Authors: Brandi Phelps
A Time for Love #3
By Brandi Phelps
A Time for Love Case File #389
Aimee Clare Woods
dining services worker in local hospital, aspiring small bakery owner
mom – Deidre Woods; father – Heaton Woods, killed when Aimee was four
St. Louis, MO
Client seeking security she was missing during childhood. Will she be willing to take a risk to find the career and relationship that truly make her happy?
“Stop it, Aimee.”
She was crying again. She couldn’t seem to get through the day without at least one outbreak of tears, no matter how often she told herself to stop. She would be typing at her computer or folding a load of laundry or wandering the aisle at the grocery store, and tears would well up because of a sudden feeling of aloneness. The absence of Tom, her ex-fiancé. She didn’t need to email him or fold his laundry or buy the truffle oil he loved to cook with.
Tom wasn’t here. He was never coming back. They weren’t getting married. She repeated the brutal facts as if the repetition would force her to accept them and the reality of her new single status. Regrets were as useless as the half-finished wedding dress hanging in the closet of her spare room.
The phone rang, and she sighed. Her three best friends knew how hard the breakup had been for her, and at least one of them called her each day. She appreciated their concern; truly, she did, but the constant phone calls were becoming an annoyance.
“Hello, Tish/Dana/Charlene, whoever’s on Aimee watch today. Thanks for calling, but I’m fine. I’m not going to jump out my window or fly to Colorado and beg Tom to come back. You can take babysitting Aimee off your to-do list, because I’m just fine.”
She was proud of the little speech and the steady tone in which she uttered it, with no hint of the tears she’d just wiped away. But her expression crumpled when, instead of one of her friends, she heard an older voice, soft and careful. “Hello? Aimee? This is your mother.”
Aimee groaned silently. Why hadn’t she checked the caller ID? She’d known she couldn’t dodge her mother’s calls forever, but she’d hoped for a few more days. Briefly she considered inventing an urgent appointment or an errand to run, but she couldn’t lie to her mother. Besides, the conversation had to happen soon. She might as well face it.
“What was that all about? Why would your friends think you would jump out a window?” When Aimee didn’t answer, her mother’s tone sharpened. “What’s wrong? Is it Tom?”
“Tom’s moving to San Diego. Already moved, in fact.”
“San Diego? I thought it was Aspen?”
“Not anymore.” He’d persuaded her to move to Aspen to a resort that wanted to hire a couple as chef and housekeeper. He’d lost that job when she left.
“You’re moving to San Diego?”
“No, Mama. Just--” Aimee almost choked. She swallowed and forced herself to continue. “Just Tom. Not me.”
The phone was silent while her mother absorbed the information. Aimee braced herself for questions or recriminations, but instead, her mother’s voice grew even softer and gentler than usual. “Aimee, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
The unexpected show of support brought Aimee to tears again. She clutched the receiver and felt trails of wetness on both cheeks. Her mother could no doubt hear her fractured breathing, but Aimee couldn’t manage a coherent word.
“Hang up the phone, Aimee,” her mother ordered. “I’m coming over. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
True to her word, Mrs. Woods appeared on Aimee’s doorstep twenty-four minutes later, holding a plastic container of her famous homemade potato soup and a crocheted afghan from her own recliner. Their relationship had been strained in recent years, but when Aimee opened the door, she felt a sudden rush of love and gratitude. Her mother set the soup on the counter, wrapped her in the afghan, and held her as Aimee sobbed out the whole sad story.
“I didn’t know it, but Tom was applying for out-of-town jobs. When he got a job in Denver, he told me he didn’t want me to move with him. He didn’t exactly break up with me, just said he’d be spending all his time on the new job and that it wouldn’t be fair to me. But he didn’t call or text or even tell me where he was staying. Bad signs, I know, but I thought he just needed time, that our relationship couldn’t be over.”
Aimee sniffled, and her mother pulled a tissue from her purse.
