The very questions from Mary he had wanted to avoid now hung in the air. He met her eyes, knowing that only the truth would suffice. “Will asked me to help him with the case. I have not been spying on you, per se.”
She clutched a pillow to her chest. “But you came here because of the case.”
Jared leaned forward. He had to make her understand it was because of her that he was even involved in this mess. She had been the reason he agreed to work with the FBI again. “I came because when I saw your name, I knew I had to find out if you were the Mary Divers I knew as a child. Because I have been haunted for years by memories of a girl with the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen.”
She picked at a loose thread on the pillow seam. “I’ve thought about you, too, on occasion. But that was a very long time ago.”
The tears that brimmed in her eyes pierced his heart. He reached over and covered her hand with his, marveling at how smooth her skin felt under the rough calluses of his fingers. “What I said when we first met was true. I’ve never forgotten you. When you went away that summer, I was the loneliest boy in the world.”
She sniffled, then cocked her head. “I’m sure you forgot all about me soon enough.”
“No, it’s true.” The urge to prove his adoration with a kiss welled up inside him, but he tamped it down, knowing a wrong move now would be fatal to a future relationship. And he desperately wanted a future with this woman. Instead, he would show her the devotion of a child’s heart. “You might have that little stone to remember me by, but I kept something, too.”
The hint of a smile curled her lips. “What?”
He released her hand and wagged a finger at her. “Close your eyes.”
Once she obliged, he reached into his back pocket for his wallet and tugged out a dog-eared piece of paper. “Here.” He placed it in her palm.
She stared at the paper and then looked up at him. “What is it?”
Smiling, he leaned back and tucked his hands under his arms. “See for yourself.”
Slowly, Mary unfolded the paper to reveal a small, pressed violet, brittle with age, its color nearly faded away. She tilted her head down a bit more, causing her hair to cascade around her hand and hiding her face from his view. She sat like that for a long time. He was about to break the silence when she raised her head, her cheeks wet.
“It’s okay.” He touched her cheek with his fingertips, brushing away the tears that trickled down.
She cleared her throat with a cough. “I, I.” Firming her lips, she shook her head as more tears fell.
“Yes, it’s that violet, the one you gave me a few days before you left.” His throat closed up and it was his turn to cough. “I, uh, had a bit of a crush on you back then, you know.” He smiled, his hand still stroking her cheek. Her skin was like a balm to his tattered emotions. So far, she hadn’t seemed to notice his touch, and he wasn’t going to draw her attention to his actions. “I took the violet back to my room and put it in that piece of paper, folded it, and tucked it into the pages of Treasure Island.”
“How did it get from the book to your wallet?” she practically whispered, her eyes fixed on the pressed flower.
His hand stilled on her cheek. “I found it in a box of my old stuff my mom gave me when I moved to my first apartment. Why that copy of Treasure Island hadn’t gone to the used bookshop along with my other childhood books, I don’t know. But it was there, and when I flipped through the pages, I found the violet.”
“And you put it in your wallet?”
Removing his hand from her face, he tried to explain what he hadn’t fully understood then or now. “Yes. I don’t know why. I only knew I wanted to have it close to me. And I’ve kept it in there ever since.”
She was still for several minutes, her eyes on the faded flower in her hand. “I don’t understand.”
“Tell me.” Jared only hoped he could answer her question.
“Before you brought the tea, I prayed. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t done much praying lately, not about David or anything.” She sniffled again and Jared handed her the tissue box from the coffee table. Pulling a few tissues out, she dabbed at her eyes and nose. “Thank you.”
“What did you pray?”
“For a sign.” She traced the flower and raised her eyes to meet Jared’s. “I asked that God would show me I am loved… and you gave me this.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.0