Sizzling(Buchanans, Book 3)(16) by Susan Mallery
Relief darkened his pale gray eyes. “Exactly. I didn’t spill.”
“Good.” Impulsively she held out her hand. “I’m Dani.”
They shook hands and she felt nothing. Not a spark, not a hint of a spark. There was an absolute lack of sparkage. Thank God.
“It’s crazy in here,” she said. “I’d try to avoid the rush, but I don’t know when that is.”
“Me, either.” A couple moved toward them and Gary took a step toward her. “I’m here several times a week for my cup of courage.”
She stepped into a less crowded corner. “You get courage from coffee?”
“From the caffeine. I teach nearby and my afternoon students are surly. This keeps me on my toes.” He raised his cup as he spoke.
He was the kind of man easily overlooked and forgotten, Dani thought. Light brown hair, pale eyes, pale skin. Slender. Nicely dressed, but not flashy. He seemed sincere rather than charming, intelligent rather than physical. All good things.
“What do you teach?” she asked.
“Theology and math at the community college. Most of my students are taking theology to fulfill a requirement, and everyone knows people hate math. I should try to find a fun subject that everyone would like.”
“Is there one?”
“What did you like in college?” he asked.
“Not math,” she said, then smiled. “You probably hear that a lot.”
“I can handle it.”
“I took a lot of classes in restaurant management. That’s what I do now—work in a restaurant. I’ve been an assistant to a chef for a while. I used to manage a place in Renton. Burger Heaven.”
He nodded. “I’ve been there. Great milkshakes. Do you like being an assistant to the chef?”
“I love working for Penny, but it’s time for me to make a change. That’s what I was thinking about when we bumped into each other. That I need to take the risk and go for it. But I’m nervous. What if I fail? What if I succeed? I can’t…”
She stopped talking and stared at him. “I can’t believe I’m just blurting this all out.”
“I appreciate you talking to me, Dani. I’m happy to listen.”
There was something about the way he said it—as if he really meant it.
“But I don’t know you.”
“Sometimes we recognize a kinship in another person,” he said.
If any other guy had tried a line like that on her, she would have hit him in the stomach. But the way Gary spoke the words made her think he really meant them.
“Still, I don’t usually dump stuff on strangers,” she muttered.
“I’m glad I was your exception.” He glanced at his watch. “But I have forty-five bored students waiting to hear about comparative theology through the ages. I have to go.”
He sounded as if he regretted the fact. She kind of did, too.
“Thanks for listening. I appreciate your time,” she said.
“I’m glad I ran into you.”
They stared at each other for a second, and then he was gone. Dani walked out the other door and headed for her car.
That was good, she thought. Meeting Gary had reminded her that all men weren’t lying, cheating, smarmy weasels. There were still some nice guys around.
REID FLIPPED through the fan letters in front of him. Some were typed and sounded more like they were from forty-year-old truck drivers than actual kids, but a few really got to him.
He kept returning to the one from Frankie. A kid dying from some form of cancer Reid couldn’t begin to pronounce. The kid who had asked to meet Reid as his last wish.
“Damn it all to hell,” Reid muttered and picked up Gloria’s phone. He punched in the number the kid had written on his letter and leaned back in his chair.
A woman answered. “Hello?”
“Hi. This is…” Reid hesitated. The letter was three months old. Maybe he should wait to say who he was. “Is Frankie there?”
The woman’s voice came out in a sob. Reid stiffened as he heard what sounded like crying.
“I’m sorry. It’s just…” More crying. “He’s gone. It’s been two weeks. Frankie died. I knew it was going to happen. It was inevitable. We all knew it. So I expected to be sad, you know? But why am I shocked? Why do I keep expecting to see him? To hear him? He was just a little boy. So little and now he’s all alone.”
Reid felt as if he’d taken a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball to the gut. The air rushed out of his lungs and he couldn’t speak. Probably a good thing, because what was he supposed to say? That Frankie was in heaven and hanging out with the angels? Who believed that after losing a kid?
“I’m sorry,” he managed at last. “I’m really sorry.”
“Thank you.” The woman cleared her throat. “I didn’t mean to go off like that. I just can’t seem to get it together.” She drew in a breath. “I didn’t get your name. Why are you calling?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Reid said. “I won’t bother you again.”
He hung up the phone and let the letter fall to the ground.
Two weeks. Two f**king weeks. If he’d bothered to read his fan mail even two weeks ago, he could have been there. Could have gone to see the kid.
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