Seer (The Seeker Series Book 3) (10 page)

He must have recognized my total capitulation, because he added, “Great. Let’s take another look around then we need to grab some lunch and go furniture shopping.” Of course. I should not have expected him to give me a house that I had to furnish all on my own. Perish the thought. I simply nodded.

We had lunch and then spent the afternoon picking out a living room set, dining room and kitchen furniture, a more casual sofa set for the den, and a patio set for the deck. I drew the line at bedroom furniture, stating firmly that each of us girls had our own stuff that we would be using. I also nixed the barbecue he wanted to buy, claiming a vegetarian had no earthly need for a device designed for grilling meat. I’m almost sure he had it added to the grand total on the sly, however. Oh well, it would be fun to have the whole family over for barbecues, I guess. Jack would probably enjoy it, as well. At the end of the day, Josh turned the keys to my new house and new car over to me. I drove the car home, but would not move into the house until the furniture had been delivered in a few days. Josh also informed me that he had set up a bank account for me, into which he would be depositing a monthly stipend for living expenses.

“Your mother informed me that you’re attending the university on scholarship. I would have, of course, paid for your college, so I’ll just put the money in the bank for you to use. I know you have a job,” he said when I started to argue. “And I think you should keep it. It’s important to build a good job history while you’re in college, but this way you don’t have to burn yourself out working so many hours. You’ll have time to study.”

What could I say? He was unstoppable. I started the day as a normal teenager—well, on the surface, at least—and ended it as a homeowner. Josh was listed as the official owner, but would sign it over to me on my eighteenth birthday.

As I got in the driver’s seat of my new SUV—I had insisted on driving so I could check it out—after our shopping trip, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. I turned around, looking quickly around the parking lot.

“What’s wrong, Ally? Who are you looking at?” my dad asked, looking around as well.

“Um, no one. It’s okay. I felt like someone was watching me, but I don’t see anyone.”

“Well, that sounds disturbing. Are you sure?” He looked around, concerned.

“No. I’m not sure. I just got a weird feeling, that’s all. It’s probably nothing.” I laughed self-consciously. “Let’s get going.”

 

***

 

To
say Tara was excited by my good fortune was a gross understatement. She was ecstatic and we had a wonderful time decorating and setting up the new furniture over the next couple weeks. Mat helped us move the heavy stuff when she had to try arranging it six or seven different ways. It turned out that Mina loved to cook and took over the majority of the kitchen chores. I tried to learn, but it looked like cooking might be my Waterloo. The three of us were having a blast playing house during the last few weeks of summer. Grams visited frequently as she tried to get used to me not living with her. Poor Grams! She was experiencing an empty nest for the first time in many years. Mina and Tara were patient with her when she repeatedly showed up with a bag of groceries or a plant and stayed for several hours.

I adored my new SUV: I loved the sparkly blue color, the smooth leather seats, and especially the ice-cold air-conditioning. I still worried about what Jack would think when he got back, which was less than two weeks away. Would he be hurt by my callous dismissal of his gift into which he had poured his sweat? I probably would if the situation were reversed.

The week before he returned, Tara, Mina, and I were watching a movie on our 46-inch screen television—Josh had insisted—when my phone rang.

“Ally, it’s Trina. Honey, I have a huge favor to ask.”

“Of course, Trina. What do you need?” I would do anything in my power to help Jack’s aunt.

“Well, Manny and I are going to see Jack graduate, you know, and Shelly planned to watch Megan, but she’s been put on bed rest by her doctor until the baby’s born. Paul and his family are out of town on vacation and I just don’t know what to do. Manny and I already have non-refundable tickets. Is there any way Megan could stay with you and Tara? It’s just for one night. I’m sure Mat will help out.” Paul and Shelly were Trina’s older children who had children of their own.

“Of course, Trina. I’d love to take care of Megan. She won’t be any problem and I can bring her to the airport to meet you all when you get back. Do you need a ride to the airport so you don’t have to leave your car?”

