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"I've always heard life can change in an instant. Guess I'm living proof, huh?"
Tara O'Malley threw a glance out the window to the tangled mass of metal that had been her motorcycle. It sat on prominent display today in her parents' front yard-a grim reminder to passing motorists that motorcycles travel at the same speed as cars. Tomorrow, it would be junked.
Her mom sat the butter dish in the middle of the table and dropped a quick kiss on the top of Tara's head. "Living is the important word in that sentence."
"Yeah, I know." Tara focused her attention back to the app on her phone where she was entering all the family's medical history. Her accident had made her aware of the need to have such information at her fingertips, but it was Taylor Grove's blood drive in her honor today that made her finally sit down and fill in the blanks. "What was Thea's blood type?"
"A same as mine," her mom answered absently. "Do you think Emma would stop and get a bag of ice on her way into town? I'm afraid we might run low."
"I'll call her." Tara pulled up her favorites list and thumbed her best friend's number.
"Hey," Emma answered on the first ring.
"Hey, would you stop and get a bag of ice? Mama's afraid we'll run out. And while I'm thinking about it, would you resend that class schedule for this week? I couldn't get the one from the office to open, and I keep forgetting when the junior high students are coming for their tours." The last full week of school was always crammed with so many activities that it was hard to fit in a lesson.
"Sure. I'm just leaving Paducah. Does your mom need anything else? Paper plates? Paper cups?"
"Do you need anything else, Mama? Are we using paper plates?"
Faith shook her head. "No, I'm doing Memorial Day like Thanksgiving in May this year. I just need enough people to eat all the food."
"She says to bring people." Tara relayed the message.
"I haven't eaten all day, so I'm bringing a three-meal appetite," Emma promised. "Be there in forty-five minutes or so."
"Okay. See you then." Tara pressed the button to end the call, and, before she could think, reached to rub the burning itch on her right hand. As had happened so many times over the past two months since her accident, her breath caught at the empty space her pinkie and ring fingers had occupied, and she sent up a quick prayer of thanks that two fingers and a spleen were all she'd lost. She traced the bright red scar that stopped halfway up her arm. "I'm thinking
I might get another tattoo. Maybe some leaves that will make this look like a vine."
That got her mom's attention. Faith shot her daughter a pointed look. "Your dad will disown you. He took your first one pretty well only because it's hidden, and the second with a grain of salt, but he threatened to write you out of the will over the last one."
Tara didn't mention the two they knew nothing about. She grinned, remembering the aggravated look on her dad's face when she'd shown off the Celtic symbol for life just beneath her left earlobe. When she'd explained it was in memory of Grandma O'Malley and their Irish roots, he'd held his tongue, but the hard set of his jaw had indicated his displeasure.
Tara often referred to her dad as the closest thing to a saint she'd ever known. As the preacher at the lone church in Taylor's Grove, Kentucky, Sawyer O'Malley sought to lead a life above reproach, and for the most part, he'd been successful. A loving and faithful wife three relatively good kids.
Thea and Trenton had both gone through some rebellious stages during their teenage years, but it was just regular teenage stuff-a little drinking, some partying. But Tara, the "good girl," had been the surprise to everyone, including herself.
Five years ago, her fiancé, Louis, returned from a mission trip in Honduras with a brand-new wife-an event that threw Tara's world into a tailspin. Louis, her boyfriend of eight years, had been the only guy she'd ever dated. They'd even signed pledge cards that vowed chastity until marriage. Then he'd shown up with a wife, leaving Tara as an oddity-that rare twenty-three-year-old with her virginity still intact.
She'd made quick work of making up for all the lost time.
"Are Louis and Marta bringing their brood?"
Her mom answered with an affirmative nod as she slid the giant pan of macaroni and cheese into the oven.
Tara's ex and his wife hadn't lost any time, either. Three children in five years. And though it had taken a couple of years, Tara was glad she and Louis were friends again. She liked his family-especially Marta and her quiet, kind ways.
