It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2) (6 page)

BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
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Chapter Ten

“Mom, it’s fine. Really.” I’m holding the phone between my cheek and my neck. “I’m already at Allysa’s; it’s not an inconvenience at all.”

“Are you sure? Rob said he could watch her.”

“No, Rob needs to take care of you.”

“Okay. Tell Emmy her nannie is sorry.”

“Nannie? Is that what you’re going by now?”

“I’m trying it out,” she says. “I didn’t like

She’s referred to herself as a grandmother in four different ways since Emmy was born, but none of them have stuck yet. “Love you, Mom. Hope you feel better.”

“Love you, too.”

I end the call and then grab Emmy out of her car seat. I’m relieved to see Ryle’s car isn’t in his assigned spot. I wasn’t planning on coming to the building where he and Allysa both have apartments, but my mother and Emmy came down with the same illness this week.

When I picked her up from my mother’s yesterday, Emmy had a slight fever. It peaked around two in the morning, and nothing I did helped. It was gone by the time I had to get ready for work today, though. But then it hit my mother this
afternoon with a vengeance, and I had to go pick up Emmy in the middle of the workday. I had a little bit of a panic moment because tonight is my date with Atlas. I thought I was going to have to cancel, but Allysa saved the day.

I didn’t tell her why I needed a sitter. I texted her and asked if she could watch Emmy for a few hours this afternoon and into tonight, and she responded with one word.

I warned her that Emmy had a fever last night, but Emmy and Rylee spend so much time together, we stopped worrying about one getting the other sick months ago, since it happens every other week. Emmy probably got the fever from Rylee to begin with.

I knock on Allysa’s door, and when she opens it, she’s immediately grabbing for Emerson. “Come here,” she says. She pulls Emerson to her and squeezes her. “She smells so good. Rylee doesn’t smell like a baby anymore. Makes me sad.” She pushes the door open to invite me in, and when I walk inside holding the diaper bag, Allysa finally registers my outfit. “Hold up,” she says. She points a finger up and down my body. “What’s this? Why am I babysitting?”

I really don’t want to tell her where I’m going, but it’s Allysa. She reads me better than anyone. She can see the hesitation on my face and takes it for exactly what it is. “Is this a
outfit?” She whispers it and then closes the front door. “Is it the Greek god?”

“Atlas. Yes. Please don’t tell your brother.”

Right when I say that, I notice Marshall standing close by in the living room. He immediately covers his ears and
says, “I heard nothing. I see nothing. Lalalalalala.” He walks through the foyer and disappears into the kitchen.

Allysa brushes his presence off with a wave. “He’s so good at being neutral; don’t worry about him.” She motions for me to follow her into the living room. Rylee is in a playpen, so Allysa walks Emmy over to her. “Rylee, look who’s here!”

Rylee smiles when she sees Emmy. The girls are starting to show excitement in each other’s presence. I love that they’re not too far apart in age. The six-month gap feels smaller and smaller the older Emmy gets.

“Where is he taking you?”

I smooth my hands down my outfit, and then flick off a piece of lint. “To dinner, but I’ve never been to this place. I hope I’m not overdressed.”

“Is this your first date with him? You seem nervous.”

“It is our first date, and I
nervous. But it’s a different kind of nervous. A good nervous. I know him so well already, so I don’t feel like I’m about to have to spend an evening with a stranger.”

Allysa studies me for a moment with gentle eyes. “You seem excited. I’ve missed this side of you.”

“Yeah. Me too.” I bend to give both Emmy and Rylee kisses. “I won’t be out too late. I have to get back to the shop and close up for Lucy, so he’s picking me up there. I should be back around nine thirty, so try to keep her up until then if you don’t mind.”

“Why are you coming back so early? That’s lame.”

“I didn’t sleep last night. I’m exhausted. But I don’t want to cancel the date, so I’m going to power through.”

“Ugh. Motherhood,” Allysa says, rolling her eyes. “I’ll keep her awake—go have fun. Drink a coffee or a five-hour or something.”

I’ve lost count of the number of coffees I’ve had today. “Love you. Thanks for saving the day,” I say on my way out the door.

“That’s what I’m here for,” she singsongs.

