Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
I woke up in my old room, though it had long ago been turned into a regular guest room, to the scent of coffee and bacon. And, for a split second, I felt happy.
I hadn’t had bacon in forever, and I’d always loved it.
But then I remembered why I hadn’t had it—because Shane hated the smell of it. Hated the smell of anything fried. He refused to go into diners or fast food restaurants, and we certainly could never eat something like bacon at our apartment. He even hated if I ate it anywhere without him because he said it made my clothes and skin smell.
Sadly, having my first thought on waking be about Shane brought the tightly gripping knot in my gut back to life. Which left me nauseous and suddenly not hungry at all.
“Damn you, you piece of shit, Shane,” I muttered, rolling onto my back and draping an arm over my eyes, as if that could somehow shut out the vision of Kilgannon’s dick buried balls-deep in Shane. It didn’t, of course. And just like that, the sickening porno-vision was back, playing on a loop in my head.
“God, this has to stop!” I threw back the covers and slid out of bed, desperately hoping the movement would shut off my brain.
It did. Sort of. The vision at least. But the knot in my belly only seemed to grip tighter, and for a moment I thought I might be sick. But the nausea passed after a few seconds of deep breathing, and by the time I made my way downstairs, I’d managed to regain control and was able to paste what I hoped was a semi-normal expression on my face before I entered the kitchen.
My dad was moving the frying bacon out of the skillet and onto a paper towel.
“You burn anything yet?” I teased when he looked up and told me good morning. It was a long-standing joke that I couldn’t even remember how it had gotten started, since he often cooked breakfast with no burning involved.
“Wise ass,” he said, smiling. “Do me a favor and put some bread in the toaster, will ya? My hands are a bit full at the moment.”
“Sure.” While I worked, I asked, “Where’s Mom?”
“Cherry called at the crack of dawn this morning about an illegal puppy mill operation that was raided during the night. Almost forty dogs involved—adults and puppies—with clear signs of neglect. Your mom left to help.”
“That’s awful. Somewhere local?”
He nodded. “Out off Pine Gulch Road, you know up where that old abandoned hunting cabin used to be? The property next to it.”
“Isn’t that where the Sheffields live?”
“Lived. They sold it, oh, about six years ago, and it’s changed hands a couple times since. Clearly the newest residents have been up to no good.”
“I don’t even have words bad enough for people like that.”
“Your mother either.”
In addition to heading up a non-profit dog rescue group, my mom also ran a no-kill shelter for dogs, Mountain Mutts Rescue. So I knew she’d try to take as many of the puppy mill dogs as she could at the shelter itself and then find foster families for the others. Sometimes, in situations like this, a couple of shelters out of Denver would also help.
When I was a kid, I wanted to adopt all the dogs and bring them home with us, and at times we would have four or five that lived with us—some we had adopted, some that we fostered if the shelter was getting crowded. I’d lived with dogs all my life and, as I looked through the French doors into the living room and saw and heard Raleigh snoring away on his bed in front of the fireplace, with Loki curled up next to him, and Iggy once again dancing around my ankles, probably hoping for a piece of bacon to magically fall onto the floor, I realized how damned much I’d missed this during my years away.
Which brought back a memory that, I had to admit, made me cringe a little. When Shane had come here for Christmas with me four years ago, he’d gone with me to the shelter one day so I could drop off something for my mom. When we’d left he’d made a slightly snarky comment about not knowing how anyone could work at a place like that because of the stench. It had both shocked me and also pissed me off because my mom had one of the cleanest, most well-kept shelters I’d ever been to—and I’d been to more than my fair share since she often worked with other shelters and I’d ridden along with her many times when I was younger. Shane, when he’d realized he’d upset me, tried to walk back the comment, making some vague apology and saying he hadn’t meant it personally, he just hadn’t ever understood the point of having pets and wasn’t a fan of animals.
Bastard. I should have seen that as an immediate warning sign right then and there that he was a low-life douchebag. Anyone who didn’t like animals—creatures that offered their love unselfishly and forever, unlike a certain cheating asshole I knew—shouldn’t be trusted. But we’d still been in the honeymoon stage of our relationship, so I’d forgiven him. But from time to time the memory had crept into my thoughts again, as it had this morning, and of course now that I knew his true colors, it just made me even more furious at him. And at myself, for not seeing him for what he was earlier.