Tara set her phone down, feeling guilty that her mom was so busy, and she was doing nothing of great importance. "I'm not an invalid, Mama. Can I at least set the table?"
Her mom chewed her lip for a moment. "All right, you can set the table. But I'll get Lacy's china myself." She disappeared into the other room.
Tara took the hint. Grandma O'Malley's Belleek tableware was too precious to risk being carried by someone with newly missing fingers.
Trenton came in through the back door, arms laden with cartons of soft drinks and bottled water. With the blood drive in Tara's honor going on, the annual O'Malley Memorial Day Dinner had swelled to triple the usual number of people. The entire day had been very humbling.
Tara snorted and rolled her eyes at her brother's twisted sense of humor. He'd labeled her with the new nickname before she'd even gotten out of the hospital.
"Would you help me with the chicken?" He found an open spot on the drink-and-dessert table, and unloaded his arms. "I've got to get all those pieces turned and basted, and the ribs need a close eye kept on them."
"Sure." She eased out of her chair, still aware of the tightness from the scar where her ruptured spleen had been removed. "But I need to know your blood type first. I'm filling in an emergency app for our family."
"AB," he answered.
Tara keyed in the information, and then frowned as she glanced down the chart. "What's with this?"
Her dad came in from the garage just in time to hear her question. "What's with what, lovebug?" Slipping an arm around her shoulder, he gave her a quick hug and a peck on her temple.
She pointed to the chart. "It doesn't make sense. Trent's AB like you. Thea's A like Mama. I'm the only O negative in the bunch."
Her mom came in from the dining room with Grandma O'Malley's china stacked to just below her chin. Sawyer moved quickly in her direction, ready to alleviate her of the load as Tara continued voicing her thoughts to no one particular. "Is that even possible? Can an A and an AB produce an O?" She laughed. "Maybe we need a paternity test, Dad, to see if I'm really yours."
Faith's loud intake of breath drew everyone's attention. Her eyes went wide with a horrific look of mingled shock, pain and undeniable guilt an instant before twelve of Grandma O'Malley's treasured china plates crashed to the floor.
Faith Isabel Franklin O'Malley had never wanted to die before, but the past seven hours had convinced her that death would be preferable to the excruciating pain she was presently feeling. It was as if she was dangling from a cord attached through her heart and the organ was being ripped slowly from her body. She'd been aware of every second of every minute of every hour that had brought her closer to this time when it would be just the immediate family. Time for her confession.
People had started arriving before the broken china could be disposed of, so the mess and loss of family heirlooms made a convenient cover for the tears she couldn't bring under control. Sawyer, Tara and Trenton watched her with guarded expressions throughout the afternoon, and even Thea, soon after her arrival, began questioning the family quietly about what was going on.
Their looks of pain had been almost more than
Faith could bear, but Sawyer's blessing for the food had been her major undoing. She'd lost it completely when he gave his thanks for the spared life of Tara, his beloved daughter. His voice had cracked at the words, and Faith and the rest of her family knew the reason behind the falter.
She knew that he knew. They all knew.
She also knew the next few minutes could bring her family crashing down around her. The china had served as a warning.
Her hands lay on the table in front of her. She clenched and unclenched them, twisted her fingers, then her rings. She swallowed hard, trying to clear the way for the words, knowing in her heart there were no "right" ones-none that could ever make this anything but what it was.
"His name was Jacques Martin," she said at last, finding no preamble that could ease her into the subject. "He was from France. Paris."
Tara's eyes widened at the news. She sat up straighter in her chair and rubbed the side of her hand vigorously-a common gesture for her since the accident.
Faith shifted her eyes to her husband. "We spent one night together. Graduation. He left to go back to Paris the next day."
Sawyer rubbed his temples as his eyes squeezed closed, and she felt the squeeze in her heart. Was he praying? No. More likely he was running through the timeline, letting all the pieces fall into place.
