The look in Timothy’s eyes said it all. Grace saw him as he rounded the corner of the aisle as she stocked the shelves of the toy department. She had dreaded seeing in him for some time, dreaded the look he was now giving her. Her hands instinctively went to her belly, protecting her baby from his anger, though he was never prone to fits of outrage. His reaction was all the worse for it.
With one glance at her pregnant form, she could see waves of shock and surprise fighting with jealously and anger. She thought there was revulsion in there where, but she wondered if she was reading her own feelings in his eyes as they stared silently at one another. Her customers walked by them, oblivious to the awkwardness of the reunion.
“His?” Timothy muttered at last, once he found his voice.
She nodded. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t tell you. Me and Ken are, well…”
“I can see that,” Timothy said as he grappled with the unexpected feeling of betrayal. “You and him, huh?”
Grace nodded again, rubbing her belly absently, regretting the chain of events that led her to this moment, and not for the first time. “It was an accident, you see. Didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“Didn’t mean for it to happen,” he sighed quietly, closing his eyes as he tried to make sense of everything. “I thought he was only a bit of fun after your divorce. Wasn’t that why you and me didn’t happen?”
“I know,” she whined. “I know. He was only supposed to be someone to play with before I settled down with someone a little more stable. I’m sorry. I know we were supposed to, but,” she shrugged helplessly. “You disappeared, and I know we kept in touch, but I thought I would never see you again.”
“I moved an hour away,” he retorted angrily, losing control of his emotions. “Promoted and moved one fucking hour away. I tried to call you, but you never answered. I text you, and the same. Oh, and you blocked me on everything. I guess you didn’t want me to know what was going on.”
“That was Ken’s doing,” she protested weakly. “Didn’t want me to get any ideas. He’s kind of controlling, and he’s always been jealous of you. You know how he’s like.”
“Oh, I remember Ken. Spent his whole marriage, or all three of them, controlling them, cheating on them, and just plain treating his wives like crap.”
“I know, but he promised it would be different this time.”
“Different? This time?” He said inquiringly as he pieced it all together. “You and Ken are married?”
“Well, no,” she shook her head, “but we’re supposed to get married in a month, once his divorce is finalized. “I don’t want to raise this baby without his father.”
“But you had no problem raising your other ones without their father,” Timothy argued heatedly. “What makes him so special.”
“I don’t know really,” she furrowed her brow in concentration, trying to explain the unexplainable. “It just is, you know. We’re together now. We’re going to have a family.”
Timothy scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief. “I must be the biggest fucking idiot.”
“No you’re not! Why would you even think that?”
“Because, I was hoping that maybe me and you could, but now this,” he pointed at her pregnancy. “I mean, holy fuck woman! You’re having Ken’s baby. And you’re marrying him? How fucking stupid can you be? How fucking stupid am I to hold on to the hope that maybe you’d finally decide to give me a chance. I mean, you said you loved me. You said you were in love with me.”
“I was,” she cried. “I still am, but it’s complicated.”
“No,” Timothy shook his head. “It’s simple, or at least it was. You chose him over me,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Funny how everyone says I’m a nice guy, but it’s always the asshole that ends up with the girl. Either no one wants the nice guy, or maybe I’m really not as nice as everyone pretends I am.”
“You are, and I’m sorry,” Grace pleaded, sobbing into her hands, longing to fall into Timothy’s arms once more. “I fucked up. I should have picked you, but now I’m having his kid. I’m sorry.”
“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m the one who should be sorry. I wasted all this time hoping that you’d give me a chance, but of course it was just that. I colossal waste of time. I – I have to go. Um, see you around, but probably not.”
He turned to walk away but Grace grabbed his arm and turned him around, pulling him towards her and kissing him. His resolve melted as he kissed her back, his need pulling him towards her in spite of himself. He ached for her and now there was nothing for him to do but walk away, but he couldn’t tear himself away.
Finally he wrenched himself from her grasp, unable to control the sobs tearing down his pride. “I love you, but I can’t do this. Not again. I’m sorry, but – goodbye.”
