The Presence of Grace (Love and Loss #2)(7)

By: Anie Michaels



“It’s strange hearing someone call him Jax,” I said absently as I flipped through the papers.

“Oh?”

“We always call him Jaxy.” Her eyes went soft when I told her the nickname.

“That’s sweet. He’s a really special boy.”

“I agree.”

“Well,” she said, letting out a sigh, “that’s all the info I have for you. I don’t want to keep you from your Friday night plans.”

I let out a laugh. “My parents took the kids overnight, and my plans included this meeting. Now all that’s waiting for me is a quiet, empty house.” I said the words with more sadness than I anticipated. I was looking forward to having a night alone, but I hadn’t anticipated being lonely.

“We’ve got that in common,” she said with a smile as she scooped up all the papers she’d laid out for me.

Before I could even think about filtering the words, they tumbled out of my mouth. “Can I take you for a cup of coffee?” Her hands stilled, her fingers still grasping the papers, and her eyes met mine. “Not, like, a date,” I hurriedly stuttered, “just like a thank you coffee for crying all over you last time we met.”

“I don’t know,” she said slowly, a worried look in her eyes.

“No, you’re right. It’s a bad idea.” I stood up and, taking my packet of papers with me, moved toward the door. “It was nice meeting you… um… again.” I threw up a hasty wave, but just before I made it to the door, she stopped me.

“Wait,” she called, her voice still sounding unsure. “There’s a great little bistro on Fifth Street downtown called Marco’s. They’re open late on Fridays. I was going to go there after work and grade some papers, maybe grab a sandwich. I’ll be there for the next few hours.”

“You won’t mind a little distraction?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t.

“Are you kidding? I talk to seven-year-olds all day. I would love to talk to an adult about something normal for a little while.” She smiled again and all my nerves dissipated. I didn’t know why I was nervous. It wasn’t like I’d asked her on a date. We were just two adults who didn’t have any plans and decided to grab something to eat.

“Okay, I’ll see you there in a little while.” I waved again, this time a little less rabidly, and left. I made it into the hall and around the corner before I let out the breath I’d been holding. I ran a hand through my hair and kept walking. It had been a very long time since I’d been alone with a woman. I hadn’t even thought about whether or not I was ready to take this step before I’d blurted out the words.

My thoughts immediately went to Olivia, and even though it was ridiculous, I felt guilty for planning to meet with a woman. And as if my guiltometer needed to be calibrated, my phone rang in my pocket. It turned out to be Evelyn calling. I’d dodged her phone call earlier in the week and couldn’t bring myself to ignore her again. She didn’t deserve that.

“Hey, Evie,” I answered, trying to sound upbeat.

“Devon, hi. How are you?”

“Good. Just leaving a conference with Jaxy’s teacher.”

“Oh, yeah? Are the kids there?”

“No, they’re with my mom.”

“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “But that’s probably good. Do you have a second?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied, pushing the doors of the school open and walking out into the warm air of the night. The tone of Evie’s voice worried me though; she sounded like she had bad news. Or news she thought I wouldn’t take well.

Evie and I had been on better terms since she’d come to visit us a few months before. There’d been a period when we didn’t really communicate. I let her talk to the kids whenever she wanted, encouraged it even. Evie was one of the last connections Ruby and Jaxy had to their mother and I would never keep her away, but it was too difficult to talk to her myself. But a lot of good had come of her visit. Seeing her happy and healthy went a long way to making me feel like we’d all made the right decisions, like we’d actually done what was best for everyone.

“Nate and I want to fly to Florida during the kids’ spring break and take them to Disney World.” Evie pushed the words out rapidly and I knew she was nervous. I could tell by the tone of her voice she had her eyes squeezed shut and her cheeks bunched up, bracing for the worst. I could picture her in my head. “We don’t want to intrude, so if you already have plans, I completely understand. I just miss them and thought it would be something fun—ˮ

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