Authors: Meg Jolie
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“He’s just too cute for words!” Carly proclaimed.
Luke grimaced. “He’s a mess.”
Quinn nudged h
im and grinned. “It’s his party. He’s supposed to be a mess. That’s why I made him his own cake.”
Carter was turning one. Quinn had ordered a cake for his birthday, for the adul
ts. For her son, she’d baked him his own mini cake. He had thoroughly enjoyed trying to feed himself. Although, he’d gotten more in his hair and in his ears than in his mouth. Quinn gazed at his smiling little face as he splattered his hands through the mess he’d made on his highchair tray. He looked up at her and grinned, as if he knew this was a special occasion.
“You only turn one once,” Quinn pointed out. “Besides, it’s his cake. He can do what he wants with it.”
“I’ll go clean him up,” Carly offered.
“You don’t have to,” Quinn said. “I can do it.
Luke’s right. He really is a mess.”
“I don’t mind,” Carly said as she pulled him out of his high chair. He let out a squawk as he reached for the paltry remains of his cake.
Carly turned him away from her. His messy hands flailed in the air, away from her body. “I’ll just run him a bath.”
“Thanks,” Quinn said.
“You know,” Margo, Quinn and Carly’s mother, said, “I think she made that offer because she’d rather clean the baby than the kitchen.”
Quinn laughed because she didn’t doubt that her mother was right. “She m
ight regret it once she realizes that splashing is his favorite thing.”
second favorite,” his other grandma, Nora, threw in. “I think squishing cake might be his new favorite thing.”
Luke laughed. “Yeah, you might be right. I guess boys will be boys. They like to be messy. And my nephew, he’s all boy.”
“I guess it’s time to clean up this mess,” Quinn said. She had her hands on her hips as she assessed the damage. The remnants of the birthday dinner; lasagna, salad, breadsticks, cake and ice-cream…had left her kitchen a mess.
Luke gave her a nudge and a wink. “That’s my cue to leave. I’m gonna go outside and find out what Dad and Pete are up to. But,” he said, “I will take this bag of garbage with me on my way out.”
He grabbed the bag that had the remnants of the gift wrappings and toy packaging.
“Thanks, Luke,” Quinn said. She pulled a hair tie out of her pocket and pulled her strawberry blond curls into a knot at the back of her head.
“It’s so hard to believe that he’s one already,” Nora said. Her tone was melancholy. Her gaze had settled on a picture across the dining area, in the living room. It was Quinn and Jake’s wedding picture. Jake, Luke’s brother and Nora’s oldest son, had passed away only months before Carter was born.
“I know,” Quinn said sadly. “He’s growing up so fast.”
“It only gets worse,” her mother assured her. “The next thing you know, he’ll be in high school. Then married. Then having kids of his own,” she said wistfully.
does go fast,” Nora agreed.
“That’s why I am enjoying every single second with him that I can,” Quinn said decisively. She’d taken this past year off to be a stay at home mom. Jake’s life insurance had easily allowed her to have this time with their son. She hadn’t thought she’d enjoy being home so much. Jake’s death had changed her perspective, changed her priorities. She didn’t regret for a second staying home with Carter this past year.
“I’m glad sweetheart,” Nora said. “That would’ve made Jake so happy. He wanted you to be able to spend that time with Carter.”
Quinn forced a smile as she stacked the dirty plates together.
“I think we’ve had enough of the depressing talk,” her mother said.
Quinn cringed as she shared
a look with Nora. Margo could be overbearing, overwhelming and just flat out rude sometimes. Nora forced an understanding smile and Quinn let out a relieved breath.
She’d known Nora since she was a child. When Quinn and Luke were both children, the McGraths had lived down the street from the Johnson
s. Quinn had gotten to know the McGrath boys well. Especially Luke. They were best friends growing up, through high school and college. They could’ve been so much more but neither knew of the secret crush one had on the other. Neither had been willing to jeopardize their friendship by bringing it up.
Eventually, Quinn had started dating Jake, Luke’s older brother. There had been a few rough years and a whole lot of hard feelings at one point but eventually, the trio had managed to work things out. Then
last year, Jake had passed away unexpectedly. Now, Quinn and Luke’s friendship was back on steady ground. It was forever changed but more solid than it had ever been.
“Nora,” Quinn said with a devious smile that her mother couldn’t see, “how much longer until your retirement?
You must be so incredibly excited.” Quinn wasn’t a vindictive person by nature. She was the first to admit that her mother sometimes brought out the worst in her. She knew that her mother was envious that Nora would be retiring soon.
“Five more weeks,” Nora said with a big smile. “On one hand, it’s very exciting. On the other hand, it makes me feel very old.”
Quinn scoffed at that as she began rinsing dishes. “You are not old.”
The three of them finished working while they chatted. Quinn brought the conversation back to neutral t
erritory. She could see the men; her dad, Tom and Luke out in the yard. It was hard to tell what they were discussing. Between the three of them, they always seemed to have some project they were ready to attack. They’d already sawed down a few trees that Luke was afraid might fall on the house. Tom—Jake and Luke’s dad—had been over to clean out her rain gutters (something Quinn would’ve done, if she would’ve known it needed doing). Pete—her own dad—had made sure her driveway was always plowed. Luke had insisted on mowing her lawn. Another thing she was capable of, but because she had Carter to watch over, Luke insisted he’d be happy to do it for her.
