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A Summer Reunion
July 2011 | Harlequin
... with authors Sarah Mayberry and Teresa Southwick
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The little boy on the television screen was busily getting into trouble with his next door neighbor, something he seemed to do during every show, and Margaret Mary Haswick held a flowered pillow to her face so that her giggles did not wake her baby sister, Victoria, who had fallen asleep beside her on the couch.
Ruthie Baxter, their own next door neighbor and sometimes babysitter, had been having trouble getting baby Stephen to sleep, which was why three-year-old Victoria had been allowed to remain downstairs past the magic hour of eight o’clock, much to Margaret Mary’s disdain.
After all, she was eight whole years old, and even she had a strict bedtime of eight-thirty. It wasn’t fair that Victoria got to break the rules, just because stupid Stephen had colic, or whatever it was called. He sure did cry a lot, that much Margaret Mary knew. She hadn’t asked for a brother, and she still wasn’t so sure that her mother was right, and one day she’d be glad to have a big strong brother to watch over her and protect her.
But Victoria wasn’t so bad, even if sometimes she got into Margaret Mary’s bedroom and messed up her dollhouse and stuff. And she was kind of funny, always following her around and climbing on her lap and calling her Mar-Mar, because she couldn’t say Margaret Mary.
Her mother said she should be proud that her little sister so clearly loved her and looked up to her, and that she, Margaret Mary, should always set a good example. Whatever that was. She did kind of like it when her mother teased her and called her Little Mother, just because she helped Victoria with her buttons and things.
Thoughts of her mother reminded Margaret Mary that her parents had told her just before they left for dinner that they would bring home a special dessert she and Victoria could share tomorrow. She hoped it would be strawberry shortcake. Strawberry shortcake was her very favorite dessert in the whole world.
The television show ended, but still Ruthie hadn’t come back downstairs, so Margaret Mary got up and turned off the set, because now the grown-up shows would come on, and she and Victoria weren’t allowed to watch the grown-up shows.
“Come on, Victoria,” she said, giving her sister’s shoulder a small shake. “Time to go upstairs to bed.” Her sister didn’t respond except for the slight frown that came and went on her sleep-flushed face, and Margaret Mary sighed, knowing that her sister could sleep through thunderstorms and Stephen’s crying, so it would be pointless to try to wake her with a simple shake on the shoulder.
“Wake up, Victoria! Time for bed! Get up and come upstairs with me, and I’ll read you a story, okay? You know you like —”
Margaret Mary looked toward the door, as if she could see who had just knocked on it this late at night. The door was locked, because Mommy and Daddy always reminded Ruthie to lock the door after they left, and to never open it for anybody, but just to call her mother if anyone did come to the door, and Mr. and Mrs. Baxter would be right over to see who had knocked.
But Stephen was still crying, and Margaret Mary didn’t think Ruthie could have heard the knock. Margaret Mary twisted her hands together nervously, wondering what to do.
The knocking came again. This time it was louder.
Margaret Mary ran into the kitchen and pulled over a chair so that she could climb onto it and reach the phone that hung on the wall, and on her second try, managed to push all the correct numbers so that she could tell Mr. Baxter to please come over right away. And maybe call the police, or something.
Her heart was pounding so hard. It was dark outside, and it was snowing, and nobody should be knocking on the door. Eight-thirty at night was too late for visitors, so it had to be somebody bad, trying to get in. Mommy wouldn’t have said to lock the door and not let anyone in if it was all right for someone to knock so late.
She ran back into the living room and gathered the sleeping Victoria tightly into her arms as she heard voices outside on the porch.
And then Mrs. Baxter’s voice got very loud and shrill, and Margaret Mary could hear every word she said: “Oh, no, officer! Those poor sweet babies! What will happen to them now?”
The woman in the wheelchair, a bright pink cast reaching from her left foot to her knee, wasn’t a stranger; she couldn’t be, as they seemed to have the same face, the one Tory Fuller had seen in her mirror every day for the past fifty-five years.
Right down to the distinctive salt-and-pepper hair Tory would have, if she hadn’t begun taking refuge in hair coloring at least two decades previously.
