A grin blooms on Nana’s lips. “My Henry, God rest his soul, was not a handy man. Bought me a gardenin’ shed once, to keep my tools. Came with directions in ten languages. Henry put it together—and it was the most pitiful thing I ever saw. Crooked walls, upside-down door. So . . . he took it apart piece by piece and started all over again. Took a bit of time, but it was worth it, ’cause in the end, that little shed . . . turned out perfect. You have to start all over again, too—from the beginnin’.”
I think about being back in DC. All the things I want to do for her, all the words I want to say . . . to start over. To show her. But it’ll have to be after the wedding. After things are settled here with Jenn. That way, Sofia will see with her own eyes that I’m past it. That what I share with Jenny doesn’t diminish what I feel for her. So she won’t have any doubts—and she’ll believe me.
Nana scowls. “Now, don’t you go tellin’ anyone what we discussed. It’s private. I have a reputation to uphold.”
I laugh. Both from Nana’s warning and because now I have a plan.
She points at the door. “Go on, then. Bring my daughter in here before she busts the door down.”
I lean over, take my life in my hands—and kiss Nana on the cheek. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome, boy.”
• • •
Back in the waiting room, I give June the go-ahead. Then I answer Jenny’s inquisitional stare. “She’s all right.” I squeeze her shoulder. “Don’t worry—that woman’s too goddamn mean to die.”
Jenny laughs, hugging me with relief. When we step back, I tell her I’m taking Presley back to my parents’ for the night. Then I put my arm around Sofia, and the three of us walk out the door.
On Friday morning, I’m pulled from the deep sleep of the emotionally spent by sunlight on my face . . . and a tickling on my nose. My eyes crack open . . . and Brent Mason’s face, smiling as big as Pennywise the evil clown, is the first thing I see.
“Rise and shine, cupcake!”
“Ahh!” I yell, snapping back—hitting the back of my skull against Stanton’s forehead. Presley came back with us last night—and he tucked her into bed in Carter’s room across the way. Then the two of us came in here together, and promptly fell right to sleep.
What in God’s name is Brent doing here? In Stanton’s bedroom? In Missi-freaking-ssippi?
Stanton’s arm pulls me against him and his hand pushes my head back down on the pillow. “It’s a nightmare,” he murmurs. “Go back to sleep and they’ll go away.”
I sit up. Jake Becker waves at me from the corner chair. “What are you two doing here? And more important—where the hell is my dog?”
Brent peers at Stanton’s football trophies. “Sherman’s fine—he’s with Harrison, they’re best buddies.”
Harrison is Brent’s butler. He’s an endearingly young, rigidly proper, twenty-one-year-old butler who comes from a long line of butlers. Harrison’s father is Brent’s parents’ butler—like a happy indentured servant family. Part of Brent’s life mission is to get Harrison to act like a normal twenty-one-year-old—just once.
“But why are you here?” I ask, my voice still scratchy with sleep.
Brent shrugs. “I’ve been to Milan, Paris, Rome—but never to the Gulf Coast. I thought it’d be interesting to see Shaw’s hometown for the weekend. Broaden my horizons. Jake’s visited before; he knew the way. And we missed you guys—the office has been lonely without you. You made it sound so great on the phone, I knew I had to come experience it for myself.”
Then Jake tells us the real reason.
“Brent’s parents are flying into DC for the weekend. He hauled ass like the running of the bulls was behind him.”
Brent turns to Jake with a scowl. “Don’t judge me. My mother is a frightening woman.”
“She’s a four-ten, ninety-pound socialite who doesn’t speak above a whisper,” Jake scoffs. “Terrifying.”
“Two of my cousins just announced their engagement, and a third sent out birth announcements for their first child. My mother was going to show up with a list of debutantes and refuse to leave until I chose one. It would’ve been brutal.”
Jake stands. “Speaking of mothers, Momma Shaw sent us up here to grab you two for breakfast.” He throws a pair of jeans at Stanton’s head. “You might want to put pants on.”