Friday, December 24, 2004

"Silver And Gold," By Becke Martin - Part III/IV

...a flutter of arousal – the subtle scent of woman mixed with cinnamon and apple suddenly seemed the most seductive perfume he’d known.

He polished off his pie before she’d taken her second bite. No wonder she was a tiny as a sparrow if this was how she ate. Or maybe he was making her nervous.

“You’re not from around here.”

She studied him cautiously as she swallowed a bite of her pie. “How’d you know that?”

He nodded toward the plate glass window. “I own the book store across the street. I eat most of my meals here. Never saw you or the boy before. And I know North Carolina when I hear it.”

“Oh.” She relaxed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump on you. I grew up in North Carolina, but Joey was born in New York. He thinks I talk funny.”
Aiden laid on the charm a bit. “So, you plan on staying? Fair Meadows is a nice place to raise a family. You and your husband looking for a house? I could show you around town, if you want.”

She dropped her fork onto the plate with a clatter. “You’re not going to try and sell me a house, are you?”

“What? Oh, for – ” Aiden could feel the flush rise from his neck to his face. It was second grade again, and snooty Wendy Wilcox had just put him in his place when he dared to sit next to her in the lunchroom. You’d think in forty-some years he would have developed some of the smooth moves the Irish were famous for.

He shrugged and shifted awkwardly. “Let me start over. My name’s Aiden, as Frida said -- Aiden Flynn. I own Chapters, a new-and-used bookstore, and I’ve never sold real estate in my life.” Shaking hands seemed too formal, so he simply nodded and smiled.

Her quick grin pierced his armor and made his skin tighten. His friends had set him up with dates who looked like cover models and still left him cold. This woman, with her beautiful but careworn face, was bringing him almost painfully back to life.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Flynn.”

“Aiden, please. And what’s your name again? I didn’t quite catch it. Your uniform says Rosie, but I knew Rosie – she ran off with a Scottish tourist. It was the talk of the town.”

“Virginia.” She blinked. “Ginny, that is. Most people call me Ginny.”

The pencil scratching in the next booth came to an abrupt stop, and a minute later Ginny’s son approached Aiden, his back stiff and military-straight.

“I’m Joey.” The young boy stuck out his hand, man to man, a look of warning in his eyes. Good lad, keeping an eye on his mom. “My dad was a policeman. Bigger than you. He had a holster and a gun and a badge.”

Was? Aiden’s eyes flashed to her ring finger, still adorned by a plain gold band. A widow, at her age? God, that was rough. No wonder there were dark circles under her eyes.

“Aiden Flynn. Nice to meet you, Joey. Sounds like you’re proud of your dad. Bet he’s proud of you, too.”

“A bad guy shot him,” he mumbled. “He got killed.”

Virginia-Ginny didn’t speak, just pulled the boy into her lap and stroked his hair.

Aiden nodded. “A hero. Bet your dad’s proud of you for taking care of your mom.”

The small thumb moving toward Joey’s mouth suddenly halted. “Do you think so?”

Joey peeked at his mother, then climbed off her lap. “I’m writing a letter to Santa.” His chest puffed out with pride. “All by myself. I think I spelled the words right, mostly, but I’m not done yet.”

“Okay if I talk to your mom while you’re working on that letter?”

Joey’s eyes widened. “Um, sure.” There was a spring in his step as he walked back to his booth.

“You were good with him.” Ginny’s voice was soft and silvery, like church bells pealing on a cold, clear night.

“I had a son once. Will died of leukemia when he was about Joey’s age.” Damn. He’d known the woman two minutes and he was dumping his troubles on her. “Sorry – now you’ll be worrying about your son. Don’t know what made me bring that up.”

She reached across the table and laid her small hand across his. “I’m so sorry. Losing my husband was bad, but if anything happened to Joey . . . I don’t think I’d survive.”

“Annie – my wife – didn’t. She killed herself two years after Will died. She’d been hoarding the sleeping pills the doctor had given her and took them all at once. By the time I realized what she’d done, it was too late.”

Aiden choked back half of the coffee in one gulp, just to shut himself up. He never talked about his wife, never talked about his son. Ever. It was the reason he avoided his parents, who couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. Something about Ginny was calm, peaceful. He felt as if he could talk to her all night, which was hardly fair – she looked worn out. When was the last time someone had taken care of her?

“When did your husband die?”

Now it was her turn to hide behind coffee. Before Ginny responded to his question, she brought the pot to the table and poured another cup for herself. He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she drank it, hot and black. “It’s been nearly three years. Joey talks about Joe a lot, but he doesn’t really remember him. How could he? He was practically a baby when Joe was killed.”

Aiden waited in silence as she took another deep gulp of the coffee. He sensed there was more to her story.

“We’ve been living with Joe’s mom, Carol. I don’t have any relatives of my own, and she missed Joe as much as we did. It helped her to have Joey around. And it helped financially, too.”

Aiden’s hackles rose. “Your husband was killed in the line of duty, and you’re hurting for money?”

Ginny played with her paper napkin, tearing it into shreds. “It wasn’t exactly in the line of duty.” Her voice dropped and she flashed a furtive glance at her son, who was entirely focused on the last few bites of his pie. “Joe was...Read On...

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