Wearing pressed khakis and an open-necked blue shirt—the color of his eyes—Mitch Langworth strolled toward my car when I eased it into a parking spot in front of the steakhouse. “Have any trouble finding the place?” he asked as he opened my door.
“None at all. Am I late?”
He grinned. “No, I’m early.”
I locked the car and slipped the key into my purse. The smell of his aftershave tongue-tied me as it had before.
“Drink first?” he asked as we went inside the restaurant.
“I’m not much of a drinker,” I said. “But you have one if you like.”
He shook his head. “I’ll just order a beer with dinner.”
A perky young lady wearing a short black skirt and a too-tight white tuxedo-front blouse seated us in a booth near the side windows. “I wondered if you’d come,” Mitch said.
“I said I would.”
“I thought maybe I came on too strong.”
“I appreciated the invitation. Dreamland was beginning to wear on me.”
“Well.” He opened his menu, and I did the same. For a few silent moments we scanned the offerings printed there. “I’m going to have the top sirloin medium rare,” he said. “What about you?”
“That sounds good—only well-done.”
“You don’t want it jumping off the plate and heading back out to pasture, huh?”
I laughed. “You might put it that way.”
As soon as the waitress left with our orders, he said, “I didn’t ask you to dinner to bend your ear about Macy.”
“I don’t know why not,” I said. “If you need to talk, you need to talk, and I know where you’re coming from.”
“It’s been four years for you?”
“I can’t even look that far down the line. Macy died eleven months ago, and it seems like yesterday.”
“It’ll get better in some respects,” I said. “Not that you won’t miss her every minute of every day, but it won’t hurt exactly the same way.” When he didn’t say anything, I went on. “You didn’t mention children.”
“We knew from the beginning that Macy shouldn’t get pregnant because of her heart. We just accepted that and went on.”
“How long were you married?”
“Ned and I had eight. We married as soon as we finished college.”
“We were trying. I miscarried once and fairly early on. I guess that’s what made me so mad…not having his child.”
“I’ve heard anger is one of the stages of grief, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m still in a fog.”
“Anger is good for the soul,” I said. “I used to drive around town cussing Ned out for dying.”
“Did it help?”
“I guess so. I don’t do it anymore.”
He smiled a little. “You seem to have it all together.”
“Not really, but I’m working on it. And you’ll get there. You don’t have any choice unless you plan to die soon.”
He frowned. “No.”
“Neither do I. But you only have two options.”
“Oh, I see what you mean.” He leaned back against the padded backrest. “So how was your day?”
I debated how much to tell him, but in the end, between the salad and our steaks, I ended up spilling almost everything I knew. “Candace seemed nice,” I finished. “A trustworthy sort. And she said you were a nice guy, so that made me feel better about meeting you tonight.”
“I’m harmless anyway.”
“That’s what they always say.”
We laughed together and relaxed more.
“Are you serious about those loft apartments and getting the Drake sisters to reopen their shop?”
“I sort of go back and forth on the idea.”
“Well, the next obvious question is why. Are you planning to move back to Dreamland?”
I frowned. “No. I’m happy in Dallas.”
“So who are you doing this for? Or is it just a belated act of adolescent rebellion?”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” I admitted.
“Okay, so think back to a time when you rebelled when you were growing up. Were the consequences worth it?”
“I don’t ever remember doing anything like that. My parents gave me a lot of freedom, and it was hard to get into much trouble in Dreamland the way the town was then.”
“Then consider the consequences you’ll face if you don’t sell the building.”
“Whose side are you on anyway?” An unsettled feeling began to replace the comfortable atmosphere.
“I’m not on anybody’s side, Trixie Collier Blake, but I know my father.”
“He doesn’t scare me,” I said, knowing how false my bravado rang.
“He should. He can get nasty, and I don’t trust Parker Aiken either.”
“At the mall the other day when you said your father would lean on me, it sounded sort of gangster-ish, and then I found out my great-grandfather was a quasi-gangster. Do you think something like that is behind this so-called industrial development in Dreamland?”
“I don’t know anything for sure because I wouldn’t let my father get into specifics with me, but he’s been known to have questionable associations before.” Mitch leaned across the table. “I just don’t want to see you get into any trouble.”
“So you think I should just turn loose of the Quimby Building and go home.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Rudy James did. He said to take my money and run.”
“I don’t know Rudy James.”
“We went to high school together. Talk about a rebel! But he got his act together afterwards and has done well. He’s in insurance, but he also owns the Twilight Bar across from the Lloyd House.”
“Do you trust him?”
“I don’t have any reason not to.”
“Maybe you should listen to him then. At least think things through, Trixie. You seem like a sensible person.”
“I think I am. Ned and I didn’t make hasty decisions about anything. When he got a scholarship to the Air Force Academy, I went to college, too. We only got married after we graduated.”
“He was going to make the military a career?”
I nodded. “He was a very young major when he died. He’d have gone right on up in the ranks.”
“You said he was killed in a training accident.”
“He wasn’t even supposed to be flying that day, but the other officer had a death in the family and got leave. So Ned took over the training.”
“Did they come up with a cause?”
“Eventually. Apparently there was a problem with the ailerons. He was banking and went into a roll and couldn’t pull out.” For the past year, I’d been able to talk about the accident without showing emotion, but now I choked on the last words and felt myself tearing up. “They wouldn’t even let me look at him,” I blurted without meaning to.
His arm shot across the table. “I’m so sorry,” he said, laying a large hand across mine.
“Was Macy’s death a shock?” Somehow I needed to know.
“In a way. She wasn’t supposed to live as long as she did, but I guess we just denied the inevitable. So when I came home from work one night and found her…” He chewed his bottom lip. “But at least it was peaceful. She always took a nap after lunch, and that afternoon she just didn’t wake up.”
“Ned should have gotten old and gone in his sleep. What happened to him wasn’t fair!”
“They’re a peace now,” Mitch said. “We’re the ones left to struggle.”
“Do you believe in Heaven, Mitch?”
“My mother did. Macy and I went to church, but I think she believed more than I did.”
“I know where Ned is, but sometimes it doesn’t help, considering where I am.”
Mitch smiled. “I tell you what, Trixie—we’ll just believe that Ned’s looking out for Macy, and I’ll return the favor here with you.”
“Why would you want to?” I withdrew my hand from beneath his with reluctance.
His blue eyes searched mine for a long moment. “Well, let’s just say I’ve got your back like Rudy James.”
I drove back to Dreamland, comforted in a way I’d never been since Ned’s accident, and found myself hoping that Mitch felt the same way.