With this wake-up call, I’m grateful to be wearing my more conservative pajamas.
“How’s Operation Wedding Destruction going?” Brent asks as Stanton and I climb out of bed.
I make my tone lighter than I feel. “Well, there was a tornado yesterday. That should throw a wrench into things.”
Stanton rubs a tired hand down his face. “No, it won’t.”
I turn my head—genuinely surprised. “Really? You don’t think so?”
He pulls a T-shirt over his head. “If there’s one thing citizens of Sunshine know how to do well, it’s make the best with what you’ve got.”
• • •
We fill Brent and Jake in on the tornado on the way into the house. In the kitchen, Stanton’s mother is setting down plates of food on the table and Marshall shovels oatmeal into his mouth, yelling up the stairs for his sister to hurry. Mr. Shaw had left hours earlier to tend to an outbuilding damaged in the storm. I close my eyes as I sip from a cup of much-needed hot coffee. Brent comments on the beauty of the ranch, and thanks Mrs. Shaw for her hospitality. Conversation turns to the summer weeks when Stanton was in law school and would come home to visit, and bring Jake with him.
Then, much to her brother’s relief, Mary comes skipping down the stairs, dressed for school in a beige skirt and pink tank top. She greets me, Stanton, and Jake—then her eyes light up like a jack-o’-lantern when they land on Brent.
“Why have I not been introduced to this piece of deliciousness?” she teases. She holds out her hand. “I’m Mary Louise . . . and you are?”
Brent swallows a bit of biscuit and shakes her hand. “Brent Mason; it’s a pleasure.”
As Mary sits in the empty chair beside him, she hums under her breath. “I’m bettin’ it will be.”
He looks at me questioningly, and all I can do is shrug back.
“You work with my brother?” Mary asks, leaning over.
“That’s right,” Brent says.
“That’s so interestin’.” She sighs, resting her chin on her hand. “Are you a college intern?”
Brent clear his throat. “No . . . I’m a lawyer. An old, boring lawyer.” When she just continues to stare adoringly, he adds, “Very old.”
“I really wish you boys would stay with us,” Mrs. Shaw laments as she finally sits down to eat her own breakfast. “Doesn’t seem right to have y’all stayin’ at the hotel.”
The hotel—’cause like the stoplight, there’s only one.
“Brent can stay in my room,” Mary announces. Before her mother can respond with more than a frown, she giggles. “I’m jus’ jokin’.”
Then she turns to Brent and mouths No I’m not with a Lolita-like wink.
I cover my mouth at Brent’s horrified expression and look around to see if anyone else noticed. Jake’s intent on finishing his food, and Stanton . . . Stanton stares dejectedly into his coffee cup.
“Thank you, Mrs. Shaw, but really, the hotel is great.”
Mary leans back, her hands disappear under the table—and ten seconds later Brent jumps up like he’s been electrified.
All eyes turn to him. Mary bats her lashes innocently.
“What’s your problem, nervous and jerky?” Jake asks.
Brent opens his mouth like a fish searching for water. “I . . . just can’t wait to see the rest of the place! No time like the present. Let’s go!”
I bring my dishes to the sink and the four of us head toward the door.
“Bye, Brent,” Mary sings.
Brent waves uncomfortably, then whispers to me, “That’s it—I’m growing a fucking beard.”
• • •
We spend the rest of the morning showing Jake and Brent around the ranch. Stanton is quiet—distracted.
Later in the afternoon, Stanton takes Brent and Jake out to the pastures to help his father with the clean-up. While they’re gone, Mrs. Shaw tells me we’ll be heading to the one local tavern for the evening and that I should get ready. The sun is setting when I step out of the bathroom, wearing my favorite red slip dress, to find that Stanton’s back. Waiting in my room.
And he’s alone.
He stares at me like it’s the first time he’s seeing me—long enough for a whole host of butterflies to dance in my stomach.
“You are beautiful,” he says in a low, awed voice with just a touch of southern.
Such a simple compliment. But because it’s him—it feels like the most wonderful thing anyone could ever say to me.