"But I can go to Kayla's tonight, right, Calvin?"
On the verge of saying no, he looked down at his sister's hopeful eyes and saw himself for the sucker he was. "Fine. But you're not ditching out on fishing with me first." He looked between the girls, who were positively gleeful about their new plans. "And you both have to promise to go to sleep at a reasonable hour."
Jordan and Kayla both nodded and said, "Of course we will," at the same time. But he had been raising Jordan for long enough to know better.
"I'll drop Jordan off in a couple of hours if that's all right, Betsy."
He could tell she was smiling through her disappointment as she said, "Great. And if you change your mind about dinner, there will be plenty."
Feeling like an idiot for not wanting something any other sane guy would have leaped at, he said, "Good day at school?" as he and his sister walked to the truck.
"Yup," Jordan said, getting into the passenger seat and dropping her backpack at her feet before putting on her seat belt.
Used to be, he couldn't get her to stop talking. Four, five, six--those had been the chatty years when he'd thought his ear was going to fall off from the long, winding stories she would spin for him day after day. Lately, though, getting anything out of her was like pulling teeth. "Anything exciting happen?"
She didn't say anything at first, and when he looked over at her, she was blushing. "There's a new kid."
"What's her name?"
She shook her head, just as Calvin had suspected she would. "It's not a girl."
Working to ride the fine line between interested and neutral, he asked, "What's his name?"
Calvin was torn. On the one hand, he thought it was cute that his sister had her first crush on a boy. On the other hand, she was only ten. He hadn't thought they'd be getting into boy-girl stuff for at least a couple of years. He had thought he'd get her all to himself for a little while longer. "Where's he from?"
"California." The floodgates suddenly opened as she told him, "His parents are scientists from Stanford who are studying stuff in the Adirondacks. But he's only going to be here for one year."
Calvin's hands tightened on the steering wheel. It figured that neither he nor his sister could do things the easy way, didn't it? Instead of falling for people who were going to stick around, they couldn't stay away from the ones who were inevitably going to leave.
But he could tell she was dying to talk to him about the kid, and he'd always vowed to be there for her. So he said, "Tell me more about him, Jords," and for the next thirty minutes, he heard more than he'd ever wanted to know about a ten-year-old boy. Fortunately, by the time they'd paddled the canoe out onto the lake, his sister seemed to be all out of Owen fun facts.
Surrounded by the patchwork colors of the mountains, a loon called out to its mate a hundred yards away. On the other side of the bay, William Sullivan and his son Drake waved hello from their rowboat. They weren't close enough to say hello, but William was unmistakable in his big green floppy fishing hat.
If Calvin hadn't already known William's story, he would never have guessed that the man was one of the most famous painters in the world, even making it onto the cover of Time magazine. But after losing his wife, who had also been his muse, he'd put down his paintbrushes for good and started building his cabin at Summer Lake whenever he could get away from New York City. Recently, however, not only had a few of his hidden paintings finally seen the light of day--he'd also seemed a heck of a lot happier. From what Calvin could tell, it was because his kids were coming around a lot more now than they used to.
Calvin had grown up playing on the lake with William's four children. Alec, Harry, Suzanne, and Drake had continued to go to school in the city after losing their mother, but with their father escaping to the Adirondacks so frequently to get away from his painful memories, they'd often joined their father at the lake. But the relationship between William and his kids had always been strained, especially once they'd become adults. At least until recently, when Drake--also a well-known painter like his father--had decided to build a studio and cabin at the lake with his girlfriend, Rosa.
Calvin didn't know exactly what had changed between William and his kids, but he didn't have to know every little detail to be happy for them. Alec was the lone holdout on making peace with his father, but Calvin wasn't particularly surprised. As the oldest, Alec Sullivan had always kept his cards closer to his chest than his younger siblings. Probably, Calvin figured, because when everything had gone so dark, so painful with his parents, as the oldest he'd been the one left to pick up the pieces.
Yeah, Calvin knew exactly just how complicated family could be. Yet again, he gave silent thanks--just as he had a million times before--that being Jordan's big brother who also played the role of a father was working out for them. Hanging out with her on the lake on a perfect fall afternoon wasn't something he'd ever take for granted. Especially when she was grinning the way she was now as she reeled in another good-sized bass.
"I'm on fire today!"
