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Douglas filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove. He turned the heat on high, and pulled out his daughter’s favorite tea. He placed tea bags in two mugs, then leaned against the counter, waiting.
As the kettle whistled, he could hear talking as the two made their way into the kitchen.
“Hi.” He stared at Sara as she nodded and smiled, following behind his daughter.
Coco walked right into him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
“Thanks, Dad.”
He hugged her back, silently saying, “thank you” to Sara.
“I just poured tea for us. Want some?” He gave a mug to Coco, and held one up for Sara.
She shook her head. “I really should get back. Who knows what the boys are up to.”
He nodded. “I owe you.”
“That’s what friends are for.” She looked one more time at Coco.
“Call me if you want to talk about anything, okay?”
Coco nodded. “Thanks, Sara.”
Coco settled in on a chair while Douglas got out a plate. He found cookies in the pantry, the ones they had made together the day before. He settled in beside her.
“You okay?”
She nodded as crumbs dropped in front of her.
“If you have any questions, I’m here for you. I may be Dad, but we can talk about anything. Or you can chat with Grandma, too.”
Her head bobbed again as she stuffed a second cookie in her mouth. She swallowed, and turned to him with tears in her eyes.
“I just miss Mom. I wish she were here.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.
“I know, baby. Me too.”

Douglas sat outside, looking out into the darkness. A soft, spring rain dripped quietly into puddles just off the patio.
He took another sip of wine, trying to quiet the voices in his head.
The kids were in bed, which is where he should be. But it was too early for sleep to come. He knew that. Sleep hadn’t come easily since his wife had died. And the pandemic only added to the issue.
He turned the space heater up. He loved the coolness of spring, but the dampness in the air made it a little uncomfortable. He snuggled back into the lounge chair, glad he’d grabbed a throw from the house.
He touched the cushion, remembering how he and Beth had fought while trying to pick it out. They’d spent a ton of money adding the outdoor kitchen, and he’d argued they didn’t need upgraded furniture.
She fought right back, saying it was exactly what they needed. They’d spend even more time outside.
She won.
She’d been right.
They sat outside almost every night the summer before she died.
They’d even snuck out one night, late, and christened it the proper way.
He touched his lips. Sometimes he could still feel her, taste her.
God, he missed her.
Maybe that’s why he’d always ignored this space before the pandemic. Maybe that’s why he’d always brought the kids to a restaurant instead of grilling at home. Or visiting a friend for dinner rather than inviting people over.
If he did that, he’d do it alone. And he’d never been quite up for facing it before.
Until now.
Ever since he’d been home nonstop, with nowhere else to go, he’d found his way out here almost every night. He’d even grilled a couple of times.
Did that mean he was moving on?
No. Definitely not.
Sometimes it hurt so bad, he swore his heart would burst out of his chest.
But sometimes, just a handful of times, he found himself wondering …
Just maybe. Maybe someday.
If he could kiss someone again. Really kiss her.
And touch her.
And be touched. Cause, god, it had been so long.
To feel a woman touch him. And hold him. And do things to him …
“Hey, neighbor,” Sara plopped down in the chair facing him.
He jumped, bumping his half-filled glass to the ground.
“Oh, shit, sorry,” Sara reached for it at the same time as him, knocking heads as they both bent to the ground.
“Ow.” They said in unison as they sat up, staring at one another. Before they both broke into a fit of giggles.
“I apologize for making a grand entrance.” Sara leaned over one more time, dropping a napkin to remove the puddle of wine beneath his feet.
“No problem. I just didn’t hear you coming.”
“I thought you saw me,” she wadded up the napkin and placed it just off to the side of her chair. “You were looking right at me as I walked over.”
“I guess I was daydreaming.” He picked up the bottle and refilled his glass. “Want some?” He held the bottle out to her.
“Sure.” She held out the glass she’d carried over with her.
He grinned as he filled it up. “I see you come prepared.”
“I know it looks like all I do is drink. Really, I don’t. It’s just been one of those weeks.”
“I get it.” He took a sip. “It’s become a bit of a habit for me too. I like the peace and quiet out here after everyone is in bed.”
“I know, right? I never used to stay up so late. But anymore, this is my time. And I kind of like being outside in this weather. I’d like it even more if I had a space like this. You guys did a great job with this addition. I remember you putting it up. I was so jealous. Sara gave me a tour right after it was completed. I love this space.”
“She did too. We spent a lot of time out here that summer.”
Sara simply nodded. She was close enough to his backyard to see he didn’t use it much after she died.
“How’s Coco?”
“Fine, I guess. Thanks again for this afternoon. I really appreciate it.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
