FIFTEEN

Kat woke with a jolt, aware that the vivid red of her childhood coat had dominated a whole string of dreams. They were dreams of velvet, blood, red ink, and anger. Her stomach was in knots.

She threw off the covers, sat on the edge of her bed, and turned on the light. She looked down and stared at her dangling bare feet. In her half-awake state they looked so strange hanging there in the air, fragile and translucent, the thin bones crushable and the skin easily cut. It suddenly struck her as odd that these were the only two feet she’d ever get. Like her two arms and two legs and one set of lungs, one heart, and this one life, just like everyone else. In fact, she was one person in a sea of billions, and she was making her way through this life holding two basketsone filled with her problems and another with her blessings. Just like everyone else did.

Kat wiggled her toes and breathed deep. It was a hard thing to admit, but she’d been an ass the day before. Riley was rightever since she’d shown up here looking to settle the score, it was all about how other people had wronged /her,/ what they owed /her/. And when you went through your days like that, you always wanted more and more from people. You were always keeping score, checking that nobody else ever got the bigger slice of cake.

She hopped off the bed and padded across the wood floor of her bedroom, wondering how she could have thought it was OK to beg for forgiveness out of one side of her mouth and deny forgiveness out of the other.

Kat ran a brush through her hair. Riley had chosen the only option he thought he had to save the clinic project. He’d made a stupid assumption that the state money would eventually reappear. But it wasn’t like the millions were going to bankroll a life of extravagance. The money was used for examination tables, an X-ray machine, medical laboratory equipment, bandages, a playroom for children.

Riley’s mistake had been withholding his plan from Matt. He was aware of that, and was doing a fine job beating himself up without Kat’s help.

She’d asked Riley for the truth and he’d given it to her. It couldn’t have been easy for him to admit that he was broke and wallowing in bad debt, but he’d told her anyway.

And now everything felt wrong.

She’d come to Persuasion to sort out her past, true. But the real reason she was here was Riley. She was here so they could learn about each other, see if there was a place for the two of them, in each other’s lives and in the world. How were they going to discover that if they didn’t talk to each other? She’d hopped out of his pickup at the construction site yesterday and walked the two miles back home, full of righteous indignation. She’d refused his phone calls all evening and into the night.

And it felt all wrong.

Still wearing her pajamas, Kat tied her sneakers, ran down the stairs, and reached for her fleece jacket. She was out the front door in seconds.

As her feet hit the sidewalk and the cold darkness rushed by in her peripheral vision, she knew which route she’d be taking. Kat made it down Laurel to Birch and then to Main. She ran past Forest Drive, passing her father’s home without even a curious glance, and retraced the rhythm of her childhood.

Who lived in these houses now? She had no idea. But as she ran past them, the long-ago names floated into her brain like a forgotten languagethe Missonis, the Ballingers, the McClintocks, and finally the Wilmers, where she encountered the chain-link fence. Though a little winded, Kat had enough air to thoroughly laugh at herself. Once upon a time, she could vault this barricade without a second thought, hardly even slowing from a run. Tonight, she came to a full stop, grabbed the fence post, gingerly shoved the toe of her right shoe into a link, and prayed she could pull herself over. She felt a rush of pride when she hoisted her leg above and landed on the ground near the cedars. /The old girl still had it!/ Like always, Kat ran across the lawn to the side of the house, where she pulled herself onto the central air-conditioning unit to reach the porch railing. In her youth, this same railing had seemed as wide as a diving board. Tonight, under the porch light, it felt more like an emery board.

So she held her breath and raced across it with a quick tiptoe before she could lose her nerve. Kat gratefully found her way along the ledge of the dining room bay window, then held on to each of the three equally spaced window frames on the turret to reach the roof of the carport.

It was there she had second thoughts. She must be crazy! She was a thirty-seven-year-old woman with thirty-seven-year-old bones. What if she fell? And besides, it wasn’t like Big Daddy was patrolling the premises anymore. She didn’t have to sneak inside, did she?

Kat was about to climb down when it dawned on her that she didn’t have a key, and Riley might not be in the most gracious of moods after their argument, throwing open the front door to welcome her. She was almost there anyway.

Kat took a deep breath, steadied herself, then remembered the loose tiles. Sure, they’d probably been fixed at some point in the last twenty years, but she did her best to steer clear anyway, just to be safe. She was crawling along on her hands and knees when the tile she’d chosen to hold her weight gave way. She started to slide, and in a panic, she reached out and prayed that her fingers found the edge of something sturdy. Her foot hit the gutter and the slide stopped.

