It had only been two short months since Sofia started work and they were ready to break ground on the Park. Sofia had insightful ideas. It helped Ben tremendously to have a fresh perspective – and a female one at that. Together, they were quickly able to make the final decisions needed to move forward. “We break ground tomorrow,” said Ben, “Let me buy you a drink after work. I want to thank you for your help and celebrate our progress. I know I wouldn’t be this far along without your input and fresh ideas.”
Sofia chewed on her lip for a second thinking. Ben had learned that meant she was working things out in her head. “Hey, it’s okay. I know Jesse probably wouldn’t approve,” he said giving her an easy out.
Sofia rarely mentioned Jesse. She knew Ben didn’t like him. She accidentally let it slip, at least Ben thought it was an accident, that she wasn’t living with Jesse and instead had her own apartment. He wasn’t sure why she followed her boyfriend all the way to Willow Creek only to live apart. He knew better than to ask her. She always got defensive when the subject of Jesse came up. Regardless, he was glad she had. These last two months had been super productive. They worked so effortlessly together.
Finally, Sofia flashed him a smile indicating she had come to her decision. “Sure, let’s celebrate,” she said surprising him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They arrived at the bar and sat down. Ben order two glasses of Cabernet. When the wine was served, they toasted to the park.
“It needs a name,” said Sofia.
“What needs a name?”
“The park, silly.”
“You can’t just call it the park. It’s special, so it needs a special name.”
“Special Park?” teased Ben.
“Bennnnn!” she scolded.
Ben smirked and took a drink. “Do you know how cute you are when you’re mad at me?”
Sophia smiled. “It’s good to see you laugh. You were so sad when I saw you last year.”
Ben thought about what she said. It was true. “I was having a hard time. It was Cole’s first birthday and the anniversary of Grace’s death. I’m sorry I got mad at Jesse. I was out of line. It gets easier as time goes on. I guess time is the great healer. Having you here has helped me a lot. My mom and Leroy too. They have been a godsend.”
“You loved her very much.”
Ben looked at the wedding ring he still wore and twisted it before reaching for his drink. He used the time to think about his answer.
“I do – did. At first, I thought about her constantly. Now, days go by and I don’t think about her at all. Sometimes I forget what she looks like and it scares me. Then Cole will give me this one look he has that looks just like her and it takes my breath away. I think that’s why I keep her picture on my desk. I don’t want to forget her. It seems wrong somehow.” Ben’s voice was thick with emotion as he continued, “She was so young and beautiful, with so much love to give. It doesn’t seem fair.”
Sofia studied her glass and twisted it. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Ben smiled, and his sadness vanished. “It’s okay. Don’t be sorry. It’s good to share your pain. A very smart lady said, ‘When you share your pain with someone else; it only hurts half as much’. She was right.”
Sofia looked up, smiling with a gleam in her eye. “Ben, I know what we can name the Park. We should call it the Grace Murdock Recreation Center.”
Ben thought about her suggestion. “Nooo,” he said slowly, and Sofia’s face fell. Ben smiled quickly and shook his head, “I don’t mean no, no. I mean not Murdock, but Ramsay. It should be Ramsay, Grace Ramsay Recreation Center.”
“Ramsay? That’s her maiden name? But why not her married name?” asked Sofia.
“She was only a Murdock for a few short months. Ramsay is who she was and how she should be remembered. Not as my wife, but as her own person.”
Sofia smiled affectionately at Ben biting her bottom lip again. Tears were swimming in her eyes. “That’s so sweet,” she said blinking fast. “No one will ever forget her that way. We can dedicate it to her. Sorry, I’m a little emotional. ”
Ben was amazed at the girl, no, woman, sitting across from him. Jesse was a very lucky man. He raised his glass, “To the Grace Ramsay Recreation Center.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, when Ben told Leroy what he wanted to name the Park, Leroy had wholeheartedly approved, much to his relief. He was so afraid Leroy would think it was self serving.
“That will be healing for you and it’s a great name. I know Lillie May will pleased too. How is she? Is she well enough to come to the dedication ceremony?”
Ben was sad thinking about Lillie May. “I don’t know. Maybe. I will let her know next time we go. I might ask Sofia to go with me since it was her idea.”
Leroy grinned, “Let me know if you need to take a couple of days.”
Ben was so humbled. Leroy had been nothing but supportive and kind since he came back. “Thanks. But I go on Saturdays. And thanks for everything else. I owe you and Mom so much for helping me and Cole. I can never repay you.”
“You are home now. I haven’t seen your mother this happy in a long time. I really wish you would spend some time talking to her. Try to understand why she did what she did. She never stopped loving you Ben.”
Ben didn’t have to think about his answer this time. “I will. Maybe we can go out to dinner together. I owe her such a huge apology. Dakota can earn some more babysitting money.”
“Dakota adores Cole, she would do it for free. So do Hailey and Maddy for that matter….”
Sofia bounced into the office interrupting their conversation. “Good morning!” she said, practically singing the words.
Ben didn’t mind the interruption. He loved her perky enthusiasm and smiled at her musical greeting. “Hey Pia. You’re in a good mood this morning. Guess what? Leroy approves of your suggestion to name the park.”
