I leaned back in my seat as I waited impatiently for my date to arrive. I reserved a table at our favorite restaurant that had the best view of the ocean. The patio held tables filled with happy couples enjoying a romantic dinner. It was what I was supposed to be doing at the moment.
            The low voices and the clinking of glasses and silverware were slightly muted by the sound of the ocean.  Normally I would be enjoying the experience with a glass of wine and my girlfriend but she was late. Again.
            I allowed myself to expect more from this evening but already felt let down. I looked up from checking my watch again when I saw her following the maître d’ to our table. “Grace.” I stood up as my girlfriend of five years neared our table still dressed in her navy blue business suit from work. 
            I helped take off her jacket then pulled out her chair.  She was a beautiful woman with a killer body that she spent hours every day working on.  Her cropped blonde hair framed her face highlighting high cheekbones.
            We met nearly five and half years ago when she worked as a prosecutor and needed a consultant for a child endangerment case. 
            I was physically attracted to her right away. I would’ve been blind not to but I also loved her dedication to her job. She was smart, kind and charming. After dating for a year we decided to move in together.  I had hoped that eventually we would get married but early on she made it clear that she wasn’t interested in marriage. I could understand her resistance considering she saw the worst type of people in her job and I never pressured her especially since she would be willing to have a child. I could live without a piece a paper but not having a child wasn’t optional which was why I asked her out tonight.
            I was ready to be a dad and wanted us to start as soon as possible. I had always thought I’d have a couple of kids by now and hoped to God she was ready.
            Grace held a tight grip on her phone not bothering to put it away even though I made it clear I wanted us to have a romantic dinner. Everything with us had to be negotiated and after agreeing to push our dinner out an hour so she could take a last minute client, she was supposed to turn her phone off.
            As she kept her eyes on her phone, I couldn’t help feel like just another appointment on her schedule. Sadly, if I were a client, she would’ve given me more attention.
            My patience grew thin as her fingers nimbly texted another message. When I asked her to put her phone away she dead stared me. “Kevin, I'm waiting to hear back from a colleague about a case we’re working on.” She let out a frustrated sigh like she shouldn't have to explain this to me.
            I closed my eyes and took a stabilizing breath to keep from yelling. I knew she was working hard on becoming a partner at her firm and she did warn me that at times our relationship couldn’t be a priority to her but it wasn’t even coming close to being her second, third or even forth priority.
            “Your colleague can leave a message. I want to talk to you with your full attention.”
            “You have my full attention.” She muttered as she looked down at her phone again.
            I reached over the table and snatched her phone out of her hand and quickly turned it off before sliding it into my pants pocket.
            With eyes pulled tight and a slight chill to her voice, she leaned toward me with her hand out. “Give me my phone.”
            “I'll give it back when we're done talking.” I said calmly.
            She shook her head with gritted teeth. “Fine.  I'm here. Start talking.” She leaned back with her arms folder over her chest.
            I fisted my hands to keep from banging them on the table or reaching over it to shake her. “This was supposed to be a romantic evening where we could relax, have a nice dinner, drink some wine and talk but it isn’t.” I sighed in defeat.
            Her glare softened and her arms fell to her sides. “I apologize for being insensitive. I should have left work at work instead of bringing it to dinner tonight.  Please forgive me.” 
            I wished I could feel her sincerity but I knew she was placating me. So I got right to the point. “Grace, do you want kids?” 
            Her jaw dropped and she drew in a deep breath before asking, “Where did that come from?”
            “I want to know.  We talked about it a few years ago and you said ‘one day’ and I'd like to find out when ‘one day’ will be.”
            “Kevin... I don't know.” She shrugged.
            “This is a simple question.  Do you want kids?”
            “I know that I don't want a child right now.” I rubbed my temples pushing back the headache that was building.  Why couldn’t she just answer the question?
            “Do you see yourself having a child with me?” I hated that I had to ask the exact right question before she would answer. She was truly a defense attorney.
            “Honestly, I'm not sure I want to have kids.” 
