Lost and found sisters, p.14
Lost and Found Sisters,
Luckily even the worst days only have twenty-four hours.
—from “The Mixed-Up Files of Tilly Adams’s Journal”
Quinn left, desperate to get away before she cried in front of everyone and made a fool of herself. She headed for the B & B, giving Cliff a call as she did. “Can you set it up so the café stays open to generate money for Tilly, and also to keep the people who work there employed?”
“You’re leaving,” he said.
She blew out a breath. “It’s complicated. My job, my parents . . .”
“You already have a full life. Believe me, I get it.”
Why didn’t that make her feel any better? “Can you manage the café business?” she asked again.
One relief anyway.
“I’m sorry I can’t stay,” she said. “But Tilly isn’t interested, and I can’t see how to make it work if she doesn’t want to. You sure she’s okay with the neighbor?”
It was all she could do at this point. Back at the B & B, she got into the shower to get rid of both the chicken poop and the crazy morning.
“Hey,” Beth said.
Quinn let out a startled scream and dropped the shampoo bottle on her toe. “Fuck, shit, damn . . .”
Beth, sitting on the countertop, rolled her eyes and then studied her own reflection in the foggy mirror, messing with her hair. “Think I should put in some blue streaks of my own?” she asked Quinn.
Quinn was still hopping on her one good foot, holding her throbbing toes. “What are you doing here, and why won’t you ever come when I call for you?”
Beth turned to her, her brown eyes serious. Calm. Loving. “It’s not all about you, Quinn.” She started to shimmer.
“Wait! Don’t you dare leave—”
But Beth was gone. “Dammit!” Was she hallucinating or had Beth really been there? She stared down at her foot. Her toe was swollen and already turning black and blue. With a sigh, she picked up the shampoo bottle and went back to her shower.
It’s not all about you, Quinn . . .
She got out of the shower and left the bathroom to stare at her suitcase, opened on the floor, a haphazard mess. She could shove it all in and close it up and be on the road in five minutes.
“Stop running, Quinn.”
She closed her eyes at Beth’s voice. “I’m not running. Everything I know is in L.A.”
“Not anymore. You wanted off the hamster wheel, you wanted to feel again. So do it.”
Quinn opened her eyes and turned to look at the TV.
Quinn was alone in the room, which meant she really was going crazy. Admittedly, not a far trip.
“You’re looking to go back to the land of not feeling, because it’s easier,” Beth said from atop the armoire.
Quinn put a hand to her racing heart. “You’re not being helpful.” She scrubbed a hand over her face and when she dropped it, Beth was gone.
But Beth was right. She was running, or thinking of it anyway. Running from the reality that everything she thought she knew of herself was no longer true, running from having a sister who hated her, running from having a pretty severe overreaction with Mick that morning, which—if she was being honest with herself—she was feeling deeply embarrassed about.
Not that it mattered. She’d decreed herself and Mick done.
Just as Tilly had made the same decree about herself and Quinn.
At least the café was open again. And yeah, she was disappointed about how it had gone here in Wildstone, but her life really was in L.A. She couldn’t turn her back on her parents simply because they’d made a mistake.
And as if she’d conjured them up, her phone buzzed, an incoming call from her dad.
“How’s it going, honey, you on your way home yet?” he asked.
She’d talked to her mom earlier so the urgency in his voice stopped her heart. “No—Is everything okay?”
“So have you checked your oil yet?”
She let out a shaky breath as her chest tightened in a good way now. Her mom showed love with food and gifts. Her dad showed love by caring about her car. “Yes, Dad. The oil’s good.”
They’d already lost one daughter and they were worried they were about to lose their other one too. Which wasn’t going to happen. She drew in a deep breath. “All good, Dad,” she said, her voice a little thick. “Promise.”
“How’s Tilly?” her mom asked, clearly standing right next to her dad.
“She’s . . .” Hurt, pissy, sullen, and more emo than Quinn had ever managed on a bad day. “Great.”
Her mom laughed softly. “People used to ask me how you were at that age and you know what I told them?”
“That you were a shithead.”
Quinn found a laugh. “I was.”
“You were. But I think you were that way because you knew no matter what you did, you had someone to catch you.”
Quinn’s smile faded. “I know.”
“This girl, she doesn’t.”
“I know that too.”
“You’ll figure it all out, sweetheart,” her mom said. “We have faith in you.”
