For the next few days Ethan mostly hid away at his desk at work, not even leaving for lunch or to get coffee, under the worried glances of his assistant Grace.
Since he evidently did not want to speak about whatever was bothering him, she resorted to checking on him frequently, making sure he remembered occasional breaks and meals.
She was very professional and Ethan was very comfortable around her.
In his mind he thanked his mother many times for insisting he hire his own assistant. Grace worked for him for almost 6 months now and they were already a good team.
A brief knock – more out of courtesy than anything since they all had an open door policy here.
“Ethan, there is someone here to see you. A Mrs. Sullivan. She is not on the schedule or in our database.” Grace informed him in her professional matter-of -fact tone.
“Did she say what she wanted?”
“To see you and that it was personal, which is why I am even bothering you with this rather than sending her on her way.” Grace shrugged.
“Fine, have the reception send her up.”
The secretary nodded as a confirmation and left. Five minutes later he heard two female voices, the typical knock and Grace appeared followed by ….
“Amy?!” Ethan nearly keeled over.
“Hi Ethan. Do you have a few minutes to speak?” she asked politely.
“Uh – yeah, sure, have a seat.” Ethan could not hide his surprise.
“Excuse me, would you like a beverage, soda, water, coffee, tea?” Grace asked politely.
“No thanks.” Amy smiled briefly at Grace.
“Thank you Grace, we’re fine. Oh, could you hold calls for a bit?” Ethan requested.
“Of course.” Grace left.
Ethan pointed at the couch and Amy sat down, joined by Ethan, while he stared at her like a ghost.
“You have a secretary now…” she remarked.
“Yes, Grace, she is very helpful. I don’t know how I ever managed without her.”
“Great. Ethan, I was wondering if you would let me see Blake.”
“Sure, you are his mother. How long are you in town for?”
“I actually just moved back in the area. San Myshuno to be exact. Old downtown area.”
“Oh, maybe I can bring him over …” Ethan suggested.
“Maybe. Or I can come to the house, since you are doing me a favor. Unless you do not live there anymore…” Amy suggested.
“No, I still do. Why did you give the receptionist a fake last name? All of them, including Grace know that I was married. Grace just never met you. Or are you embarrassed to be a Cameron now?” Ethan was very confused.
“That’s not it. Ethan I … remarried. Sullivan is my new name.” Amy was visibly uncomfortable sharing that bit.
“Oh!” Ethan felt like all blood was drained from his body all at once. The sudden confirmation of finality, smashing the tiny bud of hope that started sprouting when he saw Amy again, the hope she was here to rekindle their love, be a mother to Blake and … his wife again.
“Ethan, look, I am sorry. I did not know how to tell you more gently. I never meant to hurt you. Or Blake. I just needed time away. A new start. Unfortunately it ended up not including you. I was not in a good spot, emotionally and physically. I never meant to cause you pain.” Amy’s tone matched her words.
“Could have fooled me. Not like I ever got a chance to talk with you about any of it. You made a decision and Blake and I just had to live with it. I could even somehow justify that you just didn’t love me anymore, but leaving your own son behind …”
“I agree Ethan. Mistakes were made. I was heartbroken by all the stress, feeling unloved, desolate and abandoned by you and when I found out I was sick on top of all that, I … well, spooked.” she seemed affected by her own words.
“I guess I am supposed to ask now how sick you were and you will give me this elaborate disease that explains everything. Including abandoning your own child for years.” Ethan just couldn’t sugarcoat his feelings anymore.
“I did not abandon Blake. I left him in your and your family’s care. There was no better place for him in this entire world. And no, you don’t have to ask and it is not meant as an excuse, rather an explanation, but I was diagnosed with cancer. A curable one, thyroid cancer, luckily caught early enough. But I did not know that then, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to make things even worse for you, or Blake, so I never told you, but I knew I had to get away from everything right away. I am now in remission and tested negative for cancer, but it was a long and painful way to get there.”
Ethan closed his eyes.
He felt like a heartless person, he knew he should tell her the usual things people say when confronted with such news, but he was completely numb.
The pain of his train-wreck date with Blythe was still in his bones, now this shock as the cherry on top. Remarried. Lost to him for good now.
When she realized he was not going to say anything while he was trying to digest the news, Amy spoke softly.
“Ethan, you are a wonderful man …”
“Yeah, yeah, spare me. I already know the spiel, I am oh-so great, just not your type, but I am sure you new husband ticks all the boxes. Good for you, congratulations on being cured and your marriage. I have to work, as you know, but we can probably find some time for you to see Blake on the weekend. Not alone, of course, I am going to be there and we’re going to start off with short meetings. After all, Blake doesn’t even know you now.”
