A light turned red ahead of her and, even as she braked, she had one of those disconcertingly vivid recollections....
The turn signal was on. Click, click, click. Dad was tapping the steering wheel impatiently, too. She slouched in the front seat beside him, wishing Felix was coming, too. Hanging around the resort all day alone would be boring, but better than staying home. Mom had wanted to take her back-to-school shopping. Maddie hated shopping. Mom always picked out clothes she liked. She didn’t even listen when Maddie tried to tell her what she liked. Suddenly sulky, she thought, I’ll never be pretty anyway, never. So why does she bother?
Oh, well. Once they reached the resort, Dad wouldn’t pay any attention to her. She could feed the chipmunks—she liked doing that. She’d dangle her feet in the lake and lie on her stomach on the slab of rock and watch the silver flash of the minnows as they darted in the clear water. She’d brought a couple of books, too. Sitting in the sun and reading made her happy....
A car horn startled her back to the present. The light had changed to green and she shook herself and started forward cautiously. This time she drove straight to the Newberry Inn and parked, although she made no immediate move to get out.
She was breathing hard. This was like being schizophrenic or having multiple personalities. No, worse, like having someone else crawl under her skin. She wanted to remember, but she didn’t want to sink into memories so powerful she was there and not here. And they weren’t even helpful! They all seemed to be these dumb, random moments when nothing important was happening. Along with this most recent memory came the knowledge that she’d often gone to work with her father during the summer. Mostly, she’d liked going, because otherwise her mother would organize her. Sign her up for activities at the park or the seasonal swim team or—one horrible summer—ballet. Her parents just wouldn’t give up. They couldn’t understand how she could be so klutzy instead of athletic like her brother.
Nell gripped the steering wheel and thought, I’m just not. Disconcerted, she didn’t even know if that thought was hers, or Maddie’s.
And to think she’d been envious when the friends in her book club reminisced about playing the clarinet in fifth grade or having to wear the world’s ugliest saddle shoes for two whole years to correct flat arches. Or a first kiss to cement a relationship started when his friends told her friends he liked her and she said he could be her boyfriend because he was the fourth cutest boy in the class so why not. Nell didn’t have those kinds of memories. I’m not a whole person, she used to think. I must have been normal once, before...whatever it was that happened. Maybe I played the clarinet, too, or the flute. There might have been a first kiss, in fifth or sixth grade. Except adult Nell looked at her still slight body and plain brown hair and the sprinkle of freckles and doubted any of the boys in fifth or sixth grade had thought of her that way.
Although later, there had been men who wanted a girl who looked even younger than she really was.
She didn’t let herself linger on those memories.
Talking and laughing, two women passed in front of her car on the way to the inn, and Nell looked at her watch. Twelve-thirty. Her mother was probably waiting for her.
This was what she was here for, she reminded herself.
So don’t be a wuss. Get on with it.
Feeling unexpectedly shaky, she got out, locked the car and followed the women to the front entrance.
* * *
AS HE WAITED for the garage door to lift so he could drive in, Colin smiled at the sight of the lights already on in the house.
Crossing the yard a minute later, Colin realized ruefully how unfamiliar this sense of anticipation was. Maybe he’d been an idiot to let memories of his own screwed-up family keep him from ever seriously considering marriage or starting a family of his own. Life was damn lonely without.
Yeah, but how could he asked a woman to marry him when he didn’t even want to hold hands with her?
The memory of Nell’s small hand in his slid under his guard, disturbing him. As did the thought that he wouldn’t have her here now, if he had a wife.
The frown slid away as soon as he turned the key in the lock. At least she’d been smart enough to lock the door after letting herself in.
“It’s me,” he called, and Nell appeared immediately.
“Dinner will be ready as soon as I cook the spaghetti. I didn’t want it to get mushy if you were held up.”
He smiled, taking in her appearance. She’d dressed up a little for her day, in slacks and a sort of modern-day version of a twinset. She’d shed her shoes now, though, and was padding around his house in stocking feet. Cute socks—striped purple and school-bus-yellow. Interesting that when her clothing choices were subdued, she’d choose something so loud for the garments she expected to remain unseen. That thought made Colin wonder what her bra and panties looked like.