Trisha had been a lifesaver this past weekend. She had come to the apartment and stayed with the kids while I worked. Rock had even come the last two nights. She’d made cookies for the kids and let them each make their own homemade pizzas. It was like she was having as much fun as they were. And she was refusing to let me pay her for watching them.
She’d even shown up at six on Monday morning to help me get them ready for school, and she’d brought them all a lunch box packed with food. They had all looked at the lunch boxes like they didn’t know what to do with them. I knew for a fact that they’d been eating free lunches in the lunchroom since day one of kindergarten, and not once had my momma packed them a lunch.
Jimmy had looked up at me when Trisha handed him the solid black Igloo lunch box, and smiled. “She packed me lunch,” he’d said in an awed voice. If I hadn’t been worried about Rock knocking me on my ass, I’d have grabbed her face and kissed her. She had no idea how much her thoughtfulness meant to them.
I’d gotten them safely on the school bus and was now wide awake. My days of sleeping in were over. By the time I got to my ten o’clock class, I’d be wired on caffeine.
I’d poured my first cup of coffee when a knock sounded at the door. Who the hell was it now? I set my cup down and walked over to open the door. Trisha stood outside, with Rock behind her. She looked anxious.
“Hey, y’all. Did you forget something?” I asked, stepping back to let them in.
Trisha came in, followed by Rock, who closed the door behind him.
“No. We want to talk to you about something,” Trisha said, glancing up at Rock.
“Okay, uh, y’all want some coffee?” I asked.
“No, thank you. Can we sit down?” Trisha asked.
Typically, I’d be less patient this early in the morning, but after all they’d done for me over the past few days, I’d open a vein and give them a pint of blood if that was what they wanted.
“Sure. Have a seat.” I waved them over to the couch.
I sat in the chair across from them and took a drink of my coffee while I waited on them to say whatever it was they had come here to say.
Trisha took a deep breath. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed that we haven’t been around as much lately. Like at Live Bay, we aren’t there as often and we haven’t been leaving the house much.”
I had been too wrapped up in my world with Amanda to notice anyone else. I just nodded instead of explaining how unaware I’d been.
“Well, Rock and I’ve been trying for over six months to get pregnant. Last month we went to a specialist, and I was told there was a one percent chance that I’d ever conceive. He said we could try different procedures they had, but it would cost thousands of dollars up front.” She paused and looked back at Rock again. He’d wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tucked her up against his side.
I didn’t know if she wanted me to comment on this, or how in the hell this had anything to do with me. So I waited for more.
“We checked into adoption, but it also costs thousands of dollars to adopt a baby, and you are put on waiting lists. It isn’t easy, and we don’t have thousands of dollars. We’d have to get a loan, and we might not be approved for a loan even then. It would be unsecured. Anyway, we started talking about adopting an older child. One in the state system who needs a home. I want a little girl.” She teared up as she said the words “little girl.”
“My momma was a lot like yours. She didn’t want to have much to do with me. Then she ran off with one of her boyfriends when I was eight, and I never saw her again. I remember lying in bed at night and pretending that there was a momma out there who wanted me. She was going to come get me one day, and she would love me.” Trisha stopped and reached up to wipe a tear that was rolling down her cheek.
“I saw Daisy, and I wanted her immediately. She was just what I wanted. A little girl I could love and raise as my own. I knew you’d never split the kids up. I understood that. So this weekend I offered to stay with them because I wanted to spend time with them.”
She took a deep breath and blinked back the tears filling her eyes again.
“I want them all. Jimmy and his sweet, caring nature—he reminds me so much of you. And Brent is so funny and charming when he opens up. They don’t expect anything, and that breaks my heart. I want to give them everything. I want to love them and reassure them that they have a home. I begged Rock to come with me Saturday night to stay with them. I wanted him to get to know them. He fell in love.” She sniffed and smiled up at him.
