"Oh God, I hate that I keep making you go back there."
"No. You were right. I was too mad to grieve. Not only for what he did to me, but also for what he did to Jordan. Our lives were never going to be the same. She was never going to have a normal childhood. All she had was a big brother who went from being a kid to being her everything, with the pull of a trigger. All through my childhood I told myself no one needed to know the truth about what was going on at home. But last night you helped me see that it's long past time to stop pretending. No one has ever seen inside of me the way you do. You're barely back here a couple of weeks, and you're making me face things no one else wants to acknowledge. Because you care about me. Because you want me to be happy." He cupped her face in his hands, gently stroking her cheeks. "So take time to do that thinking you need to do. And know that I'll be waiting for you. All you need to do is come with your heart. You can leave the rest to me."
"I've told you so many times that I'm leaving," she whispered. "How can you have faith in me like this?"
She swore her heart was beating in time with his as he said, "I'm not going to lie to you--it hurts that you're so hell-bent on leaving."
She had to reach out for him too then, had to put one hand on his beautiful face, his stubble scratching her palm.
He covered her hand with his own, his warmth seeping into her pores, into every cell. "But no matter what, I'm not going to stop loving you. I never stopped loving you, Sarah. Not even when the past had me wanting to. Not even now, when the past isn't a reason anymore, and I know you're going to be sitting in your mother's house tonight making a list of all the reasons why you don't think the future will work."
And then he was gone, driving home with his sister, leaving her alone with the lake and the moon and the lonely call of a loon desperately looking for its mate.
Olive had kept busy her whole life--busy with the store, busy with her husband and daughter, busy with her town. These past few days in the hospital were the first time she'd had to do nothing but sit and think in nearly seventy years. She was knitting, of course, but for once the constant movement of her hands wasn't nearly enough to keep her in the present.
To keep her away from Carlos.
It wasn't just being idle that had her mind--and heart--returning again and again to her first love. It was her hopes for Sarah and Calvin that had her fingers stilling over her lacework, and the memories coming back once again.
Friday nights were theirs.
It was surprisingly easy to find an excuse to sneak away from the football game or to skip it altogether. The bike ride out to the carousel had her heart flying in her chest every single time.
They could have met somewhere else, somewhere safer, where there would be no threat of discovery, but Olive knew that was part of it.
A part of her was hoping they'd be discovered.
Every Saturday through Thursday, she remembered the way his mouth felt slanting against hers, his big, strong hands cupping her curves as he pulled her closer on the carousel. Restless, unquenched need made it hard for her to fall asleep, and every morning when she rose, she felt like a sleepwalker until she finally settled herself down on the porch with his Fair Isle sweater on her lap, thoughts and dreams of him making up the heart of every stitch.
Dropping her bicycle to the ground, she threw herself into his arms and covered his face with kisses. "I love you."
The words pressed from her mouth to his, and that was when he pulled away. "Olive. My pretty Olive. You're so innocent."
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No. You're perfect." He ran his hand over her long hair, threading the dark strands through his fingers.
"But something is wrong, isn't it?"
"Your father's project is going to be done soon."
She had been trying to pretend it wasn't true, but every time she looked at the new addition, there was a new wall, a new window, a new door. "There's always more work."
"Yes, but not here. Not for me."
He'd had a life before her. She knew that. But it had been easier to believe that time was standing still for them. Until now, she'd let herself focus on laughter and kisses and adventure.
Tonight she knew what he was telling her--just as she'd had to be the one to reach for their first kiss, she would need to decide about their future. And soon.
Only, before she could make any decisions about her future, she needed to understand his past. "Why did you come here?"
He was silent for a long moment, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "There was a fire. My wife. My son. I lost them both." His voice was a raw scratch of pain. "And my business. The books I printed. They all burned."
"Oh, Carlos. I'm so sorry."
Pain ravaged his face. There had always been a fire inside the man in her arms, a fire that had sparked her own inner flames to life. For the first time, it was extinguished.
"I came to Summer Lake because I had to leave Chicago." His eyes found hers, held them with such intensity she almost had to look away. "And then I found you."
She opened her mouth to express her sorrow again, but she knew that her words could never be enough.
"You made me feel again, for the first time in a year of feeling nothing at all. That's why I tried to push you away that first day you brought me coffee. That's why I tried to scare you with the freight train ride--so that you'd run away. You're too sweet, too pure, too young for a man like me. You deserve someone who can love you without a past holding him back. You have your whole life ahead of you. Mine is already behind me." He brushed her tears away, but they were falling too fast for him to get ahead of them. "You should be smiling. Always smiling. I don't want to be the man who makes you cry. That isn't how I want to remember you, pretty Olive."
He needed her, had always needed her, from that first moment she'd seen him on the lawn talking with her father, from their first sparring conversation over hot coffee. She saw that now--how even as he teased her for her innocence, he needed to be reminded of hope. Of unquenchable dreams.
But what about her love? Could her love replace all that he'd lost?
And could she possibly be strong enough to heal him?
She wanted to be right there waiting with open arms, wanted to be his shelter from the storm. She had always thought that love would be fun and exhilarating, not difficult.
But the truth was that as she wrapped her arms around the man she'd fallen in love with, she simply didn't know if she was strong enough to be his cure. Because if she hadn't even had the guts to tell her sisters--let alone her parents--about her relationship with Carlos, then how could she possibly be strong enough to be the medicine he needed?
"I don't want you to leave," was all she finally said.
But both of them knew she hadn't asked him to stay either. They held on to each other until they heard the telltale sounds of the football game ending.
When she was finally back in her room later that night, Olive sat on her bed, intent on finishing the Fair Isle sweater. A strand of her hair had fallen into the yarn, but instead of pulling it off, she knitted it in. Looking at her hair threaded into the sweater she'd made with such love, Olive finally made her decision.
Calvin picked up his sister from the backseat, warm and smelling faintly like the Oreos he had given her as an after-dinner treat. She stirred in his arms, putting her arms around his neck, her blond head settling in beneath his chin. When had the little baby he'd been so afraid of breaking turned into someone he had to use muscles to lift?