Five Years Later
I knew we needed the rain, but couldn’t it have waited until I got back to the office with the coffee order? Or a little nepotism would have been nice. I understood my grandfather’s reasoning behind the whole, “the least among us is the greatest and you can tell a lot about a person by how they behave at the bottom,” but this morning I would have liked it if he could have sent one of the administrative assistants or even a paralegal. But as the newest attorney for Porter, Porter, and Clemmons, I was going to do my best to make him proud. Grandfather and his brother, my great uncle Seth, were the Porters, and my brother Grady made up the Clemmons part. I was only an associate in the full-service law firm, with the promise of being a partner someday.
I took after my grandpa and specialized in family law. He had made headlines recently for representing Atlanta’s socialite Beverly Halliday in her two-hundred-million-dollar divorce. Beverly was synonymous with diva. I was pretty sure that by the end, her ex-husband was happy just to be rid of her, so he’d agreed to whatever he had to. We were all ecstatic to never see her again, though I was sure it wouldn’t be her only divorce.
I didn’t handle anything high-profile. I mostly took our pro-bono cases. In New Orleans—at my grandfather’s insistence—I had worked for a non-profit organization for two years helping abused women with free legal counsel to get help in obtaining divorces. It was a sobering experience and I thanked my grandfather every day for his wisdom and for helping me see another side of life. It changed me. I wanted to continue that work here in Atlanta. That experience made me think twice and three times about anybody I dated. Not that I’d had much time for it. Maybe now that I was settled back in my hometown, I should open that door again.
My windshield wipers were getting a workout. It made me nervous to drive in such a downpour, but how can you have a meeting without your double fat-free latte? I was joking. I didn’t even drink coffee—it’s bad for your teeth and breath. Traffic was worse than normal due to the rain. At least people were slowing down. I pulled into the middle turn lane to make a left-hand turn into the closest Starbucks, but the traffic going the opposite direction kept blocking the intersection. Didn’t they know that was against the law? And they were making me late for my meeting.
The longer I sat there waiting to turn, the more nervous I became. I felt like a sitting duck.
Finally, a woman that knew the rule stopped before the entrance. She waved me on. I took my break and made my turn in the blinding rain.
Big, big mistake. Did I mention it was a two-lane road on that side, and that I couldn’t see very well? As I turned, I felt an impact and a jerk. Metal colliding against metal. My car landed in the Starbucks’ parking lot. I sat there, shaking in disbelief and hoping that hadn’t really happened. I had never been in a car accident, much less caused one.
My passenger side airbag had deployed and it smelled like jet fuel. My mind was in a fog. Call the police, I remembered, and check on the other driver. Oh, please let them be okay. I reached for my cell phone in my purse. That’s when I noticed the lights. Wow. The police were fast. No, the police were not fast. Oh. My. Gosh. I was in an accident with a police officer. Breathe, Kallie, breathe.
My perfect driving record and good day were obliterated. I was mortified.
I looked in my rearview mirror to see the mess I had caused. Traffic was backing up and there was a police officer walking my way in a rain coat and hat. He was moving, so I felt a tad better. I hoped he wasn’t hurt. I got a peek at his car before he knocked on my window. His car was one of those that I referred to as Transformer cars, the evil ones. It had a large grill thing on the front. I don’t speak car and driver, so I didn’t know the technical name. All I knew was my car probably didn’t fare well. My very first brand new car; I had paid for it all by myself and drove it off the car lot.
At least no one was hurt. I hoped.
Amidst the pouring rain, the officer tapped on my window. I pushed the button and lowered the window. The day was getting better and better. Not really.
“Are you okay, ma’am?”
The rain was coming in and my mouth momentarily quit working. I kept staring at that face while I got soaked. Even under his hat, in the rain, I recognized those baby blue eyes and his tight jawline. He hadn’t changed a bit.
“Yes,” I stuttered. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.” That was probably obvious.
He didn’t answer. Recognition lined his features. His eyes widened. “Kallie? Kallie Clemmons?”
I bit my lip. “Yeah. Funny running into you like this.” Was it too early for terrible jokes? I was going to say yes. I could see his jaw clench.
“I’m going to need to see your license, insurance, and registration.”
“Of course. Again, I’m so sorry.”
He said nothing as I reached in my glove compartment for all the items he requested. He kept silent when I handed them to him. He stared hard at me before taking them and walking back to his police cruiser.