I suddenly realized my dad had said my name a couple of times while I’d been lost in my pissy thoughts. “I’m sorry, Dad, what’d you say?”
“I’m headed to the office in a few minutes. Need to go over some blueprints with Chuck Brower—he’s the mayor now, you know.”
“Really? Wow, I remember when he ran that short-lived, dumpy bowling alley out on Route 5, near Jay’s grandpa’s place.”
“Yeah, he got into real estate after that, made a slew of money selling houses to movie stars and rich people who wanted to live near the ski areas, and then got himself elected as mayor last year.”
“So what’re you doing for him? Building him a new fancy house of his own?”
“Actually, my company won the contract to build a new library for the town. We start construction in the spring.”
“Yeah, well, in theory. Let’s just say Chuck’s not exactly the easiest person to work with, and he wants a say-so in even the tiniest details. I’m beginning to wonder if all those rich and famous people he sold houses to only bought them to get him out of their lives as quickly as possible.”
“Ouch,” I said with a laugh.
“No. Ouch is having to sit through weekly meetings with him. But you didn’t hear that from me.”
“My lips are sealed.”
“Does this count as attorney-client privilege?”
He clapped me on the shoulder and smiled himself. “It really is good to have you home, son.”
“It’s good to be here,” I told him honestly. Standing in the warm kitchen, making and eating deliciously messy egg and bacon sandwiches, talking about small town life with my dad was comfortable and good. And I appreciated the normalcy of it more than I could say.
“What do you have planned for today?” he asked.
“I have an appointment with Maddy at ten. And I should also probably check in with my assistant this morning and answer some email. Other than that, nothing in particular. Anything you want me to do around here?” I looked out the kitchen window and noticed last night’s snow had stopped, but the sky was heavy and gray, which meant there’d probably be more white stuff at some point. “Want me to do some more shoveling?”
“Nah, I think that’s all good for the moment. But if you wouldn’t mind, while you’re out, if you could run into the hardware store and pick up some snow-melt salt that would be great. I’m out and I got the evil glare from your mom this morning about it.”
Again I chuckled because I knew my mom’s evil glare well. “Sure, no problem. I certainly don’t want you in trouble with Mom.”
He snorted. “I’m always in trouble with her, but she loves me anyway.”
“Yeah, she does,” I said fondly.
After Dad left for work, I poured myself another cup of coffee, then headed upstairs to my laptop and phone to get some work done and check in with Ariel.
I finished up with just enough time to grab a quick shower and make it to town to Maddy’s office.
She shared a small brick building with a chiropractor on Blackberry Street, only a block off Main, across from the small local hardware store, which, I knew, was why Dad had asked me to pick up the snow melt stuff, since I’d be right there anyway.
I lucked into a parking space right in front of the building on the street, and climbed across the fresh snow that had been plowed against the curb.
I’d always loved Maddy’s work space; it somehow managed to be both cheerful and soothing. Which was pretty much how I’d describe Maddy as well. She was an easy person to be around. She listened without judging. And she always seemed to know the right things to say to make people comfortable. Which was a gift for her line of work, and no doubt one of the reasons she always stayed booked up with clients. They all loved her. Frankly, I was surprised she’d been able to fit me into her schedule today. And I told her that after she’d pulled me in out of the cold and hugged me.
“I had a cancellation,” she admitted. “But I see it as serendipity because now I get you instead.”
“Yeah, you might not be so happy to have me when you realize I have stress knots upon stress knots. I’m afraid I’m not going to be one of your easy clients today.”
“That’s exactly why you’re here, though, so we can get rid of some of those shitty knots and start you feeling better.” She patted me on the back. “Now go on and get comfortable, face-down, and I’ll be in shortly.”
Her massage room was lit with only one small lamp that cast a warm, golden glow on the walls and across the thick Persian-style rug atop the hardwood floor. The window blinds were closed, and she had a space heater running in the corner, making the temperature toasty and pleasant.
I quickly stripped off my clothes and slid between the red flannel sheets on the massage table. The moment I got my face comfortably situation in the face cradle, I felt the tension in my body begin to ease. Just being here seemed to send a message to my brain and body that, for the next hour at least, I could relax. Even the constant ache of the knot in my belly seemed a little better. With the soft sound of some sort of Tibetan chanting music in the background, the scent of lavender on the air, and the warmth of the room seeping through me, I might have been dozing when Maddy came in.
“You comfy?” she asked.