Kat closed her eyes for a second, steadied herself, and slowly, so slowly, climbed her way back up the carport roof.

She said a silent prayer of thanks as she reached the window, then, as quietly as she could, raised the wooden sash, feeling inside to see if a screen or storm window blocked her way. She found neither, and silently balanced her rear end on the window ledge, then swung her legs around.

She was in. Quickly she closed the window and tiptoed toward the bed.

She’d never really asked Riley if he still slept in his childhood bedroom, but there was most certainly a man sprawled out on the bed in the darkness, breathing deeply, and since Riley was the only current resident of the Bohland House, she figured it was mission accomplished.

Almost.

As soon as she took off her shoes and slipped out of her coat and pajamas, she realized how cold she was. With a shiver, she pulled away the comforter and slipped her naked body into Riley’s private cocoon. It made her smile to see that he still slept on his right side, and she curled up against his back and pressed close. He was warm. His body hair tickled her. She nuzzled her nose into the nape of his neck and breathed deep.

Hey there, said a sleepy voice. Riley flipped over to face her. What took you so long?

Kat giggled, noticing right away that he was naked, toogloriously, fabulously naked. I’m middle-aged. I don’t run as fast as I used to, and scaling the roof was a bit dicey, she said.

With his fingertips, Riley began to stroke her cheek. Middle age looks real good on you, in case I haven’t mentioned that, but I did leave the front door unlocked for you. Kat could see his wicked grin.

What? She smacked his biceps and laughed. You mean I didn’t have to risk life and limb to get to you?

Nope. He left little kisses all over her face and neck. But you got to admitit’s pretty damn hot that you did.

He was right. It was damn hot. Kat grabbed his head and brought her mouth hard against his. She wanted to inhale him, eat him alive, melt into his flesh.

Riley groaned in pleasure, extending the kiss down to her throat. You do know that this has been my primary sexual fantasy for the last twenty yearsKat Cavanaugh coming through my window, curling up against me, begging me to make crazed, unrestrained love to herright?

She giggled. How about having a crazed, unrestrained heart-to-heart talk with her?

Riley stopped kissing her throat. That was always a close second.

I want another chance with you, Kat said suddenly, before she lost the nerve.

OK

I want to get to know you againas the complex grown man you are, not the kid of my memories. I want you to know me, too, all of me, including my darkest mistakes and my brightest hopes.

I want that, too, Riley said, his voice warm and gentle.

I want to see if there’s a future for us. I’m so sick of wondering and guessing and fantasizing about you and meI just want there to /be/ a you and me. Kat’s eyes began to fill with tears. Riley, I know I was stupid and selfish yesterday and You sure were.

She laughed in surprise. Yeah? Well, you were stupid and selfish, too.

My God, I certainly was.

I’m sorry, Riley.

I’m sorry, too.

The tears streamed down the sides of Kat’s face. Riley wiped them away.

Kat, there’s something I want to say. I need to get it out there.

Let me go first. Can I go first?

Riley kissed her gently, smiling at her childlike enthusiasm. Sure.

Kat took a giant breath. She wanted to get through this without too much blubbering. I ask that you forgive me for keeping Aidan from you all this time out of spite. You were rightthat’s exactly what it wasand I’m so ashamed to admit that. Kat squeezed her eyes tight; then, when Riley tried to speak, she shook her head to convey that she wasn’t done.

Forgive me… oh God, Riley, please forgive me for taking away your right to be a father.

Kat opened her eyes again and stared at him expectantly, swallowing hard as she waited for his answer.

I forgive you, Kat. I truly do.

She mouthed a silent, /Thank you./ When she closed her eyes in relief, a whole flood of tears was released.

Please forgive me for sending you away like I did. The words broke from Riley’s throat in a scratchy whisper. Kat, forgive me for not even giving you a chance to tell me you were going to have my baby. I understand now how much you loved and needed me, and I know it must have killed you when I told you I didn’t want you anymore.

She nodded quickly. It did. But I forgive you, Riley. From the bottom of my heart, I forgive you.

Riley placed a gentle kiss of thanks on her trembling lips and breathed in the relief of the words they’d spoken to each other. He’d always heard that forgiveness was just as healing to the person doing the forgiving as the person being forgiven. Now, as they both basked in a double shot of forgiveness, he knew how right that was.

Riley gently cupped her face in his hands. Here’s my promise to youwe will be able to handle anything the world throws at us, as long as we face it together.

She smiled. I like that.

