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Every Time We Fall in Love 15


  He'd been so sure that making love, even if they hadn't made any verbal promises to each other, would move them forward.

  He turned on the faucet in the shower and let the water rush over him, the sound of the spray masking his groan at the realization that, at least as far as Molly was concerned, they'd taken a step backward.

  He wanted another chance to convince her. Wanted more time to make his case without having to hop out of Molly's bed to sneak down the hall before Amelia saw him. But by the time he dressed and headed into the kitchen, Molly was gone.

  She'd left a note on the kitchen table.

  A--

  I need to get to work early today, and since it's Tuesday, I have class tonight. If you're hungry, eat dinner without me and I'll make something for myself when I get home. Hopefully your dad can help you with whatever you need while I'm gone. I'll have my cell phone on, just in case.

  Love you,

  Mom

  Feeling even crankier that there was no note for him, he was banging the pots and pans so loudly as he got bacon and eggs ready that he almost didn't hear Amelia say, "Good morning."

  "Good morning, sweetheart." He opened his arms, and when she walked into them, he immediately felt a million times better. When Aldwin walked up, Harry scratched the top of his head.

  "Are you going to come to school with me this morning to work on the sets?" She grabbed a piece of toast that had just popped up from the toaster and slathered it with butter and jam. Aldwin happily hoovered up the crumbs that fell on the floor. "Or are you going to work with Mom again?"

  "She didn't invite me," he grumbled. "I'd love to walk over to the school with you, if that's okay with you." He was really happy to spend time working on something that meant so much to Amelia.

  She let Aldwin out to take care of business, then said, "My friends couldn't stop talking about you all day. And then I got a bunch of texts last night while I was doing homework asking if you were available."

  "Your friends want to know if I'm available?" He was horrified by the thought.

  "No. I mean, the texts were from my friends. But their moms are the ones who want to know. Don't worry, I told them you're off the market."

  "You did?"

  "Of course." She looked at him like he was operating on only half his cylinders. "You're still in love with Mom, so how could you date anyone else?"

  Harry had to sit down. Good thing the bacon and eggs were done, so he could turn off the burners and pull up a kitchen chair.

  "How'd you know?"

  "You're joking, right?" She let Aldwin back in, then took over where he'd left off in the kitchen, putting a plate of food in front of him, then sitting down with her own breakfast, Aldwin at her feet. "Every time you look at my mom, you get all gooey eyed." She forked up some eggs and swallowed them before adding, "And she gets the same way every time she looks at you."

  At last, he felt more cheerful. "She does, doesn't she?"

  "Totally. Although I think she's still kind of freaked out by everything, so that's making it harder for her to see how perfect you guys are together." Amelia got up to grab the orange juice from the fridge and poured them each a glass. "Give her some time. She'll come around."

  Harry had never thought he'd be getting relationship advice from a fifteen-year-old, let alone his fifteen-year-old daughter. Nonetheless, he knew she was right.

  Molly needed time. Time to wrap her head around everything that had changed.

  Time to get used to not being Amelia's only parent.

  Time to forgive him for pushing her away in college, and to forgive herself for not knowing he could be her baby's father.

  Time to see that she could trust him not to take her for granted again.

  Time for him to woo her properly, with the kind of romance and care that she deserved.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Molly had never been happier about spending the day in the storeroom in the basement beneath the Boldt Castle gift shop. Usually, doing inventory in the cold, windowless room was something she dreaded. Inventory was never fun or interesting, but at least the sun had been shining through the ground floor windows while she and Harry been counting items yesterday. And she'd loved talking with him, hearing about his family, simply being near him.

  Her chest squeezed tight as she thought of how she and Harry had parted that morning. And now she'd just lost count of the boxes of castle-shaped alarm clocks. She began counting again, but it was impossible to concentrate.

  If she'd asked him to come with her this morning, Harry would have offered to work beside her in the dark, cold storeroom. But she hadn't asked--instead, she'd been so worried about facing him over breakfast with Amelia at the table, that she'd hightailed it out of the cottage, then hopped on the first ferry to Heart Island to hide.

