“It’s not like you’re playing a part,” snapped Halle. “We’re in love.” She held up her chin and dared the rest of us to make a remark, and we all looked down at our plates, smiling.
But then Zep just had to take it farther. “Yeah, man. Who would have thought we’d be dating sisters?”
Patricia and I both glared at him as Ella coughed, clearing her throat.
“I suppose we are sisters, aren’t we? It’s strange having one that doesn’t look like me. It’s nice being the prettier sister still.” She glanced around the table and then laughed. “You people, you’re all so uptight. It was a joke.” She met Ella’s eyes across the table. Something had changed in her expression. “I’m sorry for the way I behaved. I’ve not been a very good boss or friend to you. I wish you well, Ella. The both of you.”
Zep smiled wide and gave me a glance as if to say, See, she does have a heart.
Ella gave her sister a warm smile. “Thank you, Halle.”
“Well, we better go before it gets any sweeter in here.” Zep took Halle’s hand, and before they could walk away, my mother was standing to leave too.”
“I’m so glad I got a chance to meet you, Ella. I know my son loves you very much, and I’m glad we’re friends.” With that, Ella teared up a bit, but only as Patricia walked away.
“Do you think she means that? She really likes me?” Ella seemed to relax even more as if she’d been holding her composure for my mother’s sake the entire time and it had taken some effort.
“Yes, and she going to love you as much as I do in time. Mark my words.”
“I like hearing that, you know.” Ella moved closer, and we kissed.
“I love you. I’ve loved you since the first time I saw you.”
She narrowed her eyes. “The first time? When I looked hideous and spilled that drink on you?”
I held back my laughter. “Okay, let me rephrase that, I’ve loved you since the second time I ever saw you.”
We shared a laugh, and I pulled her in for another kiss and then over into my lap. “I wish my father could have met you. He’d love you too.”
“My mother would have been happy for us. She’d have loved you too.” She lay her head on my shoulder, and we stayed that way a moment thinking about the one’s we’d lost, but happy that we had each other. My mother had been right, it was time to stop mourning my father and settle down, and I could do that with Ella. She understood like no one else what I’d been through. She was my perfect match.
I had worked so hard getting ready for the grand opening of my new boutique that I hadn’t taken the time to eat lunch. I was grateful that Aiden would be arriving soon to take me to dinner.
Millie had come by to help, and she was out front while I walked to put some of the overstock in the back.
“Ella, there are flowers for you.” I turned to see Millie standing with a huge bouquet of red roses, her silver hair and blue eyes the only thing visible over the top of it. “Where do you want them?”
I hurried to help her and moved some of the things off the end of the front counter to make room. “Here’s fine. Oh, that Aiden. He’s going to spoil me.” I lowered my nose and took in a deep breath of the roses which were the darkest red I’d ever seen.
“When are you going to marry that man?” Millie asked as I took the card from the small envelope that had been tucked into the flowers.
I opened the small card and was shocked to see that the gorgeous roses weren’t from Aiden after all. “With love from your father.” I held the card to my heart and felt the tears pooling in my eyes. “He’s such a sweetheart.” He’d been doing his best to make up for lost time, and though I hated I missed out on all those years, I was grateful we had time together now to get to know one another.
He’d been in a bad place when my mother got pregnant with me and it turns out, I was the reason he got sober. He’d told me that in return for saving his life, he’d wanted to save mine, and he thought by staying away, he would. He knew he’d been wrong, but I’d told him not to spend another day worrying over it. Time was too precious, and life was too short. My mother would be proud we were trying to know each other, and that was enough.