One week later, JD was back in school. He was walking with the aid of a crutch and seemed happier and healthier than before his accident. He had a little color in his cheeks, and he wasn't permanently hiding behind his hair. Grace wondered if Shannon had something to do with it. Maybe a woman's influence had worked this transformation?
She deliberately hung out in the parking lot after school to see who picked him up. It was Shannon in Sam's car and she waved hello to Grace as she got out and helped JD in. Why did she have to be beautiful and nice?
To be polite, Grace walked up to them.
"JD did well today," she said and then making sure JD was too precoccupied with the car radio to hear, added, "he seems happier."
Shannon smiled. "I think he liked all the extra attention," she whispered conspiratorially.
Grace couldn't help asking, "are you going to be staying long?"
"I don't know, " said Shannon, flicking her long hair behind her shoulders as two seniors walked by gaping at her. "I should get back to my business, but things are … a little complicated at the moment." Her hand subconsciously went to her belly.
"Have you known Sam long?" Grace was blushing at her own lack of self control. Why couldn't she just leave it?
"Yeh. We met in Australia a few years ago when we were both surfing the beaches there."
"That must have been an adventure," said Grace, wondering how she could possibly compete with a cool, gorgeous daredevil like Shannon.
Shannon laughed, "I guess we've both grown up a bit since then!" and a sad look passed her face. "Big responsibilities and all that.." she said trailing off and then abruptly added, "well, I'd better be going," and she got in the car.
The next day it was Sam who brought JD to school. Grace stood on the steps in front of the main entrance and watched him help JD out of the car and hand him his crutches. Even seeing him from a distance, her heart started to thump and the all too familiar fluttering feeling started up in her abdomen. He was wearing his customary faded T Shirt stretched across his broad shoulders and upper back. The jeans he had on seemed to be his most ancient pair, one of the back pockets was hanging by a corner. Even so, he still could have graced the pages of GQ he looked so handsome.
He didn't get in the car and leave, as she had expected him to. Instead, he walked up the path, a metre or so behind JD, hands in his pockets, brow furrowed. When he reached her, he managed to smile, long lashes fringing his tired eyes.
"Can I talk to you about something Grace?" he said in a husky voice.
The fact that he had said her name like that gave her goosebumps all the way down her arms. She took a deep breath and led him inside to one of the empty offices in the administration area.
Grace leaned on the table, arms folded as if to protect herself. Sam declined her offer of a seat and shuffled uncomfortably instead.
"If JD and I move away somewhere else," he eventually said. "How would that work with school and everything?" and he looked up and stared straight into her eyes, an unreadable expression on his face.
Grace desperately tried to keep her own expression neutral but inside she was breaking. She thanked the lord she was already leaning on something and had her arms folded. It meant she could hold herself together, literally.
"When are you going?" she managed to say.
"It's not definite yet, but I'm considering moving to Bakersfield," he said.
Of course he was. He was going to stand by Shannon and bring up their child. Then she remembered she wasn't supposed to know about the baby. She had every right to ask why he was moving there, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She couldn't face hearing him say it, confirm the pregnancy, totally shatter her.
"What about the surf shop? Your house?"
He ran his hand over his cropped hair and said quietly, "It's an impossible situation. I've known Shannon a long time. She needs my help."
"Can't she move here?" Grace knew this conversation was seriously crossing the normal boundaries of a Parent Teacher conference, but Sam looked like he needed to talk to a friend, not a stuffy home room teacher.
"There are reasons she needs to stay in Bakersfield, at least for a while."
"It might be too much disruption for JD," she said truthfully.
"I know, but he really likes Shannon and she's really good with him."
Grace's stomach clenched with a jolt of jealousy. She decided to return to being the stuffy homeroom teacher, for self defense rather than anything else.
"If you do move," she said, "we could help JD find another school and transfer all his records. It shouldn't be much of a problem."
Sam stared at her blankly, and then said in a flat voice, "OK. Well that's one weight off my shoulders," and then he abruptly turned and walked out of the small room, leaving the door open. Grace followed him and watched him walk away from her. He didn't turn back once.
Sam stalked to his car, so angry and upset he could barely get the door open. What had he expected? He hadn't exactly expected her to fall on her knees and beg him to stay, but a little emotion would have been nice. It would have been nice to see she didn't want him to go, that she might miss him. He was an idiot. Grace Gilbert wasn't interested in him.