“Then he called me and said he’d gotten a different job, in Aspen this time, working for a resort. They wanted a husband and wife team to do the cooking and caretaking, and he wanted me to come. I said yes, of course, and I packed up and went. We were supposed to get married right away, but then he said I should to go the resort first, see what I was getting into. Once we got there, he said he’d told the owners we were already married, that it didn’t matter, did it, since we were getting married as soon as we could. He said we’d fly to Vegas for a quickie ceremony and then plan a reception later, with our family and friends. But we never had time, and he stopped mentioning it. Finally, I asked him when we were going to Vegas, and he told me the situation wasn’t working for him, that he was already looking for another job.”
The question he’d asked her still echoed in her mind:
Aimee, don’t you want more?
She did want more. More than a reluctant fiancé and a job cleaning rooms while he followed his dream. She wanted Tom, but a Tom who loved her and wanted to get married. But finally she’d realized, that Tom didn’t exist.
“So I packed up and flew back to St. Louis.”
Her mother hugged her, but, true to her standards, didn’t say a negative word about Tom. When Aimee had run out of tears, her mother kept one arm around her and asked, “What do you need?”
Aimee almost began crying again, but she bit her lip until the urge passed and said, “Want to be my plus one to a wedding next weekend?”
It was the opening for her mother to comment on how her own wedding had never materialized, but her mother simply nodded. “What should I wear?”
“The weather’ll still be hot. How about your turquoise dress?”
The dress was perfect, and Aimee was grateful for her mother’s support as she circulated during the reception of the garden-themed wedding. Dana, a friend of Aimee’s from college and heir to the Hilbrand Electronics fortune, was marrying Benjamin, a movie star handsome if somewhat mysterious man she had met only a few months ago. When the crowd around the bride and groom finally began to thin, Aimee made her way towards them.
“I know I’ve already said it, but you look gorgeous!”
Her friend Dana’s soft ivory silk gown hugged her trim figure, and the wreath of yellow flowers in her hair almost looked like a halo. Aimee admired the elegant simplicity of her friend’s style, and for the first time, she was grateful she hadn’t gotten married in a tacky Vegas chapel.
Next to Dana stood Benjamin. Darkly handsome, tall and fit, and beaming with pride at his new wife. Aimee choked back tears and leaned forward to hug them both.
“I’m glad you’re happy,” Aimee whispered to Dana. “You and Benjamin are just glowing.”
“Thanks. We are
Dana pulled Aimee aside.
“I wanted to thank you for being a bridesmaid,” Dana continued. “I know it couldn’t have been easy for you.”
“Today’s about you, not me,” Aimee said firmly. “And you’re happy enough for both of us!”
“I feel like I’m happy enough for the whole world!” Dana laughed. “Come on, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Aimee hoped it wasn’t a man. She wasn’t ready, especially not at such an emotionally charged event as a wedding. Someday soon, maybe, but not today. But Dana stopped beside an older woman in a buttercup yellow silk dress, cut in an old-fashioned style.
“Edwina, this is my good friend Aimee Woods. Aimee, this is Edwina Darby, from A Time for Love. Without her, I’d never have met Benjamin.”
Edwina offered her hand, and Aimee shook it. But instead of releasing her hand immediately, Edwina held it and studied Aimee.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said finally. “I hope to see you again sometime.”
She smiled at Aimee and pressed a business card into her hand. Then she was gone, and Aimee stared after her. “That was weird.”
“She’s quite the character,” Dana said tactfully. “But good at her job.”
Aimee just nodded and was relieved when another guest claimed Dana’s attention. She found her mother, who’d joined the line for a slice of wedding cake, and took the spot behind her. Aimee’s friend and fellow bridesmaid Charlene, a lawyer with a downtown firm, was leaving the table after claiming her own slice of cake.
“Another hour, and I’m out of here,” she whispered as she passed Aimee.
When two of the four members of a close-knit group of friends got engaged within a few months of each other, it was natural for the remaining two to feel left out. Now Dana was married, and Aimee, who’d been unofficially engaged for almost four years, left completely alone.
