Between octobers bk 1, savor the days series (page 2)

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We kissed the kids and repeated thebabysitting rules to Noah before leaving the house in a taxi. Itwas only for a few hours, dinner and a drink, but better safe thansorry.

The place she chose was surprising. InHollywood, on the Strip. A poorly lit English style pub with aclean kitchen that Lily swore was frequented by celebrities. Shethought it might be fun if we happened to see one. Not that I’drecognize any. My knowledge of pop culture was severely limited bymy preferable lack of exposure to the outside world. I hardlywatched television, except old shows from the nineties, and most ofthe music they played on the radio held no interest for me. I wasquite content with my old CDs and books.

We approached the bar since most ofthe tables were taken and sat to wait for Natalia, Lily’s friendfrom work, who was running late. I was kind of glad. Natalia and Iused to work together at the hospital. I liked her. Until sheflirted with Sol. That kind of soured my attitude towards her. Sheknew he was my husband and acted like her advances meantnothing.But it was a long timeago, I reminded myself.

Lily and I ordered wine. After anothertwenty minutes, I got tired of waiting and ordered an appetizer. Icouldn’t drink on an empty stomach in those shoes. I’d tip rightover.

“Geez, where is this woman?” Lily’s headswiveled, her eyes panning the crowd. “Natalia!” She called overthe music, waving her hand over her head, beckoning her friend inour direction.

I looked back and Natalia’s eyes lit up. Ismiled politely and welcomed her as she sat on the stool betweenus.

“I’m so happy to see you, Grace! Ihaven’t seen you since—”

Lily’s pointed boot suddenly stabbed theback of her calf. I looked to my empty wine glass, trying topolitely ignore what I’d seen.

“Oh, let me buy you a drink. It’s the leastI can do.” She offered.

I felt myself stiffen at the offhandreference and wondered at it while Lily dramatically rolled hereyes behind Natalia’s back. I suppressed my grin, reminding myselfof the new leaf, my pledge in the dark. Natalia was trying to benice. The incident only bothered her now because he was gone—thesame reason it shouldn’t have bothered me.

I bobbed my head, enjoying the rock musicplaying a little too loudly to make easy conversation, and thankedGod for small favors as the bartender brought another round.

“How have you been? Did you go back to thehospital?” Natalia asked, almost yelling in my ear.

I noticed I was slumping and sat upstraight. “I’ve been okay. Taking care of the kids and house andall the normal stuff. I haven’t gone back to work yet. How are you?How is work going?”

“Fine,” she answered sweetly, but her facehardened as she turned to Lily. “I have to go to the bathroom.Lily, come with me.” Before I knew it, she was stalking off.

Lily shook her head, getting up to follow,“I’ll be back.”

“What’d I say?”

“She’s dramacidal. Hey, save our seats. It’sgetting really crowded.”

I used my purse and pink wrap to mark theirstools and guzzled the last of my wine. Waiting. Then, orderedanother round for all of us. They could play catch-up when they gotback. From the corner of my eye, I spied a couple inching towardsthe seat where my purse was set. They stopped to talk to someone,but I grabbed my purse and wrap to reverse their positions, keepingmy purse closer to me. As I did, the warm rush of alcohol spreadthrough me and I relaxed. I wasn’t driving, so I snatched my glassand took a few more sips.

When I asked, the bartender assured me thatmy appetizer would be up any minute. As I stepped backwards,intending to plant my butt back onto my seat, it hit something. Aquick look down and I saw it was a leg. The attached lap wascurrently parked beneath me. I flew away from the stranger’s touch,and caught a spiky heel on something. I managed to catch myselfbefore I fell completely, but still wobbled enough to causecatastrophe.

It moved like slow motion on the DVR. Thewine glass flying, sloshing, building a wave of black-purple liquidthat stretched until it found escape, up and over the rim.Splattering the shoes attached to the legs of the lap that had juststolen my stool. The glass smashed to the ground beside a pair ofexpensive, Italian leather shoes.

I gasped, “Crap!”

