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Worth It All(8)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor



“Here.” Jenny joined them with Casey in her arms, saving her from her own awkwardness. “Little Bit wants to say goodbye. I’m going to clock out. Be right back.”

Casey knelt on the booth next to her and smiled easily at Jake. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Jake returned her friendly smile. “How’s Eric?”

“Good. His name’s not Eric, though. It’s Leon. He changed his mind.”

Jake nodded thoughtfully. “Another strong name.”

Casey leaned across the table between them, going for the sweeteners. “Do you want some sugar? What about a pink one?” Her fingers tightened on the edge of the paper, and she reached for his glass. “Can I put it in for you?”

“Ah…sure.”

At the same time, Paige said no and took the packet from her hands, but Casey was already pulling his drink closer. Distracted by losing her sweeteners, she bobbled the glass and half the contents of liquid and ice spilled out before Jake’s quick reflexes righted it.

“Casey Marie! Shoot! I’m so sorry.”

“Oops. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s okay,” Jake said, already mopping up the mess with napkins.

Paige reached for more napkins, and Casey peered over the side of the table where a thin stream of tea ran over the edge.

“Hey!” Casey exclaimed. “I like your leg.”

“Sit up.” Paige wrapped an arm around Casey, but she’d found something more interesting than her mess.

“Did you see his leg? It’s silver. I have one because mine didn’t growed, but mine doesn’t look like that. What happened to yours?”

“Grow,” Paige corrected, and pulled her back a safe distance.

Casey leaned as far as she could into Jake’s space. “Did yours not grow too?”

“Car accident,” he said evenly.

He didn’t elaborate, not that Casey gave him a chance.

“Can you run fast?”

“Yes.”

“How fast?”

He flicked a quick glance at Paige. “Well…really fast.”

“That’s so good.” She peered over the side again. “It has tea on it now. Is that okay? Because you can’t buy just one shoe, the store won’t let you. Did you know that? I didn’t ask them, but my mom said that.”

Jake’s lips twitched, clearly amused, and her heart knocked against her chest.

Jenny returned with Paige’s to-go box and a new iced tea. “Ready, Freddy? Or should I call you Little Disaster?”

Casey pushed up on the table with her hands and stood easily on one foot. “I’m gonna do Jenny’s hair,” she told Jake.

“I got her leg.” Jenny patted the bag on her shoulder.

“Thanks, and sounds good.” Paige leaned over and kissed her sweet cheek. “Be good. I mean it.”

“I’m always good,” Casey said and waved goodbye to Jake.

“Good is relative,” she muttered, watching her daughter until she was out of sight.

“You should eat.” He gestured toward the white Styrofoam box between them.

“That’s okay. I’ll eat in the car. Jenny’s taking Casey home for a little while. She’s really good with her. It’s just until eleven,” she added, not sure why she felt the need to explain herself.

Jake took a slow drink, watching her over the rim of his glass. Not like her ramble required a response. She shifted nervously under the weight of his attention, deciding her hands were best held tightly on her lap.

“Casey said her leg didn’t grow,” he said.

“No. She was born with fibular hemimelia. Partial absence of her right fibula and an underdeveloped tibia. Her right foot was only partially developed. She had a below-the-knee amputation at five months.”

Paige caught sight of Big Mac out of the corner of her eye. He gave her a wave and pointed to the cow clock on the wall behind the counter. “Damn.”

“You have to go,” Jake said.

“Yeah. Sorry. I have another job. Pete’s Bar and Grille. It’s not too far from here.”

Jake stood. “I’ll walk you out.”

She got her purse from the back and found him waiting for her. He held the door open and they walked around the building toward employee parking. His gait was so smooth beside her she would have never known he wore a prosthesis if he hadn’t told her.

“How’s she done with the prosthesis?” he asked after a moment.

“She’s never been a huge fan, but she’s never really complained, either. She gets around so well without it. She cartwheels, forward rolls. She’s pretty amazing.”

“Sounds like it.”

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