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** Brian **

“Are you sure that you don’t want to come with me? I just need to sign, like, one piece of paper. I’ll be finished in less than a minute.” I squinted into the morning sun; watching as Leighanne hoisted her massive purse onto her shoulder.

“It’s fine, husband.” Leighanne adjusted her sunglasses. “It’s obvious that you don’t really want to spend time with me, so I’ll just meet you back here in an hour.”

I sighed. Even though Leighanne’s eyes were hidden beneath tinted lenses, I could tell that she was glaring at me. I should have just cut my private pity-part short and pretended to have enjoyed all of her ridiculous Christmas trees and holiday festivities. Faking my happiness would have made my life so much easier.

“I’m going to have my hair blown out.” Leighanne continued. “You don’t think that stupid doctor is going to ask me to lay down do you?”

I sighed again. “I have no idea what she wants. The only thing that the receptionist told me on the phone was that Dr. Bridgewater needs to speak to us about the procedure.”

“I don’t know what there is to talk about.” Leighanne quickly glanced up and down the street to make sure that no one was in earshot. “My period has already come and gone. It’s been, like, a month since they injected me. I’m not pregnant.”

“I know.” I slipped the car keys into my pocket. “You’ve told me.”

Leighanne leaned forward and gave me a perfunctory kiss on the lips. “Enjoy your business meeting.”

I watched my wife walk away; the unmistakeable scent of Dior lingered in the air long after she had turned the corner, and I couldn’t prevent another sigh from escaping my lips. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t pin-point the exact moment that our relationship had changed. There was no doubt in my mind that I still found Leighanne attractive, that I still loved her for being an amazing mother to Baylee, and that I still cared for her. Yet, something in my mind had shifted so far out of place that it was now completely obvious to me that I no longer wanted to spend all of my time with her. For the first time in more than a decade, I desperately wanted my life to be separate from Leighanne’s.

“Brian?”

I turned to see Abigail walking towards me. She tousled her abundance of long, dark hair with her fingers; sweeping it over the top of her head in an attempt to prevent the wind from blowing it back across her face. Once she could see properly, she issued me a small, almost shy, smile.

“You could have waited inside. Aren’t you cold?”

“Oh, nah, I’m not cold.” I took my hands out of the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt and smiled softly back at her. “I’m a Kentucky boy, remember?”

“Yes, yes, how could I forget?” Abigail’s smile started to look less shy. “I’ve heard your fans reference the Kentucky cousins many times.”

I stepped forward to greet her, but stopped short; unsure of how to proceed. I pretty much just hugged everyone that I met, but it had been a long time since we had taken on a new female staff member. Maybe Abigail wasn’t a hugger? Maybe she would feel as though I were crossing some sort of professional line if I just randomly put my arms around her in the middle of the street.

“So, I’ve brought the papers.” Abigail spoke up as if she could sense my sudden awkwardness. “Do you mind if we go inside?” She gestured towards the small, non-descript coffee shop just to the left of where we were standing. “You may not find it cold, but this wind is brutal as far as I’m concerned.”

“Sure, yeah, of course.” I hurried to go ahead of her to open the door. “So much for my good southern manners, huh?”

Abigail smirked and let out the tiniest little laugh. “You’re pretty well-mannered compared to the rest of your friends. Well, judging by what I’ve seen and heard so far anyways.”

It was my turn to smirk as I raised my eyes to meet Abigail’s. Our eyes locked easily in a friendly exchange as I allowed the door to close softly behind us. “You seemed taller the last time that I saw you in person.” I observed; taking note of the fact that we were almost exactly the same height.

“I was wearing heels last time.” Abigail laughed. She moved towards one of the small tables tucked out of the way against the wall. “I had to make a good impression for my first meeting with the Backstreet Boys.”

“So, you meet us once and you no longer need to impress us?” My smirk grew larger. “I see how it is. Does that mean that we no longer need to make an effort either?”