“Oh, no, sweetie. We’ll just leave it there. It’s only one night. I’ll get Megan packed and drop her off Friday afternoon, okay? Thank you, Ally. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to go. I want Jack to know how proud we are. It would break my heart not to be there for him. I’ll bet you’re anxious to see him, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Oh, Trina, you have no idea. This has been an eternal summer! I can’t believe he’ll finally be home this weekend. Have you talked to him recently?” I knew he was only allowed short, infrequent calls home to parents. Trina and Manny were as close to parents as Jack had; I couldn’t see him calling his father, Marcos, from boot camp. They were cordial to each other, but not much else. There had been too much damage to that relationship to hope for closeness at this point.

“Yes, he called last night to see if we were able to come after all. We only talked for about five minutes. They are so stingy with his time! He said to tell you he loves you, Ally.”

“Thanks, Trina. I guess I’ll see you Friday when you drop Megan off. You remember where the house is?” She and Megan had brought a housewarming gift when I first moved in—another plant. I would be able to start a greenhouse soon.

“Of course. I’ll see you Friday.” She hung up and I began to look forward to a fun night with Jack’s 7 year old sister. Their twelve-year age difference made for a relationship more like father-daughter than siblings. I loved Megan and never minded spending time with her, which was good since Jack and I frequently included her in our time together.

 

***

 

Although I thought it would never arrive, Friday finally made an appearance. Just one more day until Jack came home! This had been our longest separation, making the two weeks at Christmas seem like a drop in the bucket; I sincerely hoped it was our last for quite a while. Tara and Mina joined in the spirit of the occasion and helped me get ready for Megan’s overnight visit. We might have gone a bit overboard buying beauty products for the girl’s spa night we had planned: we bought face masks, foot soaks, and the wildest nail polish colors we could find.

Trina and Manny dropped her off around 3 o’clock with admonitions to behave herself and not make extra work for any of us. Megan was about the sweetest little thing I had ever seen and one 7 year old was not likely to make much of a mess. Other little girls might be more trouble, but she had had a rough time of it early on that left its mark. As a result, Megan was inordinately quiet with infrequent, yet serious bouts of anxiety. Their father’s reappearance in their lives last winter, while a positive thing overall, had caused stress for both of them. Megan had become even more withdrawn when she met her father and had just recently started to return to her normal self. I was determined she would have a good time tonight.

We spent the first few hours getting her set up in my room and then baking cookies to eat later that night. I let the first batch burn and took the second out of the oven too early. They had to be eaten with a spoon. We finally got an edible batch on the third try when I let Megan be in charge. The realization that a 7-year-old was a better cook than I was a hard pill to swallow.

“Ally, don’t worry about it,” Megan said as she used a spatula to remove the perfect cookies from the sheet. “I help Auntie Trina all the time. Maybe she could teach you to cook.”

“Maybe,” I sighed. “I’m beginning to think I’m a hopeless case.”

Mat and Tara showed up with pizza from the restaurant where Tara and I worked. I had taken the whole weekend off so I could be with Megan tonight and Jack tomorrow night; I owed Tara big time for covering my shifts. Rémy appeared halfway through dinner and presented Megan with a beautiful bouquet of colorful flowers, which she accepted shyly, awed by his overblown charm.

“What a suck-up,” muttered Mat. Tara elbowed him to be quiet.

“That was nice, Rémy,” I said as he kissed both my cheeks. He had made himself quite scarce for the last few weeks and I had missed him. I noticed that Mina’s fair cheeks blazed pink when he greeted her with his typical European kisses. There was definitely something going on with them, but neither seemed willing to admit it. We had an enjoyable dinner with both guys complimenting Megan on her cookies, which endeared them to me even more. Nevertheless, we booted them out soon after eating and began our girl’s night spa treatments. An hour later, the four of us were watching
Frozen,
all sporting green face masks while painting each other’s toenails alternating blue, yellow, green, pink, and orange. Megan fell asleep two movies later, during
Aladdin,
and I had to wake her enough to get her into my bed. She slept soundly, although I had trouble getting to sleep because I was so excited about seeing Jack the next day. Megan and Mina made waffles the next morning and we spent the day playing with Wicky and watching more movies until it was finally time to go to the airport. Megan was beside herself with excitement to see her big brother and had a hard time sitting still as I re-braided her hair. I got her advice on what outfit Jack would like best and, finally, we were on our way.

