Lost and found sisters, p.6
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.6
 

           Jill Shalvis

  She made it to the park before having to stop and bend over at the waist to gasp in air. She needed to get to a damn gym.

  When she found the play set, she eyed the huge grove of oaks. Great. She moved in closer and stopped to listen.

  Nothing but the buzz of what she sincerely hoped weren’t bees. “Hello?” she called.

  There was a loaded silence and then . . . “Go away.”

  Quinn took a deep breath and told herself that this was her sister. Her blood sister. She and Beth had been . . . well, everything to each other, everything, and Quinn missed her like she’d miss a limb. But after her death, Quinn had purposely backed away from any sort of emotional attachments because she couldn’t open up her heart like that again, she just couldn’t.

  But Tilly hadn’t asked to lose her mom, to be left alone in the world. The ground had been ripped from beneath her feet, and much as Quinn wanted to run, she couldn’t. She located the tree with the tree house and moved beneath it. No ladder. Of course not, that would’ve made things easy and heaven forbid anything be easy. “I’m Quinn,” she said to the tree.

  “I know who you are. Go away.”

  She could. It would certainly be the easy thing to do. She could turn on her heel, walk away, return to L.A., and never look back. She would once again step onto the hamster wheel and run in place in her little rut, ordering the same coffee every day, getting in the same fight with Marcel every day, never looking up.

  And she almost did just that.

  But she’d already lost one sister to a tragedy. She didn’t want to lose another to cowardice. So she stopped herself and looked up, where she could see a red sneaker, laces hanging loose and untied. She followed the line of sight to a pair of jeans, a far-too-small tank top, and a face that looked startlingly like her own. Defiant and mad as hell at the world.

  “Just go,” that face said. “You know you want to.”

  Quinn certainly hadn’t known she had another sister, but Tilly was just as surprised.

  And unhappy about it.

  Added to that was the fact that the girl was grieving, something Quinn knew a little too much about. So she drew in a deep breath and said, “I’m not leaving. At least not yet.”

  Chapter 6

  I wouldn’t mind someone looking at me the way I look at pizza.

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

  To say that Tilly had had a bad day, a bad week, a bad month was an understatement. But as she stared down from the tree house, looking into a face that so resembled her own, somehow, in spite of not being able to breathe, she managed to find her voice. “I don’t need you,” she said, hating that she sounded thin and quivery, like she’d been crying.

  She had not been crying.

  At least not that she would admit to.

  She hadn’t been in the tree house in a while. Not since she’d gone through a rough patch at school when the girls had been bitches and the teachers jerks, and her mom had been on her about her grades, and all she’d wanted to do was make herself invisible. But no matter how much she’d wished for superpowers, including invisibility, they’d never come.

  So she came here to vanish. The tree itself was tall and stable, and it always protected her. She’d named it Kevin.

  Kevin had come through for her more than anyone else, with the exception of her mom.

  The first time she’d sat up here, her mom had freaked out and called the cops to report her missing. When they’d found her, her mom had gotten a ladder and climbed up to the tree house, and with tears in her eyes she’d said, “Don’t fly away from me yet, darling, I’m not ready.”

  After that, Tilly always had told her mom whenever she’d needed to be invisible and her mom had understood.

  But now she was gone. There’d been no one left to give a shit if she disappeared or not. Especially not Quinn, a mysterious sister she hadn’t even known about. “I don’t need you,” she repeated.

  “Well, that’s fair,” Quinn said. “I don’t like to need anyone either. You going to come down so we can talk?”

  “No.”

  “Is there a ladder?”

  “It rotted.”

  “Okay then.” And to Tilly’s shock, Quinn inhaled deeply and then began to climb the tree herself. “Yikes, they’re some seriously gigantor ants.”

  “And killer squirrels,” Tilly said.

  Maybe two whole feet off the ground, Quinn froze, looking terrified. “Killer squirrels?”

  “They throw acorns with deadly accuracy,” Tilly said. “And the kamikaze blue jays are vicious, so watch out.”

  Quinn searched the tree with concern, making Tilly laugh for the first time in a long time. “Are you afraid of squirrels and blue jays?”

  “Of course not,” Quinn said. “I’m afraid of killer squirrels and kamikaze blue jays. In fact, there’s a squirrel staring at me right now with beady, shifty little eyes.”

  “City girl.”

  Something buzzed on Quinn’s phone. Tilly’s eyebrows went up when Quinn ignored it.

  “It’s just a notification telling me that my friend Skye played her turn at Words With Friends,” Quinn said.

