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A New Normal

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Tess slid out of her car, and leaned against it as he parked—crooked, because his nerves were getting the best of him.

“Alec.”

He sighed and slapped the door closed behind him. “Tess.”

The rain, which had held out all morning, finally gave in, splattering in pinpricks of cold as he passed her the keys.

“D’you fancy a coffee, before you head back?”, she asked.

No.

But the way she smiled told him declining wasn’t an option; she wasn’t offering out of useless social custom, she needed something. And he knew the moment she realized he’d figured it out, because relief washed her weary features quicker than the growing downpour.

Tess motioned toward the car, and he conceded, wrapping around to take the passenger seat.
If she noticed the missing air fresheners, she didn’t mention it. In fact, she didn’t say a word while she drove them to the same café he’d visited the last two mornings, and she was even silent as she passed the clinking bells and led them to the booth at the back. The booth that used to be theirs.

He wondered, as Tess shook her multicolored hair and left to place her order, if this was how Miller felt being back in that house again. He hoped not.

It felt lonelier than being alone.

“So, how’d it go?”, Tess asked, sidling into the booth and setting a cardboard cup in front of him.

“Why don’t you ask Daisy, Tess?”

Her lacquered lips pulled tight, tighter than her shoulders, and she worried at the rim of her cup.

“Why didn’t you go today?”

“I told you”, she defended, “I had a case.”

“’S that why you’re here, and not at the station?”

“Alec”, she pled, but he didn’t understand why, so he stayed quiet.

Raindrops counted the distance between them.

“D’you remember”, she said at last, “we used to come here all the time, when Daisy was little. It was our place.”

She sniffed, and stilled her hands around her cup as she scanned the room. Her face was flushed, the shadows exaggerated under the hanging lights, which sparkled in her eyes. She looked like she might cry.

He focused on a spot out the window.

“Even before Daisy, yeah? Before everything: before the pendant, before the Gillespies, before we tried for another baby, before your promotion, before Daisy, before we had a place to call our own, together. Back when we were just us, and we young, and in—”

“Tess.” He rubbed his face, and she dropped hers, taking a trembling hand from her cup and bringing it to wipe her cheeks.

“I just wanted to know how it went.”

“Ask her, Tess. She missed you today.”

Tess nodded. “I’ve got to get back to the station; I’ll drop you at your hotel, if you like.”

She was hiding something. He wondered what could possibly be worth hiding at this point; he wasn’t a part of her life anymore, apart from Daisy, and nothing else she did mattered. It was her life, and she didn’t want him in it.

She’d been rather clear about that.