More Than Friends (Kingsley #4) (8 page)

BOOK: More Than Friends (Kingsley #4)
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Chapter Fourteen

Renee was a fast worker; when Michael came back to his mothe
r’
s room, he could hear Eva and Renee laughing together, the sound drifting faintly through the door. At his knock, the laughter was silenced and a quick shuffling sounded, before Eva called
,“
Come on in
!

 

He opened the door to find his mother propped up in bed, a pile of pillows behind her back. The bed had been lowered all the way, and Renee was kneeling on the mattress at the head of the bed, behind the stack of pillows, her hands buried in Ev
a’
s ash blonde hair.

 

Fortunately, there was
n’
t a lot of i
t
– Eva wore her hair somewhere between a long pixie and a short bob, both for style and for easy maintenance. There was a long-told family story about Eva as a young mother, with dark blonde hair to the middle of her back, matted with baby vomit from when Harmony had had an especially vicious bout of stomach flu. Later that afternoo
n
– post-shower, of cours
e
– she had stumbled down the stairs of the family home, exhausted. Sighing, she had thrust the crying baby into Ada
m’
s arms, said
,“
I just ca
n’
t do this anymore. Not right now
,
” and fled the house. When she had returne
d
– in much refreshed spirit
s
– she had done it with short hair, a new attitude, and a bottle of wine.

 


Uh, I brought coffee
,
” Michael said stupidly, watching Renee massage the dry shampoo into his mothe
r’
s hair.

 

Ev
a’
s eyes were closed, though she did lift one eyelid slightly in acknowledgement, smiling
.“
Had I known that a broken leg would get me this kind of treatment
,
” she said, sighing
,“
I might have broken it sooner
.

 


And that would be cheating
,
” Renee laughed, her fingers still working
.“
Or maybe some kind of fraud. Honestly, though
,
” she went on, turning to spray a bit more of the citrus-scented aerosol powder into Ev
a’
s hair
,“
This is really my favorite part of having my hair done
.

 


Shooting powder on your head
?
” Michael laughed. Setting the three coffees on the bedside table, he checked the cardboard slips wrapped around the cups, taking one and setting it close within Ev
a’
s reach. As he settled Rene
e’
s cup on the other end of the table and lifted his own coffee to take a sip, Renee laughed.

 


No, the massage part
,
” she said
.“
They dig their fingers all through your hair an
d
… well, i
t’
s just heavenly, tha
t’
s all. Ther
e’
s no other way to describe it
.

 


Mmm
,
” Eva sighed, her eyes still closed
.“
She has a point. There really is something good about that. And no matter how you try doing it on your ow
n
–“

 

“– i
t’
s never the same
!
” Renee chimed in, and once they had spoken together, the women broke into giggles.

 

Michael shook his head
.“
If you say so
.
” But he could
n’
t hold back a smile, watching them together.

 

As the afternoon wore on, Renee ran the gamut of personal makeover options, even spoiling Eva with fresh polish on her fingers and toes. Michael watched quietly from the sidelines, leaving the room to bring lunch for him and Renee when Ev
a’
s lunch was delivered from the hospital cafeteria; it seemed strange to be enjoying the day so thoroughly, with his mother in her hospital bed, but the truth was, he was in the best mood h
e’
d been in for a long time. He knew his father was alright, and though Adam had put up a fight about leaving the hospital, he was proud that his father had trusted him to look after his mother, and he knew Evan would be keeping their father much too busy to allow him to worry. His siblings were all well and happy, and although he was miserably lonely, he clearly was not alon
e
– he had the support of a very close friend.

 

Friend, though
… was she really
just a friend?
Would
just a friend
do what she was doing? Certainly none of his sibling
s
’ friends had shown up, though many of them knew Eva well.

 

Evan would
n’
t bring friends to the hospital though, as he was only home for a short break from college, and most of his friends were teammates from school, boys he played football with. A few of his friends were local, but not many, and Eva
n’
s closest friends had always been his teammates. Harmony
had
brought Xander to the hospital, but even Whitney had
n’
t been there, and she had been Harmon
y’
s best friend all their lives. Whitney, who had never been close with her own mother, had always been close to Eva, but even she had settled for a simple phone call. Likewise, Camero
n’
s friend Tabitha had
n’
t come to the hospital, though she had called several times to check on Ev
a’
s progress. No, none of his sibling
s
’ friends had come to the hospital, and certainly none had stepped up in this way.

