completely when Will, the man she loved, adamantly refused? His stubborn, suspicious streak had cost them a chance at real happiness.
The car pulled up to the curb and Henry got out to open the door for Adrienne.
“Call us when you get home safely. I expect to hear from you at least once a month so I know you’re not in some kind of trouble. That was my rule with Cynthia, and now it’s my rule with you.”
Adrienne hugged the woman again. “Yes, ma’am,” she said before slipping out of the car. She stood on the curb and watched the town car merge back into traffic and disappear down the block.
She was a little sad watching Pauline drive away but was glad to know they’d keep in touch. If she couldn’t have the man she loved, at least a relationship with Pauline and George was more than she had before the accident.
Slipping the key from her pocket, she unlocked the door and headed up the four flights of stairs to Gwen’s apartment.
A drienne’s homecoming to Wisconsin was not nearly as grand as her party in New York. Frankly, it was depressing, but it was a reflection of her life and the turn it had taken. Her aunt Margaret picked her up at the train station. They had never been very close; Aunt Margaret hadn’t liked Adrienne’s mother, so of course Miriam’s daughter was tainted as well.