He laughed. “Here,” he said, and held out a clear plastic bag filled with brownies. “You need one.”

In the very worst possible way. So she took a brownie and dove in.

“So,” he said, smiling as she inhaled it and licked her fingers. “About that thing you’re hiding . . .”

She waggled a finger at him and eyed the baggie of brownies again.

“Not yet,” Eddie said. “Let the first one settle another minute first. These are a rather potent batch.”

She swallowed and stared at him as his meaning sank in. “You mean . . .”

He smiled.

“But . . .” She trailed off, a little horrified. She’d smoked a few times in college. She’d been a total and completely embarrassing lightweight who’d spent the rest of the day giggling and eating everything in sight.

Old Man Eddie shrugged.

Colbie narrowed her eyes. “Eddie, did I or did I not just eat a . . .” she lowered her voice “. . . ‘special’ brownie?”

“It’s actually more like a space cake.”

She just stared at him.

“It’s cooked with cannabutter, see, which is butter that’s been heated in a pan with—”

“Holy macaroni and cheese!” She covered her ears. “Don’t tell me.”

“It’s okay.” He pulled a lanyard from beneath his sweatshirt, with his laminated medical marijuana card attached. “It’s legal. I’ve got a card and everything.”

She dropped her hands. “But I don’t have a card!”

“This is California. You won’t need one soon enough.”

“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath. “It’s going to be okay.” She gave herself a mental checkup. “And besides, I don’t feel weird at all.” Which, she could admit to herself, was the teeniest, tiniest bummer. She took another breath and nodded. Yep, she was fine.

She looked at Eddie, who also looked fine. Ish.

How had he gone from whatever life he’d led to living in the alley? she wondered. Did he have a family he’d left behind, like her dad? “I’ve got a question,” she said.

“No worries. The only real calories come from the butter—”

“No, a question about you,” she said.

“Research?”

“Yes,” she said. “But it’s personal.” She paused. “My dad’s not in the picture. By choice.”

“Ah.” He nodded. “And you’re wondering if I have a family whose picture I’m not in.”

“I know a lot of homeless people are homeless because they have mental illness, mostly untreated. But you seem . . .”

His mouth quirked. “Normal?”

“Well, not entirely,” she said and made him laugh.

“An honest woman,” he said. “I like it. And yeah, I’ve chosen to live like this and not because of mental issues. Although I can’t claim to be entirely sane.” His smile faded. “The truth is, I wasn’t so good at being a father and husband. And when I say I wasn’t good, I really mean that I was bad.”

The brownie suddenly felt like lead in her gut. “Did you hurt them?”

“Not like you think, not physically.” He shook his head. “Never physically. But . . .” He closed his eyes. “I’m not proud of this, dudette. I worked around the clock, away from home. Traveled all the time. And the few times I wasn’t gone, I was still in my head, exhausted and grumpy.” He paused. “I was a self-centered, narcissistic asshole who didn’t give my kid or my wife the time of day.”

“Did they leave you?”

“No. I left them.” He looked at her then, and she tried to swipe away the judgment that she knew was all over her face but she was pretty sure she failed because he gave a slow head shake.

“I wasn’t this laid-back then,” he said. “I was . . . uptight. Stressed out.” His eyes flickered with guilt. “Derisive. I came home and my son was in the yard riding his bike without a care in the world. I went off on his lack of drive, the ridiculousness of time wasting, and how life was too short to waste it doing jackshit where he could be out there changing the world for the better like I thought I was doing.” He shook his head and closed his eyes. “I didn’t realize I was yelling and screaming until my wife tried to pull me inside. I turned on her as well. I had them both in tears and shaking in fear when I came to my senses and realized what I was doing.”

“What happened?” she whispered.

“I left that night. I walked away, leaving them better off.” He closed his eyes. “Most of my family never forgave me. Just my grandson, whose big heart has a lot to do with the fact that he never saw me at my very worst.”

“He sounds like a good guy.”

Eddie looked at her. “He is. I live here because of him. He thinks he’s taking care of me, but the truth is, I’m here watching over him because, of all the people in my family, he’s the most like me. The most likely to follow in my footsteps and ruin his life. I can’t let him do it. He’s a lot of things, including way too smart for his own good and thinking he’s always right, but . . .” he smiled “. . . he is always right. And he deserves more than following in my footsteps.”

She stilled. “Spence. Your grandson is Spence.”

“Yeah.” There was pride and fondness in Eddie’s eyes, but also more.

“You’re worried about him,” she said, and when he nodded, she asked, “Is that why you stay here? In the alley?”

Eddie laughed. “You sound horrified. I like it out here, you know. Spence has kept an apartment open for me since he bought this place, and though it’s filled temporarily at the moment . . .” he gave her a knowing wink “. . . I know he’d find me something else if I needed. But I don’t.”

“Because . . . you’re punishing yourself?”

He met her gaze, his own unusually solemn and serious. “You’ve got to understand just how much I royally screwed up my life. At every turn, I made bad choices—until a few years ago. Somehow I managed to turn things around, at least a little, and Spence brought me here. He’s surrounded himself with a nice, cozy community here in this building. He’s trying, you see.”

“Trying . . .”

“To not be me,” Eddie said.

Colbie stared at him as things started to click into place. About who Spence was, what he wanted out of life, and how, no matter what he said, he didn’t want to be alone. That, in fact, being alone was one of his biggest fears.

“He’s the closest now to getting what he needs than he’s ever been,” Eddie said. “Because of you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you. You’re the one who’s shown him he can love.”

“Oh, but you’re wrong,” she breathed softly, the air escaping her lungs. “We’re not . . . I’m not the One.”

“But you are.”

“No,” she said. “I’m not. I’m a writer. I’m . . . flighty. Quirky. Odd. I got on an airplane to San Francisco because I couldn’t get to the Caribbean. I’m disorganized and more than a little crazy.”

He smiled. “You’re perfect.”

“You’ve eaten too many of your own brownies.”

“True. But you’re still the right one for my Spence.”

Colbie shook her head. “I’m going home soon. In a week, actually.” The words, spoken aloud, made things seem far too real, and sadness welled up inside her chest. “Wow,” she whispered. “Time went by so fast here.”

“So stay,” he said simply.

“I can’t. I have people counting on me.”

“No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do,” he said. “Well, except for maybe a prison warden.”

“Or family,” she said.

He laughed wryly. “Touché. I’d do anything for my grandson, including watching him make a big mistake by letting you go, simply because his only stipulation to me being here was that I not interfere in his life. I gave my word.”

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