“Ew. Mom!” I moaned.
“Uh-huh.” Mom moved over to the table but didn’t sit.
She was quiet as I shoved a few spoonfuls of cereal in my mouth before looking up at her.
Mom was staring out the small window over the sink, but I knew she wasn’t seeing the backyard. Not that there was much to see. It was just grass and secondhand patio furniture we rarely used anymore.
When Dad had been here, they would sit out there late at night through the summer and straight up to Halloween, staying up and talking. There used to be a fire pit, but it had fallen apart a few years ago, and Mom had kept it another year before throwing it away.
She kept holding on, even long past the point things were rotten out and decayed.
Lori and I used to sit up on the balcony and eavesdrop, but I think they knew we listened, because they only ever talked about boring stuff. Work. Bills. Vacations planned but never taken. Renovations on the dull blue counters in the kitchen that never happened.
Looking back, though, I could pinpoint the month when things began to change. It had been August, and I was ten. It was when their conversations out on the patio had turned to hushed whispers that ended with Dad storming inside, slamming the screen door shut behind him, and then Mom chasing after him.
Mom was always chasing after Dad.
I liked this Mom better.
Bitter-tasting guilt swallowed me up in one gulp, and I lowered my spoon. It was terrible thinking that, but it was true. This Mom made dinner when she could and asked about school. She joked around and spent the evenings eating ice cream on the couch with me while watching Dance Moms or The Walking Dead. The old Mom was always at dinners with Dad, and when she was home, so was he, so she was with him.
The old Mom had been all about Dad, every second of every day.
Now the grin had faded from her face, and I wondered if she was thinking about Dad, thinking about her life when she wasn’t an insurance agent living paycheck to paycheck, didn’t spend the nights alone.
My spoon clanged off the bowl. “You okay, Mom?”
“What?” She blinked a couple of times. “Yes. Of course. I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
I studied her for a few seconds, unsure if I should believe her. Mom looked okay—looked like she did yesterday and the day before—but there were faint lines around the corners of her mouth and eyes. Her brow creased where it hadn’t before, and her eyes, the same hazel as mine but more green, appeared haunted. “You looked sad.”
“Not sad. Just thinking about things.” Clasping the back of my neck, she bent down and kissed my forehead. “I won’t be home until late tonight, but I will be home for dinner tomorrow. Thinking about making spaghetti.”
“And meatballs?” I asked, hopeful for those homemade balls of grease and goodness.
She pulled back, wiggling her brows. “Only if you do the laundry. There’s a pile of towels that need your love and attention.”
“Done.” I hopped up out of my seat to take my bowl and spoon to the sink. I rinsed them out and placed them on the counter above the broken dishwasher. “Anything else you need me to do?”
“Hmm.” She headed into the living room, slinging her purse over her shoulder. “Clean the bathrooms?”
“Now you’re taking advantage of my kind offer.”
Mom grinned back at me. “Just do the towels and you’ll get meatballs.”
I was way too excited about those meatballs.
“And I’ll pick you up low-fat Pop-Tarts,” she added.
“You do that and I will never speak to you again!”
She laughed as she grabbed her gray blazer from the banister. “You kind of have to talk to me. I’m your mom. You can’t escape me.”
“I will find a way to escape if you walk through these doors with low-fat Pop-Tarts.”
She laughed while opening the front door. “Okay, okay. They’ll be full of all the sugar and fat you can want. See you tonight.”
“Love you.” I moved to close the door, but I leaned against the frame, watching her teeter down the driveway in heels.
Chewing on my lower lip, I shifted my weight, trying to work out the weird unease stirring in the pit of my stomach. Mom said she was fine, but I knew she wasn’t. She might never be, because, deep down, even though she was right here, her heart was still chasing after Dad.
* * *
I kept my head in the game during the different drills we had to do and while we practiced techniques, which meant I didn’t get a Coach Rogers lecture afterward. I left practice feeling a million times better than I did on Friday.
At home, I washed off the layer of sweat and then ate a lunch of microwavable bacon and another round of cereal. I was walking into the living room just as my phone rang on the coffee table. I groaned when I saw who it was. I sent the call to voice mail without hesitation, picked up the remote and settled on the ID channel.
With the Dangerous Women marathon playing in the background, I sat back on the couch and picked up my book. I’d finished the first one in a series last night and had made it through only the first couple of chapters of the second, but I couldn’t wait to fall back into the world of the Night Court and High Fae.
Couldn’t forget about him.
I curled up on the corner of the couch about to get my reading on, when there was a knock on the door. For a minute I considered ignoring it and getting lost in the pages of the book, but when there was another knock, I sighed, got up and made my way to the front door. I peered out the window and my stomach dropped all the way to my toes when I saw who was there.
Unable to fight the stupid grin spreading across my face, I opened the door. “Hey.”
“You busy?” He placed one hand on the doorframe and leaned in. The movement caused the old, faded gray shirt to stretch across his biceps in a way that drew my gaze.
“Not really.” I stepped back to let him in, but he stayed at the door.
“Perfect. I was going to head out to the lake and get my car dirty as hell. You game?” He winked, and dammit all to hell, he actually looked good doing it. “It’ll be fun.”
I’d forgotten about his badminton win. “Sure. Let me get my keys.” I toed on a pair of old sneakers and grabbed my phone and bag before following Sebastian outside. “What are you planning to do?”
“You know the dusty roads leading out to the lake area?” he asked. “Figured that should do enough damage.”
I got in the passenger side as he got behind the wheel. “Not sure how I’m supposed to help.”
He shrugged with one shoulder as he turned the key. “Just wanted your company.”
My stomach fluttered, and I sat back, buckling myself in as I desperately ignored the feeling. Bright sunlight streamed through the windshield. Sebastian reached behind him, snagging his baseball cap off the floor, and pulled it on, tugging the bill down low, and I...I sighed.
I couldn’t help it.
Boys in baseball caps were my weakness, and Sebastian rocked the look. Something about that old, worn cap showcased the chiseled line of his jaw.
I closed my eyes and told myself to stop looking at him. Just in general. Maybe for the rest of my life? Or at least for the next year or so. That sounded like a valid plan.
I really needed to get a grip.
I rolled my eyes and turned down the radio for a distraction. “I haven’t been to the lake since Keith attempted to make water skis out of snow skis.”
Sebastian laughed deeply. “God, when was that? In July? Seems like forever ago.”
“Yeah.” I sat back, fiddling with the hem on my shirt. “It was right before you left for North Carolina.”
“Can’t believe you haven’t headed out there since. Is it because going to the lake is only fun when I’m with you?” he teased, reaching over to flick my arm. “You know, you can just admit it.”
“Yeah. That’s exactly it.” I knocked his hand away and crossed my ankles. “The girls aren’t huge fans of the lake.” That wasn’t a lie at least. “So do you think Megan and Phillip are going to get back together?”
“God only knows. Probably. Then they’ll break up again. Then get back together.” He grinned. “I know he wants to get back with her. He’s pretty open about that.”