Sarah went upstairs to her bedroom and peeled off her wet clothes. She'd been planning to come home and get some work done tonight, triumphant from her night at Loon Lake with Calvin.
But her night had been anything but triumphant. And she was too exhausted from having it out with Calvin to do more than crawl beneath the covers. But sleep wouldn't come, not when she couldn't stop thinking about his smiles. About his kisses.
About a love she'd never been able to forget...and now realized she never would.
Thursday slid into Friday as Sarah forced herself to dig down extra deep into research on Adirondack building laws, looking for loopholes, making endless calls, and sending dozens of e-mails. Reading through Adirondack Council and Nature Conservancy meeting reports, she learned how hard Calvin had fought development in the Adirondacks, not just since he'd become mayor, but even before that. Which meant that it was time to stop losing herself in fantasies of rekindling romance, to stop mucking around at the store, and just do the job she'd come here to do.
The Klein Group had confirmed the addition of the football field to their plans. Not surprisingly, they'd rejected the carousel retrofit.
Sarah's gut tightened, knowing how upset her grandmother was about losing the carousel, and her memories along with it. Sarah knew all too well just how hard it was when good memories were destroyed. Because it meant a great deal to her grandmother and her grandmother's friends, Sarah would continue brainstorming alternative solutions for the carousel--but she also knew she needed to be honest about its chances of survival. Right now, they were just as slim as the odds of Sarah and Calvin ever being close with each other again.
For two straight days, she barely looked up from her computer until flashes of multicolored light in the sky drew her to her bedroom window. Friday night fireworks at the high school football game were a town tradition, going back as far as her grandmother's teenage years. And even though they were usually simple, inexpensive sparklers and fountains of color, they were always thrilling nonetheless.
Was Calvin there? Was he out on the football field with the team, looking for her in the stands? Would he jump into the lake tonight after the game and think of her?
Her cheeks itched, and she brushed at them without thinking, shocked when her hand came away wet.
On Friday night, Calvin stood on the public beach just off Main Street and watched as the members of the high school football team ran down the dock one after the other and jumped into the cold lake with a holler.
But even without jumping in, Calvin felt frozen.
Wednesday night at Loon Lake, he'd let himself hope again, enough that he had asked Sarah to come to the game and jump into the lake with him. Of course she hadn't been in the stands tonight. For all he knew, she'd left town after their explosive kiss in the boathouse had disintegrated into a raging argument. He hadn't heard from her. Hadn't seen her.
He shouldn't still be able to taste her sweet lips, shouldn't still be able to feel her soft curves pressing against him, and he definitely shouldn't miss her tonight.
But he did.
They had finally told each other the truth Wednesday night. All of it. He finally understood just how badly they'd hurt each other.
And yet, it wasn't the accusations they'd hurled at each other that lingered. Strangely, he almost felt better for what he'd gotten off his chest.
No, what grated was the one and only lie he'd told her--that their breakup had been "for the best." Because no matter how hard Calvin had tried to convince himself that it was true, he just couldn't.
Thirty-six hours later, after burying herself in work all of Saturday too, Sarah woke up to the Sunday she'd been dreading. The Fall Festival--and her father's commemoration.
Her father's official funeral in Washington, DC, one year ago had been a blur. Although James Bartow had actually been buried at Summer Lake, only she and her mother and grandmother had been there to watch his casket lowered into the ground in the graveyard behind the church on Main Street.
Today was the day everyone in Summer Lake would finally get a chance to celebrate his life as the town dedicated a playground in James Bartow's name, at the festival, her father's favorite celebration.
As a little girl, Sarah had loved the festival. Every year, the town green was transformed into an autumn wonderland. From morning until late into the night, there was food and fun, laughter and music, a hundred lanterns hanging from the large gazebo in the center of the waterfront park, the lights blinking and swaying in time to the beat of the band.
Sarah was never sure which booth she was going to stop at first, her wad of dollar bills jammed into the pocket of her jeans. She always bought one of Mrs. Johnson's mini berry pies while they were still warm. A slightly burned tongue was worth the way the berries exploded one after the other in her mouth, only to be chased down by the sweet brown sugar on top. But what next? Should she go play one of the festival games, like dunking the football coach in the tub of warm water? Should she let the music from the band in the gazebo pull her in until she was breathless from dancing?