            Deep down, I knew having kids wasn't a priority but I held out hope that one day…
            “Kevin, I'm sorry. I know you want a family but I love my work too much to cut back or make life adjustments for a child that I would only want because it's what you want.” 
            How could this happen twice? This was the second long term relationship I had been in, where the woman I loved wanted a professional life over family. I was all for being a professional. It's one of the things that attracted me to her but I also believed that it was possible to have both.
            My heart was heavy with disappointment and regret. I loved Grace but I knew better. She had been honest with me, I just wasn’t listening. Resigned to the reality of the situation, I took out her phone and handed it back as our server came by to fill our drinks and take our order. Seconds later, her phone rang and she excused herself from the table.
            By the time she returned, our food was cold and she had the nerve to complain. I kept my snide remark to myself and quietly ate my dinner as she paid more attention to her phone than me.
            After paying the bill, I walked her to her car. “I'll meet you at home.” I said as I kissed her cheek.
            “I need to stop at the office on my way so I might be a few minutes behind you,” she said. I nodded as I walked away from her. Instead of getting in my car, I pulled off my socks and shoes and walked the beach breathing in the salty warm air.
            We were past working through our issues. Tonight I would be packing a bag and staying at my parents’ home. On my drive home, I kept reminding myself it was better to end this now then to keep hoping Grace would change her mind someday.
             I had spent more time on the beach then I expected and ended up coming home after her. I pulled into the driveway and parked behind her BMW.
            When I walked through the front door, Grace was standing in the kitchen with her shoes off and her shirt untucked holding a glass of wine and a worried expression. After a few silent moments, she held her hand out and I reached for her.  I followed her into the living room. I let go of her hand and took a seat on the ottoman while she sat on the couch in front of me.  “Let’s finish talking,” she said with a slight tremor to her voice.  I honestly didn’t believe there was anything left to say.
            “I told you I wanted a family someday and I feel like you yanked me along knowing that you really didn't want that.” The words came out angrier than I meant, but it was exactly how I felt. Every Sunday when I had dinner at my parents’ house with my brothers and their families, I was reminded of what I was missing.
            “I'm sorry.  I hoped that one day I would want a family but I love our life the way it is and I don’t think we need kids to have a great life. They’re so much work Kevin and I honestly don’t think I would be a good mother.  I love my job too much.”      
            “I want a family Grace. I want marriage and the picket fence. I was willing to settle with just living together but I want sleepless nights, kid noise, and a messy house filled with laughter. I know that I need that in my life.”
            “You're breaking up with me.” It wasn't a question.
            I pinched my eyes closed and sighed. “Yes.”
            “Because I don't want kids?”
            “That's a big part of it.”
            “What if I'm willing to have one?” The desperation in her voice pained me. It wasn’t like her. She rarely allowed herself to appear vulnerable even to me. I wouldn’t do that to her and I wouldn’t do that to a child.
            “But you don't want one.  I don't want to have a child with someone who doesn't want to be a parent.”
            “Kevin don't throw away five years.”
            “I've been somewhat content but I ache for family and the older I get the more I want it.”
            “I can't believe this.” She stood and paced the room then stopped mid stride. “I love you, Kevin.  We can work this out.”
            “I love you too, Grace but I don't see it working out for either of us.  I wanted to get married. You didn’t so we didn't. I want kids and you don't. What is there to work out?  I'm not giving up on the dream of a family and it's not your dream.”
            For the first time in years, she cried.  I stood and wrapped my arms around her kissing the top of her head. “This is for the best.” She nodded into my chest. It was for the best no matter how much it hurt.
            We held each other until her phone rang.  I looked in her teary face and smiled. “Answer it.”  She stared at her phone as if she were debating what to do.  More proof that we were done. There should have been no doubt that what we were discussing was more important.
            I released my hold on her and felt the wait of my decision as I walked to our bedroom. I pulled a suitcase out of our closet and stuffed clothes I would need for the next several days. She followed me into the bedroom holding her phone she left unanswered. She wiped the tears from her eyes and picked up another bag and packed my bathroom items. Every few minutes I heard her get choked up but I kept packing. I couldn’t back down on what I knew I wanted.
