EXCERPT FROM HIS PROMISE
I sat in my car and took several deep breaths, trying to collect myself before I headed inside. When I finally walked into the house, I found Beatrice sitting at the kitchen counter. She was still in her little, red flannel pajamas, and her curly hair was down around her face. She had a crayon in one hand and an oatmeal cookie in the other, and as soon as she saw me heading in her direction, she sat up in her chair and smiled. “Hi, Mr. Colton. I’m making you a picture for your refrigerator.”
And just like that, my bad mood started to falter. I walked over to the counter, and when I looked over her shoulder, I saw that she was drawing a picture of man wearing a suit. When I noticed the dark hair, I realized it was a picture of me.
“Looking good, kid.” “It’s you.”
“I see that, but you’re missing my beard.”
“That’s because I don’t like your beard,” she replied innocently.
She shook her head as she bit her bottom lip. “It makes you look a little scary. I like you better without it.”
“Scary?” I ran my hand over my chin, tugging at the bristles of my beard. “You really think so?”
“Umm-hmmm. And it makes you look kind of old.”
“Old? Really?” I asked with surprise.
“Yes, sir, but just a little. Not like Santa Claus kind of old.”
Damn. The kid knew how to hit a guy where it hurts. She looked up at me with those dark eyes of hers, and I couldn’t help but smile. “Gee … thanks, kid.”
She studied me for a moment before she asked, “I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings?”
“No, Beatrice,” I told her as I opened the refrigerator. “You can’t hurt my feelings, because I don’t have any feelings to hurt.”
Just as I reached for the jug of tea, she laughed. “That’s funny.”
“Everybody has feelings, Mr. Colton.” She stood up and handed me the picture she’d been working on. “Even you.”
I glanced down at the picture and was surprised to see that she’d added my beard. When I looked back over to her, she was walking towards the stairs. “Thanks for the picture, Beatrice.”
She turned back just long enough to say, “Don’t forget to put it on the fridge, so everyone can see it.”
“You got it.”
I walked over to the refrigerator door and as I reached for a magnet, I took a moment to look at my portrait. There was something familiar about the man in the drawing, something that gave me a strange feeling when I looked at it. As I stood there staring at it, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. After several moments, I realized that the man with big, dark eyes, a thick, bushy beard, and a goofy grin used to be me. It had been so long since I’d seen that side of me that I’d almost forgotten he even existed. I missed it. I missed having a reason to smile, a reason to be truly happy, and I wondered if I would ever have it again. I was lost in my thoughts, when Langley walked up behind me. “It turned out pretty good, don’t you think?”
Trying to collect myself, I cleared my throat before I replied, “The kid’s got talent. She made me look good, and that’s saying something.”
“I think she did a great job with your beard.” She snickered.
“What is it with you two and my beard?”
“I like your beard. It makes you look … distinguished.”
“Um-hmm,” I scoffed.
“Seriously. I like the beard.” As I watched the corners of her mouth curl into a smile, I found myself thinking of the kiss we’d shared the night before. There was this moment, just before our lips touched, where I felt the world stop spinning, and for an ever-so-brief moment, anticipation hung in the air. It was just a moment, a mere blink, but it was so intense I could feel it pulling me towards her. When our lips finally touched, that feeling didn’t dissipate. Instead, it grew stronger as I felt her warm, soft mouth pressed against mine, and when I finally released her from our embrace, I had to fight the urge to reach for her and kiss her all over again. I felt an unexpected connection between us, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d felt it, too.