Lost and found sisters, p.32
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.32
 

           Jill Shalvis

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

  Quinn had been up late, unable to sleep, wishing she’d talked to Tilly, wishing she wasn’t such a big, fat chicken that she’d pushed Mick away instead of letting him know how she felt about him. The only thing she had going for her peace of mind was knowing Tilly was sleeping, safe in her bed.

  Turns out, the joke was on her. She’d been halfway through a carton of ice cream when her sister had come sneaking in the back door and Quinn stared at her in shock. “What the hell?”

  Tilly froze and then made a recovery attempt, taking her time shutting and locking the door.

  Tink, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor watching Quinn eat with the single-minded intensity only a cat could pull off, didn’t even spare a glance at the teen.

  But Quinn spared a glance. And a second. And a third as she visibly searched for signs of what Tilly had been doing.

  What do you think she’s doing, sneaking in at midnight with that guilty look all over her face? Don’t you remember fifteen?

  Tilly leaned over and peered into the ice-cream carton. “Hey, isn’t that mine?”

  “Nope, I ate yours yesterday. Let me repeat. What the hell?”

  “I went to go see Dylan,” Tilly said, sounding very fifteen. “He needed me.”

  “We’ve had this discussion, Tilly. You tell him to come here. I don’t like you out at this hour alone. Hell, I didn’t even know you were out. Do you have any idea what kind of trouble happens after midnight?”

  “The same kind that happens at any other hour?” Tilly asked.

  “Don’t be a smart-ass.” Quinn set down the ice cream. “I think we should have The Talk.” And not the one that she’d hoped to have either.

  “What talk?” Tilly asked suspiciously.

  “You know, the birds and the bees.”

  Tilly looked horrified. “What century were you born in again?”

  “I’m serious,” Quinn said. “Do you know your options? Do you know that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do?”

  Tilly closed her eyes. “I’m having a bad dream—”

  “Speaking defensively is a sign that you’re feeling pressured,” Quinn said. “Never let a boy pressure you.”

  “Oh my God,” Tilly groaned, covering her face.

  “I’m serious.” She paused. “Listen, I’m just going to come right out and ask you. Are you sexually active?”

  “Let me repeat. Oh. My. God.”

  “It’s a yes or no answer, Tilly.”

  Tilly sighed. “No,” she said, looking so wistful that Quinn actually believed her.

  “Okay,” Quinn said, taking a breath for calm. “Can you promise to tell me before that changes so we can . . .” She felt ridiculous, but forged on. “Discuss your options?”

  “I’ll promise you whatever you want if you’ll stop talking.”

  “You can’t just sneak out, Tilly.”

  “And you can’t tell me what to do.”

  “Actually, I can,” Quinn said. “You’re a minor.”

  Tilly sighed. “This sucks.”

  “You oughta try it from my side of the fence.”

  “I’d switch places with you in a heartbeat,” Tilly said. “You’ve got it easy.”

  Quinn nearly choked on her laugh. “Anyone ever tell you to pick your battles? You don’t have to show up to every argument you’re invited to.” She paused. “And you think I have it easy?”

  “I know so,” Tilly said.

  “Then you have a deal.”

  “What?”

  “You just said you’d switch places with me in a heartbeat,” Quinn said. “Let’s do it. Tomorrow you be me, and I’ll be you.”

  Tilly stared at her. “But tomorrow’s Sunday. I’m supposed to work the morning shift serving tables and you’re in the back barking orders and cooking.”

  “Yeah. So?” Quinn asked.

  “Fine. Whatever. If you don’t care, neither do I.” She shook Quinn’s hand. “Deal. But just so you know, tomorrow you’re going to tell me I was right, that you have it easy compared to me.”

  “Or,” Quinn said. “You’ll tell me that I was right. That your life doesn’t suck nearly as bad as you think it does.”

  Tilly didn’t look convinced. “So what now, we go to bed angry?”

  “Never go to bed angry,” Quinn said. “Stay awake and plot revenge.”

  THE NEXT MORNING they walked over to the café together and told everyone about how they were switching roles for the day.

  Greta, Trinee, and Dylan stood there in morbid fascination as Tilly strapped on an apron and headed behind the stove.

  “Uh,” Dylan said. “Does anyone but me know that she burns water?”

