Gaining Visibility(9)

By: Pamela Hearon



“Now don’t start belittling yourself. You’ve got loads of patience. Too much when it comes to some things.” Hettie didn’t say what, but Julia suspected she was referring to Frank . . . or herself. “I like seeing you restless and excited.”

“That pretty well sums me up right now.”

Hettie plucked another truffle from the new box Julia had brought this morning and nibbled on it. “Not sure where I failed with you. I can’t imagine wasting fabulous vacation time with exercise—at least, not the kind you’re planning on—much less getting excited about it.”

Chocolate dribbled down Hettie’s chin and Julia dug in her tote for a tissue to wipe it with. “Then you’ll probably disown me for admitting this.” She dabbed away the sweet spot. “But honestly? I’m looking forward to the business part almost as much as the hiking. Getting to be the procurer? Mmmm! I love the treasure hunt.” She lobbed the tissue toward a nearby trashcan and drummed the table when it went in. Then she clasped her hands together, determined to quiet her exuberance. “Camille is way better than I am with the customers.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Hettie laid a cold hand on her arm, but it warmed Julia’s heart. “You’re the one with the eye.”

Julia glanced down at her watch as she patted her mother-in-law’s hand. Time was running out here much too fast.

“You need to go on. I don’t want you rushing.” Hettie’s words and tone were pure mother. Julia had said the same things to Melissa countless times in exactly the same manner.

She really should be going, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet. The trip was only for three weeks, but she’d never left Hettie that long, and the separation was one of the things that had her so jittery. “Do you want me to push you back to your room?”

“No, the book club will be starting here in about ten minutes.”

Julia had shifted to the edge of her seat, but now she settled back again. “What was this month’s book?”

“Pride and Prejudice.” Hettie grunted and fitted the lid back onto the candy box. “Poor Lizzie. Blinded by her pride.” She gave her head a sad little shake. “Seven times I’ve read the dang book, always thinking one of these times she’ll drop those blinders earlier and go for it.”

Austen was a favorite, so Hettie’s comment piqued Julia’s interest. “Hey, if Darcy had let his prejudice slip and quit being Mr. Snootypants sooner, she would’ve come around. And I didn’t know you were reading that one. We could’ve read it together.”

“No, thanks. Seven times is enough. Lizzie and Darcy will just have to go on learning the hard way.” Hettie raised an eyebrow. “But don’t be thinking you’ll find a Darcy where you’re going. Those hot-blooded Italian guys? They’re anything but stuffy. Not a Mr. Snootypants in the bunch.”

The gentle reminder had Julia glancing at her watch again. She really should be on her way, but . . .

“Julia.”

She raised her eyes to meet her mother-in-law’s firm yet tender gaze.

“It’s time, sweetheart. Get out of here before you get caught by the book club. Those old women will be all over you wanting to talk.”

Julia’s eyes blurred with tears. She was being silly and overly emotional, but she couldn’t help it. She scooted close enough to give Hettie a long hug. “I’ll miss you.”

“Love you, sweetheart.” Hettie let go and pushed her firmly away. “Now shoo. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

Julia stood. “Can I do anything for you before I leave?”

“Yes.” Hettie nodded toward the candy. “Stick that in the chair pocket, would you? I don’t want to have to share.”

Julia did as she was told and then rested her cheek for a quick moment to the top of the lovely white head.

She paused at the door for one last wave.

Hettie threw her a kiss in return.

* * *

During the three-hour drive from Paducah to the airport in St. Louis, Julia sang loudly with each song that came on the radio—no need of her playlist to make her happy this day. And later, tethered to the airplane by a seat belt, she still felt like a kite set free, literally soaring above the earth, on her way to a new place, ready for a new experience.

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