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So the yes he’d given her wasn’t all charitable.
She was hot. There was that. And she was interesting, with her ramblings about weddings, teeth, and idiot men.
Those had been reasons he had so easily agreed to a date with a woman he didn’t know. But the greatest reason had been that he also had a wedding to attend, and he was pretty sure that if he said yes to Rachel, she’d have to say yes to him.
This way, he wouldn’t show up to Corey and April’s wedding by himself.
Stupid Corey. And heartless, superficial April.
There had been a time, not so long ago, when his whole life was the two of them. Corey, his best friend, and April, the girl he was going to marry.
But that was then.
He sighed as he began shutting down the office. His mother would have picked Joy up from work, then taken her over to the center, where she would have spent the afternoon and would now be waiting for him to pick her up and take her back home. He’d show up under the guise of just dropping Joy off, just in time for dinner, where he’d find, as always, that his mother had made enough for him, too.
Dinner was at the front of his mind when he pulled up to the center, only to find that Joy wasn’t waiting outside yet. Before he could find a parking spot, though, the door opened and out she stepped… hand in hand with a guy.
Micah blinked, certain that he was seeing things. Even after all that blinking, though, he was still seeing things, mainly Joy smiling over at this guy, even as he smiled at her, both of them saying a long goodbye.
This was… well, weird. Joy had never, in all of her life, even noticed guys. Their parents hadn’t sheltered her, not at all, and they’d gone so far as to always make sure that she had a peer group around her so she could be with other children who faced the same challenges she did. Now that she was a young woman, his mother had continued to support Joy in finding these opportunities, and Joy loved the center, where there were other young adults with Downs with whom she could cultivate friendships.
And maybe more. Surely not.
Micah resisted the urge to honk the horn at Joy and her friend, choosing instead to stare them both down with an intense glare.
They didn’t seem to notice as Joy let go of the young man’s hand with her smile still bright and made her way over to Micah’s truck.
“Hi, Micah,” she said, climbing in and leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
“Hey, Joy,” he said, giving her a look, even as she looked out the window and waved to the guy who was still standing there watching her.
Oh, yeah. Everyone was looking at Joy.
“Who’s that?,” Micah asked, still not driving.
“I can see that,” he said. “Does your friend have a name?”
“Taylor,” she breathed. “Taylor Knox.”
“And why is he staring at you like that?”
Joy turned to face her brother, blinking at him as though she had forgotten he was there. “Maybe because you haven’t driven away yet, Micah.”
She was bright. No matter what people had said over the years about her limitations and her abilities (and they had said a lot, even if they seldom dared to say it to Micah’s face), she was still sharp, able to deliver quips like this without even seeming to realize how apt they were.
Micah turned away and slid his foot off the brake.
They weren’t even a mile down the road before he tried to bring up Taylor’s name again.
But Joy cut him off before he could start.
“Busy day in the library,” she said. “I thought when summer ended that the crowds would go away, too. You know, with school starting again.”
Micah glanced over at her. “Lots of people in there today?”
“Mmmhmm,” she murmured, clutching her purse in her lap, her feet daintily crossed at her ankles. “Lots of young moms with little kids. We have story time on Tuesdays… but I think we should do more. Maybe have a kids’ morning at the library. Puppet shows, craft time, music…”
“That sounds great, Joy,” he said. Then, back to the issue on his mind, “How long have you known this Taylor guy?”
“Yeah, Taylor Knox.”
Micah looked back at her, concern on his face. “A year? How –“
“Micah,” Joy said, calmly and softly, as though she were still thinking on something that had nothing to do with the young man who had been making sappy, sweet eyes at her.
“I think a kids’ morning at the library is a great idea,” she said. Well, she was thinking on something that had nothing to do with Taylor Knox. Or at least pretending so that Micah wouldn’t ask any more questions. She reached over and turned on his radio, easily locating the station that played praise and worship songs.
This was her cue that she was done talking to him.
Micah refrained from rolling his eyes at this subtle rebuff and kept driving. Before long, they’d pulled up to the house he had grown up in, and he parked his truck right behind their mother’s car.
He turned to tell Joy that he wanted to know more about Taylor, but she already had her back to him and was getting out of the truck.
She didn’t even look back at him until they were in the house, where she hugged their mother and said, “Micah got in a car accident today.”
“Micah,” their mother said, her hand instantly going to her lips.
“Thanks, Joy,” he said. “I would’ve thought you told her earlier.”
“No, I didn’t,” Joy said softly, putting her purse down and moving to the sink to wash her hands. Micah knew that from there she’d head over to the kitchen island, where tomatoes, peppers, and onions were waiting for her to chop them. Their mother made sure that Joy had a wide range of good skills, and she was always doing her part in making their house a home.