  Tilly jabbed a finger at Dylan, which Quinn presumed meant “Shut it!” Still, Quinn watched for another moment, suddenly torn, worried Tilly might burn herself or mess up on purpose to make a point. “Hey,” she said. “If this is too much—”

  “No.” Tilly lifted her chin. “We made a deal. I get to be in charge and be bossy and all that.”

  “I’m not bossy,” Quinn said.

  Both Greta and Trinee snorted and Quinn gave them a “shut it” look.

  Dylan studiously stared at his shoes, looking to be hiding what could have been either a grimace or a grin.

  But at least they all zipped it.

  “Okay, fine, I get it,” Quinn said to Tilly. “You’re in charge. But if you need a time-out, just say so, okay?”

  “Piece of cake,” the teen said. “And anyway, what are you doing standing around? The help doesn’t stand around, they get out there and serve people. Go! Pour coffee, smile, and don’t eat anything off the customers’ plates, they frown on that.”

  Quinn opened her mouth and Tilly grinned. Grinned. With all her teeth and all her heart, and for a beat, she looked so young, so cute, so adorable and sweet that Quinn could only stare at her, unbearably moved.

  “Go,” Tilly said, shooing her along. “Oh wait! First we need fresh eggs.”

  Quinn’s smile immediately drained away. “Oh no. Not me. I’m not going. Those chickens hate me.”

  “You backing out on our deal?”

  Dammit. Quinn went out to the chickens, who got all ruffled up at the sight of her. “Oh, cool it,” she said, hands on hips. “We’re going to do this and we’re all going to survive it.”

  Five minutes later she had a basket full of eggs and only one puncture wound.

  Baby steps.

  AN HOUR AND a half later, Quinn’s arms were aching from carrying heavy trays and her back and feet were killing her. At a rare lull, she took a peek into the kitchen.

  Tilly was flipping pancakes like she’d been born to the task, and Quinn had to admit she was feeling a little bit annoyed that the experiment, meant to make Tilly understand the difficulties of being an adult in charge, seemed to be backfiring. Spectacularly.

  Then she caught sight of Trinee and Greta rushing around cooking everything else. “Hey,” Quinn said. “That’s cheating!”

  “It’s not cheating if you’re the boss,” Tilly said without looking up from the pancakes.

  “You’re not the boss.”

  “Today I am. You said so.”

  “No,” Quinn said. “We’re walking in each other’s shoes, and I’m not the boss here.”

  Tilly looked confused. “Then who is?”

  “We’re both the boss,” Quinn said. “Equally.”

  “You’re just saying that because you don’t want me to win,” Tilly said.

  “And that,” Quinn agreed and Tilly snorted. It made Quinn smile. No one on the planet could make her as crazy or as amused as this girl.

  Which was an odd and uncomfortable and kind of wonderful feeling all in one.

  When the shift was finally over, Quinn and Tilly looked at each other. Quinn raised a brow. She happened to know that Tilly had indeed burned water, and that she couldn’t have handled the shift with
out Dylan, Greta, and Trinee all sneaking time in the kitchen to save her cute little ass.

  Tilly lifted a shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Fine. Your life sucks too. Happy?”

  “Our lives don’t suck,” Quinn said. “But maybe we could each appreciate each other’s role more.”

  “Hmm,” Tilly said, noncommittal. “Sure. I guess.”

  Small favors . . . Quinn gathered Greta and Trinee and the rest of the staff. “I’d like to have a small surprise birthday party for Lena here tonight. She’s turning thirty and she’s sad,” Quinn said. “Plus I need someone to make a cake. Chocolate. Anyone interested?”

  “It’s her thirty-first birthday,” Greta said.

  “She definitely said thirty,” Quinn said.

  “Well, of course she did, no one wants to admit to being thirty-one.”

  Quinn blinked. “You sure?”

  “Yep. Unless last year’s thirtieth roast she held for herself at the Whiskey River didn’t happen.”

  Quinn sighed. “Okay, so she’s pretending to still be thirty. So what?”

  “I’d pretend to be twenty-seven,” Tilly said. “’Cause thirty’s old. Just sayin’.”

  Quinn did her best to ignore this. “We doing this or not?”

  “Does this mean you’re no longer fighting over that incredibly sexy package named Mick?” Trinee asked.

