“And,” he continues, “I know that you’ve seen her a few times since then. Eventually someone will say something in front of Seth.”
“You’re right.” I nod and walk back to Lily, who is hanging her head over her stall door, begging for some attention. “I’ll talk to him today. It’s either going to go very well or fucking horribly.”
“I think he’ll be okay.” Josh shrugs and offers me a smile. “He likes Jill.”
“Thanks, man.” My phone rings in my pocket, startling me. “Still not used to carrying this bastard.”
“I’m surprised you do,” Josh says.
“I missed some texts from Jill last week. Don’t want to repeat that.”
“You’re already whipped.” Josh grins as I flip him off and answer the phone.
“Hi,” she replies with a smile in her voice. “Do you and Seth have plans for after school?”
“It’s Friday, but he’s not going to Josiah’s this weekend. I’m sick of sharing custody of my kid with that family.”
Jill laughs and my heart tightens in my chest. Josh continues to grin, watching me unabashedly, clearly listening to every word she says, like he used to do when we were teenagers and a girl I liked was on the phone. So I flip him off again, making him laugh.
“Well, why don’t you and Seth meet me at my house and we’ll bake those cookies I promised him?”
“We’d enjoy that. I’ll order in pizza for dinner.”
“My hero.” She laughs and I can imagine her tucking her hair behind her ear in that way she does that makes me want to lean in and nibble on her earlobe.
“Seth gets out at two thirty. Does that work?”
“Perfectly. I’ll see you then. Bye, handsome.”
I hang up and turn to find Josh standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a shit-eating grin on his face.
“God, you’re ugly,” I toss at him for lack of anything else.
“You look just like me, brother.”
“Impossible. I’m much better looking.” Josh laughs and slaps me on the shoulder.
“Gonna go bake some cookies?” He wiggles his eyebrows at me suggestively and I punch him in the arm. Hard.
“Don’t be an asshole. My kid will be there.”
“Hi, guys!” Jill opens the door wide to let us in. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair is tucked up into some kind of knot on the top of her head. She’s in a red T-shirt and black stretchy pants. She’s barefoot, so I see that her red toenail polish matches her shirt, and I want to scoop her up and make that flush on her cheeks spread all over her body.
But instead of throwing herself into my arms, she ruffles Seth’s hair and smiles at him happily.
“In the truck,” I reply.
“Why?” she asks.
“Dad said he couldn’t come inside and ruin all of your nice things.”
“Nonsense. Thor won’t ruin anything. Go get him.”
Seth turns to me excitedly. “Can I, Dad?”
“Her house, her rules.” I grin down at my boy as he runs back outside to fetch his pup, then turn and pull Jill into my arms. “Hey, sugar.”
“It’s good to see you,” she replies with a soft smile. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
“I had to have a reason to get to do this,” I reply and lean down to take her sweet lips with mine. God, she tastes like chocolate and coffee and Jill and I know I could get drunk off her lips alone.
“Okay, Thor peed outside already!” Seth announces as he stumbles inside with the happy dog. “About three times.”
“Hi, Thor.” Jill greets the clumsy black Lab with ear rubs and a kiss to the head, then motions for us all to follow her to the kitchen after we hang our coats on the coat tree and slip out of our boots. “I put a blanket on the floor for Thor so he’d have a comfy spot.”
“Thor is a spoiled dog,” I murmur and smile down at her. “And thank you.”
“What kind of cookies are we making?” Seth asks as he boosts himself onto a stool at the breakfast bar.
“All different kinds, and don’t get too comfy there, mister, ’cause you’re helping.” She smiles at Seth and then at me. “We’re all worker bees around here.”
“Okay, Sergeant King and Private King reporting for duty, ma’am,” I say and stand at attention. Seth follows suit and we both salute her, making her laugh.
“First order of business for both of you is to wash your hands. God only knows where they’ve been. Especially you.” She points at Seth, who laughs as he turns on the faucet.
“Yeah, you don’t wanna know,” he says.
“I’m going to slip an apron on,” she continues and pulls a white apron over her head and tries to tie it in the back, but her hands get tangled. I turn her away from me and tie the apron strings, then lean down and kiss her cheek while Seth washes his hands.
“You look beautiful,” I whisper.
She smiles at me and turns to the countertop behind her. “I’ve pulled out pretty much everything we’re going to need. We’ll start with the sugar cookies, then the chocolate chip, peanut butter, and we’ll do the Chex Mix last.”
“Wow.” Seth’s eyes are wide as he wipes his hand on a towel.
“I already made the sugar cookie dough because it had to set up in the fridge for a couple hours before we can roll it out.” She pulls it out of the fridge and motions for us to follow her to the kitchen table. “Who wants to roll it?”
“Me!” Seth exclaims and listens carefully as Jill shows him how to roll the dough with the rolling pin.
“Zack, would you please grab the cookie cutters over there?”
There’s a small mess bag full of at least twenty different cookie cutters in all shapes and sizes. “Let’s do the palm trees,” I suggest, holding it up.
“It’s Christmas, Dad,” Seth reminds me with a roll of the eyes.
“Starfish?” I ask.
“I’m sensing a theme here,” Jill replies dryly. “Looking forward to summer?”
“I’m just teasing,” I reply and fish out the reindeer, Santa, and a gingerbread man.
“Go ahead and pull out the beach ball. We can make it into an ornament.”