Immediately he felt unnerved by the silence in the cab of his truck— the anticipation of something awful waiting to happen. He took a breath. Another. If she were there, she'd tell him to just "sit" with his fear. Nervous, Macon laughed. He thought the world would make sense if he were sober, but it seemed way crazier. Sit with it. Macon glanced over, truly expecting some monster of his mind's own making to be sitting there, ready to gobble him up.
The window was down, and Macon rested his arm on the door. He turned his wrist, glanced at his watch. Where was she?
He had twenty minutes left on his lunch break.
He'd only had the job for six days.
Returning late wouldn't look good.
And he'd be agitated if she didn't show.
If Jake started in on him, what would he do? Tell his eighteenth employer in fifteen years to shove the job up his ass, and walk away like he was a man with any kind of money in the bank?
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. He took a breath. Another. These days, he was always reminding himself to breathe. She'd get there, and there was time.
He could just leave the money with a note, explaining, and his eyes combed the floor for a stray piece of paper— a napkin, an old receipt.
It was Step Eight, him making amends.
But there was Nine: it had to be direct, if no one would be injured, and he wasn't intending to hurt her. He just wanted to stand before her, admit that he'd wronged her and fix it best he could. He wasn't sure what it was about, but he needed her to see that he could act, despite his fear— no, terror— and do what they knew to be right.
What he knew to be right.
Macon glanced at his watch again. Nope. Nope. Nope, he told every excuse popping up to explain why he shouldn't just turn the key and go.
He was tinkering with the visible wires under the dash when the closing of a car door broke the silence. Macon stilled. His heart hammered through his ears.
He straightened and turned.
She waited by her car.
Macon's trembling hand lingered about the keys hanging in the ignition.
Paige's expression seemed to confirm, in those moments of hesitation, who he was continuing to choose to be. When she started to turn, he yanked the door handle up and stumbled out. Straightening himself, he took a breath and on unsteady limbs, he walked toward her.
He wished she'd say something first, but he knew she'd keep quiet till he'd done what he needed to do. What it seemed she needed him to do.
Another breath. Two.
He dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out the folded bills.
"Working?" she asked.
Macon nodded. His extended arm hung in the space between them. "I'm sorry," he said.
"It was never about the money," she told him.
When she reached for the bills, her touch startled him. It felt like forever since she'd touched him, though he knew it'd only been a month.
Her eyes steady with his, she asked, "The day?"
"Sixteen," he told her. He wanted her to express some kind of pride in his accomplishment, but he knew she wouldn't. Not that she didn't care; he believed she did, but she'd told him that he had to recover for himself first.
'You need to believe you're worth saving,' she'd said. 'Be your own fucking life raft.'
"Day sixteen," he repeated. "So what's the lesson for today?"
He knew that she, in the midst of her own recovery, searched each day for a lesson, something she could hold onto to get her to that next place.
Maybe he was cheating. Looking to her for some bit of knowledge instead of God— as he understood Him— 'cause Macon didn't understand Him at all. Had a hard time with His very existence, though Macon had moments when he'd look up at the vast sky and demand: Just tell me why the fuck why?
Paige smiled at him as her hand smacked across his face.
"The lesson: it doesn't matter why I did that, or even that I did," she said. "The thing is that now you've got some pain. You choose how to deal with it."
Macon's eyes brimmed with tears. He nodded. "I need to get back to work," he said finally.
Paige nodded like that was a good enough answer.
Macon lowered his head and took steps toward his truck.
"Hey," she said.
He stopped and turned.
"I've got some steaks in the freezer. If you pick up some charcoal, we could have a cook-out. Or something," she said.
His heart was hoping on the 'or something.' "I'm off at six," he said.
"Then I'll see you sometime after that," she said.
Macon silently thanked her for the leeway. Life would surely trip him up if he promised a specific time, and he didn't want to disappoint her. Not again or so soon.
As she went inside, Macon got in his truck and started it. He shook his head.
It made no sense.
This morning he'd been wondering just how long would it take to get the sure enough footing to walk those first eleven steps, yet there he was feeling like he was at the twelfth step, awakening to something greater— it moving him responsibly toward her—his heart bursting to share that joy. And him, completely willing to surrender to it all.
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