“She says get over it and get back to work. What else can she say? It’s how she lived her life. I’m just glad she’s seeing someone and getting out more, finally getting to have her own life, you know?”

“Yeah, our mom is having more sex than both of us put together,” Tyler said.

“God, I wish you hadn’t said that! I met the guy. And now there’s this image in my head. Shit,” I said.

“You know you love me. Get a woman. Quit moping,” he said.

“You should not become a therapist,” I said. “Just a piece of advice.”

“I don’t take job advice from guys who hate their work, sorry,” he said. “How’s it going at Hadley?”

“They gave me a bonus because I did such a thorough job on the last inspection. So you’ll get a nice Christmas present,” I said ruefully.

“How nice? Apple watch nice or private island nice?”

“Somewhere in between. How’s work?”

“Same. It’s work.”

“Yeah, great talk,” I joked. “Do you and your counselor just sit and stare at each other after an answer like that?”

“I’m not vibing with the counselor. I need a new one. I just didn’t feel comfortable with him. Like he was judging me,” he said, sounding edgy.

“So find a new one.”

“I may not stay here, I don’t know,” he said. “I get restless.”

“You need—you know what, I don’t know what you need. You’re the only one who knows that. Let me know what you decide, and if you need anything,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, and hung up.

I needed to get Maggie out of my head, but there was no way I could look at another woman, not after what we’d been to each other. It didn’t feel like it was too soon or like I’d change my mind eventually. It felt like I would never have any interest in another woman. Like it was beyond imagination. I decided to do some more sit ups. Then I poured a rum and cola—the Loser’s Lounge drink we’d had after the softball game-and let myself sit there and think of her.

Her riot of red curls, her cleverness and humor, the way she’d gone soft and mushy over some rabbits and goats, and the way I had felt standing with her in my arms looking out over that view by the creek. It had been a perfect moment right then. My chest ached for it, for her.

I didn’t regret what I’d done. I regretted that I’d hurt Maggie with my actions. But that was a half-assed apology at best, and she deserved better than that. I could see it from her side, like the scales had fallen from my eyes. That I’d made love to her and then betrayed her in the same breath. I could not acquit myself of it, but I could try to redeem myself. Try and prove to myself, and maybe to her, that I was more than just the asshole that ruined her life.

19

Maggie

The three and four-year-olds were watching Finding Dory in the common room, all of us sitting on our rainbow rug. I reminded myself to keep swimming, just like the movie said. Then the door opened, and it was Ron from the plant. His kids were in high school, so they weren’t in my care. It was unusual for him to stop by here.

I got to my feet and ushered him into my office, nodding to Kim to keep an eye on the kids.

“What can I do for you today?” I said.

“I’ve got some news, and I figured you had a right to hear it. The call came in from Hadley an hour ago. In eight weeks, we’re shutting down for good.”

“Oh, Ron,” I said. “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Obviously, we’ll stay open through the shutdown, so your workers won’t have to worry about daycare too.”

“Find yourself a new job like the rest of us, I suppose,” he said. “I knew you were seeing that boy from Hadley. I figured if you knew anything you would’ve told us, so I owed you the same courtesy.”

“I didn’t know anything for sure,” I said. “But I had the impression it wasn’t good.”

“So he talked to you, too?” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Before he left town, Jeremiah stopped by my office to tell me he was putting in his report and give me the heads up that it probably wasn’t going our way. He didn’t want me to be blindsided by the outcome. He’s a good kid. Shame about his job,” Ron said, shaking his head. “But he didn’t sound like he’d be at that job for very long. Way I see it, maybe this was his wake-up call. Spending time here, with you. Gives a man an idea about the kind of life he wants.”

“Thank you for concern, and for letting me know. I’ll let my staff know later on today.”


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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