Authors: Karen Kingsbury
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Domestic fiction, #Fathers and Sons, #Christian, #Religious, #Christian Fiction, #Birthfathers, #Air Pilot's Spouses, #Air pilots, #Illegitimate Children, #Mothers - Death
“Marlee died of alcohol poisoning the summer before her senior year. At the funeral, Kiahna hugged my wife and me and told us we were like parents to her. That if we ever wanted time with our second daughter, she’d be there.”
A single teardrop pushed its way from the corner of Ramey’s right eye and a warm stream of tears followed. She couldn’t think of a response.
The man sucked in a quick breath. “We hadn’t seen her in a while, but she came by a few months ago. Brought my wife flowers and chatted while Max ran around out back.” He paused. “She loved that boy more than life.”
“Yes. Yes, she did.” Ramey wanted to keep sharing lovely memories of Kiahna, but the matter at hand was pressing. “Mr. Ogle, you have Kiahna’s will, is that right?”
“It is.” He sounded suddenly tired in light of the obvious reason for the phone call. “Two envelopes—one with her last will and testament. One with a letter for Max.”
“The one she wrote before he was born?” Ramey gripped the phone a bit tighter. “She told me about it.”
“No. She brought by a new one every year around Max’s birthday. So the file would be current.”
Ramey’s heart sank a bit in her chest. The physical ache within her doubled. Why . . . why would God—if there was a God—take Kiahna when she loved her little boy so? When she was all the child had? She squeezed her eyes shut. “Mr. Ogle, Max is in my care. We need to know Kiahna’s intentions.” A lump formed in Ramey’s throat. “The sooner the better.” 52
– Karen Kingsbury –
Ramey heard the sound of pages flipping. “This afternoon at two o’clock, how does that look for you?”
She glanced through her sliding glass door. Max was on the small back patio, lying on the cement, his head resting on Buddy. He was in no condition to go to school, and depending on what Kiahna’s letter told them, he might not return. Whatever Max’s future held, a resolution was needed. She brought her thumb and forefinger to her face and massaged her temples. “Two is perfect.” The attorney hesitated. “Will Max be there?”
“Yes. He . . . he has nowhere else to go, Mr. Ogle.”
“I understand.” Again the man’s pain resonated across the phone lines. “But some of what I’ll be reading to you is very sensitive.
We’ll need at least some time alone. Without the boy.” A dozen thoughts competed for Ramey’s attention. Kiahna’s documents held something sensitive? What was it, and why hadn’t she shared the information earlier? Ramey’s throat grew tight again, and she heard herself begin to wheeze. An asthma attack.
She’d need her inhaler within a few minutes or she’d be in trouble. She gave the attorney directions to her apartment. “Mr.
Ogle”—she coughed twice—“I’ll have Max play inside. We can talk on the patio.”
They hung up, and Ramey found her medication. Three puffs and her airways were clear again. For now, anyway. Her doctors had told her that her health was deteriorating, succumbing to the many ailments that plagued her. Asthma was only one of them, and each was a reminder that Max had no one.
Short of becoming a ward of the state, whatever plan Kiahna spelled out in her will wouldn’t be one of many options for the child.
It would be his only hope.
Tuesday was Michele Evans’s favorite day.
Though a new schedule came out each month, the airline had been giving Connor a series of short flights that started Tuesday at two o’clock in the afternoon, home again Wednesday night, out Thursday by seven in the morning, and home late Friday. The schedule allowed him weekends at home—time for yard work and backyard projects and outings with the girls.
But most of all it gave him his Tuesday mornings with Michele.
A routine had developed, one she looked forward to all week.
Each Tuesday they’d get up with the girls, share hot pancakes and sausage, take Elizabeth and Susan to Lakewood Elementary School, and return home by eight-thirty. At that point they’d unplug the telephone, climb back into bed, and share the next three hours pretending time didn’t matter.
A mini-vacation in the midst of a mundane week.
