I meant to update this sooner, but real-life has been hectic lately!
Even Hallie's first trip to London – when she was about to meet her mother for the first time, pretending to be Annie – wasn't this nerve-wracking. Her dad says the Concord is twice as fast as other lines, but the flight still seems painfully long to Hallie. There's plenty of time to wonder what might go wrong with her dad's plan. Suppose it doesn't work? Suppose Mom and Dad still don't end up together? Suppose... Her stomach clenches in knots that have nothing to do with the flight turbulence or the disgusting airline food.
But at least this time, she isn't flying alone. Hallie and her dad don't talk much, with both of them so preoccupied, but whenever the suppose's start to overwhelm her, she squeezes his hand and feels better.
Between her excitement, her worries, and the cramped seating in coach, Hallie hadn't expected to sleep on the plane, but she manages to catch a little nap when her dad reminds that she doesn't want to have bags under her eyes when she saw her mom and Annie. She's still a bit groggy when she wakes up for the landing, and the train ride from Heathrow to King's Cross goes by in a blur.
Nick stops at King's Cross long enough to buy an umbrella for the rain and scones and juice for both of them. Hallie isn't hungry, but she only picked at Chessy's sandwiches on the plane, and Nick insists that she eat something. So they gulp down nervous bites on a bench near a window, watching the commuters hurry by in their long, dark coats as a steady drizzle falls from the washed-out gray sky.
"You know," says Nick, turning his scone over in his hands, "we really should be eating English muffins. Of course, they just call them muffins here."
Hallie laughs. "They call them breakfast muffins, Dad. I had some while I was here pretending to be Annie." She takes another bite of her scone; it's warm and buttery, and she realizes just how hungry she really is. She's glad her dad made her eat something. She still doesn't know quite what to expect of their reunion with Mom and Annie, but it wouldn't be good if she fainted with hunger the middle of it. "Thanks for letting me come with you, Dad," she adds.
Nick flashes her his trademark dimpled grin. "Well, of course I let you come, Hal. You're the only one of us who knows how to get to your mom's house from here!"
Hallie smiles. She relaxes at the thought of seeing Grandpa again. Before Mom and Annie arrive, they might even have time to – She stops the thought. Something seems off in their plan. Grandpa...
"Oh, my gosh!" she cries, leaping off the bench. "Dad, we forgot to call Grandpa! He doesn't even know we're coming! What if he's not home, and we can't get in?" Suddenly, she's worried all over again.
Nick gets up too, grabs Hallie's hand, and they start for the exit. "It's okay, Hal," he says, as they make their way through the crowds. "Look how far we've come already. Don't worry." But his brow furrows, and Hallie notices him tapping his fingers nervously on his thigh during the taxi ride to her mom's house.
Their fears seem confirmed when they arrive at the James residence and get no answer to their frantic knocking. Hallie wants to kick herself for not calling Grandpa. They had called Cheesy from the airport before they left California and told her to call Martin – he'd given Chessy his cell number – and tell him to do anything that he could to slow down Elizabeth and Annie. Hallie knows her dad had wanted to be waiting inside their house when they got home. It won't make nearly as much of an impression if Mom and Annie find them huddled on the doorstep in the rain, their clothes wet from the rain and wrinkled from the long flight.
Hallie kneels down and peers through the mail slot in the door. The front hallway and staircase look exactly as she remembers – peach-colored walls and thick, cream-colored carpet – but there's no sign of her grandfather anywhere.
"Oh, wait, I just remembered something!" she cries, jumping to her feet. She spins around to survey the small yard. "Annie told me there was a spare key hidden... Oh man, where did she say it was again?"
Nick and Hallie are on their hands and knees in the rain, lifting up the bricks that border the walkway in search of the spare key, when the front door swings open. Hallie lifts her head and sees her grandfather standing there. He looks confused, and Hallie wonders if their knocking woke him up – What time is it here again? – or if he's just surprised to see the two of them crawling around his front yard when they're supposed to be on the other side of the world.
"What..." he starts to ask, but that's as far as he gets before Nick and Hallie are both throwing themselves at him, each talking a mile a minute in their relief to see him. He makes out "Grandpa, it's me, Hallie!" and "Mr. James, I know we haven't seen each other in years but I hope..." and "...after Mom and Annie, because Dad said we couldn't let them go again!"
Ten minutes later, they're in the kitchen, Nick and Hallie standing in front of the stove to dry off, as Mr. James heats a kettle of tea. He says very little as they explain again – slowly and coherently this time – why they've come and how they got here. Hallie attributes his silence to surprise, but she can't help noticing her grandfather's brow furrow, like he doesn't approve of their plan. She's confused. Grandpa was the one who lent her and Annie the money to make dinner reservations on the ship. First Chessy didn't want them to go, and now Grandpa isn't happy that they're here?
Finally, Mr. James pours a cup of camomile tea, looks hard at Nick over his teacup, and says slowly, "Nick... the last time you and Lizzie were together... you quite broke her heart."
His words are like a slap in the face, but Nick forces himself not to wince at them. They're no less than he deserves, and he has to act like a man if he wants to convince Mr. James he deserves a second chance with his daughter. He puts a hand on Hallie's shoulder, to stop her from leaping to his defense. "The last time Lizzie and I were together, sir," he answers, choosing his words carefully, "I made a lot of stupid mistakes. I'm just sorry it took me eleven years to realize that. Last time we were together... I let her go. That was stupid of me, and that's why I'm here now."
Mr. James nods, apparently satisfied with this answer, and puts down his teacup. "Come with me," he says, motioning for them to follow as he heads down the hall to study. "There's something I want to show you two." Once in his study, he picks up a large picture frame sitting on his desk and holds it out – not to Nick, but to Hallie. As he leans forward to look it, Hallie feels the same flutter of excitement that she did when she and Annie held up their two halves of the picture of their parents' wedding day – like a puzzle piece she's been missing her whole life is about to drop into place.
And that's just how it feels as she gazes at the photo of a pretty, smiling young woman with '50s-style dress and hair. Even with the old-fashioned sepia tones, Hallie can tell that the woman's hair is red, and she brings one hand to her shoulder to stroke her own hair. All her life, she's wondered where her red hair came from, since her dad has brown hair and she always knew from her half-torn photograph that her mom is blonde. But now she knows. There it is, her own red hair – the exact same shade – framing this young woman's face as she smiles up at Hallie.
"Hallie," her grandpa says, smiling, "this was your grandmother, dear. Her name was Anna. Your sister is named for her."
Hallie tears her eyes away from the photo long enough to look up at her dad with a question in her eyes that she doesn't have to ask. Nick gives his head a slight shake. "No," he tells her, "I never knew her. I always wished I had, though."
Mr. James sighs, and in it, they hear a grief that's still raw some twenty years later. "We lost her a long time ago," he says, turning the photo back to himself and gazing down at it. "Lizzie was just a teenager when it happened." He looks up at Nick then, and even though his eyes seem bright with tears, he smiles. "Nick... some men never get a second chance to be with the woman they love. I hope you won't forget that."
And even though Nick is suddenly misty-eyed too, he smiles back at him. "Sir... I mean, Mr. James... I mean, Charles... that's the best advice I've ever gotten."
I hope you enjoyed it! Thank you all for your sweet reviews!