But then in the end, the decision was easy. Because the best thing about the Fall Festival was simple. Her father was always there, regardless of how busy he was in Washington. For Sarah, there was nothing better than holding his hand, large and warm around her smaller one, as they stood together in the middle of the park. Even if the rest of her friends were off running around, calling to her to join them, even if the band was playing her favorite song, she was happy just to stand there beside him as he talked to the other adults about boring things.
Throughout the day, Sarah would pop in and out of the Lakeside Stitch & Knit booth to bring her mother and grandmother food, something warm to drink, sometimes to even help the smaller kids with their first stitches when they needed another set of knowledgeable hands. But mostly, she would stick by her father's side as long as he would let her, until his discussions grew more serious and he inevitably started working for his constituents again.
It was usually evening by the time she would find Calvin at the festival. Her best friend--and then boyfriend--would make her laugh and dance and feel loved.
Her stomach tightened at the thought of seeing him there today. He was mayor, so he would be up in front of the town with her while she gave her speech. Once upon a time, he would have been her biggest comfort. If only they hadn't destroyed everything they used to have...
But those were hopeless wishes, made by a brain utterly exhausted from a string of almost sleepless nights. Sleeping left her brain, her soul, too vulnerable to Calvin's accusations, so she'd been working late and waking early to work some more.
But she couldn't bury herself in work today. Instead, she needed to try to make her father proud, one more time, by putting on a good face at the very least. Which meant that it was another day of wearing the perfect dress as armor, the perfect makeup and hair and jewelry and shoes. As if any of that could protect her heart.
A knock sounded at her door. "It's time, honey."
Sarah took a deep breath and opened up her bedroom door, only to be confronted by her mother's concerned gaze, the very gaze she'd been running from for the past few days. Longer, if she was being honest.
"Here's the scarf I made for you."
Sarah didn't realize her hand was shaking until she reached for the red scarf. "Thanks. It looks great. Perfect for fall."
"Are you sure you're going to be all right today? I don't want you to give the speech if you don't feel up to it." Her mother almost seemed to grow taller, stronger before Sarah's eyes. "I can do it."
"No, Mom, you don't have to do that." She couldn't possibly let her mother suffer through giving the speech at her husband's commemoration. "This is what I do. I'll be fine."
Together, they headed out and were soon standing beneath the SUMMER LAKE FALL FESTIVAL sign. "It really is wonderful that the town decided to dedicate the new pla
yground in your father's memory."
"He would have loved it," Sarah agreed, unable to mask the scratch of emotion behind her words when being at the festival without her father--and without Calvin lovingly waiting in the wings--felt so wrong.
Denise drew Sarah into her arms as they waited for Olive, who had come from the store, to slowly walk across the green to join them, a red scarf wound around her neck as well. The whole town always turned out for the festival, but this year attendance was considerably higher because of a small exhibition of William Sullivan's paintings. The international press had been going crazy over it ever since William had made the quiet announcement in the local paper weeks earlier. He'd thoughtfully let her mother know that he hadn't intended to overshadow her late husband's commemoration and had suggested postponing his exhibition. But Denise had insisted that they wanted the festival to be as full of joy as it always was. And this year that joy was even brighter because of his paintings.
Once her grandmother had finally made her way through the crowds, Olive reached for Sarah's hand on one side and Denise's on the other. "Shall we?"
Sarah was amazed by how much stronger she felt just from the simple touch of her grandmother's hand. After getting her mother and grandmother seated on the gazebo stage, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself. A heartbeat before she turned to step up to the podium, she felt a hand on her arm.
Calvin's heat hit her first, his innate strength second. But it was the hurt and the love that were all mixed up together whenever she looked at him--whenever she even thought about him--that hit her hardest of all.
"I'm going to be right behind you if you need me. Not as mayor, but as your friend."
"You are?" She couldn't believe that after everything they'd said and done to each other, he would do that for her.
"Of course I am," he said gently. "Where else would I be?"
Sarah wanted to fall into his arms, to have him hold her and know that he was never going to let her go. Instead, she forced herself to walk up to the microphone.
"James Bartow wasn't born in Summer Lake. He came to town by way of a local girl." Sarah turned and smiled at her mother and saw that her eyes were already wet, although no tears had spilled down her cheeks yet. Steeling herself to make it through her speech in one intact non-sniffling piece, Sarah continued, "But he loved Summer Lake as much as any born-and-bred local."