“That’s fine. I’ll text you my number and address, so you have it again. Do you prefer me coming to you, or would you prefer to meet in a neutral place?”
Good question, Ethan thought.
The idea of her back in the home they once shared wasn’t enticing, but being in public with that shit show was even less so. He just didn’t trust himself to hold down his emotions well enough.
“Let’s meet at the house. Will your new husband have a problem with that?” saying that word made Ethan feel odd. Husband. Another man had his old title. Ugh.
“No, he trusts me.”
Ethan bit his tongue, even though a snarky remark out of anger was locked and loaded, but that would not change anything.
He had his son to think of.
Blake had the right to know his mother.
“3 PM work for you?” Ethan suggested, his voice quiet and resigned.
“Sounds fantastic. Thank you, Ethan. I know I waved all rights to see Blake and you would have every right to tell me to go to hell. It is very big of you that you are doing this anyway.” Amy smiled slightly, then got up and headed out the door, when she turned around.
“Thank you Ethan. Really, thank you. And I really am very sorry how it all ended. You really are a great guy, a wonderful man and you will find someone who deserves you more than I did.”
“Who says I haven’t already?” Ethan felt defensive.
“Sorry again, that was presumptuous. I hope you will be very happy with her. I mean it. And I hope maybe one day we can be friends again. I really miss you a lot.” she was now obviously fighting with her emotions as well and left quickly without another word.
Ethan felt like punching the walls, but no matter which one he would choose, someone would hear him. Last thing he needed was long explanations of this BS.
Grace appeared, looking concerned.
“Yeah, fucking fantastic is what I am!” Ethan growled.
“I figured as much. The door was open, I couldn’t help but overhearing …”
“Yeah, welcome to the mess that once was my life. Actually, still is as it turns out.”
“Yeah, that was pretty rough….”
“Nothing like finding out your ex finally came back after disappearing for two years to tell you that she has a new husband. But at least she remembered she has a son. I guess that’s good news.” Ethan couldn’t help the sarcasm.
“Sounds like you need a drink.”
“If you got one, I’d take it.”
“Sorry, I do not, but I know where to find some. Your mother never removed the bar from your grandfather’s old office.”
“Instigator! Trying to get me in trouble?”
“I have on good authority that no matter what you do, you wouldn’t get fired.”
“Probably true. Are you suggesting I should get wasted in my mom’s office and call it a day?” Ethan almost managed a smile.
“As long as you sign that stack of documents I have waiting for you first.”
“More signatures? Are you hoarding them?” Ethan had to smile now.
“Yes, I use them as wallpaper all over my house. Speaking of house, I need to leave on time today.”
“Sure, no problem.”
He signed everything, and not long after that she told him that she was leaving for the day.
Ethan had just sat down at his laptop, when there was a knock and Grace was back.
“Umm… I really hate to ask, but how good are you with cars?” Grace looked worried.
“Cars?” Ethan got up and walked over to her.
“Mine won’t start and I have no clue why. Ran fine this morning.”
“I’ll take a look.” Ethan said with an encouraging smile.
Ethan checked a few things under the hood of Grace’s car and found a lot of corrosion on the battery connectors.
“It may just clean off, not sure if the battery was able to recharge though. I’ll bring some tools in tomorrow.” Ethan offered.
“Crap! I really need to get home now. I’ll call an Uber.” she pulled out her phone, still looking worried.
“I can take you.” Ethan offered immediately.
“Ethan, you already helped so much.”
“My car is right here. By the time that Uber gets here we’ll be half way there. It’s not like you live on the moon.” he pointed behind her to his car.
So off they went.
Ethan couldn’t help but wonder what he ever did to deserve fate to be such a douche to him when Grace told him she lived in Willow Creek.
Of all places.
A glorious reminder of his very failed goodbye kiss with Blythe in Willow Creek.
Oh happy day.
But none of this was Grace’s fault and she had saved his butt so many times by staying late or lending a hand without ever charging overtime.
This was the least he could do.
He drove up to a traditional style home, unlike what he had expected. She looked very modern.
“Would you like to come inside for a moment? A cup of coffee is the least I can offer.” Grace still seemed embarrassed about all of it.
“I’ll take a coffee.” Ethan heard himself say, before he could even really think about it.
Maybe all the rejection recently made him crave some open invite.
She instructed him to park in a parking lot next to the house and they walked up to the front door.
It did feel a bit odd, considering they worked together, but somehow it also felt … safe.
They went inside, and the moment he stepped over the threshold he doubted his decision.
What if she misunderstood his intentions?
That would be very awkward.
Last thing he needed was another awkward relationship with someone he worked with. Especially as close as they worked together.
