“Who is it?” It was a stall, but she didn’t know what else to do.
“Flower delivery,” the voice sounded muffled, as if he was trying to disguise it.
“Just leave them,” she said through the door. “I can’t open it right now.”
“I need a signature, Ma’am,” he said.
Joellen took a deep breath.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said, leaning against the door. “If you get caught you’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
There was a long silence before he answered and when he did, his voice sounded taut as if he were choking on something.
“I just stopped by to leave these flowers for you, Jo,” he was almost whispering now so that Joellen had to lean her ear against the door to hear him. “I just wanted you to know that I miss you. That I’m sorry for all the trouble.”
Joellen didn’t know what to do now. If she answered him at all she would get involved in something that might take time, and North would be waiting for her. He never had much time. She didn’t want to miss him. Her excitement over their meeting had now turned to panic. Yet she didn’t want Brent to sense that, so she tried to control her voice.
She peeked out the side window and saw him place the flowers carefully down on the top step as if he were at a graveyard. The expression on his face was as somber as that.
“I’ll just leave these here,” he said, and she could tell by his voice that he was really down.
“I can’t talk to you,” she said through the door. “because of the restraining order.”
He looked up and saw her peering at him through the window. He stood up then and came toward the door and put his hand up toward the glass as if to touch her face.
“Jo, why did you have to go and do that?” he asked, and she could see a pain in his expression that she had never seen before. His shoulders slumped and he looked as if he had just lost a puppy.
Joellen cracked open the door a few inches without thinking any further about what she should or shouldn’t do. Some instinct had taken over. She felt sorry and sad all at once.
He stood there looking up at her, his head still droopy, his eyes watery. He looked down at the flowers and moved to pick them up, but then stopped as if the effort was too much.
“I wanted to bring these,” he said softly. “To say how sorry I am.”
Joellen didn’t know what to say. This was new territory with Brent. She didn’t know whether to comfort him or be suspicious of his motives. She stepped outside, reached down and picked up the flowers.
They smelled like spring. Even though it was close to Christmas, the day was not cold, the sun was bright in the blue morning sky. She breathed in the scent. It reminded her of the days when he was courting her, early on, when he used to bring flowers before a date and she would put them in a vase. It was a little ritual they established. Then he would kiss her and she would melt into him, but he never pushed any farther. They would go out, to dinner or a frat party. He was always gentlemanly, always careful with her, and she mistook this for love, almost for adoration. But southern boys knew that game. Brent played it to the hilt. And she had been grateful. He knew that, too.
She turned away from the step, the flowers in her arms.
“Jo,” he said softly, “please talk to me.”