“Hi, Ky!” Stacy greeted when Kylie answered her phone. “Do you and Nessa want to go shopping with me and Aria today?”
“Please, please, please!” Kylie heard Aria chime in from the background.
Kylie set down the rag she’d been using to dust her mother’s furniture and settled onto the sofa, grateful for the break. She’d been up since dawn, cleaning non-stop, trying to scrub and vacuum away her lust-filled memories of Jimmy’s fiery touch. It wasn’t working.
“Nessa and I did a little shopping yesterday, but we could always do more. Where all are you going?”
“We’re going to Juliette for sure. There are a few things I wanted to look at in Omaha for the nursery, but I don’t know. Depends on how I feel later in the morning. Cheryl’s chili dog’s sitting wrong in my belly right now.” As if to prove her point, Stacy hiccupped. “Plus, Dan would freak if I leave town. He’s hovering again. Although, technically he said I couldn’t go to Lincoln. He never said anything about Omaha.”
Kylie laughed. “Dan? Hover? Never!”
“Oh, I know!” Stacy laughed with her. “It’s sooo not like him.”
“Nessa has another date with Chief tonight, so I think we’ll pass. I’d hate to get back too late and make her feel like she has to rush.”
“I saw them at the reception. They’re so cute together.”
Brayden ran into the room and jumped onto Kylie’s lap, trying to pull the phone from her hand. “Jimmy?”
“No, not Jimmy. It’s Stacy. Do you want to say hi?”
“Hi, Bray!” Stacy chirped through the phone to him.
“No!” Brayden said with an angry thrust and slid off Kylie’s lap. He wandered over to his basket of toys in the corner and sat beside it with his back to her and his hand on the rim, not pulling out any toys to play with.
“Aww, he’s going to make me cry,” Stacy said, sounding as though she already was.
“I can’t do this again, Stace,” Kylie spoke low into the phone, so Brayden wouldn’t overhear her. “It about killed me the last time. He quit talking. He picked fights with the other kids at daycare. He cried all night… What am I going to do?”
“Talk to Jimmy?” Stacy suggested.
“Yes, you can, you’re just scared.”
“I’m not scared, I’m p-i-s-s-e-d,” Kylie said, spelling out the word due to the little audience in the room.
“Get over yourself,” Stacy snapped. She immediately changed her tone. “I’m sorry. That was mean. Don’t listen to me, I’m just cranky today—every day, really. I’m cranky all the time, Ky, even in my sleep. I dream cranky.”
“It’s okay.” Kylie smiled, remembering her own moody pregnancy. “I’ve been there before. That baby gets heavy. It wears you down.”
“Poor Aria. She has to spend all day with me.”
“Stuck in a little Jeep without one of Cheryl’s chili dogs to shove into your mouth,” Kylie said with a laugh.
Stacy groaned. “Don’t mention chili dogs, I may throw up.”
“Maybe you should take Dan’s advice and stick close to home today,” Kylie suggested. “Just in case.”
Stacy huffed. “Whose side are you on?”
“Yeah, yeah… Oh, hey! Make sure to get Brayden’s tux back to Johnnie’s today. I think they’re due by two.”
“We’ll head over there sometime this morning, as soon as Nessa drags her butt out of bed,” Kylie assured her. “Have fun shopping.”
“It’d be more fun if you came along.”
“It’s okay, but we’re definitely getting together tomorrow. I took a few extra days off from the school, thinking Dan would surprise me with a real honeymoon, but you know how he is.”
“Work, work, work.” Kylie laughed.
“All three of those boys are the same way. If they’re not movin’ and doin’, they get itchy.”
As soon as Stacy said good-bye, Kylie crossed the room and scooped up her son. Still pouting, he was not happy with her, but after a few kisses and a belly tickle, he allowed a temporary pardon. After she got him dressed for the day, they sat on the floor at the coffee table and sculpted with Play-Dough until Nessa finally rolled out of bed an hour later.
“Someone stayed out late last night,” Kylie teased as Nessa zombie-walked through the house in the direction of the coffee pot. Her hair stuck out on end and big sleep creases marred her face, but she had a bit of a glow to her. Kylie left Brayden playing in the living room and followed her to get the details.