The wine was in his socks! I cowered inembarrassment, eyes glued to the escaped liquid drenching thestylish feet. A stream of profanity came from the direction of myvictim’s mouth. As luck would have it, there were no napkins on thebar. I grabbed the only thing I could think of—my silk wrap—andtried to soak up the wine from the offended feet, all the whileblurting my shamed apologies over the ruined shoes and offering toreplace them. The feet retreated in haste.

I looked up in time to apologize to the backof his head. “I’m really sorry!”

He waved his hand, dismissing me. I sighed,noticing the entire restaurant had stopped. Everyone had seen myfaux pas. Heated chagrin washed over me.

“What did you do?” Natalia was suddenlybeside me, her eyes scanning the splattered wine and glass on thefloor, the stained scarf in my hand.

“I spilled my wine on some poor man.”

“You can have mine. I have to go,anyways.”

“You spent more time in the bathroom thanyou did talking to me. Natalia, if I offended you, I hope you wouldjust tell me.”

She shook her head, “No, I didn’t reallyhave time to stop. I’ve been running behind all day, but I wantedto see you and say hello.”

“Well, I appreciate the effort.” My heartwarmed from sincerity. Or the wine. I decided to give her thebenefit of the doubt.

“I’m grabbing that table in the back.” Lilyinterjected, reaching between us for her glass. “Bye, honey!” Shecalled, darting away.

Natalia looked to me, then toward Lilyand back before leaning in. “Grace, I know it’s too little toolate. Lily didn’t want me to say anything but I amreallysorry about Solomon. He was agood man and I am sorry you lost him.”

There. She said it.

“You know I’m not mad, don’t you?” As Ispoke the words, I realized how true they were.

“I thought you’d be upset that I didn’t callyou after, or go to his funeral. But I worried it would upset youmore if I did.”

“I wouldn’t remember if you did.” My handtouched my temple, remembering what a basket case I was those firstsix months.

“Your hair is pretty. You should keep itthat way.” She smiled and winked before stalking towards thedoor.

That wasn’t so bad. It shouldn’t have takenso long to get around to.

The restaurant was packed. Lily and I spentmost of the night at our table in the corner, making conversationand eating an assortment of fried foods. She told me Natalia’ssudden urge to pee was motivated by fear. She thought Lily spilledthe secret that she was losing her job next month and didn’t wantanyone to know. Lily hadn’t told me anything, of course. She was myvault, the most trusted secret-keeper I knew.

“I’m being accused, so I may as well beguilty.” She smiled, “but don’t tell her I told you.”

We watched people come and go, hoping for asighting of a familiar face. But there were no celebrities to befound, much to Lily’s disappointment.

“Maybe we’ll find one next time.”

Lily answered with a smile as the taxipulled up to take us home.

 

October8th

The keys to the file room in Dr. Pataki’soffice were devoured by the couch monster. I performed a randomcavity search when Lily called earlier in the morning. I had todrop them by her office, on my way to take the boys to school,before the days’ patients started showing up.

While the car warmed up, the boys weregetting loaded inside. I made sure Caleb was settled, then tried totext Lily to let her know we were leaving, but my cell battery’swas nearly dead. I flipped the phone shut and rolled down thedriveway. “Noah, text your Aunt—let her know we’re on our way.”

The parking garage beneath the officebuilding wasn’t open to the public yet, but Lily called the guardand told him I was coming. I drove in, looking for a spot near thecentral bank of elevators—the set closest to her office on thethird floor, which was two floors beneath Dr. Lena’s office. I’dnever met with her at her professional office. We always met overon the other side of town, at my church.

After hopping out of the car, I called toNoah, but he continued bobbing his head to the beat of whateversong he was listening to. I waved my arms, hoping the movementwould grab his attention. It did; he looked my way and took out anear bud.

“I am going to give Aunt Lily her keys. Iwill be right back.” I shook them in my hand for him to see.Glancing in the backseat; I saw Caleb had fallen back to sleep.“Please wake up your brother and tell him to eat his breakfast.Help him open his juice, too, please. I don’t want him squirting itall over the car.” He nodded. “A verbal response would benice.”

