Between octobers bk 1, savor the days series (page 3)

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I guess we’d passed idle small talk.

“We never planned; they were surprises.”What surprised me was that I nearly mentioned how I suspectedSolomon had a high sperm count because all of my pregnanciesoccurred while I was using at least one form of birth control. Whata strange thing to bring up in a dim conversation with a generousstranger. Maybe it was easier to be open in the dark.

“Sorry, it’s too personal.”

I couldn’t make out his expression but knewhe saw mine. I wondered what he spotted that made him want toapologize.

“I’m not offended, but I am curious. Evan,can I ask you something?”

“Whatever you like.”

“Do you really work in maintenance?”

He drew a deep breath and let it out with aquick raspberry. “No. I was, uh, visiting a friend,” he slightlyshifted his leg.

The phone moved again, lighting the airbetween us enough for me to see his sheepish grin.

“It’s a little early for a social call.” Iheard my voice and it was patronizing.

“Yeah, but I was away, out of state for afew months and hoping to avoid the morning traffic. You know, Iknew a girl named Gracie in primary school. She used to hit me andtake my snack.”

“She must have liked you,” I pretended notto notice the sudden change of subject.

“No, I’m pretty sure she hated me.” Hiswords, though they sounded offhand, carried an element of something. . . truth, maybe? I wasn’t sure, but my heart filled withcompassion over the possibility. He was being so kind.

“My dad used to call me Gracie.” Memoriessprang up. Me, bouncing on his knee playing Buck the Bronco. My dadwould twist his fingers around the back of my shirt—sending mymother into a frenzy over the stretched fabric that she swore wouldnever go back into its correct shape—to keep me from falling to thefloor while he furiously shook his leg, launching me up and down.I’d squeal, flailing, trying to hang on, and giggling the wholetime. Dad would yell, “Hang on, Gracie! Don’t fall, Gracie!” whilehe did his best to knock me loose.

“Did you have any nicknames growing up?” Iasked.

“My mother’s husband used to call meShorty.” The reference sounded like a curse word. “I was a tall,awkward child. That was his way of mocking me.”

“That’s awful.” My own circumstances hadshown me, through two generations of personal experience, howdesperately a boy needs a father. My heart broke for him. Then, Igrasped the tone he used was distasteful, loathsome, and guarded.The same way he referred to family as enemy.

“You should forgive him,” I blurted, beforerealizing what I was saying and how rude it must seem; but when Ifelt the weight of the words, I knew I was right.

His leg started to twitch, shaking the lightbetween us. But he said nothing.

Well, I already had one foot in my mouth;may as well shove the other in beside it.

“For your sake, not his,” I added beforeguilt shook the sense back into me. “I know it’s none of mybusiness. Sorry, I have this bad habit where I say things . . .sometimes.”

He pressed his lovely lips together, drawingthe edges up into an awkward smile. “I, too, say things from timeto time. I can relate.”

“I mean . . . never mind.”

“No, no, you’ve intrigued me. Please,continue.”

“Have you ever felt a need to say something?Like a prompt?” I gestured between us, “Like, you have to tellsomeone something, even if it’s offensive—as if it were the mostimportant thing in the world for them to hear?”

His silence gave my answer.

“You don’t have any idea what I’mtalking about, do you?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever said anythingimportant. Much less needed to.”

“I realize it’s none of my business and youhave every right to be upset with me for being so forward. But Ijust think you have more to gain through forgiveness. And I thoughtyou should know that.”

“How so?” His pitch went up, indicatinggenuine interest.

“When someone hurts you, ninety-nine percentof the time the actions stem from selfishness. So they’re notsitting at home thinking about how they got over on you. And whywaste your time and energy thinking about them? Forgive and forgetso you can move on.”

“Interesting,” he said. “May I ask yousomething?”

“We’re beyond the formalities, now.”

“Are you married?” The light went dim. Hetapped the screen of his phone again.

“Not anymore.”

I looked down, afraid my eyes would giveaway too much. Since cleaning out my closet, I could barely keepthem dry. Every time something sad, happy, or funny happened I wasshredded. Tears at the drop of hat, no matter the reason.

