That’s what it has to be. Why would anyone say a woman was selfish for dying?
The only other explanation leaves a nasty knot in my stomach, and I push it away as I finish preparing the lasagna.
Once everything’s cooked for the sauce and together in the pan, I step away from the stove to let it simmer. I’ll throw it in the Crock-Pot soon, and then after I’m done making the desserts, I’ll cook the noodles and layer in the sauce and cheese. I’ll take it like that to the Jackson cabin so it’ll be ready to slide into the oven whenever they want it.
I stare at the chocolate cake ingredients on the counter. Maybe I should make chocolate truffle layer cake instead. Something with more flare would definitely be better.
I turn to the built-in kitchen shelves and scan the cookbooks. I pull out an old classic and pause when I see a piece of paper peeking out the top. I open it up and read the note.
Love you with all my heart. Need you with all my soul. Thank you for being mine.
How long has that been here? Three years? Four? And how did it get here? Did one of them use it as a bookmark, days after the note had been exchanged?
I think of the notes she wrote in her book in the bedroom.
Tell Ethan you love him every time you see him!!!
Love born in a lie is THE WRONG KIND OF LOVE!
Was Ethan’s love born in a lie? Or was it the love of “M,” the man who wrote the note she’d hidden in one of her books?
After returning the note to where I found it, I carefully slide the cookbook back into place and choose another.
I know I think I need to cook and bake to prove myself worthy. I’ve done this since I was a child.
If you make yourself useful and don’t cause any trouble, they won’t send you away.
I know what I’m doing even as I find a recipe for chocolate truffle cake. I know what I’m doing, and now I do it while thinking of Elena, Ethan’s dead wife, who wrote love notes instead of baking. Who thought if she could express her love to Ethan enough times, it might make up for her mistakes.
A woman I never met but feel like I understand all too well.
A woman I’m beginning to believe took her own life.
Four days ago, Nic pushed me away with her little speech about not wanting a relationship. She drew a line in the sand, and it’s been hell trying to respect that line. And today it’s as if she’s trying to make the rest of my family fall in love with her. It’s working. And I’m jealous as hell.
She showed up after breakfast with a carful of food. Desserts, fresh-baked bread, and even a lasagna she said she wanted us to have for when we were sick of Thanksgiving leftovers. Levi already had the hots for her, but when he saw the spread she brought, I think he was ready to propose marriage.
Then, when everyone was bundling up to go sledding with Lilly, Jake and Carter insisted that Nic join us. She declined, saying she didn’t even know how, but of course they couldn’t leave her behind when she’d never gone sledding before.
She didn’t disappoint, either. She loved it—screaming as she raced down the sleeping hill behind our cabin and running as fast as she could to the top to do it all over again. The only person I’ve ever met who was more enthusiastic about sledding is Lilly, and only barely.
I couldn’t wait until it was over and we could go back to the house. Every minute I had to watch her with my family was miserable. Because she fits effortlessly. Because she’s like a piece I didn’t even realize we were missing.
It hurts to know she’s put boundaries on what we can and can’t be. It sucks to know that I’m finally willing to try a relationship, but the woman I want it with doesn’t want me. It is frustrating as hell to watch her fit with my family so damn perfectly and know she has no intention of staying in our lives.
“I had fun this morning,” Lilly says as I tuck her into a bed in the bunk room. “And when I wake up, we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner and a video chat with Nana, right?”
I nod and smooth her hair back. “That’s the plan, kiddo.”
“And if we have time, we’ll go look for Mr. Wiggles?”
I grimace. She wasn’t supposed to take her stuffed rabbit in the snow, but she did anyway, and he got lost while we were sledding. “We’ll look, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to find him.”
“We will,” she says, closing her eyes. “Mr. Wiggles won’t hide.”