Chapter Eleven

I wanted the day to go by faster, so I decided to help out in the kitchen at Bib’s even though I prepared for the night with a full staff. Now I smell like garlic. This is the third time I’ve tried scrubbing the smell off, to no avail. But if I don’t leave now, I’ll be late meeting her.

We’re taking it slow, so I’m picking her up at her work rather than her apartment. I have no idea where she lives now, or if she still lives in the apartment building I showed up at almost two years ago when she needed help. For whatever reason, where we live is something that hasn’t come up in our conversations. She probably doesn’t even know I sold my house and moved into the city earlier this year. I’m curious how far apart we live from each other now.

“I smell cologne,” Darin says after he passes me. He stops walking toward the freezer and turns to give me a once-over. “Why are you wearing cologne? Why are you dressed up?”

I sniff my hands. “I don’t smell like garlic?”

“No, you smell like you’re going out. Are you leaving?”

leaving. I’ll be back around closing time, though. I think I might stay the night here and see if I can catch whoever is vandalizing the restaurants.” There were several days of a quiet stretch between incidents, but we got hit for a
fourth time last night. It wasn’t too costly, though. This time they just scattered the trash everywhere again. That’s a lot easier to clean up than repainting has been. That may be because Brad keeps bringing Theo to help. I should probably give Theo a heads-up that the more he complains about a chore, the more likely he’s going to be made to do that chore.

I plan to confront whoever is doing the damage tonight and see if I can’t figure out their motive and talk them down before I get the police involved. I’m confident most things can be handled with a simple, honest conversation rather than a dramatic intervention, but I have no idea who I’m dealing with.

Darin leans in and quietly says, “Who you going out with? Lily?”

I dry my hands on a towel and nod once.

Darin smiles and walks away. I like that my friends like Lily. They brought her up a couple of times after our poker night, but I think they could tell it bothered me. I didn’t like discussing Lily when she wasn’t a part of my life.

But now it looks like there’s a possibility she’s back in the picture. Maybe. This might be why I’m so nervous: because I know what a huge risk Lily is taking by going out with me tonight. If things progress with us, that could impact her life in negative ways. Which might be why I started to feel the immense pressure two hours ago of making sure this date is worth it for her.

But I smell like I’m terrified of vampires, so it’s already not going my way.

I pull into the parking lot at five minutes to six. Lily must have been waiting for me, because she exits her store and locks the door behind her before I’m even out of my car.

As soon as I lay eyes on her, I get even more nervous. She looks incredible. She’s wearing a black jumpsuit and heels. She pulls on her jacket and meets me in the middle of the parking lot.

I lean in and greet her with a quick kiss on her cheek. “You look stunning.” I swear she reddens a little after I say that.

“Do I? I didn’t sleep last night. I feel like I look ninety.”

“Why didn’t you sleep?”

“Emmy ran a fever all night. She’s better now, but…” Lily yawns. “I’m sorry. I just drank coffee. It’ll hit in a minute.”

“It’s okay. I’m not tired, but I do smell like garlic.”

“I like garlic.”

“Good thing.”

Lily leans back on her heels and looks down at her outfit. “I wasn’t sure what to wear since I’ve never been to this restaurant.”

“I’ve never been there, either, so I have no idea. But I have a feeling you’ll be fine.” I chose a new restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. It’s about a forty-five-minute drive, but I figured that would give us time to catch up on the way over.

“I have a present for you,” she says. “It’s in my car. Let me grab it.”

I follow her to her car and watch her retrieve something from the console. When she hands it to me, I can’t hold back a smile. “Is this your journal?” She read another quick passage to me last night, but she was so embarrassed reading it out loud, she refused to give me more.

“That’s one of them. We’ll see how tonight goes before I give you the other one.”

“No pressure or anything.” I walk her to my car and open the passenger door for her. She starts to yawn again as I’m closing her door.

I feel bad, like maybe she’s too exhausted for this date. I have no idea what it’s like to raise a child. I feel kind of selfish that I’m not offering to reschedule, so before I back out of the parking lot, I speak up. “If you’d rather go home and sleep, we can do this next weekend.”

“There’s nothing else I’d rather do than this, Atlas. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” She clicks her seat belt. “You actually do smell like garlic.”

