Great—Momma gets JD and I get Jake the fucking grouch. What’s wrong with this picture?
Then she perks up even more. “Plus, this way I get two Christmases—who in their right mind would be sad about that?”
I laugh outright. And pull her into my arms. “I love you, baby girl.”
She wraps her arms around my shoulders and squeezes with all her might. “I love you too.”
Presley Shaw was everything I’d pictured she’d be, from the sound of her voice and the photographs that fill Stanton’s apartment. Vivacious, sweet, with a mischievous shine in her eyes that reminds me of her father.
I continued to work after Stanton popped in to tell me he was driving her back to Jenny’s parents’. I was still drafting a brief as the sunlight outside faded and the orange fireball in the sky slipped lower on the horizon.
I put my laptop away only when Mrs. Shaw came to collect me for dinner. The table was set, with Marshall, Mary, and Carter Shaw Sr., Stanton’s dad, already seated—it seems family dinners are a consistent thing, with a regularly set time. Mr. Shaw is a tall, burly man with a handsome, weathered face and stoic disposition. The strong, silent type. He’s older than his wife by about ten years, I’d guess, but there’s a tenderness in the way he looks at her and a devotion in her voice that tells me theirs is a happy marriage.
I was the center of attention, answering questions about my family, about growing up in Chicago, and regaling them with stories of DC courtroom shenanigans. In between bites of delicious pot roast and potatoes, they told me tales about Stanton—high school football glories, an adolescent prank that almost burned the house down, and how he broke his leg when he was five jumping off the roof because he was sure his Superman Underoos would give him the power to fly.
A place at the table was set for Stanton—but his chair remained empty.
After dinner, back in his room, I call Brent to check in. Apparently Sherman is becoming quite accustomed to his new standard of living, and might not want to come back to me. Ever.
After a shower, I slip into a chocolate-colored nightgown, dry my hair, and open the window before lying on the bed, on top of the covers. It’s a cool night and the crisp air feels good on my skin. My eyes get heavier as I watch the window. Waiting to see headlights, the return of a certain black pickup.
No, not just waiting. It’s much worse than that.
• • •
“Son of a whore!”
I grab for the bedside lamp and shield my eyes when light explodes in the room. Stanton’s just inside the door—down on his hands and knees.
He looks up at me, baffled. “The floor tripped me.”
I go to him, helping him stand, his weight making us stumble toward the bed. With my face pressed against his collarbone, I smell earth and campfire, underneath the stronger, overwhelming scent of alcohol. Not unpleasant, but possibly powerful enough to get me drunk on the fumes alone.
“It’s a good thing I don’t have any candles burning—you’d burst into flames.”
Stanton laughs as I get him settled on the edge of the bed, his feet braced on the floor for stability. His hat is adorably askew¸ and his squinting, unfocused eyes look up at me through those dark lashes, drifting over my face. “Wow. You’re pretty.”
Oh boy. I can’t help but smile at his less than suave delivery.
“I’m sorry I left you alone for so long, Soph.”
I take a step back, shaking my head dismissively. “It’s okay. That’s why we’re here, right?” But there’s a slight stirring of irritation when I realize, “You drove like this?”
He just shrugs. “My truck knows the way.”
“That was stupid, Stanton.” I swallow hard. “Were you . . . with Jenny this whole time?”
His lips vibrate as he blows out a breath. “Nah, Jenn and her momma, Presley, and her sister went to get their dresses fitted. Wayne—Jenny’s father—took me out back to his hunting shed, to show me the buck he got last season mounted on the wall. We started drinkin’, talkin’ . . . mostly drinkin’.”
Raw emotion hits me square in the chest, like a Miley Cyrus swinging wrecking ball. And I’m momentarily speechless when I recognize it for what it is.
Gut-wrenching relief—like the feel of cooling balm spread on a scathing burn. It starts in my chest and spreads out through my arms, down my legs, making my fingertips and toes tingle.