Lost and found sisters, p.19
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.19

          

  to see Chuck waiting in the reception area as well, face pressed to the window, looking out into the night.

  When they walked in the office, Chuck moved past Quinn, exchanging a look with her that she couldn’t translate, and went straight to Tilly. “You okay?” he asked.

  Tilly, staring at her shoes, nodded.

  He let out a shaky breath. “Good. But Christ, Tilly. You can’t just sneak out like that. You just can’t.” He put a hand on his chest. “My ticker can’t take it.”

  “I expected to be back before you woke up,” Tilly muttered. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

  More words than she’d ever managed to string together for Quinn and she watched them, wondering at their relationship. The clear concern, and even affection, in Chuck’s voice surprised her.

  “What’s that shit all on your face?” he asked.

  Tilly huffed out a sigh and glanced at Quinn. “Nothing.”

  “Bullshit. It’s makeup. Your mom didn’t allow you to do that, why would you think I would?”

  Score another point for the man, Quinn thought, starting to look at him in a whole new light.

  “Okay,” Cliff said. “Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Have plans changed for Tilly’s guardianship?”

  Feeling reluctant to discuss this in front of Tilly, Quinn turned to the girl. “Can you give us a minute?”

  “Why? So you can admit to Cliff that you lied about being my legal guardian to the store clerk tonight?”

  Cliff looked at Quinn.

  “She wasn’t exactly planning to come peacefully,” Quinn said.

  “So she lied,” Tilly said again. “And used swear words too. Pretty sure if the question is who’s qualified to be my guardian, a judge might frown upon those things.”

  “I’m your only relative willing to step up,” Quinn said.

  Tilly took a peek at Chuck.

  He shrugged.

  “Okay, what?” Quinn asked. “What’s going on that I don’t know about?”

  “Chuck’s my uncle,” Tilly said. Paused. “Kinda.”

  Both Cliff and Quinn turned to Chuck in unison.

  He lifted his hands. “Carolyn sometimes called me that because I was around when the kid was little. A lot. You all know we . . .” He glanced at Tilly and grimaced. “Look, go wait outside, would ya?”

  Tilly crossed her arms.

  “Now,” Chuck said.

  Tilly narrowed her eyes, but huffed out a breath and headed to the door.

  “And don’t vanish again or I’ll take your damn phone!”

  Tilly slammed the door behind her.

  “We’ve been over this, you and I,” Chuck said to Cliff and then turned to Quinn. “Carolyn and I go way back. To before your good-for-nothing, dickheaded, self-centered prick of a father came along. She chose him and I forgave her.” He paused. “Twice. But the fact is that she trusted me with Tilly. Temporarily.”

  “Temporarily?” Quinn asked.

  “I never wanted kids and she knew that. I still don’t want kids, and she knew that too. But in this case, she didn’t have a choice. There was no one else to watch over Tilly. And we’ve done fine. Better than fine. I’m happy to take care of her.”

  “I can take care of myself!” Tilly yelled through the door. “I don’t need anyone to do it! Especially her, since she ran away back to L.A. after the thought of being my guardian traumatized her so deeply!”

  The her in question took umbrage at this. “I left because you’d made it clear you weren’t interested,” Quinn yelled at the door and took a deep breath. She was incredibly aware of Mick quietly standing there, listening to all of this, which should have embarrassed her but instead, she felt his strength and calm and took some of it in for herself. “And also because I was scared,” she admitted to Tilly. Hell, holding back from the girl was only making things worse. Might as well lay it all on the line.

  “Maybe if we all just calm down,” Cliff said.

  “I am calm!” Tilly yelled.

  “A hint about women,” Mick said to Cliff. “Never in the history of all history has telling a woman to calm down ever calmed one down.”

  “And that’s sexist!” Tilly said through the door.

  “She’s right,” Quinn said, and blew out a sigh. There was really only one thing to do here and she knew it. The thing was, she might be a complete hot mess at the moment but she wasn’t, and never had been, selfish. Beth was gone and there was nothing she could do about that.

  But Tilly wasn’t gone. She was right here, scared, alone, and pissy as hell.

  And Quinn wanted, needed to do the right thing for her, even if that meant putting her L.A. life on hold, including jeopardizing the job she’d thought she’d loved above all else. “How about a trial period?” she asked, thinking that it might actually reassure Tilly if nothing was set in stone.

  Cliff nodded his approval and opened the door.

  Tilly, who’d had her ear to the door, nearly fell in.

