I turned to him. “You think that was funny? You get away with murder.”
She was wiping the ice cream off her face. It had dripped down onto her chest.
I was not thinking about sopping it up with my tongue.
I handed her more napkins. “Do you need water?”
“No…I’m fine. I needed a good laugh.” She wiped the happy tears from her eyes. Beautiful almond eyes. “Gosh, that felt good.”
I lifted my brow. “Really?”
The customers seated diagonally across were smiling over at us. They must have thought we were a crazy family. How I wished that were real, that Skylar were my wife and Henry’s mother. We’d go home, put Henry to bed, and then I’d take her to our room and make love to her all night. Instead, she’d be sleeping in another man’s bed, and I’d be alone dreaming of her, replaying every moment of tonight.
When her amusement died down, our eyes locked.
I used the opportunity to bring up the last time we were together. “I’m sorry if I was out of line that night in my car.”
“You were just being honest with your feelings. I’ll never fault you for that.”
I paused, looking down at my melted ice cream, swirling it around the styrofoam cup. “Does he know about me?”
“He knows what happened after I left home. He knows everything, but he doesn’t know we’ve been back in touch.”
“How do you think he’d feel about that?”
“He’d go ballistic.”
I nodded, pretending to get it while anger built inside me.
Fuck him. He could never love her as much as I do.
We didn’t go into it further. She changed the subject and started asking me about Henry’s school. I talked to her about the type of therapy we were waiting for him to receive. We sat for another half hour or so. Despite our five years apart, being with her always felt like home.
I got us two coffees, and Henry kept busy snapping pictures of the table, floor and ceiling via the camera on his iPad. He must have had about 700 images in the library because he just kept taking photo after photo.
I looked down at my watch. “Holy crap. It’s almost 10 o’clock.”
“What time does Henry go to sleep?”
“He’s being so good tonight. Normally, he would have had a tantrum by now, and then I would have known it was time to leave. I think he likes your company.”
She gave him an affectionate look. “Well, then, that makes me happy.”
“I like your company, too,” I said.
Leave it at that. Don’t tell her how much you miss her, how much you love her. It’s too much. Remember what Davey said.
She blushed as if she were reading my mind anyway. “You should get him home.”
“Yeah. I could stay here all night with you, but he does need to sleep. At this point, he’ll be so wired, he’ll probably be up all night.”
Henry’s iPad battery had died, which meant it could be a rocky ride home. I held his hand as we walked out the door with Skylar. The warm summer wind blew her dress up, and the quick peek at her underwear was pure torture.
We stopped in front of my truck, and I got Henry into his booster seat. She leaned into the backseat. “It was nice hanging with you, Henry. Next time, I’m wearing an old t-shirt, though.”
My pulse raced. Next time.
Henry reached his hand out and squeezed her nose hard. “Ow,” she said laughing.
“I should have warned you. He likes to pinch people’s noses if you get too close to his face. He’s got some strong hands.”
She stood in front of me, her hair blowing in the soft breeze. I looked down at the ice cream stain on her dress. Red and blue dye from the M&Ms had bled onto the white fabric. “I want to pay to have that cleaned.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No. I insist.”
She looked up at the moon then into my eyes. “Do you really think I care about this dress? This stain is life, Mitch. When I was sick as a teenager, I promised God if He let me live, I’d never sweat the small things again. I’m proud to wear this. I used to worry that I’d never get to experience things like seeing you as a grown man. That was a big fear for me. Not only have I lived long enough for that, but I just got to hang out with your son, too. That’s pretty damn cool.”
My heart felt like it was going to explode. The visceral need to kiss her weighed on my lips. “That’s beautiful.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever be able to handle meeting him, Mitch. But the reality is, he’s so special that it makes me forget about the rest.”
Fuck it. I pulled her into a warm embrace, relishing every second and trying to burn the feeling into memory: the smell of her, the softness of her breasts, her heart pounding against mine. My mouth was so close to her neck, and I bit my lip to hamper the need to devour her skin. I whispered in her ear, “I’m so grateful you’re here, too.”
After a minute of holding each other, she pulled back. She must have known I wouldn’t be the first to let go.
“When do I need to let you know about the job?”
“By the end of the weekend would be good.”
“Okay. Will do. Thank you for dinner.”
“Good night, Skylar.”
As I watched her walk to her car, I muttered three words over and over.
Please say yes.
Nina put me on speakerphone while she did the dishes. She spoke in an echo through the sound of running water. “So, you think there’s an ulterior motive to this job offer?”
“I mean, I think the job is legitimate,” I said as I kicked back on my bed.
The water stopped, and I could hear Jake in the background. He coughed out the word, “Bullshit.”
Nina laughed. “Sorry, he’s been listening the whole time.”
He spoke into the phone. “You want my two cents? Nina, what’s your favorite drink?”
“Sex on the Beach,” she said.
“Exactly.” He snickered.
“What are you getting at, Jake?” I asked.
“Bitch might be offering you a job, but that is not the reason he wants you to go with him to Virginia Beach. He could have hired anyone. Instead, he chooses his ex-girlfriend he’s still in love with?”
“So, if that’s true, I’d be betraying Kevin in accepting it.”
“If you do this, are you going to tell Kevin that Mitch is the person behind it?” Nina asked.
“Are you crazy? He doesn’t even know we’ve been in touch.”
“Well, then you need to decide whether it’s worth lying to Kevin and whether you want to deal with the fact that Mitch might have more he wants to offer you down there besides money.”
“Like his stiff cock,” Jake said loudly into the phone.
