The Presence of Grace (Love and Loss #2)(8)

By: Anie Michaels



“Evie, slow down. Breathe.” I heard her give a sad and nervous laugh, but then she inhaled and exhaled, loud enough for me to hear her. “Okay, so you’re coming to Florida and you want to go to Disney World?”

“We thought it would be fun. Have they been yet?”

“Yeah, but it was almost two years ago and I mean, come on, it’s Disney.” The air in my SUV was stifling. Even after almost three years I hadn’t learned to crack my windows. I started the car and cranked the air-conditioning.

“So you wouldn’t mind if we came for a visit?”

“Of course not.” I heard a girly squeal and could picture Evie bouncing up and down, her blonde ponytail swinging behind her. It had taken a while for the ache to go away every time I thought about her, so I was glad when picturing her didn’t make me uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hearing Evie happy made me happy. We could add that to the list of things we never thought would happen: perhaps I’d managed to release the weird hold I’d had on Evie since we were in college. But then again, I never actually had her to begin with.





Chapter Three

Grace

“You’ve made a terrible mistake,” I said to myself, turning my car into a spot at Marco’s. I’d been telling myself variations of that same sentiment the entire drive there. “Nothing good can come of this,” I mumbled, putting the car in park and pulling the keys from the ignition.

He’d looked almost exactly as I remembered him, which was surprising seeing as how the last time I saw him he was standing in the dark, crying. His hair was blond. He was tall and broad. Well-built. Big, but not overly bulky. Back in Fairbanks he’d been wearing a light jacket when I found him crying against the wall of the school, but tonight he’d just been wearing a polo shirt. My eyes had immediately been drawn to the way his sleeves stretched across his biceps, which were large and defined.

“Oh, my goodness. This is a terrible idea.” I let my forehead rest against the steering wheel, trying to give my thoughts an opportunity to settle. I couldn’t not go in. He was a parent. He’d think I was rude. But he was a parent. Certainly I couldn’t meet a parent at a bistro on a Friday night, for no academic purpose. This had to be against all kinds of rules.

But even though there were a million reasons not to go in, I still felt compelled. There was something about him that pulled at me. There was this strange need to make sure he was all right. After three years of thinking about him, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk to him.

It was with that small goal I opened my car door and climbed out, making my way to the bistro.

Mr. Roberts was standing just inside the doors, hands in his pockets. He turned to me as I walked in, and smiled. For just one moment I was breathless. He was truly beautiful. Without my permission, my lips tipped up and smiled in response.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t show,” he said quietly as I approached.

“That would be rude.”

“But understandable. This probably isn’t technically allowed.” His smile turned sheepish as he shrugged.

I didn’t respond because I didn’t really know what to say. He was right. This wasn’t allowed. But, as far as I was concerned, it was completely innocent.

Mostly innocent.

“There’s a great spot in the back. They’ll bring us a menu.” I waved a hand and indicated I wanted him to follow me. Luckily, my favorite table was available. This was a great spot, but it wasn’t exactly a happening place. On a Friday evening there were a lot more exciting places for people to be.

Just as I’d said, as soon as we were seated a waiter brought us both water and a menu.

“This is a nice place,” Mr. Roberts said, looking around.

“I come here most Fridays. They’re really friendly and let me sit here for hours. In fact, they’re probably wondering what I’m doing here with another person. I’ve always been alone.” I said the words and then felt the stinging in my gut. I hadn’t always been alone, but the sentence made me feel empty anyhow. “I mean, I’ve never come here with another person.”

“The idea of going to a restaurant alone seems both terrifying and wonderful.” He smiled again.

“It’s peaceful, that’s for sure. But it’s lonely sometimes,” I said honestly. Being lonely wasn’t the worst thing a person could be.

He was quiet for a moment as he looked over his menu, but then said softly, “It’s funny, because my idea of lonely is probably very different than yours. Or most people’s, for that matter.”

I took his words as a sort of invitation to talk about what was on my mind. “How’ve you been? You know, since I saw you last?” He exhaled loudly and I realized he might not want to talk about it. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry, but I wasn’t lying when I said I think about you all the time. I wonder about you.” I lift one shoulder in a shrug. “You were really upset.”

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