  Yes, he'd loved her breathless. And she couldn't deny she'd done the same to him.

  But absolutely nothing else was clear right now.

  Hopefully, by the time she emerged from the darkness, she'd have figured out something.

  "Molly, are you down here?"

  She nearly groaned at the sound of Greta's voice. Her friend always knew when she was upset--and wasn't shy about asking probing personal questions. "I'm doing inventory in the storeroom."

  She heard footsteps coming down the stairs and then saw Greta's cheerful smile. "You're a superstar for doing this every year in such a claustrophobia-inducing space."

  Molly hoped her friend couldn't see through the smile planted on her face, though it was a long shot. "Do you need some help upstairs?"

  "We're fine in the store, but Joel called in sick, so Stanley is hoping you can take his place for the tour that's coming through the archives in a quarter of an hour."

  "Sure, I'd be happy to."

  "Great, I'll radio him to let him know." Though Greta had passed on the message, and truly did get claustrophobic inside the basement storeroom, she didn't leave. "How are things going at home?"

  "Fine!" Molly chirped out the word, suddenly glad that there were no windows, otherwise Greta surely would have seen her face catch fire. "Harry is helping Amelia build some backdrops for her musical on Friday. The two of them are already getting so close."

  "Good." Greta paused just long enough for Molly to dread whatever she was about to say next. "What about the two of you?"

  "We're fine." She scrambled to think of a different word, something that might convince Greta that she wasn't head over heels for Harry--but her head was so full of memories of him running kisses down her naked body while she begged him never to stop, that she couldn't come up with anything better than, "He's trying really hard."

  Oh God, why did she have to say hard?

  "I know it's quite a transition for all of you. But if any three people can make it work, it's you, Amelia, and from what I saw yesterday, Harry." Greta looked at her watch. "Now, I'd better let you wipe off the cobwebs before you greet the tour group."

  Fifteen minutes later, Molly was sharing her favorite stories about the castle with the visitors who had joined her in the archives. She showed them the original plans for the castle, a collection of black-and-white photographs that had been taken during construction, and then, finally, the love letters.

  Stanley stepped in for the last few minutes and gave her a thumbs-up from the back of the group as she said, "I've always thought that the history of Boldt Castle is one of the most romantic true life love stories."

  "Romantic?" a twentysomething woman said. "Don't you mean dark and tragic? George Boldt built this monument of love for his wife, but then she died before it was even completed."

  "Yes," Molly said, "there is darkness. And loss. But I like to think that both George and Louise would be happy to know that instead of the castle being left to crumble, we have been able to preserve and celebrate the legacy of their love long after both of them are gone."

  It struck her that it was nearly exactly what Harry had said to her--how even the darkest histories could h
ave beauty in them. Beauty that never went away, but only grew richer.

  The tour group left a few minutes later, but Stanley stayed behind.

  "Listening to you always gives me a shot in the arm about working here. You sure know your stuff."

  "Maybe about the castle. But as for the rest of my life..." She shook her head, feeling more confused than ever. "Lately, it feels like I'm doing everything wrong."

  "Of course you've made mistakes. And you're going to keep making them. We all do." Stanley wasn't afraid to be blunt. Fortunately, he was also one of the kindest people she'd ever known. "But that's okay, because life is about a heck of a lot more than our mistakes. It's also about the fun we have. The risks we take. And more than anything, life is about the love we give, even if we're not sure it will last. Just like this castle. Even when there's every chance it might crumble in the future, we've got to hope that what we're doing right now to honor it will make it last."

  Molly knew Stanley wasn't just talking about the castle. He was talking about her fear of falling in love again. For so long, she had tried to tell herself she was over Harry. But lying to herself hadn't changed a thing about how she felt.

  Only, if love hadn't been enough the first time around, how could she trust that it would be enough now, when the stakes were even higher?