Realizing she’d been standing still in the foyer of the fantastic beach house, like some human statue or some such silliness, Tory thanked the severe-looking woman who had opened the door for her, and began slowly walking across the expansive marble floor, moving toward the seated Peggy Longwood.
Margaret Mary Longwood.
A smile bright as a thousand suns lit the older woman’s face as she held out her hands in welcome. “Victoria,” she said quietly. “It’s you. After all these years …”
Tory nodded, not trusting her voice. Tears were running down her face now, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. She went to her knees beside the wheelchair and took one of her sister’s hands in both of hers. “Mar-Mar,” she managed at last. “I called you that, didn’t I? I’ve forgotten so much, but somehow I’ve always remembered that. Mar-Mar.”
And then the sisters were embracing, and the long years they’d been torn apart from each other fell away as if they’d never happened …
“Good morning, doctor, may I help you with something?” the young unit clerk at the nurse’s station chirped hopefully as she got to her feet, only to be ignored by Dr. Gorgeous, which is what most of the female hospital staff called the cardiac surgeon when he wasn’t within earshot.
And with pretty good reason, too. Sam McCormack might be in his fifties, but he was one of those men who, instead of getting older, just seemed to get better. Like George Clooney, Theresa had told her agreeing friends in the lunchroom, except that the surgeon had light brown hair he wore sort of longish and shaggy, so that it often fell down over his drop-dead-sexy green eyes. He was tall, but not too tall, and his face was sort of lean and chiseled, and he sported a great tan, probably because he liked to run for exercise. The day Theresa had seen him jogging out of the hospital parking lot in his shorts and one of those sleeveless running shirts, she’d nearly run her compact car into a light post.
Sam McCormack reached past the clerk to grab a patient chart, only belatedly realizing that someone had spoken to him. “Oh, good morning — Theresa, isn’t it?”
“You remembered. Yes, that’s me,” Theresa Spivak breathed, all but melting back into her chair. “Theresa …”
Sam shot the young woman a quick, curious look, and then dismissed her from his mind as he turned and headed down the corridor to the room of his patient and good friend, Bill Helms. Bill was six days post-op on an emergency multiple bypass surgery. Sam was here to spring him, and send him home to his wife and grown kids.
He only needed to see the results of Bill’s latest tests and confirm that he was no longer running a low-grade fever. Nope, he was good to go.
Sam was still paging through the chart when he turned into Room 4-34B, where his college buddy was pushing some hospital-issue oatmeal around his plate.
“Wow, would you look at the puss on you,” Bill said as Sam pulled up a straight-back chair and straddled it. “Let me guess. You’re about to tell me you sewed up my heart inside-out, and you have to open me up again.”
Sam grinned, sensing that his friend’s joke was only halfway jovial; Bill had been an apprehensive patient. Then again, it could be a little unnerving to anyone to wake at two in the morning feeling as if somebody had just parked their truck on your chest. “Yup, you nailed it. Not the inside-out part, but I haven’t been able to find my Penn State ring since your surgery, so …”
“Very funny. I’ll give you mine, and keeps yours. No, seriously, I can really go home today?”
“Unless you’re addicted to hospital food and beg me to stay, yes,” Sam told him. “Patients recover better at home, I’m ashamed to say, and I know Janie will take good care of you.”
Bill pulled a comical face. “She told me she spent yesterday cleaning out the pantry and fridge, tossing all my favorite food in the garbage. No more potato chips, no more eggs and scrapple for breakfast, no more ice cream, no more beer. That was cruel, Sam. Did you really tell her no more beer?”
“I might have suggested you cut back,” Sam told him. “Everything in moderation, Bill, that’s the key. That, and exercise. Janie told me she bought you a treadmill.”
Bill snorted. “Yeah, she told me. I think it’s payback for me having bought her that rug shampooer last year for Christmas.” He went quiet for a few moments, and then said softly, “Thanks, Sam. You saved my life. I’ve got a second chance now, and I promise you, I’m not going to blow it. Sam? You sort of winced there for a sec. What did I say?”
Sam ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead; he needed a haircut, he thought randomly. Sometimes it seemed like he always needed a haircut. But he was so busy, on his own perpetual treadmill.
