Authors: Cat Porter
He took the cans of tomato sauce I had piled in my arms and tossed them in the cart.
“You would be correct,” I replied, adding boxes of ditalini, fusilli, elbow macaroni, and linguine to the cart.
“You liking Meager?”
“Actually, it’s not much different from where I grew up, which is just north of here, so it feels comfortable to me.”
“You ever go home?”
“Are you always this inquisitive?”
“Usually helps being inquisitive when you’re trying to get to know a person, don’t you think?”
I stacked the tuna cans next to the tomato sauce in the cart. “I don’t go home because there’s nothing to go home to.” I shot him the plastic smile that I’d perfected over the years, the one that kept the quivering emotions away. I turned my attention to the ketchup, my fingers brushing the bottles on the shelf.
Becca sang to herself. We turned the corner onto the cereal aisle. Suddenly, her back straightened and her eyes widened. She’d noticed the big colorful boxes with her cartoon heroes and heroines lining the shelves
“Uh oh,” said Boner.
“Whatever you do, don’t stop,” I whispered. He kept the cart moving at a quick clip.
I twisted my shopping list in my fingers. “Are you from Meager originally?”
“Really? Nice. You ever go home?”
His eyes remained on Becca. “Nothing to go home to.”
The flat tone of his voice had me do a double take. There was that severity again. He ignored me as he squeezed Becca’s hand.
Boner and I had things in common.
Suddenly, dizziness and a queasy swell in my stomach gripped me.
I grabbed the edge of the shopping cart, a cold sweat beading on my forehead. “Oh, no.”
“What is it? Shit, you’re pale.”
“The rotisserie chicken from the deli department.” I gulped in a breath, the nausea swirling up my throat. “Not good.”
Boner immediately turned the shopping cart around and grabbed me by the arm. “This way, babe.”
Half an hour later, I had filled the cart with everything on my list. “I’m done. Do you need anything?”
His eyes creased. “What do you mean?”
“Food, paper goods, household cleaning items, feminine products?”
His eyes lit up, and my insides warmed again.
“Yeah, there is one thing.” He wheeled the cart to the household goods aisle and stopped in front of the slim selection of toys. “This.” He grabbed a small baby doll packaged in a plastic box and handed it to Becca.
Her eyes widened. “Baby?”
“Yep. What do you think, Becs?” he asked her.
Becca hugged the box in a death grip.
“Say thank you, sweetie,” I said.
Becca stared at Boner, her fingers whitening over the box. “Ank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He tilted his head at me. “Done now.”
He took us home and brought the bags into the kitchen.
Boner stared out the window. “This backyard needs a lot of work.”
“Rae used to have this kid from down the block take care of it, but his family moved, and no one else is interested in helping out. Landscapers are a little expensive for her right now, with the doctor bills and all that.”
“You ain’t doing it either.”
“No, no. I was going to put an ad in the local gazette and ask around. I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Oops.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“You’re going to do it?”
“No, I’ll have one of the prospects take care of it.”
“Are you sure? I mean—”
He faced me, his body brushing mine, as we stood at the kitchen window together. “What do you mean?”
His cinnamon breath from the gum he’d been chewing fanned my face, and prickles went up my neck at the dark shadow crossing the angles of his cheekbones and jaw.
“I mean, I’m sure your prospects must have more important club things to do than mow a local lady’s lawn and weed her property.”
“On top of the fact that Rae is good people and a solid part of our community, you’re living here, too, and you’re good people and a part of our community now.”
“So, it’s a good PR move for the club then?”
“PR?” His eyes narrowed, as if I’d said something unintelligible, and I instantly regretted it. “You mean, my boys get seen out here, raking and clipping while wearing their colors, doing a thorough job. Then, the neighbors see Rae’s terrific new garden and ask her about it, and Rae sings our praises to the locals. Nothing better than that kind of word of mouth. That kind of PR?”
“I wasn’t thinking of the PR, Jill. If I know that Becca has a clean garden to play in, I’m going to feel good, knowing that she’s happy and that her grandma’s happy out there, in the clean garden, watching her granddaughter enjoy it all, and—”
My eyes bugged out of my head. “There’s more?”
His hands went to his hips. “It takes one thing off your to-do list, which will lighten your load and make you happy, and then you’ll be able to enjoy your daughter enjoying her grandmother’s garden. That’s why I’m taking care of it.”
Something fluttered in my chest, and I tore my gaze away from his green eyes that were literally sparkling in the sunlight filling the kitchen.
“Well.” I chewed on my lip. “That’s a hell of a lot of happy.”
LET’S HEAR IT
for the dark-haired princesses. Right, Becca?” I clapped my hands, and Becca clapped with me. “Thank you for getting her the DVD, Rae. We love Snow White.”
“My pleasure, honey. We’re going to start her off with the classics.
will be next on our list.”
I turned to Becca. “Oh,
! I love
Becca’s gaze jumped from me to her grandmother and back again. She clomped over to Rae, who sat in her electric lounge chair, and climbed onto her lap. My heart squeezed. I was so grateful that she had a grandmother whose lap she could climb onto, a grandmother who watched classic movies with her, told her stories, fed her, held her, laughed with her, shared her home with her and her mother.