“Well, yeah,” Micah said, turning to hug his mother. “I got rear-ended.”
“It was almost like Dad’s wreck,” Joy said quietly, her head down.
Dad’s wreck, as it was, had been nothing like the fender bender they had experienced that morning. Chris Johnson had been coming home from work a year earlier, retirement in sight, plans to take the whole family on a celebratory vacation in a few months, when he was hit head-on. He never saw the other driver coming and likely never felt any pain at all. He left the world thinking of his wife and the meal she had waiting at home and opened his eyes in the presence of Christ and His glory.
She’d made him enchiladas that night. Micah could remember few details from that evening, but one memory he’d held onto was the meal. With his mother in bed, after the doctors had given her a sedative, and one of his aunts holding Joy as she cried, he’d gone into the kitchen and scraped the entire pan of them into the trash.
It had been a hard year for the small family. Particularly for Joy, who kept bringing up their father’s memory again and again. Micah wondered if she was worried that she would forget him more easily than everyone else would.
As if any of them could ever completely forget.
“It wasn’t like Dad’s wreck,” he said to his mother, softly so that Joy wouldn’t hear. “Not even any damage to my truck.”
“Well,” his mother sighed. “That’s good, I guess. Was the other driver okay?”
“She was fine,” he said. “Flustered but fine.”
“Her name is Rachel Finn,” Joy offered helpfully. “She was very nice, Mom. And pretty. She gave Micah her phone number.”
Again. Joy was bright. Bright enough to move their mother beyond the anxious way she’d taken the news of a wreck to a hopeful smile as she regarded her son.
Micah frowned. “Yeah, so I could call if I decided to make some outrageous claim regarding the accident,” he said.
“You won’t do that,” his mother said, pointing him towards the table. “You want to join us for dinner?”
“Of course,” he said.
“I hoped you would call her anyway,” Joy said, still thinking on Rachel. “She seemed so nice.”
“Well, not that it’s any of your business,” he said, sighing, “but I saw her just this afternoon. And will be seeing her more often. She’s my newest patient.”
Joy gasped at this, a smile on her face. “Really?”
“Really,” he said, moving to sit at the table. “Her teeth are in bad shape. She’s got a long list of procedures ahead of her.”
“Oh, Micah,” Joy gushed. “That’s wonderful!”
He frowned at this. “And now that I’ve told you all of that, maybe you can tell me a thing or two, Joy. Mind telling me –“
“Mom,” Joy interrupted. “I’m thinking about starting a kids’ club at the library.”
And Micah couldn’t get one word in edgewise, about Taylor or anything else, for the rest of the evening.
Most of her free time these days belonged to Grant.
That was lame. She knew it. Sisters spending all their time with their stodgy older brothers was, if nothing else, tragically lame.
But at least this older brother came with free food. If she was willing to work for it. Which meant that it wasn’t actually free after all, now that she thought about it.
She’d been working the hostess stand all night while working on a Monte Cristo that she kept just out of view of the restaurant patrons. Grant’s specialties were more complicated and sophisticated, but Rachel was depressed. And a depressed girl could never go wrong with deep-fried goodness.
The restaurant was always busy. They were open six days a week, from early morning until late at night, and there were always people coming through the doors, loading up, leaving, and coming back again. Grant spent the majority of his time in the kitchen. And behind the bar. And on the floor. He spent all of his time everywhere, actually, always busy, never veering from his singular focus on making his restaurant a success.
This is why Rachel found it odd when he pulled up a stool next to hers and looked her squarely in the face.
“Whaa?,” she asked. “Have ahh goh foo on my faaaayce?”
“No,” he said. “But don’t talk with your mouth full, Rachel. Be a lady.”
She rolled her eyes at this, finished her bite, and took a sip of Coke. “There. Now. What?”
“I just wanted to talk to you,” he said, watching her with concern. “Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Work’s fine. Life is fine. I’m fine.”
“Seth’s wedding is coming up,” he said softly.
Ahh, this. Always this. It had been a short engagement, mercifully, but it still felt like an eternity.
She sighed. “Still going through with it, is he?”
She swallowed back the tears. “Well, good for him. Having a life and all. Maybe I should do the same.”
“Rachel,” Grant said, bending down so she’d look him in the eyes. “Seth’s like a brother to me. But he’s not worth this.”
Somewhere in her heart, she knew that this must be true. She knew that no man was worth wasting your whole life on, after all. Even if he’d wanted her, too, would he have been worth all the worship she’d given to him?
No. But still.