“Nothing,” he said, sighing, and then shook his head. “No, not nothing. You said second chance, and I guess it struck a nerve. You have a minute, Bill?”
“Until you sign those release papers, my time is your time,” his old friend said. “Come on, you’re obviously upset about something. Maybe I can help. And if I can’t, at least I can listen. I may not be a whiz in the operating room, but as a psychologist, I don’t think I’m too shabby.”
Sam grinned. “A child psychologist,” he reminded Bill.
“You say potato, I say — come on, Sam. Spill your guts.”
“Great bedside manner you’ve got going there,” Sam said, and got to his feet to walk over to the window. He’d do better with his back turned to his friend, and no, he didn’t want to know what Bill the psychologist would read into that particular body language. “You remember Tory?”
“Tory,” Bill said ruminatively. “I don’t know that I — wait. Tory? Victoria Fuller? Oh, wow, flashback city. Our senior year at State. You’d moved out of the frat house and in with Tory. Lucky devil, she was really something else. I thought you guys were going to make a go of it. And then you two broke up, right? She left Happy Valley, never graduated? That was kind of weird, seeing as how we were less than a semester away. So … Tory Fuller. What about her?”
This was going to be difficult. Sam’s life, so ordered and serene, had been busy, yes, but not difficult. He had his work, a small circle of good friends, a new condo not far from the hospital and his office. Everything neat, orderly. If something was missing in his life, he hadn’t known it. Or at least he’d never been able to put a name to the feeling that sometimes came over him, a feeling that there should be more to life than professional success.
“Her … uh … her daughter called me a couple of weeks ago,” he said at last, his gaze still on the air conditioner units lined up on the flat roof two stories below Bill’s window.
“Okay,” Bill said slowly. “And?”
Sam turned around to face his friend. “And she said she was pretty sure she’s my daughter, too.”
Bill leaned back against his raised hospital bed, holding a heart-shaped pillow to his chest as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “She said that, did she? And how do you feel about that, Sam?”
“Oh, come on, Bill, don’t hand me that shrink talk. How the hell do you think I feel?”
“Well, it could go a number of ways. Surprised. Shocked. Skeptical. Betrayed. Angry — no, scratch angry. Incensed. Cheated. Excited. And there’s always the ever-popular scared out of your gourd.”
“How about all of the above?” Sam sat down on the side of the bed. “Allie — that’s Tory’s daughter — asked if I’d take a DNA test, and I agreed. She mailed me her sample and I took care of the rest here at the hospital lab. I got the results yesterday.”
“And let’s say we can eliminate skeptical from your list of my possible reactions. She’s my daughter. I have a daughter. A thirty-two year old daughter, Bill. Me. More than that, I’m a grandfather. Three times over.”
“Oh, the nurses out there aren’t going to be happy to hear that one, Dr. Gorgeous. A grandfather?”
Sam got to his feet once more. “I’m so glad I could count on my friend to be sensitive about this.”
“Ah, come on, somebody has to step back a little, see the whole picture. You probably aren’t, at least not yet. And what about Tory? Is that why she took off? You didn’t want her to have the baby?”
“I didn’t know there was going to be a baby,” Sam said, once again nearly overcome by an avalanche of emotions he couldn’t name. He just knew they were painful; a mixture of shock and anger and inexplicable joy that had him going in circles for weeks, not just since the results of the DNA testing was in. “She just took off, Bill. One day she was there, and the next day I came home from class and she was gone. Her books, her clothes — just gone. Why? I mean, I didn’t deserve that. Why didn’t she tell me? It was my baby, too.”
“All good questions, Sam. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers. But we both know who does. Did this Allie — your daughter — tell you anything?”
Sam shook his head. “No, not really. She just told me that she was fooling around on the Internet one day and read something that caught her eye, and that one thing led to another, and another, until she managed to locate Tory’s family.” He looked at his friend. “Tory was adopted. I didn’t know that, either. I lived with the woman for nearly a year, and I didn’t know that. I’m not proud of that, by the way. Clearly I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could have been.”