Every day, I thanked God that I had landed in Meager, South Dakota. After Catch’s sister, Tania, and her friend Grace had saved my daughter from a kidnapper in Nebraska, I had left with them and come to Meager where they lived. Tania had offered me room and board and pay to look after her mom and her house now that Rae was ill. It was a temporary solution that was working out great for all of us.
Catch and his family were estranged, so it was kind of ironic that I, his ex-girlfriend, was now a part of his family. I truly liked being a member of their circle. His mom, Rae, was an outspoken and smart woman, Tania was the same with a vein of humor and sass I really enjoyed, and his eldest sister, Penny, was a married mom to two boys, no-nonsense and practical to the core.
Tania and Grace had ended up saving my daughter from Creeper, a renegade One-Eyed Jack, and Grace and I had finally met by that stroke of fate. Her first husband, Dig, had saved my life by killing the man who had kidnapped me when I was fifteen. A week later, Dig had been shot and killed by my captor’s brother, in revenge for that act of salvation. Since Grace was unable to have her own kids, I had offered to carry her and her new husband’s baby.
I was thrilled to be a part of their new start. It had been a new start for me, too, a huge positive. It was giving back with gratitude, coming full circle.
Now, here I was, a member of a family I’d never expected to have in my life, and it felt good.
Rae adjusted her electric reclining chair. “My mother used to sing that song to me.”
Rae began singing Snow White’s song about her prince coming one day.
Becca raised her hands and laid them on her grandmother’s face, enjoying Rae’s clear, strong voice vibrating over her.
“My mother used to sing it to me, too,” I said. “And I used to fully expect a man in colorful tights, a cape, and a crown on his gorgeous head to come knocking on my front door at any moment.”
Rae’s face warmed with a smile that told of a lifetime’s worth of contented sighs and rich heartbeats. “Mine did.”
“From everything you’ve told me about your husband, he certainly was a prince.”
“A farmer prince!” Rae laughed.
I packed the DVD back into its case. “My mom used to tell me, ‘He will come one day, and you best be ready for him.’”
“She was right. But that doesn’t mean that you wait by the door with your coat in your hand, ready to take off the second Mr. Prince comes knocking. No, first, you need to be the person you want to be, and then you’ll be ready for your proper prince. Otherwise, he won’t be the right prince for you.”
“Good point,” I said.
Rae sipped on her tea. “It’d be unfair to yourself and to him—expecting him to make your dreams come true, to fill you up and make you happy. If you’re not happy on your own, with yourself, you will never find it in someone else. It simply doesn’t work that way.”
Catch and I had done that, hadn’t we?
We’d had so many expectations for each other from the very beginning. As soon as all the little disappointments had piled up, the resentment had grown easily and created a thousand wedges between us.
“Look at Snow White,” I said. “She had to deal with the huntsman, the dwarfs, and the evil queen before she was ready for that magic kiss, right?”
“Your mommy is
smart!” Rae said to Becca, who was gnawing on a graham cracker.
I glanced at my daughter. Becca wore the same adamant look of concentration on her face that her father did while he ate.
Rae stroked Becca’s back. “You’re young yet, Jill. You’ll find someone else, and he’ll find you. I only hope it’s not too late for Tania. She’s determined to follow through on her divorce. Who knows? Maybe she’ll give Kyle another chance now that she’s going back to Racine.”
“Rae, she’s going back to pack up her stuff and see her lawyer. She seems very sure. Upset, but sure about her decision, especially about moving back here to Meager. That’s really exciting, don’t you think?”
In two days Tania would be leaving South Dakota to return to Racine, where she lived with her soon-to-be ex-husband. Having Tania here the past two months had been great. She’d made sure that Becca and I felt comfortable, that her mom and I settled into a routine around the house and with Rae’s various doctor and rehab appointments. I genuinely liked Tania; I would miss her. She was the older sister I’d never had, and she and Becca had fallen in love with each other.
“I just don’t want her to have regrets,” said Rae. “Ending your marriage is serious business. They’ve been married for just over ten years now. It’s a shame. I mean,
they’ve figured out that they don’t get along?”
“You get comfortable, even when you’re unhappy, don’t you think? Sometimes, it’s really hard to take charge of your own unhappiness.” I picked up Becca’s jumbo Lego blocks from the floor and put them back in their plastic jar. “Better now than much later on, right? At least there aren’t any children in the mix.”
Rae’s lined face etched into a tight frown that was more like a carefully constructed dam holding back an overflowing reservoir of frustration and disappointment. “They just kept putting it off. See how time flies away with you? I know, it’s her life. But that’s my headstrong daughter for you, barreling ahead, not much thought to the future.”
I scooped up Becca in my arms. “I’m looking forward to having her back with us soon.”
Rae sighed. “So am I. She’ll be back before we know it.”
My phone pinged a text notification.
I knew it.
Can’t make it today. Will call u
This was the third time Catch was blowing off visiting his daughter. But now those visits included his mom, and Rae hadn’t seen her son in years. She didn’t talk about him much to me, which was just as well, but on occasion I’d hear her telling Becca stories about her dad as a boy. She was his mother, for Pete’s sake.
“Rae? I don’t think Catch will be able to come today.”
Rae’s neck stiffened. “Oh? That’s too bad.” She adjusted the small pillow she kept at her lower back.
I bit my lip. “He got sent out of town at the last minute. Can’t say no to the boss.”