            When we were finished, we stood facing each other. With a soft voice she asked, “One more night?” 
            I silently walked to her and kissed her lips while we undressed each other. I made love to her for the last time hoping she would change her mind but she didn’t.  When she fell asleep I kissed her cheek and slid my arm from beneath her head.
            A half hour later I lay in my childhood bedroom that had been turned into my parents’ guest bedroom years ago. Dad didn’t ask and I didn’t offer an explanation when I turned up on his doorstep at midnight.  There would be time to talk in the morning.



            I sat at my parents’ kitchen table holding my coffee mug waiting for my parents to say something after telling them about Grace and me.
            “Well,”  my dad said.  “I'm glad you're doing what's best for you.” My mother nodded in agreement but kept wiping her eyes with a tissue. She didn’t need to speak; her silence said everything. My mother had asked me years ago if Grace was who I really wanted.  I suspected she saw what I refused to see, that Grace didn't want the same things that I did. 
            They knew I wanted marriage and family. They had been through this with me before with Casey, my former girlfriend. My parent’s new that I envied my brothers John and Robert and their families. It wasn’t a secret. As much as I enjoyed being the favorite uncle, I wanted to be a dad more than anything. 
             “So what is the plan?” Mom asked.
            “That’s a really good question. I’m not sure yet but a month ago I received a call from a former friend and colleague, Jim Parker, asking me if I would be interested in joining him and a few other mental health professionals in Portland, Oregon.”  
“Oregon?” My mother whispered to herself.  I was raised here in San Diego and only left for college but came back right after graduation to work.  My brothers lived nearby with their families. I loved it here but last night while considering my options, I felt a renewed excitement about the possibility and the hopes for the practice that Jim shared with me.
            “Yes. Oregon.  I know you don't like the idea of me leaving here but when I first talked to him, I loved the idea but turned him down since I know that Grace wouldn't want to leave her practice and start over.  I never thought it would be a possibility but I'm excited. Besides opening a new practice, he’s starting a non profit organization to give free or reduced cost therapy to families particularly children who are struggling but whose parents can't afford treatment.”
            “Oh Kevin.  That sounds like something that you would be perfect for.  What ever you choose to do, you know that we love you and we will miss you but we'll be happy for you.  We love you, sweetie.”  She stood and walked around the table to give me a hug. Even at almost thirty-eight, I still appreciated the loving support of my parents.
            “Well, it's not a done deal yet, but I did call him this morning and we spoke some more about it and I'm flying up there this weekend to check out the practice and get a feel for the city to see if I could handle living there.”
            “Have you talked to Grace?” My mother asked.
            “Not since last night.  There isn't a whole lot to talk about besides what to do with the house but we'll work it out.  She can't afford it without me so it'll have to go on the market but I'll keep helping with the payments until it's sold then we'll be done.”
            “So she doesn't know about Portland?”
            “No. I didn't bother telling her about the offer since it wasn't an option.”
            “I'm sorry things turned out this way.  She's a wonderful girl from a great family.” 
            I couldn’t agree more.
            I didn’t have any appointments scheduled for today giving me the time to pick up more of my things from the house. I was surprised when I pulled into the driveway and saw Grace’s car still parked in front of the house. Today was usually her busiest day.       When I stepped inside, the first thing I saw was Grace asleep on the chaise in the living room. Her eyes were red rimmed; her hand was fisted around a wad of tissues and tucked under her cheek. I took a deep breath feeling the heartbreak of the situation. I had never seen her look so vulnerable.
            In my frustration last night, I didn't allow myself to truly feel the loss of our relationship but seeing her so obviously sad, I went to her and pulled her into my arms. She startled awake but when she realized it was me, she cuddled into my side; one hand fisted my shirt while she cried again.
            I shed my own tears. I tried to soothe her but it was obvious that there was nothing that we could say to each other to make it better.
            Why couldn’t she want the same things? I loved her and she loved me. This should have been easy.