I rolled up my window and turned around to watch him walk away. A thousand memories flooded my mind, including the ones where I never called him back. I don’t know how many messages he left me, but they each went unreturned. I had felt horrible. I still did, but we could never be what I had wanted us to be for those last beautiful minutes in his arms.
I had thought I would forget about him, but I never had. It’s not like I thought about him every day, but I did find that I compared him to the few guys I had dated. And they had fallen short. There was something about Harrison Monroe that didn’t let a woman go. Maybe it was his all-American boy look, or his gentlemanly manners, or perhaps the way he made you feel like you were the only person in a room. Or maybe it was his chocolate chip cookies. Best study food ever.
But none of those reasons mattered, because we could never be together. It’s not like we were in love, even though I had been falling for him. I tried not to. And I felt at the time I had no right to ask him to choose another career. My dad used to say being a man in blue was a destiny, that it called to you. Who was I to tell him to tune it out? So many times, I’d told myself it was for the best. I was sure he was happily married now. He was a catch. I knew he would get over me long before I got over him. He needed a woman to support him. Someone who could handle the uncertainty being married to a cop brings. I wasn’t the woman for the job.
I watched what it had done to my mother. Fifteen years later, and she was still grappling with the loss. Maybe someday she would find herself again and come home. Thank goodness for my grandparents. They had stepped into the parental role.
I shook my head to clear my mind. I didn’t have time to dwell on my family issues. I couldn’t believe I hit a cop car, or I guess I made him hit me. And of all the hundreds of police officers in the Atlanta area, it had to be Harrison Monroe.
I wondered if I should move my car. I was blocking the entrance and people needed their coffee.
More police officers arrived on the scene. I wished someone would hit me over the head and wake me up when it was all over. They began to take pictures and a new police officer tapped on my window. “Ma’am, I’m Officer Jackson. I need to ask you a few questions.”
I nodded, getting more wet as we went. I was starting to get a chill, even though it was late May.
“Did you see the car coming?”
What kind of question was that? If I had seen it, don’t you think I wouldn’t have gone? “No.”
“How fast were you going?”
“Maybe ten miles an hour?” I wasn’t exactly looking at the speedometer.
“Tell me what happened in your own words.”
Did I really need to relive this? I was an idiot and I ran out in front of a policeman, a.k.a. my ex-boyfriend, who I ghosted. I should probably leave that last part out. “Where is Officer Monroe?”
“Sorry, ma’am. Since he was involved in the accident, I need to ask the questions.”
That made sense from a legal standpoint. But I only wanted to know if he was still there. I guess I wanted to torture myself some more for the day. I wanted to know that he was happy like he deserved; that he married his all-American girl and they had an adorable baby. And that he didn’t hate me. And most importantly, that he was safe.
Officer Jackson finished questioning me amid the flurry of activity surrounding my vehicle, and left to speak with the other officers on the scene. It was downright embarrassing, especially since it was all my fault. I knew better than to go on someone else’s limited knowledge of a potentially dangerous situation. Hello? Hadn’t law school taught me to look at every angle and motive, study out the situation myself, never go on second-hand knowledge, and sometimes, when necessary, don’t trust the facts? I banged my already pounding head on the steering wheel.
The minutes ticked by slowly as I sat alone in my car. It finally dawned on me I should call my grandfather. I was going to need a ride and an ego boost; he could provide both. Grady would only rub my idiocy in my face. That’s what big brothers were for.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of my phone. It wasn’t pretty. At least not meet-your-ex-boyfriend pretty. I ran my fingers through my medium-length blonde hair. It was starting to curl due to the humidity. I bet my hazel eyes were looking more green since I was upset.
Before I could make the call, and in the middle of my preening, Officer Jackson returned. He wasn’t bearing good news. He handed me my ticket for “failure to yield.”
“Your court date is at the bottom, or you can plead guilty and pay your fine at the city hall station.”
I knew it was coming. I nodded in acknowledgment before taking the expensive piece of paper.
“Or you can take driving school, since this is your first offense, and we’ll forgive the ticket and the points.”
“How many points is this ticket?”
“Five.” He grimaced.
Oh. That was a lot. Driving school was sounding good. “Thank you. Again, sorry for the trouble.”
He looked back toward Harrison’s car and grinned. “Have a good day, ma’am.”
I think that was impossible at this point. Was I free to move? Harrison knocked on the window, making me jump. I pushed the window button again. “Hi.”
