An elderly woman's memorial service triggers an avalanche of memories for Kerry Waite. Her tragic history with her first love, Tom, haunts her days and keeps her husband, Charles, at arm's length.
As the memories carry her on a journey back to Tom, she's forced to confront how her mistakes and obsession with the past are eroding her marriage and life in the present. Can Kerry finally let go of her past and love the man who's been standing beside her the whole time?
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By Dawn Lajeunesse
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Dawn Lajeunesse
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOctober 2005
A real letter. When was the last time she'd received one? Probably silly, but a thrill ran through her. The plain, #10 envelope was addressed to Mrs. Charles Waite at their old White River Junction address and stamped for forwarding. It bore no return address, but the postmark said "OK." She knew only one person in Oklahoma, and that woman had stopped communicating a decade or so ago.
She took the letter over to the chair in front of the window, slitting open the envelope as she walked. Inside was a single sheet of lined paper obviously torn from a spiral notebook, about two thirds of the page filled with Emma's once-familiar script.
I've been so bad about Christmas cards, and you just keep sending them.
Anyway, this isn't about Christmas. It's about Mom. She died a few weeks ago. We had her living with us for the past couple of years. She was old and tired and lonely, especially since Dad died. Anyway, I started going through some of her stuff, and found a number of things that reminded me of you. She kept clippings about you and Tom and notes you two had exchanged. She even had your high school graduation picture! We arranged for a memorial service back home so her friends who are still around can say their goodbyes. It's next Sunday. It occurred to me that you might want to know. I hope you get this. I don't know if you're even at the same address.
I hope you and Charles are well. Greg is fine, looking forward to retirement, like that's going to happen before I can retire, too. Both our kids are out of school and in jobs. Hard to believe. In spite of my guilt and best intentions, you probably won't get a Christmas card from me this year either, so Merry Christmas.
Kerry leaned back in the chair, trying to absorb the note, chuckling at Emma's endearing quirkiness. As for her news, she wasn't sure what she felt. It wasn't that Mrs. Crandall's passing was an immediate loss. She hadn't seen or spoken to the woman in years. Rather, it was all of what she associated with someone who was once so special to her. It was Emma's remark about the newspaper clippings. The reminders of that old relationship. The finality of Mrs. Crandall's death.
And it was the time of the year that made Kerry more vulnerable than usual, unleashing so many feelings. The weight of regrets. The guilt. The torrent of memories.
Chapter TwoApril 1968
The bus of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds was filling quickly. Kerry scanned the occupied seats, but the only familiar people were already sitting with someone. She slid into the window side of an empty seat and watched the stream of students still boarding, ready to flag down her friends as they entered.
There were three busses of students from schools all over the city for the statewide music festival in Syracuse, and it occurred to her that her friends may have gotten on other busses. They should have planned to meet in the parking lot. She stood, hoping to work her way against the tide of students to the door. She'd check the other busses.
"Sit back down, Miss Anderson," Miss Pollock scolded.
Just her luck to get on Miss Pollock's bus. Kerry didn't know why the teacher hated her, but she did.
"Oh, Miss Pollock, I got on the wrong bus. I was supposed to be with Maureen and Beth." She smiled her sweetest smile.
"You should have thought about that before you got on this bus. You'll not disrupt the boarding for your mistake." Miss Pollock looked at least a hundred years old, all gray and wrinkly, and probably didn't have any hair, because she wore a wig. She was cranky most of the time and acted like she disliked most of the students. She yelled at anyone chewing gum in her classes, saying they looked like cows chewing their cud, but she had a nasty habit of sucking leftover lunch from between her teeth.
Miss Pollock had loved Kerry's brother, Karl, who was two years ahead of her. She was an endless source of disappointment by comparison as Miss Pollock frequently reminded her. She thought the old bag needed a husband. She knew better than to push it with Miss Pollock. One time the teacher caught her passing a note to Maureen, and called her mother to report that she was disrupting the whole class with her behavior. A simple note. Her mother, although surprised, sided with Miss Pollock and wouldn't let her watch television that night.
She returned to her window seat and sulked. She didn't care about singing in the choir. She had looked forward to the fun of the bus ride with her closest friends.
Kerry looked up as dark-haired boy, taller than anyone she knew in her grade and really cute, was inching down the aisle behind other students. He seemed to be looking for someone, and disappointment registered on his face, although he kept saying hi to a lot of other kids. Then his face brightened. His smile flashed silvery with braces as he pushed his way back two seats behind her, where he sat next to a girl she didn't know. He had a sappy look on his face as he said hi to her.
But within seconds, other students around them were laughing and taunting them.
"Tom and Janet, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Janet with a baby carriage!"
