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Page 8

She gives me a dazzling smile with even more sparkle than her ring. “It’s been a long time, Mallory! How the h-e-l-l are you?”

“Um, I’m good, thanks.” It’s a lie, but what else am I supposed to say to a relative stranger in the middle of the Stop & Shop? “How are you?”

“Oh, you know. We moved to Sutton about five years ago.” She waves an airy hand. “Between Joey and the others, I can barely keep my head above water most days. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“The others?” I ask tentatively.

“Joey has four brothers,” she tells me proudly. “Jimmy, Johnny, Jordy, and Jeremy. They’re a handful.”

“I can only imagine.” I goggle at her. “You look—”

“Exhausted?” she interrupts with a laugh.

“I was thinking really good for having five boys under the age of…?”

“Ten.” She waves a dismissive hand. “You have no idea.”

“I really don’t.” Especially since Karl kept putting off my every attempt to have a family, always telling me to wait a little longer, that it wasn’t the right time, that the business needed all our attention.

The women I knew in the city—wives of Karl’s business associates—told me not to worry, that all men feel like that until they establish themselves financially. But as I eye little Joey Perez gazing up at his mom with adoring eyes, it hits home that it was just one more lie I let myself believe to keep the peace. One more argument I lost without even putting up a fight. Doormat? Yeah, that was me.

The thought makes my skin crawl. More, it makes me want to run and hide before Angela and the rest of the world realize just how weak I let myself become—so weak that buying a box of Froot Loops feels like a massive rebellion. Fuck me. Tears prick at my eyeballs, and I take a step back, put on my sunglasses, and start to make some excuse about having to go. But before I can come up with anything, Angela grins at me. “What are you doing in Sutton? Your parents still living in Brunswick?”

“Oh, um, yeah, they’re still there, but, umm, actually, I’m living here now.” I stumble a little over the unfamiliar words. “My aunt died a few months ago, and I just found out she left me her house here.” I ignore the rest of the disaster that is my current life and say instead, “I’ve decided to live in it while I fix it up.”

“Oh, that sounds fun! Like a mini vacation from your life.” She sighs as Joey starts to clap his hands against her cheeks in a rhythm that sounds suspiciously like Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” “I wouldn’t mind one of those every once in a while.”

“Well, if I get the place into any kind of decent shape, maybe you can come over for coffee some time.”

She laughs again, the rich, rollicking sound of a woman who is totally content with her life. “Make it a glass of wine and it’s a deal.” Her face turns serious. “Does the place need a lot of work?”

A domestic horror film flashes in my mind’s eye. The wild jungle of a front and backyard. The front porch with a tree sculpture embedded in it. The cracked driveway that is threatening to become a mini Grand Canyon. The dying trees that only need one good thunderstorm to finish crashing through the rest of the house. All of it is against HOA regulations. Then, of course, there is the torch fire the inside needs. “Some, yeah.”

Joey smacks his mother’s cheeks again as he chants, “Go, go, go!”

“Just a second, baby,” she answers as she leans down and takes both of his hands in hers before dropping a kiss on each one. “Want a cookie?”

“Coo-kie. Coo-kie!” Joey responds excitedly.

Angela gives him another kiss—this time on his soft-looking brown curls—before she fumbles through the crossbody bag she has slung over her torso. She comes out with an animal cracker in one hand and a business card in the other.

“Here,” she says, extending the card to me even as she gives Joey his cookie. “You should call Mikey. He’s Manny’s younger brother and he is h-o-t. He’s also one h-e-l-l of a contractor. Tell him Angie sent you, and he’ll give you a good deal.” She wiggles her brows. “And he’s totally single and available.”

“Available…?” I break off as her meaning sinks in. “Oh, I don’t think… I mean… I don’t—”

She laughs again. “I’m sorry. Did I overstep? Manny always tells me I’m doing that. Well, Mikey is attractive and really good with his hands, I’ve heard.” She winks at me. “You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Considering I’m still dealing with the consequences of my last relationship, that would be a hard no. I’m most definitely not “into that sort of thing” or any other things that require me getting naked and vulnerable ever again.

No thank you.

“I should probably get going—” I say at the same time Joey finishes his animal cracker and starts screeching, “Go, go, go!” at the top of his lungs.

“Yeah, me too.” Angie rolls her eyes. “But give Mikey a call. I swear he’s a great contractor.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a pen, then scribbles a phone number across the back of the card. “And here’s my number. Call me once you get settled. We’ll do lunch or wine or something—without Joey, I promise.”

Then, before I can think up a suitable response to her invitation, she gives a quick wave and disappears down the next aisle while Joey continues to scream, “Go, go, go!”

It was the oddest—and sweetest—encounter I ever had in a grocery store, and I can’t help but grin as I shove Mikey’s card into the back pocket of my jeans. If I’m really lucky, maybe I’ve found a contractor—and a friend—in one quick trip to the Stop & Shop.

My bodega in the village didn’t have that. Maybe big suburban grocery stores really do have everything after all. Or you know, at least really good deals on two-ply and garbage bags—both of which are necessities as I gird my loins for a trip back to Aunt Maggie’s in her giant deathtrap Caddy.

I just pray my obnoxious neighbor will be nowhere in sight when I have to wrestle a metric ton of Hefty garbage bags into the house.

I need another macchiato if there is even a possibility of seeing him again.

Chapter Eight

   I call Mikey as soon as I get back behind Jimi’s steering wheel. It goes straight to voicemail, one of those joke ones where the person makes it seem like they’re answering. No matter what Angela said, I’m way too old to hit that—even at my current low point, I have more pride than that.

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