Until his eyes meet mine over the top of Faith’s head, and his gaze sweeps me from head to toe. Any lingering weariness is quickly replaced with heat potent enough to make catching my breath necessary. I become even more aware of the skin showing at the waistband of my jeans as his attention lingers there for what feels like an eternity. While I want nothing more than to tug down the shirt, I’m distracted by the way he looks. The dark circles under his eyes tell me he’s exhausted, but with shower-dampened hair and those suspenders outlining the curve of his strong chest, he looks touchable and dangerous at the same time. I have the sudden urge to pull back one of those suspenders and let it slap against his body, just to see his reaction.
With a start, I realize Faith is calling my name. The way she says it tells me it’s not the first time. Ignoring Shane’s knowing smirk, I croak, “’Sup?”
“I said, are you all set to go?”
“Lead the way.”
“Actually,” Shane hedges, when we move to pass him. Looking a touch uncertain, he runs a hand through his hair. “I need a moment with Willa in the office.”
“For what?” Faith and I ask at the same time. A tiny bubble of panic floats through my chest. I can’t be alone with Shane this morning, not when I haven’t sorted through what I’m feeling, nor have I made a decision about…well…jumping each other’s bones. With the way I’m feeling now, having him standing so close, I don’t think I have the strength to be objective.
“Faith can come,” I blurt. “Whatever you need to say…Faith can hear it, too.”
It’s a risky move. For all I know, Shane is going to call my bluff and remind me to continue thinking about his proposition. Right in front of his sister. When he eyes me closely for a moment, then shrugs, I release a pent-up breath. He nudges open the office door but doesn’t meet my eyes as Faith sails past him. “After you.”
Clutching the strap of my bag, I can’t help inhaling as I walk past, wondering what kind of miracle soap he uses to smell like that. It’s comforting and elusive all at the same time. What do I smell like to Shane? I don’t wear perfume like Ginger or shower with body wash. Dove soap and regular, drug-store bought lotion is all I’ve used. Do I have a scent? Does it have an effect on him? With a shake of my head, I will myself to stop thinking these ridiculous thoughts and continue past into the office. This time the lights are on, but it doesn’t stop me from remembering last night’s heart-to-heart turned make-out session.
Prompted by Faith’s long-suffering sigh, I shift in my boots. “What is it?”
Shane rounds the desk and hits a few keys on a laptop I’ve only just noticed. Around it, there are pieces of paper with scribbled notes on them and a half-empty mug of tea. He checks his watch, then runs an impatient hand through his hair. “Just…wait.”
“Okay,” I mumble, ignoring Faith’s questioning looks in my direction. What would she think if she knew Shane and I shared a kiss on this very desk mere hours ago? Would she still want to spend the day with me? I’m trying to figure out the answer to that question when I hear it.
My sister’s voice. Her familiar Tennessee drawl is coming from the laptop. “Earth to Wip. Come in, Wip.”
Hearing my nickname, Wip, short for Willa Ingrid Peet, I squeak—yes squeak—before shooting to my feet and scrambling to the other side of the desk. And Ginger is there, on the screen, smiling back at me. She looks tired as hell, her long chestnut hair in a haphazard bun, eyes sleep-blurred and puffy. On the flip side, she’s never looked more beautiful in her life. She looks…peaceful. Weighed down with love.
I clear the choked feeling from my throat. “Would it have been so hard to keep the baby in until I got back?”
“You know us Peet women.” Her eyes twinkle. “We have minds of our own.”
My laughter is halting. “Truer words…”
Ginger looks somewhere just beyond the screen. “She must have gotten her punctuality from Derek. I’ve never been early for a damn thing in my life.”
“Except maybe a hair appointment.”
“A girl’s got to have her priorities.” Squinting, Ginger leans closer. “Are you wearing fuchsia? What happened to yakety yak, I only wear black?”
“Don’t get excited. It’s laundry day.”
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with—”
“No,” I cut her off, shooting a nervous glance at Shane.
Only he’s gone, along with Faith, leaving me alone in the room. His sudden absence causes a weird, hollow feeling to invade my stomach, just for a brief flash. It hits me then that I wanted him to be standing there. But I can’t think about it now, though. Not when I have a rare chance to see and talk to Ginger at the same time. I hear Derek’s voice in the background, and then he hands Ginger my niece. I’m looking at my sister’s child.
“Meet your niece, Dolly Tyler.”
While I work to get my feelings under control, I press a fist to my mouth. “Hey, Dolly. That’s a pretty big name to live up to.” As if responding, she gurgles a little and we laugh.
Ginger is looking down at her daughter with so much pride, I’m kind of transfixed by it. It’s a miracle, really. No one ever looked at us that way, yet here is proof we still have the capacity to love. “I don’t know. This little lady might give even the Backwoods Barbie a run for her money.”
“I wouldn’t bet against her.”
Ginger looks up at me and for a moment, it’s like the miles between us don’t exist. “Holy hell. I’m a mom, Wip.”
“Yeah, you are. The best damn one she could have hoped for.” Once upon a time, it would have been difficult, saying how I feel to Ginger. Since we moved to Chicago, though, I’m getting better at it. Well, with my sister, at least. “Jesus, look how beautiful she is. I thought babies were supposed to be ugly.”
Ginger laughs and shakes her head, knowing me well enough to know I’m deflecting with an attempt at humor. And as usual, she lets it slide. “You should see what comes out of her.”
“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Derek sits down next to Ginger on the bed, looking at her as though she’s just descended into the hospital room wearing wings, a heavenly chorus singing behind her. Their eyes meet and I watch as a silent communication passes between them. “Willa, we want you to be the godmother. I know it goes without saying, but well…we wanted it said.”
It doesn’t go without saying. The possibility of being a godmother had never crossed my mind. Caught off guard, I just stare at the screen.
Derek’s laugh rumbles through the laptop speakers. “Is that a yes?”
“Y-yes. That’s a yes.” Shit, I’m crying again. Twice in less than twenty-four hours. Unacceptable. With some advance warning, I might have been able to accept my new status with something resembling dignity, but instead I’m a mess. With the backs of my hands, I swipe at my eyes. “You guys suck.”
They know exactly what I mean, so they just smile and shake their heads.