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Page 11

testpreptraining

After lunch, they stopped by Rocket Donuts at Maggie’s insistence. She ordered a selection of doughnuts that included oblong confections covered with maple frosting and topped with strips of bacon, doughnuts crusted with chunks of Oreo cookies, and fried cake doughnuts drenched in Guittard Chocolate.

“Those are for Dad, of course,” Jill said.

“Yep.”

“Mom will kill you,” Jill said. “She’s been trying to cut back his cholesterol.”

“I know. But he texted me this morning, begging me to bring him a box.”

“You’re an enabler, Maggie.”

“I know. That’s why he loves me best.”

The long driveway leading up to the house was congested with a half-dozen vehicles, the three-quarter-acre lot swarming with children. A few of them ran to Maggie, one of them showing her where he had lost a tooth, another trying to entice her into a game of hide-and-seek. Laughing, Maggie promised to play with them later.

Entering the house, Maggie went to the kitchen, where her mother and a group of siblings and in-laws were all busy cooking. She kissed her mother, a voluptuous but trim woman with a silver-gray bob and a beautiful complexion that had no need of makeup. She was wearing an apron that proclaimed: SEEN IT ALL, HEARD IT ALL, DONE IT ALL. JUST CAN’T REMEMBER IT ALL.

“Those are not for your father, are they?” her mother asked, with a stern glance at the box of doughnuts.

“It’s full of celery and carrot sticks,” Maggie said. “The box is just for presentation.”

“Your dad’s in the living room,” her mother said. “We finally got surround sound, and he’s been glued to the TV ever since. He says the gunshots sound real now.”

“If that’s what he wanted, you could have just driven him to Tacoma,” one of her brothers said.

Maggie grinned as she went to the living room.

Her father occupied the corner of a big boxy sofa with a sleeping baby on his lap. As Maggie walked into the room, his gaze fell to the box of doughnuts in her arms. “My favorite daughter,” he said.

“Hi, Dad.” Leaning over, Maggie kissed him on the head and placed the box on his lap.

Her father rummaged through the box, found a maple-bacon doughnut, and began to devour it with an expression of bliss. “Come sit by me. And take the baby…I need two hands for this.”

Carefully Maggie settled the warm, sleepy weight of the baby onto her shoulder. “Whose is he?” she asked. “I don’t recognize this one.”

“I have no idea. Someone handed him to me.”

“Is he one of your grandchildren?”

“Could be.”

Maggie answered questions about the store, and the latest goings-on at Friday Harbor, and whether she had met anyone interesting lately. She hesitated just long enough to make his eyes brighten with interest.

“Aha. Who is he, and what does he do?”

“Oh, it’s no one, he’s…there’s nothing. He’s taken. I talked to him on the ferry on the way over here.” Feeling the baby twitch in his sleep, she put her hand on his tiny back, soothing him with a circling stroke. “I think I sort of accidentally flirted with him.”

“Is that bad?”

“Maybe not, but it makes me wonder…how do I know when I’m ready to start going out again?”

“I’d say involuntary flirting is a sign.”

“I feel weird about it. I was attracted to him even though he’s nothing like Eddie.”

Eddie, before his illness, had been sunny, lighthearted, a prankster. The man she had spent time with this morning was darker, quieter, with a reserve that hinted of deeply felt intensity. She hadn’t been able to stop from imagining, in the most private corner of her mind, about physical intimacy with him, and it had seemed so potentially volatile that it had scared her. And yet that was part of the attraction. She remembered having wanted Eddie because he had been safe. But now she had caught herself wanting Mark Nolan for the exact opposite reason.

Lowering her head, Maggie kissed the sleeping baby in her arms. He was vulnerable but solid against her, his skin a miracle of smoothness and downy warmth. Briefly she remembered a moment in those last ephemeral days of Eddie’s life when in quiet desperation, she had wished that she’d had a baby with him. Any way to keep a part of him with her.

“Sweetheart,” her father said, “I’ve never had to go through what you did with Eddie. I don’t know when the grieving process ends, or how you finally know when you’re ready to move on. But there’s something I’m sure of: The next guy will be different.”

“I know. I knew that. I think what’s bothering me is the realization that I’m different.”

Her father gave her a vaguely owlish look, as if the comment had surprised him. “Of course you are. How could you not be?”

“Part of me doesn’t want to change. Part of me wants to stay the same person I was when I was with Eddie.” She stopped when she saw her father’s expression. “Is that crazy? Do you think I need to see a therapist?”

“I think you need to go out on a date. Wear a nice dress, enjoy a free meal. Give someone a kiss good night.”

“But once I move on from being Eddie’s widow, who’ll remember him? It’ll be like losing him all over again.”

“Honey.” Her father’s voice was quiet and kind. “You learned a lot from Eddie. The things about him that changed you for the better…that’s how he’ll go on. He won’t be forgotten.”

“I’m sorry,” Shelby said, as Mark brought her a mug of hot tea. She was curled up on the sofa, dressed in gray cashmere loungewear. She was about to say something else, but instead let out a violent sneeze.

“It’s fine,” Mark said, sitting beside her.

Pulling a tissue from a box, Shelby blew her nose. “I hope it’s just allergies. I hope you don’t catch anything. You don’t have to stay with me. Save yourself.”

Mark smiled at her. “It takes more than a few germs to scare me off.” Opening a bottle of cold medicine, he shook out two tablets and handed them to her.

Shelby picked up a bottle of water from the coffee table, downed the tablets, and made a face. “We were going to such a great party,” she said dolefully. “Janya has the coolest apartment in Seattle, and I was going to show you off to everyone.”

“You can show me off later.” Mark draped a throw blanket over her. “For now, focus on getting better. I’ll even let you have the remote.”

“You are so sweet.” Sighing, Shelby leaned against him and blew her nose again. “So much for our sexy weekend.”

“Our relationship is about more than sex.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that.” Pausing, she added, “That’s number three on the list.”

Mark flipped slowly through the cable channels. “What list?”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you. But recently I read a list of five signs that a man is ready for the C-word.”

Mark stopped channel-flipping. “The C-word?” he asked blankly.

“Commitment. And so far you’ve done three things on the list of what a man does when he’s ready for commitment.”

“Oh?” he said cautiously. “What’s number one?”

“You’ve gotten tired of nightclubs and bars.”

“Actually, I’ve never liked nightclubs.”

“Second, you’ve introduced me to your family and friends. Third, you’ve just indicated that you think of me as more than an outlet for sex.”

“What’s four and five?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I tell you, you may not do them.”

Mark smiled and gave her the remote. “Well, let me know if I do. I’d hate to miss anything.” He put his arm around her while she looked for a movie on demand.

The silences between them were usually comfortable. But this silence was tense, questioning. Mark was aware that Shelby had given him an opening. She wanted to set new parameters for their relationship, discuss where they might be headed.

Ironically, that was exactly what he’d wanted to bring up this weekend. There was every reason in the world for him to commit to Shelby, and tell her that he had serious intentions. Because he did.

If marriage with Shelby would be anything like dating her, it was what he wanted. No craziness, no screaming, no arguing. His expectations of the whole thing were reasonable. He didn’t believe in fate or a great destined love. He wanted a nice, normal woman like Shelby, with whom there would be few surprises. They would have a partnership.

They would be a family. For Holly.

“Shelby,” he said, and had to clear his throat, which had started to close up, before he could go on. “What do you think about…being exclusive?”

She turned in the crook of his arm to look at him. “You mean, you and me officially being a couple? Not seeing other people?”

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