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Authors: Wendy Delsol

Stork (33 page)

Jack and I rehearsed plausible stories to explain our appearance. And as punch-drunk as I was, I made up some doozies, but still none of them came even close to the truth.

Never the halfway type, I thought we should go with an alien encounter, burned clothing from an otherworldly fuel source. Jack, Mr. Practical, thought we should go with an engine fire, of the earth-based combustible fossil fuel variety. Though how we’d explain rolling up in his truck — old and ugly sure, but the same old and ugly we’d departed in — he was still working out.

We had just pulled to the front curb, when my mother came running out of the house.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “We heard about the barn fire. The police phoned. They’ve been trying to account for all the kids. Thank God you’re OK. You weren’t answering your cell phone.”

Barn fire?

“I lost my purse,” I said. I had. But at the portal to another dimension, not at a barn fire.

My mom cupped her hand to her mouth. “Look at you two!” she said.

We did, indeed, look like we’d just stepped off the set of
Back Draft II: Barn Burner
.

“It was chaos,” I improvised.

“Penny called twice,” my mom said. “She was worried about you. Said she couldn’t find you.”

“We were looking for her, too. It just got too crazy. Sirens going, girls screaming and crying, people running around, and fire everywhere.”

One of Jack’s eyebrows raised in a don’t-overdo-the-drama arch.

Somebody, clearly, never had a Broadway Barbie.

“The police cleared the scene,” Jack said. “So we never heard. Was anyone hurt?”

“You didn’t hear about the Ivarsson boy?” my mom asked. “Someone saw him running back into the barn. Maybe trying to help the rescuers. He hasn’t been seen since.”

So that’d be the story. Odd that he’d be made out as some sort of hero. I supposed Hulda, who was certainly behind the cover-up, had her reasons.

“Have you talked to your parents yet?” my mom asked Jack.

“No.”

“Why don’t you come in? You can phone them from inside,” my mom said. “Stanley just made a pot of coffee. I know it’s late, but why don’t you ask if you can stay awhile. I know I, for one, couldn’t sleep.”

“Stanley’s here?” I asked.

We started walking up the front steps. My mom slipped her arm through mine. “He came over as soon as he heard about the fire.”

I squeezed my mom’s hand. “That’s great.”

While Jack called his parents, my mom opened first the kitchen window and then the sliding glass door. It took me a few minutes to realize she was airing out the space. From me and Jack. We smelled like a couple of chimney sweeps.

Jack hung up the phone, reporting he could stay.

Be-prepared Stanley, who, I had to admit, was probably once a top-notch scout, offered Jack the loan of some workout clothes from his car. The two of them went outside in pursuit of the gym bag.

I walked to where my mom stood pulling coffee mugs from the kitchen cabinet.

“So what did Stanley say?” I asked.

“That he doesn’t care whose baby it is. He just wants to be a part of my life.” She rubbed her flat tummy. “Of our life.”

I noticed her sweater. “Is that new?” I fingered its ribbed sleeve.

“I saw it yesterday in Walden,” she said. “Somehow it spoke to me.”

“What color would you say that was?”

She tugged it over her hips. “Yellowish green. I guess chartreuse is what it’s called.”

“It’s a good color for you,” I said. “And I’m happy for you and Stanley. I really am.” I gave my mom a big hug. “He’s a good guy. He’ll be a good dad.”

“He thinks he is the dad.” My mom grinned and shrugged. “He says he had a dream about us.”

He had no idea who he was dealing with in that department; my little sis and I were a few steps ahead of him there.

“What about Dad?” I asked.

“He’ll be told I’m pregnant. And he’ll be told I’m with Stanley. And he’ll be told he’s forgiven, finally forgiven. I’ve been very angry, but I know now we’re all capable of mistakes. Some worse than others, but I’ll admit now I made mine. Even with your dad.”

“I think he’ll be happy for you, Mom.” And I did. My dad had his faults, but he wasn’t spiteful. “Have you told Afi yet?”

“Ugh. That was not an easy conversation. He was still shocked by the news that Hulda had sold to Starbucks. He’d been so sure the big development deal would go through. He had his mind set on retiring and moving to Florida. And then I sprung the news about the baby on him.”

“Florida?”

“I know.” My mom shook her head in bewilderment.

“What the heck would he do in Florida?”

“He’d be a fish out of water,” my mom said. “But he claims he aches for the sea.”

“He’d die of heatstroke.”

“He wouldn’t have lasted,” my mom said. “He’d have come back here to his friends, his town.”

“So do you think he’ll stay now? With the baby coming?”

“I think he will,” my mom said. “I think he’ll keep the store for a while longer. He may not know it, or admit it, but he likes to keep busy.”

I went upstairs to clean up. I washed my face, hands, and arms, ripped a brush through my tangled hair, and changed into my favorite PJs, despite Jack’s presence.

By the time I got back, Jack was sitting at the kitchen table in a too-large Walden University T-shirt and too-short sweatpants with a half-full glass of milk in front of him.

