She browsed the romance section in the store. She needed some romance in her life but it was a wasted effort. She’s been hurt one time too many. She started to consider love just for fools. People who love too much have more to lose at the end, more to hurt when the other changed his mind, which always happens.
She pulled a loose hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. She needed to cut it; it was getting too long and unmanageable. She pulled her black hair into a loose bun and scanned the books to kill time. She turned the aisle to the children’s books. A black book amongst the colorful array of books caught her eye. It was a simple cover and had a simple one word title across the top of the book. She flipped it over to read more about the book. It sounded interesting, a bit impossible. She placed it in her hand basket and walked the next aisle of children movies. There was a squeak of rubber on tile and she nearly ran into someone’s red shopping cart.
“Oh, excuse me.” She said to the other person. Her mind was on dinner she was planning to make. She wanted to make something different but different isn’t always acceptable, especially in her house. She gave a kind smile to the person she almost tripped over but her heart nearly stopped. Her breath stopped and her eyes widened. Her mouth stayed open, waiting for the breath that never came.
“I’m sorry,” the man pushing the shopping cart said. He was ordinary, brown curly hair and brown eyes.
He waited for the woman to say something, but when she didn’t he looked into her face. It was shocked, and a bit timid. There was a light in her eyes that had him almost as shocked as she was. There was a smile playing across her face that made her look more exotic as she did from his first glance. They stood looking at one another for a moment. His brain worked extremely slowly. He pulled himself together and decided to start a pleasant conversation. He was a gentleman after all and he knew his manners.
“I’m sorry I nearly ran you over. I should be more careful, maybe I should invest in shopping cart mirrors to see where you’re going.” He joked. She let out one little laugh. He was just glad she took a breath, even if it was just one.
“You know, I have this strange feeling; do I know you?” he said looking deeper into her face.
He mentally removed her glasses and tried to remember where she knew her from, if he knew her. Her face was prematurely lined, probably from school or from work, she looked too old to be in school, but he seen older. He took in her jeans and a shirt, nothing remarkable stood out in his mind. He waited for her to speak. Maybe if he heard it once more he would remember her. Her breath finally came, shuttering embarrassingly. She looked down at the tiled floor and back at him underneath her eyelashes. He felt a twitch of smugness. Seeing a woman act like that wasn’t normal for him, he secretly enjoyed it.
She took a breath to control her emotions, and to govern whatever self-control she had left. She didn’t want to make him feel awkward, or make a fool out of herself as she stood too dumbfound to speak. She did something that didn’t involve her voice.
She nodded. Gathering up her courage she cleared her throat.
“Yes,” her voice still rasped and it came out in a whisper. “I know you.”
He nodded. Now that she knew him, he tried to remember where and when he met her. His mind hadn’t caught up with this moment yet. He was still trying to remember her face, commit it to memory, her almond shaped light brown eyes, her black hair pulled back in a knot, and the expression on her face when she looked at him for the first time. There was a childish giggle behind her and she turned away. He peeked around her to see a beautiful girls bounce toward them. Her pigtails swinging wildly as she raced to her with a movie in her hand, brandishing it to her.
“Mommy, I want this one.” She said, her eye were wide as delight shone across her face.
“Are you sure?” the woman said, kneeling down and taking the movie in hand. “You can’t change your mind once I put it in my basket.”
“I’m sure.” The girls said, nodding her head enthusiastically, nearly bouncing up and down with glee.
The woman put the movie in her hand basket and looked at him bashfully.
“You’re daughter?” he asked. He saw a few similarities in their faces. They had the same light brown eyes and the same shape, through her daughter’s skin was paler and her hair was curly. He remembered her hair was straight as it pulled into a knot behind her head. He drew his attention back to the familiar woman.
“She’s beautiful.” He said glancing at the little girl and turning his face back to her.
“I know she is.” She replied. Her tone wasn’t pompous or cocky. She was stating a fact, a fact that she knew by heart.
“I hope to see you around.”
“Me too.” She replied, the light still in her eyes.
“I’m Charlie by the way.” He said as an afterthought. He lifted his left hand and held it out to hers.
“I’m Nat; like Natalie, and this is Gwen.” She said motioning to her daughter. Gwen wasn’t facing Charlie, her face was pressing into Nat’s pants, hiding from Charlie.
Nat reached out her left hand and shook his. His eyes examined her fingers quickly and smiled back at her. She smiled back at him and made her way around him and toward the check out lanes. She turned her face away from his. She didn’t want him to see the emotions that crossed her face, mostly disappointment and sadness. She was just thinking earlier that fools only fall in love.