  Chuck snorted.

  “What do you think of a trial period?” Cliff asked Tilly.

  Tilly slid Quinn a dark look. “So she can decide she doesn’t like me and then throw me out?”

  “No,” Quinn said quietly. “I don’t throw people away.”

  Tilly stilled, staring at Quinn some more. Somber, and for once free of the cynicism she wore like a suit of armor. “For how long?”

  “As long as you need.”

  Quinn felt Mick look at her in surprise, which she got. Only a week ago, she’d run away from here. Now she was offering to stay, temporarily anyway.

  “Listen, it’s late,” Cliff said gently. “Or early, however you want to look at it.” He looked at Tilly. “Since all of your stuff is already with Chuck, I don’t see a need to move you to the B and B and then back to Carolyn’s house, so how about you go home with Chuck for tonight. You get some sleep, wake up, and give you and her a shot.” He looked at everyone. “Acceptable?”

  Quinn nodded.

  Chuck nodded.

  Tilly didn’t move.

  Cliff put a hand on her shoulder. “Your call, Tilly. Your say.”

  “You can think about it,” Quinn said. “If you want.”

  Tilly’s gaze met hers. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll think about it.”

  Quinn held out her pinkie. “Pinkie promise?”

  Tilly rolled her eyes. “What is this, the nineties?” But she wrapped her pinkie in Quinn’s—their first physical contact—and shook on it.

  And that was that. Tilly left with Chuck. Quinn walked out into the night with Mick. He took her hand and pulled her in against him.

  “Proud of you,” he said.

  Her throat tightened up and her eyes burned at the quietly spoken words that were like a balm to her churning gut.

  Chapter 21

  How am I supposed to make big decisions when I still have to sing the alphabet to myself to alphabetize stuff?

  —from “The Mixed-Up Files of Tilly Adams’s Journal”

  Quinn walked through the café the next morning, still on the phone with her parents. They’d wanted to make sure she’d found Tilly, and then her mom had wanted to make sure Quinn understood the choices they’d made.

  “It’s not that we thought you couldn’t get your own job, Quinn,” her mom said. “It was nothing like that. We just wanted you to have the world.”

  Quinn rubbed the ache between her eyeballs. “I get it, Mom.”

  “So you’re not mad anymore?”

  “Are there any more surprises?”

  “No,” her mom said emphatically. “Promise.”

  Quinn sighed. “I’m not mad.” She wasn’t sure what she was. “But I’m at the café, I’ve gotta go.”

  “We love you,” her mom said.

  “Check your oil,” her dad said.

  Quinn choked out a laugh and disconnected, and as had become habit, she took a moment to look at the wall of pictures before she was discovered and hugged half to death by Trinee and Greta.

  “I’m not going out to get you eggs, if that’s what you’re buttering me up for,” Quinn said.

  Greta snorted. “Still cynical as ever. Maybe we’re just happy you’ve come back, City Girl, and proud of you for getting Tilly back safe and sound.”

  Was she cynical? she wondered as she took over cooking for Greta. She’d never thought about it before, but she supposed in a lot of ways, she was indeed very cynical.

  Thirty minutes later, Trinee came into the kitchen looking harried. “People are complaining the food’s coming out too slow. And they want to know why your pancakes are so flat.”

  Quinn gritted her teeth. She’d been whipping through batches of crepes, which Trinee had put up on the chalkboard out front as their surprise special. “Because they’re not pancakes. They’re crepes—as it says on the board.”

  “I told you that we’re not fancy like that here,” Greta said.

  “Crepes don’t have to be fancy.”

  Greta didn’t look convinced. “Maybe you could just make them faster.”

  “Trying.” And she was. But the truth was, she—they—needed help. “We need to put out an ad for another short-order cook.”

  Greta looked at her like Quinn had just asked her to stand on the highway, naked, holding one of those silly arrow signs.

  Big Hank stuck his head into the kitchen. “Hey,” he said to Quinn. “Nice job on the pancakes, but you could use a little more flour, I think.”

  She resisted smacking herself in the forehead with her spatula. “They’re crepes.”

  “Carolyn used to put chocolate chip smiley faces on her pancakes,” he said hopefully. “Did you know that?”

  “I’ve heard that once or twice,” she said dryly. Or a hundred times . . . “We were going for something a little healthier.”

  Trinee lifted her hands and shook her head as if to say not me . . .

  Quinn rolled her eyes. “Fine. Tomorrow I’ll . . .” She managed not to grind her teeth. “Use more flour and chocolate chips.”