“Okay, I will.” His tone whisperedirritation. “Happy?”

“Yes, thank you.” My eyes shrunk as Iturned away. I could not wait until he has his own kids. Wait, yesI could.

The elevator opened immediately; I walkedinside. Right before the doors closed, I noticed a man with a beardsitting inside a black SUV in the parking garage. He leaned hishead against the seats’ headrest, like he was trying to catch up onsleep. Briefly, I wondered why he was there. Probably for the samereason my boys were—waiting on someone inside.

The doors opened to the third floor. Lily’soffice was two left turns away. I pulled out my phone and checkedthe time, pleasantly surprised. Maybe the kids wouldn’t be late forschool.

Reaching the glass doors to her officesuite, I knocked lightly. Lily’s head, with her hair twisted backinto a loose bun, bobbed up from behind the partition. She jumpedup once she saw it was me, holding her keys to the file room.

“Where are the boys?” She asked,surprised.

“In the car.”

“Why?” She was digging into the pocket ofher gray scrub top.

“Caleb was sleeping—what are you doing?” Myeyes grew wide as she dumped a fist full of Halloween candy into mypurse.

“Give this to them, from me.”

“They’ll love you forever.” I tucked myphone into my pocket to play with my belt loops.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m breathing.” I responded withoutthinking, and realized how it sounded. “I’m fine. The kids aregoing to be late if I don’t get out of here, though.”

“Quick question: how would you feel aboutbuying Noah a car for his birthday?”

“What?”

“He’s going to be sixteen—”

“No way.”

“But he’ll have his license when he’s donewith that class and I want—”

“I can’t talk about this now . . . I’mlate.”

She nodded and thanked me.

I practically ran back to the elevator andslammed the button. If I hit too much traffic, the kids would belate. As my stress level rose, I reminded myself to not worry aboutthings I couldn’t change and checked my phone for the time. Thewallpaper popped up, distracting me. It was a picture of Sol and meat Pier 39 in San Francisco. I forced myself to avoid looking athis face—it would hurt too much—and drug my gaze to the numbers inthe corner of the screen.

Stepping into what I assumed was an emptyelevator, I bumped into something. A tall man dressed in black fromhead to toe. He was really good looking.

The thought surprised me because I couldn’tremember the last time I actually longed for a man. Looking at hisface didn’t hurt, so I let myself stare. His hair and clothes werea mess, but he wore the chaos well. He was very clean and his skinlooked soft. His features held an essence of Jim Morrison in hisstrong jaw line; maybe a little James Dean, too, in his hair andthe way he arched his long torso. It wasn’t a slump—more of astance. One hand was set across his stomach as he stared at me indisbelief. I realized my shoulder was still poking his chest andstepped aside, into the elevator.

“Sorry.” I flopped the phone into my purseand made myself look away.

“That’s perfectly alright,” he said, in adistinct English accent. “Going down?”

“P2,” I glanced at the buttons. Mine wasalready lit.

“Well, there you go.” He crossed his arms,bringing one hand to his eyebrow where the thumb and index fingerpinched at the flesh.

Something about him was familiar. I knew Ididn’t know him, but there was a sense, a veiled awareness that Iwas missing something. “Have we met before? You look familiar.”

He stared. “Yeah, I work in the building . .. uh, Repairs department.”

Sol worked in construction and I’d beenon-site enough to recognize the common solidity a man acquired withthe labor, the sturdiness it brought. This guy seemed too . . .genteel for such work. His hands were too clean. No scars orcalluses. I also used to buy Sol’s clothes. This man’s sport coatlooked tailored and the rumpled shirt underneath bore a designerinsignia that screamed expensive. His jeans, worn a little tootight and a little too low, looked like they cost around sevenhundred dollars. Finally, my eyes fell upon his shoes. They wereworn-looking but also expensive. Not that it was any of mybusiness.

I wiped the skepticism away and turn myattention to the numbers over the door. The needle stopped on the Pthat marked my level. I stepped forward and waited.

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