Calihan snorted behind her.
Britney stiffened but didn’t react.
I looked at Nate. He was still glowering at Logan, then I looked at Graham. He was frowning at Calihan behind Britney. And Britney, for her part, was trying. The smile she was giving me was half-pleading and half-desperate. I suddenly had a hunch that Calihan hadn’t thawed one bit and wondered at how many rants Britney had had to listen to from my sister.
Logan and Taylor were sitting back.
Taylor seemed apologetic, but Logan was watching me steadily.
He was assessing me. No. He was measuring me.
“Are you angry that I’ve come back into the family?”
Calihan scoffed, reaching for her drink.
“Or are you angry that Valerie left Nova for me to raise?”
Her hand froze.
That was it.
It made sense now. All of it.
I sat back, shocked myself.
“It doesn’t matter. Nova is Nate’s and Valerie’s. Not yours.”
I only had eyes for my sister. The rest of the table ceased to exist for me. It was just her, me, and Valerie’s ghost.
“You didn’t want children.”
“I loved Nova.”
“Love. I love Nova.”
“You haven’t asked to see her. You haven’t asked to watch her. Nothing.”
“Because of you. If it wasn’t you, I’d see her every day if I could.”
Everything about that response stung me, over and over again. She was taking a needle, and she kept puncturing me all over.
“Calihan,” I started.
She jerked forward in her seat. “It’s you. You shouldn’t be in the family. I just wish you would’ve left us alone. Take Nova. Fine. But go away. Move away. You’re just going to hurt everyone.”
“You don’t get to talk for me,” Graham was seething. “You can speak for yourself, but that’s it. I, for one, am ecstatic that Quincey’s coming back to the family. A dinner like this? Never would’ve happened two years ago. Four years ago. Now I’ve gotten to see her three times in three months. That’s progress, and I want more.” He regarded me, his mouth thinning. “I want the relationship where I can come over for dinner four nights a week. I want you to call me if you need Uncle Graham to pick up Nova from baseball.”
“From softball. Or soccer. I don’t care. Hockey. Speak for your goddamn self, Calihan, or better yet…don’t.”
Calihan gasped and shoved her chair, standing up.
I leaned back in mine. “You’re running?”
Her stormy gaze swung my way. “It worked for you last time.”
I stood, but I was slower, calmer. “No, it didn’t. Running hasn’t worked for me at all. I’m standing now, and I’m fighting.”
She snorted, rolling her eyes. “Really? Because from where I’m standing, all I see is Nova’s daddy doing the fighting. You’re standing behind him, letting him do all the work.”
I felt the slap from that, too, but it wasn’t as bad as the others. She was right. I glanced over at Nate, who was watching me carefully.
“She’s right,” I said to him.
“Duke is my problem.”
“No.” This one came from Logan, and his tone was firm. “Listen, it was a dick move on my end to invite them. I did it for a reason, and I’ll explain it later. Nate will still be pissed, but he’s been pissed at me before and vice versa. He and I will be fine. But you and your family, you cannot take on your father. Sorry, but you can’t. He’s a special type of animal. Let me and Nate handle him.” He said to Nate, “You know why I called them, and I’m not apologizing for that.”
“We will talk later.”
“I approve, by the way.”
I frowned. What was Logan talking about?
Nate raised his eyebrows. “I can die happy now.”
Logan grinned, leaning back and reaching for his wine. “From an audience standpoint, you’re losing.” He was saying that to Calihan, but then his tone shifted again. It grew colder. “Also, Quincey’s family to Nate now, which means she’s family to me, so when you take her on, you should just assume you’re taking all of us on. Keep being a bitch, and we’ll start coming back for you.” His eyes slid toward Taylor. “Your turn.”
Taylor turned to me, then Calihan. Her eyes had been warm, sparkling before. There was a hauntedness in them now, one that ran deep, and I could feel it inside of me. It was that strong.
I frowned, already wanted to reach out to her, but then she turned to Calihan and spoke. “It’s not my place to say anything, and normally I wouldn’t, but you lost a sister. I’d think you wouldn’t want to lose another.” She held a hand up. “I’m saying that as someone who understands the pain you’re feeling right now. I understand it very well.”
I loved her.
Calihan looked taken aback.
She opened her mouth, scanning the table. Graham was watching me. Britney was watching me.
Calihan was alone. It wasn’t a feeling my sister grew up experiencing a lot.
Not me. That’s almost all I experienced.
A wave of emotion rolled over me, a good emotion.
“Calihan, you can be angry with me for staying away from the family. You can be angry if I hurt Mom, or Graham, or yourself because of my absence. You cannot be angry with me for Valerie’s decision, and if you want to be angry with me for loving Nova, then you and I are done because I will never give her up.”
She sucked in her breath, blinking back some tears. “You weren’t there. You weren’t around—”
“I was, actually. Nova was born, and I reached out. A lot. I was there when Nico tried coming back around.”
Graham spoke up, “She was there when Valerie got one of Nico’s calls.”
Calihan blinked again, weaving backward from the table. “I didn’t know that.”
“You’re mad that Val is gone. Be mad. Fine. That’s part of your grief, I get that. But stop taking it out on Quincey. You know what it’s been like for her living with Duke. You know.”
Calihan looked effectively shut up.
I was ignoring what Graham said, and I was choosing to appreciate Calihan’s silence.