It shouldn’t surprise Quinn how much she was learning about herself through this whole thing. Or that she was coming to appreciate her parents more than she ever had before, which was making her realize something else.
She wanted more than what she had with Brock. She wanted what her parents had.
No settling for her. “Mom?”
“I love you. I love you both.”
Now her mom’s voice was thick too. “Love you too.”
“I love you too,” Beth murmured. “Btdubs.”
Quinn drew in a deep breath and turned to the armoire.
“Mom? Dad? I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you back later.” She disconnected and took a few deep breaths.
Because she got it now, what Beth had been trying to tell her. Whether Tilly wanted to acknowledge her or not was secondary to the fact that Quinn was all Tilly had. Period.
And more than that, running wasn’t the answer. This decision was big and it needed to be decided carefully and thoughtfully, with Tilly’s best interests at heart, not Quinn’s. She needed to give Tilly one more chance to say she wanted or needed Quinn’s help, in any capacity.
“Bet you enjoy being right on this one,” she muttered to the empty room, and she’d have sworn she heard the soft, musical sound of Beth’s pleased laughter.
MICK HATED HOW the morning had gone down with Quinn. Being with her had been the best thing to happen to him in a damn long time and he’d messed that up.
Even worse, he had no idea how to fix it. All he knew was that being here in Wildstone this week was taking a toll on him. He needed to get back to the Bay Area for mental health.
But he couldn’t do that until he finished up at his mom’s house. To that end, he stopped at the hardware store.
The place was empty as he and Coop walked in.
“Mick Hennessey,” came a hoarse old voice. Lonnie Rodriquez, the owner. “Long time no see.”
Mick had gone to school with Lonnie’s son. “How’s Cruz?”
Lonnie shook his head. “Having a hard time. He’s been working here at the store, but I can’t always afford him. I thought he’d take over when I retire, but there’s no business. Might have to close up shop.”
This wasn’t the first time Mick had heard this complaint. Wildstone’s local business owners had been hoping tourism would keep them alive, but nothing was being done to promote the town.
“I saw the new construction going on downtown,” Mick said. “A hotel. Are they ordering their building supplies through you?”
Lonnie scoffed. “That job’s being done by an outside contractor. So are the two other new construct
Mick didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing, but he did find it odd that the city had accepted bids from outside companies without demanding they at least offer some kind of employment to the depressed town. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?”
Lonnie shook his head. “How can we when our own city manager is the one breaking all his promises to local business owners?”
Mick had no love for city manager Tom Nichols, who happened to be Boomer’s father. Years ago when Mick and Boomer had been in school together and Boomer had been getting into trouble left and right, Mick had worked his ass off to keep his best friend on the straight and narrow. He’d dragged Boomer’s sorry, wasted ass home from parties, forced him out from behind the wheel when he’d wanted to drive, stopped him from doing all sorts of stupid shit whenever he could.
Tom knew this, but he’d always somehow resented Mick’s actions instead of appreciating the help, which was proved in their senior year when Boomer had pulled an especially stupid prank. He’d gone joyriding in a cop car and gotten caught because his wingman—Mick—had been stuck at home when his dad had refused to let him out that night.
Someone had told on Boomer, and when the cops came to his door, Tom flashed the city manager charm and . . . told the cops it had been Mick to sneak out, not Boomer.
Mick’s dad had bought the bullshit story about him sneaking out and had nearly killed him.
So while he was sympathetic to the local business owners for having to deal with a shady city manager, he was also happy to say that the guy was no longer his problem.
He left the hardware store and hit the lumberyard to replace some baseboards in the house, and it was practically a wash and repeat of his experience at the hardware store. Rick Espy, the owner, was angry and worried. Mick wanted to be unaffected but Wildstone was still home to his mom, so on some level he cared whether he wanted to or not.
After, Mick sat in his dad’s old truck with Coop’s heavy head on his thigh and pulled out his phone to call Colin, a friend and an ex-cop turned private investigator. Mick used Colin’s services at work, occasionally hiring him to check into potential problems. “I’m looking at some properties in Wildstone,” he said. “Need you to do your thing. Something’s going on.”
“It’s Wildstone,” Colin said. “The whole town’s insane.”
“Something more than the usual insanity. Something financial.”
“Great, digging through financials,” Colin said dryly. “My favorite.”
“You’ll feel better when you send me a big, fat bill and you know it.”
