Damon could hear the voices in the kitchen as soon as he entered the house. “Stephanie,” he called out.
“Finally.” Stephanie strolled into the living room in a flowing beach cover-up. Her face had a golden glow. “Did you get my text? I was starting to think you were never going to come home.”
“You know I had that meeting to get to today. I couldn’t check my phone. Who’s here?”
A thin woman with short silver hair sauntered out of the kitchen in a bathing suit and sarong. “This must be Mr. Perfect. We’re thrilled to finally meet you.” She gave Damon an enthusiastic hug. “Aren’t you a looker.”
“Mom,” Stephanie said.
A squat man with a rotund belly stood behind her.
“This is my Dad.” Stephanie motioned to him like a game show hostess.
“Ralph,” the man said. “This is my wife, Lilith.”
“Nice to meet both of you.” Damon was polite, but inside he was seething. He’d told Stephanie several times that he wasn’t ready to meet her parents. “It always seemed unfair that Steph has met my mother while you two have remained a mystery to me.”
Shock crossed her face for the briefest moment. “Yeah. Damon’s mother is delightful. You really must meet her too.”
“No father?” Lilith said, shaking her head knowingly.
“I have a father. Steph just hasn’t managed to meet him yet.”
Ralph went back into the kitchen. “I’m still working on my sandwich,” he said.
“Dad, your food can wait.”
“That’s fine. We can talk in the kitchen. I’m starving,” Damon said.
“I bought a sandwich for you too.” Stephanie hurried to the refrigerator and got out a sandwich wrapped in butcher paper.
“I’m going to go change into some shorts first.” Damon was uncomfortable in the dress slacks and button down shirt he’d worn to meet with the gallery owner. “Can you come with me?”
“I think you can manage that yourself.” Stephanie laughed.
“I can, but I need to talk to you for a minute.” Damon started toward the bedroom confident that Stephanie would follow him. Once she was inside, he shut the door. “Didn’t I tell you that I wasn’t ready to meet your parents?” he hissed.
“They’re here. It would be weird if you didn’t. Last year it was understandable. The relationship was new, and it would’ve been a little weird if you had, but we’ve been together for a while. I live here for goodness sakes. They hear about you all the time. They want to meet you. It’s the natural progression of things.” She put her hand on the doorknob like she was already ready to leave.
“I told you that I didn’t want to and you should respect that. You shouldn’t bring them to my house and surprise me.” Damon was doing his best to keep his voice down. “I thought they were staying at your place.”
“They are. What do you expect me to do? They want to meet you. I want them to meet you. When you’re serious about someone, you meet their parents. It’s the next step.”
“Well, maybe I’m not that serious. I’m not ready for the next step. I’m enjoying the step we’re on.”
Stephanie released the doorknob and took a few steps toward him, her face red with anger. “You’re not serious. We live together, and you’re not serious. Have I been wasting my time with you?”
Damon shook his head. He didn’t want to fight with her parents just a few feet away. He reached out and took hold of her forearm. “You make it sound so terrible, but it’s not. I’m still trying to get things straight in my mind, that’s all.”
She pulled away from him. “What’s there to get straight? I love you, and I thought you loved me. Am I wrong about that?”
Why did Lisa have to come back and throw a wrench into everything? Damon was figuring out how to make it work with Stephanie until he saw her at the Starlight Cafe. “I love you, Steph—”
“I got into this too fast. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” Stephanie had always been interested in him, but he’d never entertained the idea until he realized it was over with Lisa. He thought he’d have a little fling with Stephanie to help him get over her, but before he knew it, the fling ended up lasting much too long. She was a good woman, but not the one for him. His mother was right. Stringing her along like he was wasn’t fair.
“What are you saying?” Her bottom lip quivered. “What are you saying?” Her voice was loud.
Damon wished he hadn’t said anything. He wished he could stop talking. If he could’ve gone back in time and started again, he would’ve. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Yes, you do. You wait until my parents are sitting in the kitchen to do this.” She was almost yelling.
Damon wondered how long it would be before one of her parents would walk through the door. “Keep it down. Your parents will hear.”
“So what? I don’t hide anything from them or are you just afraid they’ll find out how much of a jerk you are? I can’t believe I wasted my time with you.” She shook with anger.
“I’m sorry.” He reached out to her, but she swatted his hand away.
“Don’t touch me.” She stood there silently for a moment, and Damon wondered what she would do next. “Lisa comes back to town, and you dump me just like that. You are pathetic.”
“How do you know Lisa is back in town?”
“It doesn’t matter.” When she opened the bedroom door, her mother was standing on the other side.
“Is everything all right?” her mother asked.
“Yes,” Damon said.
Stephanie looked back at him disgusted. “No.” She took her mother by the arm and started pulling her toward the front door. “Dad, you can eat your sandwich at my house.”
