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It all came back with the sweet scent of the pines. The darkness, the small campfire, the soft bed of leaves. The gentleness of his hands on her skin, exploring her body as no other man had ever done. The rugged feel of his chest against her bare breasts, the smoothness of his hips beneath her questing fingers. The strength of his manhood as, coupled with an exquisite tenderness, he took her, smothering her cry with a soul-fusing kiss, then carried her with him, slowly and inexorably, to the height of desire, the crest of passion, to explode into a thousand shimmering bursts, while the fire before them sent up its own golden sparks, spiraling heavenward, higher and higher, through the bough-edged clearing and into the night sky.
Yes, it all came back, just as she had feared it would, transcending the hurt, the pain, even the beauty of the past eight years, to relive that one night of mindless happiness which had so totally changed the course of her life.
"Mommy . . ."The small voice, its sing-song whine ample warning of impending complaint, brought her abruptly back to the present and the overall-clad child sitting beside her in the car. "Do I have to go? It's not too late to turn back. Please, Mommy?" As her daughter's round gray eyes bore into her with merciless pleading, Stephanie Wright was grateful for the twisting road ahead which, of necessity, demanded her attention.
Momentarily sharing the child's apprehension before catching herself, the auburn-haired young woman sighed. "Sweetheart," she began, rolling her window down farther to let the heady Maine breeze soothe her own warring senses, "we've been overthis before. You know we're not turning back now. The house in Cambridge is all closed up, Mrs. Hampson is expecting us-counting on me and looking forward to meeting you-and we're both going to have a great summer!"
Where she found the tone of conviction, Stephanie would never know. She had repeated the same words to herself dozens of times over the last few weeks and even then had failed to ease her own qualms.
"But, Mommy," Missy continued, nervously twisting the thick brown length of a pigtail around her forefinger, "I don't want to go!"
"You'll love it!" her mother coaxed gently, playing out the dialogue now by heart.
"But I don't know anybody," the child persisted.
"You will very soon!" Stephanie insisted firmly.
"But I don't want to live with a whole bunch of kids-"
"How can you be against something you've never tried?" Stephanie cajoled, understanding the fear which beset her daughter and trying her best to deal with it. "It'll be such fun for you, Missy. You'll meet a whole new group of friends, do all sorts of different things, and you know that I'll never be very far away' You have the best of both worlds!" As does your mother, she admitted silently, knowing that she would never have had the courage to send her daughter off any substantial distance for the summer.
"But I don't want-"
"We can't always have what we want, Missy", Stephanie broke in, her patience finally beginning to fray at the edges under her own seesawing emotions. Unconsciously, she raised a hand beneath her flowing curls to rub the taut muscles of her neck, inflamed both by the length of the drive and by the tension that flared within her at each repetition of this discussion. "There are times when you have to trust me to make the right decision, even if you don't agree with it at first."
The little girl crossed her thin arms over her chest as she scowled ominously. "I'm not going to like it.. . evert" she vowed stubbornly.
"We'll see. . ." Stephanie's words trailed off as she contemplated them. Had she made the right decision? Would this summer be good for them-for both of them?
In truth, she felt confident that Missy would do just fine. An athletic child, she was a fine little swimmer and a promising tennis player, even at her tender age. Additionally, she had never had trouble making friends, nor been bothered by the lack of them, all of her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. She was an independent soul, a loner who went her own way whether in the company of friends or not. She was a self-motivator, a hard worker, and a hard player, whose instinct for superiority was threatened only by an underlying distrust of people, a characteristic which her mother recognized and for which she accepted the responsibility.
For it was Stephanie who had erected the protective wall around herself and her daughter during those lonely days of her pregnancy, bolstering it through the bittersweet birth of the child, then cementing it in their mutually sustaining existence. They made their way alone and, particularly after the deaths of Stephanie's parents within a year of each other, they relied on no one but each other. Oh, there were good friends and many acquaintances, but Stephanie always kept that certain distance, that emotional independence which would preclude a repeat of the heartrending anguish that she had once suffered.
Now, for the first time in her life, Melissa Wright would be separated from her mother. And, as much as Stephanie quaked at the thought, she knew how important this would be for her daughter's development. For, counterbalancing any failings she may have had as a mother, Stephanie was a realist. She was the first to admit that she had been overprotective of Missy, her only child, smothering her with the boundless love which, by rights, should have been shared with another. It was inevitable; Stephanie had only to look into her daughter's face to see that of the man whom she had adored, who had possessed her totally, body and soul, so long ago.