“You know,” she said sadly, looking at Grant. “There was a time when I thought that maybe he didn’t like women.”
Grant frowned at this. “What?”
“I mean, I’m not vain, Grant,” she said. “God knows, really He does, that I spent enough time looking like Carrot Top’s brunette kid sister to prevent me from ever thinking too highly of myself.”
“You were ugly,” he confirmed.
“Thanks,” she muttered. “But now that I’m all grown up… I’m not hideous, right?”
“You’re far from hideous.”
“Right,” she said, swallowing. “So, it couldn’t have been that. Then, I thought maybe it was my character. But I’m what he said he wanted. A girl who loved Jesus, who wanted a family one day, who would support what he did… everything.” She blinked at Grant for a moment. “I did everything right.”
He sighed. “Well, you tried really hard, Rachel. I’ll agree to that.”
“Yeah,” she managed. “So, I just concluded, when nothing worked, that he wasn’t into women. And I reasoned that if he was… well, you know… that must mean he was in love with you.”
Grant made an awful face at this. “What?!”
“Yeah, I know,” she sighed. “I mean, he loves Chelsea now, obviously. But you were his main squeeze for a long, long while, Grant.”
“I was not!”
“I’m just telling you how it looked sometimes, when the two of you were always together.”
“Did… did anyone else think that?,” he asked quietly.
“There were a few of us who did,” she said. “And I concluded, on my really bad days, that he was going to run off with you. And you and him in love was going to be easier to take than this, because at least then, I wouldn’t feel quite so jilted, you know.”
Grant said nothing for a moment. “I’m truly, truly disturbed by this, Rachel.”
“You think you’re disturbed, you should have been me when the two of you were living together.”
“He had his own room! And I like women,” Grant said, scoffing at this.
“I know, Grant,” she said.
“And I could have done better than Seth if I was that way,” he added. “I mean, he’s not even that hot, honestly.”
She frowned at this. “Do you see why people were talking?”
“I’m just saying,” he said.
“What’s wrong with us?,” she pleaded with him. “You say you like women, but how long has it been since you’ve been out on a date?”
He thought about this for a second. “A while,” he offered diplomatically. “But, hey, to hear you tell it, maybe the pickings have been slim since everyone thinks I’m Seth’s man and all –“
“You know how long it’s been for me?,” she asked, interrupting him. “Never, Grant. I’ve never been in a relationship, because I’m always the good friend! Rachel, the poster child for ‘just friends.’” She blew out a breath. “Mom’s never going to have any grandchildren.”
“Well, let’s just blow this all out of proportion,” Grant retorted. “And let’s make your problem about me, too.”
“You’re a good brother for offering,” she said, patting his hand.
“I’m being sarcastic –“
“I know that, Grant,” she sighed. “I’m just so tired of being… nothing. Of being the girl who waits around for something to happen, for life to happen, for my chance to finally come.”
This was the sad truth. The worst part about Seth moving on and living his life was that it reminded her of all the years she’d spent doing the exact opposite. She wasn’t sure if she mourned the loss of him as much as she mourned the loss of so much time, of so many of the best years of her life, spent waiting on him.
“God doesn’t intend for you to wait around, Rachel,” Grant said.
“Have you seen a single, godly man hanging out around here?,” she asked, indicating the space around them. “It’s not like God has been keeping me from waiting by offering me any good solutions to my problem.”
“Your chance to live, the solution to your problem, doesn’t lie in a man,” he chided.
“No,” she said. “And even if it had… I just wanted him. I just wanted Seth.” She took a steadying breath. “But you’re right. No more. I have to live. I can’t keep waiting around… especially since he’ll be married soon enough.”
“Exactly,” he said. “You need to do whatever it is that you’ve been waiting to do. You need to do it all right now.”
She thought about this. What did she really want to do? What had she been putting off on the off chance that something could come from her relationship with Seth?
She wasn’t even all that sure, pathetically enough.
“What do you want to do, Rachel?”
She swallowed, thinking, the ideas beginning to surface. “Travel. See the world. Read a lot of books. Sappy, sweet chick lit books that men hate.”
“Ugggghh,” Grant shuddered. “Chick lit.”
“Yeah, and I want to learn how to dance. And cook like you do. And… just live, you know?”
“Then,” Grant said, “do it. Do it all. Be who God’s calling you to be, not who you thought you should have been.”
She thought about this. It would be a new day. She would be a new woman. She would be more than what she’d become. She’d be who God was calling her to be.
Rachel nodded at this. “Yeah.” She looked to him. “Yeah!”
“Starting today, right?,” he said, smiling.
“Starting right after that wretched wedding,” she sighed, swallowing back tears again.