Life settled back into pretty much the same rythm, Matt ate dinner with them nearly every night and they spent most weekends together at the beach or at Aunt Mae's farm. The first big storm of the season approached. It came early and was threatening to hit hard. Lara had no idea what to do. Most of her neighbors were natives and handled the situation with the skill of folks who have been used to weathering storms every year for their entire life. She tried to stay calm, for the sake of her kids. She played games with them as Lara waited for the power to go out and frantically texted Matt.
As soon as Matt had secured his house he came and helped Lara board up her windows. He had been texting her instructions for the last few days. He took her through the drill he'd done all his life - with confidence and an infectious calm. They camped out together in the living room and sang songs by the light of the camp light. Matt told his favorite stories of storms from his childhood, Lara told a few from her experiences with ice storms. Lara thought she would take an ice storm over a tropical storm any day. Lara and Matt continued telling stories, even after the kids had fallen asleep. Lara snuggled her neck under Matt's chin and they sat there, together on the sofa, in the dark, talking about the things you only talk about when you are waiting for a storm to pass. They talked about their childhoods, they talked about their first loves. Matt admitted that the hadn't left Florida since his wife's death. He'd tried once, to leave for Savannah for his cousin's wedding, but he couldn't do it. He got as farm as Palm Coast and he turned around, called his cousin and said he'd caught the flu. Lara told Matt about when she found out she was pregnant with Connor, such a surprise and such a joy. Matt said if he ever had a girl he'd want to name her after his mother.
And then all was quiet. The storm had passed. It had done it's damage. Lara lay awake listening to the sound of Matt asleep next to her on the couch. His gentle breathing mixing with the snores of Connor and of Sophie sucking her thumb, like she always did when she fell asleep stressed. Lara looked around her. Clara looked so angelic in the camp light. Lara realized that this could only go one of two ways, and while she was nowhere near ready for the one, she despeartely wanted to avoid the other.
But morning dawned, gently and quietly. The power was still out and the main road was blocked. Matt left early to help the neighbors as he was able. And Lara was left to think.
Lara saw very little of Matt over the next few weeks. He was busy helping repair fences and leaky rooftops, besides the usual busyness of work. Lara tried not to miss him, attempted to get by without him, though every times one of the kids asked about him she wanted to scream. In some ways though it was better this way. She had some thinking to do and it was easier to do without him around.
It was Friday night and Matt was dropping off his paperwork at the office "Night Randy!" he called through the open door of his bosses office. "Hey! C'mere a minute, would ya?" Randy called back. "Hey! Yeah?" asked Matt standing at the door. "Your girlfriend was here to see me today."
"Here? To see you? What about"
"Yeah, what a great gal. Listen up kiddo, go bring her dinner, or chocolate or whatever it is you do. Go to her. Fences will be there to mend in the morning."
"Right, thanks" said Matt and he tried not to freak out.
As Matt drove he thought over the last week or had it been closer to a month. He had been exhausted and they hadn't spent much time together. Lara had seemed a little distant. He'd asked her about it and her answer had been vague. She seemed quiet but not extraordinarilly so. He glanced at the clock on his dash. It was eight o'clock. He arrived with ice cream from Lara's favorite place down the road.
They sat on the porch eating icecream in an uneasy silence. Matt liked to speak his mind but it struck him that this situattion required tact and above all, gentleness. "Sorry I've been so busy lately" he began. "I sure have missed you."
"I've missed you too" said Lara and there was a long pause till Lara continued "but it has given me some time to think."
"About what?" asked Matt willing himself to sound casual and, he was sure, failing.
"Randy told you I'd come by to talk to him, didn't he?" asked Lara
"He said you'd come by, that's all" replied Matt there was another pause "please Lara, what's all this about?"
Lara took a deep breath and remained silent for a moment. "It's just, well, I've been thinking." she paused again, uncertain how to begin "I just, it's only, I've been thinking - what are we doing? I mean, you want kids, you need a wife. I'm not ready for that and I don't know when, or even if, I'll ever be ready to be in that kind of a relationship again not to mention that you deserve so much more than me and all of my kids..." Lara's voice trailed off and a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Lara, what do you mean?"
"I mean, Matt, that I want you to be happy I want you to wake up twenty years from now, happy."
Matt was dumb-struck, but finally managed to stutter out "But I am happy."
"I know, right now, you might be, but I can not abide the thought of you waiting for something I may never be ready to give. You should be getting on with your life. Getting married, raising a family of your own. I don't want to hold you down."
The next words Matt spoke were with an edge of frustration "do you see me out ring-shopping? Have I asked anything more of you than you have been willing to give?"
"No, but -"
Matt cut her off "Then I don't see the problem."
"The problem, is that you should be doing all of those things. If this were any kind of normal relationship, you would."
Matt stood up and turned around, he kicked at the step a bit as he searched for the words that were swelling in his heart. "Don't I have any say in this?"
"I told Randy we'd be out when school lets out next week."
"So that's it?"
"Pretty much." said Lara quietly
And without a word Matt turned and walked strait to his truck. He slammed his door behind him, revved the engine and droff away.
Lara picked up the half-eaten ice creams and took them back into the kitchen. She threw them away, then stood at her kitchen sink and cried.
Lara sold her furniture to Randy, who was able to rent the house out as a summer home making quadrouple what he'd been charging her in rent. She hitched a little uhaul to the back of her car and drove back home. The kids missed Matt but Lara explained that sometimes our friends, even our best friends, come and then go, and so after awhile the kids moved on, even if Lara couldn't.
Matt spent extra time storm-proofing his aunt's motel and helping her with her renovations. He'd hoped the busyness would take away the anger and ache but how could he forget her when every inch of this hotel reminded him of her? Of the first time he had seen her here and the yearning he had felt to know her better. Every ocean view reminded him of the weekends he had spent with Lara and her little family. He had fet grief before, but this was different. He knew that this story should have ended differently. He went over and over in his mind the things he should have done and said. But he had stood by and done nothing. He had let her leave and now she was gone.He wondered if there was anything he could do about it now or was it too late?