19,540
07.03.2019

I GOT OUT OF BED with steely resolve, determined to prove I was in complete control of my emotions. I went downstairs and started cleaning. Some people eat in times of stress. I scour. By the time Dody and Fontaine were up, I'd cleaned the bathrooms, scrubbed the kitchen floor, and was taking down the family-room curtains for washing.

"Good morning, sunshine," Dody said.

Dust wafted off the drapes, making me sneeze. "When's the last time you washed these?"

"I didn't know you could. Won't the hooks get caught in the machine?"

"The hooks come off. Are you telling me these have never been cleaned?"

"If you can't tell, then why does it matter? You're ornery this morning."

I bit my lip. "Sorry. Just missing the kids, I guess." I had no intention of filling her in about last night's discovery. She'd just say, "Oh, pish-posh. Have some flaxseed."

Fontaine wisely held his tongue, keeping busy with design sketches until he left to meet a client. We didn't even have coffee on the deck, not that I worried about seeing Des jog by. Certainly he was still entangled in the arms of the blonde and too exhausted from his horizontal cardio workout to go running.

I spent the day polishing everything I could get my hands on. And every second of every minute, I reminded myself I didn't care. It didn't matter that he didn't even call to tell me more lies. I could get over this. Broken hearts mend. At least Richard taught me that much.

When my kids came home late the next evening, I was overjoyed. I hugged and kissed them until Jordan said, "No more smooches, Mommy. You're hurting my face." Tucking Paige into bed that night, I read all her favorite stories.

"Can I tell you a story, Mommy?"

I snuggled down under her covers. "Of course."

She showed me the pictures from Snow White, adapting it to her own fractured fairy tale. Basically Snow White and the Dorfs owned a very successful cookie company, but when Prince Charming showed up, Snow White had to decide if she'd quit her job and marry him or keep working.

"But can't she keep her job and still get married?" I asked.

"No, silly, because when you get married, your job is taking care of the Prince."

"Who told you that?"

"Daddy."

I got hot all over. "That's Daddy's opinion, honey. But Mommy doesn't agree with him. When you get bigger, then you can decide for yourself if you want to do both. It's your choice."

"I'm going to marry Des," she sighed. My skin burned hotter still. "Or maybe Fontaine. And you. Can I marry you, Mommy?"

I took a deep breath. She was so sweet, so innocent. I would not ruin that for all the money in the world. "Sure you can, baby. I would love to marry you. Now go to sleep."

I turned off her light and went to my own room. I didn't go back downstairs. I was avoiding Dody and her inevitable questions about Des's whereabouts. I hadn't called Penny to fill her in either. It almost felt like if I didn't tell anyone, then it hadn't really happened.

It was gorgeous outside the next morning, which made me grumpy. The kids were dying to go to the beach, but I was stalling, wanting to make sure we'd miss Des's jog. This was getting a little ridiculous, though. If I was going to keep avoiding him, I might as well go back to Glenville right now.

"Could you take them down to the beach, Dody? I had a little too much sun yesterday, and I think I might need to stay in today."

"Of course, darling. You can't be too careful about the sun. Anita Parker has a very suspicious mole on her inner thigh. I keep meaning to ask Des to look at it. When you talk to him, will you mention it?"

Oh, sure. That would be the very first thing.

"I'll try to remember, Dody. But she should talk to her own doctor. We can't bother him with stuff like that."

"Oh, I suppose. All right, kiddos! Shall we go to the beach and look for seahorse shoes?"

"Seahorses don't wear shoes, Aunt Dody," Paige answered.

"Not in the summer. In the summer they wear sandals. Come on. Let's go."

They moseyed on down the deck steps, and I breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Another potential run-in with my one-night stand averted. I settled down on the sunporch with a magazine and my favorite coffee mug, prepared to caffeinate and brood. I derived a perverse joy in my self-pity, perhaps because it was so familiar to me. But my joy was interrupted by footsteps on the deck and that hypnotic accent I had yet to purge from my memory.

"Sadie?"

From the shadow cast on the sunporch floor, I knew Des was standing at the screen door. I didn't look up. Why should I? I had my magazine with Alex O'Loughlin's baby blues to gaze into. I didn't need Des. Stupid old Des with his stupid flat stomach and his stupid awesome hair. Stupid accent too. It probably wasn't even real. Didn't I see somebody who looked like him on America's Most Wanted?