  "I don't know what to do about Harry." The words spilled out. Stanley was so much more than a boss. He'd long ago become the father she'd never really had. "Not about his being Amelia's father--he's already a wonderful dad--but about my feelings for him."

  "Have you told him you're confused?"

  "No." Instead, she'd banished Harry from her bedroom this morning without letting the two of them talk things through. "At least when I was eighteen, I could chalk up my mistakes to being a kid." She sighed. "Turns out, almost sixteen years haven't made me much wiser."

  "Love makes fools of us all, Molly." Stanley followed up his words with a smile. "Good thing it's definitely worth it."

  *

  Harry hadn't broken a sweat during his PhD defense. He'd strapped on a parachute and jumped out of a plane with no problem to celebrate Alec's thirtieth birthday. He'd even managed to keep his cousin Sophie's young twins happy for an entire afternoon last year, when she'd come to New York and had been craving a few hours alone at the New York Public Library.

  But sitting down to a late dinner with Molly was utterly nerve-racking.

  Over and over, all day long, he had reminded himself that Amelia was certain that Molly was still in love with him. And since she knew her mother better than anyone, she couldn't be wrong, could she? Just as he knew his daughter was right when she said he needed to give Molly some space to let all the changes settle for a bit before he asked her to give her heart to him again.

  Though he'd had a great time at the high school with Amelia working on the sets for The Sound of Music whenever she could pop in between classes, a full day away from Molly hadn't made him feel any more patient. Just the opposite.

  After he'd finished up at the high school, he bought flowers for Molly, came back to the cottage and mowed the lawn, then cooked dinner, all while searching his brain to come up with the best birthday present ever. But though Molly thanked him for the flowers, the work he'd done in the yard, and for making the tacos they were just about to dig into, he still wasn't convinced anything had changed since this morning.

  Especially when they proceeded to have the most wooden conversation in history.

  "Thank you for holding dinner until my class ended," she said.

  "You're welcome," he replied. "How was work?"

  "Good."

  "Are you still doing inventory?"

  "Yes, I was in the storeroom today. How was working on the musical sets?"

  "Great. They're all rebuilt now. They just need some touch-up paint."

  Harry couldn't blame Amelia for looking between the two of them and shaking her head at how pathetic they were. From his spot at Amelia's side, even Aldwin seemed disappointed in them.

  Harry had always been good at diffusing other people's charged situations. His sister had often referred to him as a mediator, in fact. But now that it was his situation, every time he looked at Molly, his heart started pounding, his palms started sweating, and his brain went blank.

  "We were given an open reading period in my language arts class today," Amelia said into the extremely awkward, loaded silence. "So I read the draft of your book, Dad."

  "Thanks for getting to it so quickly." He was also thankful that Amelia was taking charge of the conversation. "What do you think?"

  Harry had never been much affected by reviews, either good or bad. While growing up listening to strangers opine endlessly about his father's paintings, Harry had instinctively understood that whether anyone liked William Sullivan's art or not, all that mattered was how his father felt about his own work. If he'd enjoyed working on his canvases--and if they gave him joy to look at once he was done--then he'd succeeded.

  But as Harry waited for Amelia's feedback, he realized he was nervous. Simply because he hated the thought of disappointing her in any way, even with his academic writing.

  "The subject is really interesting," she said, "but your draft felt kind of impersonal, so I had a hard time connecting."

  Not wanting Amelia to see how deeply her comment affected him, he kept his expression impassive as he said, "Could you tell me more?"

  "Sure." Amelia loaded up another soft taco from the fixings he'd put into small bowls on the table, then took a large bite before continuing. "You've portrayed each famous medieval knight like he's infallible. Like he can't imagine ever making a mistake. But these men couldn't always have been so sure of themselves. Everyone gets nervous, right? Everyone blows it sometimes--or at least feels like they did." She shrugged. "I'm just thinking that if you showed us how the knights aren't actually that different from the rest of us, then it would be easier to relate to them. They wouldn't just be random figures from history whose names and battle dates we're trying to memorize. If we knew something about them, something real, it seems like their stories would make more of an impact. Does that make sense?"