“You have no idea how glad I was you came over. I’ve talked with my mom. I’ve even read a book. But. I mean. Reality, I guess. I just wasn’t prepared.”
“I could tell by the look on your face,” she grinned.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Parenting sucks sometimes.”
“Yep, I agree. Especially when you don’t want to talk about something.” She bumped his knee with hers.
He shook his head. “I just hoped she’d stay little for a bit longer. You know?”
“And then she went and grew up.”
“Exactly!”
“I faced that last spring. I had to buy Hudson a jockstrap for baseball camp. God, you’d think Matt could do something. But nope, he “forgot” and flew away on business. Then I had no choice, or no summer camp. I don’t know who had a tougher time, Hud or me.”
“Definitely Hudson.”
She smirked, “Yeah, probably. I don’t mince for words. He turned fifty shades of red while I talked to the guy at the sports store. Hey, maybe we could switch responsibilities from time to time. I’ll do the girlie stuff if you take over the male stuff.”
“Done. Cheers.” He held his glass up to hers, clinked rims, and drank.
They sat there for a moment, each in their own thoughts.
He glanced up at her, content. How had a couple of days changed everything? And how had they never talked like this before?
She leaned forward again, elbows on knees, fingers laced around her cup. “You know what I miss most about staying at home?”
“What?”
“Dominique’s restaurant. Do you eat there?”
It was only the best Italian restaurant in town. That and it was only two minutes from their homes, which made delivery a snap. His mouth watered just thinking about them. “Their breadsticks.”
“I know, right? In a way, I’m glad they’re closed. I’d gain ten pounds if I could order all the time.”
“Just an FYI, I heard they’re opening back up at the end of the month.”
“No kidding? I’ll have to place my order. I’d die if they didn’t stay open. Afterward.”
“Do you play that game too? What you miss most? I do that late at night, when I can’t sleep, when it’s pity party time.”
“I bet I’m better at it than you. Wanna play?”
“Sure. You start.”
“I miss dropping the kids off at school. No mom responsibilities for several hours!” She jumped up, fists pumping in the air.
He laughed. How did he not know how funny she was? How had they not become friends up until now?
“Okay, this one is going to seem strange, but I actually miss going into work. I have this stellar view of the river. On clear days, I can see for miles.”
“I miss walking. We’d hike every single weekend.”
“Or kayaking. Last time we went out, a sea lion swam by.”
“Really? I love when they do that.”
“We went up to Vancouver Island last year. Rented a house for a week. The sea lions were everywhere.”
“Now you have me longing for Victoria. The Little Bistro is just off the ferry terminal. Have you eaten there?”
“Yes! They have great sandwiches for lunch.”
“If you go later, at mid-day, you can get a plate of sweets and a pot of tea.”
“We did that too. After whale watching. Coco loved that.”
“You went for tea?”
“Of course.”
“You’re a great dad.”
“Thanks.” He put his glass down on the table, leaning forward. “I sure don’t feel it sometimes.”
She nudged forward on her chair, knees almost touching.
Her eyes were so close. Even in the dark, with the only light coming from his kitchen, he could see how green they were. Little specks of gold mixed in.
In an instant, they were all over each other.
He pulled her over, hands on her hips as she melded onto his lap.
Her hands on his face. His fingers tracing along her sides.
Her tongue, tracing along his lips.
He nipped at hers. Dove in, savoring her taste.
Over and over again. Just enjoying the thrill of feeling like a man.
Every node in his brain was on fire.
He fought for control. His brain telling him to take it slow. His libido persuading him to hurry up.
He chose slow, savoring every feeling shooting through his body.
It had been so long. He missed this. So much.
Maybe this could last forever.
“Mom?”
Or maybe not.
He pulled away from her lips.
Reached up for one last nibble as he saw his own lust reflecting in her eyes.
She blinked, cleared her throat, then hollered, “Over here, Hunter. What’s up?”
He held onto her hands as they untangled. She stood up.
He pulled the blanket over his lap just in time, as Hunter scurried over.
“I had a bad dream.” Hunter wrapped his arms around his mom, burying into her shirt.
She leaned down, drawing him into her arms.
“It’s okay, buddy. Let’s get you back in the house.”
“Okay.” Hunter turned and pulled on her hand. Walking as if still half asleep.
She turned just enough to meet his eyes. She shrugged her shoulders, then stopped. “Just a minute, Hunter.”
She rushed back and fell to the edge of his chair. “I can’t believe we haven’t done this, but what’s your cell number?”
It took him a second to understand what she was saying.
They’d lived next to one another for years. But they’d never exchanged phone information. He leaned forward, grabbing his phone from the table. He tapped, then said, “Okay.”
She quickly gave him her number. They heard the familiar buzz of her phone.
She stood up, and waved as she went back to Hunter. Disappeared into the darkness.
He heard her door slide open, shut. Then sat for a moment recovering.
What was that?

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Five

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