(Don’t) Forgive and Forget

Max helped his reticent toddler from the jeep’s backset, glad at least that the crying had stopped. Gracie was not cooperating this morning. Of course, she didn’t fall asleep until after one a.m., either. Which means he didn’t fall asleep until after one a.m. However, Max knew it would make things worse if he tried to stop her complaining.

Gracie spotted another child about twenty feet away and squirmed like a feral cat to be let down.

“Okay, okay,” Max said, setting her on her feet.

By the time he shut the door and looked back, Gracie was standing in front of the child she’d spotted, talking a mile a minute. The little girl wore a snowsuit that covered everything but her eyes. While her attention was mostly on Gracie, she kept looking my way.


Max looked to his left. Jace Netzer was as beautiful as ever, dark blonde hair swept to the side and just reaching his stubbled chin, jade-green eyes sharp yet wary. He was the only man Max had ever truly loved.

“Wow. Jace. Hey,” Max said. He cursed the universe six ways from Sunday and back. One-syllable words were the entirety of his lexicon now.

Max hadn’t seen Jace in well over a decade, since leaving for college. Their whirlwind high school romance had been the talk of the town for ages, especially after they were both selected for homecoming king. But that was a lifetime ago.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Jace said. He stopped next to Max and faced forward.

“I could say the same about you,” Max said. His cheeks felt hot, but that could be from the thirty-degree wind chill. And hey, at least that was a full sentence. Had a subject and verb and everything.

In his peripheral, he saw Jace pull a set of keys from his jacket pocket. Max almost smiled when Jace started fiddling with them. Some habits were apparently hard to break.

“Are you back in town, then?” Jace asked, spinning the key ring around his index finger and catching the group of keys in hand.

“Yeah. I didn’t want Gracie to feel overwhelmed when I finally was able to enroll her in daycare,” Max answered. He let out a slow breath, eyes still forward despite the last child having entered the school already. “She was diagnosed with autism about six months back. There wasn’t a daycare in all of DC with less than fifty kids in one classroom.”

“Mary, too,” Jace said. He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and started rocking side to side. “You, um, you want to grab some coffee? Catch up a little?”

Max looked at him, right into those eyes he’d gotten lost in more than once. For twelve years, he’d dreamt about seeing those eyes again. But twelve years was a long time to live with heartbreak.

“Maybe next time,” Max said. He walked to the driver’s side of the jeep, climbed in, and not-quite-but-almost slammed the door shut. Even as he pulled away, he saw Jace watching the jeep leave. Max didn’t know if he’d agree next time, or if he’d give a real reason to turn Jace down, or if he’d outright ignore the offer.

Other people might forgive freely. Max Cline wasn’t one of them.

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