Their college graduations had been on the same day, hundreds of miles apart. He'd been in Texas while she'd remained in Kentucky. By the time he moved back home ten days later, the pregnancy test had already read positive. Another test ten days after that had been all it took to convince him they were going to have a baby-together. They'd eloped, to no one's surprise after four long years apart.
Deception had been easy. But twenty-eight years had woven the lie tightly into the center of the fabric of their lives. Now, it was starting to unravel.
No one said anything. Everyone was avoiding eye contact with her except Tara, who sat staring with tear-filled eyes, pulling at her bottom lip. That gesture was unadulterated Sawyer, but Tara's wide, curvy mouth was the spitting image of her biological father's. Faith had always found it ironic that Tara's mouth served as the constant reminder of the lie that remained a secret.
Until seven hours ago.
Trenton stood up quickly, the force sending his chair backward across the wood floor. "I don't think I want to hear this," he announced. "Whatever happened back then is between you two." He folded both arms around Tara's neck and rested his chin on her head. "Pinky's my sister. Wholly and completely with none of that half stuff. Nothing's ever going to change that." He clapped his dad on the back and planted a quick kiss to the top of Faith's head before strolling casually from the room.
Thea scooted over into the seat Trenton had vacated, weaving her hand under Tara's thick mane of red hair until she located her sister's shoulder. She pulled her close-cheeks touching, tears mingling- as she shot Faith a "how could you?" look. "I feel the same way," she said. "We've never been just sisters. We've always been closer than that. There's no way anything can make us any different than what we are."
Tara's chin quivered as she nodded.
Faith's spirit lightened momentarily at the show of solidarity. Maybe things were going to be okay after all. But one glance at Sawyer told her that wasn't so. Her husband was a preacher. A man who made his living talking. He'd counseled hundreds of couples with marital problems through the years, always knowing exactly what to say to clear the air of the fallout from unfaithfulness.
His silence grated her heart into tiny slivers like lemon zest.
"So whatever became of this Jacques Martin?" Tara's voice held the same strained edge it had when she realized her two fingers were gone.
"I never saw, never heard from him again," Faith answered, then added, "I never wanted to. I had all I needed and wanted with you all." Blood pounded in her temples. How could she make them understand? "Jacques was " Someone she'd had too much alcohol with that night. Someone she'd gotten carried away celebrating with. Someone who'd helped her bear the loneliness of not being with the person she loved on one of the most important days of her life. "He was someone I barely knew."
Sawyer swerved around to face Tara and gathered her partial hand into both of his. "You're my daughter, lovebug. The daughter of my heart. Like Trenton said, nothing's ever going to change that." He pressed their knotted hands against his chest. "I hold you right here, and nothing will ever break that grip."
Faith watched the tears overflow from her daughter's eyes, unaware of her own until she felt a drop on her arm.
Tara nodded. "I love you, Dad." She paused and Faith held her breath and prayed that those words would be repeated to her.
They weren't. Instead, Tara stood, pulling her hand from Sawyer's grip. "I really, really need to go home. I need time alone to process this."
Thea followed her to her feet.
A different fear gripped Faith's insides, a familiar one since Tara's accident. It recurred every time one of her children left her house to drive back to their own homes. "Will you be okay making the drive back to Paducah? You want me to call Emma?"
"I'm leaving, too. I'll take you home," Thea offered.
Tara shook her head. "I don't want to be with anyone. I'll be okay."
Faith stood and reached for her, and her daughter hugged her then, but her arms felt limp and lifeless with no emotion behind them. Her parting hug with her dad had a bit more vitality, but not much.
Faith's breathing grew shallow when Thea didn't hug her or Sawyer, but she did take Tara's hand to lead the way out.
As Tara slid the patio door closed behind her, Faith turned her attention back to her husband. They stood beside the table where their family had shared thousands of happy mealtimes. Would those be enough to blot out the anguish of today?
She took Sawyer's hand and tilted her head in silent question.
"It's not the action, Faith. It's the deception. The betrayal."
He pulled his hand away and headed for his study, locking the door behind him.