the evening, not just the food. Eating with someone — anyone — made a nice change of pace. And as much as she was unwilling to admit it, she liked Jeremy. What did that say about her taste in men? No wonder she was such a terrible matchmaker. She went to do the door, reminding herself she didn’t need to hurry.
“Hey, there,” she said, and he said, “Hi,” and rolled into the hallway. She could tell right away that something was bothering him, but she couldn’t tell what. She shut the door and showed him into the kitchen. If she asked how his day was and he pretended nothing was wrong, that would suck because something was wrong. But she didn’t really know him well enough to be all, “Tell me what’s wrong,” especially if it was something personal, so that sucked. Maybe she should have stuck with On Demand movies and a little time to herself.
She put the breadsticks into a basket, folded a napkin over them to keep the heat in, and set the basket on the table. She got a bottle of white wine out of the fridge, then stopped, wondering if that was too much like a date. Well, if one of them got confused, the other could set him or her straight. She brought the wine over to the counter and rummaged in drawers until she found the corkscrew.
“So, tell me what’s going on,” she finally said, like she had said to every client who had come into her kitchen for the last several years.
He shoved his chair forward with short angry movements, going to the window on the far wall and staring outside, his back to her. She set the bottle down at the counter.
“Was it something I said?”
If she’d been hoping that would smooth over the emotion and get them back on their normal footing, she was disappointed.
“It’s not you. I just — ”
“You don’t have to tell me,” she said hopefully. “We can — ”
“My sister-in-law brought the kids to the shop this afternoon. Stopped by after school. My nephew had been working on project for school, a family tree, that he wanted to show his dad — you know, Nate.”
“Okay,” Rilka said, having no idea where the land mines were but knowing they existed.
Rilka imagined a construction paper tree with pictures stapled to it, then remembered what century she was living in and revised that to be a Photoshopped digital collage. “Okay,” she said again.
“The picture of me was from before.”
He had his back to her and she had no idea what exactly was happening or what she should say.
“It must be frustrating,” she said, groping her way. You could treat him like everyone else but he wasn’t like everyone else. So she had to treat him like Jeremy, who was not everyone else, just as she wanted him to treat her like Rilka, who was also not everyone else. But she didn’t know him very well. Who was Jeremy, and how did you treat him?
“Is this about the injury?” she asked. She came up behind him to see what he was staring at. The brick wall of the building opposite.
“Look, I’ve accepted what happened,” he said, sounding restless and not very accepting. “I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it. And I’ve got a job I like, and people who care about me.”
Rilka thought back to what Marilyn had said: when you had to start counting your blessings, it meant your life sucked. “But?” she asked.
“But that doesn’t mean I love every minute of it. I just — it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” His voice trailed off. She saw his hands clenched into fists on his lap.
She didn’t know what to say.
“No,” she said. “I don’t suppose it was.”
That didn’t do anything for him. He kept his back to her, his fists still clenched in his lap.
“So maybe you need to give your nephew some photos of you from now.”
There was a long moment and then he said, “He has photos of me now. He has photos of me and him from now. He has all the fucking
photos he wants.”
And then it hit her. “So he