The Long Hot Summer (Chapter Ten)

Ryan saw Kelly enter the dining hall, his gaze following her as she walked past his table and over to Mark Charlesworth's. The young stable hand rose to his feet at her approach. He went completely still when Mark cupped her elbow and led her away.

"Easy," Sheldon said softly, noting Ryan's thunderous expression. "It's not what you think."

Turning his head, Ryan stared at his father as if he were a stranger. "Just what is it I'm thinking, Pop?" The query, though spoken quietly, was ominous.

"There's nothing going on between them."

Ryan wanted to believe Sheldon. It was now the end of June, and he and Kelly continued to see each other, but only on weekends. They had established a practice of sharing dinner, movie or concert, and a bed on Fridays at hotels far enough from Staunton to ensure their privacy.

He dropped off Sean and picked him up from school during the week. Kelly related to him the same way she related to the other parents. Knowing he was in love Kelly had increased Ryan's frustration because he wanted to spend more time with her. His need to spend more than twelve consecutive hours with her each week went beyond physical desire. One night they'd shared a bed but had been content to hold hands and talk rather than make love.

There was so much he longed to tell her but hesitated because she still withheld a small part of herself – the part that would allow her to love again. And there was nothing about Kelly that he did not love: her wit, intelligence, beauty, patience and her sensuality.

He planned to turn Blackstone Day School into a private school for grades N-6. He wanted to hire a music teacher so the children could learn to sing, read music and play musical instruments. The building would be expanded to include actual classrooms, and as the school's headmistress Kelly would hire and train the staff.

Ryan knew Kelly loved teaching as much as her students loved her. Every day Sean came home singing her praises. He proudly displayed his art projects and showed Ryan his notebook filled with the letters of the alphabet and corresponding words for the letter of the day. Instead of playing with computer games or watching television, Sean now preferred reading picture books.

Kelly Andrews had become a positive role model for the children at Blackstone Farms, while at the same time she had taught the resident veterinarian that it was possible not to love once, but twice in a lifetime.

Floor lamps burned in the school's sitting area. Kelly sat with Mark, listening intently as he explained his answer to one of her questions. She had given him several practice PSAT examinations, and out of the possible sixteen hundred points, he averaged seven fifty-five on the math segment, but less than four hundred on the verbal.

Although his combined scores topped one thousand, she wanted him to increase his score on the verbal portion. It had taken two weeks for her to assess Mark's weak reading comprehension.

"You must train your eye to recognize key words within the paragraph. She circled half a dozen words with a pencil.

Mark studied the circled words. "Is it B?"

Kelly shook her head. "You're guessing, Mark. Take your time."

He stared at the paragraph, exhaling audibly. "I can't, Miss Kelly."

"Yes, you can. If you can ace the math there's no reason why you can't ace the verbal as well."

He ran his hand over his dreaded hair. "Math has always been easy for me, but I've always had a problem with reading."

Kelly saw the frustration on his face. "Do you like reading?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "Not much."

"Do you read the newspaper?"

"No."

"Well, you should. There are three newspapers delivered to the farm – USA Today, The Washington Post and the Virginian-Pilot. I want you to read one every day. Underline the words you don't understand and look them up in the dictionary I gave you."

He grimaced. "Do I have to?"

Kelly wanted to laugh. He sounded so much like her younger students when they sought to get out of performing a task. "Yes, you do. I'm volunteering my time to help you, Mark. The least you can do is complete your homework assignments."

What Mark did not know was that she had sacrificed seeing Ryan during the week because she was committed to tutoring him. She wanted to see Ryan more than just Friday nights. Waking up beside him on Saturday mornings in a strange hotel was not what she had envisioned for their relationship.

If she had been employed at the farm in any position other than a teacher, she would have eagerly dated Ryan openly. But she was his son's teacher, and for her this presented a personal conflict. She did not want Sean to know she had fallen in love with his father because she and Ryan talked about everything except a future together. He had not confessed to loving her, or she him.

And she was mature enough to know that falling in love with Ryan had nothing to do with sharing his bed. Ryan was intelligent, patient, generous and gentle despite his admission that he was once known as a brawler. He was a devoted father. He praised and encouraged Sean while setting limits for the child. Ryan took her to charming restaurants and even more charming hotels and inns for their overnight liaisons.

"I'll read the newspapers," Mark said, breaking into her musings.

She smiled at him. "Good. I'm going to make a list of vocabulary words for you to study. Come by tomorrow afternoon to pick it up."