Bill shrugged, and then winced as the movement clearly wasn’t yet comfortable. “We were young, all of us. Carrying heavy course loads, working part time to help with expenses. If we weren’t in class we were studying, working, or sleeping. Or, in yours and Tory’s case, making babies. Sorry, poor attempt at humor. How did Allie go from finding Tory’s family to finding you?”
“She admitted to some guesswork there. She knew her mother had attended Penn State, but since Tory didn’t graduate, it was a little tricky pinning down the years. Did you know there are old real estate and rental records on the Internet? Honest to God, Bill, it’s like the world has nothing else to do but upload a bunch of useless information. Anyway, Tory and I had both signed the lease to that apartment over the pizza shop. After that, it was plugging my name into a search engine, and some simple math. And the DNA test. I guess I should be proud of her ingenuity.”
“Do you know where she is?”
“Allie? Yes, she and her husband live in South Carolina. With my grandchildren.”
“That last part really gets to you, doesn’t it, Grandpa? Janie and I are still pushing our boys to get married, so we can have grandkids. But, no, I meant Tory. Do you know where she is?”
Sam nodded. “Allie also found Tory’s sister, and Tory’s visiting her now in Cape May, although Tory lives in San Francisco. I’ve got the address of the beach house. I want to see Allie, of course. And her children. But I don’t know about Tory. I don’t know what to say to her. I’m curious, but I’m also so damn angry …”
“I remember how you were when Tory took off. You really loved her, Sam. You even married a woman who physically reminded me of Tory, not that the marriage stuck. You’ve been alone for a long time.”
“Are you speaking now as my friend or my shrink?”
“Both,” Bill said solemnly. “One, my patient needs closure. He’s been waiting for it, consciously or subconsciously, for over thirty years. And two, I’d like to see my friend happy. If there’s a chance of that, why not take it?”
“Go see her, you mean. I don’t know, Bill. I’ve got every right to be madder than hell at her, except that I keep wondering if it was something I did, or said, or didn’t do, didn’t say, that made her believe it would be better I didn’t know she was pregnant. Maybe I was selfish, and shallow, and she didn’t think I’d make a good father. And maybe she was right. Maybe I don’t want to know what happened to us all those years ago.”
“Okay, tough love here, buddy. Maybe you shouldn’t be so worried about your feelings, and start thinking about Tory. She’s the one who gave up college months before graduation and raised a kid on her own. None of that could have been easy for her. You loved her once, right? Or was she just convenient?”
“I loved her,” Sam said quietly. And then he added, “I think I loved her. I hope I loved her …”
“All right, that’s a start. Be honest with your feelings. You two were young, probably confused. God knows when I thought back to what I was like during my college years it was all I could do to let my boys go off on their own when their time came. Look, you said she’s in Cape May. We’re here, in Philly. So she’s just a quick drive down the Atlantic City Expressway. You have the address, and you probably need a vacation anyway. You own the practice and have plenty of back-up — good surgeons, all of them. I’ve pretty much met them all, since I got here. The world won’t end if you take a couple of days off. Go. See. Talk. Don’t judge her, or start kicking yourself, until you know her side.”
“And then report back to you?” Sam asked, summoning a weak smile.
“Oh, you’d better believe it, bucko. This is better than a made-for-tv movie.” Bill reached out and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. “All kidding aside, and you know I was only trying to lighten the mood a little here, but we usually only go around once, Sam. Sounds to me like both of us may have just been handed a second chance. I know I can’t speak for you, but I really don’t think either of us can afford to blow it.”
Tory closed her cell phone and shipped it back in her skirt pocket as she made her way to the lounge chair on the balcony just outside her bedroom, sitting down with a near thump. Quickly, before her legs collapsed from under her.
He knows. Sam knows.
“Oh, Allie …” Tory said, burying her head in her hands.
She could get a flight to South Carolina, mend fences with her daughter, if that was possible. Allie had been remarkably mature for someone who’d just found out her natural father was alive, and not just some nameless college boy her mother couldn’t remember. She’d said she didn’t hate Tory for the lies. But the hurt had been in her voice, coloring her joy at having spoken with her father.
Or she could fly back to San Francisco, tonight, and try to forget anything had happened at all. Tory knew she was good at that. Running away. She’d done it enough.