Nina laughed. “You’re terrible.”
“Trust me. I’m a guy. If we want a woman badly enough, we’ll come up with all kinds of clever shit. I’m not saying all he wants is sex. I know he cares about her. He’s trying to be slick with this job offer, though, and I’m calling him out. He’s a typical guy who’s crazy over a girl.”
“It takes one to know one,” Nina said.
I heard their lips smacking together.
“Can you two stop making out for one second?”
“Sorry, Sissy.” She whispered to him away from the phone. “Go run the shower. I’ll meet you in there.”
I heard him growl and rolled my eyes.
She spoke into the receiver again. “The bottom line is, we can’t tell you what to do. You have to look inside your heart and do what you think is right for you—not for Kevin or Mitch—for you. What do you want?”
I sighed. “Okay. Thanks for listening.”
I hung up, more confused than ever and decided to feel Kevin out about the offer when he returned tomorrow.
It was Friday night, and Kevin had taken me to Spinelli’s, a local Italian eatery. Earlier, he had returned from his trip in a jovial mood, announcing that we were going out to celebrate. He said he wanted to save the news until we got to the restaurant. I mentioned that I had something to discuss with him as well.
Kevin poured two glasses of Chianti as he picked at the antipasto appetizer. “So…you go first because I don’t want to overshadow your news immediately.”
I took a sip and placed my glass down. I inhaled to grab my composure, ingesting the smell of olive oil and garlic. “Well, I was offered a new design gig.”
“Really? Honey, that’s great. Who’s the client?”
I placed a hot pepper into my mouth. “It’s actually a construction company that’s remodeling a home down in Virginia Beach. They want to fly me down there for five days.”
“When would this be?”
“In a couple of weeks.” I nervously rolled a toothpick in between my fingers waiting for his reaction.
“How’s the money?”
“We actually didn’t discuss it.”
“You didn’t discuss compensation?”
“No. They’re definitely paying me, but this is sort of a charity thing for them. They’re rebuilding a home that was damaged in a storm. The family was displaced and has no idea this is happening. It’s supposed to be a surprise. It’s going to be this big media event when they walk in and see the transformation. That’ll be good exposure for my work.”
“Sounds like a good deal, then.” Staring at me through the glass, he took a long sip of his wine then said, “The change of scenery might be good to get you out of your malaise lately, too.”
He was referring to my lack of interest in the bedroom. I had managed to avoid sex with Kevin since the night Mitch and I first went out. I had been struggling with guilt over my carnal thoughts of Mitch and felt awkward whenever Kevin touched me. That needed to be worked out soon, or he was going to suspect something.
I nervously bit into a breadstick. “So, you think I should take it?”
I had to remind myself that without knowing about Mitch, Kevin had no real reason to want me to turn it down. My lie of omission was only making me feel hesitant.
I shrugged my shoulders as if to laugh off my trepidation. “Right.”
He reached across the table for my hand. “So, from good news to great news. It’s funny you mentioned travel because…well, how do you like California?”
“California? I’ve only been there once when I joined you on that business trip, but it’s nice enough. Why?”
“We’re moving there.”
I instinctively moved my hand away. “What? What do you mean?”
“You’re looking at the new vice president of operations for Leland, Corp.”
“Yup. Honey, all my hard work’s paid off. This is a bigger promotion than I could have ever hoped for. Everyone knew Stenner was retiring, but I hadn’t thought for a second that I was being considered for his job. They flat out offered it to me. I’ll be overseeing three plants, and my salary will almost double.”
News that should have made me ecstatic instead made my heart instantly ache. I wondered if my sad attempt at a smile reflected the terror I felt. “Kev, that’s amazing, but we’d have to move? You can’t do that position from here?”
He shook his head as he sipped his wine. “That’s where the corporate headquarters are. All of the bigwigs work out of Fresno. That’s non-negotiable.”
It felt like I was about to regurgitate the breadstick. My head was throbbing. All I could see was Mitch’s face when I’d have to tell him I was leaving again. My eyes swelled, and the sudden pain in my chest was unbearable.
“Are you crying, Sky?”
“I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting this. When does the position start?”
“We have to be moved out there in six weeks time. I’ll be transitioning into the role in the meantime.”
I downed my water then slammed the glass on the table. “But we just got here. This is my home.”
“Sky…I understand, but I can’t turn down a vice president job because you want to be close to Mommy. We haven’t even been to visit your mother since we moved back. This job will set us up for life. You won’t have to worry about working. If you get clients, fine. If not, I’ll be making enough so that we can live very comfortably on my salary alone. We can have the wedding of our dreams. We could even afford to do it in Hawaii like we used to fantasize about.”
“This is just…a shock.”
“I understand it’s sudden. I guess I thought you’d be more excited. You haven’t been back here long enough to really get attached. I don’t understand the big deal.”
No, you wouldn’t.
A group of restaurant employees entered the dining area singing the happy birthday song to a man at the table next to us. I wanted to scream, and my thoughts were drowning in the noise.
It hit me that if I were really going to move away with Kevin, I couldn’t let myself get any closer to Mitch. The Virginia Beach trip would be a bad idea. So, why did I want it more than anything now? Our dinner with Henry the other night was truly the best time I’d had since we were teenagers. Something about being in a place that reminded me of my childhood with Mitch and his child had truly touched me. Getting Henry to connect had been exhilarating. I wasn’t seeing Charisma when I looked at him. I just saw him…a boy without an ego, who knew nothing of how he came to be. He just enjoyed the simple things in life. I would miss him, too.