As they carried their refreshments to a secluded table surrounded by ferns, Aimee’s mother hovered close by her side. Aimee was thankful she’d invited her. They chatted and critiqued the dresses, avoiding any mention of Tom or the wedding Aimee had been planning.
“Aimee! And Aimee’s mom!”
Her friend Tish, who made a radiant maid of honor in a strapless apricot dress exactly like the one Aimee was wearing, made her way over. Beside Tish was her fiancé, Dr. Lucas Burke, whom Aimee had met for the first time a couple of days ago. He was attractive enough, but not the model-level aspiring actors or
businessmen Tish usually dated. But he seemed nice. Honest. Caring. And absolutely mad about Tish.
Where could she get someone like him or Benjamin? Aimee wondered. Someone who actually
the idea of getting married.
Tish hugged them both and pulled out a chair to join them.
“Lucas, dear, would you mind fetching me a cup of punch?” she asked. As soon as he was gone, she turned to Aimee. “You look slightly less terrible,” she said with typical Tish bluntness.
“I keep telling her she’s got to get out of that apartment,” she said to Aimee’s mother. “Do something. Talk to someone. We invite her places all the time, but she doesn’t want to come.”
“She always shuts down when she’s hurt,” Aimee’s mother confided.
“She doesn’t like people talking about her either.”
Aimee rolled her eyes and stood up to join Charlene at the buffet table. She piled a couple of finger sandwiches and crab puffs on her plate, while Charlene chose crudités without dip and a couple of melon balls.
“Gorgeous wedding,” Charlene commented as they surveyed the garden draped in fairy lights. “Not what I’d have expected from Dana, though.”
“Me neither. She’s changed. No five-star hotel or waiters in tails.”
“She seems happy, though.”
They nibbled in silence. Aimee was in no hurry to return to the table, but she wished she had when the moment she had been dreading arrived. Tish, in the professional mode she used in her job as an event planner for a large hotel, organized all the single ladies in a group for the throwing of the bouquet.
“That’s my cue to sneak out the back way,” Aimee said.
“You can’t. Bridesmaids are mandatory participants,” Charlene said.
They chose a spot at the edge of the crowd, but Tish spied them and dragged them towards the center. The bouquet came sailing directly towards them. Reflexively, Aimee dodged, and Tish snagged the bouquet, to much applause and an appreciative kiss from her fiancé.
Tish helped Dana change into her going-away suit, and the bride and groom left in a shower of flower petals and good wishes. Aimee was about to go look for her mother when Charlene tapped her arm.
“Hey, we should get together, just the two of us. Form a single ladies’ support group.”
“That sounds nice.”
Aimee realized she meant it. She’d been huddled in her apartment for too long, and she needed time with a friend whose life wasn’t dominated by wedding plans.
“I’ll text you,” Charlene promised, and Aimee nodded.
“Thanks for coming with me, Mama,” Aimee said as the two of them drove back to her apartment.
“I was glad to. Do you want company for a while?”
“No, I’m fine, Mama. Thanks. You head on back before it gets too late.”
She knew her mother hated driving at night, and the later it got, the more nervous she was. Aimee had invited her mother to stay at her apartment, but her mother never left her elderly mutt Chopsticks alone overnight.
“Okay. See you next week.”
Her mother hugged Aimee and climbed into the ten-year-old Lincoln Town car parked beside Aimee’s own hatchback wagon. Aimee waved until her mother vanished from sight and then headed back inside her empty apartment. Packing boxes were still strewn in jumbled heaps in the living room and kitchen, where she’d had to scramble to find items she’d packed in preparation for her move.
While Aimee had been in Aspen, Tish had contacted her to ask if she minded if a client of hers stayed in Aimee’s apartment. Aimee had agreed. Her plan had been to marry Tom, start the job, assess their living quarters, and then fly back to St. Louis to finish closing up the apartment and fetch the rest of her possessions. Now she was thankful that she hadn’t cleaned out the apartment. At least she had a place to live and a job, since her supervisor at the hospital cafeteria had hired her back, no questions asked.