Who do you love, Kat? he asked, his eyes on fire in the darkness.

That’s an easy one, she said. I love Riley James Bohland, forever and ever, the way I’ve always loved him.

And who does Riley Bohland love?

Katharine Ann Cavanaugh, forever and ever.

What kind of car do you want?

A loaded Jaguar that I drive right off the lot, paid for in cash. She started giggling.

His hand landed on her bare butt. And what’s the first house you want to buy?

A run-down row house in Baltimore.

Riley laughed. How about the one after that?

Maybe a beach house. Or a ski chalet. Or maybe we can find an old Victorian rat-trap to get out of hock.

Ugh, he said. Moving along… how many kids do you want?

One is goodand I already got him. His name is Aidan.

Yes, it most certainly is. Riley paused and lifted Kat’s chin so he could look intently into her eyes.

Thank you for my son. Thank you for loving him so much and keeping him safe.

Thank you for accepting him into your life the way you have. Kat stroked his solid biceps, his hard chest. He’s a lucky kid. And he talked to me yesterday! I didn’t even have a chance to tell you! He answered my call!

Riley gathered her in his arms and held her tight, his hands caressing her from her shoulder blades to her upper thighs. It felt so good to her, she groaned out loud.

I knew he’d come around, Riley said, smiling. And now I have a little favor to ask.

Anything.

Would you be willing to give me one more?

It took Kat a moment to realize what he’d asked for, but when she did, she broke out in a smile. I can’t think of a single reason why we shouldn’t.

Me, either, Scout.

I think we should start trying right away.

You do? He gulped.

I’m ready for a Cherry Hill repeat.

Oh, thank God. Riley said it half-laughing and half-serious.

He kissed her, then let his lips slide down to her full breasts. All the while he moved his hands along her sides, across her rounded belly, to the crux of her smooth thighs. With his fingers, he read her, listened to her, heard exactly what she wanted and needed.

I need you to fuck me, she said.

I’m getting there, he said, smiling to himself at her greedy request.

Don’t tease me, Riley, she panted.

I’m trying to please you, so just lay back and enjoy.

With the gentlest pressure, he sank his fingers into her wet slit, then moved them up and down the length of her opening until she was writhing on his hand. He rubbed the swollen head of her clitoris, feeling it plump up further under his fingers, knowing he was bringing her close to coming.

This is the rest of my fantasy, just so you know.

Kat’s laugh immediately turned into a gasp of surprise when he introduced two fingers all the way inside her. He found her ready for him, as usual, but she felt particularly hot and swollen. The feel of her inner flesh on his fingers made him crazy with need. I’m going to take you now, sweetheart. I’m going to come deep inside you and give you a baby. Will that be all right?

She came on his hand, a strangled squeak of pleasure all the answer he needed.

Riley jumped up from his position on his side and kneeled in front of Kat. He put his hands on her ankles and widened her legs, then pushed her knees back toward her chest. She looked up at him with pure longing.

She knew this was the way it was supposed to be for them.

He positioned himself before her and was about to push himself in when she wrapped her little pink hand around his cock and whispered, I want to do it.

Riley saw a mischievous glint in her eye, like she was egging him on. He didn’t need egging. That was the last thing he needed. When she placed the head of his cock at her entrance, Riley shut his eyes and submitted to the pleasure of the slow, tight slide into heaven. When he opened them again, he saw Kat already halfway gone again, her eyelids heavy, her chest splotchy with the deep pink of arousal.

He didn’t know which was hotterthe look of abandon on her face or the way his cock went in and out of her pussyso he went from one insanely hot vision to the other, back and forth, in and out, suddenly aware that he could see all this beautiful vision because the sun was rising.

The light spilled in the window onto Kat’s body. His woman. His love.

She began to pant, then her eyes flew wide, and she said, Oh, Riley.

This is just right. You feel so right.

Immediately, he felt her flesh contract and shudder as she orgasmed, and he waited it out, went for the ride, until the moment came when his own gates flew open and everything he was and everything he ever wanted to be poured out of him and into her. He called out her name as his being went rigid, peaked, then came crashing back to earth, to Kat.

Riley told himself that if they were blessed to have fifty years to make love together it would never get old, that it would always be a destination for his soul, the glue that held his life together. It would always feel just like this.

Kat sat at the dining room table with her laptop, phone, pens, paper, calculator, and three large poster boards. She had four projects going simultaneously, and the strain of organizing everything had given her a dull headache.

But she had no complaints. She had Riley. She had Aidan. She had everything.

