Kylie awoke to the morning feeling as though she had slept for a hundred years, the deep rest giving her excessive amounts of energy she didn’t know how to burn. After bouncing around the still-sleeping house, cleaning and straightening things that were already spotless, she settled into making a breakfast feast of omelets, French toast, and fruit salad.
As she whipped the eggs, her cell phone rang. A quick look showed Stacy’s number on the screen. “Hi, chica,” Kylie greeted, tucking the phone against her ear.
“Hi yourself, Lady,” Stacy answered. “How are you today?”
“Good.” Kylie smiled. “Really, really good. How about you?”
“Amazing,” Stacy gushed. “Didn’t you hear?”
“I’m a mommy!”
“No way!” Kylie cried out, her surprise almost sending her phone for a tumble in the egg bowl. “What the—when did that happen?”
“Yesterday.” Stacy laughed. “It’s a good thing you didn’t come shopping with us. Nessa would’ve missed her date for sure!”
“She wouldn’t have cared! Not for something like this! Omigod!”
“So, tell me, tell me. What did you have?”
“A little girl. Emily Rose. She is perfect and healthy, and so much more beautiful than I ever dreamed she would be.”
“Aw, Stace, that’s amazing. I’m so happy for you guys.” Kylie picked up the whisk she had dropped in her excitement and resumed beating the eggs. “As soon as I get Bray his breakfast we’ll pop over to the hospital to see you. Do you need me to bring anything?”
“Oh, you should wait,” Stacy said. “I’m not in Allman Falls.”
“Where are you?”
“At a hospital in Omaha.”
Immediately concerned, Kylie asked, “Is everything okay?”
“We’re great! I’m not here because something went wrong. I just kind of, accidentally, went into labor while we were shopping… Oops!”
Kylie laughed. “Oh, I bet Dan’s pissed.”
“He was,” Stacy agreed with a laugh of her own. “Aria made Jimmy and Brent drive, so he’d get here in one piece, but he’s so wrapped up in Emily right now he doesn’t have a care in the world.”
“Huh,” Kylie huffed out a laugh as she thought to herself, That would explain Jimmy’s crazy day. “Why the heck didn’t you call me? I would’ve come down!”
“I know, but I didn’t want you to have to make the drive. Aria was dying to call you yesterday, just to give you the news, but I wouldn’t let her. I wanted to be the one to tell you myself. Sorry, I’m just now getting around to it. It’s been a crazy twenty-four hours.”
“Don’t you dare worry about not calling, silly girl. My goodness, you’ve got your hands full right now. How long are you going to be there?”
“I’m trying to get out of here today if they’ll let me… Tomorrow for sure,” Stacy said. “They just want to make sure Emily’s okay before we have to drive so far. She arrived a little early, but she’s so strong, Ky… healthy… beautiful… I’m sure they’ll say she’s fine.”
“Best to be safe.”
“I know, but I want to come home.”
“I can’t stop smiling. You totally made my day, Stace.”
“You’re too sweet.” Stacy laughed.
“I should let you go so you can rest.”
“Who needs rest? Like Jimmy says, ‘I can sleep when I’m dead.’ I’ve got a million people to call so I can keep bragging about my beautiful Emily.”
“Text me a picture and call me when you get home. I’ll swing by.”
“I will,” Stacy promised. “And, hey, Ky, speaking of Jimmy, go easy on him… okay? I know he messed up, but he’s a good guy, and he loves you so much. He’s not the same without you.”
“I’m going back to California in a few days, Stace. All I’m looking for with Jimmy is a way to say goodbye.” And she would be saying goodbye, she reminded herself. It was for the best.
“I was really hoping you’d move back home,” Stacy said. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too, but we’ll keep in touch. You can bombard me with pictures and videos of every move Emily makes.”
“It’s not the same.”
“I know,” Kylie admitted.
Stacy said a few more goodbyes, and Kylie tossed her phone on the counter. As soon as it hit tile, it rang again.
“What the hell?’ Kylie muttered to herself and answered without looking at the screen. “You already called me, silly. Brag to someone else this time.”
“Um… Kylie?” David asked with uncertainty.