            She sniffed and cleared her throat. “I knew it was a matter of time.”
            “What do you mean?” I asked as I wiped at her tears.
            “I knew that you would eventually leave. I wanted to be enough for you but this past year, I knew that you wanted more and I knew that I couldn't give it to you.  I pulled away hoping that it would be less painful but it's not.  I should have let you go but I love you so much Kevin, I love everything about you.”
            “Except the part of me that wants a family.”
            “Yes. That part.” she said with a slight hiccup. “I was selfish, leading you to believe that I would change my mind. Please forgive me.”
            I ran my fingers through her hair that had fallen forward so I could look her in the eye. “I don't know if it's any worse than pressuring you to change who you are for me.”  I kissed her forehead then tightened my arms around her.
            “Look at us.” She said with a laugh. “We’re two professionals who have to tell it like it is and we couldn’t do that with each other. How sad is that?”
            “I don't know if it's sad...more like human.  We're two flawed people wanting love but trying to get it from the wrong person.”  She nodded her head against my chest.
            I held her until she lifted herself off of me.  “We should probably talk about the house.”
            “Yeah.  I've been thinking about it.  We need to sell but until then, I'll help with the payments since I know it's too expensive for just you.”
            “I would appreciate that.  I'll contact a realtor today and get moving on that.”
            I got up and walked to the coat closet looking for another duffle bag to pack my things. “So, no clients today?” I asked.
            “I rescheduled.  I needed a mental health day.” She said with a half smile.
            “Well, I just need to pick up a few things then I'll be out of here.”
            She leaned up against the wall next to the closet, watching me. “Are you staying with your parents?”
            “About last night...” She began to say as she looked out the back window instead of me. “Thank you.” I caught her wiping away a tear.  I dropped my bag and gave her one more hug. She held me tight, fisting her hands into my shirt. “I wish...” she whispered.
            “I know.”



            My plane landed a little over an hour ago and now I was parked in front of the house that I shared with Grace. She called me before I boarded my return flight from Portland to San Diego, to invite me to dinner. She had sounded almost cheerful, which wasn’t a word that I usually used to describe her.
            I spent the past few days getting reacquainted with my friend Jim, his wife Cammie and their rambunctious sons while searching for an apartment and getting to know the city. Jim and Cammie lived in a charming older home in a nice neighborhood that wasn’t too far from my new apartment.
            The trip turned out better than expected. Everything seemed to fall into place. I only looked at one place and knew immediately that it would be my new home. The apartment was in an old house turned into four apartments. My new apartment was unique and a little odd in arrangement but filled with character. I paid the deposit on the spot and was set to move in at the end of the month.
            I had a few short weeks to get things settled in San Diego before starting my new life in Portland.  It was surreal how quickly my life was changing. I was excited for this new adventure but as I looked at the home that I shared with Grace for the past three years, I felt a deep sadness and regret that it was over between us.
            I hadn’t slept a single night in our house since I left and wasn’t sure if I should knock or just let myself in. I chose to give a warning knock then stepped inside. Just as I set my keys on the hall table, Grace stepped into the hallway from the kitchen. “Thanks for coming. Dinner is almost ready.”
            I followed her into the kitchen where I took off my jacket and hung it over a stool.  I watched in awe as Grace flittered around the kitchen. “Can you open the wine while I dish up our plates?” she asked.
            She smiled and for the first time in a very long time appeared…relaxed. I took the wine and poured each of us a glass while asking her about her weekend and how everything was going.  She gave me basic answers like “fine” and “okay”.  I kept staring and wondered what was different about her until it finally hit me. She wore a flowered skirt that barely came to her knees and a pink short sleeve top. Her hair was slightly wavy instead of flat ironed straight and she wore just the slightest hint of makeup. She looked beautiful and more like the woman that I fell in love with so many years ago.
            Grace set our plates on the table then took one of the glasses of wine from me and took a sip. I noticed her hand shake as she set her glass on the table.
            “Everything okay, Grace?” From the moment I stepped inside the house, everything seemed off. Not bad but…different.