“What’s happening?” Her father came out of the kitchen holding half of a sandwich over a plate.
“Damon doesn’t want us here, so we’re leaving,” Stephanie said.
“I never said that.” Damon chased after them. He didn’t want them there, but he also didn’t want them to think that he was kicking them out. He was willing to pretend everything was okay until the evening was over. He hadn’t gotten to that part with Stephanie yet. Somehow the conversation got completely derailed. He wasn’t intending on breaking up with her then and there. It just happened.
“Damon was never as good as he led me to believe. Apparently, he was using me until someone better came along.”
“That’s impossible sweetheart. No one could be better than you,” her mother said.
“He doesn’t seem to think so.” She shot a cold look at him as she opened the front door.
“Let me put my plate down,” her father said. He turned to go back to the kitchen.
“Keep the plate. It’s mine anyway,” Stephanie shrieked. She pulled the door open and stormed out.
Damon stood in shock as he watched Stephanie and Lilith march across his front lawn.
“Pardon me,” Ralph said.
Damon turned around and saw Ralph standing behind him holding his sandwich. Realizing he was blocking the doorway, Damon stepped aside and let Ralph pass. “You’re letting a remarkable woman get away,” he said as he walked by.
“I know,” Damon said. Stephanie was remarkable, and she’d been there for him when it mattered most. He knew his mother was right. What he was doing was cruel and even though breaking up with her seemed mean now, in the long run, it was the best thing for both of them.
“It was good meeting you,” Ralph said.
“Come on, Ralph,” Lilith yelled.
Ralph turned quickly and hurried after the women pieces of lettuce falling out of his sandwich as he went.
Damon eased the door closed and turned to look at his empty living room. The heaviness he’d felt since Lisa left him weighed him down even more.
Green was the color of the grass at the peak of the rainy season. Dark with life it sprung from the ground in hearty clumps. Defiant, it grew as fast as the blades of mower could slice it down. Green reminded Damon of strong-willed determination. It was the color of Stephanie’s eyes. He saw them in his dreams that night, piercing him with disappointment, betrayal. Green was the color of the flecks in Lisa’s light brown eyes. They shone with a light that she didn’t seem to notice when she looked at herself in the mirror. He’d spent his life being in control. He knew how to get everything right, but somehow he managed to get this so wrong.
Damon woke between his dreams. The darkness squeezed the air out of him as he lay awake for a few minutes before getting up and stumbling out to his garage studio in a groggy fog. Fatigue could not mute the emotions that pushed at his insides asking to leak out through his hands. He’d done the right thing, but there were moments when the right thing felt wrong.
He started with green. The exact shade from his dream spattered across the canvas. As he moved the painting grew out of the blank canvas like a living organism. It bloomed before him as if it had a will of its own. Often Damon felt like his paintings were beyond anything he could control. Taking credit for them seemed wrong. They didn’t come from him they came from someone else. He was only the vehicle to put them on the canvas. He fell asleep on the studio floor when he was done with the painting. It wasn’t the first time he slept there, and it wouldn’t be the last. Soon his bed would sit abandoned in the house as he spent all of his nights sleeping on the floor of his studio close to his work.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Stephanie grunted and rolled her eyes in return as she shoved her clothes into a black wheeling suitcase. Her mother stood in the corner with her arms crossed silently watching them.
“I shouldn’t have let it go on as long as it did.”
She stopped packing her face contorting into a few expressions before finally settling on anger. “You’re not sorry for breaking it off with me while my parents were here or for continuing to fantasize about that woman while you were with me. You’re sorry because you stayed with me for too long.” She slammed a stack of T-shirts into her suitcase.
“I’ll be in the living room if you need me,” her mother said before slinking through the door.
Damon said nothing because he knew that anything he did say would be used against him.
“She came waltzing up to the door the other day like she belonged here and I told her otherwise. At the time, I was thinking the nerve of her showing her face around here after what she did to you. That was before I knew that you were still painting her like some kind of obsessive psychopath.”
“Wait a minute. Lisa was here?” he asked. He’d been thinking about her more than he wanted to admit since seeing her in the Starlight Cafe, but he never thought that she was thinking about him too. She must’ve been. Why else would she come to his house?
Stephanie zipped her suitcase closed and pulled it off. “Yeah. She was here.” She started pulling her suitcase to the door. “Now that you’ve got me out of the way you can go chasing after her. That’s what you’ve always wanted anyway.” She dragged her suitcase out of the room. “Come on, Mom. I’ll get the rest of my stuff later.”
Damon heard the suitcase rolling across the wood floor and the slap of their shoes as they walked out the front door slamming it behind them. He had been afraid that it was too late, but it wasn’t. Lisa had come to find him. There was still a chance, and he held onto it with everything he had.