  “Words With Friends?”

  “It’s a game. A fun one. Maybe we could play sometime.”

  “I thought only old people played Words With Friends.”

  Quinn snorted. “I probably should’ve told you, insulting me only tends to make me try harder.” And with that, she began climbing the tree again, muttering something about ruts and routines, and how she’d totally gotten off the hamster wheel, thank you very much.

  Tilly craned her neck to watch, fascinated in spite of herself.

  “Oh shit,” Quinn said, first when she snagged her pants on a branch and ripped them, and again when she ran into a spiderweb with her face and tried to break-dance while hanging out of a tree.

  Tilly heard herself laugh again.

  Quinn blew out a breath and gave up about ten feet below Tilly—at a whopping five feet off the ground. But still, she supposed it was pretty good for an old chick.

  Quinn looked up. “Listen, this isn’t exactly the ideal way to meet you, but it’s all we’ve got. So . . . hi.” She paused. “I take it you didn’t know about me either.”

  Tilly couldn’t hold back her surprise. “Wait—you didn’t know about me?”

  “I didn’t even know I was adopted until Cliff found me to tell me about your mom’s death.” Quinn paused, her eyes warm. “I’m really sorry about that, Tilly.”

  Because it put a pit in her gut and blocked the air in her throat to think about it, Tilly could only shrug, like no big deal, when it was a huge big deal. The biggest deal ever.

  “Cliff said she’d planned to tell you,” Quinn said. “And me too. She just didn’t get the chance.”

  Great, and now her eyes were burning. Refusing to cry, Tilly pulled out her phone for a diversion. And of course, the one time she didn’t have any texts . . . Out of desperation, she opened Snapchat. She had three friends. Katie snapped daily pics of her stupid cat in baby clothes. And then there was Melanie’s close-up selfies that all looked the same with her ridiculous, overglossed pout.

  Dylan didn’t Snapchat at all.

  Terrific. She’d actually rather be in school taking her biology exam and she hated biology.

  Hated.

  Hated.

  Hated.

  But this was worse. Her mom had told Tilly about the cancer three months ago but had neglected to mention being terminal. Or that Tilly had a sister. And then there was the biggie—she’d up and died. It wasn’t fair. Any of it. She wanted, needed, everyone to just go the hell away and leave her alone.

  She switched over to Instagram, but that was equally unsatisfying. Still, she went through the motions of thumbing along and was doing a great job of ignoring Quinn when she caught sight of a post from one of her mom’s friends. It was a throwback picture of the two women together, beaming wide.

  She
had to close her eyes, but the image of her mom’s coffin being lowered into the ground still came.

  “Tilly—”

  “You really didn’t know about me either?” she asked, eyes still closed.

  “No. If I had . . .”

  Tilly opened her eyes and met Quinn’s matching deep blue ones, wanting to hear . . . well, she wasn’t sure. Something to make her feel better. “What?” she asked. “What would you have done?”

  Quinn opened her mouth but then closed it with a helpless shake of her head, like she wasn’t sure.

  “So you came here now to what, then?” Tilly asked. “Appease your curiosity? Well, you’ve done that. So I guess I’ll be seeing you around sometime. Or whatever.”

  “Tilly.” Quinn’s voice sounded as unsure as Tilly felt. “I’m in uncharted waters here too. But we can at least try, can’t we? It’s never too late to make up for lost time.”

  But it was. The past couldn’t be changed. Her mom was dead and going to stay that way. She looked at her phone again, opening Facebook because she was that desperate for a distraction, even though no one she knew used FB anymore except old people. “I’ve gotta get back to school.”

  “I’ll drive you.”

  “No, it’s not far,” Tilly said. “I’ll walk.”

  Quinn looked hurt at that and Tilly told herself she didn’t care.

  “How about I pick you up after school?” Quinn asked. “I could take you to dinner.”

  “I’ve got dinner plans.”

  “Breakfast before school tomorrow then,” Quinn said with enough hope in her voice that it almost hurt to listen to her. “Before I go back to L.A.”

  Right, because Quinn wasn’t here to stay, just to get a good look at the freak show. That worked for Tilly because she didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to feel good about anything, even finding a sister, which she’d always secretly wished for.

  Quinn started to say something else but a bee dive-bombed and she squeaked instead, and began waving wildly at the air with her free hand. “Ohmigod!”

  “Stop moving,” Tilly said. “It won’t bother you if you just ignore it.”

  “I can’t, I’m allergic!” She let go of her death grip on her branch and used both hands now to shoo the bee. “Ouch!” she yelped and slapped at her forehead. “I’m hit, I’m hit!”

