It was early evening before Derek completed the paperwork for Joanne’s project. When she came in the next morning, he’d have contractors waiting to talk to her about materials and schedules. Budget in hand, he pushed through Mark’s waiting room and into his office.
“Thanks for ratting me out,” he told Mark, tossing the single sheet of paper onto the desk.
Mark didn’t skip a beat. “Joanne thought she was about to get fired and wasn’t sure what went wrong.”
“Ah, shit. Didn’t know I scared her that bad.”
“I don’t know what happened. One minute we were laughing and talking, the next, Mary was asking for our order.”
“What?” Mark asked, leaning over his desk. “That’s not possible, we both know that. Tell me you know she’s gone, man.”
“I know,” Derek sighed. “Maureen has a new waitress, and when she walked up to the table, I saw…I thought I saw Mary.”
A few long minutes of silence rubbed at his ears before he heard Mark’s office chair squeak. Derek looked up to see a strange expression. Worse than concern or sympathy. Worry.
“Buddy, I know you don’t want to hear this, but you need to see someone.”
“I don’t need a damn shrink. It’s just grief. I’ll get over it.”
“It’s been three years. I watched you go through the process, but I haven’t seen you move on. Mary would—”
“Don’t tell me what she would want. I don’t need to hear it.”
Mark surged to his feet. “Dammit, man, you need to listen. It’s way past time for you to get back to the business of living. While you limp through a half-life, you’re leaving the people who care about you in a bloody wake.”
“You and Steve can handle it.”
“Sure,” Mark said, easing back into his chair. “but what about Joanne?”
“Fuck. I screwed up.” Derek dropped into one of the chairs in front of Mark’s desk and leaned back to stare at the ceiling. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“Not completely done. It’s salvageable. She’s still speaking to you?”
“Hmm, yeah, she is.” He closed his eyes, knowing his buddy would get a kick out of the next little bit. Humility wasn’t Derek’s strong suit. “I apologized.”
“Good for you. How’d she take it?”
“She’s a decent woman. She accepted it and changed the subject.”
“Damn,” Mark laughed, “I could fall in love with her myself.”
“Don’t. She’s too good for you.”
“Helluva comment from the man who just screwed with her head,” Mark replied.