The Presence of Grace (Love and Loss #2)(4)

By: Anie Michaels

“Traffic,” I replied evenly, finally bringing my face up and meeting her gaze, giving her a forced smile.

“Jaxy is full of energy today.” She laughed. “But that’s not different from any other day, I suppose.” She crossed her arms and leaned down on the counter, her low-cut shirt falling completely open as a sly grin spread across her face. “I get off in twenty minutes. Maybe we could all go to Joe’s Pizza and let the kids play video games while we sit and have some adult conversation.”

It had been a while since Candace had asked me out, and I’d hoped she’d gotten the hint, but apparently I was going to have to find new ways to turn her down. “It’s a school night, and the kids still need to do their homework.” I gave her another forced smile and entered the security code on a number pad that opened the gate to the part of the facility where the kids were.

“Pity,” she said with an exaggerated pout forming on her lips. “Maybe some other time.”

I didn’t answer, just kept walking, hoping she’d think I hadn’t heard the last part. I wasn’t accustomed to telling women I didn’t want to date them. Candace was pushy, but she didn’t mean any harm. One day, I’d have to just tell her, straight out, I wasn’t interested in her.

“Dad!” Jaxy saw me through a window and ran inside, greeting me with a big hug. Ruby wandered in slowly, but still managed a halfhearted side hug. I’d take it. I’d take any show of affection from my moody preteen.

“You guys ready to go home?” I asked, my arms still wrapped around them.

“Yeah,” Jaxy said.

“Definitely,” Ruby added.

I laughed.

“Let’s go then.”

“Okay, kids. Homework time,” I said as I placed the dinner dishes in the sink. It had been spaghetti night. I wasn’t a master chef, but there were a few dishes I managed without burning the house down that tasted decent. They were on a weekly rotation and when the kids got tired of the same seven meals, I tried to throw something in to surprise them. The surprises only worked out about 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent were pizza nights after my failed attempts ended up in the trash.

Schoolwork was one area where both the kids excelled. Rarely did I ever have to get after them to do their homework, and I enjoyed helping them if they needed it. They each grabbed their backpacks, took a stool at the bar, and made themselves comfortable. As I did every evening at homework time, I poured them each a glass of chocolate milk. In about a half hour, I’d pop some popcorn and let them munch on it as they worked.

“What do we have going on this evening?” I asked as I set the glasses down in front of them, flinging a kitchen towel over my shoulder.

“I have to read this story about the Oregon Trail and then write a paragraph about it,” Ruby said, holding up a small book.

“I can sum up the Oregon Trail in two words: wagons and dysentery.”

“What’s dis-sin-tury?” Jaxy asked, slowly pronouncing the unfamiliar word.

“It means they pooped themselves to death.” Both kids immediately broke into fits of giggles and I leaned back, watching my children laugh. Even if it was at the word poop, I could listen to them laugh forever. When the laughter died off, and it took a few minutes, I asked Jaxy, “What about you? What are you working on this evening?”

“I have a math packet,” he replied, opening his backpack. “Oh, and Miss Richards sent home this letter.”

My gut immediately dropped. Letters from teachers were notoriously bad things. My mind buzzed with what Jax could have done and how much trouble he might be in.

“What’d you do?” I asked, my tone indicating I believed him already guilty.

“Nothing, I swear! I was just sitting at my desk and Miss Richards told me there’s a letter in my bag for you. I didn’t get into any trouble.” He shoved the envelope at me like it was proof of his innocence.

I took it from him with a skeptical look, but proceeded to open it.

Dear Mr. Roberts,

It is with great excitement that I write to inform you of Jax’s invitation to join the Talented and Gifted Program at North Elm Elementary. Jax has always been a bright student, so I am not surprised he has earned this honor. I would like to discuss plans with you at a parent/teacher conference. Please e-mail me to discuss possible meeting times.

Jax is a pleasure to have in class and I can’t wait to help him with this next big step in his education.

Best Regards,

Miss Richards

2nd Grade Teacher

North Elm Elementary

[email protected]

I read the letter once, and then I read it again. I looked up to Jaxy, who had started his math worksheet, obviously not caring too much about what the letter said.

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