Jared shut the back door and strode across the yard to where he had left the gardening tools. He needed to take his mind off Mary. He refused to think about how wonderful Mary would feel in his arms, and how soft and supple her lips would be against his.
He glanced at his watch. Straight-up noon. Amy would be by in an hour to massage his leg. He picked up the tools and put them away in the garage before climbing the stairs to his apartment for a shower and a quick lunch.
He peeled off his work clothes and stuffed them in the laundry basket. The warm shower washed away the morning’s dirt, but not his memories of Mary tending to his injury. He resisted a smile, but the rogue thought of her hair, feathered over his arm when she bent forward to clean the wound, broke his resistance. Until he could prove David’s duplicity, he should keep his feelings to himself. Now, he let the water wash away his thoughts of kissing her.
A half hour later, Jared sat at the table with a sandwich that could have been made of cardboard for all he tasted. His leg had begun to ache again after the morning’s work in the yard, and he hoped Amy would arrive soon. He also wanted to see if she knew about Mary’s engagement. Amy had been friends with Mary for a long time and might have some insight into why Mary would want to marry someone she’d never met.
Just as the microwave clock blinked 1 p.m., a knock sounded on the door. He opened the door. “Come on in.” He stepped aside and held the door for her as she maneuvered her portable massage table and duffel bag into the apartment.
Amy walked into the living room carrying the table. “Can you push the coffee table a bit to the side?”
“Sure.” Jared grunted as he shoved the coffee table out of the way.
Amy winked at Jared. “You might want to close the blinds. Mary’s bedroom windows face this way and we wouldn’t want to give her a show.”
Warmth raced up the back of his neck and into his face. If she knew what kind of show had almost occurred earlier, she might not be so lighthearted.
“Good idea about the blinds.” He walked to the window and stared at the upstairs room where he occasionally saw lights on late at night. Maybe he would ask Amy what Mary’s job was and why she worked so late. He twisted the rods and shuttered the windows.
Amy clicked the table into place and spread sheets over it. “I’ll step into the kitchen while you disrobe,” she said over her shoulder. “ When you’re under the sheet, let me know.”
“Okay,” he called after her, tugging his t-shirt over his head. After taking off the rest of his clothes and folding them neatly, he slid under the crisp white sheet. “You can come out now.”
He turned his head in her direction, the glint of a diamond on her left hand drawing his interest. He scrambled to recall what Mary had said about Amy’s engagement and managed to retrieve her fiancé’s name from the dustbin of his mind. “How’s Calvin these days? Mary mentioned you two were getting married in the fall.”
Amy glanced at her left hand and an easy smile crossed her lips. “Yes, October 23.” She sighed, then squirted lotion/massage oil in her left palm. “It seems really far away and too close, if that makes any sense.”
“It does.” Jared closed his eyes as Amy’s hands settled on his shoulders and began to knead the tired and overworked muscles. He briefly warred with himself on whether or not to bring up Mary and David’s engagement, and decided he wanted to know Amy’s opinion on it. “Have you talked to Mary lately?”
“She left me a message earlier today, before I turned off my phone, but I only reached her voice mail when I called back around eleven this morning.” Her hands stilled for a moment before continuing. “Why? What’s going on?”
The concern in her voice prompted him to reassure Amy. “I don’t want to spoil her surprise by telling you.”
“I promise I can act surprised.” She moved to the side of the table and lifted one of his arms, working on his hand muscles. “ Spill it.”
“Do you know about her cyber friend, David?”
“Yes, she told me she was chatting with someone she met through SoulBelievers. A few couples at church have met through Christian online dating services, so I encouraged Mary to check out some of the websites.”
Her hands moved up his arm and Jared could feel the tension begin to drain out of his body. “What has she told you about David?”
“Just that she’s been chatting with him a lot.”
Amy paused and stared down at him. “I can tell she likes him. What’s going on?”
Jared countered her query with his own. “Did you know he’s raising money to go to Peru as a missionary?”
Amy placed his arm on the table and moved to the opposite side, picking up his other hand. “Peru? Isn’t that where her parents are?”
Jared raised his eyebrows. “You know about her parents?”
“Not a lot, just that they are in Peru trying to save some of the Amazon River tribes.”
“You don’t sound like you care for her parents very much.”
“You’ve met them, right?”
“As a child, yes.” Jared didn’t remember the names of his first grade teacher or his playground buddies, but he vividly recalled Mr. and Mrs. Divers, mostly because of the weird way they treated Mary. “They were not the most friendly parents. Mary didn’t talk about them much, even as a child.”
Amy shrugged. “The only thing I’ve gleaned from Mary is that they left her with an aunt when she was a kid, and moved halfway around the world.”
“So she never mentioned that they’ve never talked to her at all in nearly thirty years?”
Amy gasped. “No, she never mentioned that. She did say they write her, but I never saw any letters.”
“Probably because there are not many letters to show.”
“That’s terrible.” She rested his arm on the table and uncovered his right leg. “Who would do such a thing to their own flesh and blood?”
“Apparently the Divers do.” He paused as her fingers found a particularly tight muscle. “You really know your stuff.”
“What have you been doing? Your muscles are like steel coils.”
“Way too much yard work.”
“That’ll do it.” Amy squirted more lotion onto her hands before continuing. “Somehow, I don’t think telling me her parents have hardly contacted Mary in years is what you wanted to say to me.”
Jared blew out a long breath. “You’re right, but I’m just not sure how to put what I want to say.”
“If it helps, I prefer it straight, no beating around the bush or backing into it.”
“Then straight it is.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Mary’s engaged to David.”
Amy squeezed his leg muscles too tightly.
“Sorry.” She relaxed her hands but didn’t continue the massage. “She’s engaged to someone she’s never met?”
Jared nodded. “She’s agreed to marry him in seven, no six weeks.”
“Why so quickly?”
“So she can accompany David when he goes to Peru.”
“You’re telling me that Mary, who seldom leaves the house, is marrying some stranger and move halfway across the world to live with him in the jungles of Peru?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m telling you.” Jared turned his head to study her face. “You had no idea she was that serious about David?”
“I knew she liked him.” Amy resumed the massage. “Mary doesn’t always share things, especially personal things.”
“I know.” Jared recalled how she would rather talk about anything other than herself when they were kids. “There’s more.”
“How can there be more?”
He grimaced. “She doesn’t know I know this, but she’s selling the Eakins painting to finance her new life with David.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.