“We’re good to get back to our regular jobs now?”
Reba was the best at sarcasm. She even had a head tilt, and her eyes were bulging out with that comment.
Dean read the room and glowered back at us. “This is for Come Our Way. The funding we can get from tonight could finance us for another five years. I’m not doing this as a personal—”
That was Boomer, and Reba and I were suddenly more interested in the conversation.
He added, “You’re doing this because you want to rub elbows with the high and mighty from the city. Come Our Way has never done it this way before. We’ve never needed to do that, and we’re your excuse, so don’t lie to us. Lie to yourself, fine, but not us.” And with that, Boomer stood up and left the building.
He didn’t actually leave the building.
I was being dramatic. He only went to the kitchen.
Reba and I shared a look before we both scrambled, not wanting to be around for the aftershocks. We’d gone three steps before Dean’s door was slammed shut.
Reba followed me into my office, dropping into one of my chairs as I went to close the door. “How you doing, chickadee?”
Chickadee. I liked that term, and I shrugged, booting up my computer. “I’m good.”
“You know what I’m talking about?”
I looked up, locking eyes with her. Yep, she knew.
I sat back with a soft sigh. “He was pretty great yesterday, wasn’t he?”
“I’d say so.” Her eyebrows were up, and she was giving the look of all looks. “Dean was stumbling over himself trying to impress your guy, but he only had eyes for you. Could tell he cares about you, a whole lot.”
Warmth started spreading through me.
“Sure could.” Her eyes narrowed and her head moved back a little. “Why am I getting a feeling like you’re not believing me?”
I shrugged, reaching forward for some paperwork. I didn’t want to have this conversation, and especially not with Reba. She’d be the Boomer to my Dean. “It’s just new and…”
“Nothing. It’s just new. That’s all.”
Her mouth pressed together, hard. Disapproving lines curved down around her lips. “My Mama Alert is blaring loud right now. What’s going on?”
I laughed. “I’m not far from thirty.”
“Come on, tell me what’s going on with you.”
“It’s nothing. I’m just…” My throat swelled. This was an old conversation by now. I was even tired of thinking about it. “It’s just insecurities. That’s all, and they’re dumb.”
“Honey.” Her tone was soft, but also knowing. She leaned forward. “Insecurities are never dumb. Everyone has insecurities, but not believing something or not letting yourself live your fullest life because of them is what is dumb. That guy I saw here yesterday cares a lot about you. Whatever your insecurities are, you don’t need to be listening to them. Got it? He’s a big-time athlete, but you’d never know unless you were told. You feel me on that? He’s a good guy and he’s smart, and he took one look at Dean, and I knew he had him figured out right away. I was impressed with him and the other cutie patootie. I might need to get me some hockey tickets, maybe when my girl comes back for a visit.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t express it enough, but I look at you like a daughter. If you were my own daughter, I’d do nothing different.”
My throat swelled up.
I…never had that before.
“Now.” She stood up, coming around to me behind the desk. She took my face in her hands and gave me a big smacking kiss on the top of my head. “I was a bit more distracted by the delicious yumminess that had been here yesterday. You’re not the only one who’s got work to catch up on. I’ll see you later on?” She squeezed my shoulder lightly, giving a soft smile before she headed to the door. Her hand on the knob and she looked back at me. “You going to handle tonight okay?”
I nodded. “I’ll be fine. Dean’s handling everything, so I’m not even really needed.”
“He might ask you to speak.”
I shook my head. “He won’t. This is his shining moment tonight.”
She snorted. “I guess. He might be an annoying, ambitious idiot, but he’s our annoying idiot. Right?”
I laughed. “Right.”
Me: I need reinforcements tonight.
Melanie: I’m in!
Melanie: What are we doing?
Sasha: Question, should I bring some of the girls with? Juna mentioned wanting to go for a drink.
Me: The charity gala is tonight at Come Our Way. You guys are my dates.
Sasha: Is that a no on Juna and the other girls, or a hell yes?
Melanie: I say hell yes, but I’m not the one calling for reinforcements.
Me: As much I’d love to say yes, I’m thinking no for tonight’s event.
Melanie: Ooh! Let’s arrive in style, in Matilda.
Me: Doors are opening at six, so come whenever.
Melanie: Are you staying there, or leaving to get dressed?
Me: I hadn’t even thought about that.
Melanie: Can you step out for an hour? We can meet at your place and finish getting ready? Go together.
Me: That’s a plan. Meet at my place at 5?
Melanie: Fuck yeah.
I loved my family.
I was just starting to head out, grabbing my purse and shutting my computer down, when there was a knock on my office door.
The door opened, and one of the volunteers poked their head inside. “A lady is here asking to see you.”
“You know who?”
“She said her name was Natalie? She’s rich, that’s all I can tell you about her.”
But I nodded to the volunteer. “Yeah. Bring her in.”
They nodded, starting to leave.
They poked their head back in.
I added, “Don’t let Dean see her.”
Another nod, and they were gone.
I checked my email quick, looking to see if Hunter had emailed me about anything with Natalie, but no. Our last emails were a running joke about a quokka. We’d moved on from koalas long ago. Now it was pretty much constant smiling quokka memes back and forth. So I had no idea why Natalie would be coming early, and why she’d ask to see me.
The door opened and there she was.
She looked different. I skimmed over her cardigan sweater, and she was wearing khaki pants, the kind that someone might wear playing golf, but she looked like she was glowing. More natural. Less makeup.
Her brown hair looked lighter, too, but her eyes were Hunter’s. Dark almond with specks of hazel and gold in them.
I felt a little kick because this was Hunter’s mother, and once upon a time, she hugged me and I felt nice afterwards. That’d been something that I hadn’t known I was missing until that hug from her. Donna never hugged me.