The tan door was ajar, and he could see the blue and cream tile turned into a soft blue carpet at the threshold of the office. With a hope Kara was wrong, Ewan glanced around quickly, but a movement to his right drew his attention.
Marti’s back was to him as she rooted around in a file cabinet drawer and shook her head periodically. Her outfit was professional, from the roll of hair in a French twist at the back of her head, to the black skirt suit with brown pin-stripes, and the suede two-inch heeled shoes on her feet.
As he tapped his fingers on the doorjamb, a vision of her wearing nothing but one of his t-shirts and a solitaire engagement ring flashed through his mind.
“Yes?” Her voice was distant, cool and polite.
“Dr. Brown said you were in.”
Her back stiffened as he spoke to her without an audience for the first time in years. “I have no clue why you would want to see me,” she replied and dug a folder out of the drawer.
A soft sigh of exasperation came out of his throat as he entered the office and stopped halfway between the doorway and her desk. “I owe you an apology.”
“Saturday night. Shannon treated you like dirt, and—”
“I’ve dealt with people like her before and it hasn’t killed me yet.”
“That doesn’t excuse it—hell.” Ewan rubbed a hand down his face as he tried to find the right way to express himself.
“Maybe that will teach you not to take someone like her around your friends and coworkers.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s your life and your choice. If you want to go dumpster diving, that’s your business, but if I were you, I’d be careful on what I brought home.” She flipped a page in the file. “I have a meeting in less than an hour, and I’d like to be fully prepared for it, so if you don’t mind...”
“Look, I know this isn’t the ideal situation, but can’t we at least try to make an effort, for everyone’s best interest?”
So he wouldn’t look at her, he glanced around the room, and his gaze finally landed on a picture frame in her book-case. An unwelcome, searing bolt of jealousy zoomed up his spine when he saw it was a photo of her and a man with their arms around each other.
His eyes moved to the large windows facing Citadel Hill, and locked with hers via the reflection, a memory’s shadow of their first date at the Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg.
Like that day, almost nine years ago, Marti was the one to break eye contact.
“How are we going to do that?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but unless we try, Kara and Dennis are go-ing to chalk it up to something big, and from what I’ve heard, you’re not open about your past.”
“That’s my life and my choice, isn’t it?”
Ewan sighed and raked a hand through his hair as he took a step toward her. When she stiffened, he stopped and shoved his hands into his coat pockets.
“Dr. Lewis—Marti...” He let out a long breath. “I am sorry about invading your life. If I had known you were living here, I wouldn’t have taken the promotion, and told Miran-da I was moving on.”
“Some things are beyond our control or knowledge. Hali-fax is a big place. I’m sure you and I can avoid being in the same area at the same time as much as possible.” With a shrug, Marti turned to face him.
As her cool and detached gaze met his, Ewan nodded, and his stomach dropped as the full impact of her calm and professional air hit him.
What was I thinking when I thought that maybe...
The girl he knew was gone, replaced by this cool, sophisticated, and distant woman.
“Okay,” he murmured, and wondered why he felt as if his heart had been ripped out again.
Marti’s expression softened as she held up the file. “I’m not chasing you out because—I really do have a meeting, and I’d better get moving if I want to be ready for it.”
Ewan nodded and moved his gaze to a spot on the carpet. “Yeah.” With a final nod, he turned and walked out of her office, not understanding the heavy feeling around him.
Rikki squealed in excitement as she held up the box set of DVDs on Christmas Morning. “How’d you know I love the show?” It was every single season of the revival part of a science fiction series, plus all the specials.
Neil and Kelsey exchanged a grin.
“Thank your dad, it was his idea,” she said.
“Actually, your mom wanted to know what to get you and—Oomph,” Neil groaned.
Rikki jumped on his lap and hugged him tightly.
“You two are the best parents ever,” she exclaimed and grabbed her mother.
Kelsey’s head connected hard with Neil’s.
They yelped in unison.
Rikki leapt up and yelled as she ran out of the room, “I’m going to call Taffy and let her know.”
Kelsey rubbed the side of her head and cringed. “Did you get a goose egg from that too?”
“That girl doesn’t know her own strength.” He cricked his neck and grinned. “I should have known she was going to go nuts when she saw that. She’s been a fan since the series premiere.”
“Next time, we’ll wear helmets,” Kelsey promised and leaned her arm into his. “Something tells me we’re going to be watching a lot of DVDs over the rest of the holiday break.”
“I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of it, and not any of the newer ones. I don’t have a clue who she’s talking about, and she’s been grumbling at me.”
His arm went around her shoulders. “Look at it like this, watching all of the episodes will get you in the loop.”
Damn, she looks so cute when she’s confused.
He quickly cut off that train of thought and gestured to the hoodie on the floor beside them. “You remembered my favourite team.”
She grinned. The New York baseball team sweater was a joint gift from her, Rikki and the pets. “It’s not every day you meet a Canadian who loves an American team. Most people I know are Toronto fans,” she replied.
“I don’t remember telling you.”
“You wore their shirts a lot, so it was easy to remember.”
Kelsey and her photographic memory.
He laughed and pulled something out from behind a pillow. “Merry Christmas, Kelsey.”
She eyed the small, gaily wrapped box warily. “What’s this?”
“Not much, it’s something I thought you’d like.”
I hope she loves it, and Rikki better have given me the correct size.
It’ll be a bitch to get it fixed or replaced if she hates it.
She gave him a puzzled glance and slowly started to peel off the wrapping. When she pulled off the cover, she gasped with wide eyes, and put a hand over her mouth.
Shit, she hates it.
“Don’t you like it?”