  Big Hank beamed. “Atta girl.”

  Five minutes later, Lou popped his head in. “You going to cook every morning?” he asked hopefully.

  “Do you like my cooking?” Quinn asked, surprised.

  He held up his phone. “I just want to catch the firefighters coming in hot. I missed getting a video of it last time.”

  Trinee smacked him upside the head.

  “Not funny yet?” he asked.

  “Maybe next week,” Trinee said.

  Lou just winked at her. “Oh, and I wanted to tell you,” he said to Quinn. “Big Hank told his doctor what you mentioned about his low energy maybe being an iron deficiency, and his doctor agreed. So now Not-Big-Hank wants you to come out to our table and tell him what’s wrong with him too.”

  “Why?” she asked. “What’s wrong with him?”

  “Well . . .” Lou scratched his head and grimaced. “Let’s put it this way. He can get to the batter box and swing, but he can’t, er . . . make it home.”

  Quinn stared at him. “Tell me you’re actually referring to baseball.”

  He grinned. “Can you come tell him what’s wrong or what?”

  “I can tell you what’s wrong with me,” she said. “And that’s the fact that I now need therapy.”

  “Carolyn used to listen to our woes all day long,” he said. “And she was good at the advice too.”

  “Yeah?” Quinn asked. “And what would she have told Not-Big-Hank?”

  Lou laughed. “That if he was a few decades younger, she’d have taken him for a test drive to see what was wrong under his hood, if you know what I’m saying.”

  “Lou, I wish to God I didn’t know what you were saying.”

  Greta and Trinee were cackling like hens by the time Lou went back to his table. “You think this is funny?” she asked.

  “Honey,” Trinee said. “Let’s just say that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, and that we’re blessed as blessed can be having you here.”

  Quinn’s irritation immediately fled at the unexpected compliment and she realized something. It had been a rough few days, and she was still as messed up and confused inside as ever but . . .

  No matter what went wrong here, everyone seemed to find a way to laugh about it. It was so different from what she had at Amuse-Bouche that it was like landing on another planet altogether.

  What remained to be seen was how she felt about it.

  Chuck came in to grab breakfast and popped his head into the kitchen. “So,” he said.

  “So.” Quinn managed a smile. “How’s our girl doing?”

  “Okay, I think.” He ran a hand over his head. A gesture that gave away his discomfort. “Look, we both know I’m not the greatest at this but I’m not going to turn her away if she wants to stay. Carolyn . . .” He stared at his shoes for a minute. “She meant a lot to me,” he eventually said. “So if you’ve come around to wanting to keep Tilly, that’s going to be up to you to coax her.”

  “I understand. I’m . . .” She shrugged with a little laugh. “Working on it. She’s not easily . . . coaxable.”

  “Well, she is her mother’s daughter.” He let out a small smile. “Seems maybe you are too.”

  And then he was gone.

  “You and Tilly are going to live together?” Trinee asked.

  “For a trial period.”

  The two older women exchanged a long glance. “Told you,” Greta said.

  “What?” Quinn asked.

  “Trinee owes me a hundred bucks,” Greta said.

  Quinn stared at them. “You had a bet on whether or not Tilly and I would forge a relationship?”

  “No,” Greta said. “We bet on which of us was right.”

  “Which is almost always me,” Trinee said proudly.

  “Ha,” Greta said. “Wrong . . .”

  An hour later, Quinn was relieved by Greta when things slowed down. She left the café, walking past the henhouse to stand in Carolyn’s yard staring at the house.

  This was it. Tilly’s childhood home. Knowing that she and Tilly were going to give themselves a trial run here for a few days filled her with equal parts hope and terror.

  She moved to the porch. The sun was slanting across the wood slats and Quinn sat on a bench next to the front door, tilting her head back for a long moment, letting the sun warm her.

  Then she inhaled a deep breath and pulled Carolyn’s letter from her pocket. She hadn’t opened it yet, but it was time.

  My darling Quinn,

  I was so proud and overjoyed the first time I met you in the coffee bar. It was like all my prayers had been answered to find you everything I’d hoped you’d be. You’re generous and kind, smart and funny, and you took my breath away.

  I know I have no right to say anything to you at all after all this time, but I want you to know I didn’t give you up lightly, and I never stopped thinking of you. Never. Chalk up what happened to me being too young, too scared, and far too alone. I didn’t have parental support and your dad, God bless him, loved the open road more than air itself.

 
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