Crap! “Sorry, David, I thought you were someone else… How are you?”
“Good.” he answered. There was a long pause and Kylie racked her brain to think of something to say to fill the silence. David thought of something first. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” Kylie said. It wasn’t technically a lie. Just because she hadn’t thought about him, at all, didn’t mean she didn’t miss him… right? “How’s the weather out there?”
“Beautiful, as always. The waves were amazing this morning. Marcos and I headed out early and had the beach pretty much to ourselves for a while. It was incredible…”
David picked up speed as he went into a soliloquy about the waves and the sky and the birds and the air and the sand, and Kylie quit listening.
Nessa shuffled into the kitchen with her hair a wild mess and yawned. “Who’s on the phone?” she asked through her exhale.
“David,” Kylie mouthed the answer and then realized he was waiting for her to respond to something he’d said. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I was wondering what time you’d be back on Saturday. There’s an art exhibit I think you would love. I went last night and when I saw the artist’s work I immediately thought of you. It’s only on display through Saturday night.”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know… It depends on if we run into any weather delays. As it is, we’re not getting in until pretty late… How about I call you when we land? We can decide then.” Kylie’s call waiting beeped, and she had a hard time suppressing her relief. “Hey, I have another call coming in…”
“Oh… okay… I guess I’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah. Bye.” She clicked over without looking and said, “Hello?”
“Dan and Stacy got married?”
At the sound of her sister’s voice, Kylie’s entire body deflated. She cursed herself for being so eager to hang up on David. Listening to his optimistic ramble was a million times less painful than listening to Ashley bitch. So was a needle in the eye.
“So, you’re talking to me again?” Kylie asked. She knew she sounded like a snotty thirteen year old, but she didn’t care.
“I never stopped talking to you.”
“I haven’t heard a peep from you since you ran off and joined the Army,” Kylie accused, not that she’d wanted to talk to her sister, necessarily, but pretending the silence between them had been accidental was just asinine.
Ashley ignored the accusation and continued her personal agenda. “Why wasn’t Mike invited to the wedding?”
“Who?” Kylie stumbled for a moment, then remembered. Not only did her sister impetuously join the Army, she also got married. To a drug addict. “Does he even know them?”
“He works for Jimmy! Of course, he knows them.”
“What’s he doing for—” Kylie started to ask but decided she really didn’t care. “I don’t know, Ash. You’ll have to ask Dan and Stacy.”
“I’m not asking them shit. If they don’t think he’s good enough for an invite, then they can go screw themselves.”
“Wow! You say stuff like that and yet you wonder why you guys weren’t invited?”
“You sure looked like you were having a good time,” Ashley said, ignoring Kylie’s reprimand.
“How would you know?”
“Sarah posted a bunch of pictures of the reception on Facebook. There’s about a million of you getting it on with Jimmy.”
“What? I didn’t even know Sarah was there.”
“Sarah Rogan?” Nessa said around a mouthful of cantaloupe, her head nodding like a bobble head. “She was there. I met her. Real sweet girl. Chief and I ran into her again last night. She told me to tell you to stop by Jack’s and see her before we head home.”
Kylie could only stare at Nessa.
“Why were you dancing with Jimmy?” Ashley asked.
Feeling a migraine coming on, Kylie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Because I had to.”
“You didn’t look like anyone was forcing you,” Ashley snapped, her voice snide and vindictive as always. “He doesn’t look good. Is he sick?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Kylie said. “He looked fine to me.”
“He’s lost a lot of weight.”
“I didn’t notice.” She had noticed, but she wasn’t about to discuss changes in Jimmy’s body with her sister.
“I don’t see how you could have missed it! You were practically crawling inside his mouth!”
Kylie lost her last bit of patience. “What the hell do you want, Ashley?”
“Are you two back together?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. One hundred percent, absolutely, positively sure. We are not together.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Kylie said even though she knew she wasn’t the one Ashley was looking out for. Kylie was officially done. “Bye, Ash.”
“Hey, wait!” Ashley cried out.
Kylie didn’t wait. It was way too early in the morning to have a civil conversation with her sister. She ended the call and tossed her phone aside. “Bitch.”