“So?” Kylie prompted.
Nessa moaned. “Too loud… Whisper.”
“Did Chief get you drunk last night?”
“I think I got myself drunk.” Nessa struggled to open her eyes, but the light must have been too much. She closed them again. “I tried to keep up with him, but it wasn’t happening.”
“What’d you drink?”
“Polish somethin’ or other. It was purple.”
“Ah.” Kylie laughed. “Blackberry brandy’ll get you every time. It likes to sneak up on you.”
“Oh, but it was so worth the hangover. Yummy-good, and kinda tasted like kid’s cough syrup.” Nessa sipped her coffee and sighed deeply. “Mmm, I love coffee.”
“I was going to take you sightseeing today, but you look like you’d be better off going back to bed.”
“Sofa and Netflix are my only plans for today. I need to conserve my energy for Chief tonight. The man is an animal.”
“Ew, gross. No.” Kylie held up her hands to ward off unwanted images. “Stop, please.”
“You know how I thought he’d be hung like a moose?”
Kylie plugged her ears and sang, “La, la, la! I can’t hear you!”
“Oh, come on, Ky! Let me brag!”
“Nope. I don’t want to know.”
“No! It freaks me out to think of Chief as a sexual being. I prefer to think of him as one of those Ken dolls with permanent underwear.”
“Ew! Nessa! For the love of Frog Man, stop!”
“Prude,” Nessa teased. Then she yawned, her mouth opening so wide Kylie feared she would inhale the kitchen.
“Maybe you’ll be more awake and feel like doing something when Bray and I get back.”
“Where you going?”
“Downtown, to drop off his tux. Maybe hit the grocery store while we’re out.”
“Bray can stay and snuggle on the sofa with me. It’s too cold out there for him.”
“It’s not that cold out.”
“Then why is the grass covered in freezer burn?”
Nessa peeked out the kitchen window. “I thought snow was supposed to be pretty.”
“Sometimes, it’s just an ugly nuisance.”
Kylie slipped on her coat, picked up the tux and scraped an inch of ice-pellet snow from the windshield of her rental car. Sliding into the driver seat, she briefly questioned her own sanity, but the Mustang made it to Johnnie’s Men’s Wear without sliding through any of the brick-paved intersections.
It helped that traffic was only going ten miles per hour. There were more cars cruising downtown than Kylie could ever remember seeing in Allman Falls at a single time, every one of them driven by a well-dressed elderly woman. They were moving so slow, she began to wonder if she hadn’t accidentally joined a funeral precession. Just as she was about to call her mother to ask who had died, she remembered—it was the last Monday of the month, a.k.a. the day every elderly woman in Allman Falls descended upon the downtown square to attend the free, senior “Lunch and Learn” at the museum.
Perfect, showroom-quality, over-sized, old-lady cars took up every single available space for blocks in all directions. She circled the square for the fourth time looking for a place to park, then gave up. She pulled into a tight space three blocks away from Johnnie’s Men’s Wear and hoofed it from there. She might as well have walked. Her mother’s house was only three more blocks up the street. If she had been in California, she would have walked from the get-go. But she wasn’t in California. She was in Allman Falls, where walking anywhere was practically unheard of, especially in the wintertime.
Johnnie, as usual, was in an exceptionally chatty mood. He kept her cornered long after she handed over Brayden’s tux to talk politics. Usually she didn’t mind engaging in a good old, rip-roaring, state of the union debate with the man, but she wasn’t in the proper mindset to play nice. For a half hour, she bit her tongue as he prattled on his usual trifecta of immigration, healthcare and tax reform. The moment his phone rang, and his back turned, she ran.
Tasting sweet freedom, she shoved open the heavy wooden door, and ran smack into Jimmy, letting out a little oof! of air as she did. Her heart immediately slammed against her ribcage from the shock of his sudden appearance, her face flushing so hot so fast she thought she’d caught on fire.
“Hey,” Jimmy greeted in surprise, sounding just as breathless as she felt. He stood frozen in the doorway, clutching his tux in his hands, his eyes looking anywhere but at her.
“Hi.” Kylie stood there for a moment, too stunned to make conversation. When he didn’t start one either, she pushed past him, out onto the city sidewalk, into the cooler air where she could finally breathe.
