I didn’t quite know what to say, so I took another bite of my roll. Elle sipped her tea and then sat back in her chair, looking at me very seriously.
“I did something very stupid when I was your age,” she said. “I let a man make the decisions for me. I have no idea if you and Ruger belong together, but you need space to figure things out. You can’t let yourself be dependent on someone unless you can truly trust him.”
“I trust Ruger,” I said slowly. “I trust him with Noah, at least. I also trust him not to change, which is sort of the problem.”
“Men rarely do,” she agreed. “Although it’s possible, I suppose. As I said before, I think I may have a solution for you. Did you know there’s an apartment in my barn?”
“Your barn?” I asked, blankly. I looked out the window toward the wooden structure behind the house. “I didn’t know you used the barn.”
“I don’t,” she said. “This farm belonged to my great-aunt, and she had part of the barn converted to an apartment for my cousin. He was developmentally delayed. She wouldn’t let them put him in a home, but he couldn’t live on his own. The apartment gave him some freedom and independence, but also kept him safe. He passed two years ago and it’s been empty ever since. I’m sure it needs cleaning, but I’d like to offer it to you and Noah.”
“Are you serious?” I asked. She nodded.
“Of course,” she said. “I wouldn’t have offered it otherwise. It’s not being used and I like both of you. Noah deserves a decent place to stay, and it’s definitely better than crashing on someone’s couch. Only one bedroom, but you don’t need to live there forever. It’s furnished. Just until you get back on your feet.”
“What are you looking for in terms of rent?” I asked cautiously.
She thought for a moment.
“I was hoping you could help me with the yard work,” she said. “I’ve been having trouble keeping up with it lately.”
I met her eyes across the table and neither of us said anything for a long moment.
“You’re a very nice person,” I whispered.
“So are you,” she replied quietly. “I have no idea whether things will work out between you and Ruger, but this way Noah can stay in the same school and still be within walking distance.”
“You think it’s a good idea for me to be this close to him?” I asked bluntly.
“Good luck finding somewhere he can’t follow you,” she replied wryly. “It hardly matters how far you go. Like I said—I have a shotgun. The barn has a good lock. Between the two I think you’ll do all right. Would you like to go and take a look?”
“I’d love that.”
ME: Thanks again for watching Noah this weeknd. All moved in now, still cant believe Elle had this place just sitting here. Good luck for me!!!!
KIMBER: No prob. So … have u seen HIM yet?
ME: Who? :->
KIMBER: Don’t be a dumbass. Thats Rugerss job. Did he freak?
ME: Thats the creepy part. He didn’t
ME: No. He texted and asked me if I was ok. I said yes. He asked where I was
KIMBER: U tell him?
ME: Yes. He’d figure it out anyway
KIMBER: Huh … thats weird. After what happeed Sat night, that’s a total turn around. I expected him to come chase u down and drag you back—you know, like a cavman or something
ME: I know. I was expectign more too. Makes me nervous
KIMBER: Ha! U WANTED him to be pissed!
ME: No … maybe? Its stupid. I have a job interview tomorrow afternoon. Recpetionist at a dental clinic. Right near the school
KIMBER: Woooot wooot!!!!! Dont change the subject
ME: Hey! I need a job more than I need to talk about Ruger
KIMBER: This is about ME, babe. I need gossip. U owe me. Iwatched ur kid AND I got you drunk. Entertain me
“Sophie, I’m so sorry, but Dr. Blake is still running late. Can you stick around a little longer, or should I see if he can reschedule? I hate to pressure you, but he’s really hoping to make a decision tonight, and you’re the last interview … We’re pretty desperate.”
“No problem,” I said, smiling brightly at the flustered hygienist behind the counter. It was a big f**king problem. Noah would be out of school in an hour and I needed to be there to pick him up. But I also needed to be able to buy food to feed him, too, and after the first three months this job came with health care and sick leave … not to mention dental. I hadn’t had my teeth checked in four years.
“Are you sure?” asked the hygienist. Her name was Katy Jordan, and for the past hour I’d been sitting in the waiting room, watching her juggle patients and the phone. Apparently their old receptionist left without giving notice because of a family emergency, the temp was a no-show, and the doctor’s assistant had gone home at ten that morning throwing up. A mother with two kids sat next to me, obviously impatient. She’d been waiting nearly forty minutes for her appointment to start and things were getting tense.
“I’ll make a quick phone call,” I told her.
“Sounds great,” she said. “Mrs. Summers? Are you ready?”
The woman beside me stood and coralled her children, herding them into the back. I stepped outside the office, which was in a low-lying, mixed-medical building. Kind of like a mini-mall for doctors, although classier, with fancy landscaping, cedar siding, and covered walkways.
I tried Elle first. No answer. I tried Kimber, too. Nothing. I called the school to see if he could go to the after-school program for a day, only to learn he needed to be formally enrolled to participate, something I’d have to do in person, at the district office.
That left me with the girls from the club or Ruger … and the girls from the club weren’t authorized to pick him up at the school. I could change that, of course. All I had to do was fill out some paperwork at the school office.
That left Ruger.
I hadn’t had any communication with him since Sunday morning, aside from that one text asking if I was okay. I punched his number and waited. The phone rang long enough, I thought I’d get voice mail. Shit … Then he answered.
He didn’t sound particularly friendly or welcoming. More like the old Ruger, the one who looked through me like I was furniture. I suppose that’s what I wanted. It didn’t feel good.
“Um, hey,” I said. “I’m really sorry to do this, but I have a favor to ask. For Noah.”