Grace hummed a tune as she prepared the plates. The perfect steak, mushrooms, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and red wine. All of James’s favorites. He was sure to love it. After all, he was the one who had taught her to cook properly. Before him, she was living on fast food burgers and microwaved meals. Life was so much more beautiful since they met. Even after everything that had happened since.
She smiled at James as she set the plate down in front of him. As she sat down across the table with her own dinner, her expression turned hopeful. “Here we are. How does it look?”
When he didn’t answer, Grace shook her head. “Still giving me the silent treatment. Oh, well. I hope you don’t mind me filling the silence.”
She dug her fork into the mashed potatoes and brought a mouthful to her lips. Speaking around the food, she continued. “Tiffany called today. She says the school is treating her very well. I’m really glad we found that place, you know.” She swallowed, looking deep into James’s eyes. “Yes, it’s further away than either of us would like, but she’s doing much better than she would at home. We just weren’t able to give her the kind of help she needs.”
Grace dug into the potatoes again. “Have you tried the mushrooms? No? I used plenty of garlic when I sauteed them, just like you like it. Oh, don’t glare at me like that. I know you didn’t want to send Tiffany to boarding school. But she’s doing much better there. You should be happy for her. Plus, it gives us more time together. Isn’t that something good?”
She picked up her knife and cut into her steak. As the juices spilled out onto the plate, she inhaled deeply. “Perfect medium rare. Just like you taught me. Do you remember our first date? I thought you were going to walk out right then when I ordered my steak well done. I’m so glad you didn’t.” She smiled hopefully at him, then sighed. “This isn’t about Tiffany. Is it about Jimmy?”
Silence hung over the table between them, broken only by the gentle clatter of silverware on plates. After a few minutes of tense silence, Grace spoke up. “It wasn’t our fault, James. Kids get sick. Parents can’t protect them from everything. What happened to Jimmy was tragic, and I miss him every day. But you can’t keep blaming me for what happened.”
She paused and looked at him. “You’re not still blaming yourself, are you? James, we got him to the hospital as quick as we could. You couldn’t have done anything more. We’re not doctors or miracle workers.”
Silence again. She sighed heavily. “At least try the glazed carrots. I worked very hard to get them right, and they’re only good when they’re hot.”
Minutes passed in heavy silence. Metal tapped and scraped gently against ceramic. Grace opened her mouth to speak a few times, but closed it again each time. Finally, she set down her fork. “James. I . . . I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do. You haven’t spoken to me since Tiffany left.” Her voice rose angrily with each word, until she was practically shouting. “I can’t live like this. Please say something. Anything. Yell, scream, blame me for everything. Just say something!”
Silence. Grace was standing now. She stared into James’s eyes, her own filling with angry tears. “James, please. I love you. I’ve loved you since the moment we met. Please say something.”
Nothing. She sobbed once, gently, then sat and picked up her fork. “At least talk to Tiffany next time she calls. It’s only been a week, but she misses you so much. She’s never been away from home for this long before. And after what happened to Jimmy . . . you know she doesn’t really understand it. Her mind just works so differently. I hated sending her away, but even before what happened you know we couldn’t have handled her on our own.”
She picked up a carrot and looked at it. “How did we get that kind of luck? Our daughter too difficult for us to raise on our own, and our son . . .” She set the carrot back down on her plate. “If I had known, James. If I had known, I never would have taken him with me. I knew Susan’s husband had a cold, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. How could I have known Jimmy had lung problems? He was three years old. The doctors never saw anything. It was just bad luck, James. Not our fault.”
The silence settled in again. Grace shook her head. “Fine. Don’t talk to me. Blame me for everything. Hate me forever because I made a mistake. But at least try the potatoes. I added extra butter, just for you.”
The rest of the meal passed in silence. Ten minutes later, Grace looked down at her empty plate. Tentatively, she spoke. “I made pie for dessert. Would you like some?”
James didn’t answer. Grace, her face etched with sadness, spoke in a defeated tone. “Okay. I’ll just go get myself a slice.” She picked up her plate and walked to the kitchen.
“It’s apple. Your favorite.” Her voice was loud enough to be heard in the dining room, but her heart wasn’t in it anymore. She set her plate in the sink. Her hands gripped the counter for a moment as she leaned over the sink, sobbing silently.
Jimmy’s death had destroyed her life. Her marriage, her family. Tiffany, with her disability, just couldn’t understand the reality of what had happened. And James. James had barely spoken since the funeral. He hadn’t said anything at all since they sent Tiffany away to boarding school. Grace was well past the end of her rope.
She inhaled deeply, then let the air out in a long sigh. Deciding she wasn’t in the mood for pie after all, she turned and walked back into the dining room.
James was still there, sitting at the table. Her head tilted slightly in concern. “You haven’t even touched your food. Would you like me to heat up something else? I think there’s a lasagna in the freezer.”
His head pitched forward, and he suddenly dropped face first into the mashed potatoes. The gun dropped from his hand, his fingers finally having lost the last of their grip. It clattered to the floor, landing in the dried blood that had pooled there a week before.
Grace smiled. “I knew you’d like it. Just let me know if you want seconds, okay?”