Her coffee mug poised to sip, Nessa paused to ask, “What was that all about?”
“Who knows, who cares? It’s just Ash being Ash.” She stared down her phone, daring it to ring again. When it didn’t, she turned to Nessa and asked with an exasperated laugh, “How was your date last night?”
Before Nessa could answer, her ringtone sounded.
“Oh, for the love of—” She ripped the phone off the counter and demanded, “What?”
“Ky?” Tinged with humor, the vibration of Jimmy’s deep voice sent a thrill down her spine.
“Hey,” she said, her tone softening, her body relaxing in response to him. “What’s going on?”
“Are you okay?”
“Peachy.” She drew in a deep, settling breath. “It’s been a little crazy around here this morning.”
“You want to get together tonight?”
Yes, yes, yes, oh god, yes! “Umm, I don’t know,” Kylie said, her resolve wavering.
“I have something I want to show you.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good…” Kylie trailed off as Brayden came into the kitchen, his eyes red and his face a sheet of white.
“Mommy…” he whimpered, a split-second before he threw up on the linoleum.
“Oh, shit!” she cried out. Brayden started to cry and Kylie rushed, “I gotta go!”
“I think I’m going to be sick!” Nessa gagged, covering her mouth and plugging her nose to the smell.
Kylie threw the phone and scooped up her baby, rushing him toward the bathroom as another wave came out of the little boy, running hot down Kylie’s chest and soaking through her pajamas. He started to cry in earnest, and she held him tight as she ran.
“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay,” she murmured.
As soon as they were in the bathroom, she stripped off their soiled clothes and ran a bath. Brayden’s cries turned into hard sobs as she sponged the worst of the smeared mess off his chin and out of his hair at the sink, and then she stepped into the tub with him in her arms.
“I know, this sucks, baby,” she cooed, trying to soothe his fear and calm his tears.
He was burning hot with fever and his eyes were swollen from crying. She washed them both one more time and scrubbed his hair clean, and then lay back in the water with him on her chest, stroking his hair and rubbing his back, until he was calmed down.
Nessa knocked on the door and stepped into the room. “How’s the little man doing?”
“He’s not feeling so hot today,” Kylie said softly as she ran her fingers through his damp hair.
“I cleaned up the kitchen, but I think he got a little on the carpet. Does your mom have a steamer?” Nessa said.
“Oh, Nessa, you didn’t have to do that. I would have gotten to it,” Kylie said, her heart warming from Nessa’s compassion.
“I know. It was gross, but once I got started on it, it wasn’t so bad. Better than sitting there and smelling it. Besides, if I’m going to have kids one day, I gotta get used to it.”
“Yeah, but it’s easier to stomach when it comes from your own kid,” Kylie said.
“You know, I really don’t believe you.” Nessa laughed. “You want me to grab you some clothes?”
“Please. And call my mom. Ask her to make an appointment with Dr. Garrison. I have a feeling this little guy has strep. I can hear it in his voice.”
“Jimmy called your cell again and I answered it. I hope that’s okay.”
Kylie looked down at Brayden’s face as he drifted to sleep. “What did he say?”
“He asked what was wrong with Brayden and I told him. He said to tell you he couldn’t get out of the job he was working on because of Brent and Dan being gone and all, and some sort of bridge deadline that didn’t make any sense to me, but he said he’d stop by as soon as he finished.”
“Thanks, Ness.” Jimmy had always been a big help whenever Brayden had been sick in the past, so it didn’t surprise her that he wanted to help this time.
“I’ll be right back with your clothes.” Nessa started to close the door, but Kylie called her back.
“I’m sorry this vacation isn’t all you thought it would be. I swear I had something fun planned for the day,” Kylie apologized.
“Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m having an awesome time,” Nessa said, a huge grin lighting her face. “Probably the best time I’ve had in years.”
“So, tell me all about last night.”
“I will,” Nessa promised. “Just not right now. You worry about him while I keep racking up scandalous tidbits to entertain you with on the plane ride home.”
With a wink and a swish of her hip, Nessa headed down the hall and left Kylie to tend to her baby.