A carnival rolled into town for the weekend. Nicholas walked over to Shannon’s cottage and asked if they’d like to go to it with him.
“Do they have a merry-go-round?” Mindy asked. Nicholas nodded.
“Oh please, Mama, can we go?”
Shannon hesitated. She needed to shop for groceries. The cottage needed a thorough cleaning. She needed to work on her resume to submit to the community college. There were a million and one reasons why they shouldn’t spend the day with Nicholas, but one very good reason why they should. It would make Mindy happy.
“All right. Get your shoes on and grab the puppy’s leash. We might as well take him along.”
The carnival filled the town square and spilled out into the street. Shannon kept a tight hold of Mindy’s hand as they walked along. The smell of popcorn and cotton candy enticed them, but after at least a half dozen rides on the carousel, Shannon insisted they eat lunch first.
“I’m glad you joined me,” Nicholas said while they ate hot dogs. A breeze blew in off the lake, and he reached out to tuck Shannon’s hair away from her face. His hand lingered along her cheek.
Shannon felt a rush of warmth that had nothing to do with the noonday sun.
“One thing I never expected was to see you here. I didn’t know your dad still had the cottage.” His voice lowered, as if uncertain. “It’s been a lot of years. So why did you come back?”
Shannon crumpled the hot dog wrappers and finished her cola.
“Dad thought it would be good for Mindy and I to spend some time at the beach, before I enroll her in school and get a job.” She almost told him about Elliot; she probably should. But she couldn’t bring herself to talk about the man she’d married instead of Nicholas.
“You’ve moving back here?”
She nodded and wiped Mindy’s face with a paper napkin.
“Will your husband be joining you?”
Shannon could only murmur, “No, he won’t.”
As much as he ached to ask why, Nicholas knew it wouldn’t be fair in front of Mindy. It didn’t take much to sense that something was wrong, but he would find out later why Shannon and her daughter had come to the cottage alone.
Mindy yawned and dragged her feet on the way home. Nicholas carried her while Shannon toted the puppy and the giant stuffed bunny they’d won. At the cottage, they laid the child and the bunny both in her small bed while the puppy curled at Mindy’s feet. Nicholas touched the little girl’s tousled hair and felt a flash of resentment that Shannon’s child wasn’t his.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Shannon offered. “We can sit on the porch for a while.”
They sat in the old wooden Adirondack chairs. Nicholas drank his coffee and when the daylight was no more than a pink and blue glow on the lake’s horizon, he asked Shannon the question that had burned for years in his mind.
“Why didn’t you come to see me before I went to sea that last summer? I asked you, begged you. Why did you let your father come between us?”
Shannon looked away, unable to meet the old hurt that still shadowed his eyes.
“You went into the navy. I was leaving for the university. We both had our plans, and they didn’t seem to include each other.”
“But you knew I wanted you to wait for me. I told you and I emailed you and I wrote to you. Or did your father have you so brainwashed that I wasn’t good enough?”
A sudden anger flared up in her, anger at men and their often stupid need to prove themselves, despite the cost.
“Of course I wasn’t brainwashed! But I was young and so were you. I’m sorry you couldn’t understand. I guess maybe you still can’t.”
“And this Elliot Grayson you married. Did James approve of him?”
Shannon lifted her chin. “As a matter of fact, he did.” Her parents had both loved Elliot but that was before they’d known marrying Elliot would take her far away from them.
Shannon didn’t watch Nicholas leave but gathered up the cups and went inside.Three days later the puppy disappeared.