"And damsels in distress love them." His eyes were an extraordinary color.
They danced with laughter. His voice dripped with innuendo.
"Damsels?" I gave a barkish laugh before I could choke it back and felt myself grow red. I waved toward the rectory. "You're a priest. How is that appropriate?"
His eyes followed my hand, and his smiling face blanched. It had held a hint of tan that I only noticed as it washed away. "Where'd you get that? I'm—I'm the yardman."
He stumbled over his job title as if surprised—or lying. "Are you?" The lawyer in me awoke.
He leveled his gaze on me, and the eyes glittered again as if he knew exactly what I was doing and found it amusing. But people don't deal straight unless pushed.
"Yes. My brother lives there. Father Luke, he's the priest. You can go ask him who stole half his roast beef on rye if you'd like."
"I believe you." I remembered why I was holding the handkerchief and dried my eyes. I then forgot it was a handkerchief and blew my nose.
He caught my shocked expression and smiled again.
"I think I should keep it now. I can wash it and get it back to you."
He flapped his hand. "That's what you were supposed to do with it. I have plenty."
I scanned the park. We were the only ones out.
"It's not a nice day for yard work." I gestured to the burlap.
He twisted to follow my gaze. "It's not, but it's my job. And if I don't get all these covered today, we might lose some. We weren't supposed to get really cold weather for another week, but we're dipping to the single digits tonight and snow is coming. Shows what the meteorologists know."
"I didn't know it would be so bad when I left downtown. I came for a funeral." I waved my hand in the general direction of the Episcopal church. "Madeline Carter?" At my nod, he added, "I was there too."
"I'm not surprised. It was packed. She was well known, wasn't she?"
I heard the lift in my question even if he didn't. 'Who was she? Really?' After seeing Dad, hearing him, feeling his shame—for that's what had layered him like a thick coat this morning—I wondered if I knew her, or him, at all.
"Well loved, that's for sure." The man pulled pruning shears from his other back pocket and tipped them across the street. "She met me at Luke's about a year ago. She brought me soup, and books. Always books. You?"
"She was my aunt."
His brow furrowed. Years of watching clients had taught me well. My comment either confused or bothered him. Before I could ask, he cleared the emotion from his face. "You sit and I'll leave you be."
Irritation tempered by disappointment.
I shook my head and stood. "I can't." I found myself eye to chin, thinking his was a nice chin. Clean-shaven with a good, firm jaw and straight lines. I liked straight lines. Clear facts. Strong foundations. My gaze drifted north again and, despite his obvious displeasure in me, I found kind eyes—and ears that stuck out a little. That made me smile. Dumbo's ears stuck out too.
I noted that he caught the change in my smile. His eyes flickered a question.
"The train," I blurted. "I have to catch the 12:11 back downtown."
"I'm sorry for your loss." He turned and walked away.
I hesitated, not long enough to get his attention, but long enough to feel silly staring at his back.
Then I did the same; I turned on my heel and walked away, booking it double-time to the train station.
* * *
Ten forty and the church is packed. It should make me happy that everyone feels about Maddie as I do, that everyone loves her and will miss her, but it only ticks me off. I spent every day for the past two years with the woman, and now I can't find a seat from which to send her off. Who are all these people? Where were they these past months? Or these past weeks when hospice came and her house grew quiet with that warm, sticky scent of death? I can't blame them. I want to, believe me I do. But I can't. Maddie never let anyone know how bad it was. I only found out because I trampled on her privacy, for my own purposes. I had nowhere else to go, so I forced her to let me in.
Each night as we closed up the bookshop I'd ask her, "What are you up to tonight?" She was my employer, and more than ten years my senior, but I secretly hoped that one night she might hear my loneliness and maybe suggest we go out to dinner.