            “Yes, of course. Take a seat.” She waved her hand to the seat across from her. When I sat she said, “After dinner I’d like to talk to you about a few things.” She stared down at her plate avoiding eye contact.
            “Okay.” I said as I took a bite of the pasta.  She gave me a quick smile then made small talk, which was out of character for her.  I went along with it wishing that she would tell me why she asked me here tonight.
            After we were done eating, we silently cleaned up dinner like we did every other night since we moved in together then we took our drinks to the living room to make ourselves comfortable.
            Grace smiled and sipped her drink but didn’t speak. “So what did you want to talk about?” I asked.
            She fidgeted then gave me a bright smile. “Kevin, I want us to stay together.” Before I could respond she kept talking. “I think in a few years, I could be ready to have a baby. I’ll even promise if that’s what you need.”  She looked hopeful but I knew better.
            “Please.” Her eyes teared. “Just think about staying. For us,” she pleaded.
            “God, Grace. I want this with you so badly, but it’s not what you really want and that’s the only way that I’ll stay and the only way I’ll have a family.”
            She sighed and set her glass on the coffee table. “Kevin, why is this so important to you? Why do you want kids so badly?”
            “I just do. I want it all, Grace. The good and the bad, the hard and the fun, the love and the pain.”
            She sat silently listening to me but she didn’t respond. Her lack of response was more than enough. We both knew that nothing would change if we stayed together.
            I hadn’t told her about Portland and why I was there but she needed to know.  “I’m moving.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “to Portland.”
            Before I could explain, she sat up straight and asked, “Why?”
            “You remember my friend Jim?” She nodded. “He asked me to join his practice and to be on the board of a non profit that gives free or reduced cost therapy to children.”
            She slumped back in her chair. “Are you moving because of us?”
            “No. Well…maybe. I've been feeling restless with the practice and I'm ready for a change. Jim actually contacted me over a month ago but I turned him down since I didn’t want to even ask you to move.” I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. “I think it’ll be good for me.”
            “Wow.”  She reached for wine and took a long sip. With a shaky hand she wiped away a tear. “It's really over. I knew it's really over.”  I watched as the finality of our relationship hit her.
            She lifted her chin and cleared her throat wiping away any pain she expressed only moments ago.  This was the woman I had lived with the past few years. “I talked to the realtor and she believes that the house will sell quickly since it's in great shape and in a desirable neighborhood.”  Her tone was cold and business like.
            “Sounds good.”
            She nodded her head but didn’t say anything else.
            “I'll be moving at the end of the month so I'll need to come back by to pack if that's alright.”
            “That's fine.  Can you do it when I'm not here?”  Her voice cracked at she looked away.
            “Of course.  Let me know when it would be a good time.”
            She stood and picked up our glasses to take them to the kitchen. “I’ll text you my schedule.”  I followed her wanting to comfort her or… I wasn’t sure.  She set the glasses in the sink then gripped the counter facing away from me. “I hope you’re happy in Oregon, Kevin. I really do.” She let go of the counter then quickly walked passed me.  
The next thing I heard was the bedroom door closing and the click of the lock.



            A renewed excitement came over me as I drove on US 26 into Portland. The city opened up in front of me with a mix of nature and city. Coming from sunny California, I never expected misty rain and overcast skies to feel like home. 
            Twenty minutes later, I pulled in front of my new apartment. Just as I stepped onto the first cement stair that lead to the front entry, the door opened and a twenty something couple stepped out. “Oh! You must be our new neighbor.” The girl said with a bright smile and a little hop as she clapped her hands.  The ends of her white blonde hair were colored a vibrant pink and was pulled into a tight ponytail. A nose ring adorned her face along with two piercings on her eyebrow and a row down one ear. She was as vibrant as her pink tinged hair. It would have been impossible not to return her smile. I offered my hand. “Hi. I’m Kevin.” She ignored my hand and drew me into a hug.