He pressed his lips together and thought for a moment before he spoke. “I thought I should catch you before you did another hit and run.”
I sat up straighter. “Hit and run? You aren’t charging me with that, are you? There are witnesses that can corroborate that I stopped and haven’t moved.”
He grinned in the rain. “I take it you got that law degree.”
I bit my lip and smiled.
“I was talking about when you left five years ago.”
“Oh.” I squirmed in my seat. “About that . . .”
Another officer joined us. “We’ve written our report, so you’re free to go.”
“I think I’ll call a towing service. Thank you.”
The unknown officer left. He too was grinning.
I gave my attention to Harrison. “I guess I should park and assess the damage.”
“It’s not pretty.”
“I figured.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Anyway, it was nice running into you.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“I mean, it was nice seeing you again. Sorry I made you run into me.” The chill I had been feeling wore off quickly from the heat of embarrassment. I rolled up my window, without saying goodbye. I was good at that when it came to him. I found an empty parking space and pulled into it. I grabbed my phone to make those calls, but Harrison’s cruiser pulled in next to my vehicle on the passenger side. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe his car wasn’t safe to drive, though it hardly had a scratch on it, as far as I could tell.
I grabbed my umbrella and decided I should look at the damage. Before I could exit, Harrison was at my door with a large umbrella ready for me when he opened the door. “I’ll wait with you.”
“You don’t need to do that. I’m sure you have better things to do.”
“It’s been a while, Kallie.”
“Yeah, it has.”
“Let me buy you a cup of coffee, or do you still swear it off?”
I smiled that he remembered after all this time. “How about I buy you coffee and we’ll get a side of water.”
I stepped out under the protection of his umbrella. “I better take some pictures of my car, or my grandfather will be disappointed.” Speaking of my favorite guy, my phone rang. I answered.
“Are you all right? You should have been back by now.” Panic laced his words.
“Yes, Mason.” I had always called him that, although when I was very young, I’d called him My Mason. “But my car isn’t looking so good. I’ve been in a little accident.” I stared at the huge gash in the passenger-side door.
“Where are you? Are you sure you’re okay? Don’t say a word, and take pictures.”
“Already on it. Can you pick me up at the Starbucks on Peach Grove?”
“Of course, darlin’. I’ll be there within the half hour. I’ll call the towing service for you.”
“This is why I love you.”
I could hear him grin on the other end. He was a gruff old guy, but I could always hit his sweet spot. I ended the call and met Harrison’s eyes. He had them narrowed. “Is Mason your husband?”
I laughed. “No.” I had forgotten I never introduced Harrison to my family. I had been trying to keep our relationship as superficial as possible. “He’s my grandfather. I call him Mason because apparently, when I was younger, ‘grandpa’ was too difficult to master.”
Relief washed over his features. “Sounds like we only have a half hour. We should go in and get you out of the rain.”
“Let me take a few pictures. I can’t believe this. I bought this car last month.”
“That’s what insurance is for.”
I snapped a couple of pictures of the mangled metal with my phone before we walked into the coffee house together. This day was turning out much different than I imagined. I had always wondered what had happened to him and if I would ever run into him again. That thought crossed my mind anytime I came home to visit. This was never how I planned it.
Harrison opened the door for us and shook out his umbrella before following me in. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Positive. How about you?”
“This is nothing.”
“Can we just get it out there, how embarrassed I am?”
His blue eyes danced with amusement. “You should be.”
“Thanks for that.”
“It really is good to see you, Kallie.”
“It’s good to be seen. Well . . . not like this.”
“I always knew the next time we saw each other there would be sparks.” He turned a shade of pink.
I tucked some of my hair behind my ear. “So, coffee?”
“Coffee.” His tone turned deep and manly.
We ordered and grabbed a small table toward the back. He sipped on his coffee, straight up with no sugar or cream. I took a few sips of water in the awkward silence. But at least it gave me a chance to get a good look at him without his hat and raincoat on. The last five years were good to him. His handsome features were more refined.
“Your hair’s a lot shorter.” But it was still the perfect shade of light brown.
He ran his hand over his head. “It comes with the job.”
Yeah, his job. I looked down at my bottle of water. “Do you enjoy it?” I looked up and met his eyes. “That is, your job, not your hair. Not that you shouldn’t enjoy your hair.”
He chuckled. “Same old Kallie.”
I rubbed my neck. “Maybe I should stop talking today?”
I smiled at him.
