“And I’m so glad Tucker invited you! He’s so cute and he’s been single for way too long.”
Everyone agrees that Tucker’s a great guy. Charitable! Generous! Easy on the eyes!
“So very kind too,” Leanna continues. “Last year, my grandmother needed someone to look over her outdated will and Tucker volunteered to do it for free. Isn’t that sweet? She tried to pay him but he turned her down.”
I feel awkward with so much attention focused on my date with him considering it’s not a date at all. I didn’t even agree to it—Edith did. I try my best to turn the attention back to Leanna and Daniel’s wedding and after we spend a good hour chatting about floral arrangements and last-minute freakouts, we finally get started on yoga. There are a dozen of us altogether, and I set up class out in the yard where the ground is level and there’s a nice breeze and tons of shade. I’m nervous to lead so many women at once, but everyone is so complimentary and easygoing that I relax and we end up having a good time. After that class, we decide we’ll make a weekly thing of it. Sunday afternoons, we’ll meet for yoga, and if we happen to throw in some food and gossip afterward, well at least we got a good workout in beforehand.
I start my third week of work hoping for a few more days of avoidance from Jack, but I don’t get my wish. On Monday, I’m in the kitchen cleaning up after lunch when he walks up and pauses near the counter beside me. Then, he says the most shocking thing anyone has ever said to me.
“I’d like you to eat dinner tonight with Edith and me.”
I don’t look his way. If I did, he’d know how much his invitation means to me.
I suppress my voice to a normal octave. “Thank you, but it’s okay. I was just going to eat on my own.”
“It’s okay. Tell Edith you offered, but I turned you down.”
She’s the one who wants me at dinner, not him, I’m sure.
“C’mon, you’re wounding my ego here.”
I smirk. “Edith thinks your ego can stand to take a good beating.”
I finally chance a quick glance at him and find that his dark eyes are studying me thoughtfully. Today, he looks irresistible in a red work shirt, and I have no idea what is going on in his mind, but he doesn’t seem to be playing a trick.
In fact, he pushes off the counter with his hip and declares with a final, end-of-discussion tone, “I’m going to grill some steak and vegetables. It’ll be pretty damn good, and I’d hate for you to miss out.”
I arch a challenging brow. “You’d ‘hate for me to miss out’? Who are you and what have you done with the real Jack?”
He goes right on ignoring my taunts. “It’ll be ready at 7:30 sharp. If you want to make yourself useful, you can set the table.”
And just like that, I’m a dinner guest.
It’s quite a coincidence, because today, I’m also starting a new beauty routine that definitely has absolutely nothing to do with Jack inviting me to dinner. I wrap up my workday and rinse off in my newly tiled bathroom, taking extra effort with my conditioner. Then, I blow my hair out until the dark strands are silky smooth. I apply makeup because you know what they say: it’s important to look your best on Monday nights after work for no particular reason.
I peruse the two sundresses I bought at the thrift store and tug on the less fancy of the two. It’s white and the material is soft, hanging loose around my legs. The spaghetti straps are perfect for a summer evening in Texas.
True to his word, Jack is manning the grill when I stroll from the shack (which no longer even closely resembles a shack) to the farmhouse. He takes me in from head to toe and I think I catch the shadow of a smile on his lips before he turns back to the grill. My new nightly not-for-Jack beauty routine was clearly worth the effort.
Inside, I tell Edith I’m going to pull down the good china, the stuff they never use, because tonight is a special occasion. She laughs and says she always figured it wouldn’t get used again until her funeral wake. When Jack heads in with the steaks and vegetables, Edith is sitting at the table and I’m arranging the plates and cutlery. Everything is set except for my water glass in the kitchen. I run back in to grab it and don’t watch where I’m going because I know the route by now with my eyes closed…aaand I trip right over a sleeping Alfred and go crashing to the ground along with the fancy heirloom. The good crystal glass shatters into a thousand good crystal shards, but my attention lies elsewhere. The incident throws me so quickly and so vividly into a memory of Andrew that I lose my breath. It feels like déjà vu, but worse.
Nearly a year ago, Andrew was sitting at our dining table while I brought in dinner. He’d had a bad day at work and started in on me as soon as he walked in the door. He was starving and annoyed dinner wasn’t ready, and I was so worked up that on my way into the dining room, I accidentally dropped one of the serving platters gifted to us at our wedding. Food went everywhere. Ceramic shards cut into my hand. All the first instincts you’d expect a picture-perfect husband to have—Are you okay honey? Don’t worry, I never liked that ugly dish anyway, honey—were nowhere to be found. Instead, he shot to his feet and berated me for bleeding on the rug, for ruining dinner, for not appreciating nice things.
“Meredith, leave it.”
I remember the exact tone of his voice when he told me to clean it up, like I was an animal—no, worse.
Jack’s voice rattles me back to the present and I realize with a start that I’m down on my knees, picking up individual glass shards and depositing them in my open palm.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” I mumble as I start to cry. I’m so embarrassed. “I can’t believe I broke this. I shouldn’t have pulled these glasses out in the first place.”
“It’s nothing.” He’s tugging on my arm, trying to get me to stand.
I know he’s just saying that to make me feel better. Andrew would be screaming his head off right now. I could tell the glasses were really nice when I got them out, and I’ll have to figure out a way to replace it.
His voice is gentle but direct as he bends down to hook his hands underneath my arms and lift me to my feet. He deposits me away from the mess just as another glass shatters at the head of the table. I jerk my attention toward Edith to see her hand still outstretched, having just finished tossing hers down as well.
“Grandma, what the hell?” Jack asks incredulously.
She shrugs, trying to be nonchalant, but I can see the emotion in her eyes, the empathy she feels for me in that moment. “What? There’s nothing special about those dusty old glasses. I’m glad to be rid of them, honestly. This yoga kick has been making me more mindful, less occupied with material possessions.”
We both stare at her, stunned silent. To Jack, she may as well be speaking Greek.
“Don’t believe me?”
She shrugs, casually reaching out and nudging Jack’s glass to the edge of the table.
He lurches forward and grabs it before it falls. “Jesus woman! I get it. Now can you throw the rest in the trash instead of flinging them around the whole damn ranch?”
I whip around and find the dustpan in the kitchen so I can get to work cleaning up the mess. Jack steals it out from under me and tells me to go sit down. His voice isn’t exactly harsh, but it still leaves no room for argument. I take a seat beside Edith and she tugs at my hand to take a look at it. There’s a small cut, but nothing that really needs attention. I close my palm quickly, wanting to hide the traces of my clumsiness. I’m embarrassed that I not only broke a glass but also had a weird flashback like that right in front of them. It’s not like I was in a war; I shouldn’t have PTSD.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I say, unable to meet her eyes.
“At my age, I don’t have to do anything,” she declares with her usual matter-of-fact tone. “I wanted to do that. Hell, I’ve been wanting to do that for years. Now, Jack, will you finish up and sit down so we can get back to dinner? This steak smells amazing and Alfred here is about to leap up and eat ’em if we don’t beat him to it.”