It was his third day there when his mother invited him to sit and chat in front of the blazing fire that kept the freezing winds blowing off the bay from frosting over the inside of the house. He remembered working outdoors on days like this, when the ice and rain had turned his fingers stiff. It had been like that the day she’d sat him down and told him he was going to West Point.
Not a single gray hair could be seen in the black tresses his mother always kept pinned up in a crown, and her blue eyes looked young and vibrant as she told him stories of things that had happened during his absence. Amanda Parker-Wadsworth would never look old, his stepfather, Ralph, had said when Seth had commented on her appearance. Because she didn’t act old, and that was what kept her young.
Seth had laughed good-heartedly at the explanation, while another small corner of his heart broke loose, as it always did when Millie appeared in his mind. She’d be a hundred and still twirling around like a youngster, with laughter shining in her eyes. Her antics and delight had made him feel young, carefree, too.
“You’ve grown awfully quiet,” his mother said.
Pulling his thoughts back to the present, he shrugged, and then stood up to add a log to the fire. “Ghosts, I guess.” He flashed her a smile. The house was old, and they all talked about the ghosts of generations gone by.
“Past or present?”
Something clicked in his mind, like the snap of a stick in the woods that told you someone was watching, following. He sat, pondering all that weighed heavily upon him, before he answered. “I don’t know.”
“Tell me her name.”
Seth glanced up as a shiver shot all the way to his toes.
His mother smiled in an understanding way. “You are a grown man, one I’m very proud of, but you’re still my son, and I’ve known since the moment you walked through the door that something’s troubling you. A mother’s intuition tells me it’s a woman. One you love very much.”
He shook his head. “I can’t love her.”
“It’s too...” A heavy sigh left his chest.
“Too complicated? Too hard to explain?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he answered, staring into the flames.
“We have all afternoon.”
Drawing in a breath, wishing it could cleanse him, he shrugged. “I could talk all year and not understand it.”
“Maybe,” she said softly, “it’s not for you to understand. Something you just have to accept.”
He let out a lackluster chuckle as his insides churned. “I could never accept what happened.”
Running a hand through his hair, he wished he could do something, anything, to release the energy bottled inside him. He pushed himself from the chair and crossed the room to stare out the window. There was nothing to see except leafless trees and a dusting of snow covering the ground. Nothing to grab his attention and make him forget.
Coming up behind, his mother rubbed his arms, patted his shoulders. “She’s probably as miserable as you.”
“No, no she’s not,” he insisted, yet he had to wonder. Hope.
“I’d beg to differ,” Amanda said.
He spun away from the window, angry there was nothing to see. Angry at himself for still caring. Angry...just angry. “You don’t even know her.”
“Then tell me about her.”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“Does she have black hair, blue eyes?”
“No,” he said, growing lost in the vision in his head. “They’re brown. Her eyes and her hair.” He swallowed at the lump forming. “Her eyes are unbelievable. They glimmer in the sunlight, in the firelight, like you wouldn’t imagine.”
“And her smile? Is it like an angel’s?”
“Yeah,” he said, but then changed his mind. “No, it’s more like a pixie’s. Whimsical and magical yet, mischievous at the same time.”
And that’s how Amanda Parker-Wadsworth, with her gentle, prodding questions, broke through his shell. Before Seth even realized it, he was telling her everything. From how he became a major to the reason he was sitting here talking about the most wonderful woman on earth, and why he couldn’t love her.
“I knew a man once,” his mother said, “that was so stubborn no one could tell him anything once he set his mind. Everything was black-and-white. No shades of gray. This way or that. No middle ground.” She let out a sigh, then giggled. “Goodness but he drove me crazy, and dear heavens, what I wouldn’t give to see him one more time.”