“We’re not—” I started, but King put his arm over my chair and tugged me into him.
“I wanted you to meet her,” he said, running his thumb against the side of my neck in an unexpected sign of affection.
Show or not, my skin came alive under his seemingly innocent touch, and I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud because King’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. Grace stood and rounded the table. Pausing above King, she kissed him on the top of the head.
“You’ve made this old woman very happy,” Grace said, wiping a tear from under her eye. She sniffled and clasped her hands together. “I’m going to start dinner. Doe, darling, would you like to help me?”
“Sure,” I said, standing up from the table.
I still wasn’t entirely sure why we were there, but I liked Grace, and having someone else besides the three tattooed amigos around was a nice change. She had a grandmotherly thing going on that set you at ease the moment she opened her mouth. I was going to enjoy it while I could until I had to go back to the house with Mr. Mood Swings.
“I’ve got stuff in the truck,” King said, hopping down off the deck and disappearing around the side of the house. Grace led me into the kitchen and took out ingredients for pasta with meatballs. She moved one of the stuffed rabbits so I could sit at the table and chop vegetables while she used her hands to mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs.
“How you do know King?” I asked, chopping green peppers onto a cutting board. I used the knife to wipe them into a bowl and started on the onions.
“He didn’t tell you?”
“He doesn’t say much,” I admitted.
“Man of few words, that one,” Grace said warmly. “I’ve known Brantley since he was a snot-nosed middle schooler. He tried to steal from my garden one day. He wasn’t a day over twelve.”
“He really doesn’t tell you anything, does he?” Grace cast me a sideways glance.
“What did you do when you caught him?” I was curious about how King forged a relationship with a lady three times his own age.
“I got a switch off the tree, just like my mama would have done, ripped his jeans down past his little, white butt, and whipped some sense into him,” Grace said, casually as she rinsed a tomato under the tap and dried it with a paper towel.
“No, you didn’t!” I said, half in disbelief and half because I couldn’t imagine this little sprig of woman giving King a spanking.
“Yes, I sure did. Then, Edmund called Brantley’s mom while I made dinner, but she didn’t answer. Edmund left a message, but his mom never came. So, he stayed for dinner. Then, he stayed the night. He’s come over every Sunday since. Well, every Sunday he hasn’t been mixed up in something or sitting in prison. In that case, we went to him.”
“You knew he was in prison?”
“Of course. Visited him every week. And when my Edmund died, that little boy came to his funeral wearing a green tuxedo he bought from the thrift shop that was three sizes too big. I’ve offered to let him live here a thousand times, but that boy was never one who could be contained. He chose to stay out there, do what he does, and he comes to take care of me and the house in between.”
“So, you know…everything?”
Grace nodded. “Not the nitty gritty details but I’m no dimwitted woman. I know my boy isn’t exactly walking on the right side of the law. But I know that I love him like a son, and he loves me like his mama so that’s all that matters to me.” Grace didn’t pause when she continued. “Love is what you would do for the other person, not what you do in general. There is no doubt in my mind that he would throw his life down for me. I would do the same without hesitation.” She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bowl of green peppers. “I also know that everything you said out there, about how you two met, is true.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” I asked.
Grace sighed and looked away, deep in thought. “There was this movie I watched as a little girl. This black and white picture about a cowboy who robbed trains. I’ll never forget the ending. You see, the cowboy turns to the woman he loves, after she just found out that he was the train robber, and he tells her that although he did horrible things, he stole from people, killed people, it didn’t mean he loved her any less or that he wasn’t capable of love.”
Grace motioned for me to pick up the salad bowl and follow her out onto the deck. I set the bowl on the table, and Grace arranged the plates and forks. When she was done, she guided me to the railing and nodded over to where King stood on a ladder, replacing a light bulb on a small shed in the corner of the yard.