  "Absolutely." It would be a big undertaking to follow her advice and change his book, but he would be a fool not to when what she'd said resonated deep in his gut. He didn't want to write a good book, he wanted to write a great one. "You're one hundred percent right. I'm going to need to dig a heck of a lot deeper into the personal lives of the historical figures I'm writing about and then use that information to better inform my analysis." He leaned over to give his brilliant daughter a hug. "If you think of anything else, don't hesitate to tell me."

  "There is one more thing."

  "Amelia," Molly said, "maybe you should let Harry chew on what you've already told him for a bit before saying anything more."

  "But he asked for my feedback, and I haven't gotten to the most important part yet."

  "Go ahead, Amelia," Harry said. "I want to hear whatever you have to say." Even if it wasn't easy to take in.

  "I don't want to hurt your feelings." She suddenly looked worried.

  "You won't." He smiled at her. "I promise. You can't be worse than The New York Times Book Review."

  "Phew." She smiled back. "I just wanted to add that the thing that confused me the most about your book was that it felt like it was written by a robot. I mean, you're funny and cool, but none of that comes out. It's like you don't want to delve too deep into anything you're writing about. Like you're nervous about getting real with it." The last hunk of ground beef in her soft taco spilled out onto Amelia's hands as she took her final bite, then asked, "Does that make sense?"

  When she got up to wash it off, Harry was glad she couldn't see his face as he said, "It does, thanks."

  Her comments had hit too close, too hard. And not just because it was clear that his book needed loads of work. Hearing her say, It's like you don't want to delve too deep into anything...like you're nervous about getting rea
l, hit much deeper than that.

  "Dinner was great, Dad." Amelia took her plate over and put it in the dishwasher. "Do you guys mind if I leave the table? I've got some homework to take care of, and I thought I'd take Aldwin for a quick spin around the block before he sacks out in the bedroom with me."

  Molly nodded. "Sure, that's fine, honey."

  Somehow, Harry managed a smile. "No problem, sweetheart. See you in the morning."

  Amelia grabbed Aldwin's leash and headed out with the very happy dog.

  Molly wiped her hands. "Dinner was great, Harry."

  Though he hadn't finished his meal, he got up to start clearing the plates. Food was the last thing on his mind.

  Molly stopped him with a hand on his arm. "What do you say we leave the mess for now and take a bottle of wine out into the backyard? It's a beautiful night."

  Without waiting for his response--which was a good thing, given what a difficult time his brain was having trying to unscramble his thoughts and emotions--she grabbed two glasses, the bottle, and the opener, then headed out back.

  She sat on a padded wooden bench surrounded by lavender plants, and as there were no other seats nearby, he assumed she must want him to sit beside her.

  "I always break the cork." She handed him the bottle and opener. "If you wouldn't mind doing the honors." He had just started turning the screw when she said, "I'm glad you've been able to spend time with Amelia, even while she's at school. I know it means a lot to her to have that extra time with you."

  "It means the world to me too. She really is a great person. Funny, smart, kind." He smiled at Molly. "Exactly like her mother, in fact."

  Her lips turned up at the corners at his compliment. "Although I'm afraid she's a little more blunt than I would have been just now. Teenagers don't understand that they need to tone down what they're saying. You never really get used to them being a little too honest--but eventually you learn how to take their advice with a grain of salt."

  "I'm glad she was honest. Because we both know she's one hundred percent right." He put the bottle and corkscrew down and turned to fully face Molly. "All day long, I've been trying to figure out how to stop getting things wrong with you, so that I can finally get them right. But until tonight, until she called me on barely breaking the surface, I didn't want to admit what the real problem is. It felt easier not to. Easier to pretend that I'm always confident, that I always have the answers, that I'm always secure--just like the knights I study." He rubbed his hand over his chest, as though it would help with the ache inside. "That's what I've always done, isn't it? Not just with work, but with us. I never wanted to let you in too deep, never wanted to risk letting things get real."