slightly, giving him an even better look at her lovely face. His little Abby had grown into an elegant young woman—tall and slender, yet nicely rounded in allthe right places.For one long moment, Jack was tempted to stand and greet her, but then, he hesitated. If Abby remembered him at all, it would likely be in the vaguestpossible way—a way she might not care to acknowledge.They had been friends for only nine months, and that had been more than a decade ago. She had evidently changed quite a bit since then—the contactlenses that had obviously replaced her glasses and stylish way she was dressed assured him of that. She might not appreciate being reminded of thepast she'd worked so hard to leave behind.In a quandary, Jack kept his eyes averted as Abby walked past him, though he hoped, perversely, that
way, and say something.She moved along briskly, however, her long strides exuding grace and confidence, her eyes on the ground, her hands shoved in her coat pockets.He should let her go. Really, he should. They had gone their separate ways a long time ago, and that had been for the best. Any encounter he initiatednow would be of the briefest duration. And he would probably stir up more discomfort for Abby, as well as himself, than it would be worth.But how nice it would be to talk to someone who had known him when he'd been young, carefree and happy. He hadn't been that person since Cindy'sdeath. Now, sitting on a lonely park bench with twilight falling around him, he wanted to be his old self again, as he could in the eyes of a former friend like Abby Summers.Giving himself no time for second thoughts. Jack stood quickly and headed after Abby. He caught up to her as she came to the sidewalk that ranalongside one of the square's four main streets, reached out and touched the sleeve of her coat at the same moment he spoke her name."Abby? Abby Summers, right? It's me, Jack … Jack Randall."She halted immediately, but seemed to hesitate before she finally turned to face him. Though she smiled slightly as she met his gaze, her reluctancewas obvious. He wondered if she had recognized him earlier, but chose, for whatever reason, not to let him know it."Hello, Jack," she said at last, a catch in her husky voice.Noting the wariness in her eyes, Jack suffered a pang of remorse. She had come to the park on her own because she'd wanted to spend some timealone, and here he was, not only encroaching upon the privacy she'd sought, but expecting her to be glad of it, too.So say something,
, you idiot, he chastised himself. Finish what you've started and let her be on her way."I see you're home for the Christmas holiday, too," he said, trying for a lighthearted tone to match his smile. "Having a nice time, so far?"She stared at him for several seconds, then looked away, a frown creasing her forehead."Actually, not as nice as I'd hoped," she replied. "My … my mother died earlier in the week. Her funeral was today."Recalling an article he'd read in the paper a couple of days ago about a local woman, Larissa Summers, who'd been killed in a car accident, Jackrealized why the woman's name had sounded familiar to him. She had been Abby's mother, the one whose antics had brought him and Abby together, in aroundabout way, twelve years ago."I'm so sorry for your loss," he began, then added awkwardly, "I didn't know…" Actually, he should have, and he
have if he'd taken the time to put two and two together. But he couldn't tell Abby that. He'd been insensitiveenough already."Thank you." Brushing away the single tear that trickled down her cheek, she glanced at him. "It was so unexpected. I'm having a hard time acceptingthat she's really gone." Abby looked so forlorn that Jack wanted to put his arms around her and hold her close. But his certainty that such a move on his part would be whollyinappropriate, not to mention totally unwelcome, kept him from doing it."I understand how you feel," he said instead."Yes, you would, wouldn't you?" She met his gaze again, her sympathy and understanding evident. "I can only imagine how devastating Cindy's deathwas for you.""She was a very special person. One of a kind, in fact. Going on without her hasn't been easy, but I know that's what she would have wanted me to do.I've been lucky to have my work in pediatric medicine to keep me busy. That's helped a lot.""You couldn't have chosen a better way to honor her memory," Abby assured him. "She'd be so proud of you.""I hope so."Oddly disquieted by the warmth of Abby's gaze, Jack looked away. Once again, the urge to hold her close rode through him, this time as a means togain comfort as much as to give it. Once again, he refused to allow himself to act upon it."Well, I should be going," Abby said after a few moments, shivering delicately as a gust of wind swirled around them.Common sense dictated that he offer a final word of condolence, wish her well, and wave her on her way, but Jack didn't like that idea at all. Not whenhe'd felt more at ease with Abby during the few minutes they'd spent together than he'd felt with anyone since Cindy's death. But neither did he want tolinger at the edge of the park, trying to make small talk.So think of an alternative, smart guy."Anywhere special?" he asked, trying to buy a little time as his gaze settled on the brightly lit café across the street and an idea began to take shape."My mother's house. I've got a few things to do before I fly back to San Francisco tomorrow afternoon." Ah, San Francisco… He wanted to hear about how she'd ended up there, among other things."Have you made any plans for dinner?""Not really," she admitted, seeming slightly bemused by his questioning."Me, neither. Maybe we could grab a bite to eat together, for old times' sake," he suggested. "That place across the street looks inviting.""Oh, I don't know…" she demurred, wary of him once again."I know you've probably got a lot to do, but we shouldn't have to wait for a table this early in the evening," he said, then added hurriedly, hoping toreassure her, "I won't keep you long. In fact, I promise I'll have you home by seven at the latest."For several agonizing moments, Abby stood silently, looking down at the sidewalk. Then, just when Jack was sure she was going to refuse his invitation,she met his gaze and smiled wryly."All right," she agreed. "For old times' sake."Jack couldn't remember the last time he'd been so pleased by the prospect of buying a woman dinner. He had tried it a few times during the past year, just to keep his matchmaking friends happy, but he hadn't had a very good time. Tonight would be different, though. Tonight he'd be with a good friend—afriend who knew and understood him.They could spend a couple of hours enjoying each other's company, then go their separate ways, the better for having been together. At least, he wassure he would be better for it. And he would do his best to make sure Abby was, too, he vowed, taking her by the arm as they started across the street. Considering how little choicehe'd given her in the matter, that was the least he could do … the very least.