Cate Rollins stood in the sun-filled kitchen of the house she’d rented and opened another box. The cheery yellow walls and the dark oak cabinets made the large room seem cozy. Yesterday she and her daughter had arrived in mid-afternoon and had blessed her friend for leaving most of the furniture. She had brought little of the battered furniture from the apartment.
The sound of children’s laughter flowed through the open window. Moments after their arrival, the swing set had been delivered and assembled. The August afternoon had been cool, a welcome change from the past week’s brutal heat.
As she placed dishes on the shelves of the cabinets she hoped the return to
Eastlake to take charge of
the newly established had been the right
move. Since her mother’s death when Maddie had turned two, Cate’s life had been
filled with work, school and raising her child. Now she had returned to the
town where she’d attended college. Four of her closest friends had settled here
and she believed their presence was a plus. They had come to the house to help
her settle in. Rehab
“Where do you want this?” Lauren, owner of the house, held a wok, the metal blackened from use.
Cate pointed to a hook on the wall above the gleaming stove. “Here is good. Maddie and I make stir fry often, especially the chicken cashew recipe you taught the Gang.”
Lauren laughed. “Do you make as much?”
“I’ve managed to cut the recipe down so we only have to eat it for a day or two.” She folded an empty box.
“That’s still my only dish. Thank heavens I’ve a housekeeper who’s a marvelous cook.”
“Thanks for letting me rent your house while I look for one.”
“Don’t be in a rush to buy.” Lauren winked. “Both Liz and I found our happy-ever- afters here. You could be next. There are several new doctors arriving soon.”
Cate closed her eyes lest her friend see the sorrow and anger ever present in her thoughts. She’d lost her chance for a full life when he’d left ten minutes after the graduation ceremony ended without a goodbye. She hadn’t been able to tell him about the pregnancy and she’d been too angry to call him.
“I’m content without a man in my life.” She smiled. “Maddie is great company.”
“She won’t be with you forever.”
“I know but right now I’m content.”
Lauren walked to the kitchen door. “What a great swing set. I’m glad you found someone to set it up. Keeps the kids from trying to help.”
“Bought it in town yesterday morning and the set up was part of the price.” Cate joined her friend. She studied the massive structure. There were swings, a seesaw, and an overhead grill for climbing with a play house on the opposite side from the slide. “Maddie picked this two years ago. Wouldn’t fit in a city apartment.”
Lauren touched Cate’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I never heard about your mother’s death. Mail was often lost as I wandered from country to country.”
“Don’t feel bad about not knowing.” Cate turned from the door. “The kitchen is in order. I wonder how the others are doing?”
Lauren laughed. “Liz is organized and efficient. About Megan and Jenessa, think chaos. One will undo what the other has done. Megan wants color coordination. Jenessa just wants to finish.”
A picture of her two friends formed. “Megan will have a good time finding towels that match.” A sound caused her to turn.
Liz stepped into the room. “Dining room and study are done. Books are shelved. Do you ever read for fun?”
“Seldom. I do watch television with Maddie.” Cate opened the refrigerator and pulled out a platter and two pitchers. “Time for a break. Call the others while I pour lemonade for the children. Take the tea and glasses to the porch.” She went to the door. “Snack time,” she called.
Maddie dashed inside. Three boys followed. “Brownies.”
“One each. We’ll soon be going out for lunch.”
“Are we going to that hot dog place you’re always talking about?” Maddie’s green eyes, the only feature inherited from her mother, glowed with pleasure. “Can’t wait.” She offered the plate to her new friends.
Cate filled four plastic glasses. “Enjoy. I’ll be on the porch. We’ll call when it’s time.”
She strolled down the hall and stepped outside. She loved the white wicker furniture, especially the swing. Her friends’ chatter raised a smile. She recalled the days when the seven members of the Grantley Gang had shared study sessions and fun times. Five now lived in
Eastlake. For an instant she wondered if
Suzanne would ever leave the city and join them. About the seventh member. Her
stomach clenched. Not going there.
She accepted a glass of tea from Megan whose blonde curls bounced. “I’m buying you a house warming present. Matching towels for all the bathrooms. Most of the ones you have are threads clinging to each other.”
Cate shrugged. “They work.”
Megan rolled her eyes. “Your Cancer habit of clinging to old things needs revised. Do you…”
Jenessa clamped her handover Megan’s mouth. “Later. I want to know how you were drafted to run the
.” Rehab Center
Cate sat next to Lauren on the swing. “I became interested in rehabilitation nursing while I was pregnant with Maddie. After Mother died I returned to school and took a double Masters. Then I worked at Sloane Rehab and soon became assistant DON. At a conference I ran into Dr. Carter Senior. We talked about the need for a rehab center in
Eastlake. Once he had the funding he asked me
to help design the facility and to take charge as the director with a focus on
“I’m glad he found you,” Megan said. “I told him about you and he was always glad to help one of the Grantley Gang.”