“Are you dating anyone?” He hesitated. “Youdon’t have to answer. I’m just trying for conversation. You know,to pass the time.”

“It’s alright. I’m not—” I struggled for theright words. “I don’t . . . date guys.” It came out wrong but Ileft it alone.

He placed his head back against the wall andclosed his eyes. Crossing his feet, the phone slipped to one side.He caught it and the screen lit with his touch.

My thoughts flew up and away as my blankeyes became glued to one spot. His gorgeous face. I don’t know howlong I watched him sit there, breathing in and out, before I heardthe muted thud.

The intensity of his sudden gaze took me bysurprise. “You hear that? I think we’re sprung.”

Another thud sounded and Evan was on hisfeet, holding his hand out to me. The subtle contact made my emptystomach flutter, but it was nothing. The hand was offered, so Iaccepted. I offered him my thanks and he took it.

My feet were too far over when I stood,landing me deep in his personal space. I stared up while the lightgrew. He smelled like smoke and honey. I breathed him in. Chagrinheated my cheeks when he looked back and caught me. I turned to thewide silver doors as they inched open and back to Evan, who wasstaring again, or maybe he never looked away.

“Back away from the door!” The call shotthrough a thin crack in the passage.

We did as the voice commanded, moving untilwe felt the wall at our backs. We watched the metal arm appearbetween the door panels and slowly pry them apart.

“It was wonderful meeting you, Gracie.” Evanoffered his hand.

“It was nice meeting you, too. Thank you . .. you’re my hero.” I mimicked a bad southern accent, attempting adamsel-in-distress posture and batting my eyelashes. He laughed andI felt stupid.

The door cranked open, wider and wider,until there was enough room to pass through into the bright morningoutside. I took my leave and headed straight for the Jeep.

Twenty minutes, my patooty! That was atleast an hour.

 

After dropping thekidsat school and sending word to their teachers thatthey’d be absent on Wednesday to observe their father’s passing, Igot home just in time to stop Arnold, Sol’s big dumb dog, fromchewing through a fence board. Once he was settled in his kennel, Ifixed the board and made his breakfast. Some leftover brown riceand chicken broth mixed with his regular food. I set the bowl infront of him, told him what a good boy he was, and got started onthe housework.

An hour later, I was done. I turned on somemusic and watched through the glass door as Arnold ignored the foodin his bowl. Maybe he needed to work up an appetite.

The weather was cool and sunny. A lightbreeze drifted in from the coast giving the air a briny smell thatmelded with the scent of the surrounding trees. We headed down theroad and jogged around the park, twice. Both of us were pantingwhen we got back to the top of my hill.

After a shower, while raking the brushthrough my hair, I remembered my phone. The battery was probablycompletely dead. I reached for my sweatshirt and checked thepockets. Then, searched the jeans crumpled in the pile of laundry.I wanted to panic after the first sweep of my purse turned upnothing, and started emptying each compartment onto the kitchencounter. Out poured everything I anticipated, except my cellphone.

I perched on the arm of the sofa,trying to think. I asked Noah to get it for me, put it in mysweater pocket. I used it to check the time in the hall while Iwaited.The elevator!

I grabbed the house phone and called Lily.After explaining what I suspect had happened, she connected me tothe maintenance office.

How could I have been so careless? Thepictures! I’d never put them into the computer. Noah offered to doit a hundred times, but I refused, saying I would do it myself.Truthfully, I didn’t like the idea of changing anything. I wantedthe phone to stay the way it was when it belonged to Sol. It wasthe only thing that survived the accident. I had to get itback.

Nauseated and impatient, I waited as thephone rang over and over. On the fifth ring that felt like thefiftieth, a machine picked up. I left a message, automaticallylooking at the time. They had to be out for lunch.

