He kept his hand at her elbow as they walked along the waterfront. The scent of Puget Sound mingled with that of fried fish from the takeout booths in the crisp night air. The cold nipped at Jody’s cheeks and she buried her hands deep within the silk lining of her coat pockets.
“Here,” Glen said, wrapping the muffler her mother had knit for her around her face, covering her mouth and ears. “I can’t have you catching a chill.”
How thoughtful he was, she noted. This was exactly the type of thing Jeff would have done. Jody forced all thoughts of her dead husband from her mind. It was time to let go, time to put the past behind her and look forward, not back.
Remember Lot’s wife.
Jody didn’t know where the thought came from, it was as if someone had whispered it into her ear. Lot’s wife? Why she would even think of the Biblical character was beyond her. All Jody could remember was that Lot’s wife had turned into a pillar of salt when she fled Sodom and Gomorrah. Against the angel’s command, she’d stopped and looked back.
That was it, Jody realized with a sudden burst of insight. Instead of setting her course for the future, Lot’s wife had looked back over the life that she’d once had. In many ways Jody had been doing the same thing, and in the process she’d become frozen, unable to move forward to whatever awaited her.
They arrived at the ferry terminal minutes before the ferry pulled away from the huge dock, headed toward Bainbridge Island. Holding hands and laughing, Jody and Glen raced through the terminal and onto the ferry, their steps echoing like ricocheting bullets in the stillness of the night.
While Jody found them a table in the small cafeteria section, Glen ordered their caffé lattes. She was lucky enough to find a booth by the window. Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be many passengers. The majority of the commuters remained in their cars for the short crossing.
“Here we go,” Glen said, slipping into the seat across from her and handing her the thick paper cup.
Jody trained her gaze out of the window, watching the city lights grow smaller as the huge boat effortlessly glided its way across Puget Sound. She lowered her gaze to the hot drink cradled in her hands. The time had come for her to be forthright with Glen.
“You mentioned the other night that you’d learned I don’t date much.”
“That’s the scuttlebutt,” Glen agreed.
“I’m a widow.”
“I know that too, with a nine-year-old son. I was sorry to have missed meeting him.”
“Timmy and my mother went to McDonald’s for dinner. I’m sure he’ll still be awake when we get back.” She didn’t mention that he’d probably give Glen the third degree, asking him about baseball and other sports. To be fair she should warn Glen about her son’s inquisitiveness, but before she could he spoke again.
“No one seems to know much more about you.”
“I . . . generally don’t combine my home life with business.”
“I understand,” Glen was quick to assure her. “If you’d rather not talk about yourself, that’s fine. I don’t want you to think I’m pressuring you.”
“You aren’t,” she said, touched by his gentleness and how hard he worked to please her. “It’s only fair that I tell you about Jeff . . . he was my husband.”
“Only if you want,” he said and sipped from his coffee. As he did, Jody noticed what nice hands he had. Large, but gentle. They were the kind of hands that comforted a child, that shook on fair deals, and were rarely clenched in anger.
“I met Jeff shortly after he graduated from college,” Jody continued. “I was going into my junior year and we fell deeply in love. We dated for several months and talked about marriage. The next thing I knew Jeff had sold his car so he could buy me an engagement ring.” She paused as she remembered how she’d wept with joy the night he’d given it to her. For weeks afterward he took a bus to job interviews. “To make a long story short,” she continued when she could, “he got a job with Boeing and shortly after that we were married. Timmy wasn’t a planned pregnancy, but I’ve thanked God for my son every night since I lost Jeff. I . . . I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for Timmy. He . . . he gave me a reason to live.”
She paused, needing a moment to collect herself.
“Jeff’s job entailed a lot of traveling. He was always very good about keeping in touch with me. Timmy was only ten months old when Jeff was sent on assignment to Berlin. We set a convenient time for him to phone me each day. When he didn’t call one evening I knew immediately that something was dreadfully wrong. I tried his hotel room several times, but there wasn’t any answer.”
Her voice wobbled and Glen reached for her hand.
“A week passed with no word. Nothing. I was frantic and so was Jeff’s mother. Together we traveled to Germany. We stayed there nearly a month, in an effort to learn what we could.”
“You mean he just disappeared into thin air?” Glen asked as they pulled into Winslow, the dock on Bainbridge Island. The sound of the cars driving off the ferry was followed by those boarding. The activity in the cafeteria increased.
“It seemed that way. We did everything we could, pulled every string, made a nuisance of ourselves at the police station and the American embassy. The best we could figure then was that Jeff had gone for a walk along the Spree River, which was close to the hotel. There’d been a string of muggings and beatings that year. The only scenario the authorities could give was that Jeff had been the victim of such a crime and either been thrown or had fallen into the river. I toured every hospital in the city. Gloria, Jeff’s mother, did as well. She insisted Jeff was alive, and refused to give up hope.”
