"You planning on sticking around town for a while?"
"I'll be here for a couple of weeks at least."
"Good. Your father would be glad to know you're home with your mother and grandmother." Then Henry said to Calvin, "I've got the new blueprints you said you needed. You'd better put on your football pads for the next architectural review, because I am going to come at you with everything I've got. This time, I'm not going to take no for an answer."
"You'll keep getting a no until your building fits in with the historical architecture of the town," Calvin replied in a firm but friendly voice.
Henry raised his eyebrows at Sarah. "Hard to believe us old folks are the ones who get blamed for resisting change. If I didn't know better, I'd think this guy wanted to live in the Colonial period."
Sarah forced another smile, even though all of this talk about architectural review committees--and Calvin's surprisingly firm stance--sent shivers of unease up her spine. Until now, she had hoped he would be as excited about her project as she was. As they headed for the only open table, a very private, very small booth in the corner of the room, she wondered again, What if I'm wrong?
She couldn't hold on to the question, though. Not with his hand still resting on the small of her back, creating a patch of heat that burned through the rest of her. And not when she was remembering a hundred times when he'd held her like that, so gently...and the other times too, when he had been just the right kind of raw. Hungry. As desperate as she was for their lovemaking. And always--always--he'd touched her with such love.
What, she couldn't help but wonder, did he feel when he touched her now? The same sizzle of heat? Or nothing but cool fabric on his fingertips, no spark at all?
"What can I get you to drink?" he asked.
"I'd love a club soda with lime."
"Just because I don't drink, doesn't mean you have to abstain." Though he spoke softly, there was a slight edge to his words.
"I had a couple of glasses of wine with the knitting club. That's my limit."
In high school, when everyone else was experimenting with beer they'd smuggled out of their parents' basements, Calvin had always stuck with Coke. His father hadn't been a nasty drunk; he'd just always had a can in his hand. Solidarity made her stick with soda too. More than a decade later, it was instinct not to drink when she was with him.
After he returned from the bar with their drinks and they sat down, an awkward silence fell between them for one beat. Then two. Then three, before he said, "I was surprised to hear from you today. It's been a really long time."
"I know," she said in pretty much the most stilted voice ever. "It has."
It was as though she were watching the two of them sitting together from a distance. Two people who had once been so close, who had shared the most intimate moments possible. Two people who had no idea what to say to each other anymore, because they had left too many things unsaid for too long.
Suddenly, she understood that all the years she had spent trying to convince herself that they were nothing more than childhood sweethearts, that their past was water under the bridge, were just lies she'd told herself so that she could move on with her life. So that she could try to forget him.
But how could she possibly forget when the past was still holding them so tightly together?
She hadn't been planning on having a big conversation about their past, but if they were going to have any chance of working together successfully in the future, they needed to have it. Now. Before things got any more stiff and weird.
"I know we've never really talked about what happened with us, but--"
"There's nothing to talk about," he said before she could finish her sentence. "Not on my account." But his fingers had tightened around his glass, white beginning to show at the knuckles.
"It's just that I've always felt bad about the way things ended," she pressed on, despite the out he'd just given her, "and I guess I thought that if we cleared the air, then maybe--"
"We were just kids. Besides, what teenage romance ever works out?"
Okay, so he didn't want to talk about their past. Which meant she couldn't do anything but nod and say, "You're right. Never mind."
She should be glad that he was letting her off the hook. But she wasn't. Because now she knew for sure that their relationship, one she'd thought had been so important, hadn't actually meant anything to Calvin at all.
Calvin could see that his response had hurt her--and he hated seeing that flash of pain in her eyes, regardless of what had gone down between them when they were kids. But he didn't think it was a good idea to go there. Not when talking about their past was a one-way ticket to a potentially bad situation.
Still, she needed to know that he hadn't been sitting around for the past ten years nursing his resentment. And that she didn't need to feel guilty for anything. His mother's death, his father's suicide, Sarah's leaving had all happened so long ago. He was over it--all of it. He had everything he wanted, everything but the right woman to share his life with. He would find her eventually, but only if he remembered that this woman sitting across from him could never be her.
"Things are good now. Really good." He didn't want to look backward, didn't want to see that kid who had struggled to recover from losing nearly every single person he'd ever loved.
"I'm glad to hear it." He could hear the forced enthusiasm in her voice, but he didn't blame her for that. This meet-up wasn't easy for him either. "And I'm so glad you made time to see me. How's Jordan doing?" Sarah's expression softened as she asked about his sister.
"She's in fifth grade now. She has lots of friends, loves ballet and dancing. She claims she hates fishing, but she humors me and does it anyway." He smiled, thinking of the freed pickerel. "She's just a really happy kid."
Sarah was smiling now too, and he realized it was the first real smile he'd seen yet. Even that small upturn of her lips made his heart knock around faster inside his chest. Made him want to tangle his hands in her hair and see if she tasted the same way she had all those years ago.
Damn it. He couldn't go there. Not with her.
"Do you have a picture I can see?"
Glad for the chance to look away from her, he pulled out his phone and showed her Jordan's latest soccer photo, the one where one of her pigtails was falling out and she was missing a tooth on the right side of her big smile.
"She's so grown up now. And so beautiful."
Sarah was staring at the picture of the little girl who meant everything to him, but Calvin couldn't keep from looking back at her when he said, "I know."
When she looked up at him, her eyes big and full of emotion, he was hit with a potent memory of when she used to look at him like that. When she'd wanted him not only to kiss her, but to give her more. When she'd begged him for more. And he'd begged her right back. Because her kisses, her arms around him, putting a smile on her face, had meant everything to him.
He knew better, but he couldn't help asking himself, would she beg him
now if he gave in to the urge to pull her closer and lower his mouth to hers? Or would she push him away?
"Jordan looks so much like you did in fifth grade," Sarah said. And in her grin he saw a flash of the fun and sweet girl he'd been head over heels in love with. "Now I know what you would have looked like in pigtails," she teased.
Calvin couldn't hold back his own grin. For all that he was working to keep his emotions in check, it was nice just to be with her like this again. Just for one short moment, like they used to be. "I'm not sure pigtails would fly in the town hall."
"Congratulations on being elected mayor." Just that quickly, she seemed to rein herself in. "How do you like the job?"
Disappointment flared at how brief their moment of connection had been, but she was right to move past it as quickly as she had. It would be better for both of them to keep things bobbing along on the surface, rather than diving deep. Especially considering his attraction to her hadn't waned even the slightest bit in ten years.
"I'm enjoying the challenge. It's a pretty big change from being out there on the football field with the kids every day, although I help out with the team whenever I can. I thought I'd be stuck behind the computer more, but I've had to deal with open-space issues so often that I've got to keep a pair of mud boots in my truck." Her grandfather had been mayor, so he figured she knew more about the job than most people.
"When I heard that you'd been elected, it felt right," she said. "You're the perfect person for the job."
"Thanks." Her words settled into a part of his heart he'd sworn he'd shut down a long time ago. "I wanted to find a way to pay everyone back for what they did for me and my sister after my parents died. And I've always loved this town. I've always figured that if you love something enough, there's got to be a way to make it a priority."
"My dad always thought the same thing. That once you figure out what you want, you've got to just keep reaching for it, no matter what."
"I'm sorry about your father. I know how much you loved him."
"I--" She swallowed. "Losing him was really hard."