"Hey, Sadie?" He knocked lightly, then opened the door.

Damn it. Pretty much had to acknowledge him now.

I let my eyes flicker over him. "Oh, hey."

He stepped inside.

"Hi. Dody said you were up here. Too much sun, huh?"

I shrugged noncommittally. "Yep, I guess." I flipped the page of the magazine.

"Hmm. So are we on for dinner tonight?"

I tsk-tsk-tsked. "Uh, was that tonight? Shoot. I won't be able to make that."

He crossed his arms and frowned. I could almost envision the thought bubble above his head saying, "This woman is pissed. I don't know why. The next thing I choose to say is critically important. Danger! Danger!"

I can read a lot into one little frown.

I kept waiting for some snarky comment or some excuse about the other night. Like his cousin Charlie was a beautiful teenage drag queen. But he was silent, staring and sucking all the oxygen out of my universe. It took every muscle in my body not to squirm. I casually flipped another page. Good-bye, picture of Robert Downey Jr. Hello, millionth depiction of the Jolie-Pitt clan.

"Sadie," he said firmly.

Oh, was he still here? I had forgotten all about him. I looked up.

"I'm sorry I had to cancel the other night. Is that what this is about?"

For the record, it did occur to me that I was being outrageously childish, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to have a tantrum. I wanted to kick him in the shins and punch his arms. (His thick…muscular…arms…damn it!) But I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

"No, I just have a lot going on right now."

His eyes dropped to my magazine. "I can see that."

I tossed it aside, lurching up from my chair with the grace of a pregnant rhinoceros. "Look, I don't appreciate being lied to. It wasn't necessary for you to make something up. You could have told me the truth. So let's just skip the whole friend thing, OK? Thanks for your help with Dody, but we don't need you anymore."

Whew! There! I told him. He was a player, but he hadn't tricked me, god damn it, because I was too smart! Any second now a surge of indignant righteousness would course through me! Any second now…Wait for it…

"What are you talking about?"

Oh, he was good. I had to grant him that. He had the look of a man genuinely confused.

"Cousin Charlie? I saw that little blondey-blonde cheerleader at your house, and that was no Cousin Charlie!"

His eyes widened. "That's what this is about? My cousin?"

"Oh, right, your cousin." My air quotes added just the right touch.

He expelled a gusty breath and stared at me a moment. Surely he was searching his big, fat head for a plausible excuse. "Wow, Sadie," he finally said. "I don't even know how to respond to that."

"How about 'Hasta la vista, baby?'"

"How about the 'blondey blonde is my cousin. Charlie.'"

"Charlie? Charlie is a girl?" Hmmmmmm.

"Yes! She got stranded at the airport flying home from Marquette."

He was kind of insistent. I felt the stirrings of uncertainty but hammered them down stubbornly. He was using typical man tactics, damn it! First they make you think you're being irrational so you start second-guessing yourself, and then somehow it turns into a fight about how you accidentally dumped a big glass of iced tea all over the keyboard when you thought he was surfing for Internet porn.

"I'm supposed to buy that? I saw her, Des."

"When?"

"On your deck. Fontaine and I were walking the dogs."

"Why didn't you come up and say hi?"

"Because I didn't think she was your cousin. Who the hell names a girl like that Charlie?"

He volleyed back defensively. "You have a cousin named Fontaine!"

Ho, ho, hold on! I wasn't tripped up by that!

"Yes, but Fontaine isn't his real name. I mean, it is his real name, but it's not his first name. It's his middle name."

Hah! So there!

Des paused. His face had the same expression Lazyboy gets when perplexed by something squeaky. "Then what's his first name?"

"Tim!"

Hah! Take that!

He rubbed his temples. "His name is Tim, but he goes by Fontaine?"

"Gay! Hello!" Stop trying to change the subject, dumb-ass.

"Charlie for Charlotte. Hello!"

That was a dirty trick, using my own sarcasm against me. But I had too much experience fighting with Richard to let Des get away with that.

"So why didn't you tell me that your cousin was a girl?"