Cate sipped tea and listened to her friends share their lives since graduation. Though she knew some of the events of their lives, there was much she hadn’t heard. From Jenessa she learned about preventing a take-over and a strike. Lauren had them laughing over her adventures in foreign lands. Liz added comments about her problems with the staff when she’d taken charge of the ortho/neuro unit.
“Be glad you don’t have to contend with someone who wants your job. Plus she was a neighbor and her son…don’t get me started.”
The warmth of friendship allowed Cate to push aside her nerves about the new career step.
Lauren set her glass on the table. “Would you and Maddie like to join us at
for the Labor Day
weekend? Would be like old times.” Shadow
Cate remembered the summer weekends she had joined her friends at the lake. There were other things that had happened she didn’t want to recall. “Is there room?”
“There are plenty of extra bedrooms,” Lauren said.
Jenessa raised her glass. “I imagine Maddie will enjoy herself with swimming. Her new friends will be there.”
“We’ll have a semi-Gang reunion,” Megan said.
“Then we’ll come.” Though she wondered if this was the right decision she knew Maddie would enjoy swimming and the company of her new friends.
The rumble of a motorcycle clamped a vise on Cate’s shoulder muscles. Every time she heard a bike she hated this conditioned reaction. In the city there’d been hundreds of these near panic attacks. She glanced at her friends and hoped they hadn’t noticed. Questions would follow and she had no intention of answering. She drew a deep breath. Her hands clenched. Her heart fluttered like the wings of a humming bird.
The image of a dark-haired, dark-eyed man leaped into her thoughts. He’d stolen her heart and tossed the discarded remains in the garage heap. Rick Somers had been the only male member of the Gang.
When the bike pulled into the driveway of a large house on the other side of the street her vision blurred. How could she live in this house having to hear that sound night and day?
The rider dismounted and pulled off his helmet revealing dark curly hair. He turned and she knew his identity. She froze. He stared for a moment and then waved.
“Is that who I think it is?” Jenessa asked.
“Didn’t you believe me when I told you what Dad said?” Megan asked.
Cate jumped to her feet. She had to hide Maddie. She paused at the door and turned to look at her friends.
“Are you all right?” Liz asked.
“Yes…No…” She opened the door.
“Do you mind if we ask him what he’s doing here?” Jenessa asked.
With a nonchalant gesture Cate waved her hand. She needed to be alone and to think about what this would mean to her and to her daughter. “Go ahead.”
“Are you coming?” Megan asked.
“I’ll pass.” Once the panic ebbed anger rose. Had anyone known he was coming to
Did he know the people who lived in that huge house across the street?
Megan, Jenessa and Lauren strolled across the street. They engaged Rick in animated conversation.
Cate faced Liz. “Did you know?”
The older woman nodded. “I did and probably Megan did too but I had no idea he would be living near Lauren’s house. Had I known, I would have warned you.”
Cate drew a calming breath. "Which unit will be his?” With luck she could avoid him.
“He’s no longer a nurse. He’s an orthopedic surgeon.”
“So he found a med school,” she said. “Looks like I won’t be able to avoid him.”
Liz nodded. “He’ll be a regular on my unit. I’ll let him know he’s not to annoy you.”
As if that would stop him. “I’ll be cool.” At least she hoped she could contain the bubbling anger.
“What are you going to tell Maddie?”
“Only what I’ve already said. That her father disappeared and I thought he was dead.” She recalled the nights when she had envisioned an accident with his bike. Those thoughts hadn’t abated her anger and hurt. She still prayed for indifference.
“What happened back then? You both seemed so in love. Did you quarrel about the pregnancy?”
Cate shook her head. “He didn’t know. I only learned the morning of graduation. I told him we needed to talk but when I went to find him he was gone.” She bit her lip to keep from crying as hurt and sorrow from the past welled in her thoughts. In a flash the desire for tears vanished and anger bubbled to the surface.
“Are you going to tell him?”
Cate stared at her hands. “Why should I? He doesn’t deserve to know.” She looked away. As if anyone seeing her daughter could fail to recognize the identity of the child’s father.
“What about Maddie? She might want a father.”
“She hasn’t missed having one. Sometimes she asks a question and I tell her I don’t know. I didn’t miss having one.” The few times she’d asked her mother about her father the bitter rants had made her resent the man she’d never met.
“Liz, Cate,” Megan called.
“You go.” Cate gathered the pitcher and glasses and carried the inside. She loaded the dishwasher and slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. She had no idea how to handle this new problem.
A half an hour later her friends returned. She met them in the hall. In their eyes she saw questions she didn’t want to answer.
“Are you all right?” Liz asked.
Megan cocked her head. “Why didn’t you come over? You and he were so close.”
Cate’s hands clenched. “My reason is evident.” She drew a deep breath. “I’m ready for lunch.”
“Good idea.” Liz walked to the kitchen door. “Brandon, Justin, come in and wash your hands and faces. We’re going to the Hot Doggery.”
Three boys and one girl stormed into the house. Once they washed they went to their cars.