“Yeah. Maybe too comfy.”
Her soft laugh made me smile. “It’s okay if you fall asleep. You wouldn’t be the first.” Then her tone grew gentler and at the same time serious. “I’m not going to ask what happened with Shane, and you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. It’s enough that I can tell he hurt you badly. But he’s not here, and you’re home with your family, and we all love you. This is a safe space, okay?”
I nodded because I suddenly couldn’t speak.
“Okay. Now, let’s see what we can do about those knots.”
An hour later, I was pretty much a gooey blob of relaxation as I slid off the table and got dressed. Some people might say I was biased since she was my sister-in-law, but, honestly, I’d had a lot of massages from a lot of different therapists over the years, in everything from the fanciest of spas to private practices, and I could say, without a single doubt, that Maddy was the best. I was only sad I’d been away so long I’d forgotten just how good she was.
I left her massage room, lazily pulling my sweater over my head atop one of the long-sleeved tee-shirts I’d bought a couple of days ago.
Maddy was waiting for me. “Here, she said, holding out a steaming mug. I made you some tea. Chai, the way you like it with milk.”
The scent of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger assailed my senses—in a good way—as I took the mug from her. “Mmmm, wow, thanks. I haven’t had this in ages.”
“You’re welcome. Come sit and talk for a while if you don’t have to be anywhere else. My next client won’t get here for almost an hour.”
She had her own steaming mug that smelled of chamomile. She curled up on a cushy blue velvet couch in her waiting room, and I sat next to her.
“New furniture in here?” I motioned not only to the couch on which we sat, but the similar and equally cushy looking red velvet chair across from us.
“Mmm, I got these last year. Do you remember Paige Stevens? I think she was in your class in high school, or was she between you and Kevin? Anyway, she ran a boutique out on Main Street for a couple of years, had a lot of unique and fun furniture and stuff. But then she got divorced and very quickly remarried and her new hubby got a job in L.A. She did a big closing sale. I got these for a steal, basically because she wanted to get out of town as fast as possible and join him.”
“Nice. I like ’em. Very posh without feeling snooty.”
She laughed. “Um, yeah, I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me or my office as snooty.”
No. No, they wouldn’t, and that was exactly part of her charm. Everything about Maddy, from her plaid flannel shirt and jeans, to her long chestnut ponytail and minimal make-up, to her down-to-earth personality was the real deal. She couldn’t be snooty if she tried.
“You and your office are perfect, exactly as you are.”
“Never. I only tell the truth.”
“Isn’t that an oxymoron—an honest lawyer?”
Her laughter was contagious and for several seconds we snorted like kids.
“Okay, to be fair,” I finally said, “I’ve unfortunately known some attorneys who resemble that remark a little too much.” And then my words took a bitter turn as the inevitable thought popped into my head. “One in particular all-too recently. Lying bastard that he is,” I muttered under my breath.
Maddy didn’t say a word, just reached over and rested her hand on my forearm, offering her support.
“Sorry,” I said with a sigh, scraping a palm down over my scruffy face. One of these mornings I was actually going to have enough energy to shave, but this morning hadn’t been it.
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up the bad.”
“I know you didn’t. It’s not your fault. And thanks for what you said earlier, about Shane. To be honest, I’m kind of talked out about the whole situation right now.”
“I figured. You did tell your mom, though, yeah? Because I know she was really worried about you when you called her yesterday morning. She said she hadn’t heard you sound that down since Barney died.”
Barney had been my Boston Terrier that I’d rescued when I was in high school. Some asshole had left him chained outside a gas station in the dead of winter and abandoned him. It still outraged me to think about it. I cut the chain with a pair of bolt cutters I carried in my truck at the time and brought him home. I’d loved that dog beyond measure, and his death while I was in law school, even though he’d been ancient and had lived a full life, had devastated me.
“Wow, and here I thought I’d done a masterful job of pretending to sound okay when I called her,” I said. “But, yeah, I told Mom last night, and Dad heard most of it. The abbreviated version anyway. After everything went down last Friday night, I stayed with my friend Emma for a couple of days, so she and her husband got the whole sordid tale when it was fresh. It wasn’t pretty.”
“I’m sorry, Hunter. Truly. I take it it’s over for good with Shane?”
“Oh, hell yeah. Our business partnership, too, since I can’t trust him. That’s part of what I have to sort out over the next couple of weeks.”
