My imagination begins to wander as I stare at the beautiful woman. Has Hardin been with her intimately? He’s mentioned having sexual encounters with older women—quite a few of them—but I’ve never allowed him to elaborate. Is Susan, with her wide blue eyes and long brown hair, one of them? I shudder at the thought. I sure hope not.
I ignore the pang of jealousy that comes with the thought and force myself to enjoy the mouthwatering sandwich that the waitress has just placed in front of me.
“So, Theresa, tell me about yourself.” Susan stabs a piece of lettuce with her fork and brings it to her painted lips.
“You can call me Tessa,” I nervously begin. “I’m finishing my freshman year at Washington Central, and I just moved to Seattle.” I glance at Trish, who, for some reason, is frowning. Hardin must not have told her about my move, or maybe he did, and she’s upset that he didn’t move with me?
“I’ve heard that Seattle is a lovely city. I’ve never been to America”—Susan scrunches her nose—“but my husband has promised to take me this summer.”
“You should definitely visit . . . it’s nice,” I remark stupidly. I’m sitting in a village right out of a storybook, and I’m saying that America is nice. Susan would probably hate the place. I’m nervous now, and my hands are slightly shaky as I pull my cell phone out of my bag to send a text message to Hardin. Just a simple I miss you.
The rest of lunch is filled with wedding talk, and I find that I can’t help but like Susan. She just married her second husband last summer; she planned the wedding herself, and she has no children, only a niece and a nephew. She owns the bridal shop where Trish purchased her gown; it’s one of five in North Central London. Her husband owns and operates three of the most popular pubs in the area, all within three miles of one another.
Susan’s bridal shop is only a few blocks away from the restaurant, so we decide to walk. It’s warm today, and the sun is bright; even the air seems more refreshing than it was in Washington. Hardin still hasn’t responded to my text message, but somehow I knew he wouldn’t.
“Champagne?” Susan offers the moment we step through the door of the small shop. The space is minimal, but it’s decorated perfectly, old-fashioned and charming, black and white covering every inch.
“Oh no, thank you.” I smile.
Trish takes her up on her offer and promises me that she’ll only have one glass. I almost tell her to have as many as she wants, to enjoy herself, but I don’t trust myself to drive in England; it feels odd enough in the passenger seat. As I watch Trish laugh and joke with Susan, I can’t help but think about how different Trish and Hardin really are. She’s so bubbly and lively, and Hardin is so . . . well, Hardin. I know they don’t have much of a relationship, but I’d like to think that this visit could change that. Not completely—that’s too much to ask—but hopefully Hardin will at least warm up to his mother on her wedding day.
“I’ll be out in a minute; you can make yourself at home,” Trish says to me before pulling the dressing room curtain closed. I take a seat on the plush white couch and laugh when I hear her cursing at Susan for pinching her with the zipper. Maybe she and Hardin are more alike than I thought.
“Excuse me.” A female voice interrupts my thoughts, and I look up to meet the blue eyes of a very pregnant young woman.
“I’m sorry, have you seen Susan?” she asks, her eyes scanning the space.
“She’s in there.” I point to the curtain of the dressing room that Trish disappeared into with her wedding dress only minutes ago.
“Thank you.” She smiles, sighing with what sounds like relief. “If she asks, I arrived right at two,” the girl instructs me and smiles. She must work here. My eyes travel down to the name tag fastened to her white long-sleeve shirt.
NATALIE, it says.
I glance at the clock. It’s five minutes past two. “Your secret is safe with me,” I assure her.
The curtain pulls back, and Trish is revealed in her wedding gown. It’s beautiful—she’s absolutely beautiful in the simple, capped-sleeve gown.
“Wow,” Natalie and I say at once.
Trish steps out, taking a look at herself in the full-length mirror, and wipes tears from her eyes.
“She does this at every fitting; this is the third,” Natalie observes with a smile. I notice the tears welling up in her eyes and know that mine look the same. Her hand is pressed on her belly.
“She’s beautiful. Mike is a lucky man.” I smile toward Hardin’s mum. Her focus is still on her reflection in the mirror, and I don’t blame her.
“You know Trish?” the young woman politely asks.
“Yes.” I turn to face her. “I’m . . .” Hardin and I are really going to have to discuss how introductions should go around here. “I’m with her son,” I tell her, and her eyes widen.
“Natalie.” Susan’s voice resonates in the small shop. Trish has paled, her eyes moving back and forth between Natalie and me. I feel like I’m missing something. When I look back at Natalie, I take in the deep blue of her eyes, her brown hair, her pale skin.
Susan . . . I think. Is Susan this Natalie woman’s mother? Natalie . . .
Holy shit. Natalie. The Natalie. The Natalie that haunted Hardin’s conscience, the small bit of one that he has. Natalie that Hardin chewed up and spit back out.
“You’re Natalie,” I say with realization.
She nods, keeping eye contact with me as Trish approaches us.