Mark smiled, his deep-set dark eyes sparkling like polished onyx. "Thanks, Miss Kelly." Mark pushed his study manuals into a leather saddlebag, murmured a soft good night then turned and walked out of the schoolhouse.

The door closed and seconds later it opened again. Ryan stood in the doorway, staring at her. "Isn't he a little young for you?"

Kelly felt her pulse quicken. Could it be Ryan was jealous? And for him to display jealousy, then that meant his feelings went deeper than a mere liking?

"Yes, he is. So is your son. And don't forget the Smith twins."

Ryan didn't know whether to laugh in relief or kiss Kelly until she begged him to stop. It was apparent her relationship with Mark was that of teacher-student. He'd left the dining hall and was heading home when he saw the light coming from the schoolhouse. He'd told Sean to go back to Grandpa while he turned and walked to the school. He was less than twenty feet away when he saw Mark Charlesworth leaving. Maturity and his responsibility for Sean had stopped him when he thought about confronting Mark about Kelly. It was in that instant he knew he was still capable of brawling.

Walking over to wall-mounted bulletin board, he stared at the photographs and drawings depicting Blackstone Farms. "Exploring Our World" had become an enlightening experience for the five children who had lived on the farm since birth.

They'd taken photographs of the numbers tattooed under the upper lip of each horse that was used for identification purposes. They photographed Kevin Manning as he trained a horse, stable hands mucking out stalls, grooms brushing the hides of the horses to keep the coats free of eggs left by flies, men hauling bales of hay from the barn to the stables, more working to repair a fence to keep the horses from running away, and Carl Burton and his kitchen personnel.

His contribution was demonstrating preventive measures for keeping the horses healthy. They'd watched, transfixed, as he held a horse's mouth open and checked its teeth.

He read the penciled compositions of the children who wrote about the work their parents did at the horse farm. He smiled when he read: My daddy is very strong, my mommy works hard.

Kelly walked over to Ryan. "You were not supposed to see this until Parents' Night."

He stared at her under lowered lids. "And I'm not supposed to be alone with you until Friday."

She gasped. She had forgotten to tell Ryan. "I can't see you Friday."

"Why not?"

"I'm going to visit my sister in D.C. We're having a small family gathering for the Fourth of July holiday weekend."

Ryan's jaw tightened. The plans he had made to take her and Sean to Williamsburg would have to be cancelled. "I wish you would've told me sooner."

"Why?"

"I'd planned to take you and Sean to Williamsburg for the weekend."

"You made plans without telling me?"

"I wanted it to be a surprise for you and Sean." He hadn't told anyone about the trip. Not even Sheldon.

"Well, it's more than a surprise. It's a shock."

"What's the problem, Kelly?" There was an edge to his voice she had never heard before.

She moved closer. "What signals are you sending to Sean when he sees his father and his teacher shack up together in a hotel room?"

Ryan struggled to contain his temper. "I reserved a suite with adjoining bedrooms. Sean and I would occupy one and you the other."

"Okay, so you have an answer for the sleeping arrangements. What about the three of us going away together? What are we telling Sean? That we're a couple and a family?"

His gray eyes bore into her. "We could be, Kelly."

She shook her head. "No, we can't, Ryan. Not without love. And if there's no love then you, me and Sean will never become a family."

The seconds ticked off in silence before Kelly turned and walked out of the schoolhouse, leaving Ryan staring at where she had been. Reaching into the pocket of her jeans, she pulled out her keys. The lights were still on in the building when she drove away, tears blurring her vision.

She loved Ryan. Loved him so much it pained her to be in the same room with him. And she was realistic to know that he was drawn to her because of Sean. She'd confessed to wanting to become a mother, and he needed a mother for his son.

What was so ironic was that she and Ryan could both get wanted they wanted if only he told her that he loved her.

Kelly maneuvered her car into the winding driveway to her sister's home, parking behind a late-model sedan bearing New York plates. Her parents had arrived before she had.

She retrieved a bag from the trunk, leaving it open, then made her way up the steps to the wraparound porch. The inner door stood open, and she peered through the screen door. She tried the door, finding it locked. Ringing the bell, she waited for someone to answer it.

A smile crinkled the skin around her eyes she spied her brother-in-law striding toward her with a coal-black ball of fur at his heels. "Hey, Leo."

He unlocked the door and held it open. "Hey, yourself." He kissed her cheek. "You look good, Kelly." He sniffed her neck. "And you smell nice for someone hanging out with horses."

