Thirty-One and a Half Regrets

By: Denise Grover Swank

“I don’t understand. We’re not even in his district.”

“They said the small business administration is part of his platform; that it’s a great opportunity for both sides.”

Feeling lightheaded, I leaned against the counter. “When is it?”

“Tomorrow at one. They need to have it done as soon as possible since the election’s a week from today.”

Joe was coming to the nursery. I was going to see Joe.

“The press will be here. Joe will hand us the grant check. They’ll interview us, and that will be that.”

I didn’t know if I could stand with him in front of cameras and pretend nothing was wrong.

“Rose.” She sounded worried. “Say something.”

“I need to sit down.”

She dragged a stool from around the counter and I perched on it, resisting the urge to put my head between my knees to keep from passing out. I will not faint. Thankfully, all the recent shocks in the last few months had helped me outgrow that reaction. But apparently some shocks were still strong enough to bring it back.

“How much is the grant?”

“Large enough to build a greenhouse. We’d be two years ahead of our business plan and you wouldn’t have to get a loan or sell your farm.”

I closed my eyes.

“I’d tell them no, Rose, but it’s a grant. We don’t have pay it back.”

“Okay,” I whispered.

She released a soft groan. “I’m gonna tell them no. It’s not fair to you. Not after what that man did to you.”

I looked up into her clueless face. She had no earthly idea what he’d done to protect her and her children.

I stood up. “No. We’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?”

I headed to the back room. “I have to work on some estimates.”

She followed me to the doorway. “I’ll tell them no, Rose.”

I spun around. “No, you will not. I’m not gonna hide and pretend like I’ve done something to be ashamed of. Now I have to get to work on these estimates if we’re hosting a press conference tomorrow.”

The bell on the front door dinged and guilt covered Violet’s face.

I sighed, weary of the conversation. “I’m fine, Vi. Go.”

I spent the next two hours trying to concentrate on my work, a difficult task given all the worries weighing on my mind. I tried to call Bruce Wayne three times. The first call rang with no answer, but the other two times it went straight to voice mail. I left messages all three times, begging Bruce Wayne to call me and let me know he was okay.

I struggled to come up with an explanation for why he had fled. After all, he hadn’t run after witnessing a murder while robbing the hardware store. He’d gone to David for help. Of course, that hadn’t turned out well, and as much as I loved Bruce Wayne, I’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. He’d been a pothead for years, notorious for making the same mistakes over and over again. It stood to reason that he’d repeat his earlier behavior by seeking help from David. So if he hadn’t gone to David with his problem this time, where was he?

I was lost in thought when Violet came back and told me that it was five and she was closing the shop.

“Are you still comin’ over?”

“Yeah. I just want to get Muffy.” I felt guilty enough about leaving her home alone all day, and although our neighborhood didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, I didn’t know how well she’d do if people were knocking on our door all night.

“Okay, get Muffy and come on over. The kids miss you.” She sounded wistful and I wondered if she was implying that she missed me too.

But I couldn’t bring myself to say it back.

I smiled as I pulled into my driveway, pleased by what I saw. I’d neglected my own yard most of the year, but I’d gone all out for Halloween and Thanksgiving. My front porch was decorated with hay bales and corn stalks, pumpkins and squash.

I went inside and took a short shower then changed into a clean pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. Last year I’d dressed up as Red Riding Hood—I’d had to sneak out of the house past Momma—but I didn’t feel like putting on a costume tonight. Bruce Wayne’s disappearance had stolen what little joy I’d found since losing Joe.

Although I had decided not to dress up, I still wanted Muffy to have a costume. It was her first Halloween with me and I knew Ashley and Mikey would love it. My usually good-natured dog had other ideas. When I started to pull the bumblebee costume over her head, she tried to escape, but I managed to get it on after some wrestling. I put her on the ground, and she shook her body like she always did after a bath, tipping her head up to look at me, as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”