I force a smile. “Everything’s fine.”
But it’s not, and some days, camouflaging my broken heart gets exhausting.
I don’t find the courage to call my twin until I’m in a booth at the back of Jake’s bar waiting to meet up with Teagan. Honestly, only the possibility of Teagan telling Veronica off in the background is making me call my sister now instead of later.
She answers on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Happy birthday, sis.” I cringe at the sound of my voice. I sound way too hopeful, too desperate to please. Too much like the girl I want to stop being.
“Nic, hi. Happy birthday.” Veronica clears her throat, and I close my eyes and imagine her. Typical Veronica would spend her birthday at a bar with as many friends as she could fit in the room. She’d get sloppy drunk and dance on the bar, probably lose a few friends when she was lit enough to tell them what she really thought of them, and go home with her pick of the single men. Or maybe being single was never a requirement for her.
But this year, Veronica is pregnant, so I guess there will be no drunken escapades.
“What are you doing tonight?” I wince. It kind of sounds like I’m looking for an invitation.
“Marcus and I are just hanging out at home.”
Marcus and I. I wait for the jealousy to hit, the longing for that word home. But I don’t feel heartache over Marcus anymore. The ache in my chest is entirely about losing my sister. “How was the trip?”
“It was good, I guess. I mean, not being able to drink kind of takes the fun out of an all-inclusive vacation, but the beach was pretty.”
“Yeah, the pictures looked pretty incredible.” I swallow around the lump in my throat.
“Did you end up taking the job in Jackson Harbor?”
“I did.” I stare at my water and wish it were something much stronger. But with the one exception of my wedding night, my rule has been not to drink when I feel like I need to drink. I’ve got Mom’s genes and don’t want to end up like her. “I met with Kathleen, and she asked me to step in for you.”
“Wait a sec, okay, Nic?” I imagine her sliding her hand over the mic as her voice goes muffled for a few beats. “Nic, I need to go.”
“Oh. Sure. No problem. We’ll catch up later. Maybe I’ll call tomorrow.”
“Actually, don’t.” She draws in a long breath. “It’s just that Marcus and I need to focus on us right now. We’re not ready to let you back into our lives yet.”
That ache in my chest turns to a dull gnawing. I grasp at anger—I’d be right to be pissed right now—but I can’t get a handle on it. Instead, all I feel is lonely. So fucking lonely. “You make it sound like I’m the one who betrayed you two and not the other way around.”
“I . . . One sec—I heard you, Marcus. Just give me a minute.” She huffs, and I can practically hear her rolling her eyes. “It’s complicated. I’m glad you took the job. Have a happy birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” I whisper. But she’s already hung up.
I close my eyes and force myself to breathe, to fight the instinct to call her back and beg her to talk to me. I could shovel forgiveness at them they don’t deserve in a vain attempt to maintain some sort of relationship with my sister.
I don’t want to be the doormat anymore. If our relationship is going to be salvaged, she’s going to have to own up to her mistakes.
I wrap my arms around myself and trace the tattoo on my side through my sweater, willing the words inked there to give me the strength I don’t feel.
I have a Saturday night off and nothing to do with it. I’m not on call tonight, so it’s Nic’s night off and Lilly and I were going to have some quality daddy-daughter time, but Shay insisted that she and Lilly both needed a girls’ night.
The house is empty, and I can’t stop thinking about Nic in my tub, her back arched, her lips parted, and her eyes on me for that brief moment before she fucking disintegrated into pleasure.
When she opened her eyes, I just stood there staring at her while my heart raced. Every move I wanted to make was the wrong one—crossing the bathroom and kneeling to take her face in my hands so I could kiss her with all the hunger I felt, dragging her to my bed so I could make her come again, begging her to let me touch her.
Eventually, I got my wits about me and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t . . .” Then I turned on my heel and left the room.