"Mary, I'm sorry."
I look up from my suitcase, which is already half full. Trent is standing in the doorway to the room I share with my husband. I'm not really sure what to say to him.
"You don't have to say anything. In fact. I would understand you if you never spoke to me again."
"Trent, I'm not…" Angry with you? In fact, I still am a bit. I swallow down the grudge I have been holding against my godfather and say, "I forgive you, Trent."
"I never knew Dr. Ash had such a temper," Trent says quietly. He still hasn't met my eyes. "Is Abner all right?"
"Besides a few bruises and a cracked rib, I think he'll make it," I dryly reply.
Trent clears his throat and finally looks at me. "Good. I'm glad he's all right." He smiles suddenly, surprising me. "I think I'm beginning to like the man. I really admire the way he controlled himself and the way he stood up for you. He handled himself like a man."
I find that I'm smiling, too. "Yes. He did."
"I hear from Violet that the two of you are going to Ireland tomorrow."
"I'll miss you, Mary," he says quietly. "You take care of yourself."
I nod. "I will."
"Annie and I are going home today. So… I guess we'll see you when you get back." He turns to go.
"Why--why don't you two stay and watch Drew and Hannah for us?" I suggest, hoping to patch up the relationship between us.
Trent smiles. "I think Annie would like that."
I cross the room to take his hand. "Thank-you, Trent."
All of a sudden, he draws me into his arms, and we are hugging. To my surprise, there are tears in Trent's eyes. "I'm proud of you, my girl," he tells me, his voice thick with emotion. "I'm so proud of you."
I smile up at him, feeling suddenly very warm toward this man. He has been a father to me ever since I lost my real one. "Thank-you, Trent."
He suddenly pulls back from me, clearing his throat and wiping his eyes. He is his usual gruff self once again. "You can be assured that Drew and Hannah will mind well while you are gone."
I nod. I know they will. "Violet will be happy for the help."
"I'll go tell Annie that we're staying," Trent says. Then he walks across the hall and down the stairs.
I cross my arms and watch him go. He is such a caring man, really. He just doesn't know how to show it.
Warm, slim, strong arms encircle me from behind. Abner… Now there's a man who knows how to show his love. I lean back against his chest, closing my eyes, breathing in the smoky, spicy scent of his cologne. I love the way he smells. I especially love the way he feels.
Abner leaves one arm around my waist, threading the fingers of his other hand through my hair, which is still a bit tousled from when I washed it this morning. "You're beautiful, my angel," he whispers in my ear.
The closeness of him, his low voice (which I can feel vibrating in his chest against my back), his lips brushing my ear… A pleasant shiver runs up my spine. "I'm so glad you're feeling better, Abner," I whisper sincerely. I place my hands over one of his, which rests against my stomach.
"Me, too." He leans his cheek against the top of my head.
We are still for a moment, each enjoying the very existence of the other.
"Mommy! Drew pinched me!" The wailing is Hannah's.
Abner and I break apart and smile at each other.
"I'll miss the children," Abner says. "Even their arguing…"
There is a sudden scream. This one is Drew's. I know immediately what happened. Walking down the stairs, I call, "Hannah, did you pinch your brother back?"
"Yes, Mommy, but he pinched me first!"
I can hear Abner's laughter floating down from upstairs.
I find my children in their play room. Both of their little faces are red. Hannah has her chin lifted, her arms crossed defensively. Drew is clenching his little fists, and his face is screwed up with anger.
"Hannah! Drew! What have I told you about pinching?"
"He started it!" Hannah cries, pointing accusingly at her little brother.
I lean over and crook my finger, summoning my son. "Drew, hurting others always gets you what?"
He stands before me, suddenly sheepish. "Spanking," he says quietly.
"Ha!" exclaims Hannah.
I straighten and put my hands on my hips. "As I recall, young lady, you pinched him, too."
Hannah blanches. "But, but… Mommy!"
"You are not responsible for punishing your brother. That job is mine and your father's. That means you get a spanking, too." I motion for her to join her brother in front of me.
I give each child a sound smack on the behind. "Now. Apologize."
Drew pokes out his bottom lip and gives his sister a pitiful look. "Sorry, sissy."
This is always the hardest part for Hannah, the apology. She is pressing her lips together, shaking her head.
"Hannah… Come on."
"Hug each other, now."
They give each other an awkward hug.
"Go play," I order. "And no more pinching! I better not hear from Violet and Annie that you were being mean to each other when I get back. You're family. You should love each other and take care of each other--not fight."
"Yes, Mommy," says Hannah, nodding solemnly.
Drew nods, trying to imitate his sister's sober expression.
It's so cute. I can't help but smile.
Hannah takes Drew's hand and says excitedly, "Get your tin soldier's out, Drew. They can have a battle, and after that, they can come home and court my dolls."
I watch as my children begin to play together, forgetting their heated pinching battle from only moments ago. Though Hannah hates to verbally apologize, she is excellent at making up for wrongdoing.
"You are going to miss them, aren't you?"
I turn around and give Violet a sad smile. "Yes. I am."
