Drawing a sharp breath, David Thompson opened a pair of double doors and walked into the courtyard of the Plaza Malaga Hotel, the floor of which was currently covered with foam.
Someone had wisely turned off the hotel fountain’s water pump, but the damage was done: The place looked like an industrial washing machine had exploded. On the near side of the courtyard, two columns of folding chairs created a center aisle, ending at a beautifully carved stone fountain. At the edge of that fountain sat a woman holding a bottle of beer.
David had to swallow twice before he could speak.
“Hi, Kirsten,” he said.
She smiled at him, and David realized the bottle she was holding was actually some kind of fancy shampoo.
He also realized she was still as beautiful as the last time he’d seen her.
“Good to see you, David,” she said.
He shrugged. “This isn’t the end of the world. We’ll drain and rinse the fountain, add an anti-foaming agent, replace the filters. It’ll be okay, eventually.”
She shook her head. “There’s a wedding in an hour, and I’m screwed.” She stood and handed him the shampoo bottle, and as she did, he couldn’t help glancing down at her hand, at the gold band on her finger.
“Can you move it?” he said. “The wedding? To another room?”
She frowned. “Theoretically, but the very wealthy bride’s father wants the courtyard. When my manager finds out, I’ll lose my job.”
“You didn’t soap the fountain,” he said. “If you can find out who did it…”
She sighed. “I already know.”
“Great,” he said. “Let the vandal take the blame.”
“It was my daughter,” she said.
David knew he should respond, but he couldn’t think of anything helpful to say.
Growing up, he and Kirsten Anderson had been as close as friends could be, doing almost everything together: movies, music, skating, skipping school. As they became teenagers, David’s feelings for her grew, but he’d never found the courage to say anything, unwilling to risk their friendship.
After high school, when he’d joined the navy for college money, he promised Kirsten he’d return. His time away gave him the perspective to realize he needed to tell her how he felt. Four years later, he came back to Alabama, surprised his friend, and professed his feelings.
He’d waited too long. Mobile was a smallish city but not small enough for him to hear that his friend had already married someone else.
And, he’d just discovered, she’d had a daughter too.
“I’m sorry to call,” she said. “I know it’s, well, awkward, ever since…”
“It’s fine,” he said, but there was no denying the way they’d left things.
Upon his return, David had expected Kirsten to either be delighted at his profession of affection or sorry for not sharing his feelings. What he hadn’t expected was her anger at him for keeping his feelings secret. Things could’ve been different, she said, if he’d ever had the nerve to actually say something. They hadn’t spoken since.
He smiled. “I appreciate your confidence in me, but I don’t think even I could fix all this in an hour.”
“Her name’s Zoe,” She pointed at the bottle, and he realized she meant her daughter. “She’s a good kid, but she’s going through a lot. She thinks I work too much, and she’s been acting out, ever since—”
He cut her off. “Hey, tell your manager I did it.”
She frowned. “What?”
“Say you called me to fix the water pump, and I broke it.” He looked around the courtyard. “Say I used the wrong solution, soap or something like that.”
He grinned. “Say I couldn’t even figure out what I did wrong.”
“Why would you do that for me?”
Why wouldn’t I do that, he wanted to say. I’ve loved you for most of my life, and I’d do anything for you. Even now.
He shrugged. “We’re friends, right?”
She looked uncertain. “You’d end up having to pay for it, and you’d lose work. I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking,” he said. “And I’ve got more business than I need.”
She looked at him but said nothing.
“I’ll go out to the truck and get more tools,” he said. “I’ll be back in a minute to break something. Don’t let anyone in until I get back.”
He started to walk away, but she followed him.
“Does this mean I can see you more often than every six years?” she said.
As appealing as that sounded, it was all too apparent he wasn’t close to being over her. He glanced down at her hand.
“Oh, no!” She looked down at the ring. “I’m sorry—”
“No,” he said. “I’m just not—”
“David, Steve left me three years ago.” She stepped forward and took his arm. “We divorced a year after that.”
She turned the band on her hand and laughed. “I still wear it, well, honestly, so guests won’t hit on me.”
“You aren’t married?” His heart thumped, and his words buzzed in his ears.
She shook her head.
“Why didn’t you ever…” Again, he couldn’t seem to form words.
“Call you?” she said. “I couldn’t, not after the way I treated you.”
“Still,” he insisted.
She shrugged. “I did call, actually, but it took until today for me to have a reason.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding. “I guess you did.”
For a moment, they stood there looking at each other, neither willing to break the silence. Finally, he pointed over his shoulder. “I need to go get my tools.”
Kirsten flashed the smile David had forgotten he loved. “So, what is this?”
“This?” He thought for a moment. “I have no clue.”
He knew what he hoped it might be, but he wasn’t ready to speak it out loud, not so soon, after all this time. Right now, it felt strange but good, and that was okay.
He could live with that.