Lost and found sisters, p.7
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.7

          

  Chapter 7

  There are three stages of life:

  1. Birth.

  2. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?

  3. Death.

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

  Quinn watched Tilly walk into the high school and sighed. “That went well.”

  Cliff was driving calmly. “It’s not as bad as you think.”

  “How do you figure? Because I chased her through a park and up a tree like a stalker, and instead of becoming sisters, I made a fool of myself, got stung by a bee, fell out of the tree, and scared her half to death.”

  “You got her out of her own head,” Cliff said. “You made her see that she’s not alone. She had to help you, and that, whether you realize it or not, bonded you two in a way that a scheduled sit-down in my office never could have.”

  Quinn blew out a breath. “Do you know a lot about teenage girls?”

  “Know? Yes. Understand? No.” He shrugged. “I’ve got sisters. Tilly’s taking your mom’s death hard, and she wasn’t ready to meet you.”

  Well, that made two of them. “She said she’s staying with a friend. Why not other family? Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins . . .?” She trailed off when Cliff shook his head.

  “There are no other blood relatives,” he said. “Both your parents were only children.”

  So much to process. “So which friend is she with and is she okay there?”

  “She’s staying with Carolyn’s next-door neighbor and ex-boyfriend Chuck. He watches after her and always has. He has guardianship.”

  Quinn stared at Cliff. “Are you telling me that Carolyn left guardianship of her daughter to an ex-boyfriend? For God’s sake, she’s not a coin collection or a piece of art.”

  “No, she’s not,” Cliff agreed. “Carolyn was . . . complicated. She loved Tilly very much and was painfully aware the girl didn’t have a lot of choices if something were to happen to her. When she got her diagnosis, she knew she had to make some decisions, but she thought she had time.” Cliff shook his head. “Turns out that time was the one thing she didn’t have.”

  “So she didn’t have a will? I mean, even a note would be welcome. Like, ‘Hey, Quinn, long time no see but here’s the thing—I’m dying and I’m going to leave some stuff in your lap, including a sister. Love, your real mom.’”

  “She was working on all of that but no one could rush her. And she did have a will, but it wasn’t updated,” Cliff said. “It leaves everything to you and Tilly. What it doesn’t do is outline care for Tilly in the case of her being a minor when Carolyn passed.”

  Quinn let out a shocked, dismayed breath. “Pretty big oversight, wouldn’t you say?”

  “Like I said, she was working on that; there weren’t many options. She couldn’t leave Tilly’s care to you when she had no relationship with you or any idea if you’d be a good choice. Chuck was her only option.”

  Quinn made a noise that she hoped spoke of her horror, disgust, and frustration.

  “It’s not as out there as you think,” Cliff said. “Chuck’s taken care of Tilly plenty of times before, such as when Carolyn had her cancer treatments. They’re well acquainted. I’ll also say that you could remedy the situation by taking over the guardianship. Chuck would be more than okay with that.”

  Quinn turned her head and met his gaze. His expression told her that he wasn’t playing on her sympathy. He was being genuine and just doing his job. “Tilly doesn’t want anything to do with me,” she said.

  “She’s a teenager, Quinn. By very definition, she doesn’t want anything to do with anyone who’s not also a teenager. You could change the course of her life.”

  But could she? Her job was two hundred miles away. As was her condo and the only friends and family she’d ever known. So no, she couldn’t see how to remedy this.

  “How’s your head?” Cliff asked.

  “Messed up.”

  “I meant the bee sting, but good to know where you’re at.”

  Oh. Right. She laughed a little and touched the swollen spot smack dab in the center of her forehead, the one that looked like a big, fat, stress zit. It hurt.

  She’d spent a lot of time lately being numb but that was wearing off like a Novocain shot. None of it felt real right now. She felt like she was watching a movie of her own life. Too bad she couldn’t just get up and walk out. “I need to think.”

  “Of course.” Cliff pulled into the Wild West B & B parking lot and turned to her. “You should know that the property mentioned in the will is to be divided equally between you and Tilly. There’s a small café and a house. Both need some work.” He showed her a pic on his phone and she stared at Caro’s Café, realizing it was the one she’d driven by that morning. “It’s closed.”

  “Ever since Carolyn’s death,” Cliff said. “It should be reopened, both for the money it generates and for the townspeople who miss the food. Maybe you’d consider relocating here . . .”

