From This Day Forward

By: Modean Moon

Chapter 1



The ringing of the telephone didn’t alarm Ginnie. Why should it? It had rung repeatedly all evening as her friends called with season’s wishes and last-minute revisions in holiday plans. She barely heard it over the recorded music-box Christmas carols and the laughter of her best friend Cassie’s three sons, roughhousing on the floor with their present to her, a ten-week-old collie pup.

She did hear it, though, and handed the armload of coats to Cassie. “It’s probably Frank.” She grinned and paused long enough to pluck a handmade ceramic ornament from the carpet and hang it high on the tree before stepping around opened toys and piles of discarded ribbon and paper. “I’ll bet he’s worried about what’s keeping us.”

She was still grinning as she picked up the receiver, more interested in Cassie’s attempts to get the boys into their coats and away from the dog than she was, at the moment, in the call.

“Hello.” Her voice carried her laughter.

“Will you accept the charges on a collect call from Todd Kendrick?”

Ginnie’s hand clenched on the receiver and she stood stunned into silence, unaware of anything, not even the feeling of her nails digging into her palm. One by one, sensations returned to her—the pleasant mingled scents of bayberry and fresh fir, the glow of the dying fire, the giggles of the boys and Cassie’s frustrated coaxing.

No! The word roared through her, then whimpered in her mind as her thoughts darted without coherence, as fleeting and random as the tiny lights on the tree across the room. Why now? Where is he? Oh, God, what can I do? Can I just hang up? What does he want?

“Ma’am?” the operator repeated more distinctly. “Will you accept—”

“Yes,” Ginnie said quietly, acknowledging that something far beyond her control had been set in motion, knowing that she had no choice but to talk to him.

“Ginnie?” His voice was deeper, no longer the childish one she remembered. “Mom?”

Mom. After all those years of waiting, and praying, now he’d finally said it. She stood quite still, consciously not allowing herself to show any weakness by slumping. “Yes, Todd?” Her voice was barely audible. It was the best she could do. Her heart pounded against her breastbone, its sounds competing with those coming over the faintly crackling line. “What do you want?”

“I’m coming home for Christmas,” he announced triumphantly.

It was a joke. It had to be a joke. Didn’t he know what torture he was putting her through? Or did he know and was he doing it deliberately?

She put one hand against the wall for support. “Where are you?”

“Oh.” He paused for a second. “I don’t know. Some pay phone just off the highway. It’s awful cold out here. Tell Dad I’m going to be a little late, because I’m having trouble getting rides.”

Pay phone? Highway? “Todd?” Tell Dad? “Todd.” She fought down the urge to yell at him. “Your father and I—you do remember that your father and I—”

“Sure,” he said. “Do you still have the Christmas tree in front of the big bay window? I love it over there.”

“Todd? Todd, your father and I—” She had no idea of how to reason with him. “We don’t live on the farm anymore.”

“Oh, gee. That’s too bad. Don’t worry. I’ll find you.”

“Todd.” She knew she was going to scream any moment now. “Where are you?”

“Ginnie.” He lowered his voice and ignored her question. “I haven’t forgotten.”

She bit down hard on her lower lip. No. He wouldn’t have forgotten. He had sworn not to.

“See you,” he promised. “Soon.”

Too late she remembered the operator who had connected the call. Too late she clicked down on the buttons, trying to summon her, trying to find out where the call had been placed. She continued clicking them long after the dial tone announced an open line.

“Ginnie?”

Cassie stood in the doorway with Ginnie’s coat draped over her arm as she studied her intently. “What’s wrong? There hasn’t been an accident, has there?”

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