She only got a few steps away from the door before he called out, “Hey, Ky! Wait up a sec.”
Instead of waiting, she walked faster, hoping Johnnie would corner Jimmy as he had her, but she couldn’t be so lucky. Half a block from the store, Jimmy fell into step with her.
“Go to hell,” she muttered under her breath, and picked up the pace of her stride.
In all the years she had lived in Allman Falls, she had never had to walk more than twenty paces from a store to her car—ever—except during the stupid museum luncheons. It was Kylie’s perpetual bad luck to happen to choose that exact moment to return Brayden’s tux—and for Jimmy to do the same. She hated those luncheons.
“Stop following me.”
Jimmy grabbed her arm. “Come on, Ky. Slow down for a second and talk to me.”
She stopped walking. When she did, he didn’t let go of her arm. He didn’t start talking, either. Apparently, he hadn’t thought beyond getting her attention. She let him off the hook and started talking first.
“What did you do to your hand?” Kylie asked, nodding at his scraped knuckles.
“What?” He looked down in confusion.
“It looks broken.” She reached for his hand, to get a better look at the swelling.
He pulled away before she could touch him. “It’s not.”
“Ice it.” She started walking again, faster this time, but she couldn’t outrun him.
“How long are you in town?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we get together and talk before you go?”
Kylie stopped. It took him a step or two to notice her absence. When he did, he turned and looked at her, his expression tortured, as though she had been the one who had broken his heart instead of the other way around. Guilt boiled the acid in her stomach, confusing her.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she finally answered.
“I really need to talk to you,” Jimmy insisted.
“I’ve already heard everything you have to say.”
She crossed the street. He chased after her.
“You can’t keep running from me, Ky.” He grabbed her arm again to hold her in place.
“Let go,” she glared, her guilt flashing to anger.
He leaned into her, his eyes on her lips, his voice soft. “Not until you talk to me.”
“I don’t want… to talk…” she started but faltered. As his lips moved closer to hers, she lost her train of thought completely. He had invaded her world again, his very presence rendering her powerless. “Jimmy…”
“Please, Ky,” he whispered. He was a breath away, close enough she could taste his air, desire enveloping her in a cloak of warmth.
He brushed her hair off her shoulder as his hand traveled to the back of her neck, tipping her face to his. His breathing had all but stopped, but hers picked up pace, the heat of it belied in a white cloud of vapor that escaped from between her lips.
He stood on pause, giving her every chance to push him away, but she didn’t. Instead, she felt her lips part, welcoming him to do what he wanted, what she wished he would hurry up and do. Before his lips could brush against hers in the first flutter of a kiss, a car horn honked and startled her out of the trance.
She shoved him away and took off down the block. This time, he didn’t follow. Close to panic, she searched the street, but couldn’t find her car. All this time, she had been running in the wrong direction. Flustered and pissed, she turned back around. He broke out into a smile when she passed by.
“Go to hell,” she repeated, louder this time.
“Not until you talk to me.”
“Never gonna happen.”
“I’ll camp out on Martha’s porch if I have to,” Jimmy called after her. She flipped him off over her shoulder and kept walking. He let her get a half a block away before he added, “She’ll probably invite me in for some pie!”
Kylie stopped dead in her tracks. He was right. She would do exactly that. Kylie could picture it clearly—him sitting in the kitchen, a huge slice of warm Dutch apple pie, topped with a scoop of ice cream, melting slowly on a plate in front of him, her mother perched in the chair beside him, smiling in adoration like June fucking Cleaver. Damn!
Kylie sighed and turned back to him. “Fine. We’ll talk. But I’m busy right now.”
“Can I come over tonight?” At least he had the decency not to smile.
“Not a good idea.”
“How about I call?”
She opened her mouth to tell him no, but logic changed her mind for her. Calling was good. Real good, actually. She wouldn’t be able to touch him if he called. She wouldn’t get swept up in his scent, lost in his eyes. She wouldn’t give into her cravings to taste him. She would only have to battle one of the five senses… and her overactive imagination.
“Does it matter?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, he offered, “Eight?”
“Fine,” she agreed.
This time, he was the first to walk away.