Looking at what was spread before her, Kat realized that the simplest of the projects was working with Cliff to create a charitable foundation in Phyllis’ name to contribute to the clinic. It took no persuadinghe’d loved the idea from the start, and he and Kat had had a long and enjoyable chat.

Her second project was figuring out a way to halt foreclosure proceedings on the Bohland House. It turned out the loan officer was happy to restructure the mortgage, admitting to Kat that the bank would be relieved not to continue with legal actiontaking on the Bohlands was publicity they didn’t need. Over dinner the night before, Riley said he’d tell Matt everything that very week.

Next on the agenda was Thanksgiving dinner for twelve, and so far everything was moving along smoothly. Kat was planning the traditional menu of turkey and dressing, along with a ham, all the usual sides, and three kinds of piespumpkin, apple, and pecan.

Her guest list included herself, Riley, Nola and Matt, her uncle Cliff and his wife and two granddaughters, who would be traveling from Cumberland, Maryland, Aidan and his girlfriend, Rachel, and Jeff the duct specialist from Connecticut and his out-in-the-open partner, Richard. The idea of having so many people in her new home filled Kat with joy, and only the smallest twinge of nervousness.

The last project was considerably more complicated, but once she’d gotten Riley’s OK to hold a volunteer extravaganza at the clinic the day after Thanksgiving, things had quickly fallen into place. Kat took that as a sign that she’d hit on an idea that was meant to be. It also helped that she’d enlisted anyone and everyone she could think of to help her pull it off.

The printing shop had whipped up flyers and delivered them all over town. Nola was reading one, tapping her foot in agitation:

Work off that turkey by pitching in at the *GIVIN’ THANKS BENEFIT* for the PERSUASION RURAL HEALTH CLINIC!

Bring your tools, paintbrushes, your know-how, your elbow grease, and your checkbooks and credit cardsour hometown state-of-the-art medical facility will open by Christmas only if YOU do YOUR part!

PLUS… YOU COULD WIN A DATE WITH POLICE CHIEF BOHLAND!

Friday, November 23, 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Nola’s foot-tapping escalated. OK, she said, placing the flyer on the table and looking at Kat expectantly. Explain to me again why this shouldn’t bother me.

It’s for charity.

But it’s a date! Matt’s selling himself for a date! It’s like he’s a gigolo or something!

It’s not a real date, Kat said, then went back to answering e-mails.

Oh yeah? Nola seemed truly agitated. Who says?

He says. Kat stopped what she was doing and noticed that Nola looked close to tears. Honestly. We just figured it would be a good way to get people to come in from other townsMatt knows a lot of people in Randolph County.

He knows a lot of /babes,/ is that what you’re saying? Nola pointed to the flyer again. Where do you think this band came from? Well, Matt got them to donate their time, and do you know why they agreed? Because he used to date the lead singer, that’s why! It’s an all-girl country rock band! I think I’m about to blow a gasket!

Kat tried not to laugh.

I’ve already moved in with that man! He shouldn’t be dating other women!

Nola jumped up from the dining room chair and disappeared into the kitchen. I’m starving, she said from the interior of the refrigerator.

No, you’re not starving; you’re anxiety-ridden! Kat called after her.

And I just read an article that said you should never eat when you feel anxious because the stress hormones turn the calories directly into abdominal fat.

When Kat got nothing but dead silence as a response, she glanced up to check on Nola. She was leaning against the kitchen pocket door, arms crossed defensively across her chest.

So you’re saying I’m fat? she whispered, incredulous. First you make my boyfriend the prized stud at the county fair, and now you tell me I’m /fat/?

Kat would have busted a gut laughing if Nola didn’t look so forlorn.

Have you talked to him, like I suggested? Kat led Nola into the living room and sat her friend down on the love seat.

Nola sighed. Yeah. I talked to him last night.

And? What did he say? Kat’s cell began ringing, but she didn’t answer.

Aren’t you going to get that? And you never did reassure me that I wasn’t fat. Nola was clearly in a huff.

The phone can wait. You’re not fat. What did Matt say? Kat sat down next to her.

He said not to worry, that it’s just an auction thing where people can bid to get him out of jail and then go out to eat with him. It sounds stupid and harmless, but I’m just a little freaked about it.

Kat smiled at her. I understand. But you can bid, too. You could be the one to pay his bail and get the date.

Nola’s eyes lit up. I could, couldn’t I!

The doorbell rang. Over her shoulder Kat called out, Come on in!

Nola sighed and went on. I just don’t want that big-ass breakfast-in-bed owner to get her hooks in him again, that’s all/ohmigod/.