Now there was a smile in Colin’s voice. “Yeah, I do like that part.”
Mick disconnected and took the supplies to his mom’s. He lifted Coop out first to save the old guy’s hips. Then he unloaded the supplies. By the time he was done, he was hot and tired and . . . off.
Always sensing his moods, Coop pressed against him, drooling on his leg. Mick crouched down to hug his big, silly dog and got licked from chin to forehead for his efforts. When Coop slithered boneless to the ground for a full belly rub, Mick of course obeyed, smiling as Coop’s tail thumped the dirt like a drum while he writhed in ecstasy. When Mick stopped, Coop took Mick’s entire wrist in his soft mouth and gave a tug.
With a low laugh, Mick obliged, watching as a truck made its way up the drive, parking next to his.
Boomer got out and Coop promptly abandoned Mick to welcome the newcomer with a nose to the crotch.
“The goods, man, watch the goods,” Boomer chuckled and pushed Coop away before looking at Mick. “Wow,” he said. “You’re still here. A whole, what, six days in a row? That’s some kind of a record, isn’t it?”
They hadn’t seen each other or spoken since the other night at the Whiskey River, and not for the first time since Boomer and Lena had been on/off/on again, it was awkward between them. “I’m trying to get out of here, believe me,” Mick said.
“A certain brunette holding you back?”
“It’s got nothing to do with Quinn.” At least not anymore. Mick carried the new paint to the garage. Boomer and Coop followed. “It’s my mom and this damn money pit of a house,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do, including painting this nightmare of a garage.”
“Hey, I remember that one,” Boomer said, pointing to the painted white outline of a missing hammer. “We took it the night of our senior prank. You nearly had a coronary when we lost it, remember? You made us stop and buy a new one, and your dad knew the difference.” He laughed. “Christ, we were blockheads back then.”
Mick laughed too, and that felt good between them, but Mick’s good humor faded as he looked around. “What I remember is my dad having a fit when things didn’t get put away in the exact right spot. I can’t wait to paint over these outlines.”
Boomer shook his head. “Hell, my dad would’ve thought he’d died and gone to heaven if he’d had a son like you instead of the fucked-up, used-up sometimes mechanic, sometimes bartender he got.” He gave Mick a sheepish look. “How many times did you drive my drunk ass home and sneak me into my own bedroom?”
“I didn’t keep count.” As for Boomer’s dad preferring Mick, that was a laugh. He still burned remembering needing a written recommendation to submit to colleges. He’d gone to Tom, a pillar of the community, and been turned down flat.
Something Mick had never told Boomer.
“So if it’s not Quinn holding you here, then what?” Boomer asked. “You nostalgic for the old days?”
“Hey, we had some good times.”
“Name one that didn’t end with you in some sort of trouble,” Mick said.
“How about that time we both raced that very truck . . .” Boomer pointed to Mick’s dad’s truck. “Up at Bliss Flats. We won a hundred bucks.”
Mick let out a low laugh. “We got pulled over on the way home because you were waving an open beer out the window. We both nearly got arrested and I wasn’t allowed to drive for the rest of the year.”
“I drove you wherever you needed to go,” Boomer said.
That much was true. But Mick still had no idea why Boomer had stuck around Wildstone and he studied his longtime friend. Boomer had always been lean, but he was almost gaunt now, and looked exhausted. “What’s going on with you?”
When Mick had gone off to college, Boomer had found trouble taking on a couple of side jobs that were a little too far to the left of legal, such as selling prescription drugs like Percocet. That, along with an alcohol addiction, had led to several rehab stints. The latest had been two years ago and as far as Mick knew, he was holding strong. But the fact that he was working as a bartender, along with playing some sort of cat-and-mouse game with Lena—Queen of Eating Men Up and Spitting Them Out—meant he’d set himself up for certain failure. “You okay?”
“Terrific,” Boomer said with only a shadow of his former bravado.
Dammit. “And . . . you’re sure you know what you’re doing?”
Boomer smirked. “I was born knowing what I was doing.”
“I meant with Lena, you jackass.”
Boomer’s smile faded. “Knew we’d get to that.” He lifted a hand. “Let’s hear it. You still want Lena for yourself, is that it?”
“She cheated on me,” Mick said. “With you.”
“I was drunk and stupid, and you and I already had this fight—ten years ago.”
Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis / Romance & Love have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on42 votes