“You guys were dropping f-bombs and throwing garbage at each other less than five minutes after I walked into the room.” Abigail reminded me as she took a seat at the table and began to unbutton her jacket. “Is that what ya’ll consider to be making an effort?”

“You make a fair point.” I relented. “Do you want a coffee or anything?” I nodded at the counter as I watched her start to pull papers out of her purse. “I mean, I know that you have to catch a flight ...”

“I have a good few hours before my flight leaves.” Abigail tousled her hair for the second time so that it bounced back into place around her shoulders. “A coffee would be great.” A sudden flash of apparent remembrance crossed her face as she reached for her wallet. “But, uhh, make it a decaf coffee. I’m, ummm, cutting back on caffeine as part of – as part of my New Year’s resolution.”

I gently shook my head to indicate that I didn’t need her money. “That’s the quite possibly the worst resolution that I’ve ever heard.” I informed her over my shoulder as I headed for the counter. “But, I’ll get you a decaf coffee if that’s what you want. I, on the other hand, will be pumping myself full of oh-so-wonderful caffeine.”

“You’re not with the wife, today?” John, the same guy who was always behind the counter, greeted me with a goofy grin. “Who’s the new lady?”

“Leighanne is getting her hair done.” I glanced at the selection of pastries in the display case before ordering two coffees; one regular one decaf. “And that’s Abigail. She works for me and the fellas.”

“Does she now?” John nodded appreciatively as he counted back my change. “Do you think she’d be interested in a middle-aged coffee shop owner?”

“I have no idea who she would be interested in. Hell, I don’t even know if she’s married or anything.” I stuffed my change into the tip jar and raised my eyebrows at John. “I am fairly certain that your wife isn’t going to be at all interested in her though.”

“Touché!” John laughed. “You can’t blame me for askin’ though. She’s got that cute, southern girl-next-door look down pat.”

I shrugged in response. “You know that I’m married, Johnny. I ain’t lookin’.”

“You may not be lookin’, but you ain’t blind either!” John called after me as I picked up the drinks and started back towards the table. “I’m gonna be watchin’ you, man!”

“You come here a lot, I assume?” Abigail raised her own eyebrows as I set the coffee cups down on the table and slid into the seat across from her. “What was all that about?”

“I’ve been stopping in here ever since I moved to Georgia.” I skirted the last part of Abigail’s question. “Leighanne and I come in and bother Johnny pretty much every time that we’re in Atlanta.”

Abigail nodded in understanding, but her eyebrows were still somewhat raised. “Thanks again for agreeing to come into the city. It really makes my life a hell of a lot easier.” She added some milk to her coffee and took a tentative sip to test the temperature.

“It’s fine. Leighanne and I had to come into Atlanta to get some stuff done today anyways.” I hurried to keep talking; to prevent myself from thinking about the appointment at the clinic. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t meet up with you last night. I was just – just busy.”

I dumped some milk into my own coffee to keep myself busy. There was probably no point in admitting all of my current life struggles to someone who I barely knew. I was about to spend the next few months of my life seeing Abigail on an almost daily basis. There was no sense in telling her that I had spent all of last night moping around my house and avoiding my wife because I was upset about a failed fertility procedure. In other words, there was no need for her to know that I was a complete train-wreck right away.

“Don’t worry about it.” Abigail dismissed my unnecessary apology. “I was ... busy with my own stuff last night anyways. I think I told you, or maybe it was Kevin, that I was in town for an appointment that took some more time than I expected.” She quickly dropped her eyes to the table; suddenly appearing immensely interested in the document that she had pulled out of her purse. “Anyways, here’s the stuff that I need you to sign.” Abigail slid the papers towards me and handed me a pen. “Thanks again.”

“You did mention that you were here for an appointment of some kind.” I accepted the pen and quickly scribbled my name at the bottom of the second page. “Is that all I need to do?” I asked. “We don’t want Kevin having a complete shit fit because I’ve missed something.”

“I also need you to initial here.” Abigail leaned forward and flipped back to the first page of the document. She tapped her finger against the paper to indicate where I needed to make my mark. “Then you’re done.”

