Sarah finally found her voice. "How can you say you weren't a good mother to me? You were always there for me. Always."
"Not in the ways you needed me to be. I knew how to bake muffins and do your hair, but I never knew how to guide you in the direction you seemed to want to go, which was why I left all that up to your father." Her mother's face was awash with regret. "But I left too much to him. I see that now."
"Were you happy? In your marriage?" Sarah hadn't planned to ask her that. But tonight she needed to know. Needed to know absolutely everything.
"Yes, I was."
Any other night, Sarah knew she would have taken her mother's response at face value, simply because it was what she wanted to hear. But she couldn't do that anymore, couldn't twist everything up so it fit into a neat little box.
"How can you say that when he was gone all the time?" Sarah asked. "When he never included you in his plans unless he needed his pretty, smiling wife at his side to look good?"
Denise's eyes glittered. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry to hear you say that. To know you think that. I should have sat down with you before now to talk about our relationship. To explain about our marriage."
"What's there to explain? It's obvious that he thought he was too big, too busy for you." And, she couldn't help but think, for his own daughter.
Her mother moved around the kitchen island to take Sarah's hands in hers, cookie batter and chocolate forgotten. "Come. Sit down with me. Please." Sarah let her mother lead her over to the kitchen chairs. "You already know that your father and I met when we were both at Georgetown, and we lived there until we had you."
"Until he dumped us here and started his political career." Sarah was as surprised as her mother clearly was by the resentment in her own voice.
"No, he didn't want to leave me here. And he definitely didn't want to leave you."
"Then why did he?"
"Because I refused to go back to the city. I refused to leave my mother and father and friends to live on a street full of strangers. I refused to let my daughter go to schools where I didn't know every single teacher by name. Deep in my heart, I believed that you needed to grow up here. And I loved having you here with me, knowing you were surrounded by people who loved you, who looked after you to make sure you stayed safe."
"Are you kidding?" Sarah tried to push down the sob that rose up and failed. "Did you see what happened at that meeting tonight? People here hate me. I've never fit in. Never."
Her mother reached over to wipe away her tears then, the same thing she'd done when Sarah was a little girl. "Oh, honey, no. Some people might hate the idea of condos, but they could never hate you. You've always been the town's golden girl, the one everyone has been so proud of since that first spelling bee you won when you were eight. How could you not know how proud we all are of you?"
"I went for the brass ring, Mom. I thought I had it. But I wasn't strong enough to hold on. Daddy always told me to be strong, but I couldn't do it."
"You've always been strong. Always. And if you'd seen more of your father, maybe you would have known what reaching for the brass ring meant to him. That it didn't just mean success. It meant family and love and happiness."
Sarah reeled from what her mother had just told her. Had she really been wrong about her father's mantra her whole life? And how would she ever know for sure when he wasn't here to ask?
A tear rolled down her mother's cheek, quickly followed by another. "All this time I wanted to think that my way was right, that I did the best I could, that I made the best decisions I knew how to make. Instead, I held you captive in a place you couldn't wait to get out of. Your father tried so many times over the years to get me to change my mind, but I wouldn't bend." Denise covered her mouth with her hands. "I just wouldn't bend."
"Are you saying that our living here without him was your decision?"
"And you stood up to him again and again?"
"And yet, all this time I thought you were going along with whatever he wanted because he was so strong and you were--"
"No!" Sarah almost shouted the word. "Gentle. Nice. Because you loved him too much to tell him what you really wanted."
"I still love him," her mother said softly. "Every second of every day."
"But you were so unhappy sometimes," Sarah said, unable to forget those bleak hours after her father left again for DC, when both she and her mother knew he wouldn't be coming back for weeks. "Didn't you ever wish that you had married someone who wanted the same things you did? Someone who would be there every morning and every night?"
"I'd be lying to you if I said no. But what I felt for your father was bigger than where we lived. Or how much time we were able to spend together. My only regret about loving him is the toll it took on you, not always having two parents in the same place at the same time." Denise wouldn't let Sarah evade her gaze. "Is that what's holding you back with Calvin?"
"I never stopped loving him. He told me he loved me too. That he forgave me for leaving before. I had everything I ever wanted." Sarah had to close her eyes against the pain. "And I blew it tonight when Jerry stood up and asked that question. I tried to explain, I tried to apologize, but Calvin won't forgive me. Not this time. And why should he? I left him before." She tried to breathe, but couldn't find any oxygen. "This time he's leaving me first."
