Read an Excerpt
"I'm sorry Ms. O'Rourke, but your friend had to cancel your luncheon appointment. She said to tell you that the school called. Her daughter is ill and she had to go home. She tried to reach you at your office but you'd already left. May I seat you at a table for one?"
Mary Faith O'Rourke shook her head. "No, thank you. I won't be staying," she said softly, and walked out of The Mimosa without looking back.
It wasn't as if she'd wanted to come. For the past six years she hadn't wanted to do anything but die, and today was no exception. Exactly six years ago today, her husband and child were killed in front of her eyes.
Her friends worried about her, and in the back of her mind, she appreciated their kindnesses and sincerity. But they simply did not understand. Oh, they knew what had happened, but they didn't know the details or the guilt with which Mary lived.
Yes, she had been standing in her front yard when her husband had backed out of the driveway with their baby in the car. And yes, she had heard, before she'd seen, the police car come careening around the corner in pursuit of another vehicle. And yes, she had yelled at Danielscreaming for him to stop. But they didn't know that the reason he'd been leaving the house was because they'd had a fight, or that the last words they'd spoken to each other had been in anger. They would never understand how insidious guilt was, or that she had tried so hard to die along with them when the three cars had collided and then burst into flames. Watching Daniel and their baby daughter die in that fire had destroyed her spirit. Now, she was just waiting for her body to catch up.
She glanced at her watch. It was a whole hour before she had to be back at work at the dress shop across town and since food was the farthest thought from her mind, she started to wander the streets.
It had been years since she'd been in this part of Savannah, but her friend had been insistent, raving about the renovations that had been done and the new businesses that had sprung up afterward. Mary had to admit that the place looked good. Old cement had been removed from the sidewalks, revealing a herringbone pathway of ancient, red bricks. Trees lined the curbs on both sides of the street, laying down a wide swath of shade for the shoppers who were on foot. Dainty trellises covered with climbing ivy and bougainvillea partially hid the tiny alleys between the buildings, giving the area an old-world appearance.
Mary walked and looked, but without really seeing. As she stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light, she overheard the conversation between the two women in front of her. Three children had gone missing from Savannah schools over the past six weeks, the latest only the day before yesterday. With no clues as to what had happened to them, Mary could only imagine the parents' fears. She knew the meaning of loss and of mind-numbing fear, and she felt guilt that she had prayed for the children's safe return without actually believing it would happen. The truth was, Mary had lost her faith in God and humanity.
She continued to walk, absently window-shopping without interest in buying. It wasn't until later when she stopped in front of a jewelry store to look at the window display that she realized she was lost. Curious, rather than concerned, she turned around, intent on searching for familiar landmarks, when the store across the street caught her attention.
The name over the doorway intrigued her. Time After Time. But when she realized it was an antique shop, pain hit her with the force of a fist to the gut, leaving her weak and motionless.
Before she and Daniel had married, antiquing had been one of their favorite pastimes. She loved old cookbooks and tiny treasures that were often overlooked by the true collectors. But that was back when they had still been happy, when his family hadn't known she existed. She shuddered. God. How many times in the past six years had she relived those last moments of their lives? Remembering the fights was like being stabbed repeatedly in the heart, and always because of the same thing.
His parents hated her, and she hadn't known how to make him understand. She couldn't forget the sounds of her baby's shrieks, echoing above their own shouts, and feeling the guilt of knowing that she was frightened by their anger and harsh words.
She had known Daniel was frustrated with everything, including her constant tears and her inability to get along with his family. She had lived in fear that he would get fed up with her and leave, then knowing if that happened that her world would come to an end. And it had happened, but not as she'd expected. She had feared that he would leave her, but not that he would die in the process.
A car sped past in front of her, shattering her concentration.
God...how much longer do I pay penance before you put me out of my misery?
As usual, she got no answer to the question. Weary all the way to her soul, she started to turn away, barely missing a young boy on a bicycle as he came flying around a corner. In reflex, she jumped off the curb to keep from being hit and when she turned around, realized she was halfway across the street on her way to the antique store.
Longing for a connection with the man that she'd loved and lost, she started toward the store, hesitating only briefly as she reached the door. When she stepped inside, she paused and took a deep breath. The scent of well-oiled wood and ancient books mingled with the faint layer of dust on the jumbled up counter. To a true antique buff, it was like waving free money in front of an addicted gambler.
Telling herself she was a glutton for punishment, she let the door shut behind her. As it did, a small bell jingled from somewhere overhead. At the same moment, her gaze caught and held on the old man behind the counter.
She hadn't seen him at first, but when the bell sounded, he'd looked up and the movement had caught her eye. He was tiny and stooped and looked as old as the jumble of artifacts in the store. He had a tube of glue in one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other. She could just see the corner of a picture frame on the table in front of him and supposed he was trying to repair something that had broken.
"I'm just looking," she said.
He nodded and then returned to his task.
A slight shift of relief moved through her when she realized he wasn't going to follow her around in the store, trying for the hard-sell approach. She and Daniel had always liked to browse on their own.
Her nose wrinkled slightly in reaction to the musty odors as she moved toward the back of the store. The farther back she went, the more narrow the aisle became. Finally, she found herself holding the skirt of her dress against her body to keep from sweeping the dust off from an assortment of old tables and chairs.