  “Hey,” Tilly said. “Careful, you’re going to fall out of the—”

  Quinn fell out of the tree. Since she hadn’t gotten very far up there, she didn’t have all that far to go, but she hit the ground hard and lay still.

  Tilly stared down at her, looking for a sign of life. “You okay?”

  No answer. No movement either, and Tilly’s heart just about stopped. “Quinn?”

  Quinn’s eyes were open, staring blindly at the sky. Then her mouth moved a little. Kinda like a fish who’d just flopped out of its tank and needed to get back in the water.

  “Shit,” Tilly said. “Damn. Fuck . . .” Nice going, you get a sister and kill her all in the same day. She came out of the tree house, slid down the tree trunk, and then jumped, landing next to Quinn’s prone body. “Hey. Hey, you all right?”

  More nothing from Quinn, although her fingers twitched.

  “Okay, I’m calling 911,” Tilly said and pulled out her phone. She’d never done this before, but the dispatcher was calm and that helped. She gave their location and then bent over Quinn again. “An ambulance is coming.”

  Quinn’s fingers were still moving, like she was trying to get something out of her pocket.

  “Please say something,” Tilly begged. “Did you break your neck?” Then she realized there was a big red dot in the middle of Quinn’s forehead.

  She really had been stung by the bee.

  Quinn managed to pull whatever she’d been looking for from her pocket. “Open it,” she wheezed.

  Tilly stared down at the tampon-size cylinder with a bright orange cap.

  “It’s an EpiPen.” Quinn’s voice sounded strangled, like she couldn’t get enough air.

  And Tilly remembered her sister’s earlier words. She was allergic to bees. Tilly took the EpiPen and stared at it. “What do I do?”

  Quinn was working the button and zipper of her jeans, then struggling with pushing them down her thighs past a pair of Wonder Woman undies.

  Then she grabbed the EpiPen back and stabbed herself in the thigh with it.

  Tilly had to close her eyes because needles weirded her out, but almost immediately she could hear the difference in Quinn’s breathing. Which made her realize Quinn had been wheezing for air because her throat had started to close up. “Oh my God.” She leaned over Quinn. “Are you okay?”

  “I will be,” she said thickly, like her tongue was swollen. “If you help me get my pants up before anyone gets here.”

  “Too late.” Cliff crouched at their side, lending his hands to the cause.

  Tilly would have been mortified—Wonder Woman? Really?—but Quinn just laughed a little.

  “Better than my Hello Kitty thong, I guess,” she said.

  “Seriously,” Tilly said. “You should stop talking.”

  The ambulance whipped into the park, lights flashing, sirens wailing.

  “We don’t get a lot of action here,” Cliff said apologetically.

  “But I’m fine,” Quinn was still saying thirty minutes later at the hospital.

  She wasn’t fine. Anyone could see that she felt like she’d been hit by a Mack truck and she was still having the shakes from the letdown after the huge adrenaline rush of the EpiPen injection.

  Tilly stood at her side, half out of worry for the woman she was determined to hate with all her being since it was the only thing that deflected the pain of her mom being gone, and half because if she’d gone back to school, she’d have had to take the dreaded biology test. “You really okay?”

  Quinn looked touched at the question. “Other than a killer headache, I’m really okay.”

  When Quinn was finally cleared to go several hours later, Cliff gave them a ride, taking Tilly straight to school, just in time for last period—biology. Damn. She turned to Quinn. “Thanks for not dying.”

  “Thanks for helping me to not die.”

  Tilly grimaced with guilt. She hadn’t helped. In fact, she’d caused this mess.

  “Not your fault,” Quinn said, apparently reading her mind.

  But it sure felt like Tilly’s fault. And there was something else too. She really wanted to hold on to the ball of resentment regarding Quinn’s existence, but it had melted away in the face of the sheer terror of the past few hours.

  “Who are you staying with?” Quinn asked. “Who’s taking care of you?”

  “A friend,” Tilly said as vaguely as she could while trying to sound earnest enough that Quinn wouldn’t dig, which was the last thing she needed.

  Quinn looked at her for a long moment and Tilly did her best to look innocent. And happy. Which was a huge stretch.

  “Can I see you again before I leave?” Quinn asked. “If not tonight, then for breakfast before school?”

  Right. A reminder that Quinn was leaving. “Maybe,” she said. “If you promise not to fall out of a tree and need 911 again.”

  Quinn gave her a small smile. “I’ll do my best.”

 
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