Tom didn't look happy, although Janet was laughing along with the others. His face reddened, and he slid down on the seat. His tormenters wouldn't let up, though, and he angrily stood and scanned the bus for another seat. Seeing the one next to Kerry, he left without looking back at Janet, and dropped into it with a thud. His face was set hard, and he didn't acknowledge her.
Kerry's heart raced. You'd think with two brothers it wouldn't be a big deal to sit next to a boy. But he was so cute. And he wasn't one of her brothers. She and her girlfriends giggled endlessly about boys and the crushes they had on this one or that. But her only first hand experience being around boys was with her brothers, who didn't count. She so wanted to be able to say just the right thing to this boy sitting next to her.
Why on earth was she thinking like that? He was just a boy. And he was only sitting there because everybody teased him for sitting with Janet. They weren't teasing him then because he wasn't talking to Kerry. It was obvious he liked Janet. He didn't even see her.
But then he did.
"Is it okay if I sit here?" he asked softly.
"Seat's empty," she responded with her most casual voice.
They were almost to Utica before either of them spoke again.
"So what school do you go to?" Tom asked her.
She had been staring out the window, not seeing the landscape speeding by. Tom's question took her by surprise.
"Uh," she said, like she couldn't remember what school she went to. "Uh, Gardner."
"I go to Clayton," he told her.
Clayton was in the nicest part of the city. Kerry nodded, not knowing what else to say.
"So," he pressed. "What else do you do at school besides sing in the choir?"
He was showing interest in her. Or just being polite. Or killing time.
"I'm on the girls swim team. Free style. I don't usually win, but everybody says I'm the smoothest swimmer. I guess how much I don't splash shouldn't matter much if I'm not fast. But it does to me. I'm not really on the team to race. I just love to swim so much, and being on the team I get to swim every day. My girlfriends don't like to swim at school because it messes their hair. I don't care so much about that. It's one of the reasons I keep my hair short."
Whoa, motor mouth, where'd all that come from?
"I love swimming, too. But I'm not on the team or anything. I just swim for gym class and during the summer. During summer vacation I swim almost every day unless the weather is really bad." He had the brownest eyes, and he looked right at her.
"Where do you swim in the summer?" she asked him.
"My family rents a camp on Lake George for three weeks every year. And my friend George's family has a camp on a little lake north of the city. He invites me and some of the other guys sometimes. And the rest of the time we go to the city pool."
"Oh, you are so lucky. My mother won't let me go to the pool. She says rough stuff goes on there, and people pee in the water."
Good grief, why did she say that?
Tom laughed and his silver braces glistened even though he tried to make his lips cover them.
"I like your braces," she said. "My parents say they can't afford for me to get them even though my teeth are a little crooked. They say as long as I brush and take care of my teeth, it doesn't matter."
Tom leaned forward and looked at her face. "Smile," he ordered.
She felt self-conscious forcing a smile, but then she laughed as he studied her teeth.
"They aren't too crooked," he assured her. "Just that one tooth on the bottom is turned a little, and your eye tooth is kind of high. But it's cute. If my teeth looked like yours, I wouldn't want to bother with braces."
"But your teeth are perfect." She nodded for emphasis.
"That's because I've had these stupid braces on for two years. They're coming off before I go to high school, though. That's what my orthodontist said."
"Will you be going to the public high school?"
"Yes, of course." He looked surprised. "Where else?"
"Well, I didn't know if you were Catholic. Some of my friends at school are going to Catholic High next year."
"Nah, I'm not Catholic. I'm Methodist."
"Do you go to church every Sunday?"
"Yeah, my parents make me."
"Me, too! Worse than that, they make me sing in the junior choir. It's the worst. I hate those shapeless robes, and we have to sit up in front of everybody."
Tom laughed again. He had a great laugh.
"Our choir sits up in a balcony behind everyone. And we don't have a junior choir, so I don't have to worry about that."
"You're so lucky." She fished her brain for something else to say. "But I love Sundays, otherwise. We usually go for a drive in the country, like over to the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, or sometimes up north. I love the country. Especially the mountains."
"So do I." His eyes lit up again. "In Scouts we climb mountains up in the Adirondacks. We did Marcy – that's the highest mountain in New York State. And a couple times a year we do an overnight hike and stay in a lean-to."
"I've never climbed a mountain," she admitted. "That must be something."
"Yeah, it's pretty neat. When you get to the summit you feel like you're on top of the world."
She imagined that and thought she'd like to try it. But Scouts don't let girls in. Well, Girl Scouts did, but she didn't think they did anything like that. Anyway, she was too old for Girl Scouts. She would be in high school next year.
"Maybe," she said, "when I'm older and can drive, I can try it."
"Really? You'd like to do that? I didn't think girls liked to do stuff like that."
"Why not?" She tried to look offended. "We can do anything boys can do. Maybe the reason girls don't do it is because nobody invites them along."
