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SECOND CHANCES by Brenda Minton

Piano music and the low murmur of conversations flowed from the candlelit interior of the restaurant. Jenna Foster stepped through the door. Her gaze connected with a man sitting at a corner table. 

He stood as she crossed the room. She paused, unsure of the moment, of her reaction to his presence. His gray eyes lit with humor and a smile tugged the corners of his mouth. He touched the rose in the pocket of his shirt, the sign they’d agreed on for this meeting. She raised her right hand and showed him the corsage on her wrist. She’d felt a rush of anticipation when she’d lifted it from the box.

“I’m glad you could make it,” he whispered close to her ear as he took her hand. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

“I thought about cancelling,” she admitted.

“But you didn’t.” He led her back to the corner table.

Piano music continued to drift around them, soft notes and romance. The candle on their table flickered as somewhere a door opened. He held out a chair and waited for her to take a seat.

She hadn’t felt so unsure in years. She had turned forty this past summer and mirrors didn’t lie. There were lines at the corners of her eyes and things sagged that hadn’t sagged twenty years ago. She didn’t feel old. Maybe because she had been beating at the years with the treadmill and weights. She’d been running from the inevitable ticking of the clock. She’d been avoiding home. Home had become a place of tension, of angry voices and closed doors. And betrayal.

She’d been trying to outrun time and instead it had sneaked around a corner and pulled the rug out from under her. The man sitting across from her had silver at the temples and laugh lines around his mouth. Time had caught him too. It was strange to notice those lines, the silver in his hair.

“I don’t think I can do this.” She whispered the words as she studied the menu.

He reached for her hand. She slid her fingers through his and he held tight.

“Let’s stop pretending.” His voice, baritone and smooth, forced her to look up, to meet his gaze.

She saw something of the man he had once been, a young man who had dreamed of a career, a family, a life together. With her.

“I don’t know how to stop pretending,” she admitted. They were no longer discussing this date. They were talking about their lives, their marriage.

They had three children at home. She closed her eyes as grief washed over her, tight and painful. Last week they’d learned their sixteen-year-old daughter was pregnant. Their princess. When had she changed from the toddler who held her arms out with laughter and trust to a withdrawn teenager?

Their family had fallen apart as they’d all gone their separate ways with doors and hearts closed off. They were the American dream that had shattered, overcome by reality.

“We lost our way,” her husband admitted. “Jenna, we stopped talking. We stopped being a family and became our work and our separate goals. I want us back.”

“You cheated on me,” she accused, the words alive with all the pain she’d felt.  Guilt lived where the anger lived. She’d come so close herself. She’d picked the gym where she worked out every day, trying hard to gain back time.

“I know.” He brushed a thumb over her knuckles. “I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can only ask you to forgive me. Give us a second chance.”

“I forgive you,” she whispered and then met his gaze. “I don’t know if I trust you.”

“I know. Let me prove myself. For us. For our children.”

“How do we start over?”

His smile took her back. They’d been so in love. They’d shared everything--their dreams, their fears, their achievements.

“We start over like this,” he said. “We talk. We spend time together as a family.”

“I want us back, Dean. I do. But it won’t be easy.”

“It will take time but I’m going to be the man I’m supposed to be for you and for our children. When I cheated on you, Jenna, I cheated on them.”

The waiter approached but Dean shook his head. He stood and pulled her up with him to the dance floor. Piano music drifted around them and she realized it was their song.

“I love you, Jenna. I’m going to love you forever. I’m going to show our children what a father and husband should look like. When you’re ready, I’ll be here.”

He leaned, capturing her lips in the sweetest of kisses. She kissed him back, taking the second chance and knowing it wouldn’t be easy. But it would be worth it. 

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