THIRTY-THREE – PICKING UP THE PIECES
Jenni Malone sat in the dining room of the A-frame watching the workmen repair the windows. She sipped on her coffee and smiled sadly. The men had done an amazingly good job in a very short time. Little of the house had been badly damaged, despite the storm.
Of course, the carpeting had been ruined, but Jenni managed to save most of Tony’s work—and that was the important thing. The art showed Tony’s soul, even if Jenni didn’t like the soul the work had portrayed lately. Art, whether good or bad, was an artist’s legacy.
One nice thing about the house belonging to a Frost, no one ever asked you to wait when you needed repairs. Jenni felt certain the workmen would have shown up promptly even if it had been the weekend. She hadn’t even had to talk with them about payment. She called; they came.
She blew across the surface of the coffee to cool it a bit more and then took another sip. She wondered if she’d ever know what happened in the house last night—how it got in the shambles in which she found it.
She didn’t feel entirely sure that she wanted to know.
She’d stayed at the house all night, just in case, fixing things up where she could and getting stuff out of the rain where she couldn’t. Several large drop cloths she’d discovered in the basement had come in handy. Even though she and Tony had parted badly, she didn’t want to see the house ruined. To her, the A-frame still felt almost like home.
Especially after she’d put away all the pictures and sculptures of Glory.
Despite her cleaning spree, she’d discovered nothing missing from the house—nothing except Tony’s boat. That puzzled her until she got the call from the Coast Guard. Then she knew where the boat had gone. And where Tony had gone. Still, robbery didn’t seem the motive for the shattered windows.
Jenni sighed and shook her head. No, it seemed likely she’d never know.
The door to the A-frame opened, and a cop stepped in. Rick, Jenni thought his name was. She’d met him once before. He was friends with Ivy’s boyfriend, Grant. The officer wore a concerned look on his face. Jenni stood and went to the door as he entered.
“You sure you’ll be all right now?” the officer asked.
He stepped back out of the door to lend someone a hand.
When he reentered moments later, he had Tony by the elbow. “Mister Frost?” the cop ventured.
Tony shook his head at the officer. “No, really,” Tony said weakly. “I’m fine. Thanks.” But he leaned on the policeman anyway. Tony was dressed in borrowed Coast Guard clothes and had a station-house blanket draped around his shoulders.
Jenni thought he looked pretty ratty for a member of the town’s richest and most powerful family.
Tony’s face lit up when he saw her.
Jenni smiled, seeing something in him she hadn’t for far too long. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi, yourself,” he replied quietly.
“You’re the best sight I’ve seen since the spotlight on that Coast Guard cutter,” said Tony. “Better, even.”
Rick Christopher looked from Tony to Jenni and then back again. Seeing he wasn’t needed, the cop stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
Tony gazed into Jenni’s green-blue eyes and smiled. “Thanks for taking care of the house,” he said.
She shrugged and frowned slightly. “I figured I owed you something, even if…”
“Even if I’ve behaved like a complete asshole for the last couple of weeks?”
“Something like that.”
He stepped forward to embrace her, but she pulled back.
“Did the doctors take a look at you?” she asked.
“Someone checked me over after the Coast Guard pulled me out of the water. They said I’m fine,” he replied. “Just a bit of hypothermia and exhaustion.”
She looked at him skeptically. “What about… the other things?”
He chuckled softly and stretched his neck out at her. “Look,” he said, “no marks.”
Sure enough, his neck looked as pure and unblemished as driven snow.
“What about… her, then?”
Tony took a deep breath. “She’s gone.”
Jenni arched her eyebrows. “For good?”
Tony gazed past her out the newly-repaired window overlooking the lake. “As sure as I am that I love you.”
Jenni turned away, hugged herself with her arms, and took a deep breath.
“Look,” Tony said, “I know that I’ve been a real shithead, and I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted nothing to do with me ever again.
“But I made a mistake in the last couple of weeks—a lot of mistakes. I know it now, and I’m really, terribly, terribly sorry. More sorry than I can say. I don’t know if you’ll ever understand what happened to me. I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t even know if I can explain it.”
He took a deep breath. “I realize we can’t start again from where we left off… but I hope you’ll give me another chance.
“Maybe we can find again what we had before… before I became a raving obsessed maniac.”
She turned toward him, tears on her face.
He stepped forward and hugged her. She put her arms around him.
“One day at a time,” she said softly.
“One day at a time,” he said. “Promise.”