It's funny how after all this time she can still sense him. There's a little tingle along the back of her neck and she knows, though no one mentioned he was coming, that if she turns around she'll see him in the doorway. She tries to ignore it but the tingling gets worse and her stomach churns until she has no choice but to pivot on her heel and, for the first time in six years, sets eyes on Micah Davis. In the flesh. Not on those political shows she's taken to watching obsessively or in a grainy photo in the newspaper but in her house. Hope the devil enjoys his ice skating rink.
The connection must only be one-way because he never looks up from his conversation with Mrs. Crenshaw. Taking advantage of his preoccupation, she studies him carefully. He looks good. Tired and stressed but good. The touch of silver at his temples only adds to his rugged charm. A quick glance around the room assures her she's not the only one admiring the way the tailored black suit hugs his lean form.
It takes her a minute to recognize the two men hovering behind him. Ryan Marsh and Paul Gravitz are both senior presidential advisors. What a step up from the friends they used to hang out with. She wonders if he ever misses their all-night movie marathons, flag-football games in the park or summer hiking trips.
When it seems as if he's ready to move on from Mrs. Crenshaw, she nervously smoothes the crumpled silk of her black skirt. If someone had told her he was coming, given her a little warning, she wouldn't feel so unprepared. The past few days have been unbearable and it must show on her face. Not exactly how she wanted Micah to see her again. Never under these circumstances.
Oh God. Fresh tears well up in her eyes when she hears her name spoken in that low, gravelly tone. Once upon a time, she would have thrown herself in his arms with no hesitation. He would cradle her against his chest and rub her back as she cried out her pain. Now all she can do is offer a weak smile and stare up at him with watery, bloodshot eyes.
"It's good you came, Micah." She hates the huskiness of her voice but it can't be helped. Too many days spent crying and too many nights screaming at the injustice have taken their toll on her vocal chords.
"I would have been here sooner if I'd known. I would have liked to have seen Sam one last time."
There's an accusatory note to his tone that tears at her heart. "We -- I -- should have called. I thought about it a dozen times. I looked though the address book but..." we haven't had a contact number since you ran off. With Sammy's girlfriend.
He must understand what she won't say aloud because he nods tersely before leading her out onto the porch. The sting of the cold wind on her damp cheeks is almost welcome. Maybe the physical pain will keep her mind off the excruciating pain in her heart. She curls up into a corner of the swing, tucking her knees under her chin.
It hurts him to look at her. Her face is pale, eyes red and haunted, and she's thinner than he remembers. Fragile. Little girl lost. He wants nothing more than to pull her into a warm embrace and kiss away the tears but he lost that right. Lost that and a thousand other things when he chose his career over his heart.
"How did it happen?" He kicks himself the minute the words are out of his mouth. This is the last thing she should be talking about. He should have just waited to ask one of the guests.
"Drunk with a gun. Sammy pulled him over for speeding and the guy shot him before Sammy could ask for his license." Faith sniffles and wipes at her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. "Turns out he'd just murdered his wife and was on the run. Sammy hung on for a couple of days but...it… it was just too much."
"I'm so sorry." The words sound lame even to his ears. Something flashes in her eyes, something that brings back memories of better days. "I wish there was something I could have done."
"He'd been in prison twice for assault. He had two DUI convictions. They still let him buy a gun." She's shaking and crying but this feels good. The anger is easier to handle. If she can't rage at the bastard who shot her brother, Micah makes a good substitute. "You want to do something? Think about Sammy next time you're arguing against gun control. Picture his face when you're up there in D.C. If you can even remember what he looked like."
He takes a step towards her, stopping an arm's length away. He doesn't want to crowd her, but if she's on the verge of a breakdown he needs to be there to hold her. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry that Sammy's dead or sorry that he died before you could clear your conscience?" She doesn't give him a chance to answer. "Do you know how hurt he was after you left? You were his best friend. He loved you like a brother and you just disappeared. If it was just about Mary, you could have stayed. It would have pissed him off, but if you really loved her he wouldn't have stood in your way. Why did you have to leave?"
