A few days later on Saturday, Parker and I sat down at our table in the cozy restaurant he’d taken me to. Part of me still felt guilty about leaving Caleb with Mom when I didn’t actually have to, but another part, growing increasingly bolder, kept telling me that it was okay to have some personal time.
“So, how was the party?” He asked.
I smiled. “It was good. I still think it’s silly for my mom to throw me a birthday party anymore, but it was nice getting everybody together.” My smile dimmed a little. “You don’t mind that I didn’t take you, do you? I would’ve, it’s just that – “
He shook his head and cut me off, “Nora, it’s alright. Believe me, I totally get it. We haven’t been dating long, and they’re your family. It’s completely up to you at what speed you tell people about us.”
I smiled gratefully at him. “Thank you. You’re not a complete secret anymore, by the way. I did tell my cousin. She’s been there for me ever since I got pregnant.” Before then, I never would’ve thought that Loralee would be my best friend. Sure, we’d always gotten along, but we’d always really just been cousins up to that point.
“Did I – or at least your description of me – pass muster?”
I laughed quietly. “Oh yes. She keeps texting me and asking when we’ll come over for dinner.”
He grinned. “Well, that’s a relief. It’s always good to have the best friend on one’s side.”
Over dinner, he started talking about his life in Sunset Valley. After a story about chasing the ice cream truck when he was eleven, I smiled softly over at him. “It sounds like a great place to live. Why did you ever leave?”
The smile on his face faded. He traced his finger over the patterns in the wood grain. “That’s a long story with an unhappy ending. Are you sure that you want to hear it?”
I reached over and covered his hand with mine. “You know my dirty laundry. I can handle whatever you’ve got.”
He sighed quietly. “Five years ago…actually, it’s closer to six now. I was in a relationship. It was pretty serious; we’d been together over a year. And then Shelby got pregnant.”
My stomach twisted. Oh, God, please tell me he didn’t walk out on them.
“We weren’t at a place in our lives where we wanted to get married, but we were both over the moon about the baby. We found a place and moved in together. She was real artistic – actually, that’s how I met her; she did illustrations for my first book – and she decorated the nursery.” He trailed off, his expression looking haunted. “Everything was great until thirty-two weeks.”
The sinking feeling in my stomach got worse. At this point, I was hoping he was going to tell me he’d chickened out and run away from them.
“Our daughter was kicking up a storm when we went to bed. Then she just…wasn’t the next morning.” A tear slipped down his cheek, and he wiped it away roughly. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, after that…we tried to make it work, but that kind of thing destroys couples a lot stronger than us. It kept haunting me even after we went our separate ways. I’d walk by the park where I’d fantasized about taking the kid after school, and it’d all come back to me. So I left.”
Without a word – what could I possibly say? – I got up and moved over to his side of the booth. I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight.