“I told you not to come over.”
Her tone didn’t faze Cade, who was standing on her front porch bearing a take-out bag and who obviously had no intention of leaving.
“I know, but I remember when my mom passed how hard it was for my dad to get things in order. There’s so much that it’s overwhelming sometimes. I went through it all myself last year when Dad died, so consider me a bit of a pro in that morbid little realm. I brought Chinese today. Here, let me in. You hate cold food.” Without asking permission, he nudged past her and headed right for the kitchen.
“I don’t want help, Cade.”
“Who said I was helping?” She could hear him in the kitchen opening cupboard doors. “I came here to eat my lunch.”
Rolling her eyes, she followed him into the kitchen, where he had two places set. He looked at her expectantly.
“Why are you here?”
“To eat lunch.”
“Okay, why do you think I’m here?”
“A misplaced sense of care-taking is my guess,” she said, but she sat and began scooping rice and General Tso’s chicken onto her plate. “I’m fine. Yesterday was just a bit rough.”
“That’s an understatement. Were you busy just now?”
She shrugged, “Just writing.”
“Nothing too exciting. I was experimenting with some poetry.”
“Can I see it?”
Rory hesitated and shook her head no. While it was fiction and while it would be published for the world, handing it over to Cade was somehow too intimate. It wasn’t finished, it wasn’t polished. It was her on the page. Naked.
“So why’d you faint yesterday?”
“Cayden, I thought you said you were here to eat lunch.”
“Nice dodge there. You’re right, I did. What do you need?”
If you only knew, she thought dryly.
“Start eating while you think of an answer. I’ll get the door.”
She hadn’t even heard the knock. Watching him leave the kitchen, she had the disquieting sense that this was what life was to be like: a conversation, a meal, a partnership.
Hearing Alex’s voice, she sighed. When he appeared in the doorway, she had the sudden urge to crawl under the table.
She could see Cade behind him, arms crossed and an irate look on his face.
“I came to see if you needed anything – and to return your purse, which you dropped yesterday at the cemetery. Apparently, I’m too late,” Alex said, placing her black clutch on the kitchen counter. “Not wasting any time, I see.” He was looking at Cade while he spoke.
“Get out, Alex. Come back when you bring your manners,” Rory snapped, embarrassed at his implication.
“You made your delivery, sport. I can show you the door.” Cade’s tone left no room for question.
Alex smirked. “Slumming, Aurora?”
“Don’t start! Cade has every right to be here.”
Alex raised an eyebrow and made a slight bow. “My apologies, Rory. I’m just concerned that you’ll act hastily now that you’re free of that man. I’ll be in touch in a few days after you’ve had some time to think. We’ll talk then.”
“Of course. Forgive me for not seeing you out, but you know where the door is,” she said sweetly as she motioned to Cade to sit back down with her.
When the front door closed, she spoke again. “Don’t let him get to you, Cade, he’s always been pompous like that.”
“Julie dated that?”
“She was a hell-raiser, Cade. I think that’s what drew them together: she needed his predictability and he needed her unpredictability.”
“Where does he fit in with your life?”
“He doesn’t. He’s just someone who knew Julie and who I grew up with. That’s all.”
“So why did you faint yesterday?”
She shrugged. “Julie’s brother Richard was there.”
“And nothing. Honest. It was a difficult day, and he was the last person I thought I’d see there.”
She smiled. “Honest. Are we going to eat or not?”
“Absolutely,” he said, pulling another plastic container out of the bag. “I remembered you liked General Tso’s, but I have orange chicken, too.”
“No, that’s fine.” Again, a sense of normalcy overcame her. When had she and Paul ever… leave it alone, she told herself, interrupting the comparison. He was dead. It didn’t matter any longer.
Sitting down finally, digging into the white rice and spicy chicken, she sighed, enjoying the fact that she could relax. “You’re a good friend, Cade. I really do appreciate your willingness to help, you know.”
They continued eating, but this time the silence was tinged with the unspoken. She kept watching his hands, wondering what they felt like, imagining them on her. A blush heated her face. What sort of woman thought these things the day after she buried her husband? What would Cade think?
And then Rory heard herself talking to drown out her own thoughts. “You know, I’m still trying to make sense of Julie’s murder. She was such a confident woman. I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t go down without a fight. She must have known who killed her. I’ve been reading the police reports again…”
“Let’s let Julie go for a minute. What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You just went through a hell of a lot. No, wait, I know – you didn’t love him.”
“Yes, you did. The night I came over. The night you cried in my arms and swore you were happy about his death. What I need to know is how you’re doing now. I met your mother. It seems like she doesn’t have a clue about what your marriage was really like. Am I right?”
Rory nodded. She looked down at her hands on her lap and began twisting her college ring.
“Do you have anyone else, any sort of support system, besides me?”
She nodded, still not looking at him. “I have my Aunt Sophia. She knew.”
“You never mention girl friends. Did he let you have any?”
“Selina. But he drove her away. She called and left a message the day after he died.”
“Did you call her back?”
“No. I need some time.”
“What did her message say?”
Rory sighed and got up, walking to the look out the window over the sink. She couldn’t sit there any longer, not with him watching her so intently. “She said she was out of town and would see me when she returned. But I have her cell phone, and she wants me to call her. I’m going to get through this, okay? You know me.”
She felt his hands on her shoulders as he came up behind her. “I do, Roar, and I know you’re strong and I know you’ll survive this. I just hate to see you do it alone.”
“I’m not,” she said softly. “You’re here.”
He turned her to face him, his eyes drilling into hers, staring at her with an expression far from that of a mere friend. “That’s right.” His lips touched her forehead. “I’m here. But,” he said, touching her chin and smiling. “If I stay much longer, I won’t leave and things will get very, very complicated.”
“I don’t care.”
He laughed, hugging her. “I do. You’ve been on a roller coaster for God knows how long, and it’s finally slowing down. I’m going to let it stop for you first, Roar. You deserve a chance to breathe for a bit. I’m going to head out now, but don’t worry, I’ll be here for you. In the meantime, why don’t you call Selina?”
“Sure,” she said, disappointed, but knowing he was right. “I thought you were going to help me get things in order.”
He gave her a half-smile and kissed her forehead again. “It can wait a few days. That was just an excuse to check on you and you know it. I’ll give you a call later tonight. Let me know how it goes when you talk to Selina.”
He kissed her forehead one last time before he left.
He’s right, she told herself, watching him climb into his car. He knows I need to get my head on straight before I jump into anything. It didn't help. She wanted him to stay.