“I heard you getting in last night,” his mother replied, taking a carton of milk from the refrigerator. “It was 2am – I thought you could probably use a lie in. Where on earth did you get to?”
Nick shrugged as he topped his cereal with milk and took up a spoon to push it around his plate disinterestedly.
“Couldn’t sleep so I went out and ran a couple of miles. It’s been a while since I last saw this neighbourhood.”
Jane sat down opposite her son and wrapped her hands around a steaming mug of coffee.
“Can you believe they knocked down the old bleachers at the park?” she asked. “But it was probably only a matter of time before someone fell through one of the seats. I guess they had to go.”
Nick nodded and began to eat. Since his arrival in Florida, he’d quickly decided that small talk was more painful than confronting the issue staring everyone in the face. If his mother wanted to avoid the topic, he would let her. But he wasn’t going to encourage her to act as if Bob wasn’t going to arrive in under an hour. As if Hannah wouldn’t be with him. As if the child who could be his son - and Jane’s own grandson - wouldn’t soon be before them all.
“Would you like me to stay… When your dad and Hannah arrive,” Jane began carefully, as though she had read his mind. “Would you like me to be here?”
Nick placed his spoon carefully on the table beside his bowl.
“You know, Mom, I’ve been thinking about it ever since you called and I still don’t even know how to begin dealing with this. But I think – and please don’t be offended by this, Mom – I think it’s probably best for everyone if Hannah and I talk alone.”
“Honey, of course I’m not offended,” Jane replied, reaching across the table to lay a comforting hand over Nick’s. “I’ll stay out of your way but you know I’ll be right here as soon as you need me.”
“I know, Mom. Thank you,” Nick said as he gripped her hand. “For everything.”
Jane smiled at him.
“You are my son.”
Nick looked up as the kitchen door opened and Bob’s head appeared around it. Five minutes earlier, Jane had said something about errands and had disappeared outside. Nick couldn’t be entirely sure where his mother had told him she was going – his mind racing as it was, he wasn’t sure he could accurately recall his own name.
“You okay?” Bob asked, taking in his brother’s frazzled appearance.
“I’m fine. Is Hannah with you?”
“Yeah, she’s getting the baby out of his car seat,” Bob replied. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you need a glass of water?”
“I’m fine,” Nick repeated, forcing his mouth into what he hoped was something like a reassuring smile. Bob’s expression showed he had been less than convincing.
“Okay… Well… your mom said you didn’t want me to stay so… I’m going to head off. But I have my mobile on me and I’ll only be at the dock if you want to come down and talk later, all right?”
Nick nodded again, swallowing hard as the sound of footsteps on the deck reached him. Bob looked him over again and made his own weak attempt at a smile.
“Okay. Good luck, Nick. Give me a call later.”
Bob moved away from the door and Nick listened to his brother say a polite goodbye on the deck. Moments later he heard Bob’s car door close and the engine start. His head filled with images of Cassie, he crossed the kitchen and pulled the door open.