Read Chapter 13 before you continue…
In the end, Elaina and Matthew got less than an hour’s sleep before she had to sneak back to her room. The departure was reluctantly conceded by both and hindered by frequent kisses and playfulness and repeated promises to meet later in the day. But when they heard the sounds of breakfast being prepared in the kitchen, they agreed that it was indeed time for Elaina to head back to her room if they did not wish to create an awkward scene for everyone in the household.
Elaina felt different. It was perhaps clichéd but she did. She had breezed through her bedroom into her attached bath for a quick shower but when she returned, the place looked different. It was a room she had lived in all her life but suddenly the white filigree vine motif crisscrossing across her faded yellow wallpapers did not look like they belonged. She needed new wallpapers, perhaps in a more vibrant color. She knew she was being ridiculous the moment the idea popped into her head – she was setting too much store by one night. Granted it was a glorious night but not enough to change the wallpapers of her room, which have been hanging there for over two decades.
So she waited a half hour longer than it took to get herself dressed before she went down for breakfast. She figured it was long enough for Matthew to have his breakfast and take his leave. She was still not sure how she would feel about seeing him in the morning light now that she had been with him fully naked in moonlight. As expected, when she entered the kitchen, she only found her mother occupying it.
“Oh, nice of you to make an appearance,” June exclaimed. “Matthew just left. I think the boy was lingering behind in hopes of bumping into you.”
Elaina went straight for the orange juice jar on the breakfast table and poured herself a tall glass of it. “I had a lie in,” she lied. “Was pretty tired from last night.”
“That’s what I told him,” she explained, but from the look she gave her only daughter, it was obvious that was not what she believed.
Elaina picked a seat that would keep her back to her mother as she blushed beetroot to her hairline. To make up for her silence, she noisily began piling her plate with the leftover stacks of pancake, scrambled eggs and sausages. She was generally a healthy breakfast eater but the relish with which she was consuming her cold breakfast was even too much for her. Obviously her mother thought so too.
“There’s a bit of batter Ethel left behind before heading out to the fair. Would you like me to make you another stack,” June asked.
“No, thanks,” she replied, working her way around a mouthful of pancakes. “This is enough.”
June brought her mug of coffee to the table and sat down. Elaina tried to ignore her mother’s quiet look in her direction but after a bite of sausage and a forkful of egg, she took a gulp of fortifying juice and ventured for normalcy. “I’ll head out to the fair right after I check on Annie and her colt. You want a ride?”
“That won’t be necessary, dear. Eloise Westwood is already on her way here to pick me up for the fair,” her mother replied, referring to her book club friend. June was quietly looking at her again, as if trying to figure out the best way to broach the topic occupying her mind.
“Ma, did you want to say something?” Elaina finally asked when her plate was empty and there was nothing else to demolish on the table to keep her mouth employed. She piled the empty platters and took them to the sink.
“I really like Matthew,” her mother began, as Elaina began washing the dishes.
“Me too, Ma,” Elaina replied, without pause in her activity, glad that her back was again turned to her mother, as her skin continued to burn red with consciousness. Hiding her blush was perhaps easier than the beat of her heart, which, in its volume, was another matter entirely and, she was sure, audible in the room.
“He is a good man,” her mother continued slowly, as though gauging her next statement before she made them.
Elaina was equally cautious. “I think so, too.”
“Which is why I hope you won’t be affronted by my cautions.”
Elaina remained quiet as she felt her mother had finally arrived at that pivotal moment of disclosure they were both waiting for.
“It’s great to see you finally take an interest in your love life, honey, but, frankly, I wish it had been with someone closer to home. I am aware that Matthew will be returning to New York in less than three days. Has there been any change in his plans?”
Elaina frowned. “We haven’t discussed it.”
“I see,” her mother paused before continuing, “And do you think he might stay longer?”
Elaina began putting away the dishes in the drying rack with more clamor than necessary, as though to obliterate the thoughts flooding into her head. She had known perfectly well the limitations of her involvement with Matthew before she initiated it. She had even heatedly defended her intentions when Hayden had brought them up couple of days earlier. Yet whether it was the events of the previous night or being posed with the same questions by her mother, who she had always believed to be the physical manifestation of her subconscious, the very same ideas began to have implications she was not yet ready to face. She was beginning to be sure she would not like these implications once she wrapped her head around them.
But her mother was waiting for an answer so she replied with care, with as much honesty as was currently true. “I don’t think so, Ma. We knew he would leave within a week before we began dating and understood fully what it meant. We were okay with… a summer fling.”
“A summer fling? Were?”
