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An Accidental Mom
By Loree Lough
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe four-year-old wrapped an arm around his father's leg. "Daddy," he said, tugging at the pocket of his father's sports coat, "why do people come to the simmy-terry?"
The day was as gray as Max Sheridan's mood, and Nate's questions did nothing to improve it. He looked into the innocent, brown eyes and smiled despite himself. Oh, but he loved this kid! "To visit loved ones, Nate. To pay our respects to people who have died."
Nate knelt in the damp grass. One by one, he placed the white roses he'd chosen at the flower mart at the feet of the marble angel guarding his mother's grave. "Mommy isn't in there." He spoke with conviction. "Only her bones. Her soul is in heaven with God."
He stood and pressed close to his father. "Right, Dad?"
Max inhaled deeply. "Yes, Nate." He'd told bedtime stories to soothe the boy to sleep; how different was this white lie? He'd tried believing in God, in miracles. Well, if God truly existed and He could perform miracles, he and Nate wouldn't be here at Melissa's grave, now would they?
For a long time, Nate merely stared at the tombstone. "She isn't cold, you know...."
Nate had been too young when Melissa died to have any real memory of her. He seemed to have no recollection of those bleak days in the funeral parlor, when friends and relatives speculated about why a beautiful woman with so much to live for would take her own life. If there had been a God to thank for that, Max would have prayed himself hoarse. Max had only brought Nate to Peaceful Gardens twice, and each visit inspired new curiosities - and childlike observations about death, dying and the afterlife - in his son.
"... because the tempa-chure in heaven is always a pleasant seventy-five degrees." Nate's beaming face told Max how proud he was to have remembered that tidbit of information.
Max chuckled. He was something else, this kid of his. "Where'd you hear that?"
"Gramma Georgia tol' me so, on the phone yesterday when I tol' her we were coming here to say goodbye to Mommy. She said Mommy will always be warm and happy, 'cause everything is perfect up in heaven."
If God didn't exist, then neither did heaven. But Max smiled. He saw no point in tarnishing the boy's image of ... things.
Even Max didn't understand why, when in all other areas he'd been a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is parent. Fairy tales were stories, nothing more. Santa and the Easter Bunny were invented to put money into the pockets of the greeting card manufacturers. The tooth fairy? The lazy parents' way of coaxing their kids to brush and floss. Far better to extinguish his son's belief in fantasies like that than to let him grow up and find out how painful and unrelenting the real world could be.
Strangely, though, he was less rigid when it came to matters of religion, spirituality and faith. If Nate wanted to attend Sunday school with his school chums, fine. If he wanted to tag along when the neighbors attended services, so be it. Nate got so much out of the whole "church thing" that Max couldn't bring himself to put an end to it. Something, though, told him that the longer he waited to teach the boy the truth as he saw it, the more difficult it would be.
"Is Gramma full of beans?"
Laughing, Max took Nate's hand. Where did the kid come up with this stuff? "'Course not, son."
Nate's face crinkled with confusion. "But, Dad, you said so yourself, just last night, 'member?"
Yes, he remembered, only too well. He'd been on the phone with his mother, discussing the trip to Amarillo, when she started with her usual "bless this" and "pray for that" nonsense. Max's day had been bad enough to that point; being forced to listen to her spiritual malarkey was the proverbial straw on the camel's already overloaded back. "If your precious Lord is so merciful," he'd demanded, "why'd He allow Melissa to take her own life? Why'd He let you - a woman who devoted her whole life to Him - break your leg?"
"I didn't raise you to talk like that!" Georgia had scolded. And when she started praying for his salvation, he'd put a hand over the phone and closed his eyes. "Mom," he'd muttered, "you're full of beans."
And that's when he'd noticed Nate, standing in the doorway.
"I was only teasing," Max had whispered past the phone's mouthpiece. "Besides, Gramma didn't hear me."
But Nate's doubting expression said he believed otherwise.
Now, Nate stood and brushed freshly mowed grass clippings from the knees of his jeans. "You gonna say goodbye to Mommy, Dad?"
Closing his eyes, Max held his breath and summoned the strength to go through the motions ... for Nate. He'd tried to say goodbye to Melissa, for even as the EMTs struggled to save her, they'd known she was dying. Instead, he'd struggled to keep a lid on his temper. Max couldn't remember being more angry with her. He hadn't understood why she left Nate then, and he didn't understand it now ... nearly three years later.
The very people who, when he was a boy, taught him that suicide was one of the most grievous sins a human could commit, also believed that God in His heaven had total control over things on earth, that He loved every last person. If that was true, why did some of His "children" die of starvation, while others became victims of genocide and war? Why did good people get cancer, while bad people robbed and raped and pillaged?
Despite all that, their simple faith seemed to bring them such joy, such solace. Nate - more than any of them, Max believed - deserved to grow up feeling that way. At least until life stepped in and taught him otherwise in its usual fist-to-jaw way.
"You gonna say a prayer for Mommy?"
Prayer. Of all the - Groaning inwardly, Max shaded his eyes. "Tell you what," he said from behind his hand, "why don't you say the prayer this time."
"Me?" Nate's brown eyes widened. "Thanks, Dad! I'll do a good job. I promise." He got down on his knees and bowed his head, then he closed his eyes and pressed both palms together, fingers pointing skyward. "God? It's me, Nathan Maxwell Sheridan. Um, me an' my dad won't be comin' to visit my mom here at the simmy-terry for a while, on accounta my gramma busted her leg an' -"
"Broke her leg," Max corrected gently. He didn't see much sense in correcting the "for a while" part.
"... on accounta Gramma broke her leg, an' we're going to Texas to take care of her 'til she can walk again. So, God? Could You do me a favor? I know my mom's soul is up there in heaven with You, so maybe You could tell her not to worry 'bout her bones an' her wedding ring an' stuff while we're gone, 'cause the men who work here take real good care of the place. Thanks."
Excerpted from An Accidental Mom by Loree Lough Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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