I look down at the remnants of my lobster roll.
“I have to get back too. I probably have more flexibility than you, but I can’t avoid my clients forever. There’s work to be done,” I say in a rueful tone.
She nods, looking thoughtful, and it’s then that I decide to ask a question that’s been niggling at the corners of my mind.
“Can I ask something?” I begin.
“Of course,” Rachel nods with a brilliant smile. “What is it?”
“Well, is there something bringing you to the cottage? Beyond a much-needed vacation, I mean? I sense something in the air.”
She freezes and a vague, “Mm-hmm” is all I get back at first.
“Don’t feel that you have to talk about it, sweetheart. If it’s private, I completely respect that.”
The pretty brunette sighs, tucking a chestnut curl behind one ear.
“No, it’s just that …” She blows out a breath. “Where do I even start?”
“Wherever you want. I’m all ears, honey.”
Rachel sighs again, looking out in the distance at the sparkling water. Gulls swoop and dip in the air, while the faint cries of children laughing greet our ears. Then she looks back at me and smiles ruefully.
“I was in a three-year relationship that ended rather abruptly two weeks ago.”
My eyebrows shoot up to my hairline. “Three years?”
“Yeah,” she says. “It’s a long time, right? Danny and I met through a couple of mutual friends, and we hit it off. We had a lot of the same values and goals in life. Well, at least I thought we did.”
She sighs again.
“Well, I wanted to take our relationship to the next level. I wanted marriage. A family. A life together with someone, you know? At least, I thought that’s what I wanted. Looking back of course, he was totally wrong for me, but hey, hindsight is 20/20.”
I nod but keep my expression neutral.
“So what prompted the break-up?”
Rachel shakes her head then, her expression impossible to read.
“You’re going to love this. I met Danny for lunch one day to talk to him about potentially taking our relationship to the next level, but instead, he surprises me and breaks up instead. He tells me he’s fallen in love with an eighteen year old undergrad at NYU, and that the age difference is nothing. He’s thirty, mind you, so hardly a spring chicken.”
“Shit, Rach. That’s fucked up.”
“Yes, but do you want to know something even more crazy?”
“He told me that I needed to start getting serious about a relationship and settling down. He said I wasn’t getting any younger and that if I want children, I need to buckle down and find someone to marry ASAP. The nerve! What a total asshole!”
I growl my displeasure at the son of a bitch who said that. Then, I get up and pull Rachel up from her chair before wrapping my arms around her curvy form. I breathe in deeply, inhaling her sweet cinnamon scent, as she trembles against my broad chest.
“You’re not old, Rach,” I murmur. “If anything you’re young. I mean, you’re what? Twenty-six?”
She smiles a bit.
“See? Exactly. Now, I’m old because I’m forty-nine. You’re nothing but a baby, sweetheart, and that fucker is an asshole who doesn’t deserve you. I guarantee that his new girlfriend is going to dump his ass for the next frat boy that shows her any attention.”
She throws her head back and laughs at my words. “From your lips to God’s ears, handsome.”
But I’m serious, and nuzzle her neck once more.
“Baby, you know you’re not old, right? I really mean it.”
She laughs tunelessly.
“Of course I do. I help women well into their forties give birth all the time.”
“So you know you’re ripe and fertile. You’re one of a kind sweetheart, and there’s no need to be down on yourself because of your age. Your ex is a fucking asshole, saying those things.”
She nods. She understands, but I’m not sure she’s completely internalized my words. Then, Rachel looks up and her chestnut eyes are so big and brown that my heart melts.
“Are you happy, Uncle Max?” she asks.
“Happy with what?”
“With life,” she replies simply. “You know, with everything.”
I think a moment before answering her question. “I’m happy, Rach. I love my job, even though it’s annoying and difficult from time to time. That’s just how all jobs are. But my priorities are shifting, and I’m curious to see how things turn out. You never know. Even for an old dog like me, things change.”
Rachel nods and it seems like she wants to ask something, but then she bites her lip and remains silent. I tilt her chin up and gaze deeply into her chocolate eyes. “I’m happy here with you in a way I haven’t been happy in a long time, sweetheart. That’s all I’m saying.”
She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, and I’m not quite sure what’s next for us now.