Several months after a tragic accident that claimed their son, Lisa and Joe Kendall's marriage has fallen apart. Lisa prays every day for Joe to come back home so they can grieve their loss together. Feeling guilt over the death of their son, Joe has decided that the best thing for Lisa is for him to be out of her life. His marriage isn't the only thing suffering, and Joe is forced into taking time off so he can find "closure". Unsure where to spend two weeks, Joe decides to go on the Alaskan cruise they were supposed to take with their son. The last person he expects to see once the ship is well away from Seattle is Lisa, who hopes two weeks alone with Joe will help save their marriage. Little does she know that Joe has decided to file for divorce when they return home.
“Cody, are you almost ready?” Lisa Kendall glanced at the clock sitting on the entryway table. Shaped like a catcher’s mitt with a baseball in the center, it reflected most of the décor in their house. Baseball topped her nine-year-old son’s list of passions. Whales and anything to do with the ocean took a close second, so both themes ran throughout the Kendall household. Not that she minded one bit. There would be plenty of time to decorate the house her way when Cody grew up and went off to college.
“Your dad should be home any minute.” She glanced at the clock again then out at the driveway and tried to stem her rising tension level. Joe promised he wouldn’t let their son down today, of all days. Today Cody’s Little League team would play their final game of the season. Cody wanted his dad to be there for at least one of his games.
While Lisa would like to believe the sincerity of her husband’s promise, it looked like work would take precedence over family. Again.
“Just a sec, Mom. I’m getting my glove. Oops.”
A crash came from the direction of Cody’s room, followed by the slamming of the door and the sound of feet scrambling down the hall. Cody skidded to a halt in front of her.
“OK, I’m ready.” He looked up at her and beamed, proudly dressed in his red and white pinstriped baseball uniform. His brown eyes and quirky smile were a miniature version of Joe’s. Small in stature, like Lisa, he also had her blonde hair. But the smattering of freckles across Cody’s face belonged to no one but Cody. Lisa felt the same catch in her heart she always did when her son smiled at her. She simply couldn’t imagine life without this precious little boy.
“What fell over in your room?”
“Just my stack of whale books. Nothing got hurt, though. I’ll pick ’em up when we get home.”
Lisa bit back a smile. She’d been after Cody to put those books on a shelf for weeks. Nodding, she peered out the window. Still no sign of Joe.
“I don’t think Dad’s gonna come to my game.”
Something inside Lisa wrenched at Cody’s matter-of-fact tone. He seemed way too comfortable with Joe’s long hours at work. More used to it than any little boy should ever have to be.
Which of Joe’s divorce cases interfered with his family time today? Though tired of Joe’s long hours at the law firm, she instantly regretted the direction of her thoughts. Joe worked hard in a demanding profession to provide the best life he could for them. Not only that, he agonized over his extra time at work as much as she did. “Forgive me, Lord.” She took a deep breath and prayed for help with her attitude.
“Hey, Mom, you’re wearing the shirt!”
“I sure am, sweetheart. It’s my lucky shirt.”
Cody grinned, and Lisa’s heart filled with joy. The sweatshirt depicted an orca swimming on the ocean floor. Cody drew the picture when he was in the first grade, after a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia. At that time, they still had orcas in the aquarium.
Cody had fallen truly and madly in love.
Surprisingly though, the picture he’d drawn after the trip wasn’t of an orca in an aquarium. Rather, the whale swam along the ocean floor, surrounded by seaweed, starfish, and shells. Cody declared all whales belonged in the ocean and not the aquarium.
Lisa loved the picture so much she made a copy, stenciled it onto two sweatshirts then painted one for her and one for Cody. She wore hers proudly, and Cody always seemed to get a kick out of it when she wore it in public.
“We’d better go. Otherwise the coach will make me sit out the first half.” The anxiety in Cody’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
Lisa’s cell phone rang, and she dug through her purse, hoping to find it before it switched over to voice mail.
“I’ll bet that’s him. Can I answer it?”
“Sure, honey.” Lisa’s fingers finally connected with the phone. She scooped it from the bottom of her purse and held it out for her son.
Cody grabbed it and eagerly flipped it open. “Hey.” He spoke quietly into the phone. “Yeah, OK.”
Cody’s chin trembled, indicating his disappointment. But his voice never hinted at it. She didn’t need to hear the words to know exactly what Joe said to their son.
Lord, Joe’s missing so much. Help him, please. Help him slow down and enjoy his son before it’s too late. Cody will be grown and gone before he realizes it.
“I love you, too. See you tonight.” Cody flipped the phone closed and handed it to Lisa, his eyes downcast. “Mr. Lee is making him work late. He won’t be at the game.”
His effort to rein in his emotions was a valiant one, and Lisa’s heart went out to him. Hot anger tore through her. Her jaw tightened, and she fought to keep from clenching her teeth. Lucky for Joe, Cody had already hung up.
“Mom, please don’t be mad at Dad. He has to work hard so he can pay for my birthday trip to Alaska next year. So we can go see the whales, remember?”
Lisa nodded, still trying to control her anger at Joe.
“Please say you won’t be mad. Please? He’s the best dad in the world.”