“Natalie,” he called behind her.
She turned by the sound of a name, and suppressed the smile by the sound of the voice.
“I’m free tonight if you want dinner.” He blurted out.
“All right,” she said. There was a need to see him again, a longing that was exposed to only him. “There is an Asian bistro on First street on the other side of town. I’ll meet you there at eight.”
Her confidence shattered his expectation. He nodded and agreed with her, “I’ll meet you there.”
She went in line to pay for her the few things in her basket. She knew this was a bad idea from the start but she couldn’t back away now. She didn’t have his phone number to call and cancel, and she didn’t want to see his face when she canceled their date. A date. She dreaded that word and the entire connotation with the word ‘dating’. There was a stirring of hopefulness in the back of her mind. She was hopeful of their relationship. She laughed to herself that caused the checkout person to eye her suspiciously. She already considered them dating when the actual date never happened. The last thing she wanted to do was to fall in love.
I guess she was a fool.
She sat in a corner booth waiting for him on their date. She couldn’t believe she ran into him. After all this time, all she had to do was shop. She took a deep breath. She was ready for this. She planned what she was going to say and planned to keep her emotions in check. She had a box of tissues just in case she was going to cry. She knew she was going to cry. She heard from the other side of the room the hostess greet a Mr. Rowell. She counted the seconds until their footsteps closed her in. There was no backing out now.
She looked up as they approached. He was dressed in a casual dress shirt. She remembered his dress shirts and the buttons; the six buttons always did, the top one, never done. She looked from those plastic circles to his chin; stubble, then to his face that was wide with a smile.
“Hello.” She greeted him. Her voice sounded morose and dismayed. She wished she hadn’t said anything. Silence would have been better, but she didn’t want to sit there and do nothing. Her mind raced trying to correct her mistake but nothing came.
He slid graciously in the booth opposite her.
“Hello to you too.” He said. There was a flicker of something that crossed his face but it was gone in an instant.
They were quiet for a moment as he looked over the menu. She recommended the pineapple fried rice and the peppercorn steak. He took her recommendation and she ordered Pad Thai and a chicken dish. They sat in silence as the waiter left with their order.
“Do you come here often?” he asked.
She gave a knowing look. “Yes, I come here often.”
There was something about the way she said it, like there was something more than what she was saying. When she didn’t continue he started.
“So, where do I know you from?” He said, setting his hands on the table in front of him and staring into those mesmerizing eyes. Her light eyes were bright orbs in the dim lighting. He couldn’t help but gaze into them.
“Do you know me?” she asked.
“Do I know you?” he twisted her words around.
At that she laughed, throwing her head back and bringing her head back with a sigh. “I miss this.” She mumbled to the table.
He caught the words that escaped her lips. “Missed what?” questioned.
Her humored face turned into a slight frown.
“I guess you wouldn’t know.” She said shrugging her shoulder.
She looked at his face. He hadn’t changed. His face was older but nothing about him changed. He was still there underneath all the preparing, the staging and the therapy, he was still there. His eyes tilted the same way when his eyes roved over her body. His smile was still the same when he smiled at her. There was the same pull he had to her as she had with him. She cleared her throat.
Their food came at that time. She was thankful. She didn’t want to stare at him in uncomfortable silence. She thanked the server and started eating. He was hesitant at first but after the first few testing bites he started to dive into his food.
“So what do you do for a living, besides raising your beautiful daughter?” he asked.
She nearly fell out of the booth. The subtleness of his charm was still most flattering. His lips talking about Gwen also, her heart nearly soared out of her chest and demanded him to keep it for himself. She cleared her mind of the ridicules thoughts and answered his question.
“I own a chain of restaurants.”
“Really,” he said truly astonished. “How old are you?” he said looking over her face and determining she wasn’t older than thirty. However with a daughter almost in school it was hard to guess her age.
“I’m old enough. And besides, it’s a family business that was given to me. My mother was ill and she couldn’t keep up with the demands of a business. So I took over and opened a couple more restaurants in a couple more cities.”
She sounded so normal about it, as if it was a normal thing to own a successful business.
“Have I been at your restaurant?” he said eyeing her.
“You have.” She said, loving the secret she kept from him.
“It is this one?” he said looking around.
“Now why would you guess this one?” she said.