We stood anxiously just outside of security, watching as passengers made their way from the gate area.

“There!” Megan squealed as she caught a glimpse of her aunt, uncle, and brother. “Can I?” she asked, tugging on my hand.

“Of course, sweetie. Go get him.” She dropped my hand and ran toward Jack, who set down his duffle bag and scooped his sister up into his arms. She hugged his neck as if she would never let go and I felt my throat tighten with emotion.

“Meg!” he breathed. “I missed you, squirt! You grew while I was gone, didn’t you?”

She giggled and pulled back to look him in the face. She pulled his uniform cap off his head, reaching up to feel his short military haircut. I didn’t care what length his hair was; I was so glad to see him I was about to come out of my skin. He laughed along with her and placed his cap on her head. Then he saw me. He said something to Megan I couldn’t hear and set her down before advancing toward me. I met him halfway and walked straight into his arms.

“Jack,” was all I could say.

“Ally,” he breathed against my hair.

As he held me, everything clicked into place, as if my internal gears had been slightly off kilter and now found the proper position. I could breathe fully again and felt that empty place in my heart filled. He pulled back, put his big hands on either side of my face, and kissed me softly, yet intensely. The sound of wolf-whistles broke us apart.

“Later,” he whispered against my mouth.

“Count on it,” I whispered back. He smiled.

“So, this must be the girlfriend you were always writing to.” The speaker was another young man in camouflage army fatigues. “You gonna introduce us, Jack? Or are you ashamed of us?” The other soldiers with him laughed.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Ally, these are my friends from boot camp. This is Jason,” he gestured to a tall, blond-haired guy who shook my hand. “This is Ryan, and this,” he motioned to the original speaker, “is Barry. Guys, this is my girlfriend, Ally. And this,” he picked Megan up again, “is my little sister, Megan. I got to know these guys real well in boot camp.” We chatted for a few more minutes, but I was eager to have Jack to myself and couldn’t honestly care less about his new buddies right now. I sensed his impatience, as well. They finally left with their families and Jack grabbed my hand as we walked toward baggage claim.

“Ally, why don’t we take Megan with us? You and Jack can meet us at the restaurant. I’m sure you two would like a few minutes to yourselves,” Trina suggested. I could have kissed her right then and there.

“Thanks, Trina. We’ll meet you at Padilla’s, okay?” We had arranged to have dinner at one of Jack’s favorite Mexican restaurants, certain he would need a chile fix after ten weeks of army food. He gave Megan another hug before setting her down and picking up his giant duffle bag with one hand, engulfing my hand in his other huge, warm one. We practically ran to the parking garage, where I ushered him to my SUV.

“What’s this? Did your mom get a new car?” he asked.

“Later, Jack. I’ve got tons to tell you, but right now I just want to kiss you.” I launched myself at him, backing him against the side of my car. He happily obliged, swiftly turning us so I was backed against the vehicle and kissed me senseless. We surfaced a few minutes later, both of us flustered, but cognizant of the fact that we were actually in public.

“God, Ally,” he breathed, resting his forehead against mine, “I missed you so much. Ten weeks is too long.”

“I completely agree. Let’s never do that again.” I reached up and ran my thumbs across his raspy five o-clock shadow. “You’re so handsome, Jack. I think I forgot.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so.” He kissed me again quickly. “I didn’t forget how incredibly beautiful you are. I dreamed about it every night.”

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