Despite her initial nervousness in coming inside, she quickly lost herself in what Daniel used to call her "search mode." She shopped from instinct rather than a skill of knowing true antiques, and her purchases had always reflected that. She bought because she liked a piece, rather than due to any value it might have. In all those precious years with Daniel, her favorite purchase was still a small fluted vase for which she'd paid the huge sum of fifty cents. It was barely big enough to hold a single sprig of honeysuckle, but its fragility reminded her of a kinder, gentler time and place. If she closed her eyes, she could still see the laughter on his face when she'd crowed with delight at the find.
Determined to proceed, she jutted her chin and pushed past the dusty jumble toward a single counter at the back of the room.
There, in the middle of the mess, was a small glass case filled with an assortment of jewelry. The padlock on the case was rusty, which went rather well with the thick layer of dust on top of the glass. Determined to look inside, she took out a tissue and gave the dust a quick swipe. The moment she did, she knew she wanted to see more.
She turned and called out to the old man up front.
"Sir...I'd like to see the jewelry inside this case. Do you have the key?"
She heard the sound of chair legs scooting against wood and then the squeak of a drawer opening and closing. A few seconds later, the old fellow emerged and started toward her.
Mary tried not to stare, but there was something so compelling about his face that she couldn't look away. It was a mixture of age and grief and a knowing that comes with having outlived too many friends and family.
He stepped past her without speaking, removed the tiny padlock with surprising ease, then opened the case. For a moment, their gazes met and Mary felt as if someone had caressed her face. But then he blinked and the notion passed.
"Thank you," she said. "I'm interested in those rings. Do you mind if?"
He walked away without bothering to comment and Mary shrugged. It was obvious from the dusty contents of the store that he didn't sell much, and if his behavior with her was normal, it was a wonder someone hadn't stolen him blind.
She dug into the display, soon realizing that most of it was junk, although the rings were another matter. Eagerly, she glanced through the lot, fingering them gently and sorting through the array, trying on one, then another. A few minutes later, convinced she'd seen all there was to see, she started to close the case when she noticed a tattered piece of lace stuffed in the corner of the case. Curious, she picked it up, then gasped in delight when a single ring tumbled out in her hand.
The band was silver, etched with an elaborate series of engravings that were reminiscent of a twining ivy and set with a single, clear blue stone. Blue topaz, she thought, and turned it toward the weak, yellow glow from the single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The light caught and held in the stone like an ember coming to life. She turned it in her hand, admiring the workmanship and wondering what it cost when she realized there was an inscription within. She squinted, trying to read the elaborate script and only with some effort finally discerned what was there.
I promise you forever.
Her eyes filled with tears. There was no forever.
Thinking of the man who'd first given this ring to his love, she clutched it in her fist and then closed her eyes. Daniel's face slid through her mind and without hesitation, she slipped the ring on her finger.
Just because it was there.
Just because the promise was forever.
Within seconds, her finger began to burn. She jerked back in shock and yanked at the ring, trying to pull it off but it wouldn't come. She cried out, both in fear and in pain. As she did, the little old man suddenly appeared before her.
"Oh my God...oh my God...Sir, please help me. I can't get this"
He smiled and the pain disappeared. Again she felt as if someone had just kissed the side of her face. She held up her hand, but the old man just nodded, as if in understanding. Although his lips never moved, Mary thought she heard him tell her it would be all right. Before she could argue, a sudden wave of dizziness sent her reaching for a dusty old highboy to steady herself.
"I don't feel so good," she muttered, and knew she should have eaten lunch after all.
A faint shift in the air almost took her breath away, then the pressure in the room began to expand. Even though she knew she was standing still, it felt as if she'd started to turn. Around...and around...and around...the chairs and the tables, the dusty pictures on the wall began to move backward, like a carousel in reverse. Everything in the room began to turn, taking Mary with it. She wanted to close her eyes, but she was afraid if she did she'd fall off the world. The old man's image began to waver before her eyes, as if he'd suddenly lost substance. A sudden chill filled the air, and panic struck Mary dumb as the old man disappeared. She stared in disbelief at the place where he had been standing.
The scent of dust and camphor was thick around her as was another, less potent, but still definable scent: the scent of lavender and dried rose petals. She heard crying and laughing, then a single, thin high-pitched wail and knew it was her own. Something within her snapped and she felt herself falling.
When she came to, she was standing at her kitchen sink. The smell of baby formula was thick in her nose and she could hear her baby crying in the next room.
Oh God...not this. Not again.
Gritting her teeth, she felt herself turn, knowing that Daniel would be standing in the doorway as he'd been beforelooking at her as if she was a stranger and not the woman he'd made a child withnot the woman he'd taken as his wife. She heard herself saying the same words and wanted to scream. She knew what she would say because she'd heard it every night for the past six years. Was this her punishment for still being alive when everyone she loved was dead? Was she doomed to replay her last moments with Daniel and Hope forever? Would this nightmare never stop?
"Isn't her bottle ready yet?" Daniel asked.
Mary turned toward the sink where the bottle was warming in a pan of hot water. She yanked it out, shook a few drops on her wrist to test for temperature and started past him when he stepped in her way.
"I'll do it," he said, and took the bottle out of her hands.