            “It’s nice to meet you.” I looked over her shoulder at who I assumed was her boyfriend. He silently laughed and shook his head as he kept his eyes on the girl. His black hair was shaved short on the sides but longer on top. He also had piercings along his ear along with ear gauges in both ears. Most of his exposed skin was tattooed right up to his chin and down to his fingers. He wore all black and if I hadn’t seen him smiling, I would’ve been intimidated.
            The girl released her hold on me and took her place next to the guy and held one of his hands with both of hers.  The guy finally spoke and said, “This is Benny,” as he smiled down at her shining face. When he looked back at me he offered his free hand and said, “I’m Seth.” 
            “It’s nice to meet both of you.” I said sincerely. 
            “We’re on our way to work but if you ever need anything let us know. We’re in the apartment just below you.” Benny said.
            “Where do you work?” I asked.
            “We both work at a pub just around the corner. I’m a bartender and Benny is a waitress.”  Seth said.
            “It’s where we met, or re-met” Benny chimed in while looking lovingly at Seth.  I felt a sting of jealousy for their obvious love and affection for one another. I also figured there was a story there but I would have to ask about that later. “Well, I’ll let you two get to work. I’ll see you later.”
            “Oh Wait!” Benny reached for my arm as I stepped inside. “Tomorrow we’re having our monthly get together with all the tenants and you’re welcome to come. It’ll be around six and it’ll give you a chance to meet everyone else. It’s a lot of fun and everyone is really cool.”
            “Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
            “Don’t forget! We know where you live.”  Benny warned with a wink. 
            Seth wrapped a protective arm around Benny’s waist and she leaned into him as they walked down the sidewalk. A sting of jealousy hit me again and for what could only be the hundredth time, I wished that Grace and I could have worked it out but I knew better.
            As I entered my new home, my phone rang.
            “Hey.” I said knowing that it was Jim.
            “Happy birthday, old man.”
            I laughed and replied with a “thanks”.
            “Where are you?” Jim asked.
            “I just entered my new apartment.”
            “Perfect. Cammie said you have to come to dinner.  She even made you a cake.”
            “I will never turn down a home cooked meal or cake. Thank you.  I’ll be over in a little bit.”
            “Of course. Welcome to Portland.”
            My heart ached for Grace and the image of her standing on the front porch of our home three days ago with tears in her eyes hung heavily over my thoughts but after spending the evening with Jim, Cammie and the boys, I was reminded that I did the right thing. Working it out with Grace would have meant one of us would have been unhappy. 
            The next evening, I sat on the floor in Benny and Seth’s living room surrounded by the other tenants.  To my right was Mrs. Bell She was a seventy-five year old widow of forty years. She never had kids and according to her “didn’t bother remarrying since she didn’t like it the first time.”  She was a retired teacher with three Chihuahuas named Zeus, Loki and Betty who I met that morning when I was returning from a coffee run and she had them out for a potty break. Mrs. Bell was downright unfriendly, but according to Benny, “That’s just how she is. I love her.”
            I had a feeling that Benny loved everyone so I took it with a grain of salt but I had to admit in the short time I spent with Mrs. Bell, she had grown on me.  She lived directly across from Benny and Seth. 
            Then there were the twins Mackenzie and Roman who lived directly across from me. Roman was a tattoo artist who worked nearby and Mackenzie was music major at Portland State. They couldn’t be more different from one another. In fact, I wouldn’t have known that they were even related unless they told me.  Both had chocolate brown eyes but that was where the similarities ended.  Roman’s hair was blonde and barely an inch long. She had tattoos up one arm and across the top of her chest.  She’s was average height and very out spoken.  Mackenzie was thin and tall with long brown hair that came down to her waist. She was more reserved but friendly with a ready smile unless she was arguing with Roman, which she was doing at that moment. 
            We all sat around the tiny living room while I answered question after question. Mrs. Bell sat quietly watching except for the occasional comment under her breath. Benny just laughed and said, “Oh Mrs. Bell. Stop.”
            By the time I left Benny and Seth’s apartment, I knew I was in the right place.  As painful as it was to start over, I was ready for this c

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