On the way back to the parking garage, Icouldn’t let myself think about what it would mean, how much itwould hurt to lose his cell phone. Instead, I concentrated ongetting back to check that elevator as soon as possible. On theway, I was forced to stop at every single light in the city betweenmy house and Lily’s office. I got stuck behind the slowest driversin the history of motorized transportation. When I changed lanes, adiesel truck ended up in front of me. When I tried to move around,a taxi cut me off. After that, it was a garbage truck. It seemedeveryone was intent on making sure I had no access to lanes ofmoving traffic. I wanted to scream.

Finally, I saw the entrance of the parkinggarage. The sign out front read, “Lot Full.” I fought back thetears and parked in the first opening I found out on the street,nearly two blocks away.

According to Juan in maintenance, theelevator had been running smoothly for over an hour and no one hadreturned or reported finding a cell phone. When he saw me fightingback the tears, he let me look through the space myself—the lostand found, too. But all I found were umbrellas, single gloves, andreading glasses.

Returning to my car heart-broken and emptyhanded, I was forced to learn another hard lesson. Parking by ahydrant was never as convenient as it seemed. I realized this as Iwatched my Jeep being hauled down the street by a tow truck. Iprayed for strength and forgiveness, fighting the desire to cursethe driver for refusing to let me drive away because my car wasalready chained.

“What does that mean?” I askedincredulously.

“It means too damn bad. You’re blocking ahydrant and you’re gettin’ towed.” He rubbed his greasy hand acrosshis imposing waistline.

At least I had the presence of mind to takemy purse. I tried to be thankful for that as I walked to the lonepayphone that I knew to be operational a few blocks away. It was onthe corner in front of a small French restaurant. I’d never eatenthere, but the bright blue neon sign mounted over the phone boothstuck out in my mind. It was a marker to Caleb. Each time we passedit, he knew we were almost to Auntie’s job.

I kept my eyes on a miserable pebble,kicking it down the sidewalk along the way. I could’ve used thephone in Lily’s office, but the waiting area would be full ofpatients. No one ever went to the oncologist for something minor.Everyone within hearing distance would have either been seeking, inthe midst of receiving, or just finishing cancer treatment. Theydidn’t need to hear about my problems, so insignificant compared totheirs. I would have felt guilty for complaining and I reallywanted to mope.

The afternoon didn’t get any better. I neverkept cash on me, so I had to take a taxi to the bank on the wayhome. The driver complained because of the slow-moving line at theATM.

As the cab pulled away from my curb, Caleb’sbus pulled up. Maria’s grating voice was drumming from theanswering machine as we made our way inside. Ishuddered—mother-in-law problems—listening to her tell me she wascoming over Wednesday to visit the kids. I ran to the phone to lether know I’d make myself scarce so she could visit. Of course, myvoice was trembling, so she asked what was wrong. I knew it wasonly a formality, but told her anyway. She huffed when I mentionedthe pictures. I really didn’t feel like being insulted, so I madeup an excuse and hung up.

When Noah came home, he immediately askedwhat was wrong. I assured him everything would be fine and went tobed early.

 

October9th

Tuesday was much the same. I spent mymorning riding the bus across town to the impound lot. Thankfully,my Cherokee was considered undesirable; I could tell right awaythat everything was just where I left it. Even my registrationstickers were intact. The temporary wisps of relief were replacedwith guilt and dread as I tried, unsuccessfully, to gather myselfbefore the kids came home.

Sol always had his phone with him and after,I always had it with me. I would scroll through the text messages,read them over and over again. It wasn’t so difficult to accept theloss of the printed words. It was the pictures I regretted losing.Irreplaceable pieces of time, framed moments we spent together.Tangible remnants of happiness.

My eyes were red and puffy over an inanimateobject. Strange how things could take on such immense value becauseof the owner.

I managed to keep up the ruse well enoughfor Caleb but not Noah. He never asked, but I could tell he wasworried I might end up depressed again. I could see the shadows ofmy darkest days in his eyes when he looked at me. The days when allI could do was sleep. I gave him a reassuring pat on the arm whenhe offered to assist his younger brother with a bath and put him tobed for me. Though my heart ached that he would feel obligated tomake the gesture in the first place, I took it.

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