My attention landed on Abigail’s right ring finger as I moved to write my initials in the spot that she had identified. The large diamond grabbed at the sunlight pouring in through the window; making it almost impossible to miss.

“I lost my husband almost a year ago.” Abigail pulled her hand away as soon as she realized where my eyes had wandered. “He had cancer.”

I raised my head so that I was looking Abigail directly in the face. I didn’t know what to say. Offering my condolences didn’t seem sufficient, but I knew that I wanted to say something. Her face was a strange mixture of acceptance and grief; tough yet emotional.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Abigail reassured me; as if reading my mind. “I know that it upsets people when I tell them, but what else am I supposed to do? I guess I should just stop wearing my rings, but it still feels wrong to take them off.” She shrugged. “It has been almost a year. I should be used to the single life by now.”

“You’ll know when you’re ready to take them off.” I assured her. “I’m sorry for – for making you bring it up.”

“Don’t be.” Abigail’s face adopted an almost wistful expression. “I don’t mind remembering him.”

I sat back in my chair and used both hands to cradle my coffee cup between my fingers. There was so much more that I was tempted to ask, but I held back. I was suddenly overcome with just how strange it felt to be sitting and talking with someone who I barely knew. Everyone else who held a prominent place in my life had seemingly been there forever. Even the people who worked for us were permanent fixtures. It had been years since I had needed to get to know someone new.

“I think your wife is waiting for you.” Abigail raised her eyebrows to indicate that I needed to turn around. “At least, I’m pretty sure that blonde woman with the massive tote bag is the same lady that I’ve seen you holding hands with in pictures.”

I swivelled around in my chair and stole a quick glance through the large picture window. Leighanne was, indeed, standing on the street and rooting around in her gigantic bag; probably searching for her keys to let herself into the car and out of the cold. I looked down at my phone and confirmed that it had been over an hour since Abigail and I had first entered the coffee shop.

“You’re right; that’s my wife.” I turned back to face Abigail. “You should probably get going yourself. After all, Kevin will literally murder you if you miss your flight and don’t deliver those papers on time.”

Abigail let out a full-blown southern giggle as she stood up and swung her jacket over her shoulders. “Is that your way of telling me that, out of all of you, Kevin is going to cause me the most trouble?”

I let out my own string of laughter as the two of us made our way towards the door. “Nah, Nick is the one who will cause you the most trouble.” I pulled open the door; waving goodbye to John before the two of us stepped outside into the chilly winter breeze. “Kev is just going to be a total pain in your ass.”

“Good to know.” Abigail’s laughter faded away as a large gust of wind whistled down the street. “I guess I’ll be seeing you next week then.” She looked down at her feet before returning her attention to my face. “Thanks again for finding time to meet with me. I promise that I’ll try to be more organized from now on.”

“I didn’t mind. Like I said, I needed to be in the city today anyways.” I stole a quick glance at the car; Leighanne was waiting in the passenger seat, watching me through the window. Her expression was perfectly neutral, but I knew that she probably wasn’t pleased about having to wait. “I would ask you to come and meet Leighanne, but it’s cold and I’m sure she doesn’t want to get back out of the car.”

“That’s fine.” Abigail smiled. “I’m sure that I’ll be seeing her all the time in Vegas anyways.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure; of course you will.” I returned Abigail’s smile and took a small step backwards. All of my awkwardness and uncertainties surrounding our initial meeting had resurfaced, and I was now unsure of how to say goodbye. “Have a safe flight.”

“I will.” Abigail took her own step backwards. “See you soon, Brian.” She gave me one final smile before turning and heading off in the opposite direction.

I took several seconds to watch Abigail hurry off into the wind before I turned around and walked quickly to the car. I gave Leighanne a small wave as I crossed in front of the vehicle to get to the driver’s seat. She smiled stiffly back at me, and I found myself bracing for the exchange that was inevitably going to take place as soon as I entered the car. I had no idea what had happened, but my wife’s expression made it perfectly clear that I had done something wrong.
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