I study the photo more closely, taking in every detail. The way the three of them stand together, the easy camaraderie between them. The way Gran’s hand rests on grandpa Sal’s arm, a gesture of intimacy and affection. And the way Herman’s smile seems to light up the entire picture, even as his eyes hold a hint of something darker, something that sends a shiver down my spine.

I try to reconcile the image of the young man in the photo with the portrait I saw in Frost’s home. The years have changed him, of course, but there’s no mistaking the resemblance. The same sharp features, the same piercing gaze, the same air of intensity that seems to radiate from him.

“Gran,” I ask, my voice steady despite the tumult of emotions swirling inside me, “Who is this?” But my finger shakes as I point to him, giving me away.

Gran leans closer, her eyes squinting as she examines the picture. A wistful smile plays at the corners of her mouth, and for a moment, she seems lost in a distant memory.

“That’s Herman Frost,” she says softly, her finger reaching to trace the outline of the man’s face. But retracting. There’s a pause, a heartbeat of silence, before she adds, “An old boyfriend.”

The name “Frost” hits me like a sledgehammer, driving the air from my lungs. I feel my eyes widen behind my glasses, an explosion going off in my chest.

This is it. Confirmation. Confirmation I now realize I didn’t want.

“Frost?” I repeat, my voice little more than a croak. The name sticking in my throat like a jagged pill. I’m not even sure if I’m asking her or myself.

Herman Frost.

The name echoes in my mind, ricocheting off the walls of my skull like a stray bullet. And no matter how much I try to dodge it, it inevitably catches me.

This can’t be happening.

It has to be a coincidence, a trick of the light, a cruel cosmic joke. But as I stare at the man in the photograph, I know deep down that it’s none of those things.

But wait…

“An old boyfriend?” I parrot, disbelief raising my voice. “Since…since when?” I sound incredulous.

Under normal circumstances, I’d be cheering like mad, big upping my sweet, reserved grandmother for being a bad bitch in her younger years. Nabbing not one but two fine ass men at the same time. Have them compete for her affections. But it doesn’t sound like that kind of story. And this…this is not anywhere near a normal circumstance.

Gran stiffens beside me, and that’s when I realize I don’t just sound incredulous. I sound judgmental. “I’m sorry, I just…I can’t believe you dated someone before Grandpa Sal.”

Gran chuckles, a soft, wistful sound that’s tinged with sadness. “I know it’s hard to imagine,” she says, her gaze drifting back to the photograph. “But I had a whole life before I met your grandfather. A life that was wonderful, and messy, and full of choices that I sometimes regret.”

I lean forward, my curiosity piqued despite the shock of hearing the last thing I ever thought I would about my grandmother. “What happened?” I ask, my voice gentle. “With you and Herman, I mean.”

Gran sighs, a heavy, weighted sound that seems to come from somewhere deep inside her. Her fingers tremble slightly as she sets the photograph back in the album. Herman Frost seems to have that effect on people. Even when he’s glaring at you from a still photo.

I can’t imagine what he was like in real life.

Oh wait, never mind.

“I met Sal through Herman,” she begins, her voice soft and distant. “They were friends, you see. Best friends, really.” She huffs sardonically, shaking her head. “But things became…complicated.”

Another pause. I can sense the weight of the memories pressing down on her.

“What do you mean, ‘complicated?’” I soften my voice, trying to bring levity to this unexpected revelation. “Like the Facebook status?”

She chuckles, light and short. Making another revelation without words. There’s fleeting thought to set my profile to private now that I know my grandma is hype to social media. But then it’s followed by a pained, wistful smile that sets my heart on edge. Bracing for something.

“It was such a long time ago,” she offers, seeming to relive snippets of her past as she looks on at the photo. “When Herman introduced us, I felt an instant connection with Sal. He was charming, funny, and so full of life. But Herman…Herman was intense, passionate, and fiercely intelligent. I was drawn to both of them in different ways.”

I struggle to suppress the shudder that attaches itself to my inhale.

Intense. Check.

Fiercely intelligent. Check.

Passionate…

Like a sensory memory, it lances through me. The hard press of the table against my tits. The weight of being crushed beneath his body. The bruising grip of his fingers on my ass cheeks. The vulgar, delicious stretched of his cock driving into me with a ferocity that borders on violence. A flash. And then it’s gone. Dissipating like smoke on breeze. But it sets my heart on a pathway to my throat.

No. No, that wasn’t passion. That was insanity. Sheer insanity. Younger Frost is probably the most dispassionate person I’ve ever met.

“I found myself falling for your grandfather,” she continues, saving me from my own messy, complicated memories. “Even though I was still with Herman at the time. It was a confusing, difficult situation, and I didn’t handle it well. I ended up hurting both of them, and myself in the process.”

She falls silent then, her gaze turning inward. Eyes misting over with unshed tears and held emotion. I reach out and take her hand, feeling the fragile bones beneath her papery skin. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to continue. That she doesn’t owe me any explanations.

“In the end, I chose Sal,” she says, a bittersweet smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I left Herman to be with him. And I never regretted that choice, not for a single moment. Your grandfather had his faults, as I have mine. But he was the best husband I could ask for and I cherished every day we had together.”

I swallow thickly, sensation blurring my own eyes. Pride and confusion and anger warring in my head.

Why would he leave you with all this debt, then?

I don’t voice the question, not wanting to upset her. Remind her of what I’m trying not to think about myself. If only for today. Hating that the man we both miss so much, the man who put her in this position isn’t here to answer for himself.

***

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