Sheila nibbled at the bits of lobster in her sandwich and willed back her tears as lightning flashed outside the window beside her. She had left her hometown as soon as she had graduated university, twelve years earlier, and she hadn’t looked back since. She didn’t need to think about it now, and she definitely didn’t need to think about Jack, no matter how difficult it was to put him out of her mind.
After moving to the city, she’d gotten help to deal with the emotional scars Jack had left. She hadn’t been able to do anything about the physical ones.
It was in the past now, and she wanted to focus on her present. She wasn’t even sure why she had brought it up to Erich. Part of her was surprised he hadn’t walked away. Most guys didn’t want to deal with a woman who’d been damaged the way she had.
Most guys didn’t even earn enough of her trust to hear about her life before Portland, but Erich’s calm demeanor encouraged her to trust him.
“These lobster rolls are excellent,” Erich said.
“Yeah.” Sheila glanced at him. No judgment, no discomfort. He took a bite of his sandwich and smiled as he chewed.
He might be a guy worth knowing better. Maybe having around more.
She dismissed the thought immediately. Neither of them wanted a relationship, and she hoped to move to Boston soon. If she repeated that to herself enough times, it might get through. She couldn’t have Erich around her more than a friend would be. There was no point in even thinking about it.
She wouldn’t have wanted him to be with her constantly anyway. She didn’t have time or patience for it.
“I want to say something to make you smile,” Erich said. “I’m not having much luck thinking of anything.”
“It isn’t your job to entertain me.” She ate another fry. It tasted like cardboard around the lump that had risen through her throat.
“Something hit a nerve.” He held out his hand. Although Sheila wanted the physical contact, she didn’t take it. It would only have given her comfort, which would have been a bad thing when she was so close to losing her cool and bursting into tears.
Erich hesitated a moment before resting his hand on the table. “I don’t know if it was something I said or something you said. Either way, it happened while we were talking, and I want to help.”
“I don’t want to spill my sordid past.” She twisted her mouth in something that felt close enough to a smile and took a sip of her soda. “No issue. Memories are crap sometimes, but the good thing is they’re in the past. I want to think about now.”
“Well, right now there’s a hell of a thunderstorm going on outside.” A crash of thunder punctuated his words. “You’re not looking at the lightning. It’s pretty spectacular.”
Sheila turned to the window just as a bolt of forked lightning shot from the clouds to the surface of the water. It was beautiful and exciting, and she couldn’t help smiling. “God, I love that! I wish I was out there.”
“You might get struck,” Erich pointed out.
“Stop being reasonable.” She stuck out her tongue at him, and he laughed. So did she. Something about thunderstorms—the power, the electricity in the air, and the beauty of the lightning had always lifted her mood. Now she was able to dismiss the tears and memories. They couldn’t stand up to the crashing thunder and waves.
She wanted to be outside. It was pouring hard enough that the water looked like sheets running down the window, and judging from how closely thunder followed on the heels of each lightning bolt, the storm was close to overhead. It didn’t matter. She needed to be outside.