“I guess because you’re Asian and this place is an Asian bistro. I just naturally assumed.” He said looking around at the romantic atmosphere the owner created. It was a large room only consisting of tall booths. He remembered seeing an ornate hand sown needle work tapestry, an L shaped bamboo decoration and a mural of a pond-like field as he entered the restaurant.
“You guess right.” She said as she chewed on her food.
He looked around the room appreciatively, admiring the art that adorned the walls.
“So you own this restaurant?”
She nodded. She enjoyed his eyes as it flashed around the room, taking in every detail. She was glad she took her time with the interior decoration as she did with the menu. She loved her culture but it was a dying culture. She no longer practiced as much as she did when she was younger. Perhaps when her father passed the need to remember her culture was stronger. She remembered strangers and loved ones from far away do everything they could for her father. She started learning more and started using her real name more often. Though she wondered why she didn’t use her real name with him. She was lost in her own thoughts, trying to decipher her word and her actions around him. When a hand enclosed hers she pulled back into the present.
“Are you alright?” He asked interested.
“Just lost in my own thoughts.” she said, not being completely open to him.
She threw him a coy look and he returned it with a pondering one. She needed to tell him about them but she didn’t want to rush everything. She knew to keep it slow and to pace herself from revealing everything at once. She didn’t want to see him hurt, and she didn’t want to cry too hard.
“I wonder if you can guess where you know me from.”
“I assume from college.” He said, chewing a larger piece of meat and downing it with his soda. “But I think I would remember you if I went to college with you. I knew everyone, it was such a small campus and the matriculation rate stayed the same. I graduated with the same people as who I started with, with a few exceptions.” His eyes fell on her. “Were you the few exceptions?”
She shook her head.
“You’re not older than me are you?”
She shook her head again. It was fun watching him guess when she popped into his life. She enjoyed her food and enjoyed watching him for entertainment.
“I think I deserve a hint.”
“You’re in the right path, just go a bit further.” She said giving him a smile.
“While I was teaching?” he said a bit shocked. He taught art and was the yearbook editor to a combined campus for junior high and high school students. He started to think back to all the students he taught over the few years. There must have been thousands of students who passed through the school. Not to mention siblings, friends, and cousins he met during school functions.
“I was never your yearly student.” She said, squelching the thought of teacher/student relationship. “I’m four years younger than you. You subbed for my Anatomy class when my teacher went on maternity leave. It should be easy, though it might be difficult to remember me at all.”
This was his turn to look away. “Are you before the accident?”
She nodded, a frown distorting that beautiful face. He wanted to reach over and caress that frown from her face. He wanted to do anything to make her feel happy but nothing came to mind. He was so interested in her and how he knew her. There was something they had together he just couldn’t put a finger on it.
“You knew me before the accident?” he asked, leaning forward to get a closer look at her face.
“A lot of people did.”
“Why didn’t come see me?”
“For the same reason you didn’t see me.”
She watched as his eyes furrowed with concentration. There was a break as the server grabbed their plates and gave them a dessert type of soup. They took a few spoonful of warm liquid and sat in uncomfortable silence.
“I saw you once, a couple years ago with your wife.”
“Ex-wife.” He corrected.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She said solemnly.
“She was a deceitful whore.” He said. He hated his ex-wife.
“If she was a whore than you are an adulterer.” She blurted out unabashed. Once those words were out she wanted to take them back. It was an ongoing joke of theirs from the past. She hated how she blurred the past with the present together. He was the same but not at the same time. She had to remember that.
“I’m not…” he started. He wanted to object but something in her eyes made him backtrack. If he did cheat on his wife, her actions were justified. He started to think about himself and his past.
He remembered almost everything, except the few weeks leading to the accident. He didn’t know much about the accident, only what his ex-wife told him on the hospital bed. It was a motorcycle/car accident that nearly killed him. He was on his Harley and the car next to him clipped his back wheel, sending him into a dangerous weaving direction to the center divider. He hit the divider and was thrown off his car over twenty feet. Thankfully it was early morning and there wasn’t as much traffic on the freeway. The car sped away and left him there bleeding and unconscious. He was wearing his helmet but the impact was so intense his brain shut down on him. The words ran over his mind as he remembered hurting and the agony he was in.
His eyes reached hers; there was sadness in the light eyes.
“I’m sorry, I still don’t know you. There is about a three week gap in my memory.” He said. Knowing the exact number of weeks was reassuring but problematic. She couldn’t have been with him in those three weeks. There was so much emotion behind those eyes it seems like they spent several years together rather than mere weeks.
“Was it only three weeks?” she said to herself, staring away and reminiscing on a distant memory.