I think she’s kidding. Lily used to joke all the time when we were younger. It’s one of the things I loved most about her—that she always seemed to be in a good mood despite all the bad things surrounding her. It’s that same strength I admired in her in the days I was with her after she found out she was pregnant in the emergency room. I know that was one of the lowest points of her life, but she was able to smile through it all, and even spent an entire evening impressing my friends with her humor during a poker night.

Everyone handles stress differently, and none of those ways is necessarily wrong, but Lily handles it with grace. And grace just happens to be the quality I find the most attractive in people.

“How’d you manage to get away on a Saturday night?” Lily asks.

I hate that I’m driving because I want to look at her while I respond. I’ve never seen her look this… womanly?
Is that a compliment? I don’t even know. I probably shouldn’t say it out loud in case it isn’t, but when Lily and I fell in love, neither of us were what we would now consider adults. But it’s different tonight. We’re grown-ups with careers, and she’s a mother and a boss and independent.
It’s sexy as hell.

The only other time I’ve spent with her as adults was when she was technically still with Ryle, so it felt wrong thinking of her the way I am now.
Like I want her.

I keep my focus on the road and try not to create a lull in our conversation, but I think I might be a little flustered. That surprises me.

“How did I manage getting away?” I say, pretending like I’m mulling over the question rather than obsessing about how much I want to stare at her. “I hire dependable people.”

Lily smiles at that. “Do you always work on weekends?”

I nod. “I usually only take off Sundays, when we’re closed. The occasional Monday.”

“What do you enjoy the most about your job?”

She’s full of questions tonight. I give her a sidelong glance and smile. “Reading the reviews.”

She makes a noise like she’s shocked. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Did you say
? You read your restaurant reviews?”

“Every single one.”

Oh my God, you must not have a single insecurity. I make Serena run our social media so I can

“Your reviews are great.”

She practically turns her entire body toward me in the seat. “You read

“I read reviews for anyone I know who owns a business. Is that weird?”

“It’s not

I flip on my blinker. “I like reading reviews. I feel like business reviews are a reflection of the owner, and I want to know what people think of my restaurants. The constructive criticism helps. I haven’t had the kitchen experience a lot of chefs have, and critics are some of the best teachers.”

“What do you get out of reading reviews about
people’s businesses?”

“Nothing, really. I just find it entertaining.”

“Do I have any bad ones?” Lily looks away from me, half turning so that she’s facing forward again. “Never mind, don’t answer that. I’m just going to pretend they’re all good and that everyone loves my flowers.”

love your flowers.”

She presses her lips together in an attempt to suppress her smile. “What’s your
-favorite part of your job?”

I love that she’s asking me such random questions. It reminds me of all the nights we would stay up late, and she would pepper me with questions about myself. “Up until last week, it was health inspections,” I admit. “They’re extremely stressful.”

“Why up until last week? What changed?”

“The vandalism.”

“Did it happen again?”

“Yeah, twice this week.”

“And you still have no idea who it is?”

I shake my head. “No clue.”

“Do you have any angry ex-girlfriends?”

“Nah, I doubt it. They don’t seem the type.”

Lily kicks off her heels and pulls one of her legs into her seat, making herself more comfortable. “How many serious relationships have you had?”

She’s going there. Okay.
“Define ‘serious.’ ”

“I don’t know. More than two months?”

“One,” I say.

“How long were you together?”

“A little more than a year. I met her while I was in the military.”

“Why’d you break up?”

“We moved in together.”

“That’s why you broke up?”

“I think living together escalated the realization that we were incompatible. Or maybe we were just at different points in our lives. I was focused on my career, and her focus was on which outfits to wear to the clubs I was too tired to go to with her. When I got out of the military and moved back to Boston, she stayed behind and moved into a loft with two of her friends.”

Lily laughs. “I cannot picture you in a club.”

“Yeah. That’s why I’m single, I guess.” My phone rings with an incoming call from Corrigan’s, interrupting us before I’m able to throw her own question back at her. “I have to take this,” I say.

“Go ahead.”

I answer the call over Bluetooth. It ends up being a freezer issue that requires me to make two more phone calls before I’ve got it sorted out and a repair technician on the way there. When I’m finally able to give my attention back to
Lily, I glance over at her and find her asleep, her head limp against her shoulder. I hear a dainty snore coming from her.

The coffee never kicked in, I guess.

