The perfect match, p.47
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       The Perfect Match, p.47

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 47

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “This is awesome,” he said.

  Below them spread the soft green hills of western New York, the lush fields and red barns, thick forests and the occasional white steeple. The sky was utterly clear today.

  “What happens if a Canada goose flies into an engine?” Charlie asked.

  “We pray,” Tom said.

  “Do you ever watch those airplane disaster movies?”

  “As a matter of fact, no. ”

  “There was this awesome flick last year,” the kid said, then launched into a rather disturbing description of the plot. Tom glanced at Honor. She was smiling.

  Something moved in Tom’s chest.

  “All right, Charles, you ready to fly this little darling?” Tom said. “All you have to do is keep a steady hand here, right? Nice and level, hands at ten and two, just like in a car. ”

  “I don’t drive,” Charlie said, his voice a little panicky.

  “I’m right here,” Tom assured him. “You can do it, mate. And if you like it, we’ll get you a pilot’s license. You can fly before you can drive. Ready? The controls are yours. ”

  Granted, he wasn’t about to let Charlie do anything stupid or risky; the kid had a lot less control than he knew, but the expression on his face was priceless. Somber, focused, and then, miraculously, he flashed Tom a smile. “Am I doing okay?”

  “You’re brilliant, mate. ”

  Tom took the controls back after ten minutes or so, then circled the plane out so they could see Lake Canandaigua, the nearest of the Finger Lakes. The water was cobalt blue this morning. “That’s where we’ll have a picnic,” Tom said, pointing to a field below.

  “Are we gonna land on the water?” Charlie asked.

  “No, no. This isn’t a water plane. The engine’s too heavy. But they do have amphibious planes that land on both, right, Honor?”

  “Absolutely,” she said. “There’s a fantastic water plane show in June on Keuka. We’ll have to go. ”

  A short time later, they were back on land, in the field Tom had shown them from the air. The lake shimmered, and birds wheeled and sang. They ate their picnic lunch, the sun warm.

  If someone had told Tom two months ago that he’d be on a picnic with his fiancée and Charlie, and that Charlie would be speaking to him, Tom wouldn’t have believed it. A night like the sowing ceremony, the solidarity of the Hollands, the history and closeness, the welcome for him and Charlie. . . Tom wondered what he’d done to deserve it.

  Charlie was lying on his back, and Tom did the same. Honor, too. A few fat clouds drifted by; Honor murmured that there’d be rain by tonight, and she should know. There wasn’t much she didn’t.

  He looked at her, her short blond hair ruffling in the breeze. She’d been quiet today, popping in with a comment here or there, but mostly watching the two of them, as if understanding that this was a momentous day.

  Today, the old Charlie was back. Well, not really. There was no going back, Tom knew that. He knew that Melissa’s death had changed her son irreversibly. But the boy Tom had always imagined he’d be—smart, friendly, focused, decent—that kid had shown up today, even without Abby to impress.

  A lot of that had to do with Honor.

  In all this time, she hadn’t once complained about Charlie’s manners, sullenness, stomping, refusal to eat, slamming of doors. She never rolled her eyes, never expressed anything other than pleasure when he came over, never sighed or muttered. She’d given him a family, a friend in Abby. She even seemed to like him.

  Tom reached out and took Honor’s hand. Kissed it, and watched as her eyes grew soft.

  Two hours later, after one of the best days of Tom’s life, he dropped Honor off, kissed her briefly on the mouth and said he’d be back in fifteen minutes or so. “She’s nice,” Charlie said as they pulled away.

  “Yes,” Tom said. He glanced at the boy. “Feel like being my best man?”

  “Seriously?”

  “Yeah. ”

  Charlie shrugged. “Okay. ”

  It was enough. It was more than enough.

  Tom pulled up to the Kelloggs’ house.

  A dark blue, vintage Mustang was out front, and for one second, he felt like he’d just been hit with a particularly brutal uppercut, right under the chin.

  Charlie was out of the car in a blur. “Dad!” he yelled. “Hey, Dad!”

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  MITCHELL DELUCA GOT out of his car in an unhurried manner, smiling as Charlie ran into his arms. Tousled the boy’s hair and glanced at Tom.

  Tom got out, his heart thudding sickly against his ribs. Stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked over. “Hello. ”

  “Hey. Mitch DeLuca, Charlie’s father. Nice to meet you. ” He offered his hand.

  “We’ve met,” Tom said.

  “Oh, yeah?”

  Nope, he was sincere. “I was engaged to Melissa. ”

  Charlie looked between the two of them. “It’s Tom, Dad. Tom Barlow. ”

  “Right! Dude, sorry. Good to see you again. ” Mitchell gave Tom a baffled look—So why exactly are you here? Then he turned to his boy, and the resemblance between them was a little shocking. Yes, Charlie looked like his mum. . . but he looked a lot like his father, too.

  “How are you, son? It’s been a while, hasn’t it? You’re getting to be as tall as me. ”

  Charlie smiled proudly, and Tom felt it like a knife to the chest. It had taken two entire years for Charlie to smile at him, but Mitchell. . . Mitchell got to see that right away. No resentment toward Mitchell, no indeed.

  “What’s new, pal?” Mitchell asked.

  “Um, I’m may be getting my pilot’s license. And I’m in this boxing club? There’s a tournament in two weeks, and you should come!”