And what about Peggy? How could she leave the sister she was only getting to know? Wasn’t it terrible enough that they’d learned their brother, Stephen, was dead, that they’d never be reunited with the baby Tory hadn’t even known existed? She’d had vague memories of her sister, but none of her brother.
They didn’t even have a photograph of Stephen, although the man Peggy had contacted on the Australian sheep ranch had promised he’d send them a few … when he got around to it. She and Peggy wondered if those photos would show the same sort of startling physical resemblance so evident between the two of them. The thick salt-and-pepper hair, the unusually shaded blue eyes, the high cheekbones … the small cleft in both their chins. The only difference between Peggy and Tory, in fact, was that Peggy was a good six inches taller than her younger sister. Not that Tory had yet seen her sister anywhere but in her wheelchair.
It would be interesting when Allie finally met her father, for she resembled him so much more than she did her mother. She had the same green eyes, the same smile, the same sharp mind, and even his same dry sense of humor. Sometimes just looking at Allie broke Tory’s heart all over again.
She should pack her bags and go to Allie. But she couldn’t, no more than she could run back to San Francisco.
Dr. Freeman was coming by later today to tell her the results of the tissue-typing tests he’d run without Peggy’s knowledge. Tory would soon know if she could be the one to give her sister another chance at life. It would be like a miracle, overcoming years of not knowing if she had any family still alive, and then being reunited with her Mar-Mar just in time to give her sister a kidney.
Tory sighed, laying back against the chaise, her mind whirling with all that had happened since Allie had phoned her nearly two months ago, nearly delirious with excitement, to tell her that she’d been able to trace her family from the time of their adoptions.
But Allie hadn’t told her the full extent of her digging. She hadn’t told her she’d found Sam as well. Damn Internet…
“Ah, here you are. It’s almost time for lunch.”
Tory sat up, smiling as her sister wheeled herself out onto the sunny balcony.
“How did the session go?” she asked her as Peggy turned the wheelchair to face her and set the brakes. “You look a little pale.”
“I always look a little pale. It comes with the territory. But I’m fine, and the session was uneventful. Meaning I didn’t screw up and break sterile procedure. I have a horror of that, let me tell you. Luckily, I read Home Dialysis For Dummies cover to cover when I first started down this road three years ago.”
“You’re very brave, you know. I’d be constantly terrified if I knew I needed a kidney transplant.”
Peggy gave a small wave of her hand. “You get used to it. No, that’s a lie. You learn to live with it. What’s driving me crazy is this stupid foot. I don’t like being slowed down.”
Tory smiled. She and Peggy had only been together for a few weeks, and Peggy had been in that wheelchair for all of them, but if Peggy considered herself to be slowed down, Tory sure hadn’t seen any evidence of it. Not by her broken foot, not by her kidney failure. The woman was amazing.
“Kinsey told me she caught you hopping yesterday,” Tory said, wagging a finger at her sister. “You could have fallen.”
“Kinsey worries too much, and so do you and Eugenia. The doorway to the downstairs powder room isn’t wide enough for this stupid chair and I wanted to see what kind of job the painters had done in there. I was holding onto the wall the whole time,” Peggy responded almost mulishly. “I only almost lost my balance when Eugenia saw me and started screeching.”
“I wish I’d heard that,” Tory said, smiling at the thought of Eugenia Babcock, Peggy’s long time housekeeper and cook. Eugenia might be close to Tory’s own age, but it was difficult to tell (and Eugenia certainly wasn’t telling). Tall, slim, her straight dark hair always pulled back in a tight bun and not showing even a hint of gray (Eugenia said it was natural, but Tory had her suspicions). No matter that Eugenia insisted upon always wearing black, plain dresses that looked very much like uniforms, and no matter her starchy outside, Tory had already figured out that the housekeeper was solid marshmallow on the inside, and would slay dragons for Peggy. For that, Tory could forgive the woman anything.
“You might not have, but Kinsey did, so I ended up being scolded twice.” Peggy grinned, all the way to her sparkling blue eyes, and suddenly didn’t look pale, or tired, even with the unable-to-be disguised dark circles below her eyes. “I think they think they’re in charge of me. It’s rather cute when it isn’t frustrating.”