“Daisy wrapped him around her little finger in minutes, and he agrees that Jimmy is you made over, so of course he loved him. Then Brent just gets to you. You can’t help it. I know you just lost your mother and things are unsettled for y’all. I don’t want to come into your life and disrupt everything. I just want to know if there is any chance that you would consider letting Rock and me have the kids. We have the room. You’ve seen the new house we’re renting. I’d make them lunches and go on field trips. We’d bake cookies and go cut down our own Christmas tree every year. They’d never be left alone. I’d love them. We both would.”
When I lifted my eyes from Trisha’s hopeful, tear-streaked face to see the unshed tears in Rock’s eyes, I knew my answer. They wanted to give them what I wouldn’t be able to. I’d be the big brother who wouldn’t remember to pack their lunches. I’d be gone to school and games and work all the time. They’d know I loved them, but they’d be fending for themselves a lot of the time.
With Rock and Trisha, they’d have parents. The kind of parents I never got to have. The ones who gave them a happy, secure life. This wasn’t an opportunity most kids in their situation were given. There was even a real good chance the judge wouldn’t give the kids to me. He’d take them away and split them up into foster care.
“They’d be the luckiest kids I know to have you two as parents,” I replied.
Trisha let out a sob and covered her mouth with her hand.
“I’ll call their social worker, and we’ll go from there.”
It was the last family dinner before the wedding. I’d thought Mom was in such a tizzy planning that she’d cancel it, but she didn’t. Instead, she ordered a fancy cake from the bakery in town and lit candles on the table. We were making this last one count, apparently.
Marcus and Willow walked into the kitchen holding hands. Marcus was whispering in her ear, and she was giggling. They made me want to vomit, they were so sweet. Romance just made me angry these days. I hadn’t heard from Daisy or the boys since the day in the park. I’d hoped Daisy would call me, but I knew they were settling in with Preston and dealing with things.
“Whoa, Mom. You went all out,” Marcus said as he took in the fancy cake and candles that decorated the table.
“It is the last family dinner before this family goes from three to four, and I wanted to celebrate the wonderful new changes to come,” she said with a smile.
She had left Dad out of that count. She pretended like he didn’t exist. Marcus respected that. To the point that Dad wasn’t even invited to the wedding. Neither was Willow’s sister, Tawny. Only Larissa was coming. She would be the flower girl.
“You didn’t have to do all this,” Willow told my mother. “You’ve been working on the wedding nonstop for weeks. But thank you. It means so much.”
Willow had a way with people. My mom was a tough nut to crack, and she had adored Willow since she’d first met her at a family dinner. I had been charmed by her immediately too, so I understood her effect on people.
Then again, Willow scored big points just for making Marcus so happy. Anyone who made my brother smile like she did had to be perfect in every way.
“I want everything to be special for the two of you,” Mom replied, waving us toward the table. “Everyone have a seat. I’ll bring the food to the table.”
“I’ll help you, Mom,” Marcus said, pulling Willow’s chair out for her, then turning to follow Mom into the kitchen.
Willow looked across the table at me. “Can you believe I’m going to be Mrs. Marcus Hardy by this time Saturday night?”
Smiling, I nodded. “Yes, I can. I expected it after I saw my brother with you the first time. He was hooked. It was all over his face.”
“I’m the luckiest woman in the world,” she replied.
The pain in my chest was something I was getting used to. Seeing other couples in love and happy hurt because I wanted that. Not with just anyone, either. I wanted it with a guy who didn’t want it with me in return. Seeing the way my brother looked at Willow, I yearned to be looked at that way. By a guy who had never told me he loved me. Who had lied to me and betrayed me. Yet I still wanted him. Would my heart ever stop wanting him?
“Are you okay? You seem down.” The concern in Willow’s voice was obvious.
I knew Marcus hadn’t told her about Preston and me. She didn’t even know we had dated. I couldn’t exactly tell her that my heart was damaged beyond repair and I was dying inside. She thought I was interested in Jason Stone.
