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Chapter 8

Mary stared at the gelato in the Publix grocery freezer. The sea salted caramel was always a good choice, but today seemed more like a chocolate type of day. It was Friday, the first week in October with the Florida heat still raging, the end of a difficult week, but lovely beach weather ahead. She deserved chocolate.

“Difficult decisions all the time.”

Mary nearly jumped out of her skin. “Dear Lord, Kristin, you almost gave me a heart attack!”

Mary’s eyes traveled over Kristin’s blue silk turtleneck and ivory pants, her smooth blonde hair perfectly in place. She did a quick inventory of her own unruly curls, skinny black jeans and long, tie-dyed top. Even though they were fashion extremes, Mary thought they found common ground. They were both young women who cared passionately for the children they served. The outside package they presented might be different, but inside they were on the same team.

“I’m leaning toward chocolate,” Mary said, recovering from the surprise after Kristin’s friendly smile.

“I’d pick rocky road. It was a tough week.”

Mary saw tension in her face and wondered if she was lonely.

“Yes, but it’s Friday How about a glass of wine instead of this ice cream? Fewer fat calories.”

“Misery loves company. Two is better than one,” Kristin added. “You know in Norway when someone asks how we are, we don’t say ‘good, fine, very well.’ We say ’ickka so vast’ which means ‘not so bad.’ We don t want to get too enthusiastic here.”

Mary grinned. “I bet we can come up with some positive outcomes if we put our heads together. That glass of wine will help.”

“Let me see if I can arrange an activity for Anders. How about 7:30 at the Gulf Grill?”

“Sounds wonderful. See you then,” Mary replied. Kristin darted off in the other direction with a wave.

Mary paid at the checkout and headed home, driving across the Belleair Causeway towards Sand Key at no more than thirty miles per hour. A speeding ticket would be the rotten banana on top of a difficult week. After court this week, she was pretty sure the police would probably toss her over the bridge rather than help her out.

She relaxed as she descended from the tallest point of the bridge. The Intracoastal Waterway stretched below her, with sailboats, motor boats and cabin cruisers setting off for the weekend. Straight ahead was the blue-green water of the Gulf of Mexico and the sandy beaches where her condominium sat.

Ten minutes later she was unpacking her groceries. Mary looked at the sun beginning to hang low in the sky, changing the water to a soft green. This view never gets old. As usual, she thought of Chris. He hadn’t lived to see the view. For maybe the millionth time she was grateful that time indeed lessened painful wounds.

She opened the door to the balcony and breathed in the fresh air. She kicked off her shoes and sat in a small deck chair. Well my love, I made it through another tough week.

Dr. Chris Davidson, dashing young assistant professor of poetry at Rutgers University, had been her first love. They married while Mary was in graduate school for psychology and Chris a new professor. He was gentle and not demanding. They did not have the kind of passion that Mary caught glimpses of in other relationships, but they loved each other. They were good for each other. Maybe they were too much like each other. They liked the same books, food, movies and furniture. Never a disagreement but never…. well…I’m not going there. She shook her head to chase away the doubts.

The time between Chris first feeling ill and his doctor giving them the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was only ten days. Less than two months later he was dead, two days after Mary received her Ph.D. The next two years were a blur as she somehow finished her post doctorate work in child psychology at Philadelphia’s Child Guidance Center. Her parents and siblings wouldn’t let up until she moved back home, near them. The money from Chris’s life insurance made the condo, the car and her life style possible. That’s why the Gulf of Mexico always reminded her of Chris.

Her cell phone rang, breaking into her thoughts. The screen said it was Detective Joseph Russo. She picked it up.

“Hey, Mary. I didn’t like how we left things this week. Maybe…well maybe…we can go for a ride on my bike tonight and then talk things through. It’s a beautiful, moonlit night.”

Mary smiled. He had a soft side underneath his bark. She imagined the big, bulky, self- confident detective squirming in his seat.

“I’m meeting someone for drinks at seven thirty. I will probably be free by ten.” Mary imagined those blue eyes darkening as he ran his hands through his curly black hair.

“I don’t want to interfere with your plans. Not to mention, I don’t like being the backup date.”

“Just a girlfriend thing, Joseph. Back down.”

“Yeah, well, okay. Ten it is. I’ll pick you up at your place.”

“Let’s not go on the bike that late. It’s been a rough week. How about a late night snack and an on-demand movie?”

“That sounds great. See you then.”

Mary walked into the Gulf Grill. She knew many of the regulars. Indian Rocks Beach was still a sleepy beach town. Kristin was on the back patio, enjoying a slight breeze. The sun had set, leaving a twilight vista over the water. She looked composed and calm, Mary thought, or was it standoffish? Is the icy front just a protective barrier?

Mary smiled warmly. “Hi.”

