Grace missed her children. Her first day on her own as a waitress at Duke’s café was not going smoothly. So far, she had spilled two drinks, dropped a tray of dishes and cried in the bathroom. And it was only two o’clock.
For lunch, she had taken a sandwich into the bathroom to have a break from all those people. As she was coming out, she heard that wonderful voice. “Paul.” She whispered.
She half jogged, half walked to see him. “Hey, when did you start working here?” He smiled.
Grace blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Today is my first official day.” She mumbled dryly.
“Hey, Cal!” Paul called to the manager. Cal looked up with that ever-present scowl. “She’s going to come eat with me. So I won’t be lonely.” Cal waved and returned to whatever he was doing.
Paul slid into the booth across from Grace. She folded her arms and stared at the dessert menu on the table. Janice, Cal’s star waitress, came to take his order.
“What can I get you, sugar?”
“I’ll take the country fried steak with green beans and mashed taters, and give my lady friend here what ever she wants.” Paul smiled and handed Janice the menu.
“What do you want girly?”
“I don’t want anything…”
“She’ll take a water and some of your wonderful apple pie. On second thought, I’ll have some too.” Janice smiled and took the menus.
When she was gone, Grace looked up. “Why’d you do that?”
“Do what?” Paul smiled back at her.
“Everything. Make me eat with you, make me order food. Just everything.”
Paul chuckled. “First off, I didn’t make you eat with me. You chose the table, so technically, I’m eating with you.” Grace folded her arms. “And second, you looked like you could use a break.”
Grace sighed and laid her head on the table. “I did.” She relayed everything that had happened to her that day.
Paul laughed. “Sounds like you’ve had a rough day.”
Grace nodded. “And I miss my kids.”
Paul ran his fingers through her hair. “Where are they?” Grace closed her eyes to savor the moment.
“They’re at Mimi’s. She picked them up from school. They’ll probably be asleep when I get home tonight.”
Paul smiled. “Well, I’m finished for the day. Why don’t I take them? I can bring them by for dinner so you can see them.”
Grace sat up. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“No, of course not. I’ll bring them back around six. Sound good?” Grace nodded.
Janice brought the food with a smile. “Thank you ma’am. My stomach’s growling.” Paul rubbed his belly and began to dig in. Grace smiled and ate her pie in silence.
“Thank you Paul. I really enjoyed this. I have to get back to work now.” Paul grabbed her wrist as she stood. “Hey, I, um, I’d like to make this a regular thing. Me eating lunch, and then bringing the kids up for dinner. I’ll pay, my treat.”
“Oh Paul, I couldn’t ask you to do something like that.”
He stood as well. “I want to. Really I do. You know I love those kids.”
Grace smiled. “Thank you Paul. I would love that.” She took his dirty plates to the back. He was waiting by the cash register.
“Bye.” She smiled. Paul took her hand and pulled her in front of him. He tucked a few bills into the pocket of her apron without her knowing. He hoped his small contribution would help her out, even a little bit. “Thanks for keeping me company.” He wrapped his arms around her.
Grace just breathed him in. He was so strong and smelled so good. She missed having a man hug her. She hugged him right back. She didn’t care who was watching.
That night as promised, Paul brought the kids back. Andrew ran to his mother and wrapped his little arms around her legs. “Hey buddy!” Grace cried.
Hailey hugged her as well. “Did you guys have a good day?” Andrew nodded furiously. “I got a sticker for coloring inside the lines Mommy. ‘Member I couldn’t do that ‘afore, but now I can cause I been practicin’.”
Grace giggled. “That’s great baby. I’m so proud of you.” Andrew hopped down and ran to the bar. He looked at the tall bar stool with wonder. Paul chuckled and helped him up. “Thanks Paw.” Paul smiled and tousled the boy’s hair.
“So how was your day sweetie?”
Hailey sighed. “My friends don’t like me anymore.”
Grace knelt in front of her daughter. “Why do you say that Hailey?”
“Because they told me they didn’t! They said ‘Hailey, go away. We don’t like you anymore’.”
Grace smiled. “Are you sure?”
Hailey rolled her eyes. “I was there Mama. That’s what they told me.”
Grace sighed. “I’m sorry baby.”
“I didn’t even sit with them at lunch or play with them at recess.”
“Well, who’d you play with?”
“There’s a new girl at my school. Her name is Cassidy.”
“Did you play with her?”
“No. She played by herself.”
“Well, why don’t you play with her? I’m sure she’d love a great friend like you.”
Paul marveled at the exchange between mother and daughter. He was already very much in love with Grace. He just needed to convince her, she needed to love him back.
Grace knocked on the door quietly. Paul answered it and let her in. “Hey,” he whispered. “They crashed about an hour ago.” Grace smiled at her babies passed out on a bundle of blankets and pillows.
Paul helped get them into the car. “Thank you for all the help Paul. I really do appreciate it.”
“No problem.” He pulled her into his arms; Grace let him. Paul kissed her forehead.
Grace lingered a little longer before backing up. “I need to get them home.” Grace mumbled. Paul nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Grace smiled and nodded. They would definitely see each other again.
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