“That’s a lot of crap to deal with all at once. No wonder you were such a ball of tension. You doing okay emotionally?”
Damn the knot in my gut, which clenched tight again. “Trying to be. I’ll get there. It’s helping more than I thought it would, to be here in Colorado.”
“Making you realize how much you missed us?” she teased, lightening the mood. She always knew how hard to push, when to pull back, and when to change the subject at just the right time.
“Maybe,” I said with a smile. But then I sobered. “For real, I have missed you guys. So much. I feel out of touch, though. Like about whatever’s going on with Kevin and why he’s acting like I’m his archenemy.”
“He doesn’t really think that. He loves you, Hunter. He’s just…” She sighed and her expression grew sad.
That pinged a warning in me. “What is it, Mad? Is something going on that I don’t know about?”
“It’s been…” Her brow scrunched. “It’s been kind of a rough go around here for a while. Everything’s fine now,” she rushed on to say. “We’re fine. It’s… Well, some stuff has happened that scared Kevin, and…”
“Okay, you looking sad is bad enough, but when you say Kevin’s been scared…now you’re scaring me. What happened?”
“All right, so, I’m going to tell you some stuff that not everyone knows about, which means I’m swearing you to secrecy.”
“Okay.” I realized my heart was racing and the knot in my stomach gave a particularly hard squeeze.
“A little over eighteen months ago I had a miscarriage.”
“What? Maddy—” I reached for her hand and squeezed it.
“Nobody knew about it because we hadn’t ever told anyone we were pregnant.” The sad expression settled more deeply on her face. “We selfishly wanted to savor the fact we were going to have a baby and just keep it as our secret for a while. But then at ten weeks, I miscarried. It was…hard. For both of us. We’d been so excited, and then, boom, all that joy, all the plans, it was all gone in a few hours.”
She shook her head. “Looking back on it, it was foolish to never tell anyone about the pregnancy and loss because it probably would have helped us both to have some support. But we chose to grieve alone. It just felt…private, I guess.
“We thought about waiting for a while before we tried again, but decided maybe it would help our grief if we got pregnant again sooner rather than later. The doctor said there was no medical reason we had to wait once my body had fully recovered. So, a few months later, we found out we were pregnant for a second time. It was scary, but we were hopeful. We didn’t tell anyone about it again, but this time we didn’t because we wanted to be sure everything was going to be okay before we announced it to the world. Things seemed to be going fine and we were almost at that magical twelve-week point where the first trimester ends and the risk of miscarriage is a lot less. We actually had planned to tell your parents about it that weekend. Kevin was working in Denver that week, doing some mandatory yearly law-enforcement training for the Sheriff’s Office, so I was home alone.”
She drew in a shaky breath before she continued. “Late on a Thursday night…it happened again. And this time there were complications. I hemorrhaged, lost a lot of blood very quickly and passed out. But I managed to call 9-1-1 before I lost consciousness. When I came around, I had the EMTs call your mom, and she and your dad met me at the hospital in Granby, and your mom called Kevin. I didn’t want the hospital to contact him directly because I knew he’d freak. Of course, he did anyway. He came right away and stayed with me at the hospital. When we did finally go home, I hadn’t even thought about what I’d left behind at the house. He walked into the bedroom and saw all the blood, and… I don’t think he’s really been the same since.”
“Oh, Maddy.” I leaned forward and pulled her into a hug. “I’m so, so sorry. I can’t even imagine how awful that whole experience must have been. Both experiences. For both of you.”
She let me hold her for a long minute, then I heard a sniffle before she pulled away and gave me a small, watery smile. “I’m glad to finally be able to tell you about all of this.”
“Why didn’t you guys tell me sooner?”
“Well…no one knew when the first one happened. And we kind of swore your parents to secrecy about the second. We didn’t want word to get out about the miscarriage and me having to be in the hospital for a couple of days. My mom… God I didn’t want her to find out and come around pestering me, and she would have come around. She would have shown up either at the hospital or the house and I couldn’t have handled that on top of everything else. So, we asked your parents not to say anything to anyone.”
“I can understand that,” I said, my heart aching for her. And for my brother.
Maddy’s relationship with her alcoholic mother was contentious at the best of times during the rare occasions when they were forced to have any kind of contact, so I completely respected her not wanting her mom to know. But it still stung a little they hadn’t confided in me. It’s not like I lived here and would have inadvertently let it slip to someone. Hell, even if I lived here, I would never, ever have told anyone. But I also understood that grief was a powerful thing and people driven by it didn’t always make the same kind of decisions they might have otherwise. So, I immediately pushed back my own selfishness. Maddy and Kevin were all that mattered in this scenario.
