Part 7

Work beat down on John as soon as he walked into the precinct. He gladly welcomed the distraction. The familiarity of the job brought comfort and forced him to push his growing feelings for Evangeline to the back of his mind.

During a short break of the insanity, he lingered at the coffeepot. Since he missed breakfast, he took the steaming brew with cream. The extra dose of dairy spiked his blood sugar enough to get him through the day.

"John?"

He stopped in his tracks. "Natalie."

"Can we talk?" She brushed a strand of flaming red hair from her face. "Or is this a bad time?"

"No, it's fine." He jutted his chin toward the hall. "Let's take a walk. It's nice out today."

They headed outdoors in silence. A warm sun and cloudless sky greeted them. Nearby, birds chirped, and kids enjoyed the summer day. John glanced at the woman-child beside him. Turmoil brewed inside her. He just then realized what had drawn him to her in the first place.

Their mutual sorrow created a powerful, yet very sad bond between them. He flashed to conversations with Evangeline, the teasing fun they shared. Smiling became second nature in her presence. He almost felt free with her. He was reminded of the man that he used to be before all the tragedies.

One glance at Natalie he knew the freedom they both needed would never be found together. He tilted his head to the side and read the expressions on her face. He wondered if she'd come to that realization, too.

"I haven't heard from you lately," she said as they sat on a bench. "Are you avoiding me?"

He frowned. "No. I've been working. The cases have been pretty hectic lately."

"Are you sure that's all?" She returned his stare.

"I don't know what you're getting at," he answered honestly.

"This," she said, gesturing between them, "is all wrong. We're running around in circles and wasting our time. Aren't we?"

A bright orange Frisbee landed at his feet. He picked the toy up and sailed it back across the park to the waiting teenagers. They waved their thanks and continued to bask in the day.

During the interruption, he considered her question and searched his mind for the right response. Their relationship was never official, but he cared about her. The last thing he wanted was to cause her pain in any way.

"Never mind." She quickly stood. "Don't answer. It doesn't matter anyway. You know that Paul and I are…close friends. Actually, we're more than that--"

"Natalie." He rose from the bench. "You don't have to say anything else. I want you to be happy. I'm not sure about Cramer, but if you care about him, who knows? I could be wrong."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "So, that's it? That's all you have to say?"

"There's nothing else to say. You know that as much as I do." He paused while he collected his thoughts. "We would never have worked as a couple. We're at two different places in our lives. I didn't see that before. I see it now."

"Fine." She turned a vivid scarlet. "If that's the way you want it."

He answered with his whole heart. "Yes." He touched her arm. "I hope we can maintain our friendship."

"I won't make any promises." She stepped back. "Goodbye, John."

"Goodbye, Natalie."

Relief swept through him like a tidal wave.

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