Kat watched as Nola’s eyes widened and she sank back into the love seat.

Hello, ladies, Madeline said. I hope I’m not intruding. I did just try to reach you on your cell to say I was coming up the walk.

Madeline was tempted to take the fresh-baked pumpkin loaf she held in her hands and grind it into Nola’s face. If it weren’t for the fact that the bread was far too light and fluffy to inflict any harm, Madeline would have thrown it at her.

Hey, Madeline! Kat got up from the sofa. Come on in. We’re doing some planning. Join us.

Madeline took a tentative step inside Kat’s house, thinking that it must be nice to have the kind of money that made it possible to order absolutely everything being sold between pages 1 and 100 of the Pottery Barn catalog. Even the rug was gorgeous. Thanks, Madeline said, following Kat through the living room, keeping Nola in her peripheral vision. I brought you a pumpkin loaf. It’s just a sampling of what I might be able to whip up for the fund-raiser.

Kat reached out and accepted the gift from Madeline. That was very nice of you. Would you like a cup of coffee and maybe a slice of this obviously delicious bread? Kat put her nose to the cellophane and hummed with delight.

No, thank you, Madeline said, taking a seat and pulling a clipboard from her shoulder bag, pleased that at least Kat knew fine baked goods when she saw them. What kind of crowd are you expecting at the benefit? Her eye caught Kat’s Thanksgiving to-do list.

I’m hoping five hundred, but you know, Madeline, before we get started, I was wondering if we could clear the air between us. Kat took her seat.

We’re going to be working together for the greater good, and I just live a block from Cherry Hill, so I was wondering, are you willing to meet me halfway? Can we just let bygones be bygones?

Nothing Kat Cavanaugh could have said would have stunned Madeline more.

It took her a moment to pull herself together. She surprised herself with what came out. The fault is mine, Kat. I’m the one who should be apologizing.

Kat didn’t say anything. Nola did, however, which shouldn’t have been a shocker. Well, now’s your chance, hon, she said, passing through the dining room on her way to the kitchen.

Madeline pursed her lips and made doodles on her clipboard, so irritated with Nola What’s-Her-Face that she could spit. I am happy to apologize to /you,/ Kat. Madeline glared in the general direction of the kitchen before she returned her eyes to Kat. It was wrong of me to tell you that horse-hockey story about the wedding. Carrie kind of pushed me in that direction, and it was a horrible thing to do. I hope you accept my apology.

Kat gave her a smile. Apology accepted.

You don’t have to do everything she tells you to, Madeline, Nola said, suddenly deciding to return to the table. She carried a thick slice of the pumpkin loaf on a plate.

Outwardly, Madeline ignored the comment. Inwardly, she sharpened her claws. If she’d known Nola would be the one snarfing down her loaf, she’d have added a half cup of ground glass.

Madeline picked up the benefit flyer and read through it, trying to calm herself. When she reached the line about Matt putting his affections on the auction block, her stomach did a somersault. Carrie made /excellent/ money. She could bid for Matt, take it right up to the stratosphere, then lay some lovin’ on thick for Nola to see.

When Madeline looked up, Nola was staring at her. She gave her friendly smile, then returned to the flyer. True, the event was one day after Carrie’s Thanksgiving deadline, but hey, Madeline was flexible if she was anything.

Let’s get started then, she said. On her clipboard she began to divide the benefit food into categories. I’ve already committed to the desserts, she told Kat. My team will do the cakes for the cake walk, of course, and a dozen or so each of pies and dessert breads, but mostly we plan to focus on quantity and ease of presentation, as opposed to haute cuisine.

Rice Krispies treats? Kat asked.

You know it. Madeline went down the list in great detail. I’ve got at least six women on each committee, except for meats, which has more, and breads and rolls, which has fewer. I’m afraid there’ll be some store-bought items from that crowd, since none of them are handy in the kitchen.

Whatever you say. Kat looked overwhelmed.

Is there anything we might have missed?

Kat’s mouth fell open a bit. Madeline, I just called you two days ago.

How in the world did you get all this done so fast?

This sort of thing is right up my alley, she said, actually feeling good about contributing to the event. She packed up her bag and got ready to go. So, have you decided whether you’re going to let Joanna Loveless do her annual Thanksgiving Day feature on you?

