“Honey.” He spoke her name softly, and she could tell he was trying not to cry. “I’m sorry.”
“Me, too,” she answered, determined to hold back her own tears. She had wept enough in the privacy of her own dorm room, and she wasn’t about to let him know just how devastated she really was. She took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice steady as she turned away from him. “And just so you know, I’m not going to tell anyone what happened.” She felt more than heard the almost imperceptible sigh of relief that belied his response.
“I never thought you would.” He gently took her arm and turned her to face him. “I know you won’t believe this, Honey, but I will always love you.”
“I know.” The tears finally came, and she let him pull her to him in what was ironically their first, and only, embrace. “I just can’t….”
He stroked her back. “I know.”
She took a deep breath and pulled away from him. There were no words that could express what she wanted to say, no thoughts that could adequately convey her emotions. She gave him a watery smile, then she turned and walked out of the room.
Three years had passed since that day, and she knew that her friends and family would say she had yet to look back. Within a month, she had been, to all appearances, comfortably ensconced in her new dorm room as a transfer student at her mother’s alma mater, with a new life, a new major, even a new name. For all intents and purposes, Honey had died the day her world had been shattered for the last time, and Madeleine had taken her place.
The last strains of the music faded away, and they were replaced with the sounds of someone clapping. She looked up with a smile as she closed the folder of sheet music and stood up from the piano. She quickly slipped the folder into the backpack she had left on a chair in the small practice room. “I’m sorry I’ve kept you waiting, Bob. I lost track of the time.”
“I’ve only just gotten here,” he assured her, bending down to kiss her cheek. He grinned. “Besides, I’m used to you being caught up in your music.”
She smiled automatically, hoping that she was reading more into his statement than was really there. “I’ll try to do better in the future, I promise.”
He took her backpack from her and looked at her in surprise. “I was only teasing, Maddy.”
“I know,” she answered softly. She shook her head. “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”
“Aren’t you feeling well?” he asked solicitously.
Vaguely reassured by the genuine concern on his face, she reached over to squeeze his hand. “I think I’m just tired. That’s all. I didn’t sleep too well last night.”
He wrapped his arm around her, and she leant up against him. Even though they had been dating for almost two years, it still surprised her just how naturally such gestures had become a part of their relationship and how right they felt. She stood still for a moment, drawing comfort from his embrace, then spoke quietly. “I had another dream about them.”
“Oh?” He set the bag down, and then led her back to the piano bench, where he gently pulled her down to sit beside him.
She looked at him gratefully and laced her fingers with his. He was the only person on campus who knew anything about her past, let alone actually known the group of people that had once been so dear to her. She would never forget the day she had told him the story of the past few years, and she knew that she would always remember that how he had understood, even when she had told him the entire story of her relationship with Brian.
“I suppose it should have been a happy dream,” she told him. “But it wasn’t. It was the summer I turned fourteen.” Despite the sadness she felt from memories the dream had brought to her mind, she smiled. “The summer after I first met you.”
He smiled half-heartedly, then when she was silent, he spoke. “You don’t know how badly I wish we had never had to move to California when we did. If only Mother hadn’t interfered…”
Madeleine shook her head. “No, Bob. I really wish you had never had to go through a custody battle, but in the long run, for your sake, I’m glad your dad didn’t bring you to Sleepyside.” She closed her eyes in feeble protest against the tears that were welling up. “After all, after everything that happened to us, I’m glad that you weren’t a part of the whole nightmare.”
He held her tight. “I just wish I’d been able to prevent it all to start with.”
“What could you have done?” she asked him softly. “None of us knew about either Brian or Trixie’s relationships, and we certainly had no idea that Jim knew what he knew, or even that there was anything for him to know.”
“Have you heard from any of them at all lately?”
She shook her head. “Well, Jim, of course, but he’s always so busy with work that we never get a chance to really talk anymore.”
“How does he like working with your dad?”
“Honestly? He claims he enjoys it, but….” she trailed off, pausing for a moment. “I guess it’s just that I never quite managed to believe that he really wanted to switch to business instead of finishing his education degree.” She wiped her eyes with his handkerchief. “He should be working to build his school, not stuck in a stuffy office in Dad’s corporation.”
Bob idly stroked her hand with his thumb, even as he pulled her closer to him. “Sometimes, your goals change when your world changes,” he reminded her softly.
“I know,” she admitted. “And I’m not blaming him. How could I? I was supposed to be a detective, not a French major minoring in music.”
“But you found your niche, Maddy. I know you focused on music when you first came here only because it helped you forget for a while, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re really good at it.”
Her heart warmed at the earnestness in his voice, and she smiled. “You have to say that.”
“But I’d say it anyway, because it’s true,” he assured her quickly.
“I am glad you think so,” she told him. “And I’m glad you never mind listening to me.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m not talking just about my playing, either.”
“Always, Maddy,” he replied. “I love you, and I will always be here to listen when you need an ear.”
“I love you, too.” Her insecurities of a few moments earlier had vanished when she had realized what was truly bothering her, and she knew that she really meant what she said. She moved closer to him, and he leaned towards her, gently brushing her lips with a kiss. A feeling of warmth flowed through her veins, and her eyes filled with tears. He had been so patient with her for so long, listening to her and understanding just why she so often felt and reacted the way she did.
He lightly brushed the tears away from her eyes. “I know it’s hard, honey. But somehow, we have to make peace with the past, so that we can have an unshadowed future.”
Honey. It was a simple term of endearment, and she was certain that he wasn’t even aware that he had said it. Her tears began to flow even harder as she realized that no matter how hard she had struggled to become Madeleine, she missed being Honey: the Honey she had been when she had first met Bob in Arizona, then again when they had met again in New York City only days before the mother he hadn’t seen in years had begun her fight for custody. She would never again be that innocent, she knew, but he was right. Somehow, they had to make peace with the past before they could focus on their future. “How?” she whispered. “How do I do it?”
He gently rested his head against hers. “Not you, Maddy. US. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
She squeezed his hand. “I won’t be able to do it without you. I can’t do it alone.”
“You won’t have to,” he promised. “I’ll make sure of that.”
“I’ve got to face them all again, don’t I?” She bit her lip. “At least we know where Mart and Di are.”
He hugged her to him. “We may have to wait for a school break before we can go to Minnesota, but we’ll do it.”
“It may take us that long to find the others.” She smiled tremulously. “Somehow, I don’t see Mother telling me Trixie went.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said confidently. “This isn’t the first time you’ve tracked down missing people, and I’ll help you. We’ll even find Dan.”
“We can really do this,” she whispered.
He nodded. “Yes, we can. We will.” He picked up her backpack and slung it over his shoulder.
She put her hand in his and allowed him to lead her away from the piano, but then she reached out and put her arms around him. “I love you.”
He leaned his head against hers. “I love you, too, Maddie.”
Author’s Notes: This story surprised me in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the fact that it takes this universe in an entirely different direction than what I had originally envisioned. The title, Chanson d’Espoir, is French for “Song of Hope.” As usual, thanks to Cyndi for previewing and support.