I sat down.

My mom handed me a mug of coffee. “Decaf,” she said.

Jack rubbed my collar between his thumb and forefinger. “What would you call this fabric?” he asked.

“Flannel,” I said reluctantly.

“Hmmm. That’s what I thought.” He pointed to the design on my pajamas. “And what would you call these things?”

My breath caught. “Snowflakes.”

“With all the excitement,” my mom said, “I forgot to even ask about the dance. How was it?”

“Great,” I said, though it felt like an eternity ago.

A waft of cool air came in through the still-open patio door.

“They’re calling for another storm,” Stanley said.

“I heard it was going to miss us,” Jack said. “That we’d have a nice day tomorrow.”

“About time,” I said.

“Just look at that sky,” my mom said. “You don’t see stars like that in LA.”

Jack made a small motion with his head toward the backyard.

“You want to go check out the stars?” I asked him.

“It’s cold out there,” my mom said. “Put on jackets. Or bring a blanket.”

I put on a down vest. Jack, I knew, required nothing.

We cuddled together in a chaise longue on the back patio.

“Better,” he said. “It was getting warm in there. I think I’m still recovering from the . . . incident.”

“You really can’t take the heat, can you?”

He shook his head.

“What do you do in the summer?”

“I have to be careful.”

“So I guess you and me on a steamy beach somewhere . . .”

“Out of the question.”

I pouted. “I guess there’s always a cozy ski chalet. The two of us on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring . . .”

He shuddered.

“Sorry,” I said. “My bad.”

“To be honest, I’m just looking forward to settling into a nice normal routine. With you, first and foremost.” He kissed my neck. “And football, and the paper.”

“Are you going to hold me to Monday’s deadline?” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

I groaned. “At least I’ve decided on an angle. I’m going to write about how old dresses can be given a face-lift, a new purpose. I noticed a lot of the girls wore vintage dresses that had been updated. I’ll use this as a kind of metaphor for change.”

“Change?”

“Yes. And compromise. A blending of old and new.”

“I think I know where you’re going with this.” There was both skepticism and resignation in his voice. I hoped more of the latter.

“Change is inevitable, you know. The downtown couldn’t have stayed that way forever.”

“I know.”

“And you have to be willing to bend.”

“I know. I’m getting there, anyway.”

“It doesn’t mean you have to wipe away what was there. Like I said, compromise.”

“It can be a good thing,” he said.

“New isn’t always bad.” I smiled at him, winningly, I hoped. “I was new once. Remember?”

“Yes.”

“And you got used to me.”

“I got more than used to you,” he said. We kissed. It was long and hot. I pulled away, with a start, remembering his weakened condition.

“You OK?” I asked.

“More than OK.”

I settled back into the crook of his arm. “About that nice normal routine you’re looking forward to.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think it’s really possible?”

He sighed. “I kind of see your point.”

“It’s OK, though,” I said. “Because we’re stronger together.”

“We are.”

“And we belong together?”

“We do,” he said.

“So bring it on, right?”

“Bring it on.” His voice was gravelly.

“Because we’ll be the likes of something even Hollywood hasn’t seen.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“A power couple. The real thing.”

Jack traced his forefinger across my jaw, behind my ear, cupping the back of my neck in his hand and pulling my face to his. “You said ‘we’ll be’ — future tense.”

“Did I?”

“So you think we’ll have to put it to use again?”

I thought about Wade opening a portal to which Jack and I were the key. I thought about Hulda, mysterious Hulda, and the stories she still wanted to share with me.

“I do.”

“I like the
we
part, anyway,” Jack said, kissing my neck.

I did, too. The
we
part I could definitely get used to. I felt warm and flushed and snug. There I sat with a modern-day Jack Frost, and all I could think was I’d never be cold again.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My IOU forever list includes:

Jamie Brenner of Artists and Artisans, my agent extraordinaire, who received a one-page query on Tuesday and signed me on Friday. I am proud to call Jamie a partner and friend. And
the call
is a wondrous life-changing thing.

Jennifer Yoon, my keen-eyed editor. I am grateful to Jen for embracing
Stork
and wrapping it in the prestigious Candlewick Press jacket. Her savvy edits made the story stronger.

Chantal Corcoran, Dawn Mooradian, Kali VanBaale, Kimberly Stuart, and Murl Pace, the red-penned members of my critique group. These women are wickedly talented writers, tireless supporters, and ever-after friends.

Elaine Peck — my vivacious, can-do mother — who gave her girls the sky. Jennifer Peck and Valerie Devine, my bookend sisters, best friends, and early readers. I am in your debt for a rich history of Barbie world-building and beach-towel fashion shows.

And finally, hugs, kisses, and love always to the three Delsol men in my life: my husband, Bob, and sons, Ross and Mac. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

WENDY DELSOL
is a freelance writer. About
Stork,
her first novel, she says, “The concept of destiny is fascinating, as is the idea of magic. It’s fun to think that we’re fated — or chosen — to be with those we love.” Wendy Delsol lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

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