"Come," Olive said when the commemoration was over and people had finished paying their respects. "Let's see who we can hook with our needles and yarn in our booth."
No question, Olive knew both Denise and Sarah needed to lose themselves in something right now. Knitting would surely help them the way it had always helped her. Knitting had always soothed her, even when she'd been an eighteen-year-old girl who hadn't known her own heart or mind any more than her granddaughter--and that boy she'd always been so in love with--did.
But Sarah simply shook her head. "I'll be over in a bit, Grandma," she said before heading off by herself, away from the crowds.
Denise stayed right where she was, staring down at the beautiful plaque Calvin had given her from the town. In memory of her husband. "I want him back, Mom. Not just for me, but because Sarah needs her father. She's always needed him." One tear slid down her cheek, then another. "I know she's seen Calvin a couple of times since coming home. Something must have happened between them, but she won't talk to me. And I don't know how to ask. We see each other in the kitchen, in the hallway, in the store, but she won't tell me what's bothering her."
"It's not you." Olive patted her daughter's hand. "She doesn't know how to put into words what she's feeling yet. Doesn't even know if she should be feeling it, I suspect."
"If her father were here, she'd feel safe enough to confide in him."
Olive shook her head. "No, I don't think she would." Not when Olive knew that Sarah's father--and the things he'd taught his daughter to believe in--were an integral part of her struggle.
James Bartow had been a good man, although not always the world's best father or husband, Olive thought with a narrowing of her eyes. Too busy, too often gone saving strangers to see much of his own family, and yet when he did find the time to come home, he made every minute fun and exciting. That charisma, that honest love for life, was what had made his reelections almost a given. James Bartow had been a man who was impossible to resist.
Olive knew firsthand about that kind of man. Both she and Denise had fallen for men who, rationally, they should have stayed away from. Men it didn't make any sense to love. Men whose love came with as much pain as pleasure.
It made perfect sense that Sarah would follow in their footsteps. She was one of them, after all. Three peas in a pod, whether or not her granddaughter ever realized it as the truth.
"She'll come to you," Olive predicted. "When it's time."
A few minutes later, they were settled in their booth, and as children and adults made their way over to knit and laugh, Olive was glad to see the lines of fatigue, of grief and confusion, eventually smooth out of Denise's face.
Periodically, Olive scanned the festival grounds for her granddaughter, because even though she truly believed the three of them were, at their cores, strong and unbreakable, she also knew that it might take Sarah a little while to find that well of strength and learn how to draw from it.
Just as it had taken Olive some time to find it for herself so many years ago.
Olive had never been happier to be outside. After a week straight of rain, she'd all but begged her mother to let her go to the train station to pick up the special-ordered napkins for the museum gala. Anything to get out of the house...a house that suddenly felt stifling.
Waiting on the side of the tracks for the freight train to arrive, she closed her eyes and turned her face up into the bright fall sun. She was finally relaxing, soaking up the precious rays of warmth, when goose bumps suddenly popped out all across the surface of her skin.
She whirled around, only to look straight into the face of the man she'd gone out of her way to avoid for weeks.
But just because she had succeeded in avoiding him, didn't mean she'd been able to stop thinking about what he'd said to her. He had point-blank called her a scared little girl.
The worst part of all was the fact that she'd continued to work on his sweater. No amount of reasoning with herself had made her put it down. Not when he had made her feel more alive and yet, at the same time, more confused than she'd ever been. Scared too, darn it.
"Hello, pretty girl."
She blushed, even as she tried to respond in a stern voice, "My name is Olive."
"Hello, pretty Olive."
She didn't want to smile, but it was really hard to keep her lips from turning up. Still, she wasn't going to get into another conversation like the one at the building site, wasn't going to walk away from Carlos with her stomach all twisted in knots again.
She turned her gaze away from him to stare down the length of the railroad tracks at the approaching freight train. She simply needed to ignore the continuing prickles of awareness all across her body--and inside her chest, where her heart was beating way too fast, way too hard.
"You ever just hopped on one of these things and seen where it takes you?" he asked.
"No." What a ridiculous thought. "Of course not." But oh, how quickly did that ridiculous thought become tempting as she collected her package and turned away.
"Come on, pretty Olive. Let's have an adventure." He hopped into an open freight car and held out his hand to her.
She had a moment of panic at who could be watching them, at who might report this back to her parents. But amazingly, they were the only two people on the platform today, the only two people waiting for a delivery from the train.
Still, she shook her head. "They'll chase us off. We can't just hop on and take a ride without buying a ticket and knowing where w
He didn't argue with her, and she was unaccountably disappointed. Foolish girl--she should be glad that he was letting her off the hook this easily.
The train started to move, but instead of walking away, instead of heading back home where her mother and sisters were waiting for her, Olive couldn't take her eyes off him as he stood in the open doorway of the freight car and pointed to the moving wheels.
"Oh no, it's happening. Do you see that?"
She had no idea what he was talking about. All she could see was the rolling of the metal wheels against the iron track. "What?" she finally asked as the train picked up speed. "What am I supposed to be seeing?"
He gestured to the world around them. "Life is passing you by."
She felt it then, a sudden surge of anger mixed with something even wilder. An urge for freedom, for adventure, for passion, for everything she'd dreamed of for so long but had been too scared to reach out for because none of that was part of the grand master plan for her life.
Before she realized it, she was running after the train.
"Jump and I'll catch you. I promise."
And then she was jumping, and he pulled her into the freight car with him, both of them crashing together onto the wooden floor. As the two of them laughed, she felt so free, free enough that none of the rules she'd lived her life by until now seemed to matter anymore.
But then, as their laughter died down for a second and she got her bearings, she realized she'd never been this close to a man before, never found herself in a tangle of limbs and heat before. For propriety's sake at least, she moved away from him, straightened her skirts, and sat up in as dignified a manner as she could, given the circumstances.
"I've been waiting to see that smile, pretty Olive. To hear you laugh."
His words, the way he was looking at her, made it hard for her to breathe and to say, "This is crazy."
"And life is short."
There was a darkness in his eyes as he said this, and she couldn't stop wondering again about where he'd come from and why he was working for her father.