“What happened between us?” He said leaning over his half empty plate and looked into her face.
She looked at him and smiled. “We were in love.”
His eyes contorted and confusion washed over his face. He was trying to think how he was in love with her when he was still married to his wife.
She watched his face try to piece the information together. She prepared herself for the rejection that automatically shot through, no matter how false the information seemed.
“But I was married, and I was your teacher.”
She shrugged one shoulder.
“Would you care to elaborate or shall I keep guessing?” he joked.
She smiled at him. He always found humor in everything.
“It was instant. During roll call you couldn’t say my name right and everyone laughed in the class.” She started, looking in his face and memorizing the emotions and his expression and keeping it forever.
“I thought your name was Natalie.”
“No, I go by Nat, my real name is Ntuj Kub.”
“That sounds so unique. Can you say it again slowly?” he asked, leaning in to read her lips.
She said her name again slower. She described how when speaking her name or her language the tone has to be right. If mistaken the wrong word would be said. She tried to explain how her language consisted of seven tones and every tone is a different meaning. She let out an exasperated sigh.
“It’d difficult to explain without showing you.” She conceited.
He nodded. “Say your name one last time.”
“Ntuj Kub,” she said. “It means golden sky but there’s nothing really golden about my life.”
“I don’t know, having a successful restaurant this economy is something. Having your daughter and your life, and your health is something.” He said sounding nonchalant. He chanted her name a couple more times.
“A couple minutes ago you asked me if I was alright?” she started.
He nodded. He remembered her eyes shifting off to her right, as she remembered something sad. There was a slight pout to her full lips and a glaze over her face.
“I was scared to tell you my name just in case it brought unpleasant memories. But I guess I was wrong. I was certain you would remember my name but it’s alright.” She said, mirroring his indifference.
“Say your name one last time. I’m trying to get the tone just right.”
She smiled at his determination.
“Ntuj Kub,” she said. “It’s okay if you can’t remember it. It’s a hard language to learn, I’m still learning it and I was born with the tongue to speak it.”
He mumbled her name a couple more times in his mind. “How did I mare your name?”
“It’s spelt N-T-U-J space K-U-B. You said it like how it’s spelt, nah-tu-juh ka-oob, but you how substitute teachers are, they never just spell it out, they have to attempt to say a difficult name.”
“That’s why I choose that career, just to say difficult names.”
They laughed at the little moment of happiness. He always made her feel happy. Even at the end of their relationship, he made her feel good about herself albeit sad.
“You said we loved one another?” he clarified.
“I don’t want to sound harsh but how? I was married and you were a student I was teaching.”
“Age did not matter to us. When it happened, it happened. It was before winter break when we first got together. Don’t worry, I was 18. It started out with texting, then phone calls, and then going on dates, sometimes I spent a couple hours after school and most of the time I spend with you.”
She felt strange telling them this; he should have known everything that happened between them. But sometime life can be cruel. She waited for him to comprehend everything before she started.
“We are only four years apart and I was mature from age. I had to watch over my grandparents and I grew up fast to accommodate what was happening around me. It was not that big of a gap, I was 18 and you were 22. You just finished college, and I was finishing my last semester and year in high school. I was going to graduate early and start my life. When we were together, it didn’t feel weird or awkward or anything else you would imagine being what we were. We were just two consenting adults doing what adults do best.”
“But I was married, did you know I was married?” He asked.
“I found out later that you were. We kept our lives separate from what we were doing. I know it sounds strange for people who were dating, and sharing beds together, but that’s what we did. My parents wouldn’t have allowed it, as well as everyone else in the world. We ended it and that’s our story.” She said abruptly.
She felt as though she was a deflated balloon, all her hopes and love was gone. She was a tired and worn out person, making something out of nothing, seeing love where there wasn’t. She was a fool to think he still had feelings for her. They sat there together, thinking of something else to say. The minutes felt like hours to her as she watched him grasp what she said. She felt saddened by the thought of leaving him with nothing but himself. She wanted him to know that this what she felt when he left, it wasn’t as strong as she felt all those years ago but it was something.
“I should be going, thank you for tonight.” She said slipping out from the booth and gathering her purse and jacket in her hands.
“Should we wait for the check?” She said looking behind him at the servers milling around.
“Don’t worry, dinner is on me.” she said throwing on her jacket.
He shuffled around looking askance. “No, please, I don’t mind paying for it, or my portion. It’s the least I can do.”
She stared at him and smiled. “If you’re so desperate in spending your money, you can leave a tip.”
He dug out his wallet and pulled out a couple of bills. She turned away to give him privacy. In the next moment he was standing next her. They made their way to the exit. He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to talk to her some more that there was nothing to say. There was something nagging him, some things he couldn’t figure out. As he ran over there conversation in his mind, He felt like he was missing something or something that did not add up.
“So where did you park?” She asked, as they were outside. It was a chilly night as making her glad she decided on a thick jacket, rather than the cardigan she tried on earlier. She was disappointed she didn’t pack a pair of thick gloves, the cold air was making her hands numb. She was in a giddy mood as she dressed for this date. She was so hopeful they would pick up from where they left off years ago, but she was wrong. She made her way to a silver sedan parked toward the right of the sidewalk.
“My car is the red one.” He said pointing to the car several spaces down.
She paused to look at him one last time. She was glad she wasn’t a mess and she was glad she had cried. She was so sure there would be some tears that everything went smoothly as she had hoped for. She watched him as his eyes strayed from her he was deep in thought. She let out a breath and smiled at him.
“I guess this is where I leave you. Have a good life and I hope – ” at that moment her cell phone started to ring. She excused herself and turned away to answer it. “Mom, what’s wrong.”
“It’s Gwen, she wants to talk to you.” Her mother said from the earpiece.
“Mom, it’s past 11. What is she still doing up.” She reprimanded her.
She didn’t get an answer but her daughter’s voice reached her ears. “Mommy?”
“Yes, dear.” She said changing her voice and her temper. She took a couple steps away from Charlie, is seemed rude to talk on a cell phone right in front of him.
He watched her as she spoke with her daughter. She was a firm yet soft, just the way a mother should be. Then it struck him, her daughter. Questions erupted in his mind as he thought about Gwen. He waited patiently until she finished telling her daughter to go to sleep. When she hung up the phone he wanted to address his questions.
“So how old is Gwen?” he said, hoping to catch her off guard, in her mother state rather than the cautious state she was in during their dinner.
“She’s five.” She said stowing away her phone. “She has a little mouth on her ready. She’s just like her mother though. She gets what she wants but she didn’t spoil.” She said, make her point across but a happy smile crossed her face.
“She’s five years old?” he clarified. His accident was five years ago. His mind raced as the thought of being a father crossed his mind.
She watched as the emotions crossed his face from shock to awe to satisfaction. She was wondering what was going through his head message said would make him feel that.
“Is she my daughter?” He slowly asked his voice slightly shaky, never saying those words before made him feel uneasy and made him feel out of place.
“What?” She said looking into the space around him. “I don’t know how you came up with the idea.”
All of a sudden everything fit together. He ran a hand through his curly hair, the same curly hair Gwen had, the same color as his: Brown. Gwen’s skin complexion was in the same as Nat’s, she was paler, like him. She said that they loved each other, and they did but adults do best. His eyes met hers and found that hers were a bit damp.
“She’s not yours.” She said, her voice breaking a little.
“I find that hard to believe.” He said his voice harsher and rougher than before.
“I was on the rebound after you. I was not as careful as I was with you.” She said her voice was stronger and more confident.
“You’re lying, tell me the truth.” He took a step toward her.
She took a step back but he advanced again. Her careful protection was shattering. Everything she wanted to say was at the tip of her tongue. She didn’t want to tell him but she couldn’t hold it in any longer. She let out a rushed breath and decided.
“You want the truth? Well, here it is. Your wife caught you.” She said, her tears brimming and spilling onto her face. “We were on winter break and you one time went home smelling like me. You said you like the way I smell, I smell better than she does. You’re wife knew way you’re doing but she didn’t know who it was with. If she knew it was with me, she would’ve reported you and you would’ve lost you degree and lost everything. So she gave you an ultimatum. She said you have to choose her or your mistress. She gave you 24 hours to think about it, because she would be gone the next day. But you made your mind already. When you came to see me, I knew there was something wrong. When I asked you about it, you said you were ‘lost in your own thoughts.’”
He remembered her using those same exact words earlier tonight.
“We spent the whole day together. We spent it making love and for dinner, you took me here.” She said pointing at her own restaurant. “You had the fried rice and steak; I had the Pad Thai and the chicken dish. It was a pleasant evening and I remember thinking to myself ‘yes, this is what it should be, this is what love should make you feel’. To feel happiness because you’re with someone who truly loves you, security that the person will never you leave you, being able to be open and to express love freely.