“Gracie, is that you?” they heard an elderly woman’s voice.
“Yes, grandma, of course it is me.” Grace replied, walking into the living room, followed by Ethan.
“You are late. Did something happen?” an older lady was sitting on the couch and now looked up at them.
“My car wouldn’t start. But my boss was so nice to drop me off. Grandma, meet Ethan Cameron, my wonderful boss. Ethan, this is my grandma.” Grace introduced.
“Grandma? I would have assumed you are her sister.” Ethan gallantly said and smiled at the elder lady in the chair.
“Oh my goodness, what a charming young man. Hee hee hee.” the older lady was visibly enticed, Ethan caught Grace’s appreciative smile, then continued dead-serious.
“Oh, surely you will join us for dinner. I have already started it, Gracie would you check on it for me?”
“I will grandma. But I am not sure if Ethan can stay. He is a very busy man …” Grace tried.
“I can stay for dinner.” Ethan said quickly. Why, he couldn’t even explain to himself.
“What a lovely gentleman! Your parents must be very proud! Accomplished, well mannered and polished. I raised my little Gracie to be a wholesome and polished young lady as well, after her parents were taken from us in such a …”
“Grandma! Ethan really does not want to know our family sob stories. Let me get that coffee started for you quickly, Ethan.” Grace turned towards the kitchen.
“I’ll give you a hand.” Ethan offered, following her.
As soon as they entered the kitchen Grace turned to Ethan, who sat down where Grace pointed.
“So sorry about that. She wasn’t feeling well this morning, I expected her to be in bed or I wouldn’t have offered you to come inside.” Grace explained.
“No need to be sorry. I think she is very nice.”
The grandmother appeared in the kitchen now too, walking slowly and a little unsteady.
“Do you still have your grandmother, young man?” she asked.
“Grandma, what are you doing in the kitchen? Please sit down.” Grace immediately told her.
“Gracie, I am not a fragile piece of art. We never have company anymore. Let me enjoy this fine young gentleman. Those are way too rare nowadays. All those men wearing their pants around their ankles, thinking they are the bee’s knees, while you cannot even get a proper sentence out of them, let alone that they would possess even the most basic of social graces and manners …”
“Grandma! Please sit!” Grace insisted.
“Fine.” the grandmother sounded almost pouty.
She looked at Ethan, then smiled, which he returned before he spoke.
“To answer your question, yes, I still have my grandma and grandpa, and see them a lot actually. My entire family is very close. My grandpa even still works with me sometimes. He founded that company when he was only 22.” Ethan told the elder woman.
“Oh, how wonderful. Tell me more about your family. Did you grow up near here?”
“Grandma, hold the interrogation. Dinner is ready. Lets’ eat.”
“Yes, let’s. And you sit next to my Gracie,young man. The young ones should sit together, makes it easier for me to read your lips. The hearing, you see.”
“Your hearing is fine and you cannot read lips.” Grace told her.
“Eat your dinner, young lady!”
Ethan suppressed a chuckle as he sat down next to Grace with his plate. This reminded him a lot of his family. All that was missing was a dad making off-color jokes or play the guitar.
They continued the light conversation, had coffee after dinner, then Grace helped her grandmother to bed, while Ethan sat on the couch waiting.
When she came back she smiled apologetic.
“Thank you for being so nice about this. You really didn’t have to stay for the whole interrogation. I know you’re busy.”
“I enjoyed myself. Hope I didn’t impose. But you never mentioned that you took care of your grandma.” Ethan meant every word.
“Not really a very professional topic. But yeah, I look after her. The least I can do, she raised me. We don’t have other family. Just each other.”
“Hey, want me to swing by on my way in tomorrow to pick you up? I’ll probably come in a little early to see if I can get your car running. May just require a good cleaning. Hopefully.” Ethan thanked his dad for teaching him about cars.
“Gawd you are awesome. I should probably say no, but I really do not have many options here and it does sound great, so that would be great and very appreciated.”
Both stood up and walked slowly to the front door.
“Cool, I’ll text you when I leave home, gives you about 20 minutes to get ready.”
Ethan said, already outside now, turning around.
“Thank you Ethan. Have a great night. And drive safe.”
“I will. You have a great night too. And thanks again for dinner.”
Driving home he was surprised to catch himself smiling. That wasn’t half bad. Definitely not the horrors he had expected. Actually, it had been a really nice evening. Who’d have thought.
After picking up Blake from his parents and tucking him into bed, Ethan sat down to watch some TV when he got a text from Ezzy.
“Fantastic! The sister is planning blind dates for me and my parents are in on it. Shoot me now!” Ethan moaned.