"When are you coming back?"
Edith looked to the ceiling of her car, blinking her bangs from her eyes as she prayed for the right words. "No." Well, it was a word at least.
"No what? No, you're not coming back?"
"I need to move on."
"From...everything." If Edith had any lingering doubts about her sudden decision to fly to Illinois until her passport arrived, this phone call laid them to rest. No way would she have survived an entire summer in Pittsburgh with Steve's suffocating behavior.
Overhearing Ruthie mention her cousin's crisis nursery house this past Sunday at church had to have been divine intervention. Sharon, the director, was over the moon when Edith contacted her about volunteering. And Edith was over the moon to place five hundred miles between her and Steve for the next several weeks.
"Look, Steve, it's been a rough go. You know that. I just need a fresh start. On my own. I explained it all in the letter. You should have—"
"I got your letter. I know what it said. But you're making a big mistake. South Africa? No. That's crazy. Come home. Let's talk about this."
"But that's just it. Pittsburgh isn't home for me." Not since Brian died. Maybe not even before then.
"Where are you right now?"
Oh, she hated this. Edith tugged on her shirt collar. Why did confrontation always have to make her so sweaty? "I know Brian told you to look out for me after he was gone. And I appreciate all that you've done. I do. But you don't need to take care of me. I'm good."
Or at least she would be once her passport arrived. Who knew passports could take so long to process? Clearly not Edith. If she'd known that, she would have started the application process back in kindergarten. Then maybe she would be boarding a flight to the Eastern Cape of South Africa right now instead of sweating in a rental car in Illinois simply to avoid conversations like this.
So much for being courageous. "What if I want to take care of you?"
Okay. This phone call was going from awkward to downright painful. She turned the air conditioner up higher. "It's not what I want." And now she was itching. Everywhere. At this rate, the hives wouldn't disappear until mid-December. "Please, just let me go. It's time for both of us to move on." Before he could offer any further protest, Edith said, "Goodbye, Steve," and ended the call.
Henry winced as he adjusted his right leg beneath the diner's red- and white-checkered tablecloth. "Let's Twist Again" blared from the jukebox in the corner. "Sure, Chubby Checkers," Henry muttered under his breath. "Rub it in a little more, why don't you?"
According to his ortho surgeon, Henry's progress was right on track. Well, if this was what on track felt like, he pitied the poor soul who ever fell off track. Six weeks after the accident and Henry's right knee felt like it belonged in the body of an arthritic eighty-year-old on a cold, damp day.
Speaking of arthritic eighty-year-olds...Henry sighed, reading Kat's text message before sliding his phone back into his front shirt pocket. So the landlord discovered mold in Kat's basement, did he? Well, cue the theme song to The Odd Couple. Looked like Henry and ol' Edith were going to be housemates for the long haul this summer.
Though Henry would never say so to Kat, the thought of having someone under his roof, even an elderly someone, didn't actually sound all that bad. Spending the past six weeks at home with little more than pain and the scent of Icy Hot serving as company, Henry hungered for a taste of something different. Something besides office work, physical therapy, and Peg's leftovers.
Besides, Kat was right. Well, mostly right. He hadn't remodeled; he'd restored. But either way, no point in letting all that space in his house sit unused and empty if there was someone who could benefit from it.
His eyes trailed the young family finishing up their meal at the booth next to him and heading out the door a minute later. A wistful smile hovered over Henry's lips, watching the dad tug playfully on his daughter's dark ponytail, then give his wife a gentle tweak on her neck before she leaned into the car to strap their toddler son into his car seat. The look she sent her husband a moment later communicated more than words ever could. So did the quick kiss she planted on his cheek.
Henry couldn't help the stab of envy that pierced him. What would it be like to have someone like her? Someone to share a look with. Someone to share a family with. Someone—
"Sorry I'm late."
—not like Angela. Henry swung his gaze from the window. "Oh. Hey." He rescued a napkin from sliding off the table due to the breeze kicked up by Angela's arrival.
"It was crazy today. You have no idea."