“Kinsey is your physical therapist,” Tory reminded her, thinking of the sweet young woman who currently lived with Peggy, and whom Eugenia privately said should have always lived here, to help Peggy with more than just her current problem.
“In theory she’s my physical therapist,” Peggy said, winking at her sister. “Let’s have a sisterly secret. This ugly cast comes off soon and I’ll finally be able to put weight on my foot again and kiss this damned contraption goodbye. After a few therapy sessions I should be fully back on my feet and Kinsey could be out of here and on her way to her next patient before Davy comes home. That would be a shame, because I really do like her. In fact, I’m thinking about doing very poorly when it comes to my rehab.”
Tory looked at her sister in shock, and some admiration. She knew Peggy worried about her son, whom Tory had yet to meet. She said he was too serious, even bordering on dull, not at all the adventuresome young boy Peggy had made famous in her books, where David Longwood was perpetually eight years old, and known as Davy Daring. Tory had read those books to Allie when she was young, and to find out that her own sister wrote them had been a lovely surprise. “You’re matchmaking Kinsey with your son?”
Peggy pressed her hands to her chest, her eyes wide and innocent. “Me? Don’t be silly. I’d never do anything as crass and manipulative as that. Let’s just say I encourage opportunities. And now, if we’re done talking about everything except the look on your face when I came wheeling out here, maybe you’ll tell me what’s wrong.”
Suddenly Tory was back at the very bottom of the Stygian Well of Despair, as she would have called it in her comic books. That was another thing that had surprised and even shocked the sisters once they’d been reunited. Peggy was a writer of children’s books, and Tory had her own successful comic book series. Time and distance couldn’t change the fact that genes were genes, and they’d both been born with similar inherited talents. If only they knew if those talents had come from their mother or their father — but that they’d probably never learn.
“Tory? There is something wrong, isn’t there?”
She nodded. “I’m that transparent?”
“Pretty much, yes. According to my mother, you’d be a card shark’s dream. You know, sometimes I think she’s fibbing to me when she says she only plays the penny slots. I think maybe she’s hitting the poker tables when she and the rest of her geriatric posse hop on the bus and go riding off to Atlantic City. I don’t even want to think about what she and her geriatric girlfriends are doing in Vegas this week.”
“I like your mother,” Tory said, drawing up a mental picture of the tiny, white-haired lady everyone affectionately called Nana. “We should both pray to be as spry and alert at ninety as she is. I think she can out walk me. I know she can out talk both of us. You were … very lucky.”
“And you weren’t.” Peggy wheeled her chair over to the chaise so that she could take Tory’s hands in hers. “I don’t think they do today what they did to us more than a half-century ago. Break us up that way. At least I hope to God they don’t. Mom and Dad did try to find you and Stephen, you know, once I’d stopped sulking in my room like a world-class brat and told her about you. But by then it was already too late. Babies and cute little toddlers with curly black hair don’t stick around in orphanages as long as skinny eight-year old potential delinquents in pigtails, and you’d both already been adopted.”
“I know,” Tory said, squeezing her sister’s hands, hands that always seemed cold, even out here on the balcony, with a warm June sun shining down on them. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and bit the bullet. She was going to have to tell Peggy sooner or later; it might as well be sooner. “Allie found her father.”
Peggy let go of her sister’s hands and sat back in the wheelchair. “Oh. I haven’t asked you much about her father yet, although I’ve been dying to dig for all the details. I figured you’d tell me in your own good time. Or, it looks like, at a bad time. So, how did that happen? Allie finding her father, I mean?”
Tory shrugged. “The Internet. It seems nothing’s private anymore. You can find out most anything these days if you’re resourceful enough. And my daughter is very resourceful. I mean, we haven’t had this discussion in fifteen years. I thought she’d believed me when I told her I wasn’t sure who the father was, that she was okay with that, with me telling her that college had been a pretty … a pretty wild time for me.”
Peggy smiled. “Was it? I was a nerd, always with my head in a book. Tell me more. It would be pretty nifty to think one of us had a good time.”