“I’m just tired. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to be such a downer.”
She frowned and started to say something else, when Marcus and Mom walked back into the room carrying the trays of food that had been catered. Mom hadn’t had time to cook this week. She’d been too busy worrying over things like what ribbon to tie on what chair.
“This smells amazing,” Marcus said as he set the pan full of fried crab claws and hush puppies down on the table.
“I thought we’d do seafood tonight. Since it’s a beach-themed wedding.”
That made no sense, but my mother was obsessive, so I ignored it.
Marcus reached for some food and started putting it on Willow’s plate. He always did things like that for her. He made her breakfast in the morning and brought her coffee. My brother had been raised to be a southern gentleman. My mom had accomplished that and then some.
“Guess what I found out today,” Marcus said as he started to fix his own plate.
“What?” Mom asked.
Marcus looked over at me. “Looks like Trisha and Rock are gonna adopt Preston’s brothers and sister.”
“What?” I couldn’t act like I didn’t care. Because I did.
Marcus raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Yep. Trisha found out awhile back she can’t get pregnant. They wanted to adopt. Then she met the kids, and she and Rock want them. Preston’s already got the ball rolling. The kids’ social worker doesn’t see that this is going to be a problem. The court will find it a perfect solution. Preston wouldn’t have got to keep those kids. He has his job as a bouncer four nights a week, and then he has school and baseball. He has no time to raise kids.”
Trisha and Rock would be amazing parents. And the kids would still be in town close to Preston. He could get them whenever he wanted. Trisha would love Daisy. She’d be the momma that Daisy deserved.
Wait . . . Preston’s job as a bouncer at a club? Was this something he’d made up to cover the truth, or had he really found himself a new job?
“They’ll make wonderful parents. I’m so happy for them and those kids,” I replied, trying to keep the emotion off my face. My mother was watching me. I could feel her eyes studying my every move. I could not let her see any weakness.
“Yeah. Preston is pretty pumped about it. He has been worried about losing the kids because he’s so young. He didn’t want them split up and put in the foster care system. This removes that possibility.”
I nodded and picked up a crab claw. “When did Preston start working as a bouncer?” I asked, trying to sound casual about it. I put the crab claw in my mouth and pulled the meat off with my teeth while I waited on Preston to answer. I would not look over at my mother.
“A couple of weeks ago. Rock hooked him up with a great gig. He works four nights a week and gets paid some serious jack. He sleeps most of the daylight hours during the weekend, though. It was why no one could get him on his phone the day his mom died.”
Marcus was being careful too. He could sense the tension coming from Mom. I hadn’t told him that she knew about Preston, but I was pretty sure he was able to figure it out by the major vibes she was putting off.
“Makes sense. Well, I’m glad things are working out for him,” I replied.
Marcus shifted in his seat, and the questions in his eyes as he looked at me were clear. He wanted to know if Mom knew. He also was questioning her involvement in our sudden breakup. I couldn’t have him asking her anything. She’d tell him about Preston. I didn’t want Marcus to know. I needed him to think this was my choice and I’d moved on.
“So, change of subject, but Jason is flying in tomorrow. He wanted to come early so we could spend some time together. If you need me for anything, give me advance notice, because I have plans with him too,” I told my mother.
Mom’s tension eased and she smiled. “Oh, that’s good to hear. I’m sure I’ll need you some, but you can always bring Jason with you. We can find some use for his muscles.”
“He doesn’t have muscles, Mom. He has people lift everything, from his luggage to his damn fork. The kid hasn’t ever done any type of manual labor.” Marcus sounded annoyed.
“He has a gym in his home, where he works out daily. I can assure you he has very nice muscles,” I said sweetly, meeting my brother’s gaze across the table.
“If that’s what you want, Manda. Then be my guest.”
It wasn’t what I wanted. But nothing was about what I wanted. It rarely was.