Michelle finally pulled herself out of bed late the next morning, miserable from the exchange the night before. She’d watched the house from her foster mom’s car and had seen him come out a half hour later, climb into his shiny, new car and drive off. She drove home rather than follow him, told Ma Miller that she wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to be bothered until further notice and went upstairs. Carolyn Miller was wise enough to heed her foster daughter’s wishes, knowing that when Michelle was down, she would be down until she decided not to be any more. And so she did. She had mourned long enough, she had presented her peace offering and, while not rejecting it outright, he hadn’t accepted it, either. Now it was in his hands.
But I still feel like I’m going to throw up, she said to herself. Sometimes she hated the roller coaster of her relationship with Ken. Had she ever even given it up? Perhaps not, but now was as good a time as any. If he didn’t want to have anything to do with her, she wouldn’t pursue it. She’d hunted long enough and, as Nadine had put it, there was a natural order to things: the man does the hunting; the woman waits, enticing. Perhaps she’d been hunting rather than enticing. Now it was his turn.
So she pulled on her old terry-cloth robe, shoved her feet into her slippers, gathered her long tresses up in a knot, stuck a pencil through it to hold her hair in place, and padded downstairs to find some food.
She was just working on her second piece of English muffin when Mrs. Miller poked her head in.
“There’s someone to see you, Michelle dear,” she said.
“I really don’t feel like seeing anyone right now, Ma,” Michelle sighed.
“I think you’ll want to see this one,” was all the older woman replied. Over Ma Miller’s shoulder Michelle noticed a tall shape, just out of the light. It shifted and she caught a glimpse of his face.
“Ken?” And the first thought that crossed her mind was, Oh my, I’m not dressed – and my hair’s a mess!
“Yeah, it’s me,” he replied, still remaining behind her foster mom. The young woman quickly gathered her wits. He was here about something and if she took the time to put on something more – hm – good-looking, he might leave.
“Well, come on in,” she said and gestured to the other seat at the kitchen table. He walked in hesitantly, clutching a bouquet of flowers in his right hand. She noticed that they were small, but of many types and colors. Perhaps they were wild.
“For you,” he pushed out, holding his hand out at an arm’s length.
“For me?” She couldn’t keep the smile away as she reached for them. Their hands brushed as the bouquet was transferred and for a moment it was pure magic to both.
“What are they for?” she asked, sniffing at the blossom closest to her. There was a sweet smell to it, full and rich. Wherever Ken had found these, he knew what she liked.
“A gesture,” was all he answered. “A bridge.” He sat down across from her, still looking very stiff. She noticed that he was now wearing a black short-sleeved polo shirt with the BL&G logo on it. His well-toned arm muscles rippled as he folded and re-folded his hands. He was looking at her and she could see in those dark, expressive eyes that he was searching for what to say.
“So…?” she prompted.
“Like you said, we have to talk,” he began lamely, stopped again and licked his lips. She could sense the change coming, the switch to the slow, deliberate speech that he used when he was about to share something very important with her. And then it came, something that she did not expect at all.
“Michelle, I wanted to tell you that I forgive you,” he began, only to be interrupted by a little squeal of delight from her. He held out one hand.
“Please, let me finish.” She nodded, placed the flowers aside, and leaned forward on the table, tenting her hands in a listening posture. In that instant Ken felt the words that he’d prepared slip away. She was so lovely, even though she had obviously not had time to get dressed or make herself up. Stray wisps of brown cascaded around her face and the light from the kitchen window off to the side lit half her profile, hiding one of her bright green eyes. I’ve got to tell her, he said to himself and forced his thoughts back to the business at hand.
“I also want to ask your forgiveness for my behavior last night,” he continued. “I was wrong to act that way when you were doing what was right.” She shifted her head and he saw the softness in her eyes that the night before he’d misinterpreted as pity. Oh, her feelings were there, all right. God, help me get through this, he prayed silently, pushing down the urge to gather her in his arms.
“You see, Michelle, for all these years I had someone else in my mind when I thought of you,” he told her. “She had your face and your voice, but she wasn’t you. She was a dream I’d made up. I projected that dream into you. That was wrong, because you are not that person and I was disregarding who you are and who you’ve become. I was trying to put my image over what God has made. I’m sorry for that. Please forgive me.” Though she didn’t quite understand what he meant by that, she felt that this was the real reason that he had been so uptight at her appearance and there was only one thing to do.
“I forgive you, Ken,” she whispered. They sat there for a long moment, just looking at each other. The warmth and the silence were too comfortable to break. The dust danced in the air around them, the sunlight turning it into a glinting, golden haze that surrounded them and for the first time ever they both felt completely at ease with each other.
“So where do we go from here?” Michelle finally broke the silence.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I think we need to get reacquainted. I need to get to know this new Michelle.” He paused and gave a little half-smile. “I think I like her – a lot.” Michelle smiled back.
“So are we doing anything this weekend?” she asked.
“Besides church?” She nodded.
“Well, I don’t really have much time. We’re in full late-summer swing and I’m booked up to here,” he held one hand over his head, “with projects until the end of the month.”
“Then what are you doing here?” she chided playfully.
“General Manager’s prerogative.” He grinned. “I get to take time off whenever I want. I’m salaried.”
“Oh.” She glanced towards the sunlight, then settled her gaze back on his shining face. She could just get so lost in those warm, brown eyes.
“Vicki invited me over to the Mitchells’ for dinner and hang-out time,” she said.
“How odd, Larry invited me, too.”
“Are you going?”
“Are you?” She giggled.
“Of course,” she exclaimed. “And if I’m coming, so are you.” It was a statement that made backing out impossible.
“Okay.” He glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Look, I’ve got to go,” He began, then hesitated. “What are you up to today?”
“Nothing much.” She looked at him quizzically. “I thought you said you were extremely busy.” He smiled and licked his lips, clearly a bit uneasy about what he was going to say next.
“I’m playing general inspector today. I have to do it every once in a while or my dear employees don’t do their best.” He looked at her. “You can come along if you like and see what we’re up to. It would give us a chance to talk.”
“I’d love to,” she said. “But I do need to shower and stuff.”
“Ayuh.” He wondered if this a nice way of saying no.
“Could you wait for me? It would only take a half hour.” So she wasn’t saying no. Hm. He glanced at the clock again.
“Well, not really. But, tell you what, I have a site that’s just a couple miles from here. I’ll go check on them and then I’ll swing by and get you on the way back, okay?” Now it was her turn to think.
“Okay.” And she smiled broadly. The haze of the room laid a softness over her features that seared deep into Ken’s heart and he knew that being without this woman would be second only to death.
“Good.” He got up and she followed suit, walking him to the door. Once there, he resisted the urge to hug her and opened it. She glimpsed the big, silver Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Borsov Lawn and Garden logo emblazoned on the side.
“Nice wheels,” she said.
“Another one of the perks of being General Manager,” he laughed. “Get to drive around in style. No more beat-up red Jeeps.”
“Did you sell it?” she asked wistfully.
“No. It’s still doing duty with one of the work crews. Hey, you wouldn’t believe how much the business has grown in the past two years, but I’ll tell you about it later, okay?”
“Yeah.” She smiled, wanting more than anything else to let him snatch her up in his arms. “See you later.” He echoed her and headed back out to his Jeep.