Without giving her a chance, he raced away. Grace stood there, rooted to the spot as he disappeared back around the corner, watching the man she was in love with get away, and she died a little.
A little over a year later, Timothy walked around his store, making sure the workers were busy with their tasks when he got a text. “It’s Grace. I need to see you. Can we meet?”
He stared at his phone the rest of the day, not knowing how to respond. Once he was home, he picked up the phone and replied. “I guess. I’m off tomorrow.”
They agreed to meet at the city park. He waited on the bench by the pond as Grace walked up pushing a stroller and followed by her two other children, a boy and a girl.
“Thank you for meeting me,” she said timidly. “Can you guys go and play? I need to talk to Timothy for a minute.”
Her children ran towards the playground, not bothering to wonder why they had driven more than an hour to meet the strange man. She watched them for a moment before turning around and taking a seat next to Timothy who sat impassively watching the ducks waddle by.
“You wanted to meet?” He said in a cold voice.
“Yeah, I did,” she replied timidly.
“Ken know you’re here?”
“Me and Ken are getting a divorce,” Grace replied, picking up her baby from the stroller.
“That him?” Timothy pointed.
“Little Dexter,” she said lovingly. “He’s turning one next month.”
“Time flies doesn’t it?”
“So why are you here?” Timothy asked at last. “I mean, I don’t mean to be rude, but why bother driving all the way up here just to tell me you’re divorcing that sack of shit. I suppose you caught him?”
“Three times, the last time in my bed, while the kids were sleeping,” she whimpered. “That was the last straw. I kicked him out. That was last month. He doesn’t care enough to call to see how Dexter is doing.”
“Okay, but why are you here?”
“I fucked up, okay?” Grace choked. “I choose the wrong guy and let the right one walk away. I should never have decided to play with him and lose you in turn. That was not what I wanted.”
“But it’s what you did, and what you got. You can say sorry all you want, but it’ll never change the fact that you picked him over me. He was the one you wanted, not me. Why should I give a shit that you’re here apologizing?”
“Because,” she begged, “I was hoping you’d maybe give me another chance? Please?”
Timothy laughed. “You’re fucking unbelievable. You expect me to take you in after what you did?”
“I expect you to tell me to get lost,” she shook her head wearily, resigned at the idea of losing him for good. “I had to try anyways. I have to see if you’d give me another chance.”
“I don’t know,” Timothy shook his head slowly. “I’m tired of always coming in last. I’m never anyone’s first choice.”
“You’re my first choice now.”
“No, I’ll never be your first choice. You made sure of that the moment you went with him. I’ll always come in after that asshole, no matter what you try to say on the contrary. He married you, and you had his baby. No matter what, you’re linked forever. I can’t compete with him.”
“You don’t have to,” she cried. “He gone. Out of the picture. He moved in with that whore of a homewrecker.”
“As I recall, you broke up his last marriage. Don’t get mad that he treated you like he treated everyone else. You knew what he was like, and you choose him over me anyways.”
“You made your point. I guess I drove out here for nothing then?” She looked at Timothy, and he could feel his resolve slip away. She had a way of doing that when no one else could.
She stood and he joined her, looking deep into each other’s eyes. He had forgotten the striking blue of her eyes, or the dimple on the corners of her smile, or the way she’d squint when she smiled, as she did right now.
He had to have her, but he knew it would end in heartbreak. He also knew his heart would fail if he allowed her to walk away. Either way he’d end up hurt. It was a no-win situation, and he hated no-win situations.
They fell into each other’s arms before their lips met. She fit perfectly in his arms, and she felt it too. They were perfect for each other. They held on for a minute or two before they broke their embrace. He had to answer her. Yay or nay? Either way he would end up broken, and he wondered if he should bother. He looked at her, ready to give her the answer, wondering to himself as he spoke if there would be enough shards of his broken heart to put back together again.
Next story –
Previous story – Noticing James Smith