“I can’t believe you live on the beach, too,” Kristin grinned.

“I can’t believe I do either. It isn’t exactly a Cinderella story, though.”

Kristin leaned closer. “I have some time.”

Twenty minutes later Mary had shared the story of Chris’s death and of her crazy, noisy, wonderful Italian family that lived nearby and often got on her nerves.

“Wow, that’s some story. You put up a good front in court, but I guess it hasn’t been easy for you.”

“No, I have my baggage and my dark side. What about you? You have a little boy!”

She watched Kristin stiffen as she mentioned her son. That was odd. Most mothers relaxed when talking about their children. Kristin, recovering quickly, said, “Yes, he’s a great kid. Not so little, though. Ten years old already. But enough about that. Tell me more about juvenile court.”

Mary noted the quick deflection Kristin made back to work, but decided to let it go for the moment.

“Okay. Let me tell you about the inner workings of our courthouse.”

“Yes, and don’t forget to tell me about that hot state attorney who keeps giving you the eye.”

The next few hours flew by. They filled up on plates of conch fritters, sweet potato fries and grouper nuggets as well as another glass of wine in the laid back atmosphere of the casual restaurant. Mary filled Kristin in on the personalities in juvenile court, surprised at her quick insight.

“You really make my job so much easier,” Kristin said. “The background information on the child is very helpful. The charge is really only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much we have to find out about each and every child.”

“That surprises me. I always think the psychologists make your job harder.”

Kristin looked puzzled

“By the time we are finished, that child in front of you is a three dimensional human being. You not only know the facts of the charge, but also about the time he was homeless, his mother was incarcerated, his father abused him. Just like the Velveteen Rabbit, once they are real, they can’t become unreal again.”

“It may be more complex to know the history, but it helps me make a better decision,” Kristin said. “To a judge, information is power. The more information we have, the more comfortable we are in making decisions.”

Mary felt a growing sense of camaraderie. They were going to be friends. “Well,” she said, rising to her feet, “I have a date at ten tonight.”

“What? After this week! I can’t believe you have the energy. Is it our favorite state attorney?” Kristin teased.

“Umm no. It’s Detective Joseph Russo. He was in court this week.”

As they walked to the parking lot, Mary put her hand on Kristin’s arm. “Listen, if this isn’t too much, too soon, why don’t you come over to my parents’ house for lunch on Sunday? About noon. Bring Anders, too–they love kids. You would be doing me a big favor.”

Kristin hesitated, then flashed the beautiful Norwegian smile that lit up her blue eyes. “Okay, it sounds great. What can I bring?”

“I suggest you bring nothing or risk my mother’s wrath.”

Kristin laughed. “All right. See you Sunday. Anders will draw a picture for Momma Visconti.”

As Mary pulled into the garage of her condo a few minutes later, she heard the sound of a motorcycle behind her.

Joseph parked his bike and walked over to her as she got out of her car.

“Still friends?” he asked with his hands in his front pockets.

“Yes, Joseph. Just don’t pull any of that dominant cop persona on me.”

“Mary, I am yours to do with as you please.” He gave her a lazy, almost mocking, smile and a deep bow.

She let them into the condo and went into the kitchen. “Let’s have a glass of wine outside and hear the waves break,” she suggested. She pulled down hand painted glasses while Joseph opened a bottle of white wine.” They sat on the balcony in an oversized love seat, sipping in silence. Mary reminded herself this was her third glass this evening. Then she thought, the hell with it. The beach was lit bright by the moon. Gentle waves rolled softy to the shore.

“We are not always going to agree, Joseph.”

“I know. I have a hard time backing down,” he said.

“I noticed.” Mary laughed lightly.

Joseph turned towards her and gently pushed a strand of dark hair away from her face.

“Not backing down has its good points,” he whispered in her ear, kissing the side of her face and heading for her lips.

Oh my Lord. Am I ready? She recognized the bitter taste of guilt.

Joseph stopped kissing her. “Hey, where did you go?” he whispered.

“The kiss. It was the first one since Chris died.” She looked him in the eye, not willing to take the coward’s way out.

“I see,” Joseph said. “How did it feel?”

“Okay. Well good, actually, but strange. Like maybe I was doing something I shouldn’t.”

“Maybe it’s time to move on, Mary. You’re not disrespecting any memories.”

He didn’t take his gaze off hers.

“I know. Maybe we need to try again,” she said, pulling his head towards her, chasing away the ghosts.

Joseph’s kiss became more demanding as his tongue entered her mouth. Mary responded to the kiss and shut out the doubt as Joseph folded her into his arms.

“We can start slow, Mary.”

Mary tried not to tear up. Her heart beats softened.

She looked at the foamy white waves hitting the shore. She wondered if the shadows of the past would fall away, like the outgoing tide.

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