The Presence of Grace (Love and Loss #2)(5)

By: Anie Michaels

“Jaxy, this letter says you got into TAG.”

“What’s TAG?”

“TAG is an acronym for talented and gifted.”

“What’s an acronym?” he asked, faced scrunched up.

“It’s when they use the first letters of words to make a new word. Kind of like a shortcut,” I answered with a laugh.

“Oh,” he said slowly. I could picture the wheels turning in his brain. “Cool. Can we have popcorn now?”

Chapter Two


Getting my mom to watch my kids was not difficult. She loved having them. My dad did too, but we all knew what was up. Grandma was in charge and she made the plans for the grandkids. Dad was just along for the ride, and he enjoyed them just as much as she did. It was a bonus, however, when I asked if they could take the kids on a Friday night and my mom suggested a sleepover.

I love my kids just as much as the next dad, but a night off from parenting and a Saturday morning to sleep in? You couldn’t ask for more than that. I dropped them off with their overnight bags, and they couldn’t even be bothered to give me a good-bye hug before they ran off into the wonderland that was their grandparents’ house.

“I’ll be by tomorrow by eleven to pick them up,” I said to my mother as I handed the bags over to her. My parents started having kids early, but I was the youngest so by the time they’d had me they were close to thirty. I worried sometimes that overnight visits were too much for them. I wanted them to enjoy the kids, but not to the detriment of their health. “You can call me if you have any problems and I’ll come back to get them. All I have planned is this parent/teacher conference.”

“There won’t be a problem,” my mother responded, looking at me like I might have offended her. “I raised five kids. I know how to handle little ones.”

“Of course, Mom. I didn’t mean any harm.”

“I know, baby,” she said, leaning over the threshold and pressing a kiss against my cheek. “Go. Be kid free for an evening.”

“All right. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She shut the door before I was even done speaking. “All right then,” I said to myself. I turned and walked back down the driveway and got into my car.

When I arrived at North Elm Elementary, I noticed the parking lot was empty aside from one or two cars. I figured Friday evenings weren’t the most popular time to be at a school. The front doors were still unlocked and I followed the instructions from Miss Richards’s e-mail to her classroom. The halls were empty too, and I couldn’t help but feel as though I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. The lights were dimmed and my footsteps echoed through the halls. An empty school was weirdly creepy.

I found the door with Jaxy’s teacher’s name above, knocked lightly, and then pushed the door open slightly.

“Miss Richards?” I called out softly.

“Yes, please, come in,” a soft feminine voice replied. I pushed the door open, but didn’t see anyone. I took a step in, my eyes sweeping the room, and a brunette woman appeared from around the corner. She was looking down at the papers in her hand, but when she finally glanced up at me, she halted.

My eyes narrowed at her and my brain started running a thousand miles an hour, trying desperately to figure out why she looked so familiar.

She took the last two steps to me, her hand held out, but had an utterly confused look on her face that more than likely matched mine.

“Grace Richards,” she said slowly as I took her hand.

“Have we met—ˮ

“Do I know you—ˮ

We both spoke at the same time, our hands wrapped around each other’s.

“You look really familiar,” I said slowly, moving our hands up and down even more slowly.

“Did you come to the parent/teacher conferences at the beginning of the year?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “My mother came in my place.”

Our hands were still joined, and we were still staring each other down, unable or unwilling to move past the weird sensation that we were obviously both having. After a few more moments of thoughtful silence and slow hand shaking, her mouth formed into a perfect O and her free hand came up to cover it.

“Oh my gosh,” she said, gently pulling her hand from mine.

“What?” This was the strangest meeting I’d ever had.

“You’re the crying man.”

“The crying man?” I asked, pulling back in confusion.

“Back in Fairbanks. At Ridgefield Elementary. I was a teacher there. And you were the man crying outside during parent/teacher conferences.”

It took a moment or two to remember, but finally the puzzle piece fell into place. It was her. The poor woman who’d happened upon me as I had a nervous breakdown outside of Ruby’s second grade conferences. Olivia had only been gone a few months and I’d thought I could handle going alone, but I hadn’t been prepared to see all the mothers and fathers there with each other, all the couples and partners spending an evening together. It hadn’t occurred to me it would even be an issue. I hadn’t even made it to Ruby’s classroom before I lost my composure.

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