Unraveled, p.33
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       Unraveled, p.33

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 34


  “God. No. ” I rubbed my head. But truthfully I had gotten it into my head that Sam would forgive me if she could see how much effort I was expending on her behalf. Did it make sense? In my confused, fucked-up mind it did. Sighing, I said, “Close enough. " I picked up the needles again.

  "So knitting is the same as being in the Corps?”

  "Close enough,” I mumbled again and set to work once more.


  I PULLED UP TO THE Anderson house. It was a large brick monstrosity. I think about five families could have fit into the Anderson home but it housed only two people now—David and Carolyn. I guess thats why it was so easy for them to remain married despite the fact that they didnt really care about each other. They spent weeks without seeing each other. I walked around to the side door, the one Id always used, and let myself in. Donna, the Anderson’s housekeeper, was sitting at the gleaming marble island, a coffee cup by her side, flipping through a magazine. "Hey, Sam," she greeted me as I snuck in.

  "Carolyn around?"

  "In the sunroom. " Donna started to rise and get me something to eat but I waved her off.

  "I dont need anything, Donna. Im not even sure how long Ill be. " Even though Id planned my speech to Carolyn all night, I was feeling nervous and sick to my stomach. I wished Tucker was here or that David was better at comforting his wife. Worried that Carolyn was going to need someone, I planned to talk to Tucker directly after.

  Donna gave me a concerned look, but I was halfway through the kitchen and out the door before she could ask me what was wrong. The sunroom was a long, screened-in porch that overlooked the pool. When we were younger, Tucker, Will, and I all played out here, but when my parents moved out west of town and installed a pool, we started gravitating toward my house.

  The Anderson house was oppressive. Even though Carolyn tried to decorate it in bright, sunny tones, the unhappiness of her marriage and the disapproval that Tucker and Will suffered under because they never lived up to their fathers expectations made the house gloomy and unlivable. The sunroom, however, had been a place of noisy games and laughter when it had been the three of us kids here. Now Carolyn sat there almost every day with a book and a cup of tea. I didnt know if she read the book or drank the tea or if they were just props to make her look like she was occupied and not reliving scenes from the past.

  "Hey, Carolyn," I called from the doorway, not wanting to startle her. A big smile wreathed her face as she took me in.

  "Samantha, what a nice surprise. " She walked over and grabbed my hands, pulling me in for a hug and kiss on the cheek. "I was just thinking about the graduation party wed held for Will and you here. " Leading me over to the settee, Carolyn sat me down and poured me a cup of steaming hot tea. It was always hot no matter what time of day or what the temperature was outside. I took a careful sip and tucked a slip of my hair behind my head. I didnt correct her. The graduation party had been held at a nearby park because wed co-hosted it with my family. Maybe Carolyn was thinking of Tuckers graduation, which had been held here and which had been kind of crazy because it ended up with a lot of fully-clothed people in the pool.

  Later that night, Will had snuck some weed from his brothers stash and wed smoked it in the pool house and made out. But I didnt want to share that with Carolyn so I kept my mouth shut.

  "We had some good times here," I said. It was true. While we didnt come here a ton and we were mostly at my house, as long as Will and I were together it had been a good time. I lifted up the box Id brought with me.

  "Carolyn, I want you to have these things. " I held out the big white box to her. She made no move to take it. It was heavy so I couldnt keep holding it. I dropped the box to my lap.

  Refusing to look at me, Carolyn continued as if I hadnt said a word to her. "Its good that he left, your friend," she clarified. "He didnt seem to fit in with us. ” Who knew what Tucker had told her.

  "Carolyn," I started again, but she just talked right over me.

  "How is that afghan going? I was over at the condo the other day and saw youd taken it down. Did you finish it? I think it would make a great Christmas gift for Tucker. Something you made in remembrance for Will. "

  Id forgotten she had keys to the condo and it was a little weird that shed gone in there without telling me. But this too was part of my own weakness. Id relied on my family too long, not picking up the reins of my own life. This was going to be so hard. Rubbing my forehead, I thought about the best way to make it clear to her that whatever dreams she had for me and Will or me and Tucker werent ever going to come true. "Im in love with him," I finally said.

  "Oh, I know. We all love him. " she said, deliberately misunderstanding. "I guess thats why its so hard to have his things in your home?" She nodded toward the box on my lap. "I just know youll regret it if you give them away. "

  "Im not giving them away. " I told her softly. "Im returning them to you. I know youll treasure them, but it just isnt right for me to have all these things. "

  The flags, the medals, his uniforms. I couldnt keep those things and go to Gray with an open heart. He was a good man and an understanding one, but these things were better off with Wills family. I knew it and I think Carolyn knew it too even if she didnt want to acknowledge it. I had my own Will treasures. The stuffed animal hed won for me at the school carnival. The tickets to our senior prom. Pictures. Those were the mementos of our life together. The medals and honors represented Wills life in the Army and I felt like they were better off with his mother than with me.

  "I love you, Carolyn. I loved Will. Hell always be with me but Im ready to love again. I hope you understand that. "

  Silent tears dripped down her face but she acted like it was nothing. "Tuckers been making noise about going back to law school. Wouldnt that be nice?"

  Hed done no such thing, but I lied again. "Yeah, that would be nice. " It wasnt ever going to happen.

  "I was thinking of the time that you and Will handed out candy at Halloween. You dressed up like Gomez and Morticia Addams. "

  I laughed a little. "And Tucker was Lurch. And all the kids said I was too short to be Morticia. "

  "You looked so beautiful on your wedding day. "

  Carolyns unhappiness was breaking my heart and I did love her, like a second mother. For a moment, I felt myself weaken. Would it be so wrong to stay here and sit in this sunroom and talk about Will for the rest of my life? But my heart was pulling me in the direction of California. Will was my past and Gray was my future.

  I stood up then, leaving the box on the table. She didnt even look at me, and the guilt of loving someone other than Will threatened to sweep me under. If I stayed another minute, my resolve might break. "Im sorry, Carolyn. I loved being an Anderson. I loved being Wills girl. But its time for all of us to move forward. "

  I waited for a response but got nothing. Sighing I turned and started to leave. Her whispered words barely reached me. "I want you to be happy too. "

  "Thank you," I choked out. She didnt say another word, didnt turn toward me, so I left her in the sunroom, the sunlight not quite reaching her sofa, her tea untouched.

  I wiped away my tears with the pads of my hands and walked toward the kitchen. Donna was standing up, either by some sixth sense recognizing something was wrong or because shed been eavesdropping. I didnt care which. "Shes gonna need something. "

  "I know just the thing," Donna said and then patted me on the shoulder. Pulling me in for a hug, Donna whispered. "Youre doing the right thing. This familys going to be all right. "

  Maybe it would and maybe it wouldnt but as my mom had said to me, the Anderson familys emotional health wasnt my responsibility.

  The next conversation was with Tucker, and that was going to be a hundred times more difficult.

  I’d texted Tucker the night before, asking him to meet me for lunch. He’d told me to come by the shop. I’d picked up his favorite sandwich—apple and ham on a hoagie—and two cups
of fresh-squeezed orange juice. His hair was messed up and he smelled of fresh sweat. Sometimes Tuckers smell had confused me because it was so close to Wills, but now I realized it was the smell of a friend. A good friend and one that Id miss.

  He gave me a wary glance but said nothing as I spread out the goods on one of the silver tool trays.

  "Youll have to wash this when were done," I teased gently. "No one wants sandwich crumbs in their tattoo. "

  Tucker shrugged and ate half the hoagie in one bite. "Maybe it will be a new thing. Like food tattoos instead of a memorial one. "

  I made a face. Memorial tattoos were made by tattooing ashes of people’s loved ones into their skin.