Kat blinked. Uh…

She’s the head of your meat committee, you know. Madeline told Kat that in the hopes that she’d understand the gravity of that particular responsibility. It appeared she didn’t, so Madeline broke it down for her. Joanna’s got twenty women on her team, and you can only imagine the cost involved in something like thatwe’re talking ribs, smoked hams, turkey breasts, pit beef, steamers, sausages…

That’s lot of meat, hon, Nola said to Kat.

Madeline smiled as she left. As soon as she hit the sidewalk she was on the phone with Joanna, telling her the Thanksgiving article was a done deal and that Kat would be hosting a houseful.

Riley was on call and had an admission in Elkins that night. Kat was tired but filled with the feeling that she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. After a long, hot shower, she got into her softest cotton nightgown, matching robe, and warm slippers and headed to the end of the upstairs hallway. She opened the door and retrieved the open box from the bottom step of the attic stairwell, where she’d left it. She carried it to the floor of her bedroom, and told herself to breathe.

It had taken her more than a week to get the courage to look in here.

She knew this box would be the easiest because Riley had told her what she’d find. But even without surprises, she knew when she laid her eyes on these things from her pasttouched them and smelled themit might be overwhelming.

The coat was on top, folded lengthwise and then in half. When she pulled it out and saw the little sleeves and the black velvet collar and buttons, a deluge of emotion washed over her. She remembered how she would poke her arms inside the sleeves, fiddle with the buttons, and try her best to keep it Sunday clean.

She remembered that her mother had been smiling the day she bought this coat. That’s what made that day seem so special to Kat. BettyAnn seemed lighthearted, glad to be out enjoying the day, alone with Kat. The day had been infused with magic.

Kat raised the coat to her nose and breathed in. Yes, she got a noseful of dust, but she detected the slightest hint of something elseher mother. Her perfume clung to this fabric, and it struck Kat with awe.

Had BettyAnn actually held this little garment close before she packed it away in this box? Had it meant that much to her, too?

Kat hung her head and let the tears pour out of her, right onto the red velvet. She cried and cried, clutching the coat to her heart and face, trying to get inside the scent of BettyAnn Cavanaugh.

Suddenly, Kat straightened. The tears stopped. With a sense of wonder, she saw the pieces fall together in her mind without the slightest bit of effort/bam, bam, bam/and there it was, the reason that day had been so extraordinary. Virgil had been out of town! It was one of the few times he’d left them alone overnight. They celebrated their freedom by going shopping, then dined on root beer floats at the pharmacy soda counter. Mama bought Kat a charm bracelet at the five-and-dime. Then they went home, got in their jammies, and played Uno until it was way past her bedtime, and Kat remembered being fascinated by how the bracelet sparkled under the dining room light fixture.

She recalled falling asleep in her bed that night feeling loved. Safe.

Completely sure there would be no hitting and screaming and shouting that night. Because it was just her mother and her.

Kat sat for a long while cross-legged on the floor, realizing that BettyAnn might have been free to be herself with Kat only when Virgil was away. Kat’s heart constricted with sadnessit must have been hell to be so squashed by a man like that. To think, BettyAnn couldn’t even express love to her daughter without facing his jealous rage. Why didn’t BettyAnn leave? Why wasn’t she ever strong enough to leave and take Kat with her?

But she had saved all these treasured mementos of their time together.

She’d loved Kat. She really had. And being able to see that calmed Kat’s spirit. Gingerly, she draped the coat over her shoulders and went rooting through the resther prized one-eyed stuffed bunny that she’d inexplicably named Cher; drawings from kindergarten all the way to Kat’s tenth-grade autumn art show, where she’d done a mixed-media collage that she had to admit wasn’t half-bad. Maybe she’d get it framed. Other than that, the box was chock-full of old books. Except for something shiny she noticed at the very bottom.

Her charm bracelet, from that very same day! It dangled with a roller skate, an LP, a paintbrush, a telephone, a softball, and a heart. With trembling fingers, Kat worked diligently to get the bracelet around her adult-sized wrist. It fit.

She was charged up by these amazing discoveries, and curious what the other two boxes contained. With the coat still draped on her shoulders, she grabbed a pair of scissors and returned to the attic door. She sliced open the box on the second step, peered inside, and found school yearbooks, records and tapes, and every report card she’d ever brought home. It all made Kat smile, but in her heart she also felt disappointmentobviously, the box containing her coat had been the one filled with a personal message from mother to daughter.

Suddenly, she felt tired, and told herself she’d get to the last box some other time. With her charm bracelet dangling on her wrist and the dusty red coat and one-eyed Cher clutched tight, Kat climbed under the covers and slept. No nightmares. Just blessed sleep.

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