Falling Home by Karen White

By SMW Staff

Cassie reached for his hand resting on his thigh.  He jerked awake, his eyes meeting hers with a question.  She squeezed his fingers, feeling the bond between them, the bond that made her regard them as wild hothouse flowers, uprooted from the tropics and moved to an intricately landscaped formal garden.  They understood each other, sharing a mutual passion for their work, and never talking about how very far from home they both were.

Cassie blinked hard.  “I’ll come.  For Daddy.”

Joe sighed into the phone.  “Whatever it takes to get you here, Cassie.  Just come as soon as you can.”

Cassie heard whispering on the other end of the phone, then Harriet spoke again.  “Let me know which flight you’ll be on, and I’ll pick you up.”

“No.”  She said it too quickly.  She wasn’t ready for an hour alone in a car with Harriet.  “I mean, I think I’ll drive.  I’ll need a car while I’m down there, and…I’d like the time to think.  If I drive straight through, I can be there by tomorrow night.”

“You be careful—the roads aren’t safe for a woman driving alone.”

“Really, Harriet.  I can take care of myself.”

Harriet breathed into the receiver.  “I know, Cassie.  You always have.”

Cassie waited a moment, then said, “Tell Daddy…tell him I’m coming.”

They said goodbye, and Cassie hung up, staring into space for a long moment.  Finally, Andrew stirred next to her and she pulled her hand away.  “I’ve got to go back to Walton.  Daddy’s sick and wants me there now.  He’s dying.”

Andrew looked down at his carefully manicured hands, and drew in a deep breath.  “I’m sorry.”  He looked up.  “I’d like to come with you, but I can’t right now.”

Cassie regarded him calmly.  “I know.  That’s fine—I think it’s better you stayed anyway.  Walton’s not your kind of town.  You’d be screaming to leave after five minutes.”

He set his mouth in a straight line.  “It’s not that.  It’s just one of us needs to stay behind to see to business.  The BankNorth campaign is scheduled to hit next month, and we’ve got lots of work to do.  But I want you to stay as long as you think you need to.”

She touched his shoulder.  “Really, Andrew.  You don’t need to explain.  I understand.  And thanks.”

He nodded, then looked away.

Cassie rubbed her face, trying to scrub away old images.  “It’s so hard to believe.  I just spoke to him on the phone last Sunday.  He was telling me yet again that it was time to come home.”  She smiled at the darkness outside the window.  “He said the most peculiar thing.”

Andrew flipped off the lamp, then stood, pulling her into his arms.  “What did he say this time?”

Cassie nestled into the soft spot below his collarbone, wrinkling her nose at the tang of stale cologne.  “He said that Georgia dirt would always stick to the soles of my shoes, regardless of how many elocution lessons I took.”

Andrew snorted softly.  “The old Judge never gives up trying to argue his case, does he?”

Cassie shook her head.  “No, he doesn’t.”  She closed her eyes, knowing her Italian pumps would never have the patience for the clinging red clay of Georgia.

They stood in their embrace in front of the large plate glass window.  The never-ending traffic below pulsed and vibrated like an electronic serpent, moving with the city’s energy.  Cassie lifted her chin and stared out at the glittering city skyline, the hulking outlines of the surrounding buildings like the bruises on her memory.

Without being conscious of it, she lifted her hand to the frail gold chain on her neck, and placed her fingers around the four small charms that hung from it.  The gold was cool to the touch, but it comforted her, just as it had done many times since her mother had given it to her.

Andrew’s voice was muffled.  “You’re nervous.”

Cassie looked up at him.  “I am not.  Why would you say that?”

“Because you always play with your necklace whenever you’re nervous.  It’s one of your more endearing habits.”

She pulled away.  “I’m not nervous.  Just…thoughtful.”

Cassie dropped her hand, and Andrew bent to kiss her neck, his lips warm and lingering on her skin.  He lifted his head.  “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

She felt a prickle of annoyance.  “I don’t know, Andrew.  As long as my father needs me, I guess.”

He rubbed his fingers through highlighted hair.  “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound callous.  Stay as long as you need to.”  He sent her a dim smile.  “And don’t forget I’m only a phone call away if you need anything.”

Placing her hands on his chest, she fixed him with a steadying gaze.  “Actually, there is something.  I’m going to drive.  And I was wondering if I could borrow your car.”

She could see the internal struggle in his eyes from the glow of the lights outside.

He dropped his arms from her shoulders.  “My car?  You want to drive my car?”

Cassie could almost hear his internal struggle.  Nobody she knew in the city needed or wanted a car, much less had a place to put one, but Andrew had a house in Connecticut, complete with horse barn and garage.

His shoulders slumped slightly.  “Couldn’t you rent one?”  She could tell he wasn’t completely joking.

She took a deep breath, wondering if he would be as protective of her as his wife as he was about his car.  “I want something safe, reliable—and fast.  You know I’ll take good care of it.”  Trying to add some levity, she said, “And it is insured, right?”

“Very funny, Cassandra.  But what if it breaks down—I don’t know if I want a redneck grease monkey under her hood.  Those people barely know how to speak English, much less understand the intricacies of a German performance car.”

Cassie put her hands on her hips, reminding herself of Aunt Lucinda.  She quickly dropped them.  “Just because they have accents doesn’t mean they’re ignorant, Andrew.  Most of the boys I grew up with could rebuild your car from a junk pile and it would perform better than it does now.”  Cassie chewed on her lip, wondering why she had jumped to the defense of Southerners.  It wasn’t like she was one anymore.  She had rid herself of her accent along with her long hair and penchant for fried foods—although she still couldn’t bring herself to wear white shoes after Labor Day or before Easter.

Andrew sighed.  “All right.  You can borrow my car.  But you have to promise me you’ll take care of it, and have it waxed at least once.”

She pulled him closer and kissed him.  “Thank you.  I promise I’ll take care of it.”

Several hours later, in the pre-dawn morning, they caught the first train to Greenwich, Connecticut, and took his car out of long-term parking.  Andrew loaded her luggage into the small trunk of the small Mercedes, and spent twenty minutes going over things she could and couldn’t do with his car.

When there was nothing left to be said, he took her in his arms, and kissed her deeply, his hands sliding down her back in the practiced way he knew she liked.  “I’ll miss you,” he murmured into her neck.  “And I hope things go well with your father—call me and let me know how things are going.”

“Thanks, and I will.”  She brushed his lips with hers.  “I’ll miss you, too,” she said, as she pulled away and settled into the front seat.

She shut the door, put the car in gear, and sent him a brave smile.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that this parting was somehow permanent.  Swallowing the thick lump in her throat, she shouted, “I’ll call you,” then pulled away.

Her glance in the rear view mirror revealed Andrew standing in the parking lot, staring after his car until it rounded a corner and he disappeared from sight.

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Falling Home is an excellent book filled with love, loss, and engaging characters. — Cheryl’s Book Nook

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