The look on his face could have been skepticism, confusion, or just plain surprise.
"If I could drive," he said softly, "I'd invite you to climb Marcy with me."
"Maybe someday," she answered, pleased that her voice didn't reveal how fast her heart was beating, and that he didn't act like she was weird for wanting to climb mountains.
The bus slowed and pulled into a crowded lot. Syracuse already. They had to separate then. He was in the orchestra. She was in the choir.
"Want to sit together on the way back?" Tom asked her, as they exited the bus.
"Uh, sure." Another three hours together. She was both excited at the prospect and nervous about how they would find enough to talk about for that long.
Off she went to find Maureen and Beth and the rest of the choir.
"Where were you?" Beth asked in her scolding voice.
"Who cares?" Maureen said. "If she didn't want to sit with us, too bad," she added with a pout, arms folded across her chest.
"I got on the wrong bus," Kerry defended herself. "And grouchy old Miss Pollock wouldn't let me get off." She lowered her voice and leaned in to her two friends, looking around to make sure no one was listening. "I met the cutest boy. We sat together for the whole trip. And we talked, and I didn't sound completely stupid or goofy. He asked me to sit with him on the way home, too!
Kerry floated through the day. Their choir was eliminated in the second round of competition, but they didn't expect to make it that far, so everyone was happy. And all Kerry could think about was getting back on the bus with Tom.
* * *
She needn't have worried about conversation. She and Tom chattered all the way home as naturally as she could with her girlfriends. It wasn't like talking to the boys she'd had crushes on in the past. She wasn't tongue-tied or self-conscious. She could talk to Tom like she could talk to her brothers – better, even, because he didn't laugh at anything she said unless she was trying to be funny. He told her corny jokes and she teased him about Janet. Before they knew it, the bus was pulling into the parking lot at his school, which was where the parents were supposed to pick up the students. Her heavenly day was coming to an end.
They stepped off the bus, and she looked around for her mother. There was no sign of her. As comfortable as she had felt with Tom on the bus, she now felt awkward and embarrassed. If Tom noticed, he didn't let on. He simply came to the rescue, as if that was the most natural thing in the world. Her knight in shining armor, she thought, when he offered to take her the few blocks to his home, where she could call her mother.
"She must have gotten the pick-up time mixed up." She tried to explain away her mother's absence, knowing she was probably sleeping on the couch at home. Her mother was always miserable, and slept a lot.
"No problem," he said, in his soft voice. He reached for Kerry's hand, and her heart skipped a beat. His large hand wrapped protectively around hers. The warmth and shock of his touch shot up her arm.
It was a short walk to his house, just a few blocks.
"Her mother must have gotten mixed up about the right pick-up time," he repeated her explanation to his mother.
Mrs. Crandall, with white hair and narrow glasses perched on her nose, looked a lot older than her mother, but had very kind eyes.
She felt embarrassed that her mother had forgotten about her. But Mrs. Crandall's warm reassurance made her feel safe and welcome.
"The phone is right over here, dear" Mrs. Crandall said as she led her to an old-fashioned telephone stand at the back of their dining room. The dark wood furnishings reminded her of those at home, with a glass-fronted china closet, a long buffet, and a heavy oval table. Like they were bought at the same store. Except their table was covered with a lace tablecloth, and there were no piles of papers and old mail or other clutter on the surface, just a bowl containing plastic fruit.
By the time she'd told her mother the address and finished the call, Mrs. Crandall had brought out two glasses of milk and a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. She had learned from Tom that his mother was a teacher, but she didn't act like any teacher she'd ever had. She didn't care for milk usually, but she felt obligated to show Mrs. Crandall that she appreciated it. She drank every drop and ate two cookies, which seemed to melt in her mouth. Her mother wasn't a baker, and her cookie experience was limited to packaged cookies from the grocery store.
When his mother went into the kitchen, Tom asked Kerry if she'd like to go to a movie the next night, Saturday. He said his father would drive them.
"I'm not allowed to date yet," she admitted reluctantly. "And, anyway, we're going to see Bill Cosby tomorrow night."
"I love him," Tom exclaimed. "We tried to get tickets, but we called too late. You are so lucky!"
She felt lucky, but it had nothing to do with Bill Cosby tickets. She smiled at Tom.
A beep of a car horn announced her mother's arrival.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Kerry." Mrs. Crandall put a hand on her shoulder in an affectionate way. "Come and visit us again."
She thanked Mrs. Crandall with a smile and felt her heart race again as she said good bye to Tom. Climbing into the car beside her mother, she gave one last wave and sighed contentedly.
Excerpted from AUTUMN COLORS by Dawn Lajeunesse Copyright © 2011 by Dawn Lajeunesse . Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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