“See you there,” Cate called.
Maddie fastened her seatbelt. “The boys are nice but I wish there was another girl.”
Cate started the car. “When you go to the Community Center for the rest of this month and when school starts you’ll find girl friends.”
* * *
Rick Somers stared at the house on the other side of the street. The welcomes from four of the members of the Grantley Gang from college had surprised him. He hadn’t seen or contacted any of them since they’d left college. He frowned. Why had Cate, the only other old friend, remained aloof? Sure he’d hurt her feelings but that had happened nine years ago. Had he made a mistake in coming to
His thoughts drifted to those days. He and Cate had been close, more than close. During their senior year they had become a couple but her ideas about their future hadn’t been his.
He shuddered. Hers had been to return to her home town, live with her mother and work at the local hospital until they married and started a family. He had wanted medical school. She’d thought he was chasing a fool’s dream. He’d hidden the letter of acceptance from her. Thoughts of another quarrel and unsatisfactory make-up sex had forced his silence. He had known she wouldn’t change her plans so he left without saying goodbye.
The arrival of the moving van and his gray SUV driven by his foster father halted his speculations. Clint Harris parked on the street and strode along the driveway.
Rick’s memories flashed to his youth. At fourteen he’d become an orphan and had been placed in a foster home. He had constantly rebelled against his strict foster parents. At sixteen he’d run away. Clint had caught him breaking into his car to steal the cameras. Instead of calling the police, the older man had taken Rick home, fed him, listened to his story and started the process of becoming his foster parent. Rick’s life had been filled with challenges and security. Clint had helped him develop a plan to reach his goal of becoming a doctor like his dead father had been.
Clint ran his hand through hair lightly touched with gray. “This is quite a house. Five bedrooms. Why?”
Rick shrugged. “No reason. I did one of those virtual home tours and liked what I saw. The plus was that I didn’t have to spend days house hunting. There’s enough room in the basement for an apartment for you.” He opened the front door and directed the movers.
Before long the few pieces of furniture he’d brought from
California were in place
along with boxes, carrying bags and a barrel of kitchen equipment. His exercise
equipment had been assembled in a basement room.
Rick turned to Clint. “Looks like I need to shop for furniture.” His bedroom, the one Clint would use, the living room and the study were furnished.
Clint rested a hand on Rick’s shoulder. “Find a woman to help. Didn’t you say you had women friends from college living here?”
“There are four. They popped over from the house across the street to welcome me.” He failed to mention the one who had stayed away.
“Good. After lunch I’ll investigate the basement. A space for a dark room is first on my agenda. Then I’ll consider the apartment option.”
“And finally empty that storage locker?”
“I hope you’re not leaving soon on another photo shoot.”
Clint shrugged. “Who knows how long before some publisher or editor wants my services.”
Rick hoped nothing surfaced soon. He wished his restless foster father would settle for a long time the way he had during the high school years. Other than summers Clint had found projects close to home. For the past twelve years the older man had arrived on visits at odd intervals. He had missed the Grantley graduation but had attended the one from medical school. Keeping his foster father from flitting was like catching a cloud.
Clint snapped his fingers. “Wake up. Time for lunch somewhere since we have no groceries.”
Rick turned from the window where he’d stood to stare at Cate’s house. Had she married and divorced? Their friends hadn’t mentioned a man in her life. Had her life been as empty as his had been? He’d remained from any but casual relationships. She’d always been at the edge of his thoughts.
“We’ll go to the Hot Doggery for the best chili dogs you’ve ever eaten.”
“Sounds good.” Clint tossed him the car keys. “Since you know the town you can drive.”
Before long they found a parking space on the street. He escorted his foster father to the restaurant. Through the front window with an opening for people to order and accept take outs, they paused to watch the rolling grill filled with hot dogs. A steaming kettle stood near the grill.
Rick opened the door. Every stool at the long counter had guests so they continued down the aisle where booths lined one wall. The ones in the front were filled so they continued to the back where a double row of booths lined an aisle between them.
Rick spotted an empty one of the smaller ones. Just behind the booth he saw four children and in one of the larger ones Cate sat with her friends.
One of the children, a girl raised her head. Short curly dark hair framed her face. She grinned. In that instant, he knew the child was his and the reason for Cate’s avoidance. He felt as though he’d been beaned by a baseball. He slid into the booth. With no thought of anything but his plans he’d ridden away. Had she known about the pregnancy? Why hadn’t she told him? Was that what she’d wanted to tell him after the ceremony?
Why hadn’t she tried to reach him? She’d known his cell number. With the internet she could have located him. Could her present glare be caused by shards of memory from that time?
He sucked in a breath and remembered Cate’s mother. She had raised her daughter alone and saw no need for a man in their lives. He’d received a dose of the woman’s bitter remarks during his single visit to Cate’s home. What had Cate told his daughter about him?
His hands clenched. If he had known would he have changed his plans? Probably not. If they had married and they would have grown to resent each other. Did she realize that? They had to talk and soon.