Mary hummed as she made her first meal of the day. She was tearing lettuce into a big bowl when a knock at the back door interrupted her preparations. She glanced through the screen door at Jared standing there, a cane in one hand.
She wiped her hands on a towel and walked over to open the door. “Hi. What’s up?”
Dark circles rimmed Jared’s eyes. “Sorry to barge in on you like this again, but I was wondering if you knew of any massage therapists who make house calls. I tried three or four in the phone book, but they’re all booked for the day.” He leaned against the doorjamb. “My leg is really killing me.”
The pain in his voice and the pale complexion of his skin tugged at her heart. “Come in, Jared. Sit down.” She took his arm as he stumbled on the threshold. He hobbled over to the kitchen table and dropped into a chair, clenching his eyes.
“Actually, I know someone who might be able to help. She’s not certified yet, but she’s only got to log a few more hours and take the exam before she’ll be a fully licensed massage therapist.”
“I don’t care as long as she can come out today.” He didn’t even open his eyes when he spoke. “I can’t take much more of these cramps.”
Mary hurried over to the phone and punched in a number. “Amy? It’s Mary.”
“I was just thinking of you. How’s it going?”
One of the things Mary loved about Amy Donavan was her willingness to help without asking too many questions. “Do you need any more physical therapy massage hours for your certification?”
Amy sighed. “Yes. But it’s hard to find someone willing to let a non-certified therapist touch them.”
Mary looked over at Jared, who sat with his eyes still closed. The lines around his eyes tightened as his hand gripped the handle of the cane. “Can you come over right away? Jared, the guy who’s doing yard work for me, has a leg in need of some TLC of the physical therapy massage kind. He’s hurting pretty bad.”
“That would be awesome. Let me double check to make sure there’s not something else I’m supposed to be doing. Hold on a sec.”
Mary waited, tapping her fingers on the counter while Jared grimaced at the kitchen table.
“I’ll be right over.”
“Thanks. See you in a bit.” Mary replaced the handset in its charger and walked over to touch Jared on the shoulder. “My friend Amy is really good and needs the physical therapy massage hours for her certification.”
Jared still didn’t open his eyes. “Thanks, Mary.”
“She’s only about ten minutes away.” Mary rested her hand on his shoulder, wishing she could do something, anything, to help ease his pain. “Can I get you anything?”
This time he opened his eyes and Mary’s breath caught at the pain in his gaze.
“How about you tell me about the day you left all those years ago? I’ve always been curious and that might take my mind off my leg.”
Mary swallowed hard. Talking about her parents’ move to South America was something she never did. But Jared deserved to know what happened three decades ago, and that overrode her need for self-preservation. She pulled out a chair next to him and began her story.
“It was my ninth birthday, remember? You and I were going to celebrate by taking my new bicycle to the park after you got back from your grandmother’s.”
“I remember.” Jared attempted a smile. “You were so sure you were getting a bike with a Strawberry Shortcake basket and pink-and-white handlebar streamers.”
“You remembered all that?” Mary laughed.
“You talked about that bike nonstop for weeks before your birthday. How could I forget?”
“Yeah, I left drawings of that bike strategically placed all over the house so my parents couldn’t help but notice.” She looked beyond Jared to the curio cabinet in the dining room. She sighed and shook her head. “Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as I had hoped. I raced home for lunch and found no lunch, no cake, no bike. But my parents announced they were moving to South America to become missionaries to the Amazon River tribes. I was going to stay with my mother’s Aunt Geraldine, a woman I’d never met.”
Jared’s mouth dropped open. “They told you just like that? What about your birthday? Did you get your bike later?”
“No.” She sucked in a deep breath to keep from crying over this memory yet again. She had vowed in that kitchen with its permanent scars on the faded linoleum floor to never let her parents hurt her again.
Now she looked down at the ceramic tiles in her kitchen. She had ripped out the old linoleum her aunt had scrubbed every Saturday morning on her hands and knees, and replaced it with muted orange and brown tiles to erase the memories of that awful day.
“They had completely forgotten it was even my birthday. While they told me their plans, some people came from the Salvation Army and boxed up all of our stuff.” Mary stopped, a lump the size of Kansas blocking any words. She sucked in a deep breath to clear the logjam and continued.
“My train was leaving in forty-five minutes and the station was a half-hour drive from our house. That left me with exactly fifteen minutes to collect whatever else I could stuff into a paper sack.”
The emotion of that day returned in full force as she remembered racing upstairs to her room and standing there in the doorway, eyes aching with repressed tears. She clutched the paper sack to her chest and surveyed her small room. Did she take her precious books? Or her dolls? So many special things cried out for her attention. In the end, with her father’s voice hollering up the stairs for her to hurry up, she picked a stuffed giraffe she’d won at the school fall festival, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, and an old school notebook and threw them into the sack. She slammed the bedroom door behind her and stomped down the stairs.
Jared’s compassionate gaze prompted her to step away from the painful memory. She brushed her damp cheeks with her hand and shifted her focus to the adjourning dining room. Something on the top shelf of the curio cabinet glinted in the afternoon sun. “Excuse me a minute.”
She plucked some tissues and dabbed at her eyes as she walked into the dining room and opened the cabinet to select the item. Carefully cradling it in her hand as if it were more precious than diamonds, she returned to the table and handed it to Jared. He took it from her, curiosity briefly replacing the pain in his eyes. Then a half smile flitted across his lips.
“I can’t believe you kept this.” He turned the smooth, purple glass fragment over and over in his hands.
“How could I not save something that reminded me of you?” Mary smiled back, her fingers darting out to briefly touch the glass warmed by Jared’s hand. “I remember when you gave that to me, after your trip to the beach. Sea glass, you called it.”
“I spent hours that vacation combing the beach for just the right piece for you. I thought it matched your eyes.”
The two of them stared at each other and Mary felt as though the past and present weaved together around them like a spider’s silky web, drawing them closer. She caught her breath as their bodies leaned closer towards each other. Something glittered in Jared’s eyes and a fissure of anticipation raced down her spine. The very air hung heavy around them, waiting for a spark to set off a round of heat lightening like a summer storm.
Mary heard bells and realized Amy had arrived. She stood up. “That’ll be your massage therapist.” She hurried from the room, her hand on her flushed cheeks. Surely Jared had not been about to kiss her. And yet, that look in his eyes had something that spoke of a passion that ran deep. She shivered again. She wasn’t altogether sure she wanted to get mixed up with that kind of passion. David was a much safer bet and could provide all the passion she needed or wanted.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.