by Elaine Faber
Second Chances is an excerpt from Elaine’s novel Mrs. Odboddy, Hometown Patriot. Her new book, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier has just been released and is available as an ebook for $3.99.
“You never have a handkerchief when you need one. Here, take mine.”
Agnes shaded her eyes and looked up. Godfrey Baumgarten? How long has it been? The years zipped away as the flickering light played across the man’s face. She took his handkerchief, dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. She stumbled to her feet and stared at the tall, distinguished, grey-haired gentleman grinning down at her with the same rakish smile she remembered too well. Her hand moved to her cheek, trying to brush away the feel of spider webs. Her stomach clinched. “You! What on earth are you doing here? It’s been over twenty years!”
“Correction. Twenty-four years, if memory serves.” He reached for her hand.
She jerked it away. “And nothing’s changed, Godfrey. Like I said, what are you doing here?” She crossed her arms and glared, making a conscious effort to still her shaking hands and pounding heart. After all these years, surely he couldn’t still affect her this way.
Agnes’s mouth turned down. “I didn’t need your help twenty-four years ago in Paris, and I certainly don’t need it now.” Her fingers tingled. Her cheeks warmed at the memories. She swiped her thumb against her index finger, trying to rub away the irritation that still lingered.
In truth, over the years, Godfrey had crept into her thoughts all too often. Just a moment ago, she was thinking of him and the next minute, he was standing right beside her. It was uncanny. It was…well, it was downright spooky.
She pursed her lips. He was grinning again, the rascal! The grin that had won her heart so many years ago and changed her from a dutiful wife and mother into a…into a…what? A fallen woman? A harlot? That’s what it was called in 1918.
How many times had she planned what she would say, should they ever come face to face again? How many nights had she imagined the conversation and scripted the dialogue? Now that he was close enough to touch, she couldn’t remember one sentence, one comment she’d so carefully rehearsed. Twenty-four years since they’d laid eyes on each other–-not to mention other body parts, and she couldn’t recall one single well-rehearsed phrase. I suppose my face is all puffy from crying.
Her lips curved in a smile. Now that the opportunity was at hand, her tongue was tied in knots and the only thing that popped into her head was whether her eyes were puffy. She swallowed hard and sighed.
Godfrey’s blue eyes, so like cornflowers in springtime, sparkled in the dim light. “Agnes…Were you thinking of Douglas? You know, I loved him too. I lost both of you when he died, and you sent me away. It didn’t have to be that way.”
He was much too close for comfort. His aftershave triggered memories of moonlight, bonfires at the beach, marshmallows on a stick, too many stolen kisses and gentle hands… As pleasant as the memories, all were a betrayal to Douglas and to her marriage vows. Agnes sighed, sat back on the bench and scooted away. “I had to leave you if I was ever to regain my self-respect. We both knew it was wrong.”
“How can you forget what we had together? I thought when he died, that we might have a chance–-”
“How could you think that? How could that suddenly make it right?”
“Surely, you don’t think I’m totally responsible for what happened between us.” He sank down beside her, his eyebrows raised. “Was it all my fault?”
“I counted on you to keep me strong, to control the situation. Yes. I blame you. You knew how I felt. How the guilt tortured me every time…” Agnes put her hands over her eyes. “I’m sorry if I hurt you. I had to make a fresh start.” She shook her head. “None of it is important, now. I’d forgotten about you years ago. I can’t remember the last time I even thought of you.” Liar! Liar! Pants on fire…
What was a woman of her age supposed to do when an old lover from nearly a quarter of a century ago appeared out of nowhere, smelling of Old Spice and peppermints? He still looked the same as back in the day when they had spread a blanket on the beach, and…and…
Don’t go there, Agnes. She dabbed the hankie at the tears clinging to her eyelids.
“Agnes, dear. Whatever is troubling you can’t be all that bad.” He lifted her chin with one finger. Their eyes met.
So much time had passed, and still the touch of his finger made her toes curl and her heart race. What’s wrong with me? I’m an old woman. I’m not supposed to have these feelings.
The last time Godfrey caused her to lose her senses, she’d blamed it on weakness, the stress of war, and loneliness. What was her excuse this time? Surely, not love.
Her corset seemed to get about twenty percent tighter. Was that the truth? After all these years? Did she still love him? She turned back toward the same rakish smile she remembered from World War I days. The same unruly hair, falling onto his forehead, grey now instead of steel black, like she remembered. She couldn’t deal with those eyes that pierced her very soul. The same piercing blue eyes that made her heart skip a beat when he glanced at her across the room…even before she had used loneliness as an excuse. Before Douglas went off to war…
Another shiver of guilt raced up her spine. She’d loved Godfrey even before her husband died, before twenty-four years had come between them, and… God forgive me. She loved him still. Was it too much to ask for a second chance at love? Godfrey pulled her into his arms.
Agnes sighed and leaned into his embrace. Sometimes, if you’re very, very lucky, there are second chances.
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