She caressed the small silver and onyx ring with a sniffle. “I love it.”
“I can’t accept it.”
“It’s not appropriate.”
His eyes rolled. “How so?”
She let out a long breath. “Friends don’t give friends rings.”
“That’s bullshit, Kelsey, and you know it. You’re more than a friend to me.”
She peered up at him. “Says who?”
His cheeks warmed under the scrutiny. “We’re Rikki’s parents and members of the same family. An unconventional one, but we’re still a family.”
Kelsey stared at him for a moment and started to nod slowly. “I don’t think it’s right for you to give me a ring.”
Neil sighed. “It was Rikki’s idea to get it for you, so technically it’s from both of us.” When she opened her mouth to protest again, he added, “Mothers are allowed to get rings from their children.”
She nodded again.
Is she crying? Not yet.
He tightened his arm around her. “She’s going to be disappointed if you don’t wear it.”
Kelsey shot him a filthy look and with a shake of her head, took the ring out of the box. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
He grinned triumphantly.
“Put it on before she comes back.”
She slid it on her right ring finger and admired it. “How did you know what size—oh, never mind. Rikki told you.”
He laughed. “She picked it out and insisted on getting it in silver. She knows you like it better than gold.”
“She’s too smart for our good,” Kelsey grumbled jokingly. She reached up to touch his cheek and rested her head on his shoulder. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he whispered.
His gaze locked with hers and he felt something nudge him, hard. Without thinking, he nuzzled his forehead against hers, and his eyes slid shut as he leaned toward her.
“Punky, get back here, you brat!”
Neil and Kelsey jumped and straightened as the corgi blew past them and into the kitchen with a ribbon in his mouth. Rikki skittered around the corner in her sock feet and almost slid out of the room as she tried to catch her dog.
With an uncomfortable glance and chuckle, Kelsey and Neil shifted away from each other.
She stood up when an annoyed meow echoed from the next room. “Maybe I’d better help.”
“Yeah,” he replied and with a sigh, got up. “Hopefully that damn chowder head will let us catch him this time.”
That was too fucking close.
Next time, kiss her fast, don’t hold back.
Or don’t kiss her at all.
He let out a long sigh as he got up and followed Kelsey into the next room.
Hiltz’s Grocery Store,
Bridgewater, Nova Scotia
Vicki Demone stood behind her assigned register and wiped down her side of the recently installed plexiglass barrier and uttered a long sigh. It had been another busy eight-hour shift, filled with the usually kind customers, but the amount of rude people had been slowly increasing since the social distancing rules of the new decade had begun.
She flipped a lock of white-blonde hair out of her blue eyes as she recalled the last customer who had gone through Mason’s checkout, barely five minutes ago. The man had been extremely rude, from saying a number of offensive terms about other people, the distancing itself, and how it was inconveniencing his lifestyle.
The customer had been so loud, Vicki could hear it well above the din of her own register beeping and the quiet chatting between people at a distance. Mason being screamed at was only part of the abuse they took on a daily basis with the virus restrictions in place. Social distancing was the norm now, even with things slowly opening up.
Like Mason, hearing a customer complain was not unusual for her, after working as a customer service representative for the last five years. She had started at Hiltz’s Grocery eight months ago, and although she loved the work, it was exhausting. She would go home from a shift, dragging her feet, and barely able to take a shower before crawling into bed and falling asleep.
She glanced at him across the two-register gap between them, and let out a soft sigh as he leaned over to wipe down the conveyor belt, as he always did between customers nowadays. His black polo shirt stretched taut against his back, showcasing the sky-blue store logo tight against his lean musculature. The back of his brown hair brushed the top of the collar, showcasing how long it had been since he’d had his hair cut. Vicki’s fingers tingled as she wondered what it would be like to feel its softness against her palms.
A sharp stab of longing ran through her. She missed their talks in the lunchroom during their breaks, or before and after a shift, as well as their movie nights. He had become her best friend in the five months before social distancing and the stay-at-home order came from the premier, not quite three months ago.
Mason glanced over his shoulder and his brown eyes met her gaze. He gave her a sad smile, one that conveyed his frustration over the last customer. Vicki returned it and sighed inwardly, wishing they could stand next to each other, so they could talk privately. It wasn’t easy to share their innermost secrets with the required two metres between them. She had been to his place a few times, in the public areas of his apartment building’s lawn, and he had done the same with hers, but it wasn’t the same. It was not like they were in a theatre, or hanging out, watching hockey in his small apartment or hers, like they had just started doing when the virus hit Nova Scotia, and the State of Emergency edict had been declared.
Vicki glanced to the left and saw her supervisor, Carrie, approaching. The fiftyish woman with blue eyes and grey hair was kind to everyone, even when she was reaming someone out for unprofessionalism. She was one of Vicki’s favorite people, and the reason why Vicki loved working at Hiltz’s Grocery.
“Vicki, go on your break. I’ll take care of this.” Carrie gestured to the register and smiled. She stood a ways from the register, to keep social distancing protocols in place.
Vicki nodded and smiled as she exited her area behind the plexiglass. “Gotcha. See you in half an hour, boss.”
“Tell Mason it’s time for his break too, he’s been on since eight this morning,” Carrie replied and typed her code into the register.
Vicki’s heart raced, and a surge of joy went up her spine. She and Mason hadn’t had a break together in three weeks, and although they had called and texted each other, and chatted via social media, it wasn’t the same. It would be nice to have five minutes with him. She would give her right arm to spend that, and more time with him. He had said the same thing during his last text to her that morning, long before their shifts had started. It was almost as if he felt the same.