She returned the kiss, his neatly barbered beard grazing her lips. "Not only am I hanging with horses, but I'm learning to ride."

"I'd willingly bet a week's salary to see you clinging to the back of a horse."

"Hold on to your wallet, because you'll lose. I sit a horse, not cling to it."

"Ouch," he teased. "Let me take your bag up to your room."

Kelly tightened her grip on the leather handles. "I can carry it. You can get the carton in my car. I left the trunk open."

Tall, handsome and with a smooth-shaven head, Leo Porter wagged a finger. "You know you're not supposed to bring anything." Because of their careers and active social life the Porters had made it a practice to cater their parties.

"Oh, well," she crooned. "Then I'll just take the wine back to Blackstone Farms with me."

Leo hugged her. "Where did you find it?"

"In a quaint little store not too far from Lexington." Kelly smiled down at the puppy licking her toes. "Who is this?"

"That's Miss Porter. Pam and I call her Poe-Poe. We got her a week ago."

"Is she paper trained?"

"Yes. Pam wouldn't have a dog in her house unless it was trained."

Bending, Kelly scooped the puppy up. "Hello, Miss Porter." The poodle pup yipped and wiggled. "Okay, I'll put you down." She placed the dog on the floor and she took off, her feet slipping out from under her on the highly waxed wood floor. She rolled several feet before regaining her footing.

"I'll meet you in the back," Kelly said as she walked through the entryway of the spacious Colonial.

It took less than fifteen minutes to unpack, wash her face and brush her hair. As she secured it in a ponytail, she made a mental note to call the salon she had visited when living in D.C. to make an appointment.

She skipped down the carpeted staircase and made her way through the modern kitchen to a door leading to the Porters' expansive backyard.

Camille sat on a chair, her silver-haired head covered by a wide straw hat, laughing at something her first cousin had said to her. Her clear-brown eyes widened as she spied Kelly. Holding out her arms, she stood up.

Kelly walked over to her mother and sank into her comforting embrace. "Hi, Mama."

Pulling back and holding Kelly at arm's length, Camille nodded. "You look wonderful Kelly. Look at your baby, Horace," she called to her husband who was engrossed in a chess game.

Pushing back his chair, he pointed a finger at his brother-in-law. "Don't you breathe until I get back," he warned. Turning, Horace Andrews turned the brilliance of his smile on his youngest daughter.

"Hello, Daddy," Kelly said before she kissed his rounded cheek. Resting a hand over his belly, she whispered, "You need to go on a diet."

Horace grimaced. "Not only do you look like your mother, but now you're beginning to sound like her."

"But you're sixty, Daddy – "

"I happen to know how old I am," he countered, cutting her off. "Your mother haunts and nags me constantly about losing weight. And I will."

"When, Daddy?"

"When I get to be a grandfather," he countered with a wide grin.

"Stop it, Daddy! You and Mama have to stop this insanity about becoming grandparents or it will never happen."

"Pamela and Leo would rather get a dog than have a baby." He'd spat out the word.

"That's their choice and their business." She had enunciated each word. Horace Andrews mumbled under his breath about what his children could do with their choices. Patting his arm, she said softly, "Go back to your game. I want to speak to Cousin Flora."

Pamela lay on the pillow next to Kelly the way they'd done when they were growing up together. "How are you and your Blackstone?"

Turning on the side and facing Pamela, Kelly rested her head on her folded arm. People would never take her and Pamela for sisters, because they looked nothing alike. Her older sister was the image of their paternal grandmother: petite, delicate features, black curly hair and sable coloring.

"His name is Ryan. We're doing all right."

"Just all right?"

Kelly lifted her left shoulder. "We see each other on Fridays and spend the night together. We usually get back to the farm before noon on Saturday."

Pamela's waxed eyebrows wrinkled. "You're sleeping together off the property?"

"He has a four-year-old son who just happens to be my student."

Pamela mouth formed a perfect O. "I see where you're coming from." She gave Kelly a long, penetrating stare. "You're in love with him, aren't you?"

"Am I that transparent?"

"No. It's just that you seem so calm – at peace with yourself."

Kelly wanted to tell Pamela she was wrong. What she was feeling wasn't serenity, but turmoil. She wanted to tell Ryan that she loved him, but balked each time she lay in his arms. And she did love him enough to marry him and bear his children. All he had to do was open his mouth and ask her.