January dragged into February. School days were long and laborious and Grace missed Summer. Her boiler was fixed but her house still felt cold and lonely. Brandon was back in New York, the only consolation being he was probably even colder than her. The worst snow in years had hit, and he spent long hours on the phone to her probably because there was little else to do.
Phone sex could get boring, especially with someone like Brandon who just didn't have the concentration or staying power to crank up the necessary tension. Grace would sometimes remember Sam's deep voice and suggestive comments, and then guiltily banish the memories. She'd barely seen him since before Christmas. JD was doing well and there had been no need for any communication. Once Sam had smiled at her from another check-out counter at the grocery store, reminding her of that first time they'd met over french sticks, but she had rushed away, wary of standing too close to him, let alone having a conversation. Even wrapped in winter woolens he was a tempting sight. Thank God it was too cold to go to the beach. She couldn't be tortured by his naked flesh.
One slightly warmer day in late March, Lisa, Briana and Grace had gathered at the neighborhood bar to supposedly hear about Lisa's wedding plans, but the margaritas were soon flowing and wedding talk led to gossip to dirty jokes, and they were soon laughing uproariously making the barman blush.
Lisa was half way through a ridiculous lie about the school Principal's predilection for animal print underwear when she suddenly stopped talking and grinned appreciatively.
Grace turned to see what she was looking at and there stood Brandon. He was dressed in one of his expensive grey suits and he looked very very handsome, so handsome that Grace actually blushed. He smiled at her, showcasing his perfect white teeth. She remained glued to her barstool.
"Hey Babe," he said, holding out his arms.
"Brandon," she stammered. "What are you doing here?"
"Well that's a nice welcome!" he grinned and then looking at Lisa and Briana said, "hello Ladies, I'm Brandon. I'm hoping she's told you all about me."
They nodded and turned to Grace, waiting for her to start behaving appropriately.
"How did you know I was here?""
"A lucky guess. Are you going to come here and give me a kiss?"
She walked over to him on slightly wobbly legs and let him take her face in his hands and lower his lips onto hers. She could feel the whole bar looking at them. She hated public displays of affection.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" she muttered into his ear as he enveloped her in his embrace.
"I wanted to surprise you," he said. "There's something I want to ask you, and I don't think I can wait any longer."
Grace watched Brandon suddenly crouch down on the floor, her brain incapable of fully processing what he was about to do. The entire bar stopped talking as he took her hand. She heard Lisa loudly gasp behind her.
And before she could stop him, Brandon said clearly and firmly, "Grace Gilbert, will you marry me?"
There was an uncomfortable silence, punctuated by the sound of a pool ball hitting a cushion. As Grace looked down at Brandon's expectant expression, she heard the bar door open and felt the cool blast of air as someone walked in. She looked up to see Sam standing in the doorway. He was encased in black wool with a black beany hat on his head, setting off his tanned face and sexy stubble. Grace instantly felt butterflies form in her stomach as Sam stood and stared at the romantic scene in front of him.
Her and Sam had exactly the same stunned expressions on their faces, she realised. She quickly looked back at Brandon for propriety's sake. Lisa and Briana gaped, open mouthed, switching between Sam and Brandon as if it was a tennis match. Brandon remained kneeling, clutching Grace's hand, his face now anxious rather than expectant.
It was Sam who was the first to speak. It seemed to take a long time for his voice to emerge in a croak.
"No," he said, loudly and slightly desperately.
Grace's eyes shot to his and he was looking directly at her, his brown eyes deep and imploring.
Briana giggled nervously and Brandon turned his head. "Do I know you, man?"
"No," Sam said again, more quietly and looking completely mortified, turned and exited the way he had come.