On Tuesdays they could be intimate without fear of the girls needing them, they could talk about the past week without interruption, and once in a while they even had time for a dip in the hot tub.
Already this Tuesday morning had been fantastic. Sunshine warm enough to leave the windows open, lovemaking that would keep a smile on both their faces at least until Connor came home Wednesday night, and a conversation that was only just getting started.
“So what exactly happened at the fair? Tell me about Elizabeth’s science project.” Connor rolled onto his side and studied Michele.
She was propped up on two pillows, flat on her back and still beneath 54
– Karen Kingsbury –
the covers. Her knees were pulled up, and as she grinned at him she felt a decade younger than her thirty-nine years.
“Okay”—she angled herself onto her side so they were facing each other—“remember the idea? Prove which kind of junk food ants liked best?”
“Right.” He slid a few inches closer and ran his fingertips through her bangs.
“We put out ant-size piles of Oreo cookies and Butterfingers, chocolate cake and marshmallows.” She raised her eyebrow at him.
“Guess what happened?”
“Butterfingers?” His voice was low, soothing. The way it often was hours into their Tuesday mornings.
“Nope. They hated all of it. Elizabeth brushed strawberry jam on the cardboard so the ants would get stuck, but as of yesterday, she didn’t have a single ant.”
“Maybe they don’t like strawberry jam?” She grabbed a pillow and gave him a soft whack across the face.
This was her favorite part, the moments of laughter and silliness. In some way, these times made their marriage strong, kept her more in love with Connor Evans every year. If they could play together this way, they would always be okay.
The conversation drifted from the kids to the house and finally to her hair clients.
“Renee Wagner came in yesterday.”
Renee was married to a pilot who worked for Connor’s airline.
The two couples had been close five years ago, but over time the men took on different schedules. Renee’s husband, Joe, worked international flights, so his hours almost never coincided with Connor’s. Renee spent most of her hair appointment crying.
Connor stroked the day-old growth on his chin. “I haven’t seen Joe in months.”
– Oceans Apart –
Michele sat up and leaned against the headboard. “Then you don’t know?”
“Know what?” Connor’s eyes told her he had no idea.
A sigh slipped from Michele’s throat. “They separated two weeks ago.”
Connor pushed himself into a sitting position, never taking his eyes from hers. “You’re kidding? Renee and Joe?”
“She was pretty broken up. I figured you would have heard at work.”
He raked his fingers through his hair and shook his head. “Guys don’t talk about that stuff. Not unless you’re sharing a cockpit, and even then . . .”
“I guess he met someone overseas. Europe somewhere.”
For the slightest instant, Michele thought she saw something in Connor’s eyes. An odd flicker that was there, then gone. She didn’t dwell on it. Both of them knew the score. Affairs weren’t uncommon for pilots.
“I don’t get it.” Michele drew her legs closer to her chest.
“Renee’s one of the most beautiful women I know. Two little boys, and a house in the Heights.” Her voice dropped some, and she searched her husband’s eyes. “How could he, Connor?” A tired sound came from him. “Simple.” Connor held her eyes.
“Too much time on the road.”
“You’re on the road and you’re faithful.”
“That’s different.” A smile filled out Connor’s face once more.
He caught her face in his hands and drew her close for a lingering kiss. “I’ve got the best marriage in the world, and the best wife, too.” Michele rubbed her nose against his—but the mood wasn’t quite what it had been. “You have, right?”
Connor drew back and studied her eyes. “Have what?” 56
– Karen Kingsbury –
“Been faithful?” She’d never asked before, never needed to. She had no reason to ask it now, but after what happened to Renee, her heart wanted reassurance.
“Ah, Michele.” He brought his hand up alongside her face and brushed her cheekbone with his thumb. “Do you have to ask?”
“No, it’s just . . .”
“Baby, listen.” His expression changed and suddenly she felt he was looking straight to the deepest part of her soul. “I’ve never loved anyone but you. Not ever.”