"I just dropped Mary off at the bus station. She didn't leave with me."
"Then why? What could those back-stabbing power-hungry politicians give you that you couldn't find here? You're better than us, hell, we always knew that, but did you have to rub it in our faces by leaving?" A hysterical laugh bubbles from her throat as she fixes glassy eyes on him. "Was it because of what I said? If I'd known that telling you I loved you was going to send you packing, I would have kept my big mouth shut. It was me, wasn't it? I made you leave and it broke Sammy's heart. Now he's dead and you can't apologize and he'll never know that you came back. God, Micah, why? Why did it have to be Sammy? Why couldn't it have been me?"
Micah yanks her off the swing and into his arms. Her tears are soaking the expensive cloth of his suit but he doesn't care. Her last words have left him shaken. What if it had been her? What if Sammy had been picking her up from somewhere and it had been both of them? That's too dreadful to even contemplate. He murmurs soft nothings in her ear in an attempt to soothe her nerves.
Too soon she pulls away and smiles apologetically. "Sorry. I didn't mean to go off on you like that. It's been a rough week and that came from nowhere." She wraps her arms around her waist, a poor substitute for his embrace, and stares out into the sky. "He was going to run for mayor in the fall. Said it was time to settle down and start a family, but he couldn't do that and be sheriff. It wouldn't be fair to marry a girl only to make her a widow."
"Was there anyone?" He knows he should let her get back inside, back to her guests, but he has this burning to desire to know everything. Catch up on every moment, every laugh, and every tear he missed.
Faith shrugs a shoulder, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Paula Madsen. Divorcee with two little boys. Those terrors scared the crap out of Sammy at first. She's moving back to Austin with her mom. Was here earlier but didn't stay for long. It's hard."
"What are you going to do?"
Another shrug. "I've got another semester of grad school left. They've offered me a position on campus. Finished up with finals two weeks ago. Maybe I'll take some time off and wander up to Gettysburg before I..."
"Go through Sammy's things?"
Faith nods as fresh tears trickle down her cheeks. She hates crying but everything seems to set her off. She cried at the dirty laundry, the coffee pot, the sports section and drippy faucet Sammy always promised to replace tomorrow.
"Do you ever think of me?" The words are spoken so softly that Micah hopes, prays, that she can't hear them. It's a foolish thing to ask, stupid to get his hopes up, to reveal so much.
She cocks her head and shoots him a strange look as if to ask, 'are you out of your mind?' Some of his insecurity must show on his face because her eyes soften and she places one warm hand on his arm. "Every day." Those two words sound an awful lot like I still love you.
And just like that, it all falls into place. Why he's always felt so out of place in D.C. Why there's never a third or fourth date. This, the place he ran from so long ago, is where he belongs. With this woman. "I called. All the time. Always hung up before I said anything."
"That was you? I thought it was Dave Tiller making obscene phone calls again." Faith's laughter warms his heart. He's forgotten how infectious it can be.
He can do this: move back home, be a small town mayor with his history professor wife, raise a few children and never have to worry about fickle senators or egotistical congressmen. It wouldn't always be smooth sailing. There are so many things he needs to straighten out with Faith, things to atone for, but it'll be worth it. She'll be worth it.
"If you can wait a week or two, I'd like to go to Gettysburg with you." He's more nervous than he's ever been in his life. He can argue with the president, talk to foreign leaders and deal with the media circus but this one woman ties him up in knots. "Could we make a stop in Washington? The two of us could have my apartment packed up in a couple of days."
"Yeah, we could do that."
Micah tugs her against him and winds his arms around her waist. She's crying again but this time the tears feel different. Happier. Something Sam said when he first joined the sheriff's department echoes in his mind. "Anything happens to me, I'm counting on you to watch out for her. She gets so caught up in her books and it's like the rest of the world falls away. She's too trusting, too stubborn, too caring. You're the only one I trust to take care of her."
Micah nods at the ghost he can't see but knows is hanging about. I promise, Sam, I'll take care of her. "Mayor, you say? Old Man Casey's not going to run again? Is there anyone else on the ballot?"