“When you dropped me off you told me you were leaving me. You said you were not worthy of loving me. I argued back because you told me you would stay with me. You told me you would divorce her because she didn’t understand you, and because you didn’t want her as much as you wanted me. I remember you saying that to me because I felt the same way for you. I wanted you for myself and every night you left back to her. I wanted your last name but she had it. I wanted to spend every minute of my life with you but she had it, mornings, afternoons, everything; everything that I wanted she had it.”
She took a deep breath and looked into his brown eyes. The tears she pushed back felt freely across her face. The sadness doubled over the years and triple the moment she saw him at the store this morning.
“When you stayed that night, I thought you chose me. So when I woke up to a cold bed, I knew you chose her and it hurt. It hurt me more than I can explain. The pain was more than I can bear because you were gone. You took everything from me and I started to hate you for it.”
Her hand wipes the wetness off of her face.
“When I heard that you were in hospital I was glad you were hurt. I wanted you to be in the hospital forever for the pain and heartache you caused me. I did not want to see you at first but my conscious got the better of me. When I came around, I visited you and I saw your wife. She was nothing like you said she was. She was kind, nice, and I knew she still loved you, especially after everything you put her through. She still had those endearing eyes, that hopeful face, that diamond ring on her left hand.
“When I saw you today, it was as if nothing has changed. As if, I still love to and you still love me. But it was not like that, you didn’t remember me. I wish it was that easy to forget you but it wasn’t. It still isn’t.”
She looked down to the sidewalk shaking her head slowly, as to dispel the thoughts in her mind. His hand reached for her chin. With a simple push he lifted her side and face to his. He waited until his emotions in check. “I’m sorry, for everything I put you through.”
“It’s okay, I lived through worse.” She said wiping away a tear as throwing him up right smile.
Her cell phone started ringing again as she answered it with a soft hello. She listened as the other person spoke to. He watched as her face softened and a smile crept across her face. “It’s all right, I’ll be there soon.”
She gave him one more smile. “Gwen.” She said motioning to the phone. “I should really go now, it is getting late. This is good bye for good.”
“Is it?” he said. “I just found you. Can’t we talk about it?”
“I can’t. It’s not fair on me.” She said simply.
“Well can we at least try? If you said I loved you as much as I did, then can’t we try? If you love me that much, you should stay.” He said stepping in closer to her.
“I said those same exact words to you and you still left me.” She said unable to stare into his face. She knew the old him was there somewhere. Deep down he knew what happened between them. He used those same words and they hurt just the same.
His hands reached for hers and she let him. The warmth was pleasant from the cold.
“Well I’m here now. I’m staying?”
She couldn’t help but be drawn into his deep brown eyes. Their faces were so close to each other. If she was on her tip toe her lips would reach his. She smiled but her mind was already made. She closed the inches between them, pressing her lips gently on his.
“Good bye Charlie, stay the same.” Her hand held his face for a moment as his face fell. She unlocked her car in the next second and she was driving home in the next minute.
She pulled into the garage and pressed the button for the garage door to close. She closed her eyes and remembered how warm he felt, the tenderness of his touch, and the softness of his lips. Light slid over her eyelids as she closed the door on Charlie mentally and emotionally. She would feel it if she saw him again but he was the past and she had her future to look forward to. When she opened her eyes her future’s silhouetted the door.
Gwen stared at her mother in the car.
She gave her daughter a wave. She gathered her belongings and climbed out of her car.
“Hi Gwennie,” she said pulling her into her arms, clutching to her teddy bear Ari. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“I can’t.” she said with a pout. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”
That might work on her parents but not on her.
“If I let you then you’ll never leave. Come on, let’s get you in bed or you’ll be grumpy tomorrow.”
They walked upstairs to Gwen’s purple and pink bedroom. She placed her in the bed and tucked her in, with Ari next to her.
“Mommy?” Gwen asked.
“Yes darling?” She answered.
“Who was the man in the store?”
“Just an old friend.”
“Do you love him?” Gwen asked, staring into her mother’s saddened eyes.
“I did once, a long time ago. Do you want to know a secret?” she whispered, leaning in closer. “I love you more.”
Her mother kissed her forehead once more and smoothed the hair from her face.
“Sleep well; I’ll see you in the morning. Blueberry pancakes for grandma?”
Gwen nodded enthusiastically. “I love you mommy.”
“I love you more.” She replied. She stood and made to leave, turning on the night light before she left the room. The door shut soundly and she took a deep breath, letting it out quietly against the door.
“I love you more.” She whispered to the door.