“He’s taking a bath,” Chloe said as she set the table for dinner. “We went hiking today.”
Cass couldn’t hide her surprise. “You went hiking?”
Chloe nodded, trying to suppress a smile. “Apparently I’ve taken this place for granted all these years.”
Cass checked the pot roast in the oven. “We all do, honey. We see it everyday, so there’s nothing special or new about it, until we see it through the eyes of a newcomer.”
“He took a lot of photos. I can’t wait to see them. He still uses film, you know.” She didn’t mention that she was in most of the photographs. As they roamed the countryside, he’d photographed her constantly, as if trying to preserve her image, to keep it from fading. She wanted to preserve his image, too, so when he disappeared from her life….
No. Mustn’t think that way.
It’s going to happen. You know it will.
Men are all alike. They don’t believe in forever.
The sound of Cass’ voice brought her out of her internal dialogue. “Sorry,” Chloe said. “I was lost in thought for a minute there. That pot roast smells heavenly.”
“Obviously.” Cass smiled, unwilling to allow Chloe to change the subject. “You really like him, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Chloe admitted.
“Maybe he’s the one,” Cass suggested.
Chloe shook her head. “It’s not like that between us.”
“Chloe Masters, you’re a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Cass scolded her. “Your relationships fail because you expect them to fail.”
“I’m a realist,” Chloe said with a shrug.
“That young man flew over a thousand miles to be with you because he knew you needed him,” Cass reminded her. “How can you assume he’ll abandon you?”
“Gabriel and I are friends, Cass. Just friends,” Chloe insisted.
“Sometimes I think that’s the only way men and women can maintain a relationship--agreeing to be just friends.”
“Cass, I really don’t want to get into this.” Chloe opened the silverware drawer and took the appropriate number of knives, forks and spoons out. “He’s a wonderful man. But it will never be anything more than a friendship.”
“You and your mother. Two of a kind.”
“My sperm donor--I can’t even call him Dad--broke her heart,” Chloe said with unmasked anger in her voice. “Why would she take a chance on being hurt like that again?”
Cass hesitated. “She did.”
Chloe stopped what she was doing. “No, she didn’t. There was never anyone else. She knew better.”
“There was someone, briefly,” Cass said. “She never told you, at first because she wanted to wait until she saw if it was going anywhere.”
“At first?” Chloe asked.
“Later, she was just too embarrassed.”
Anger rose in Chloe. “What happened?”
“You remember George Hart?”
Chloe gave it some thought. “Sure. He and Carol divorced just before I moved to New York.” She looked at Cass. “Mom dated George?”
“For about six months,” Cass said. “She was so happy, I thought she was finally getting over Jay. Then one day I came over and found her in tears.”
“He went back to Carol, didn’t he?”
“Mom should have know better,” Chloe said. “He was a wreck when Carol left. Everybody thought they’d get back together.”
“She thought so, too,” Cass said. “She asked him early on if he thought he and Carol would ever remarry. He told her he didn’t see that happening.”
“She asked the wrong question,” Chloe said in a strained voice. “She should have asked him if he wanted to get back together with Carol. There’s a huge difference.”
“She was planning to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner,” Cass remembered. “She wanted to tell you they were seeing each other. She thought if you could see her happy with someone, you might realize that the only one you were hurting with all that anger you carry around is you.”
“Backfired, didn’t it?” Chloe picked up a knife and gripped it tightly.
“He came over the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and told her he and Carol were going to remarry. They’d set a date. Christmas Eve.”
“How romantic. And I’ll bet he asked Mom if they could still be friends. Maybe even invited her to the wedding.”
“I don’t know, honey.”
“They always do. Break a woman’s heart, then ask to still be friends.” Chloe threw down the knife and headed for the stairs.
“Chloe, don’t say anything to her.”
“I won’t,” Chloe said. She wasn’t going to talk to her mother. She was going to talk to Gabriel.
She knocked on the bathroom door. “Gabriel, are you decent?”
“About as decent as I’m capable of being,” he called to her from the other side.
Without waiting for an invitation, she opened the door and went inside. Gabriel looked up, shocked. The water in the tub was up to his chest and filled with bubbles that concealed the rest of his body. Normally, Chloe would have commented on the bubbles, but at that moment she was far too upset. She sat down on the toilet. “I just found out my mother let two men make a fool of her.”
Gabriel said nothing, waiting for her to go on.
“She dated this guy from our church. He was divorced, sure, but everyone knew how hung up on his ex-wife he still was.” Chloe wasn’t even looking at Gabriel as she rambled on. “Never, ever date a man who’s still hung up on someone else. Mom should have known that. I know that. I want to be the first choice, not the backup plan. It’s a matter of pride. You get that, don’t you?”
Gabriel nodded, looking baffled. “Of course.”
“She dated him and he dumped her to go back to his ex. And he had the nerve to ask her if they could still be friends. Friends! He broke her heart and he still wanted to be friends. Can you imagine that?”
“No,” Gabriel said slowly. The bubbles that covered him were starting to disappear.
“I suppose he and the wife were going to invite Mom to dinner so they could all be friends. No harm, no foul. Dirtbag!”
Gabriel was looking at the remaining bubbles. They were going fast.
She turned to look at him for the first time. “We’re never going to end up like that, are we?”
“No, of course not.” Fewer bubbles. Not much cover remaining.
“Thanks for listening.” She leaned over and kissed him. “You’re the best friend I could ever have.” Then she got up and left the room.