Ella’s mother Joanne wasn’t in such a hurry after all, and had time for a coffee and a chat with Alexa when she went to pick up Maddie. Alexa filled her in on the crisis, but played it down, all the while gnawing with tension over Bruce’s predicament. She tried not to worry. She’d been in this situation before and it usually resolved itself. She didn’t need the whole neighbourhood talking about how incompetent she and Bruce were. How they’d lost Markus. Wouldn’t Kate and Simon love to get wind of that.
An hour later Alexa pulled into the driveway at home. The SUV was already there. She chewed her lip. Bruce hadn’t called her again, but he was here. Alexa’s gut twisted. What did that mean? Had he found Markus?
Maddie jumped out of the car and ran toward the front door. Alexa drew in a breath and quickly followed her, afraid of what she might find. Opening the door, the house seemed quiet and empty, and her heart sank. Maybe Bruce wasn’t here after all.
She moved quickly through the house, searching, trying not to alarm Maddie with her concern. The drawings she had left with him were lying on the kitchen table, half furled. They were covered with small yellow sticky notes, scrawled in a dark, slanting hand and… she leaned forward and squinted at them, question marks. Lots of them.
Then she heard them. Giggles and squeals emanating from the back yard. Bruce’s deep belly laugh. She inched toward the partially opened French doors to peek out, unseen.
Bruce squatted on the lawn, shirtless, and aimed the garden hose sprayer up into the sky, forming a waterfall. The muscles of his bare, bronzed back gleamed and rippled in the sunlight. Markus, wearing a red t-shirt but no pants, ran and jumped through the cascading water, squealing. A rainbow hung above them in the airborne droplets, not quite touching down on the sparkling green grass. They both laughed, their joy contagious. Alexa found her face stretching into a huge grin of relief, of pure happiness.
Man was she happy to see those two guys.
As she was about to step forward and open the door, Markus charged Bruce, knocking him over onto his back, his arms grasping Bruce’s neck. The hose bucked and coiled onto the lawn, spurting water into a flowerbed. They rolled, and Bruce’s arms came around Markus and held him tightly, so tightly. Bruce kissed his face again and again and again, smoothing back his wet hair. Tears sprang to Alexa’s eyes, seeing it. She could imagine how he felt at this moment. She’d been there.
Giving them another moment alone, she went in search of Madison. “Hey Mads! You wanna run through the sprinkler? Maddie?” She ran up the stairs to help her with her suit.
Moments later, Maddie was bursting outside, joining in the fun. Alexa hung back, her arms across her chest, swelling with pleasure. When Bruce saw Maddie, he turned to look at Alexa over his shoulder. Their eyes met for one intense, heartfelt moment. His smile was huge and warm and sincere, and she couldn’t help smiling back.
A little later, the sprinkler fun finished, and the kids wrapped in towels, he approached her. She handed him a beer she’d gotten ready from the fridge.
“Rough day?” she asked.
“Oh, Al.” He shook his head, his Adam’s apple sliding up and down, his eyes speaking volumes about the emotional rollercoaster he’d been riding. “I lied. I did leave him. But only for a couple minutes, but Al…” His voice cracked. She saw his eyes glisten with moisture, and she moved toward him, ready to embrace him. She got no further than laying her hands on his strong bare shoulders, looking up at him, and realized what she was doing. He was warm and cool, slick with water, and smooth and hard. An electric shock of sexual awareness shot through her. She swallowed, dropped her hands and stepped back.
He cleared his throat and took a long pull of his beer. Then he grabbed a crumpled t-shirt from the table and pulled it on over his wet skin.
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