“You guys have been through so much. It kills me to even think about it. How’re you holding up?”
She brushed her fingers across my scruffy cheek. “You’ve always had such a kind heart, Hunter. Whatever that asshole Shane did to you, he deserves to rot.”
“I don’t care about that asshole right now. I care about you and Kevin.”
“Well…then let me entrust you with one more secret.”
“Ok—ay,” I said slowly.
“I’m pregnant again.”
I drew in a quick breath.
“Before you say anything, I’m fine.” Her smile was warm and genuine now. “I just had my twelve-week check-up yesterday, and everything looks good.”
I let out the same breath without realizing I’d been holding it. “Oh, thank God.” And then I smiled, too. “Congratulations.” I pulled her into another hug and she laughed.
“Mom and Dad don’t know yet?”
“Nope. Only Kevin and I, and now you.”
“Thank you for sharing with me. I won’t say a word. I promise.”
“I know you won’t. And you won’t have to keep the secret for long. We’ll tell your parents soon. I probably would have told them already this time, but Kevin’s…well…he’s struggling with it.”
“With telling them?”
“No. With the pregnancy in general,” she said with a sigh. “To be honest, he didn’t want to try again even when I was ready to. I actually had to work hard to convince him, and it took a while to get him to come around. That’s why it’s been almost a year this time. And then, once he finally gave in and agreed, I think he was hoping it wouldn’t happen so fast. But, of course, the first month we tried… Let’s just say getting pregnant has never been a problem for us. He’s scared as hell. We had an argument the day after the pregnancy test was positive because he wanted me to quit my job and stay home, so I wouldn’t overdo it. Even though our doctor has said more than once, nothing I did before caused either of the miscarriages, and there’s no reason to think that now. But Kevin just went full-out overprotective crazy at the idea of me leaving the house. You can imagine how well that went over.”
“Since you’re still here working, yeah.”
“He gets freaked out when he’s working long shifts, miles from home. Or when he gets called in at odd hours. He’s so afraid of not being with me every second, or somewhere close by.”
“Well, the love of his life almost lost her life while he was away.”
“I know. And I don’t want to sound like I’m bitching or I blame him. I get it. I do. And I love him for being concerned. And I think, I hope, he’ll settle down over the next few weeks, once he realizes everything really is going to be okay. But in the meantime, he’s a bundle of nerves.”
“Strangely, you don’t seem to be,” I observed.
“I know, right? I should be. But I’m actually okay. I don’t know why, except that I just have a deep-down gut feeling everything’s going to be all right this time. This pregnancy feels different somehow. I just wish I could convince Kevin of that so we could both be less stressed.”
“I wish I could convince him of it for you, but since he’s barely speaking to me at the moment, I’m pretty sure he would tear me a new one if I interfered. Last night, when we were outside, he gave me an earful about how I love my life in New York more than I love my family. Which, I just want to clarify, is not true. But he laid into me pretty hard about it.”
“Ugh. He’s angry and on edge with everyone about everything right now. In your case, I think he’s frustrated that you haven’t been home in a while and he feels like you haven’t supported him during these tough couple of years.”
“But how could I support him if I didn’t even know all of this was going on?” I asked. I knew I sounded defensive, but I felt defensive. How could Kevin blame me for not being here for him when he had made the choice not to tell me about any of this?
“It’s not logical, I know. I think that he thinks that if you had been here he would have told you, but you weren’t. You guys haven’t really kept in touch much over the past few years—and before you say it takes two to do that, I know, Kevin hasn’t exactly reached out to you either. So there’s no blame here, and to be clear, I’m not upset with you in the teensiest because there’s nothing to be upset about. Like I said, Kevin’s feelings aren’t logical or rational. I think he’s just hurting and he’s scared and he needs his big brother. But he’s too damn proud to say so or to ask.”
I sighed. “Obviously I need to talk to him. I’m just not sure if he’s going to let me even try.”
“I don’t know either,” Maddy said. “You know what a stubborn shit he can be. But I do think that if you keep trying, eventually he’ll crack. Because like I said, he loves you. He looks up to you, and that’s why I think he wants your support and feedback so much, because he does look up to you.”