  Quinn shook her head. Not going to happen. In spite of her anger, and the feeling of betrayal and the unhappy surprise of her adoption, her life really was in L.A. “I’m going home, Cliff.”

  “Today?”

  “I’d planned on it.”

  Cliff didn’t say anything to this, clearly disappointed. And hey, he wasn’t the only one. She was plenty disappointed in herself too. “But I asked Tilly if I could see her again tomorrow.” Something she hadn’t yet shared with Brock, her parents, or her boss . . . None of whom were going to appreciate that decision. Her real world, her life, was waiting for her three hours south of here.

  Or not waiting, as the case might be. She had no idea how Wade was going to react to her needing another day off, though she was pretty sure how Brock and her parents were going to react.

  “Another night is a good start,” Cliff said. “You can sleep on everything.”

  Head spinning, Quinn headed to her room with the sporadic cell phone reception, leaky bathroom sink, surprise bugs, and maybe a ghost, and flopped onto the bed.

  “It’s unbelievable, all of it!” Beth said excitedly from her perch on the TV. As in on the TV, and since it was a flat screen, this was quite the feat.

  “Are you serious?” Quinn asked, a hand to her suddenly pounding heart.

  “Tilly’s lovely!”

  “Tilly’s angry.”

  “That too,” Beth said with sympathy. “Something I know you understand.”

  Quinn looked at Beth and felt her heart pinch. “You’re wearing my sweater.”

  “Well, I did steal it all those years ago to do just that,” Beth said. “And anyway, it looks better on me.”

  This is just a figment of your imagination, Quinn told herself. That or she was stroking out.

  But regardless, it was such a Beth thing to say, she felt herself laugh. Two years and she’d never missed Beth more than she did right this very minute. “Are you not the least bit threatened by the knowledge that you and I are no longer blood sisters?”

  Beth’s smile faded. “Quinn,” she said with a terrifying gentleness. “I don’t give a shit about blood. You are, and always will be, my sister. Heart and soul.” She shimmered and started to fade. “You’ve got another chance here. Let her in. Let someone in . . .”

  And then she was gone.

  “Dammit! Next time I get to die first and haunt your ass!” Quinn yelled and then she blew out a breath and looked around. Turned out, living in a haunted B & B and being pestered by her dead sister made her hungry. She had to stand on a chair near the window again to get enough reception to see what kind of food one might be able to get delivered in Wildstone.

  The answer was simple. Nothing. One could get nothing delivered in Wildstone.

  Which made it official. She was on Mars. Still standing on the chair, leaning precariously out the window for reception, she caught sight of sexy Mick Hennessey walking across the parking lot again, so there was that at least. The day wasn’t a complete disaster.

  Coop was at his side. The dog was on a leash but holding the end of it in his own mouth. Mick, looking good in dark sunglasses, another pair of jeans, and a T-shirt stretched enticingly taut over his broad shoulders, glanced up. When he saw her, he pushed the sunglasses to the top of his head and their gazes locked.

  For a single beat, her heart did something other than ache for a change. It skipped. She shook her head at herself. Why in the world was her heart reacting now, after all this time? And why not with Brock, who although they’d backed off from a relationship, she still felt comfortable with?

  Why did it have to be a perfect stranger instead? It made no sense. Especially since she hadn’t felt a thing in two years, but whenever this man looked at her, the ensuing zap was like sticking her finger in a light socket.

  Mick vanished around the corner of the building and out of sight and Quinn let out a breath, grateful that he was smarter than she.

  Two minutes later, there was a knock at the door. She hesitated, then put her face to the peephole hoping Beth had ordered her a pizza from the afterlife.

  But it wasn’t pizza.

  It was Coop.

  And his human, Mick.

  When she opened the door, Coop sat on his haunches, dropped the leash from his mouth, and panted a smile up at her.

  Mick didn’t pant or smile, but he did hand her a Verizon Jetpak. “My password is CoopForPresident101,” he said. “Caps on the first letter of each word. It’ll get you the Internet without putting your life in mortal jeopardy by hanging out the window.”

  Quinn patted Coop on the head and stared at the Jetpak, moved by Mick’s generosity. “That’s . . . way too kind of you.”

  Coop leaned against her with his considerable girth, nearly knocking her over. Mick nudged him aside. “You should have it in case of another emergency,” he said.

  “Another emergency?”

