Distant Shores Page 49

"You're my center, Birdie. I never knew how much I loved you until you were gone."

She leaned forward and kissed him, whispering, "I missed you," against his lips.

The words he'd been waiting for. And just that easily, he was home.

After the kiss, he drew back slightly, just enough to look her in the eyes. "This time it's our life, Birdie. I mean it. Nothing matters more than us. Nothing. That's why I didn't agree to take the job yet."

"Oh, Jack." She gently touched his face, and the familiarity of the gesture was almost painful. "I've learned something about dreams. They don't come true every day. And love . . . love might be fragile, but it's also stronger than I ever imagined. Take the job. We'll find a nice loft in Chelsea or TriBeCa. Somewhere I can paint."

They would make it this time, he knew it. After twenty-four years of marriage, and two children, they had finally found their way.

"Show me your work," he said.

Her face lit up. She grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet. Hand in hand, they walked through the kitchen. She let go of his hand just long enough to dart into the pantry, then came out holding a huge painting.

She set it up against the cupboards and stood back. "You don't have to pretend you like it," she said nervously.

He was too stunned to say anything.

Her painting was a haunting, sorrowful stretch of coastline in winter, painted in grays and purples and blacks. In the distance, a lone figure walked along the beach. It saddened him somehow, made him think about how fast life could pass a person by, how easy it was to walk past what mattered because you were busy looking into the future. "Jesus, Birdie . . . it's amazing." He turned to her, said softly, "You were painting the first time we met, remember? Near the marshes at the edge of Lake Washington. There was a dock in your painting and it looked lonely, too, like this beach . . . abandoned. I remember wanting to tell you that the picture made me feel sad, but I didn't dare."

She tilted her chin up. "I can't believe you remember all that."

"I forgot it for a long time. But nothing felt right without you. My world went from color to black-and-white." He touched her face, felt the warmth of her skin. "You take my breath away, Birdie."

"I love you, Jack. I'll never forget that again."

This time, when Jack leaned down to kiss her, he was the one who cried.