Jake had been gone a
little over a year. Everyone still insisted on helping Quinn out. At first, she didn’t care for it much. She felt like she was a burden to them. Slowly, Carly helped her to see that she was actually doing them a favor. By helping her, by taking care of her, each of the men, in their own way felt they were doing it for Jake. Doing the jobs he would’ve done and had always done. It helped them to feel better, as if they were making a difference by helping to take care of Quinn. Eventually, she stopped protesting and just let them help. It seemed Carly was right. It had, in some little way, helped them with the healing process.
“I think that little rascal is down for the night,” Carly proclaimed.
Quinn glanced over her shoulder at her sister. Carly’s red shirt was splattered with wet spots. Yet she wore a triumphant look on her face.
“You got him to sleep?” Quinn asked.
Carly beamed at her. “I rocked him. He’s out like a little light.”
“You’re going to spoil him,” Quinn teased. It had taken many tear-filled
nights; both on her part and Carter’s, but her little guy had finally started to fall to sleep on his own.
“Of course I am,” Carly said defiantly. “I’m his auntie. That’s my job.”
Quinn swatted her with a dishtowel.
“Girls,” Margo admonished.
Quinn turned to her mother and frowned. “It’s my kitchen. I can swat if I want to!” she said. Just to prove she could, she whipped the towel at her mother’s behind.
Carly laughed as she stepped between them. “Dad looks tired,” she said
to her mother. She pointed through the window where Pete was yawning hugely.
“I suppose, we should head home,” Margo admitted. “This was a lovely party, Quinn.”
“Thanks, Mom,” she said with a smile.
“Tom and I should head out as well,” Nora agreed. “I’m going to go peek at the birthday boy but I promise to be quiet.”
“I guess that means I’m leaving, too,” Carly said. She was visiting from out of town and she had ridden to her sister’s house with their parents.
“Thanks for coming home this weekend,” Quinn said. She pulled her sister into a hug.
“I wouldn’t have missed his birthday party for anything.”
Quinn smiled. “I know. You really are the best auntie.”
“Carly? Are you coming?” Margo called from the entryway.
“Do I have a
choice?” Carly muttered to herself.
Quinn grabbed a hold of her elbow. “Yes!
” she said, under her breath. “You do have a choice. Stay here! You can spend the night here. I know I don’t have a spare room but I do have a king sized bed.”
Carly looked hesitant. “No, it’s okay. I can deal with Mom.”
Quinn rolled her eyes. “I know she’ll complain that the lasagna was dry, the breadsticks were too garlicky and mention that I should not have gone with chocolate ice-cream for the cake. She’ll also complain to you that I never should’ve let Carter make such a mess. But that’s not why I want you to stay. I miss you,” Quinn said, honestly. “Carter’s asleep, we can have a girls’ night.”
Carly eyed up her sister. She had a sudden hunch that Quinn did not want
to be alone tonight. Milestones without Jake were hard on her. What would have been their first wedding anniversary, the one year anniversary of Jake’s death…all of the firsts. First holidays alone, not only Carter’s birth but his first smile, his first laugh, his first step. Now, his first birthday. Each had been like a subtle twist of the emotional dagger that was embedded in Quinn’s heart.
Carly realized this and she was about to accept. Quinn jumped in first.
“I have wine,” she proclaimed.
“Count me in,” Carly said with a smile.
“I cannot even tell you how much I regret going away to school,” Carly moaned. “The first two years were fun. It was
so nice to get away but now…” She shook her head. Now there were so many reasons she wished she was back in Lanford. She had never thought she would miss her family so much. Then again, it had never crossed her mind that her sister would lose her husband. Or that she would love her nephew so much. She hated missing out on seeing him grow up.
“Now you miss us?” Quinn
asked teasingly. She swirled her merlot before taking a sip.
“I do!” Carly said. “Even more than moving away, I regret taking a year off.”
“You thought you needed it,” Quinn reminded her. “In fact, if I remember correctly, I think you did need it. I don’t think you were ready to concentrate on school quite yet.”
seemed to only have two things on her mind back then. Boys and parties. Quinn wasn’t sure a whole lot had changed. It was simply that Carly had gotten better at balancing everything.
“I know. But now, instead of graduating this spring, I have next semester and next year,” she grumbled. “At least this semester will be over in a few more
“It can’t be all bad,” Quinn tried. “I mean, you met Nolan, right?”
Carly lifted her wine glass to her mouth. She tilted her head back and finished off the last half.
“Whoa. Okay,” Quinn said.
Carly leaned over to the coffee table and swiped up the half-full bottle of merlot. She filled her glass while Quinn patiently waited for an explanation.
Carly sighed as she carefully leaned back into the cushions
, trying not to spill her wine. She turned slightly to face Quinn, who had her feet curled up beneath her.
“Yes,” she finally said. “That’s where I met Nolan. Where I dated Nolan. And where I lost Nolan.” Her voice was flat but her eyes sparkled with unshed tears.
“Carly, why do you always wait to tell me these things?” Quinn wondered.
Her sister shrugged. “Because it gets old. I get tir
ed of telling you the same old story. When you were my age, you were already totally committed to Jake. Me?” she shook her head. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. Commitment isn’t my thing. Never has been, never will be.”