“I held on to the belief as well because the alternative didn’t bear thinking about. Soon there was nowhere else for us to look, no one for us to see. We didn’t have anywhere else to turn, and had no choice but to return to the States. Gloria lives on the East Coast and after I returned to Seattle, she continued to pressure the powers that be.”
“Did she learn anything?”
“Nothing . . . but I did.” Those early months had been a living nightmare to Jody. “As much as I believed in Jeff’s love for me and Timmy, I couldn’t help wondering if this disappearance was planned. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but you have to understand my mental state at the time. I . . . had him investigated. If there was another woman in his life, I needed to know about her. I had to find out if this was some kind of cruel hoax.”
“What did you learn?”
Jody focused her gaze on the caffé latte. “Very little. The only remote possibility came from a background check and I discovered Jeff had been approached by a government agency, the CIA, I believe—one of those—while he was in college. He turned down the offer. My father had a good friend in government who did some discreet checking and they reported back that what I’d found out was true. Jeff had been recruited, but declined, and that was the end of it.”
“How’d you manage to live?”
“It wasn’t easy because I wasn’t working at the time. Within a few months my finances were a nightmare. My parents helped me out as much as they could, but I didn’t want to live off their generosity. I couldn’t. Jeff had disappeared, but because there wasn’t a body I couldn’t collect his insurance or any of the other benefits that would normally be available to a widow. Somehow I managed to hold on for nine months, with the help of my family and a few good friends. Eventually I was forced into filing for a divorce in order to sell some property. That gave me income to return to school and live on until I could get a job.”
“They never found a body?”
Jody looked out the window, the night was inky and thick, and her heart felt more so. “Yes, eventually they did, but it took nearly three years.”
“My God, what happened?”
A tingling sensation roved up and down her spine even now, after all this time. “I . . . received word from the German police that they’d found a body caught in the cable beneath a bridge. They believed it was Jeff. They needed me to provide dental X rays and claim the body.”
“It must have come as a terrible shock.”
Jody managed a nod. “It was. As best the authorities could figure, Jeff was mugged, beaten, and knocked into the river and left for dead. The body was so badly decomposed that there wasn’t any real way of telling us much more than that. The news came at a bad time. Timmy had the chicken pox and I don’t think I could have borne returning to Germany. Those weeks in Berlin three years earlier had been the most painful of my life. I thought to ask Jeff’s mother to go, but she was always a bit eccentric and after Jeff’s death she became more so.”
“How do you mean?”
“She continually insisted Jeff was alive and was furious with me when I divorced him. Our relationship was strained afterwards. She claimed she’d talked to spirits in a séance, and Jeff had sent a message to her. He wanted Gloria to tell me how terribly disappointed he was in me because I’d divorced him. I didn’t talk to her much after that.”
“She insisted he was alive and that she’d been able to talk to him in a séance? It sounds like she had a rough time of it.”
“She has. I don’t know that she’ll ever fully recover.” Then again, Jody didn’t know if she would either. “My father, bless his heart, volunteered to make the trip. The dental X rays matched and that’s the end of it. That was nearly five years ago now. Jeff’s been gone a total of eight years.”
“I’m sorry, Jody, I really am. Jeff must have loved you and Timmy very much.”
“I know he did. I get angry with myself that I doubted him even for that little bit.”
“Anyone would have.” Glen took their empty cups and deposited them in the garbage. He slipped into the seat and seemed unnaturally quiet. “I don’t pretend to understand the grief you experienced, but I was in a relationship that lasted for three years. Breaking it off was one of the most emotionally difficult times of my life.”
“Would you think I was prying if I asked you what went wrong?”
His mouth moved into a half smile. “Not at all. You were frank with me and deserve the same consideration. I loved Maryann and wanted to marry her, but she’s a successful attorney and, well, I’ll simplify it by explaining that her career is more important to her than marriage. Somehow or another we got involved in a game of ultimatums. I wanted a wife and children. Maryann claimed she wasn’t ready for either. In the end she suggested a compromise. She thought it was a good idea for us to move in together. I wasn’t willing to fall into that trap, and that was more or less the end of it.”
“You still love her, don’t you?”
Glen lowered his gaze. “I think it’s very much like you and Jeff, I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her. It’s been several months now and nothing’s going to change. I’ve accepted that and apparently so has she. We still bump into each other in court occasionally, and it’s awkward, but there’s nothing left for either of us to say.”