Where I Belong(10)

By: Claudia Connor



“No.”

“Then why are you smiling?”

“Am I?” She made a face at his false-innocent tone.

“Does that mean you didn’t have someone else to come with? A man, I mean.”

“Shouldn’t you have asked me that before you asked me to go on your boat?”

“Maybe. But I figured if you did, you would have said no. Then you did say no. Is that the reason?”

“No. Does it matter?” she asked evenly.

“You two ready to order?” Their waitress stopped at their table, holding a pad and pen, saving him from having to say why it mattered. He wasn’t even sure he knew.

“So you come here every year?” Charlotte asked after they’d ordered. “Always for a week?”

“Not always. When I was younger, we’d come for two weeks. Then people got older, got married. Some moved. It’s hard to get everyone together at Christmas, so my parents rent a place, and we come when we can. Sometimes I can’t get away for a week, but I always try to come.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a contractor. Mostly houses, but I’ve done some small offices. Did an entire complex last year.”

“Wow. That’s a big project.” She picked up the margarita the server set down and took a small sip.

“Yeah. I prefer houses. Working with a smaller group of my select guys. Quicker turnaround. What about you? My sister said you worked in finance, but I’m guessing there’s a lot more to it than that.”

“There is. I work at a bank.”

He watched her lick salt from her lips, wishing he were doing the licking.

“Do you like it?”

She paused, her hand hanging midway to the chip basket as if no one had ever asked her that before. “I like numbers. They’re exact,” she said. “It’s either right or wrong, you know?” She lifted her drink. “There’s some comfort in knowing that. Two plus two is always four.”

Owen listened while she explained banking details. Some he understood; some he didn’t. She obviously knew what she was doing, and grew more confident when she talked about her work. He wondered why she needed things to add up, why she found comfort in that.

“My dad is the CFO for a multinational investment firm, so I guess you could say I followed in his footsteps.” She shrugged.

The waitress delivered their food then rushed off to another table.

“Sounds interesting,” he said, not missing a beat in their conversation.

“It is. Or it can be.”

“What about your mom?”

She hesitated, biting her lip, and he didn’t miss the flash of pain in her eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said, sending him a soft smile. She looked down at her cheese enchilada then back up with sadness in her eyes. “My mom was killed in a bombing when I was ten.”

Owen laid his fork and knife on the edge of his plate. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. It was a long time ago, nearly twenty years. Gosh.” She fiddled with the stem of her glass. “It doesn’t seem like that long ago.”

And it still hurt. He could see that. He watched her use her fork to cut another piece of enchilada, wishing he could do something.

“We were living in Munich at the time. I’d lived in thirteen countries by the time I was ten. Mostly Western European, but also Brazil, Canada, and South Africa.”

“That’s a different way to grow up,” he said, deciding not to push the topic of her mom. He didn’t want her to be sad.

“It was, but it’s all I knew.”

“What about languages?”

“I almost always went to the American school, so that wasn’t a problem.” She took another chip. “It was fun. But like I said, I didn’t know anything different. The kids I knew were all doing the same thing, always coming and going.”

Hard to make friends that way, he noted, and maybe that was why she liked the math. Because two plus two never changed. And he suspected she was painting a rosier picture than it was. He didn’t want that. He wanted real; he wanted to know what she’d felt and what she thought. He went for a chip, brushing her hand in the basket, and he smiled. “I bet you know how to cuss in ten languages?”

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