“Have you heard from Andrew lately?” I ask.
“Didn’t I tell you I blocked his number?”
She says it so casually that I don’t think I hear her right.
She glances over her shoulder. “Yeah. After Jack told me what happened when he came down to Texas, I blocked his ass.”
Wow. Um, okay.
Talk about the end of an era.
I’m so shocked, I have nothing to say, so I apologize. “I’m sorry about…well, everything.”
She sets down the spoon she was using to stir the pasta. “Please don’t apologize, okay? I didn’t want to get into this tonight, not with everyone here, but—” She breaks eye contact and glances away, taking a deep breath. “I was so wrong about…a lot actually.” I hold stock-still as she continues. “This situation has been hard for me to navigate. I’ve always wanted the best for you, and I thought that meant staying with Andrew. You have to understand, Meredith”—her voice cracks—“I thought you were happy. I really did.”
I’m around the island and pulling her into a hug before she can even finish.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry too. Had I not cut you out of my life, you would have known. You would have believed me.” I pull back and try on a big smile. It feels tight and awkward. “Let’s get coffee this week, yeah? You and me? I have a letter to give you, but I’ll wait and give it to you then. I don’t want to make you cry at your dinner party.”
She laughs and shakes her head, drying her eyes with the back of her hand. “I swore I wouldn’t cry when I saw you, but it just feels so strange to have you here in Cedar Creek. I still can’t believe you’re actually staying.”
“I really like it here.”
“I’m glad. I never imagined you and I would live this close to one another again.”
After we pull ourselves together, we go back to prepping dinner and don’t talk about anything too heavy. She tells me she’s excited to go back to work on Monday.
“I know it seems weird, but I actually missed it.”
I laugh. “Well Jack definitely missed you too. He’s been counting down the days until you get back.”
She smiles. “Honestly, I don’t know how you do it. I work mainly from home and I go out to the ranch a couple times a week for meetings, but you live there! God, you must be so sick of him by the end of the day.”
Yeah…Helen doesn’t know about Jack and me, mostly because we’ve only been officially dating for a month, and also because I’m scared of what she’ll say when she does find out. A part of me fears she’ll be quick to judge me.
I even tried to strategize with Jack about this dinner party last night. I was lying with him on the couch while we pretended to watch TV. Really, we were making out with one ear perked for Edith’s car. His hands were underneath my bra and mine were working on the zipper of his jeans. We’ve been like that lately—hot and heavy—and it’s driving me crazy. Jack has kept us safely tucked away in the foreplay zone. No sex, because there’s apparently no rush. He doesn’t want to take advantage of me—OF ME! Is he kidding?! I’m about to march down to the barn to find some rope so I can tie him to my bed and take advantage of him! No amount of convincing on my part will work either. He has it in his head that he needs to work us up to that point slowly, tortuously. I am insistent. I look him square in the eyes and say plainly, “Jack, I want it.” The other day, I wrote it on a sticky note and slapped it on his computer screen: SEX @ TONIGHT. I even drew two anatomically correct stick figures in case he needed a visual. It didn’t work.
Anyway, last night, I tried to talk to him about the dinner party in between kisses.
“Should we act like we aren’t dating?”
“Okay, but Helen doesn’t know about us. Should we tone it down a little?”
As it is, our touchy-feely lovey-doveyness brings Edith to the brink of nausea at least once a day. I don’t want to make Helen feel that way too.
“You’re overthinking things.”
Men, seriously. I’m ‘overthinking things’? Doesn’t he realize this is a fragile situation? Doesn’t he realize I’m trying to mend my relationship with Helen and we need to handle this with tact or everything could blow up in our face?
That’s why when Helen says, “You must be so sick of him by the end of the day,” my answer is, “Oh, umm…”
She doesn’t even notice my fumbling, but now my nerves are stronger than ever. We can’t do this. I can’t date Jack. I’ll just break it off with him and then I’ll never have to tell Helen, and sure I really think I love him, but there are other fish in the sea and lots more cowboys where he came from. Phew, glad that’s settled.
“Jack!” someone shouts in the living room, and the subject of all of my fantasies has just arrived. I can hear him greeting guests in the other room with that husky, deep voice, and my heart is a fluttering little mess. My hands are shaking so badly, I have to stop chopping carrots.
Helen smiles. “Oh, Jack’s here!”
I keep my mouth zipped shut. The only reaction that won’t give us away is a non-reaction.
When I don’t move, she quirks a brow. “Aren’t you going to go say hi?”
I reply like this: “Oh…hmm…um…yeah…ha!”
She looks at me like I’ve just suffered a stroke in her kitchen, and then Mr. Sexy Cowboy walks through the doorway and all my well-planned tact flies straight out the window because he’s so handsome, my mouth waters.
“There you are,” he says with a smile.
Helen glances between us like she’s confused. I try for the same expression. Yes, I know, Helen—why is he looking at me like he’s seen my panties up close and personal? So strange!
Jack isn’t having it. He marches right up to me, bends down, and presses a kiss to my lips. My knees buckle a little. When he’s made his point, he pulls back, wraps his hand around my waist, and turns us to face Helen.
“Helen, your sister was worried about telling you that we’re dating, but you know I’ve always preferred to be direct.”
I drop my face into my hands.
“Wait…what?!” she exclaims.
What a fun way to die—of pure mortification, right in the middle of my sister’s newly remodeled kitchen.
“For how long?”
“Oh, I don’t know…a month?” Jack answers nonchalantly.
She doesn’t exactly sound upset, which gives me enough courage to glance up at her. Her hand is on her mouth and her eyes are welling up with some fluid that looks a lot like tears.
I cringe and rush toward her to grab her shoulders so she’s forced to listen to me. “I swear this is as unexpected to me as it is to you. I hated him when I first moved here!”
Jack nods. “It’s true. I was a real asshole. Also, she wasn’t exactly the ideal hire.”
“But then we sort of became friends?” I look to him for help. “Right? I don’t know.”
“No, it’s been more than that on my end for a while—since the rope swing.”
My mouth drops open. “Even then?”
He shrugs, all confident and unruffled by this obviously awkward conversation.
Then, in the most shocking turn of events, Helen yanks a towel off the counter and rushes over to pop Jack’s bicep.
“Jack McKnight! I asked you to help my little sister get back on her own two feet, not to leg-sweep her into your damn bed!”
She winds up the towel again, but he’s learned his lesson and moves out of the way before she gets him again.
He holds up his hands in defense. “I did help her!”
“You better not be taking advantage of her,” she snaps with a protective tone.
I blush a dark red. “Believe me, he’s not.”
Jack grins at that, which only pisses Helen off more. She’s really going to bat for me, which is definitely a new thing. I like it.