“Yeah,” he confirmed. “He’s been telling me a little about what had happened on this last assignment and it’s not pretty. He had lost his objectivity and had gotten too closely involved with a woman and her young daughter. He tried to help them get out and from what I can gather—he finds it difficult to go into too much detail—it ended badly. He’s in such a truly dark place right now, that I don’t think he’d come back alive if he left again in his current frame of mind. So if all he does all day is watch terrible reality TV for the next few weeks or months until he’s figured out what his next step will be, then I’m all for it.”
“Maybe he’ll start taking ballroom dancing lessons,” she said, striving to lighten the mood, despite her own concern for Chase. She forced a laugh that soon became genuine, as she recalled something from their childhood. “Remember that time your mum forced you guys to go to ballet classes?”
“Funny you should mention that,” he chuckled, before telling her the related story about their former hero participating in the same show Chase was hooked on. The rest of the evening passed swiftly and was filled with good food, banter, and ever-increasing sexual tension as their delightful dinner dawdled to an end. By the time Gabe escorted her to the Jeep, which he preferred driving to her old clunker, she was tipsy and just aglow with happiness. He held out a hand to help her climb into the passenger seat and felt a dart of ever-present awareness when her fingers closed around his. He couldn’t resist tugging her close to plant a quick kiss on her luscious lips before handing her into the car and shutting the door behind her. He took a moment to draw in a calming breath before darting around the front of the car and climbing into the driver’s seat.
The long drive home was conducted mostly in silence, the Jeep’s radio was broken and neither of them seemed inclined to fill the quiet with inane chatter. It was a companionable silence that was both familiar and welcome.
“I’ve never asked you this before,” Bobbi said twenty minutes into that comfortable silence, when they were still quite a distance from home. He spared her a quick glance and noted that she was curled up on her side and facing him.
“Why do you rearrange the condiments everywhere we go?” she asked. “I’ve been wondering for years and I can’t believe I never got around to asking you before now.” Gabe watched the road as he considered her question.
“I don’t know . . . I just like to have the bottles lined up according to size, it just looks neater and feels less cluttered. You don’t know this about me, but I have the pens and pencils in my desk organizer at work arranged according to size as well. My shoes and ties according to color . . .”
“You used to alphabetize the toys on your room shelves,” she recalled, and he grinned self-consciously, feeling like a freak. “You went crazy once when Billy put your GI Joe doll next to your Spiderman doll.”
“Firstly they weren’t dolls, they were action figures,” he corrected, and she snorted.
“Whatever floats your boat.” She shrugged.
“And secondly GI Joe was sandwiched between my Frankenstein jigsaw puzzle and my Houdini magic set . . . there were at least eight toys separating GI Joe from Spiderman. There was a clear system and he deliberately messed it up. And thirdly, I didn’t freak out . . . I merely kicked him out of my room and told him to play in Chase’s room if he wanted to mess stuff up.”
“You wouldn’t let him back in for a month!”
“How do you even remember this?” he asked in disbelief. “Weren’t you like five or something?”
“I was six.” The boys had been eleven and had drifted onto more mature interests just a year after that spat.
“Anyway, I like to have everything in its place.”
Bobbi reflected on those words for a moment, remembering what he had said that terrible night at the football game.
How would you fit into my life? he had asked. Where would I even put you?
He needed to have everything in its place and that night he had had the equivalent of a panic attack not knowing where she slotted into his life anymore. And with her standing in front of him, bruised and bleeding, his panic had ratcheted up several notches. It was odd how clearly she could see that now.
“I always figured it had something to do with my father leaving,” he volunteered. Surprised by the additional information, she sat up straight. Gabe, never spoke about his father. Neither did Chase for that matter. Bobbi had known that he had left, of course, but she had never asked for the details. She didn’t press him now, merely sat and waited. “He didn’t say good-bye, you know? Just snuck out like a thief in the night. One day he was there and the next he wasn’t, and Mum spent day after day closeted away in her room crying.
“Chase and I were only eight.” It was the year before the Richmonds had moved in next to the Braddocks. “And our world just fell apart. One day everything made sense and the next it didn’t. Nothing felt permanent or safe and according to my mum, I started rearranging things in the closets and kitchen cupboards a couple of months after that. When it proved too hard to control the communal areas in the house, I focused only on my room. The habit stuck with me. If I don’t maintain complete governance over every minute detail of my surroundings, I feel like things are spiraling out of control.”
“Did you ever hear from him again?” she asked softly, and he flicked her a sideways glance.
“Who? My father?”