Elaina could hear the skepticism in her mother’s voice. Or perhaps it was the doubt that was quickly infiltrating her emotions. “We are okay with it,” she reinforced, trying to sound convincing. “We find each other attractive. I feel comfortable dating him, probably because it is destined to be brief.”
“Testing the waters of romance, imaginably?”
“Yeah, exactly,” Elaina grasped at the conclusion her mother drew.
“Oh, dear,” her mother implored. “I really hope for your sake that you know what you are doing. Romance is hardly ever just that. It is always an indicator of deeper emotions. Matthew is a good man but soon he will be gone and I know you. You’re my daughter and memories are never just simply memories for you. You tend to cling to your past –“
“This is not high school, Ma,” Elaina interrupted through gritted teeth, bracing her hands against the counter, as though to stem the shame and anger that always engulfed her whenever she was reminded of her prom night.
“But it still involves almost all of the very same individuals,” her mother replied. “You are an adult and I trust you to make the right decisions for yourself. Just remember that flings are relationships too and how they affect you greatly depends on how you handle them.”
Elaina did not want to continue the argument, mostly because she knew her mother was right to caution her, so she nodded to show that she would heed the advice. And as always, her mother knew when a topic needed to be closed.
She heard June push back her chair from the table and walk over to her. Her mother patted her shoulder to comfort her before leaving the kitchen. “I’ll see you at the fair. Do remember to stop by at the Baker’s corner. I hear Mary-Jane stayed up all night to prepare the food for her stall and that it will be a real treat this year,” said she, referring to her friend Eloise’s daughter-in-law who was well-known in these parts for her confectioner skills. “Oh, and you might consider changing your top or wearing a scarf, my dear. There seems to be quite a spot on your left shoulder.”
Elaina frowned and waited until she heard her mother’s footsteps retreat up the stair before rushing to the hall mirror to check what June was referring to. There it was – a love-bite the size of a half-dollar coin. How had she missed it when dressing this morning? Typical, her luck. She maintained a chaste lifestyle all the way into her mid-twenties and indulged in one transgression. Only to have it painted all over the town for everyone to see – or, in this case, have it blossom on her left shoulder for her mother to see.
Matthew let out an inward sigh of relief when the car pulled into the makeshift parking lot of the fair. Ever since he informed Brooke that he would be spending the day with Elaina, the tension inside the car had become palpable. He had felt a certain apprehension letting his friend drive him to the fair to begin with. When he had reached the McKennas’ house that morning after spending the night at the Coreys’ and had the misfortune of bumping into Brooke on his way to his room, he knew Brooke had been unhappy. But when she had turned around and offered to give him a ride to the country fair, he had allowed himself to believe that all was alright.
He had believed wrong. The moment he entered the vehicle, she had pounced on him.
“How long do you wish to stay at the fair,” Brooke had asked, starting the engine and shifting gear.
“Not sure,” he had replied. “However long Elaina wants to stay, I guess.”
Matthew felt it. The air within the small space of the car turn slightly colder but he plunged on. “Yeah. I figured I’ll let her show me around the fair to help me shoot the most traditional elements of the fair.”
There was a pause. “I could’ve shown you that, I think,” was Brooke’s quiet reply.
Uh-oh. “I’m sure you could’ve but it has been a while since you have been to a local fair.”
“But you said traditional, didn’t you? The traditional rides and activities were there even five years ago.”
She had a point there so he remained quiet, hoping she would let him off hook.
But if it were only that easy. “It’s just that you came as my guest with me and yet we haven’t spent any time together.”
“True. But we can hang out when we get back to New York. I have only two more days to shoot in the country.” He had only two more days to spend with Elaina, he thought, but he felt it was better left unsaid.
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe I would’ve liked to show you my town the way I see it?”
There it was. The guilt. And until that moment Matthew did not even think there was any reason to be guilty. He had done a colossal job in ignoring his host. “I’m sorry. I’ve been a cad.”
“Yes, you have.”
“Well, how about if we spend tomorrow together? All day. You can show me everything you love about this town.”
“Whatever,” she had replied with a roll of her eyes. After which they had not spoken for the rest of the journey, the silence an obvious indicator that her ire with him had not cooled.
So could a body blame a guy if he jumped out a vehicle the moment it came to a stand-still at the parking lot? “Bye,” Matthew all but threw over his shoulder, slamming the door soon as he was out. “Don’t wait for me. Am sure I’ll find a ride back.”
“Am sure you will,” he thought he heard Brooke mutter before he heard the engine turn off and the car door slam shut a second time – definitely louder than he had shut it.
Read Chapter 15!