“It was a good one,” said Leroy.
“Thanks,” she said giving Ben a warm smile, “but Ben helped too.”
Leroy looked back and forth between them. “I’m gonna take off and get a ‘coming soon’ sign made with the name of the Park. We can place on the property to advertise. See you two later. And Ben, call your mom.”
“Will do Leroy. Thanks again,” replied Ben and turned to Sofia. “I could use some coffee. Want to go with me to get real coffee instead of the stuff we have here?”
“Sure. I could go for a Caramel Macchiato!” she said.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“I had a good time last night,” said Ben as he handed Sofia a cup and sat down with her. “It was nice to get out of the house and just relax. Thanks for going with me. I love Cole to pieces, but….conversation with a two year old quite one sided! He repeats everything I say.”
“Aww. He’s such a cutie. And you’re welcome. I enjoyed it too. I love hanging out with you. You are so easy to be around.” She quickly took a drink of her coffee as a blush spread from her chest to her cheeks.
Ben pretended not to notice. “You would be in the minority with that opinion. Did I ever tell you what Emma’s pet name for me is?”
“No,” she gushed, “Do tell!”
“Dick-hay-ud,” he said using his best Emma accent.
“Oh my God Ben! That’s too funny! But I don’t see you like that at all. You are so sweet and caring. You light up when you talk about Cole and it’s so cute. Why on Earth does she call you that?”
Ben’s lighthearted mood changed as he thought about why. He took a breath before answering. “I have changed since then. I think having a child changes you on a cellular level – probably from lack of sleep,” he said and laughed, “but seriously, Cole changed me. Falling in love and admitting it changed me. Losing Grace like I did changed me. It nearly destroyed me actually. Had it not been for Cole, I would no doubt still be a dick-hay-ud, probably worse than before.
“The thing is Pia, I wasn’t a nice person. Jesse was right to be angry with me. I slept around. It wasn’t a secret. At least until I met Grace and Cole was conceived. I had to come to terms with my feelings and let her in. They both taught me about real love. My one night stand days are over and so is my love life. I have Cole now. So maybe you are right, and I’m not as much of a dick-hay-ud as I used to be, I hope.”
“I’m sorry Ben. I didn’t mean to pry. And you’re not.” said Sofia with an apologetic smile.
Ben laughed nervously, a little embarrassed. “You know Pia, you are easy to be around too. Maybe it’s because we spent so much time together fishing when we were younger, I don’t know, but I just want to tell you everything. Things I never tell anyone else. Oh, that reminds me of something I meant to ask you. I have to take Cole to see Lillie May this weekend. I am going to tell her about the park. It would be nice for her to meet the person whose idea it was to name it after her granddaughter. Would you like to come with us? Then maybe, afterwards we can take Cole fishing at one of the streams there.”
Sofia’s face lit up like a little kid on Christmas Day. “Oh. I would love that! It’s been forever since I went fishing. And I would get to see Cole again. And I would love to meet Lillie May too. She seems like a very nice lady, but she won’t think I’m intruding will she?”
“No. She will be thrilled to see someone besides me. Secret, she is the one that said to share your pain. Oh crap. You think Jesse will be okay with you going with me?”
Sofia chewed on her lip thinking. It was so damn cute. He couldn’t help but stare at her. She took one more drink of her coffee before answering. “No,” she said finally, “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. It’s work related anyway. If he asks I will tell him so. And I really want to meet Lillie May and go fishing with my friend and that sweet little boy.”
Ben was surprised that she would lie to Jesse and it worried him. “Sofia, you should tell him. If I learned anything, it’s you have to be honest with the one you love. If he says no, then that’s okay. I understand.”
Sofia turned her head and studied her coffee. Her hair spilled over her shoulder hiding her profile. Ben practically had to sit on his hands so he wouldn’t reach over and push it back so he could see her pretty face again.
She finally turned towards him pushing it back herself. She had evidently worked out whatever it was she was struggling with. “He…doesn’t know you work there…that we… work together.”
Shit… “Oh…” was all he could manage. No wonder she is hesitant, he thought. But now that she said it, he wasn’t surprised. No doubt Jesse would have insisted she quit. “Look, I don’t want to cause problems. Maybe we shouldn’t….”
“No Ben!” she said before he could finish, “I want to go. It will be okay. I promise. Don’t worry about Jesse. We will be back before it gets dark. I will still be able to see him for our Saturday night date.”
“Sofia, you can’t keep it a secret forever. He’s bound to find out. Willow Creek isn’t huge. Honestly, there is no pressure for you to go. You know that right?” He wanted to spend the day with her, but didn’t want to cause problems between her and Jesse.
“It’s my choice. And I choose a fun day with you and Cole. I would just be cleaning my apartment otherwise,” she said beaming. Then she surprised Ben again. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Now stop worrying. Didn’t your mama tell you that you would get wrinkles on your face from frowning?”
Ben busted out laughing. “No. I can’t say that she did! So, okay, if you’re absolutely sure. But, Sofia, you need to let him know that I work there too. It will be a whole lot better if you tell him rather him finding out from someone else. Trust is a big part of a relationship. Now, I think it’s time to get back to work before Leroy fires both of us and it’s no longer an issue.”