Excerpt from Ever Since Eve

   
     Derek steered the Corvette around a huge puddle in the middle of the road. Tropical Storm Dondi, downgraded last night from a hurricane, had moved in from the coast and was dumping torrential rains on the North Carolina Piedmont.
     He shifted uneasily in his seat, his damp shirt sticking to his back, and wished longingly for the cool, crisp weather of October. This was the last week of an unusually humid September, which meant approximately four weeks to go until relief arrived in the form of the first frost.
     He slowed his speed as he approached the L & D Cafe at Dugan's Crossroads. The windshield wipers scrambled frantically, barely able to keep up with the deluge.
     Believe it or not, there was a woman actually walking alongside the road in this horrendous weather. He noticed her, tried not to splash her, then cast a backward glance in utter disbelief.
     She wore a loose, nondescript raincoat over a white uniform, and she held an umbrella over her head, which didn't help much to protect her from the rain. But her hairstyle, blunt-cut and precise, was familiar. So were the angle of her head and the long elegant sweep of her neck.
     "Eve," he muttered, straining for a better view of her. A van loomed behind him, riding his bumper, and the last he saw of her, someone was holding the door of the restaurant so she could duck inside.
     Derek had come home to the Myers Park house from his business trip three months ago and found Eve gone. He discovered the bank passbook with its untouched three thousand dollars placed in the exact center of his desk, a silent rebuke.
     Still, he'd fully expected Eve to turn up after the abortion and ask for her money. When she didn't, he wondered why. The only way he might have found her was through the Queen City Fertility Clinic, but he didn't try—too many unhappy memories there. He convinced himself that after he'd left on his business trip, Eve had seen the light and had the abortion. He figured she'd find him when she needed the money.
     But he hadn't heard one word from Eve. After Kelly's death, Derek had fiercely attacked the many problems at work, and so he'd never followed up on his obligation to locate Eve. Moreover, when she'd left, he was wallowing in the depths of his grief, indulging in boundless self-pity. Only recently had he begun to take mild pleasure in the things he'd enjoyed before—a round of golf, a quiet dinner with old friends, and sometimes he couldn't face even those.
     Could that have been Eve going into the L & D Cafe? No. Why would Eve be at that little restaurant at Dugan's Crossroads? Still, the memory of her teased him, and the nagging idea that he'd been derelict in his duty toward her wouldn't let him rest. A week later, when he had to go to Wrayville for another round of discussions about his latest acquisition, he stopped at the L & D Cafe.
     He realized as soon as he stepped inside that he was out of his element. His dark suit was clearly out of place among the yellow hardhats and denim shirts and jeans.
     He slid across the red vinyl seat in a vacant booth and scanned the menu. From the jukebox in the corner blared the voice of John Denver whining for his old guitar. Derek drummed his fingers impatiently on the scuffed tabletop. The service was slow.
     Where was the server, anyway? He didn't see one. There was a guy with Lenny written across his chest who seemed to be everywhere at once.
     "I'd like to place my order, please," Derek said when the guy breezed by.
     "Sure," Lenny said amiably before disappearing again.
     And then, and then... he saw her. She seemed to float ethereally behind the counter, a graceful woman in white who, with her air of calm composure, looked altogether too aristocratic to be working in a place like this. But there was no doubt in his mind as he watched her slide a sandwich plate onto the counter from her tray that she indeed worked here. He held his breath.
     He hadn't remembered Eve Triopolous as being so beautiful.
     She turned on her heel and walked around the end of the counter, and it was then that he realized. He gasped with the impact of it, and the room tilted, bent in two. For when he saw her gently rounded abdomen beneath the skirt of her uniform, he knew.
     He shut his eyes, then opened them again. Eve was still pregnant. She was something like four or five months pregnant; he had never been good at determining such things.
     The buzzing in his ears reached monumental proportions, and when it stopped, she was standing beside him, marking something efficiently on her order pad, and then she inquired crisply and impersonally, "May I take your order, please?"
     His hand clutched her wrist, and her eyes widened in alarm as she looked up, completely unaware. She hadn't paid any attention to him; he was just another customer.
     When she recognized Derek, her knees went weak. They stared at each other for a long moment, startled brown eyes converging with steely gray ones. Eve felt her world, the one she had constructed so carefully in the past few months, crumble slowly to dust.
     "What are you doing here?" was the best he could manage.
     She wrested her arm away. "Working," she said evenly. "Did you want to order something?"
     "My God, Eve."
     She lifted an eyebrow. "Are you ordering or aren't you? I have a job to do."
     "We have to talk."
     "We don't have anything to talk about."
     "You can stand there with my baby in your belly and say that we don't have anything to talk about?"
     A curious glance from one of the construction workers made him lower his voice at the end of his sentence.
     Eve flushed. "Please, Derek. Don't embarrass me."
     That brought Derek to his senses. It was embarrassing enough, he was sure, to have to work in a place like this, with all these men looking at her day in and day out, watching her pregnancy progress.
     One thing he knew—he couldn't eat anything. "Look," he said wearily, "can I come to the place where you live?"
     "Why? Have you had a change of heart?"
     "If you don't agree to meet me somewhere, I'll be back here again and again until you do," he said through clenched teeth.
     "Eve? Eve!"
     It was Lenny, calling her from the kitchen.
     "I can't have you coming here," Eve said, glancing worriedly over her shoulder toward the kitchen and feeling something akin to panic. "You'll jeopardize my job."
     "You shouldn't have a job like this, on your feet all the time."
     Her features stiffened into an impenetrable mask. Her eyes were full of disdain. "This job is going to enable me to support your child, Derek," she said tightly, flipping the pages of her order book over and stuffing the book in her uniform pocket.
     He tried to avoid looking at her bulging abdomen, but it was right in his line of vision. Guilt washed over him.
     "My office," he said with effort. "Tomorrow. Eleven-thirty?"
     It was what Kelly would have wanted. Eve was sure of that. If there was any chance that Derek would accept his child, any chance at all, Eve would have to take it.
     "Eleven-thirty," she said quietly. "All right, Derek. I'll be there."
 
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