He took a sip of his coffee. His eyes danced playfully above his cup. “You look terrific.”
I ran my fingers through my damp hair. “I think you’re obligated to say that. I’m confident the rain-soaked look doesn’t work for me.”
“I’ll have to disagree, counselor.”
“I don’t get called that very often.”
“Don’t see a lot of courtroom action?”
I shook my head. “Lots of paperwork and people. I prefer it that way. You probably see the inside of a courtroom more than I do.”
I tilted my head. “Are you unhappy with your choice?” Was it terrible to wish that he was?
“One of the best decisions of my life, but a lot of needless tragedy involves the courthouse.”
I looked at the time on my phone to focus on anything but him. He was as happy as I imagined he would be with his choice. “Very true.” I had seen more than my fair share of tragic events inside and outside the courtroom.
“I don’t need to ask if you’re happy with your career. You lived and breathed it before law school.”
“I guess it’s in my blood.”
“Even though I did score higher on the LSAT than you.” He grinned wickedly.
“Would you like me to bow down at your feet?” It was a lighthearted joke.
He grinned, but only for a second. “Just answer a question for me. Why didn’t you ever return any of my calls?”
I was hoping he wouldn’t bring that up. He surely had a wife or a girlfriend and was long over me, just like I’d hoped I would be long over him. Except looking at him made me question that. I took a deep breath and put on my lawyer cap. I needed to tell the truth without revealing anything.
He reached out and laid his hand over mine before I could formulate a logical yet truthful explanation for my behavior five years ago. “It felt like we were in the middle of a memory, and then poof, all I was left with was memories. You didn’t even say goodbye. Did I do something?”
I stared at our hands. His touch still affected me. My heart skipped a few beats on its way to thumping rapidly. “The thing is . . .” I pulled my hand away from his. I couldn’t think.
“Kallie.” A gruff but loveable voice called out my name.
I turned around, more grateful than you can imagine, to see My Mason coming toward us with concern in his eyes, and at a pace that would shame most twenty-year-olds. He reached me in no time and touched my cheek. “Are you okay, darlin’?”
“No need to worry. I’m fine.”
He turned his gaze toward Harrison. “Are you the officer that hit my granddaughter?”
“It was my fault,” I interrupted Mason.
Mason’s shrewd brown eyes came down on me. “She’s not admitting fault.”
I stood up and greeted my grandfather with a kiss on his cheek. “As a matter of fact, I am.”
His eyes softened. “We’ll talk about this later.” I didn’t ever need to see the inside of a courtroom to argue. My favorite opponent stood next to me in his three-piece suit.
I directed my attention toward a smiling Harrison. “Mason, this is Harrison Monroe. We knew each other at Georgia State.”
Mason gave me a meaningful glance. I knew he would recognize the name. His memory was superlative, as were his grandfathering skills. I had cried on his shoulder for two days after Harrison told me he was going to the police academy instead of law school. It was silly. We had barely begun to really get to know one another, but the lost opportunity hit harder than I thought it would. There was something about the man now standing up to shake my grandfather’s hand that had me spell-bound. But Mason agreed with me. Not getting involved with Harrison was the right decision. He saw what my father’s death had done to his daughter. They had both died that day, in some sense.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” Harrison reached out his hand.
Mason took his and gave it a firm shake. “The pleasure is mine, Officer.” He respected the men and women that served our city so valiantly. My father had been like a son to him.
“We better get going.” I looked at a disappointed Harrison. I never answered him. It was better that way.
“I’ll give you two a moment.” Mason kissed my head and walked away.
I wished he wouldn’t. I bit my lip. “It was nice to see you again. You’re happy, right?” I had to know.
He narrowed his eyes. “I would say, yes.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” I neared him, stood on my tiptoes, and kissed his cheek. “Be safe. Goodbye.” I did my best not to breathe in his musky scent or look into his blue eyes that always got to me.
He was quick. He grabbed my hand as I walked away as fast as I could. He pulled me back with one hand while rubbing his cheek where I had just kissed him with his other. “So this is a hit and run?”
“It’s not like that. It wasn’t like that.”
“What did I do? What changed that night?” He inched me closer.
I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. I looked down at our clasped hands. I missed how it felt to hold his hand.
I looked up and peered into his enquiring eyes. “I have to go. Please take care of yourself.” I tore away from him. I was surprised how hard it was after all these years, but we weren’t meant to be. Our relationship had been adjourned.