As always, Dennis knew exactly what she needed and provided it. As she stood on the deck of the little cottage at the top of the walkway leading to the shore, she marveled at how well he understood her. Leave it to Dennis to arrange for them to enjoy an end-of-summer vacation on the coast. The cottage was charming — just right for the three of them. It was located a scant mile or so outside a quaint village that tourists had yet to discover. Dennis learned about it from a colleague who rented the same cottage a couple of summers earlier. The little town was per se Americana, complete with a Labor Day fireworks display heralding the end of the summer season.
“Leaving?” she responded breathlessly to the curve ball fate had just pitched directly to her. “No, I’m not leaving. I’ll be back in a few moments.”
“Oh, good!” he said genially. “I was hoping we could catch up a bit.”
She studied his eyes, remembering all the times that, as a young woman, she had looked expectantly — hopefully — into them. He looked exactly the same save for the small but distinct lines at the corners of his eyes that had grown more pronounced when he smiled and a few gray highlights in his hair. He was as impossibly attractive as ever.
The telephone began ringing just as she closed the door to her hotel room and started down the hallway toward the elevator. She never even considered not turning back to answer, confident that the call was either from her son or Dennis.
“Hey, Mom,” her son said cheerily before she even had a chance to say “hello.”
“Breathe . . . breathe,” her friend urged, as she knelt alongside her chair, rubbing and patting her back. “Come on . . . deep breaths. You can do it. Get some air into your lungs . . . there you go . . . you’ll be all right.”
Upon hearing that he was planning to marry the woman with the dark heart — and the betrothal had been publicly announced — she had been unable to catch her breath. Her eyes filled with tears, she was rendered mute, and she thought she would suffocate. Her friend immediately came to her aid, soothing and consoling her as she struggled to maintain her composure and avoid the stares of the cafe’s other patrons.
The ringing telephone startled her awake. She sat straight up on the couch, disoriented. The telephone was on the coffee table directly in front of her with a hand-written note taped to it: “Make an appointment with the doctor. I’ll call later and check up on you. Love, Me.”
She threw off the blanket that covered her and reached for the telephone, noting that she was still fully dressed.
“Hello,” she said groggily.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Dennis replied tenderly. “I didn’t want to call too early and wake you up, but it sounds like I did just that. How are you feeling? Any better?”
The sun was just setting when they arrived at the nearly empty restaurant. He turned to her and asked, “Would you like to take a walk on the beach before we have dinner?”
Although she didn’t feel well and would have preferred to be home sleeping, it was a beautiful night. The sky was perfectly clear, the air crisp. She reasoned that the sea air might help settle her stomach and relieve the pounding in her head that only intensified as she studied his every gesture and movement. She searched his face for clues as to what he was thinking and feeling.