Something in her heart relaxed, a part that for some reason had been holding its breath. “I just thought . . .” She gave him a sad smile. “After talking to Renee, I don’t know. She thought everything was okay, too. I guess every now and then it’s good to hear it from you.”
“Michele.” He let his forehead fall against hers. “You have nothing to worry about. Not now . . . not ever.”
“Good.” She framed his jaw with her fingertips. “Sorry for asking.” Connor glanced at the alarm clock on her bedside table. “Almost noon. I better shower.” He leaned in and planted one last kiss on her cheek. Then in a single fluid movement he pushed himself off the bed and headed for the bathroom.
“Wait . . .” Michele slid to the edge of the mattress.
Connor stopped and looked back at her. “What?”
“What about the Bible? Every Tuesday, remember?”
“Right.” Connor frowned. “I completely forgot.”
He glanced at the clock on their bedside table. “Can we start next week?”
“Sure.” Michele hid her disappointment. For months they’d been meaning to get back to reading Scripture, praying together.
But always time seemed to get away from them.
– Oceans Apart –
Connor stretched and flashed her a crooked grin. “We’ll do it next week for sure . . . I promise, okay?”
“Okay.” The disappointment faded. Michele studied Connor, dressed only in a pair of shorts, and was struck again by the strength of his body, the way he cared for himself. Connor Evans was a man who had once single-handedly pulled his plane out of a death spin. He liked to say he appreciated his wingmen as much as his copilots, but he never allowed himself to rely on either. And when it came to his workouts, they were an hour a day, three days a week, whatever city or hotel he happened to be in.
“My body’s a tool,” he’d said a hundred times. “I’m only as good as my level of physical fitness.”
Michele smiled. Every aspect of her husband’s life involved some type of perfection. Perfection in the cockpit, perfection at the gym, perfection in the way he doted on their girls. Even perfection in their marriage.
Michele watched him walk away until he closed the bathroom door. Only then did she realize how quickly he’d changed subjects.
One minute they’d been talking about affairs and faithfulness. The next he was heading for the shower. She froze, replaying their conversation in her mind. Maybe the switch hadn’t been so sudden.
After all, he showered at this time every Tuesday morning, and he was nothing if not punctual. And praying and reading the Bible together would become routine too—if they could find a way to get back to it.
From inside the bathroom, she heard Connor turn on the shower, but instead of heading downstairs to make him a sandwich, she sat there, unmoving. At the center of her heart, something didn’t feel right. Was it something Connor had said, the tone of his voice, maybe? Or was it simply her sorrow for Renee? A chill made its way down her arms. How would it feel to be Renee Wagner? Michele remembered something Renee said once, a year ago.
– Karen Kingsbury –
“I don’t have to worry about Joe.” She gave Michele an easy smile. “Some guys have cheating in their blood, but not Joe. He can’t even tell when a woman’s hitting on him. The last thing he’d do is have an affair.”
Michele let the words play again in her mind. She could see herself nodding along, agreeing with her friend. Yes, Connor was the same type of man. The kind who could turn heads as he strode down an airport hallway, and never look anywhere but straight ahead.
Good guys, safe guys. The kind that didn’t cheat on their wives.
But one lonely night across the ocean in Rome, Joe tossed the rulebook out the window. An affair, one lousy affair, and now what?
Eighteen years of marriage . . . the family they’d spent a lifetime building . . . all of it gone.
So why were Joe and Renee’s troubles bothering her now? Joe and Connor were different men, weren’t they? For one thing, Joe didn’t have Connor’s faith. Even though they didn’t attend church as often as they once had, even though they couldn’t make time to pray together, God was the staying power in her husband’s life.
Michele stared at the closed bathroom door and a strong breeze rattled the blinds. She jumped at the sound and rose to her feet.
She needed to get downstairs and make Connor lunch before he left. Worrying was nothing but a waste of time. What had happened to Renee would never happen to her, never. Connor was not a man given to impulsive moments, unplanned emotion. He was far too self-controlled, too sure of what he wanted from life and his future and his relationship with her and the girls. Too perfect to let himself make a mistake like that.