"I didn't realize I hadn't. And because it never occurred to me you'd see her and completely flip out. God, Sadie. What is the matter with you?" He ran both hands through his hair, clutching fistfuls at the top. "You thought I cancelled on you so I could be with somebody else?"

I stood my ground, hands on my hips. "You have every right to be with somebody else. We're not exclusive. I just don't like being lied to."

He pushed against his skull. "But I didn't lie to you! And I wasn't with somebody else!"

"But I didn't know that!" I hissed.

"Well, you know it now!" he shouted.

"Then I shouldn't be mad! But I am!"

Des slapped both hands over his face and shook his head.

Have you ever had one of those funky dreams where a super-famous celebrity is madly and passionately in love with you? Then you wake up? You know it's not real, but it still feels real. The emotions are so intense, and all those leftover feelings make it seem like maybe it really did happen? Like once I had a wickedly naughty dream about Matt Lauer, which was kind of weird because he's not really my type. But still, I spent the whole next day thinking he might actually call me.

That was the state I was in right now. I felt as though something major had happened and I responded accordingly. The fact I had it all terribly wrong was irrelevant. It was too late because I'd already cried.

Des opened his mouth, but it took a full ten seconds for any sound to come out.

"You're unbelievable, Sadie. I have to go." Then he walked out the door and down the steps.

I should've called after him, but I was still mad. Mad about nothing, it seemed. I think I may have screwed up.

Dody trotted up the steps a few minutes later to find me perched on the edge of the chair, staring vacantly. She wagged a finger at me.

"Sadie Turner, I have never been one to mind my own business and I'm not going to start now. What did you say to that young man? He seemed very upset."

"Who's watching the kids, Dody?"

She rolled her eyes. "They're fine. I told them to stay out of the water. What's going on with you and Des?"

I jumped up, rushing out the door and down the steps. "You can't leave them alone on the beach!"

She hurried after me. "Don't go changing the subject, missy!"

We got to the beach and the kids were fine. But Dody made me sit down and tell her what happened. I told her everything, even admitting my mistake. Now we were sitting under an umbrella while the kids built a castle and decorated it with stones and feathers.

"Darling, you know what they say about assumptions and how they make a dummy out of a U and a Y."

"An ass, Dody. To assume makes an ass of U and me. It's a play on words."

"Well, whatever it is, smarty-pants English major, you're being foolish. Why do you work so hard at making things harder?"

"I don't." I was getting really tired of her saying that.

"Yes, you do! You should have asked him about that girl instead of jumping to concussions."

"Conclusions!" God!

"You have to give people a chance to explain once in a while. You're just like your mother. She holds a grudge like an elephant."

I wish I smoked, because I could really use a cigarette right about now. "I'm not holding a grudge."

"Oh, really? You don't think you're blaming Des for something he didn't do because Richard cheated on you?"

"Dody, that's not fair!" I wished Anita Parker was here. She must have a pack of smokes in that big beach bag of hers.

"Fair? Whoever told you life was fair?" Dody pulled a tissue from between her breasts and dabbed at her nose.

"You did! You're always talking about karma and telling me what goes around comes around."

"Yes, it does, but that doesn't mean it's always fair. What I mean is that whatever energy you send out into the universe is what you get back."

"Are you saying I deserve whatever rotten shit I get?"

She took off her sunglasses to stare at me. "No. I'm saying that if you expect the worst from people that's what you'll see. You take offense where none is intended, like your mother does. She didn't used to be that way, you know."

"She didn't?"

"No, she used to be happy and sweet and funny. But somewhere along the way someone disappointed her, and she punished every single person that came along after that. And then, of course, there was your father. He was a big disappointment too. And she never got over it. I don't want to see you ending up like she has, darling. Life is to be embraced. It's meant to be lived and enjoyed. Make your mistakes, but make them with gusto and learn from them. Some people will still let you down, like Richard. He's the type with an itch that can't be scratched. But I promise, if you start looking for the best in people, you'll be very surprised at what you find."

My eyes burned, prickling the way they did when I tried not to cry. It was a familiar feeling.

Dody put a soft arm around me. "I think you might owe that boy an apology. Maybe we should make him some cookies."

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