Calvin recast his line. "Got any tips for your big brother? If it weren't for your success, I'd swear nothing was biting."
"Yeah, I was thinking it was weird that you're not catching anything. What's up with you today? You haven't even done your big fall speech yet." She lowered her voice and imitated him. "Look around, Jords. You see the leaves changing on those trees? You feel the nip in the air? It's fall and there's magic in the air. Anything is possible."
Laughter rumbled through him, joining with hers to skip across the surface of the water. Of course he'd had hopes and dreams that he hadn't been able to see come true. He'd never gotten to play college football. He'd never experienced carefree dating. Never got the chance to live in a big city, surrounded by all that speed and light and sound and excitement.
But getting to laugh with his sister, being able to see her smile and the intelligence in her eyes, was easily worth any sacrifices he'd had to make during the past decade.
Finally, he felt a nibble on his line. He gave a quick yank to set the hook and reeled in the fish.
"Wow." Jordan's eyes were huge as she looked at the pickerel flopping in the bottom of the canoe. "I think that might be bigger than the one I caught last year."
Calvin didn't even have to think about it as he carefully unhooked the two-way spinner from the fish's toothy mouth. This might be the biggest fish he'd ever caught, but there was no way he was going to beat his sister's record. "This guy looks like he's got a lot of life still left in him. Want to bring a little fall magic to his life and help me throw him back in?"
His sister cocked her head. "You really are acting weird today, you know." But she picked up the fish, and on the count of three they threw him in the lake.
As they watched the fish float for a few seconds before abruptly coming back to life and swimming away, Calvin actually envied the fish its second chance...and found himself hoping that it managed to escape the lure the next time one flashed before him, so shiny and tempting.
Alone in the store again, Sarah tried to focus on tidying up the yarn displays. But she was only avoiding the inevitable.
Calvin Vaughn was the town's new mayor and, as such, head of the architectural review board. She should already have called him to set up a meeting. But every time she picked up the phone, fluttering nerves stopped her. Along with memories that were too clear, almost as though she'd said good-bye to him yesterday instead of ten years ago.
So many of her memories were about the firsts they'd shared. The first time he'd held her hand. The first time he'd kissed her. The first time they'd both said I love you. The first time they'd stripped off each other's clothes and--
No. She couldn't let herself keep going back into the past. Instead of getting the job done like she always did, she had let the idea of coming back to the lake--back to Calvin--completely unravel her. But it was long past time to take a deep breath and steel her ne
She picked up the phone and called the mayor's office. If she was at all relieved that her call went to voice mail, she would never admit it to herself. Relief didn't last long, however, when the sound of his voice on the outgoing message--Hello, you've reached Calvin Vaughn at city hall--immediately made her palms sweat and her heart pump hard in her chest. It had been so long since she'd spoken to him, and in her head he was still the same boy he'd been at eighteen, not a man with a deep voice that rumbled through her from head to toe before landing smack-dab in the center of her heart.
"Calvin, it's Sarah." Did she actually sound breathless, or was it simply that hearing his voice had made her feel breathless? "Sarah Bartow. I'm back in town for a little while, and I was hoping we could catch up on old times and get current with each other." Pushing aside the little voice inside her head that told her she should be more up front with her reasons for wanting to meet with him, she quickly said, "I'm free tonight, if there's any chance that would work for you. My cell phone reception is pretty spotty, so if you want to call me back, could you try me at Lakeside Stitch & Knit?" She should hang up already, but now that she was finally--almost--talking with him again, she couldn't bring herself to sever the connection so soon. "I'll leave you a message at home too. Hope to hear from you soon."
Feeling like a thirteen-year-old who'd just left a rambling message for the boy she had a secret crush on, Sarah forced herself to make a second call to his house. After leaving a second message there, she had to take a few moments to try to regain her equilibrium.
And to remind herself that everything that had happened between her and Calvin a decade ago was water under the bridge.
After dropping Jordan off at her friend's house and going for a punishing run up one of the mountain trails that ringed the lake, Calvin was about to grab a bottle of juice out of his fridge when he saw the blinking red light on his house phone.
Fear that something might have happened to his sister hit him like a two-by-four across the chest. This was why he hated letting her stay over at a friend's house, why he knew he sometimes hovered over her despite his best intentions not to be an overbearing parent figure. But when he played the message, it wasn't Betsy's voice that came over the line.