  Quinn did her best not to react to that. “We’re not fighting over a man.” There was no way to explain that Lena really wanted Boomer, she just wanted him sober, and that Quinn had already blown it with Mick, so there was no fighting because she and Lena were both equal idiots. “She’s sad and feeling alone on her birthday, which no one should feel.” And okay, so she was projecting, sue her. “Look, are you guys going to help or what?”

  They all stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. Then Greta tossed up her hands. “Fine. I’m in. And yeah, we’ll bake the cake.”

  Quinn turned to Tilly, who gave an impressive eye roll, doing her best to remain sullen even though Quinn could tell she was into it. “If I have to,” she said.

  “Good. Text, e-mail, or call everyone you all know. Here, tonight. Lena’s working until seven. Have everyone get here before then so we can surprise her.”

  An hour later her phone rang.

  “So you finally lost it,” Mick said.

  “I lost it a long time ago,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady at the shock waves his voice sent through her. She missed him. “So you’ll have to be more specific than that.”

  He chuckled and the sound scraped at all her good spots and made her ache. “You’re having a surprise birthday party for my ex.”

  Well, when he put it like that . . . “It’s her birthday and she’s alone and sad.”

  “She’s alone and sad because she wants to be alone and sad. If she’s even alone or sad. More likely, she’s playing you.”

  “She’s not,” Quinn said. “She needs a friend and so do I.”

  Silence.

  “Mick?”

  “I’m here,” he said. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

  “I do.” Sort of. Or not at all . . . “I need you to get Boomer here.”

  “I’m not sure that’s possible.”

  “Don’t let him give up on her.”

  “Actually,” he said, “that’s exactly what he’s not going to do, but he’s got to go take care of some things first.”

  Quinn stilled. “Rehab?”

  “How did you know?”

  “Would you buy that I know everything?”

  He laughed low in his throat, the sound sexy as hell.

  “Has he left yet?” she asked.

  “Tomorrow.”

  “Then bring him.”

  “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.

  “Always,” she said. Or you know, never . . .

  “You sell your car yet?”

  “No,” she said. “I think the price is too high. I need to lower it so I can get renovation money.”

  “For the house and café,” he said.

  “Yes. I’d like to make some updates to the house especially.”

  Mick was quiet a minute. “Feels a little like you’re looking to stay.”

  It was her turn to be quiet. “I’m thinking about it.”

  “For what it’s worth, I think it’s a great decision.”

  She drew in a deep, shaky breath. “So you’ll come tonight?”

  “If you want me to before I head out.”

  Her heart dropped. “Head out?”

  “Back to the Bay Area.”

  Right. Just because a part of her brain was toying with staying in Wildstone didn’t mean he was. He wouldn’t. She knew that. “Yes, please,” she said.

  “Then I’ll see you later.”

  When they disconnected she felt the oddest urge to call him back and . . . what? She had no idea. Hell, she just wanted to listen to him read the back of a cereal box.

  She stared out the back window. From here she could see Jared and Hutch’s yard. She knew now that they were married and in their midthirties.

  And they were running around outside in bare feet with water pistols, soaking each other and laughing so hard they kept slipping. She stared at them and felt a yearning come over her so strong she had to sit down.

  She’d spent a lot of time trying to make relationships perfect, when all that was really needed was someone who’d laugh with her for the rest of her life.

  She was pretty sure that person was Mick.

  Her phone buzzed again.

  “Someone said you’re having a party for your archnemesis,” Cliff said.

  Quinn blew out a breath and struggled to switch gears away from her staggering realization. “We came to a truce.”

  “Who got Mick?”

  Quinn tipped her head back and stared at the ceiling. “It’s not all about guys, you know.”

  There was a smile in Cliff’s voice when he spoke. “I’m going to take this as a good sign that Wildstone’s growing on you and you won’t be leaving.”

  “I’ve been thinking about that. You want to scan and e-mail me the guardianship papers to sign? I think she’s almost convinced.”

  “Which she?” he teased. “You or her?”

  She smiled. “Both.” Or so she hoped . . .

  BY SIX O’CLOCK that night, the café was filling up. She’d demanded that people come and . . . they did. Everyone in town it seemed. The place echoed with laughter and chatter and the scent of good food as people helped decorate. Even Tilly got into the spirit of things, stringing lights across the ceiling.

  At seven, they all hid behind the counter. This was no easy
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