He cups my face, leans in, and kisses me. It’s soft, but he lingers for a moment as if I’m soothing the memory for him, helping wash away the pain of it.
“When I came here to do my physical therapy, I got some of my own counseling. Living here and becoming better, the nightmares stopped. And I think part of that was you. My sunshine kept the darkness away. But then I left, and they started creeping in again. I know that it was the stress and hurt that brought all the insecurities flooding back in. But mostly, I was sad because I was without you.”
My heart hurts for him.
“My first night back here, they were gone. I don’t know how you do it, but you light up my world.”
“Don’t do it, babe.” He gives me a kiss on my nose and pulls back. “This is a good moment for us. We’ve had enough crying. Smile for me. Light us up.”
And I do. I give him the biggest smile I can. We eat in comfortable silence before we finally have to head out so he can take me to school.
Before I slide out of the truck to tell him goodbye, he gives me a kiss. Like always, it’s soft and over a little too fast for my liking.
“Love you, sunshine.”
“Love you, too, cupcake.” I give him a wink and shut the door behind me, then I turn around and almost run right into Ms. Petty.
I watch as Maggie walks past her teacher and gives me a nervous look over her shoulder. For a half a second Rose glares at me, but then she shakes it off as she comes around to my side of the truck.
“Good morning, Eli.” Her voice is low and much more welcoming than I had anticipated. “Glad I was able to catch you before you took off. Normally you’re dropping little Maggie off so fast we don’t get a chance to chat.”
I don’t miss the way she used catch. Nor the fact that she referred to Maggie as little. She likely caught the two of us kissing, and though that may not be against the law, it’s certainly not going to be looked on highly by a school official. Instead of telling her to mind her own business, I try to be polite and smooth things over.
“I’m usually trying to get to work on time. Is there something you wanted to talk about?”
“Well, I happened to snag a couple of tickets to the hockey game this weekend. I thought maybe you might want to come along and help keep me warm.”
Before I can respond, her hand sneaks in the window of my truck, and her palm rests on my chest. This is bold for the little contact I’ve had with this woman, and to be honest, I’m shocked. She doesn’t even know me, yet she’s trying to touch me. I don’t want to be touched by anyone but Maggie, and the feeling of her hand on my body makes my stomach churn.
“Rose, and I think you might want to consider the offer. After all, if I don’t go to the game, I’d have to spend my weekend talking to the school superintendent about a student’s guardian and their possible relationship.”
“Did you just threaten me?” I ask through gritted teeth as I grab her wrist and push it away from me.
She takes a step back as an angry look passes over her eyes, the one she was giving me when she saw me kiss Maggie. Her glare turns to a sneer as she straightens her coat.
“Oh, it’s not a threat, Mr. Strong. I’ve had my eye on you and Miss Drummond for a few weeks now. I think the school board would be very interested to see what’s been taking place.” She raises her chin and cocks an eyebrow at me. “I’ll be here after classes today, Eli. Maybe if you change your mind we can come to an agreement. We could have a drink at my place and I could let you work things out.”
She turns on her heels and struts back into the building, swaying her hips exaggeratedly.
I’m so pissed off that I didn’t immediately tell her off and put her in her fucking place. But she could cause so many waves for Maggie and me, and I know she doesn’t need that right now. Not with the Major still missing with no sign of him.
“Fuck!” I shout, and hit the steering wheel with my hand. I take off toward work and feel so angry with myself. This is why I’ve been keeping Maggie at arm’s length. We haven’t done anything, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get asked.
It’s not like I’m seventy years old for Christ’s sake. I’m only twenty-six, but to someone seeing me with an eighteen-year-old, they assume I’m after one thing.
By the time I get to my office, I’m somewhat calm. No one can prove anything, especially a lie. It would all be hearsay, and when Major comes home, he’ll back me up. When.
It’s been two weeks and nothing, but I’ve still got hope. If there is a chance left, he’ll take it, and he will make it home. I have to believe that. For myself and for Maggie.
“Mr. Strong?” the voice on the other end of the phone asks.
“That’s me,” I say, leaning back in my office chair.
“This is Superintendent Roger Dale. I’d like to speak to you about a few things if you have a moment.”
I sit up in my seat, and a chill runs down my spine. It’s been a week since Rose’s threat, and I’m guessing she finally made good on it.
Maggie and I have been really careful not to even touch while we are out in public. Although Maggie has been less than thrilled about my lack of affection outside the home, after I told her what happened, she understood. Rose Petty is a conniving snake, and she’s trying to use this opportunity to get back at me because I turned her down. What makes me the angriest is that she’s using Maggie as a weapon, and it’s disgusting.