  "Whats so important that it couldn’t wait?”

  “I’m leaving for San Diego today,” I admitted.

  Tucker took a deep breath and gripped the edges of the tray between us. "Sam, I never told you this because the time wasnt right—” Tucker began. I held up my hand and gave him a sad smile.

  "Dont say it, Tucker. ”

  "You dont even know what I was going to say. "

  "Maybe I dont, but I want you to know that I love you like the brother I never had and I hope youll always feel the same way toward me," I replied. Tucker looked at me and then glanced down. I blinked away a few tears that had crept into my eyes. "Dont say anything that would mar that," I whispered. I did love Tucker, and I always would, but he was Wills brother and mine too. Id never view him any other way, and it broke my heart that I had to hurt him.

  "So Gray, huh?" Tucker was fiddling with the food and refusing to look at me.

  "Yes, itll be Gray for as long as hell have me. "

  "Being a soldier isnt very safe. "

  I didnt take the time to correct his use of “soldier. ” I responded, "Gray loves it. Its in his blood. If he stayed here, part of him would shrivel up. Hed suck it up and hed fill those spaces, but he wouldnt be the same Gray that I love. "

  "Its not real love if he resents you for decisions he made for himself," Tucker argued.

  "Maybe not, but I have real love for Gray which means letting him go pursue his dreams. "

  "I dont want to lose you. ” Tucker was still avoiding my eyes. This time the tears wouldnt be stemmed by a few blinks. I let them roll out because they were part of the process of saying goodbye as much as the words.

  "Ill always be part of the Anderson family for as long as you all will have me. "

  Tucker breathed through his nose and grabbed me. "Well always want you. "

  I hugged him tight, this man who would always be a brother in my heart even though the line that connected us was broken.

  His hands clutched me, and for a moment, I reveled in the embrace, remembering what it was like to be with Will. But I pulled away from his arms and he reluctantly let me go. I dug into my pocket and pulled out the gold-and-diamond solitaire ring that had sat on my left finger for over two years. Tucker gasped when I held it out to him and backed away. His hands came up as if to ward me off.

  "No way, no fucking way. That is yours. ” He glared at me.

  "No, Tuck, this is your mother’s. She gave this to Will, and yeah, she got a beautiful ring in exchange from your dad, but this belongs in the Anderson family. Not with me. Not anymore. " I advanced on him, and Tucker turned away. I could see he was struggling with this but I pried open his hand and place the ring inside of it.

  It wasnt the loss of me that he was struggling with. Id become Wills avatar to his family and his friends. Through me, Will was still alive in some small measure. But that was over now. It had taken me a long time to come to terms with this, but it was time to move on.

  MY ENTIRE FAMILY DROVE ME to the airport. Bitsy held my hand in the backseat the entire drive. Hugs were given all around and everyone was teary. It was like I wasnt ever going to come back.

  "I might be back before the week is out," I joked weakly.

  "Nah, as many times as hes texted, he wont let you out of his sight for a good month,” Mom said.

  “You’ll have to come back and visit soon. It seems like I just got off the plane. ” This was from my dad.

  "Love you. " I gave them all another round of hugs. I’d return soon, for a visit.

  And then I was off. The flight to San Diego required a stop in Denver, where I considered for the hundredth time texting Gray. But I didnt want to text him. I wanted to explain to him face to face why I was taking a chance on him, and I wanted to read every emotion on his face so I could reassure myself it was the right decision.

  Instead, I spent the time finishing up the skull caps I was making for donation to the Warmth for Warriors group. At the San Diego airport, I ducked into the bathroom and changed out of my shorts and T-shirt and sneakers. I wanted to knock Grays socks off. I pulled out the red polka-dotted dress with the sweetheart neckline that Bitsy had helped me find. Its flared skirt made my waist look tiny and the three-inch cork wedge heels made me tall enough that I didnt feel like I was going to be trampled.

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