Sunny tried to get into town the next day, but because Missy went to school, she was either too late to catch her before the bus came or too early to see her after school. With her own schedule of needing to prepare meals for the Teaberrys, she kept missing Missy.
Saturday morning, she rose early, served the senior Teaberrys their breakfast and jumped into her little blue car, heading for town. She made the excuse of needing flour and sugar for cookies, but she had a more important errand. With her baking supplies in the backseat of her car, she drove to Burkett’s Greenhouse.
Wearing her thick blue coat and knit cap, Missy stood beside the Teaberry Farms Christmas tree display. Fat fluffy snowflakes danced around her in a strong December wind. “Hey, Sunny!”
Sunny couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to stand outside in a snowstorm. Then she noticed Missy’s glove-covered fingers were wrapped around a branch. She was still wishing, holding onto her belief in a miracle for her dad with as much might as she held onto the branch. Sunny’s heart sank.
Worse, Mary Alice’s car pulled into the greenhouse parking lot. She bounced out with a big smile and a gorgeous wreath. Christmas balls nestled in a thick nest of rich pine. A thin layer of glitter gave the arrangement a festive glow.
“Hey, Sunny. Hey, Missy. Where’s your dad?”
Missy pointed at the glass building. “He’s inside.”
“Did you make that for him?” Sunny asked carefully, hoping she hadn’t inadvertently started something that couldn’t be stopped without Mary Alice getting hurt.
Mary Alice shook her head. “No. I have a business proposition. I’m going to offer him the chance to sell original wreaths by Mary Alice – right beside his Teaberry trees.”
Sunny relaxed. After Mary Alice had slipped inside the greenhouse, she stooped down in front of Missy. Uneasy, she cleared her throat. “Sweetie, the other day when you wished at my house, I might have given you the wrong idea.”
Missy’s head tilted. Her pretty blue eyes grew curious. “What?”
“Well, I think you can wish for your daddy to find a ‘friend’ but I don’t think you should be too specific.”
Missy’s gaze ambled in the direction of her father and Mary Alice, who were laughing.
Sunny rose, studying the pair. They clearly liked each other. And maybe Max had misinterpreted something Greg had said? She placed her hand on Missy’s shoulder and guided her inside the nursery. She wouldn’t make any mistakes this time. She wouldn’t say or do anything until she had some substantial facts.
“So Saturday night, then?” Greg asked, his dark eyes shining.
“Sure. Why not?”
Overcome with joy, Sunny stopped walking. Surely Max had misinterpreted.
Saturday night, Mary Alice limped up the sidewalk to Greg’s cute Victorian house, armed with a gift for Missy. She didn’t want the little girl to feel left out, but she was thrilled for this chance to go out with Greg. She hadn’t really had a secret crush on him. In fact, she’d barely noticed him at all. Until that Monday morning they’d seen each other at Teaberry Farms. Then suddenly she noticed his shiny auburn hair, his dark eyes. And zing. She felt something that all at once exploded in her heart and made her knees turn to jelly.
His front porch had ornate wood embellishments that made it resemble the porch of a gingerbread house. Glancing around in appreciation, she rang the bell. Within seconds Greg opened the door.
Dressed in a soft green sweater, he looked like a sexy university professor. Her heart quivered and her blood sang through her veins. She thanked her lucky stars that he’d noticed her the same morning she noticed him and stepped inside. The foyer was quaintly decorated with an antique hall table and a chandelier with lights that looked like candles. It was the perfect house. The kind of house she’d always wanted to live in.
“I hope I’m not late.”
“Nope. I was just getting my coat.”
Missy came running down the thin cherry wood stairway. Greg slipped into his leather jacket. “I’m sure you and Missy will have a great time tonight while I’m at the movies.”
Her gaze swung to Greg, who talked on, blissfully unaware that her eyes had widened with surprise.
“We saved some of Sunny Peabody’s cookies for the two of you to eat tonight. Ingredients are on the stove for hot cocoa. I told my date we can’t go out after the show. So I should be back in about two hours.”
Shock thickened her tongue. He’d asked her to his house to babysit? She’d totally misinterpreted his comment about the movies? Oh, God! She wished the floor would open up and swallow her. Since that probably wasn’t going to happen, she pasted on a fake smile and walked over to Missy who hovered on the stairway. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
With that he left and Mary Alice struggled to stop the tears that welled behind her eyelids. It had been years since she’d even felt something for a man. First, there were surgeries and therapy. Then she’d spent another year longing for a fiancé who’d deserted her in her hour of need. Then, she had to confess, there was a year of bitterness. But she was back now. Ready for whatever relationship she could have.
Except Greg didn’t want her. The first man in years to make her feel that maybe, just maybe, she could love somebody again and he wasn’t interested.
Missy tugged on her hand. “Come on! Let’s go to the kitchen. We can make our own cookies instead of eating Sunny’s.”
She glanced down, ready to tell Missy that she shouldn’t mess up her dad’s clean kitchen, but when she saw the shine in Missy’s pretty blue eyes, she thought, “Why not?” Fate had fixed it so she’d never be a mom, why not take advantage of the next two hours and enjoy this beautiful little girl?
Monday morning when Mary Alice arrived at Teaberry Farms, Sunny didn’t waste a second. She put her head out the kitchen door and called, “I have fresh coffee and cookies! Come inside.”
Mary Alice held up a plate of her own cookies. “Actually, this morning I have cookies for you. Courtesy of Missy.”
Sunny frowned as Mary Alice walked into the kitchen and shed her black pea coat. “You baked cookies?”
“Yeah. Greg went out on Saturday night and Missy and I baked.”
Sunny’s eyes narrowed. “You baked?”
“Why are you so surprised? I can bake.”
“I just thought—“ she paused, swallowed.
“Ah, you thought Greg and I were going out.” Mary Alice said it through a smile, but a shadow darkened her eyes.
Sunny caught her hand. “You thought that too?”
She nodded, then shrugged. “But it doesn’t matter. I got to spend two hours with a very sweet little girl. I might not get that chance again.”
But she did. Greg called her that afternoon and asked if she could sit with Missy again that night. He and Diedre MacIntyre were getting serious and he wanted to spend a little more time with her than usual.
Mary Alice’s heart sank.
Still, she quickly showered after work, pulled on jeans and a soft, comforting sweater and headed for Greg’s house.
She babysat every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next two weeks, until Greg suggested that he was taking advantage of her. Mary Alice’s heart knocked against her ribs. She knew that when Greg and Deirdre got married, she’d lose the chance to spend time with Missy. She had only their courtship to pretend to be this little girl’s mom. She didn’t want to lose it.
“Are you kidding?” she said to Greg. “I love spending time with Missy. I’m happy to baby sit.”
“At least let me pay you.”
She shook her head furiously as pain ricocheted through her. He wanted to pay her for something she’d do for nothing. He really didn’t know her. She’d been foolish to think, even if it was only for one morning, that he might like her.
“Use the money to do something special for a poor family,” she said, refusing his money. “Be somebody’s Teaberry tree wish.”
He laughed and put his money back in his wallet, walked over and cupped her cheek in his hand. “You really are special, Mary Alice.”
She wanted to lean into the warmth of his palm. But after years of being disabled, then handicapped, she knew most men didn’t see her as desirable. It didn’t matter how wonderful she was with kids, or even how sweet she was, she was damaged goods. She’d never be the object of any man’s affections, let alone his desire.
Scroll down to Part 3 for more of A Mom for Missy
copyright 2010 susan meier