How like Cody to forgive so easily. Why couldn’t she do the same? Because it happened way too often, and she didn’t like seeing her son repeatedly disappointed.
“I’ll try, buddy. Come on. Let’s go. We can’t have you sitting on the bench.”
“Hey, Mom, you’re not paying attention,” Cody complained a few minutes later as they headed down the winding road that made up Whidbey Island’s highway. “I thought you wanted to sing the ‘Cartoon Song.’”
“I do, honey. I’m sorry. I’m just—” Lisa shook her head. This situation was unfair to Cody. She shouldn’t let her anger at Joe spoil his last baseball game. She glanced briefly at her son then quickly back at the road. He looked concerned, and she wanted to draw him into a hug but reached over and ruffled the top of his head instead.
“I’m just disappointed, honey. I wanted your dad to be there for your last game.”
“I know, Mom. But it’s Mr. Lee’s fault, not his. And he said he’ll show up if he can.”
Yeah, right. Mike Lee would keep Joe until way after Cody’s bedtime if history was any indication. Joe worked so hard for the man, not only had he missed all of Cody’s games, family dinners, and picnics in the park, he hadn’t even been to church in months. Her anger sparked again, this time at Mike Lee.
But Cody shouldn’t feel the obligation to play peacemaker between her, Joe, and Joe’s boss. Not wanting to upset her son, she kept her opinion to herself. Lisa hit the gas a little harder than she should have as she pulled into the left-turn lane. Thankfully, the green arrow lit up just then, and she didn’t need to hit the brake.
As she rounded into her turn, two things happened.
Cody burst into his mashed up version of the “Cartoon Song.”
And Lisa realized with instant horror, the oncoming car failed to stop at the intersection.
With a mother’s instinct, she threw her arm in front of Cody only to have it thrown against the dashboard when the other vehicle made impact with hers a split second later. The pain meant nothing to her, however, as she struggled against gravity to shield her son. She had to protect him, had to keep him safe.
“Cody! Cody!” She shouted his name repeatedly above the nightmarish sounds of skidding tires and crunching metal. “It’ll be OK, honey. I promise.”
Cody didn’t answer. Desperate to touch her son, to reach out and comfort him, Lisa couldn’t lift her arm no matter how hard she tried.
“Cody, stay awake for me, OK? Maybe we can sing the “Cartoon Song.” Cody, can you hear me?”
Lisa struggled to stay conscious, afraid of closing her eyes, terrified she’d wake up to find her world changed forever. But her vision dimmed and blackness swirled around her. She mustered all the energy she could and whispered, “Cody, I love you so much, sweetheart.”
Why didn’t he answer? Desperate to hear his voice, frantic because she couldn’t, Lisa strained to see him but the darkness continued to envelop her.
Please, Lord, take care of my little boy. Please, let him be OK.
Tears trailed down her face, but Lisa couldn’t lift her hand to wipe them away.
“Lord, please,” she whispered just before darkness claimed her, “don’t take my son away from me.”
Ten months later
The blinking light on the answering machine flickered, fast, furious, needy for attention. An unwelcome emotion tore at Joe Kendall’s gut. Ignore it. Just walk away.
He should leave the room. Leave the voice mail unheard. Pretend he hadn’t seen the annoying red light. Then the message wouldn’t impact his heart. But he couldn’t leave.
An inexplicable desperate need filled him, a need to hear the voice that would fill the room when he pressed the button.
Lisa. She called everyday like clockwork, and Joe found himself alternately looking forward to and dreading the calls.
The answering machine was a blessing. He didn’t have to speak to her yet could listen to the sweet sound of her voice without her knowing how it affected him.
Easing behind the huge oak desk beneath the windows at the far end of his office, he settled into the chair of butter-plush leather—a gift from Lisa when he’d been offered a junior partnership in the firm.
Before he could push the button to listen to the message, someone rapped on the door. His boss, Mike Lee, walked into the room without waiting for a response.
“Joe, we need to talk.”
“Hey, Mike. What’s up?” He tried to sound pleasant, even though the interruption irritated him.
Mike rubbed his hand over the top of his short, thinning hair. Something was wrong. Not only did Mike not usually burst into his office, his head wasn’t usually beet-red.
“It’s the other senior partners.” Mike sighed and rubbed his scalp again then sat in one of the chairs in front of Joe’s desk. “Joe, there’s no easy way to say this. A few of them are calling for your resignation.”
“What?” Joe straightened in his chair. This couldn’t be happening. “But I’m a partner.”
“I know. That’s why they’ve agreed to give you another chance.”
Relieved, Joe let his shoulders relax. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Don’t get too comfortable. There’s a stipulation.”
Joe tensed again.
“They want you to take a leave of absence. You have the rest of the week to get your cases cleared up or reassigned. After that, you’re on a mandatory leave of absence.”
“Don’t even try to talk your way around it. They won’t consider anything less. It was the best I could do.”
Joe rose from behind his desk and walked over to the window that faced Penn Cove. A few houses stood on the bluff across the water. One of those houses belonged to him and Lisa. If he lost his job, they’d lose the house. He couldn’t let Lisa lose one more thing. He cleared his throat in order to hide his emotion. “For how long?”