Tory grabbed at Peggy’s effort to keep the conversational tone from descending into a maudlin retelling of something Tory didn’t want to talk about in the first place. “Nifty? Now you’re dating both of us. When my grandson likes something, he says it’s sick. But, no, I wasn’t wild in college. Far from it. Just the supplies for my art classes kept me pretty well below the poverty line. I had to work two part time jobs to just barely meet my expenses. If one of those jobs hadn’t been at a pizza restaurant, busing tables for a pittance and free slices of the stuff that didn’t sell out by closing time, I probably would have starved to death. As it was, I think it was ten years before I could look a pizza or calzone in the face again. Sam and I used to flip a coin, and the loser got the spinach calzone, because we both hated — well, never mind.”
“So there was a guy. One guy. And his name was Sam.”
Tory closed her eyes and could see Sam as clearly as if he were standing in front of her. “Yes. Sam. Sam McCormack.”
“A louse, obviously. What happened? He was okay with the pizza, but didn’t want any part of a baby? Had his school, his future to consider, and the devil with your schooling, your future?” Tory patted Tory’s hand. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m making up my own scenarios. It’s a professional failure, I suppose. It’s your story, you tell it.”
Tory got to her feet and walked over to the stone railing that edged the balcony. She had a clear view of the Atlantic from this vantage point, and normally she loved to simply stand here, and take it in. Right now, she could have been looking at a blank wall, for all she was enjoying the scenery.
“That’s the thing, Peggy. I didn’t tell it. Tell him, I mean. I just took off. I had my reasons, or at least I thought I did. At fifty-five, you don’t see things the same way you did at twenty-two. But I thought Allie was okay with it, I really did. In San Francisco nobody really asks too much about who your parents are, or things like that. Families are just families, and that’s the way it is. That made it all easier. But she’s married, has her own family now. Maybe her kids asked her about her father. I don’t know …”
She turned to look at Peggy, her eyes wide. “My God, Peggy — Sam’s a grandfather! I only know Sam the pre-med student. I have absolutely no idea how he’s reacting to what Allie did.”
“And what did Allie do? Oh, God, she contacted him? She told him? Without consulting you?”
“Yes, she did. Right down to a DNA test that proved Sam is her father,” Tory said, still struggling to age Sam McCormack in her mind. It wasn’t easy. “Worse, she told him where I am. What am I going to do, Peggy? If he ignores what he knows, that will just hurt Allie. But if he wants to see me, the way he said he wants to see Allie — and his grandchildren — what on earth am I going to say to him? He has to hate me, and I don’t blame him. I cheated him out of his daughter.”
“You can’t know that he won’t listen to reason, sweetheart. You did have a reason for leaving, didn’t you?”
“The barely twenty-two year old Tory thought she did, yes. She thought she had several good reasons. But what if Sam asks me why the thirty-year old Tory, or the forty-year old Tory, or even the Tory of today didn’t tell him he has a daughter? Because I’ll have no good answer for him, Peggy. None.”
“Or maybe you do,” Peggy suggested quietly. “Maybe you were afraid. Maybe you’re still afraid. Rejection isn’t something we get over all that easily, Tory. And you had plenty of it in your life, one way or another.”
“Our parents died, they didn’t reject us,” Tory protested, wiping at her wet cheeks, wishing she could be one of those stolid people who never cried.
“No, and now that you know that, maybe things look a little different to you. But to a small child who never knew why she fell asleep in her own house one night, only to wake up in a juvenile holding facility the next morning, her sister and brother gone, her parents gone? How does that child not grow up thinking she’s been rejected, abandoned?”
“Labeled unworthy,” Tory added, almost beneath her breath.
“Ah, Tory …” Peggy reached into her slacks pocket and pulled out a tissue, wiping at her own eyes. “And then your adoptive mother — no, let’s not talk about her again. Once was more than enough for both of us. You know what I think you should do? I think you should give it a couple of days, spend some time on the beach, thinking. That always helps me. Get your thoughts together, get your head on straight — and then call him up. Call Sam.”
“And say what?” Tory asked, her heart rate moving into overdrive.
“I don’t know.” Peggy grinned. “I guess you could always invite him to come down to Cape May for some leftover pizza and calzone.”