  He eyed the huge red mark on her forehead, which she sincerely hoped by now looked more like a bee sting than a humongous zit. “News travels fast in Wildstone,” he said.

  “How?” she asked baffled. “How does news travel without the Internet?”

  He smiled. “You don’t need the Internet in a town like this.” He nodded to the Jetpack. “Hold on to that until you leave.”

  The gesture was the kindest thing anyone had done for her in recent memory and she felt her throat tighten. Clearly she was an inch away from losing her collective shit. Refusing to let it happen in front of this man—again—she found a nod. “Thanks.”

  He nodded and looked at his now-sleeping, and already snoring, dog. “Coop. We’re out.”

  Coop didn’t budge.

  “There’s no takeout here in Wildstone,” Quinn said, suddenly not wanting him to leave.

  “No drive-throughs either. If you’re looking for food, there’s the Whiskey River. It’s a bar and grill and is usually open by . . .” He looked at his watch. “Now.”

  “Usually?”

  He gave a low laugh. “Well, it’s Wildstone, so time’s always a little fluid. But it’s five o’clock, so you’ve got a shot.”

  “It’s not five, it can’t be, I just got here and it was only two.”

  Mick gave her an odd look. “Maybe you napped.”

  Quinn looked at the bed, which did indeed have a Quinn-size indentation on the covers.

  Had she dreamed Beth’s visit or was she losing her mind?

  “You okay?” he asked.

  “Yeah.” She shrugged it off. She considered offering to buy him a drink to thank him for his thoughtfulness, wondering if he found her even half as irresistibly attractive as she found him. But before she could say anything, he stepped back with a nod and vanished down the hall.

  So much for being irresistible.

  When she was alone, she used the Jetpak to check her phone. She had three voice mails. One from Skye saying, “Call me when you’re home to catch up.”

  The next was from her parents—who were baffled that she still wasn’t on her way home, and then Brock—baffled and rounding the corner into irritation.

  Figuring texts would be better than calls, she texted Skye and Brock, letting them know she’d be staying in Wildstone another night. And then her mom and dad on a group text that didn’t go over quite as smoothly as she’d hoped.

  QUINN:

  Nobody panic, but I’m staying another night.

  DAD:

  Did you check the oil in your car?

  MOM:

  Don’t pay any attention to your father. If you check the oil yourself, you’ll get it on your clothes. Ask someone at the gas station to do it for you. Do you have enough money? Maybe we should drive up.

  QUINN:

  I’ll check the oil and I have enough money. Don’t make the drive, I’m fine. We’re fine. I’m sorry I had a freak-out, I was just shocked. I’m processing.

  MOM:

  Can you process here, with us? Because we understand the freak-out. We do. I get that our decision to not tell you some things was . . . questionable . . . but can you accept that at the time of your adoption, all we knew was that we loved you like you were ours. Period. And maybe we’ve been overprotective of that but nothing’s changed. We still love you like you’re ours. Because you are.

  DAD:

  What your mom said.

  QUINN:

  I love you both. I’ll call soon.

  MOM:

  Tomorrow. You’ll call tomorrow.

  QUINN:

  I’ll call tomorrow.

  And she would. She needed to remember that she wasn’t the only one who’d lost Beth. So she got that they didn’t want to lose her too. Not that they would. She just needed a minute to rebuild some trust.

  Maybe a few minutes.

  Next, she called Chef Wade and chewed on her nails waiting for him to pick up, trying to figure out how to keep her job from two hundred miles away.

  Chef Wade didn’t pick up.

  Not a good sign. She left an awkward voice-mail message and hoped like hell he wasn’t about to fire her.

  As she disconnected, Brock called.

  “What do you mean you’re not coming back yet?” he asked.

  “It’s about my sister—”

  “Beth?”

  “Tilly.”

  “The fifteen-year-old you told me about in your texts? What about her?”

  “She’s so . . . alone.”

  “Yeah and that sucks. I feel bad for the kid but . . . wait. Are you about to tell me you’re going to bring her home with you?”

  “Would that be so shocking?”

  He chuckled a little at that. “Hell, yes. Did you forget that you’re afraid of kids?”

  “No, I’m afraid of your twin two-year-old nephews,” she corrected. “They’re crazy.” But it was true, she couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than taking Tilly on, taking all of this on. But nor could she see herself just walking away either.

 
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