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Apparently, Jordan didn’t mean dinner. Dinner would have been some pizza or burgers, but the place Paul was in demanded a dress jacket. The three of them sat at a small circular table underneath a private chandelier. A waiter came by now and then to check on them using an accent Paul was pretty sure was fake, but not in an obnoxious way.
Paul used an oddly small fork to pick through the meat and vegetables on his plate. “This is a bit more exorbitant than I was thinking.” He smiled, hoping his friend would understand the comment wasn’t a complaint.
“I saved all year for this, but not a ton, just a couple hundred,” Jordan said.
“It’s very kind of you, Jordan,” Mary said.
“I figured you must have cooked a thousand meals for me over the years.” Jordan smiled. “It’ll be weird being so far away from our parents, so I just wanted to do something to say thank you.”
His eyes widened as Paul’s mother looked around, probably for Jordan’s family. “I already took my folks out,” he said quickly. “I know it would have been nice for all of us to eat together, but I wanted time with just my folks, and I wanted time with just you two.”
“All of us could never have been together,” Paul muttered. The comment had all the bitterness the words implied. They just fell out of Paul’s mouth, but they were true. He didn’t want to ruin the mood, but he did it just the same.
“I still miss him.” His mother almost whispered the comment.
“I’m sorry.” Jordan spoke as if he were the one who brought Bill up.
“I don’t know what to do.” Again, Paul was only thinking out loud, but the thoughts had been brewing in his head for months. “I can’t think straight. I know I’m supposed to move on. I know I’m supposed to go back to the project. I know life is supposed to keep going, but I don’t know how to do that because all I can think about is the way life was supposed to be.”
By the time he finished speaking, tears were flowing down his face. How had this happened? Why was he in the middle of some fancy restaurant crying his eyes out like some baby?
Two hands, one from his friend and the other from his mother, gently touched Paul’s back. Paul shot up from his chair and darted out. He had to escape. He didn’t want to deal with it, certainly not in public. It was all Paul could do to resist shouting at them. No matter how stupid the thoughts were, they kept flooding into his mind.
They were over Bill’s death so easily! They all moved on as if Bill never existed! Then they talk about him like a few words would make any difference.
If Paul hadn’t rushed out of the restaurant, he’d have shouted until he got kicked out. He burst past the waiting area and a confused employee who shouted at him not to run. He flew through the doors and turned into the first place he could find.
It turned out to be a dead-end alley. Of course …
Nobody stood there, waiting.
… to be continued …