The Presence of Grace (Love and Loss #2)(2)

By: Anie Michaels

I wanted to know how she’d died, but I didn’t dare ask. I hoped though, for her sake, she hadn’t suffered.

“I’m no expert, and I’ve never dealt with this kind of loss, but I think it does get better eventually.” I hated the sound of my words, hated the way they weren’t helpful, especially since all this man seemed to need in that moment was help. “What grade is your child in?” I hoped distraction would work.

“Ruby,” he said wistfully, and I swore I saw the pain fade from his face for just a moment while a tiny smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “She’s in second grade.”

“Fun age,” I mused.

“You have kids?”

“No,” I answered, hating the somber intonation of my voice. I nodded toward the building. “I’m a teacher.”

His eyes widened slightly. “You’re a teacher… here?”

“Yeah. But don’t worry, I don’t teach second grade.” I laughed, trying to make him feel better, trying to offer a joke to lighten the mood. It must have worked because a moment later he let out a soft laugh.

“I’ll let you get back to your evening,” he said, straightening up and wiping his hands, damp from his tears, on his thighs.

“Are you sure you’re all right? I’m in no hurry, if you need to talk to someone.”

“No, I’m honestly really embarrassed you caught me crying to begin with.” He let out a real laugh then, and all the muscles in my body that I hadn’t realized were tense let out a sigh of relief.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m sure you’re doing a great job.” He didn’t respond, but he did give me a sad smile, so I took that as my cue to leave. I gave him a tiny wave and continued toward the parking lot. I hoped he got his wish and that tomorrow would be better than today.

Three Years Later

Chapter One


“Ruby, you have ten minutes to be outside waiting for the bus. Jax, you absolutely have to brush your teeth this morning. I never should have let you skip last night.”

I said practically the same thing every morning, gave the same warnings and the same countdowns, but it seemed like we were always just seconds away from disaster. Well, disaster in the form of missing the bus. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it definitely would throw a kink in my plans for the day.

“Dad,” Ruby whined as she came into the kitchen where I was packing Jaxy’s lunch. “I don’t have anything to wear.”

“That is statistically impossible. Grandma just took you shopping last weekend.” Not to mention I’d just stuffed her drawers full of clothes the night before after an evening of folding laundry.

“I can’t find anything I want to wear.”

“We passed finding what you want to wear twenty minutes ago, Ruby. You need to go put on a top and some jeans. Your bus will be here in”—I looked at the clock on the microwave— “eight minutes.” She puffed out an irritated breath and marched back to her bedroom. As soon as she was out of sight, Jaxy waltzed into the kitchen and hopped up on one of the barstools. “You brush your teeth?” I asked, not even bothering to look up. I was good at making lunches, but not blindly.

“Yeah. Did you fill out my book order form?”

“I did last night. It’s all in your backpack.”

“Did you get me the books I circled?” he asked excitedly. At that point I did look at him. I loved watching my kids getting excited over books. Jaxy, being in second grade, was just getting to the point where he really excelled at reading independently, and books without big, colorful pictures were becoming appealing. Olivia had loved to read and I was so glad both our kids had gotten that from her.

“I got you a few of the books you circled, but I supplemented those with a few that I think will challenge you.” A smile spread slowly across his face.

“Cool. Thanks, Dad.” His lips pulled up to form the exact same smile as his mother. My eyes darted to the large photo of her hanging over the fireplace across the room. The ache was still there, still burned in my chest when I thought about everything Olivia was missing out on, but what gave me hope was that the ache was slowly dulling.

When we’d moved to Florida two and a half years prior, just months after Olivia’s death, I’d been a mess. I’d wanted to stay in the town and house we’d raised our children in, thinking it would be best for Ruby and Jax, but I couldn’t function there and needed the support of my parents. Moving to Florida had been hard—starting over was not something I’d ever thought I’d have to do—but having my mom and dad so close proved to be invaluable. My kids now had a strong bond with my parents, and I’d had the help I needed from the right people. People who were supposed to hold me up, supposed to love me through the hard times.

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