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The Way To Yesterday
By Sharon Sala
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"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 Daniel-screaming for him to stop. But they didn't know that the reason he'd been leaving the house was because they'd had afight, 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.
Excerpted from The Way To Yesterday by Sharon Sala Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.