I let her sleep all the way to the restaurant. We pull in about ten minutes to seven. It’s dark, and the restaurant looks crowded, but we have a few minutes before I have to check in for our reservation, so I let her rest.

Her snore is as endearing as she is. It’s delicate, almost too light to hear. I take a quick video I can use to tease her with later, and then I reach into the backseat and grab her journal. I know she said not to read it in front of her, but technically I’m not. She’s asleep.

I open it to the first page and begin reading.

I read the first entry, completely captivated. I feel like I’m breaking a rule reading this, but she’s the one who brought it.

I read the second entry. Then the third. Then I log into my reservation app and cancel our reservation because unless I wake her up this very second, we’re going to be late. I’d rather our table go to someone else, because Lily looks like she’s been needing this sleep for a while.

And I want to read another entry. I’ll take her somewhere else for dinner once she wakes up.

Every word she wrote is taking me right back to when we were teenagers. There are so many times I want to laugh at the things she says and how she says them, but I stifle my laughter so that I don’t startle her.

I eventually read a passage that I’m almost positive is leading up to our first kiss. I look at the clock and we’ve already been sitting here for half an hour, but Lily is still sound
asleep, and I can’t stop in the middle of this entry. I keep reading, hoping she stays asleep long enough for me to get to the end of this one.

“I need to tell you something,” he said.

I held my breath, not knowing what he was going to say.

“I got in touch with my uncle today. My mom and I used to live with him in Boston. He told me once he gets back from his work trip I can stay with him.”

I should have been so happy for him in that moment. I should have smiled and told him congratulations. But I felt all of the immaturity of my age when I closed my eyes and felt sorry for myself.

“Are you going?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I wanted to talk to you about it first.”

He was so close to me on the bed, I could feel the warmth of his breath. I also noticed he smelled like mint, and it made me wonder if he uses bottled water to brush his teeth before he comes over here. I always send him home every day with lots of water.

I brought my hand up to the pillow and started pulling at a feather sticking out of it. When I got it all the way out, I twisted it between my fingers. “I don’t know what to say, Atlas. I’m happy you have a place to stay. But what about school?”

“I could finish down there,” he said.

I nodded. It sounded like he had already made up his mind. “When are you leaving?”

I wondered how far away Boston is. It’s probably a few hours, but that’s a whole world away when you don’t own a car.

“I don’t know for sure that I am.”

I dropped the feather back onto the pillow and brought my hand to my side. “What’s stopping you? Your uncle is offering you a place to stay. That’s good, right?”

He tightened his lips together and nodded. Then he picked up the feather I’d been playing with and he started twisting it between his fingers. He laid it back down on the pillow and then he did something I wasn’t expecting. He moved his fingers to my lips and he touched them.

God, Ellen. I thought I was gonna die right then and there. It was the most I’d ever felt inside my body at one time. He kept his fingers there for a few seconds, and he said, “Thank you, Lily. For everything.” He moved his fingers up and through my hair, and then he leaned forward and planted a kiss on my forehead. I was breathing so hard, I had to open my mouth to catch more air. I could see his chest moving just as hard as mine was. He looked down at me and I watched as his eyes went right to my mouth. “Have you ever been kissed, Lily?”

I shook my head no and tilted my face up to his because I needed him to change that right then and there or I wasn’t gonna be able to breathe.

Then—almost as if I were made of eggshells—he lowered his mouth to mine and just rested it there. I didn’t know what to do next, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if we just stayed like that all night and never even moved our mouths, it was everything.

His lips closed over mine and I could kind of feel his hand shaking. I did what he was doing and started to move my lips like he was. I felt the tip of his tongue brush across my lips once and I thought my eyes were about to roll back in my head. He did it again, and then a third time, so I finally did it, too. When our tongues touched for the first time, I kind of smiled a little, because I’d thought about my first kiss a lot. Where it would be, who it would be with. Never in a million years did I imagine it would feel like this.

He pushed me on my back and pressed his hand against my cheek and kept kissing me. It just got better and better as I grew more comfortable. My favorite moment was when he pulled back for a second and looked down at me, then came back even harder.

I don’t know how long we kissed. A long time. So long, my mouth started to hurt and my eyes couldn’t stay open. When we fell asleep, I’m pretty sure his mouth was still touching mine.

We didn’t talk about Boston again.

I still don’t know if he’s leaving.


BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
7.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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