I looked past him, taking in the people filling the café. He let me take my time. Then I took a deep breath and looked back at him waiting patiently. “Michael and Allison were in an accident on the interstate. Some kid and his girlfriend came on way too fast and hit them.” I looked away, trying to tell the story without bringing the pictures back. “Michael’s car rolled. The kid ran into the embankment. He and his girlfriend were killed instantly.” I looked back at Dominic, his face filled with concern. “They had so much cocaine in their systems, the coroner was amazed that their hearts hadn’t exploded.” I just sat there and let the impact of that basic fact sink in.
“Anyway, Allison had a broken arm and a minor concussion.” Again I paused, though not for effect. This pause was for strength. “Michael was flown to a shock trauma unit. He had several broken ribs, two broken legs, a broken arm, a punctured lung, severe internal bleeding, and severe head trauma. They removed his spleen, part of his liver, and part of his intestines. His skull had been crushed on one side from hitting the window.” I took another steadying breath.
Dominic had reached out to hold my hands again. Tears were flowing steadily from my eyes, and every so often he would dab at them with his napkin. “You don’t have to tell me,” he said softly.
“No. I want to. I need to tell you. You’re not from here, so you didn’t read the paper and come running to offer your condolences. I need someone to only hear my words, not the media’s. I don’t want you to pity me. Just help to give me strength.” He nodded.
After another deep breath, I looked again into those green eyes and continued my tale. “Michael is now confined to a wheel-chair. He can’t speak very well, though he learned to write somewhat with his left hand, so he communicates through a combination of the two. It’s like a child that’s just learning how to talk, but has the mind and emotions of a grown man. He has only part of one lung and is on oxygen therapy. It’s almost like he had a stroke, ya know? He can move his left side, but it’s very limited. His food is pureed and I feed him with a spoon.”
I sighed some of the stress out of my system. It felt good to talk about it with Dominic. After the initial shock had worn off, the only person who really stuck by me was Cassie. I had the pity of everyone in Church Hill, but I didn’t want or need pity. I just needed companionship. Dominic would give that to me. I was sure of that.
“Enough about my complicated life.” I waved a hand as if to clear the air. “Tell me about your store. I’ve been waiting for it to open. It seems like it’s taking forever.”
“Tell me about it.” He rolled his eyes. “Building a new store is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined. There are so many hoops to jump through. But, thankfully, I have corporate to step in when I need them. They get things done. We’re working on the finishing touches now. You know, all the interior stuff. I’m looking at opening, hopefully, in about two to three weeks. I have a management staff, and we start hiring for the regular positions next week. Know anyone who needs a job?”
“As a matter of fact, Cassie said her friend was thinking about looking for a new job. I’ll send her your way.”
“On a more personal note, I’d like to give you my address and phone number,” he said. “And maybe get yours in return?” He pulled a business card out of his pocket while he asked the waitress for a pen. On the back he wrote his address and phone number. “I live in Church Hill,” he said as he handed me the card.
I looked at his angular handwriting and then at his handsome face. “You live two blocks away from me and Michael.”
His beautiful smile graced his features again. “Really? That’s great. You’ll have to introduce me to your family. If that’s okay of course. I can’t believe it. We’re neighbors…in a sense.”
When the waitress laid the bill on the table, he picked it up. He laid down the money for the bill and a tip. Then he stood and, always the gentleman, offered me a hand. I accepted graciously, and allowed him to help me to my feet.