  “Maybe. Let’s get going, okay? Your grandmother isn’t exactly thrilled to see me, know what I mean? Wanna grab something to eat, sport?”

  “Sure! Yeah, of course!”

  Mitchell glanced at Tom again. “Uh, listen, I’m gonna spend a little time with my son, okay?”

  Tom nodded. “You do that. ” He looked at Charlie. “Talk to you soon, mate. ”

  “Mate?” Mitchell smirked. “Yeah, that word has different connotations here, pal. ” He shot Charlie a look. “Am I right, buddy?”

  For a half second, Charlie looked conflicted. Then he glanced at his father and smirked. “Yeah. I keep telling him that. ” He rolled his eyes. “It’s kind of gay, Tom. ”

  Ah.

  “See you soon,” Tom said, but Charlie was already talking to Mitchell, awash in happiness over seeing his father. Then Mitchell, the deadbeat, neglectful, selfish bastard, slung his arm around Charlie’s shoulders and led him to the Mustang.

  Charlie didn’t look back.

  It doesn’t mean anything, Tom told himself.

  Unfortunately, he knew better.

  * * *

  HONOR’S PHONE BUZZED with a text. Had to go to Wickham. See you sometime tonight.

  That was. . . odd. Terse. Then again, texts were all too easy to misinterpret. She hit Call and waited. Tom’s voice mail came on.

  You’ve reached Tom Barlow. Leave a message, and I’ll call you when I’m free. Cheers.

  “Hi, Tom, it’s Honor,” she said, wincing. Hopefully, he knew her voice by now. “Just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I guess you’re working? Um, let me know if you want dinner. Or we could go to O’Rourke’s or something, if you were in the mood. Anyway, today was really great. ” She paused. “Have a good rest of the afternoon. Bye. See you later. Talk to you soon. ” Hang up the damn phone, the eggs said, peering over their reading glasses as they knit.

  She hung up.

  He’s blowing you off, they observed with sympathetic certainty.

  “No, he’s not. There is no evidence of that,” she sa
id.

  But by nine o’clock that night, the evidence was pretty strong.

  What had happened? After a magically perfect ten days, when it had felt like something shifted, like that cement barrier had come down, the wall was suddenly back. No phone call. One text to say, Don’t think I’ll make it back for dinner.

  She mentally reviewed the day. Four hours with Tom and Charlie. Had she said something? Was Charlie okay? Had Charlie said something like Don’t marry Honor, I hate her? Because, quite frankly, she thought the kid might like her.

  Screw it. She grabbed her phone, then put it down. Considered a text, typed a few words, deleted them.

  Spike scrabbled against her calf, and Honor bent over and picked the little fluff ball up. “Any ideas?” she asked the doggy. Spike flopped on her back, offering her belly, and Honor idly rubbed it.

  She watched TV for an hour—The Mysterious World of Pork-Borne Illnesses. Wondered idly if she had a tapeworm and, if so, could she eat unlimited amounts of Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun. When her phone rang, she lunged for it, earning a bark of protest from Spike. “Hello?”

  “Hey. It’s Dana. ”

  Honor jerked in surprise. “Hi. ”

  “How are you?”

  Spike yawned, already bored. “I’m fine. How are you?”

  “You sound blue. ”

  “Nope. ” The days of mood discussions had ended some time ago. “What can I do for you?”

  Dana was quiet for a minute. “I don’t know. I called on impulse. ”

  Not every friendship was meant to last forever. Honor knew that. It didn’t mean you couldn’t miss the old times, even knowing those old times couldn’t be repeated.

  “How are things with you?” she asked.

  “They’re fine. ”

  “You feeling okay?”

  “Sure. Why?”

  Honor paused. “Um, just because you’re pregnant. ”

  “Right. No, I feel the same. Normal. I mean, everything’s normal. ” Dana paused. “So you and Tom were pretty funny at the Black and White Ball. ”

  “I guess so. ”

  “He seems. . . great. ” There was an odd note of yearning in Dana’s voice.

  “He is,” Honor said. There was silence on the other end. “So why are you calling, Dana?”

  “I don’t know. ” She sighed. “You ever worry that Tom might find something out about you, and not like you anymore?”

  Fungus. She didn’t want to have a relationship talk with Dana. Dana, who pretended not to know how much Honor had loved Brogan. Who’d blindsided her and dismissed her feelings.

  But maybe Dana had been right about those feelings. After all, Honor now firmly believed she was in love with Tom, her walled-off, funny, delicious Brit.

  “Not really,” Honor said hesitantly. “I don’t know that there’s anything to find out. That he doesn’t know already, I mean. ”

  “I probably shouldn’t be calling you to talk about this stuff,” Dana said, her voice small and sad.

  “Yeah, it’s a little weird. ”

  “You were always a good friend. ”

  The words brought an unexpected lump to Honor’s throat. “Thanks. ”

  “And I wasn’t. ”

  “Is that an apology?”

  Dana sighed. “Yes. ”

  “Accepted. ”

  “So are we friends again?”

  Honor smoothed the scraggly fur on top of Spike’s head. “I don’t know. ”

  “You just said you accepted my apology. ” Already, there was a defensive note in Dana’s voice.

  “I really enjoyed our friendship,” Honor said now, carefully. “But I’m not sure we can go back to that. ”

  “But I just apologized! And I think you know that’s not easy for me. ”

  “Right. But. . . ” She hesitated. “Dana, you have to realize—”
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