Anne cringed and mentally berated herself for asking the very question that had plagued her since Matt had left Grams’ house. As bad as he was for her, or at least once was, Anne was torn between hoping to see more of Matt and wishing he’d just stay on Chadwick Island, away from her, for the duration of his visit, however long that turned out to be.
She didn’t need Matt back in her life again. He’d taken enough already.
Unlike virginity, hearts could be taken and returned over and over. She’d been willing to give him both, once, and wasn’t about to let him that close again.
* * *
That was a loaded question if he’d ever heard one and Matt wasn’t quite sure how to answer. “I’d like to think I’ve grown up a bit.” If anything, the Marines knew how to knock stupidity and immaturity out of a guy. What Uncle Dan hadn’t fixed, they had. At least he hoped he wasn’t the same selfish and immature idiot that had walked away from Anne.
She hitched a brow, as if she didn’t believe him. “We’ll see, won’t we?”
Anne was still ticked, and Matt couldn’t really blame her. She never knew leaving her behind was one of the hardest things he’d ever done—even harder than boot camp— and she never would.
“I guess we will.” Matt grabbed a prepackaged meal, not really paying attention to what kind of meal or what meat he needed. He just couldn’t look into her blue eyes any longer. He thought he’d gotten over the guilt. Instead, remorse ate away at the pit of his stomach. Worse than it had when he left.
For years he’d been able to keep Anne in the dark recesses of his heart and brain, which had worked out great, until he saw her again. In the blink of an eye, everything he’d tried to hide from himself was front and center. The urge to pull her close was just as strong as it had been when he was seventeen.
Except, he wasn’t a hormone-driven teenager anymore and Anne deserved someone better. Someone who was not him.
Even so, he couldn’t help but wonder if her kisses still tasted like strawberries, and if she still fit perfectly in his arms, as if they were two pieces of a puzzle that belonged together.
“You’re really going to eat that?”
He blinked at her, pulled from thoughts he should not be having and read the box. “Sure. All you have to do is add hamburger.”
Anne cringed, grabbed it out of his hands and put it back on the shelf before going through his cart.
“Steaks, chicken, potatoes, milk, eggs, box of cereal, white bread, and bacon.” She narrowed those blues eyes on him as if he’d committed a major crime.
“What? It’s food.” Since when did he become defensive over groceries?
“What about vegetables?”
“I’ve got potatoes.”
“Green ones would be nice. Or even orange or red. There is a whole rainbow of them, you know?”
“I don’t much care for rabbit food.”
With that, Anne grabbed onto Matt’s arm and practically pulled him to the produce section. “Vegetables are not just for salad.”
“I know that.” He just didn’t know how to cook with them. Or cook – period. The memory of Anne’s spaghetti made his mouth water. Not that he could cook anything like that. He’d just figured out how to broil a steak so it wasn’t charcoal on the outside and raw on the inside.
Without even asking, Anne started tossing items in the basket and navigated the store like a Marine on a rescue mission. By the time they reached the checkout lane, his cart was overflowing with all kinds of stuff Matt didn’t have a clue what to do with. Well, besides the steak and eggs. Even he could scramble an egg.
Beside them was a rack of mini-cookbooks. Matt grabbed one of stew recipes. What else was he going to do with all those vegetables Anne had thrown in his cart? “MREs would be easier,” he grumbled and tossed the cookbook in his cart.
She frowned. “MREs?”
“Meals Ready to Eat.”
“Ewww,” She pulled back as her eyes widened in horror. “Like K Rations? Meal in a can? Shelf life of like a thousand years?”
“Hey, they aren’t so bad.” He couldn’t help but laugh because that had been his first reaction too. “Actually having a stash of MREs might not be such a bad idea.”
“How can you even suggest such a thing?”
This time she cringed and shivered with disgust, just like she had when he’d shown her the snake he’d found that summer. “I remember being stuck on the island in bad weather. We’d lose power because Uncle Dan forgot to fuel the generator. It’s hard to cook without electricity when all you have is an electric stove.”
Anne rolled her eyes and shook her head. “There is a large fireplace in the kitchen that was actually used for cooking back in the day. Hot meals, nourishing ones with fresh ingredients. Not cans and boxes of preservatives and ingredients nobody can pronounce that are passed off as food today.”
“That doesn’t mean I know how.” Libby said Anne wanted to go to cooking school. Matt just didn’t realize how passionate she was about food. He was too, but only so much that it tasted half way decent and there was enough around so he didn’t starve.
Then again, if he was treated to good food more often, like Anne’s spaghetti, he might become pickier about what he ate too.
He stopped that train of thought immediately. He was lucky to have had a meal prepared by Anne once and didn’t expect to enjoy that treat again. “At least with a pantry of MREs, I won’t starve in the winter.”
She stilled and looked up into Matt’s eyes, studying him.
His heart started pounding. Anne always had a way of looking at him, as if she could see the truth in his black soul, and he hated it. Afraid of what she saw and afraid of what he’d have to admit.
“Will you even be here come winter?”
Part Six of The Road Home continues with Renee Bernard.