We are about to leave. Trent hired someone to drive us to the harbor, where we will board a ship to Ireland. Trent owns a shipping company, so he was able to get a ship ready for us.
Standing on the porch with my suitcases, I look up at my house, the place where I grew up, the place where I got married, the place where I had my children. There is always a bittersweet feeling in my bones when I leave it.
And my children. It really pains me to leave them. But I know that I must.
Abner is close to tears, I can tell. He just got out of jail, just got back to his children, and now he is about to leave them again. He is holding Drew in the crook of his left arm. His right hand is enveloping Hannah's.
There is a sudden obnoxious honking.
A car is parked at the end of our driveway, the one Trent hired to take us to the docks.
Abner and I hug our children one last time. I can tell that they are trying not to cry. I am trying not to cry.
Violet scoops up Drew, and Annie takes Hannah's hand.
"Good-bye, Mommy. Good-bye, Daddy," Hannah says again.
"Good-bye, sweetheart," Abner says.
I blow my little girl a kiss.
Trent, standing nearby, clears his throat. "Take care of her, Abner," he says gruffly. "Be careful."
"I will." Abner puts his arm around me. I, for one, believe him. I'm not sure if Trent does.
Soon, we are in the car. Our driver is someone I've seen before at church, a middle-aged man with a very distinct Southern accent. I have a bit of a Southern accent, and Abner's is a little stronger than mine, but neither of us have such a pronounced drawl. I think his name is Stanly. Stanly Something-or-other. I'm thinking his last name starts with a T…
Abner has fallen asleep in the car. His head is on my shoulder.
I gently stroke his blonde hair. He must be exhausted. He hasn't recovered completely from his fight with Dr. Ashe. I think that cracked rib, in particular, has been bothering him.
"Did Trent load up all of our baggage?" I ask Stanly, suddenly worried.
"Yep. Shore did."
"Good." I try to relax, but I keep thinking that I'm forgetting something. That is a very annoying feeling to have.
It isn't long before we reach the dock. As soon as Stanly stops the car, I gently shake Abner's shoulder. "Abner, we're there."
He straightens in the seat, groggy. "Ireland?"
"No," I laugh. "Not yet. We're at the dock."
"Oh." He runs a hand down his face. "I'd better get out and help unload the baggage…"
"Don't worry about that, darling. I think some of the sailors are getting it."
"All right." Abner relaxes against the back of the seat, grinning at me. "Are you excited?"
"In a way. I mean, this is the trip of a lifetime. I've always wanted to go to Ireland, especially with you." I bite my lip. "But… we're going to investigate a murder. And prevent another. That might not be all that pleasant."
"But we'll be together. We can take unpleasant when we're together, right, Mary?" Abner slips his arm around my shoulders.
"Yes," I concede, kissing his lips. "We can."
The car door opens abruptly. Stanly is standing there, waiting. "They're ready for you to come aboard," he announces.
"All right," says Abner. "Let's go, Mary."
The day has been slow and easy. Abner and I have spent lots of time exploring the ship. It's a cargo ship, not very large, but rather nicely equipped. The crew is friendly and helpful, and our accommodations are satisfactory, as well.
We just had supper. It was rather nice. Nothing fancy, but filling and tasty.
Now I am lying on the bed in the cabin I share with Abner, reading a book. My eyelids begin to droop, and my head nods.
And suddenly, I am in a dream-- a real dream.
My surroundings are fuzzy and dark. I can't really tell where I am. But I can see Abner. He is standing in front of me, his back facing me. He turns to look at me with a smile. "We've done it, Mary. It's over now," he says.
Then there is a loud noise.
Abner collapses to the ground. I throw myself to my knees beside him, screaming his name. There is blood.
I take the pistol from his belt and stand, looking around for the person who shot him. My eyes focus on a fleeing form. I aim the pistol with one hand and coolly squeeze the trigger.
BANG! The man who shot my husband falls.
I turn back to Abner, kneeling beside him, gathering him into my arms. He is still alive, but badly wounded.
"Abner!" I scream again.
He touches my face. "I love you, Mary." His eyes close and his body goes limp…
I wake up from the true nightmare, crying.
Abner crosses the room to sit on the bed beside me. "Mary, baby, what is it?"
"I had a--a vision," I sob. "I think you died."
Abner holds me in his arms as I cry. "Shhh, shhh," he murmurs in my ear, stroking my hair, rocking me back and forth. "It will be all right. We won't let that happen."
"No." My voice comes out harsh and intense. "I will never let that happen."
"You know we can change the things you see in your dreams," says Abner. "We've done it before."
Abner stops rocking me and tilts my chin upward so that I am looking up into his eyes and he is looking down into mine. "God will take care of us, my love, and we will take care of each other. Nothing happens without a purpose. You know that. We were sent on this journey for a reason, surely not to die."
"I know, Abner, but…" I swipe at the tears on my cheeks. "People die sometimes."
Abner smiles crookedly. "I love you, Mary," he whispers. Then he kisses me, pulling me tight against him.
When he's holding me and kissing me like this, there's no way I can worry; in fact, I can barely think about the future.