Maddy’s next client came in then, abruptly ending the conversation.
“Sorry,” Maddy mouthed to me, when the older, obviously well-to-do woman turned to hang her fur coat on the hook by the door.
“It’s okay,” I mouthed back.
She mimicked holding a phone to her ear and mouthed, “Call me later if you want.”
When the woman turned back around, Maddy smiled at her. “Give me just a minute, Joan, while I change the sheets and get set up. I’ll be right with you.”
I murmured a polite hello to the woman, gave Maddy a quick goodbye hug, grabbed my coat off the hook, and left them to their appointment.
As I stood outside on the recently shoveled sidewalk, I dragged in a deep breath. Maddy had been smiling and chatting normally to the woman when I closed the door, but our heavy conversation had left me shaken.
How could Maddy and Kevin have been going through all of that and I’d been clueless? Two of the people I loved most in the world, and they’d been struggling so hard, while I, meanwhile, had been living my life oblivious to their pain.
That made me not like myself very much.
I was so focused inward, with the damned knot in my stomach twisting and clenching, that I wasn’t paying attention when I crossed the sidewalk to my rental. I ran almost full-on into someone with an oomph!
“Oh God, I am so sorry,” I said, immediately stepping back to look at the man, whose hands had moved to my arms to steady me before I fell into the snowbank on the curb.
“Holy shit,” I breathed, gazing into his handsome, bearded face.
“That’s pretty much what I was about to say,” he responded, staring back at me, seeming to be in as much shock as I was.
“Jay.” His name crossed my lips in a breathy whisper.
“Jesus. Hunter. I…” He shook his head as the beginnings of a grin tugged at his mouth. “I never in a million years would have expected to run into you here.” Then his brow scrunched. “Literally or figuratively, I guess.”
A low chuckle finally escaped me. “Same. What are you doing here? Are you visiting for the holidays?”
“No, I live here now.”
“You do?” Another shock to my system. How had I not known this?
“Yeah. What about you?”
Damn he looked good. Better than good, and I couldn’t seem to stop staring. Nor could I ignore the fact he still had his steadying hands on my upper arms and, somehow, I could feel the heat from them through my coat, sweater, and tee-shirt.
Jay had always been attractive, both as a teenager and even more so as a grown man, but for some reason, looking at him right now, up close, in his leg-hugging jeans, fleece-lined canvas jacket, brown cowboy hat, and those smiling blue eyes…the knot in my gut went all mushy for a moment.
And it turned surprisingly molten in a holy-crap kind of way when he suddenly tugged me into a hug. It was a brief contact as far as hugs went—two old friends slapping each other on the back in a very manly, platonic sort of way—but when we stepped apart, I felt like I’d just been cheated out of something more. More what, though? I wasn’t sure I wanted to contemplate that. Not under the circumstances.
“God, it’s been…what? Five? Six years?” he said, his voice still that soft, sexy rumble.
“Closer to six I think.” I’d still been working at the firm where I’d landed right after law school and stayed for three years before Shane and I broke out on our own. I’d used a week’s vacation to come home and see my family that summer, and Jay happened to be here visiting his grandfather at the same time.
“Right. And your friend Emma came to visit with you.”
“Yep, that’s right,” I said smiling, remembering Emma’s amazement during that whole week-long trip because she’d never been to Colorado before. For an east coast girl used to eastern “mountains,” which were gentle hills in comparison to the Rockies, Colorado had been awe-inspiring for her. I’d suggested the trip to her because she’d just gotten out of a crappy relationship—it was before she’d started dating Nate—and I’d convinced her a change of scenery would be good for her. I suddenly realized she’d used that same tactic on me a couple of days ago.
“She still talks about how we almost killed her, hiking to the top of Long’s Peak,” I told Jay.
He laughed. “I was seriously worried about her for a while, but the look on her face when we hit the summit was worth it.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She’s good. Married to a middle-school teacher. Has a little boy. Works at legal aid in the Bronx.”
“I liked her.”
“She liked you. She liked everyone here.”
“Are you…?” Jay paused and tilted his head. “Do you have anywhere you need to be right now?”
“No, not at all. I just had a massage with Maddy. And I’ve gotta run into the hardware store for Dad at some point today, but it’s not pressing. Why?”
“Have you eaten? Wanna grab some lunch and catch up?”
For the first time in days, something in my heart melted just a little. “I’d love to.”