Jesse brought a little picture of himself, in case looking at him would somehow make them feel closer to their own son.
They were a typical middle-aged couple. Ann, the mother gave Jesse a hug. The father, Rob, shook his hand. After the handshake lunch turned awkward.
He’d practiced how he would express himself, but in person it was all different. How do you say this kind of thank you? What’s the right mixture of your renewal with their loss?
Jesse forced out an unbalanced thank you. They nodded their acceptance. The conversation was choppy, never allowed to go too deep.
Rob wouldn’t look him in the eye. When Rob went to the men’s room for the second time, Jesse frowned.
“It’s been hard on him,” Ann explained.
Jesse nodded. “I can only imagine.”
“On both of us. Robby was our only child.”
“Rob and Robby were two peas in a pod. He lived through that boy. Since the accident, well, there’s a big hole in him.”
“I wish he’d let me tell him how sorry I am,” Jesse replied, “how grateful . . .”
“But he won’t look at you,” Ann interrupted. “It’s not because he resents you. He’s afraid.”
“Of my face?”
“Your face terrifies him. Part of him is afraid he’ll see Robby in your eyes. The rest of him is afraid he won’t.”
Jesse called the waiter and gave him cash to cover the bill. He stood, taking Ann’s hand. “Will you tell Rob I had to go? Tell him I’ll always do my best to honor Robby’s memory.”
He let go her hand and turned away, leaving his haunting self-portrait in his wallet and taking the heart of their family away, beneath the vertical scar in his chest.
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