Denise scooted her chair over and put her arms around her. "Calvin never stopped loving you before, and he won't stop now, I can guarantee that. Because real love doesn't have anything to do with perfection. Real love is what happens when everything isn't perfect...and you love each other anyway." She tilted Sarah's face up to hers with her index finger. "Promise me you'll give all of this some time. Not just for Calvin, but for you too."
Sarah had never looked at her mother as anything more than a politician's wife, a mother, and a small knitting store owner. She could never understand why her mother hadn't wanted more. But now, as they talked--finally connecting the way they should have talked years ago--Sarah saw the truth: Through her innate gentleness, through her baking, through her presence at Lakeside Stitch & Knit, Denise Bartow had always made a difference in people's lives. On a smaller scale than what her father had been able to accomplish as senator, but no less important to the lives she had touched.
Instead of her father, should Sarah have been giving the credit to her mother and grandmother--to all of the incredible women she'd connected with at the yarn store? Women who were strong enough to triumph over anything life threw into their paths. Women who had all of the strength but none of the glory.
"I know this has been a hard night for you," her mom said, "but your grandmother has been waiting up for you to tell her about the meeting tonight. I hope you'll tell her how poised and strong you were."
But Sarah couldn't leave yet. Not until she said something she didn't say nearly enough. "I love you, Mom."
Her mother's eyes were awash with tears. "And I've never loved anyone more than I love you."
They hugged for a long time, both of them crying. Finally, Sarah pushed her chair back and was halfway out of the room when she realized there was one more thing she needed to say. "Thank you for offering to sit with Mr. Klein tonight. I didn't expect him to attend the town hall meeting."
Again, there was that surprising spark in her mother's eyes, a slight flush in her cheeks. "It was no problem at all. Actually, he was very nice."
"It's okay with me." The words were difficult for Sarah to force out, but that spark that had been missing from her mother's eyes made it possible to get them out. And to know that she was doing the right thing. "It's okay if you want to see him again."
Her mother stood up so fast she almost knocked over her chair. "Your father--"
"Is gone. But you're still here."
"No. Really. I couldn't possibly be with another--"
"I'm not saying you have to marry the guy. But if he asks you out--and I really thi
nk he will--can you at least think about saying yes?"
Her mother took a deep breath. "Maybe."
Just then, Sarah's phone rang again. She cringed at the hope in her mother's eyes. "It's not Calvin."
"Please, just look, just in case."
The hope in her mother's eyes was almost enough to spill over into her, but when Sarah looked at the screen, she could barely get the words out. "It's my boss again."
She had made a trade, love for a career. But even that had gone wrong. For Craig to be calling her again and again on a Thursday evening meant she'd screwed up in a big way at the town hall meeting. She hadn't just lost Calvin, she was going to lose her job too.
Blinded by the tears that were coming again, Sarah didn't see the bag on the floor until she stepped on it. Bending down to pick it up, she realized the Fair Isle sweater she'd been obsessively working on was inside.
Lightning continued to light up the sky when Sarah knocked softly on her grandmother's bedroom door. She wasn't surprised to find her sitting up in bed knitting.
Knitting the wedding veil.
Sarah's gut twisted hard enough that she had to stop, had to take a deep breath to recover before crossing to her grandmother's bed. "Grandma, I'm so glad you're better. And that you're finally back home." Sarah almost forgot she was soaking wet as she went to hug her.
"Give me a kiss first, and then after you've put on something dry of mine, we can have a good long hug. There's a nightgown in your size folded up in the left corner of the armoire."
Sarah pressed her lips to her grandmother's soft cheek, then took out the soft nightgown. As she unfolded it, she realized just how old the fabric was. The workmanship was incredible, with hand-sewn lace along the neckline, wristbands, and hem, and rows of tucking and insertion on the front. "This is beautiful." She was extremely careful with the soft, thin fabric as she changed out of her wet clothes in the bathroom.
"Lovely," Olive said when she emerged. "Now come give me that hug."
Sarah should have been there to take care of her grandmother. But as soon as Olive's strong, slim arms came around her, she knew that it was exactly the opposite.
"Everything is going to be all right. I promise you it's true." Sarah didn't say anything, just let her grandmother stroke her hair. A while later, she pointed to the bag. "Is that the Fair Isle?" When Sarah nodded and pulled it out, her grandmother said, "I knew you'd do a wonderful job with it."