“No, I—” he started, but I shook my head.
“That’s why I’m here, remember? Finish your meal, and thank you for sharing it with me.”
He nodded, and I went to check on Talon. Her eyes were wide and she stopped crying, the tears replaced by a small smile on her face. It was what I imagined Graham’s grin would look like. As I prepared a bottle for her and began feeding her, Graham entered the room and leaned against the doorframe.
“Is she all right?” he asked.
He nodded and cleared his throat. “Professor Oliver has a loud personality. He’s forward, talkative, and full of nonsense ninety-nine percent of the time. I have no clue how his wife or his daughter put up with his ridiculousness and wild antics. For a man in his eighties, he acts like a child, and oftentimes appears like a well-educated clown.”
“Oh.” Well, at least I knew he disliked everyone equally as much as he seemed to dislike me.
Graham’s head lowered and he stared at his fingers, which he latched together. “And he’s the best man and friend I’ve ever known.”
He turned and walked away without another word, and just like that, for a small fraction of a second, Graham Russell showed me a glimpse of his heart.
Around eleven that night, I finished cleaning up Talon’s room and headed to Graham’s office where he was writing, his focus completely zoomed in on his words.
“Hey, I’m heading home.”
He took a beat, finished typing his sentence, and turned to face me. “Thank you for your time, Lucille.”
“Of course. Oh, and just a heads-up, on Friday I don’t think I can make it. My boyfriend is having an art show, so I’ll have to be there.”
“Oh,” he said, a small twitch finding his bottom lip. “Okay.”
I tossed my purse strap over my shoulder. “You know, if you want, you can bring Talon to the show. It might be nice to get her out and about to places other than the doctor’s office.”
“I can’t. I have to finish these next few chapters by Saturday.”
“Oh, okay…well, have a great night.”
“What time?” he said right as I stepped into the hallway.
“What time is the show?”
A lump of hope formed in my gut. “Eight o’clock, at the art museum.”
He nodded once. “I might finish early. Fancy attire?”
I couldn’t even hold the smile to myself. “Black tie.”
“Noted.” He must’ve noticed my excitement because he narrowed his eyes. “It’s not a promise that I’ll make it. I just prefer to be informed in case I do attend.”
“No, of course. I’ll put you on the guest list, just in case.”
“Good night, Lucille.”
“Good night, Graham Cracker.”
As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think about the way the evening had progressed. To the average person, his interactions would’ve seemed normal at best, but I knew for Graham, it had been an extraordinary day.
Sure, he hadn’t given me a guarantee that he’d make it to the show, but there was a small chance. If this was the man he became after a visit from Professor Oliver, I secretly prayed he’d stop by each day.
There were small moments that I sometimes witnessed with Graham as he cared for his daughter. Those moments were what I held onto when he was colder than cold. Oftentimes I’d walk in on him shirtless, lying on the couch with Talon in his arms. Each day he did the kangaroo care, out of fear of not bonding with Talon. But they were bonded more than he could’ve noticed. She adored him, just as he adored her. Once as I rested in the living room, I overheard him on the baby monitor speaking to his daughter as he tried to soothe her crying.
“You are loved, Talon. I promise to always take care of you. I promise to be better for you.”
He would’ve never showed that side of his heart if he was standing near me. He would’ve never been seen in such a vulnerable state of mind. Yet the fact that he wasn’t afraid to love his daughter so carefully in the quietness of his home, lit me up inside. It turned out the beast wasn’t such a monster after all. He was simply a man who’d been hurt in the past and was slowly opening back up due to the love of his daughter.
I arrived at the museum a little after eight due to a late floral delivery, and when I walked in wearing my sparkly purple dress, I was shocked by the amount of people already there. Richard’s display was in the west end of the museum, and the individuals who’d shown up were dressed as if they were at the Met Gala in New York City.
I’d found my dress on sale at Target.
My eyes darted around the room in search of Richard, and when I spotted him, I hurried over. “Hey.” I smiled, stepping into the conversation he was having with two women about a piece of his artwork. The women were stunning in their red and gold gowns that traveled to the floor. Their hair was pinned up perfectly and their makeup was flawless.
Richard looked up at me and gave me a half smile. “Hey, hey, you made it. Stacy, Erin, this is Lucy.”
The two ladies eyed me up and down as I eased my way closer to Richard and held my hand out to each of them. “His girlfriend.”
“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend, Richie,” Erin said, shaking my hand with a look of distaste on her lips.
“Me neither,” Stacy replied.
“Of five years,” I gritted through my teeth, trying my best to give a fake smile.
“Oh,” they said in unison, disbelief dripping from the word.
Richard cleared his throat, placed his hand on my lower back, and started to guide me away. “Ladies, go grab yourselves a drink. I’m going to show Lucy around a bit.”
They walked off, and Richard slightly leaned in to me. “What was that about?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, trying to play off the fact that I had not been completely normal in that interaction.
“Your whole, ‘this is my man, back off, bitches’ persona back there.”
“Sorry,” I muttered, standing up straighter. I wasn’t a jealous girl, but the feeling those ladies had given me was so uncomfortable; it was as if they were displeased by my whole existence.
“It’s fine, really,” Richard said, taking off his glasses and cleaning them with a pocket cloth. “Your dress is short,” he mentioned, looking around the room.
I spun a bit. “Do you like it?”
“It’s short, that’s all. Plus, your high heels are bright yellow and really tall. You’re taller than me.”
“And that’s an issue?”
“It just makes me feel a bit undermined, is all. When I introduce you, I’ll look like the small guy next to his giant girlfriend.”
“It’s only a few inches.”
“But still, it’s belittling.”
I wasn’t sure how to take his words, and before I could reply, he commented on my hair.