 

Michael told himself that he was reading more into it than was there, that Renee was only there because she had driven in with Cas
s
… butshe had had several opportunities to go hom
e
– and she had stayed. His cell phone pinged from in his pocket, vibrating gently against his leg as the tone sounded. Shooting one last curious glance at Renee, he slipped the device from his pocket and leaned back in his seat as he opened the text. It was from Drew, checking in to ask how Ev
a’
s afternoon was going, and he had also missed texts from Harmony and Cameron. Opening a group text, he selected his father and all of his siblings, and began to type
,

All is well with Mom. Sh
e’
s currently being beautified by Renee. Hope everyone else is having as much fun as we are
.
– M
.

 

Finished typing, he sent the text, opened another, and held the phone up quietly to snap a photo. Hoping the shutter sound on the camera was set to silent, Michael centered the camera frame around Renee. Her head was bent as she painstakingly painted a red nail polish heart on the outer ankle of Ev
a’
s cast, her hair falling in a smooth curtain over her shoulder. Her lips were curved in a semi-smile as she painted, the tip of her tongue just touching her upper lip as she focused on the tiny piece of art. Too late, he caught his mother watching him, but Eva Kingsley was a woman of grace even as she was a strong and opinionated mothe
r
– she merely arched her brows at him, smiled to herself, and shook her head.

 


Alright, all finished
,
” Renee said brightly, twisting the cap onto the nail polish bottle. She sat up to admire her handiwork, grimaced slightly, and muttered
,“
Well, I never claimed to be an artist
.
” Shrugging, she glanced up at Eva
.“
What do you think? Maybe I could put swirls or something around it, but I only got the red
.

 


I
t’
s fine, dear
,
” Eva answered, bending to look
.“
Very cheerful. But really, I love the red toes sticking out! They sure stand out against that purple cast, do
n’
t they
?
” The toes in question wiggled gently, tentatively, and then stopped
.“
What do you think, Michael
?
” Michae
l’
s eyes shot up to meet his mothe
r’
s, and she smiled deviously as she tipped her head toward Renee
.“
Is this girl just a sweetheart
?

 

Running the tip of his tongue over his teeth, he stared at Eva defiantly, embarrassed. Finally, she arched her brows and, forced to concede, Michael cleared his throat
.“
She is
,
” he said quietly. From the corner of his eye, he saw Renee stiffen slightly at the exchange, looking from Eva to Michael and back again, but when he spoke, she lowered her face to hide a smile.
What was that?

 

The rest of the day was just as curious as the afternoon had been, with Eva slipping not-so-subtle remarks into the conversation that filled the hours. Renee seemed amused, but Michael felt thin cords of tension tightening around him with each instance. He could
n’
t put a label on his feeling
s
– until only recently, he had
n’
t
had
feelings for Renee, not as anything more than friends. She was his confidant, his friend, part of his family circle. But had he completely missed the moment when she had become something more to him? And more importantl
y
… if she was here, was he something more
to her?

 

No. She was dating someon
e
– or would be. So she could
n’
t possibly be thinking of
him
like that.
Could she?
He shook his head, staring out the window as twilight fell around the hospital. No. She could
n’
t.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

It wasn’t until almost ten o’clock that night before Michael and Renee stepped out of the hospital together, with the knowledge that Adam would be staying with Eva and Drew and Cass would be staying in the waiting room just in case.

 

“Uugh!” Renee gasped. “It’s so hot out here, especially after the hospital being so cold,” Reaching up, she gathered her hair into a loose ponytail, combing through the honey-brown strands with her fingers to hold it up from her neck.

 

“I know, it’s like walking through a mister or something,” Michael laughed. “But I like it. Feels like summer’s coming.”

 

“But I’m not done with spring yet,” Renee laughed, dropping her hair. It fell in a wave down her back, and she grimaced. “It’s coming up on ponytail season, though, I can feel it.” She kept in step with him, following him instinctively as they moved away from the curb and headed into the parking garage beside the hospital. “You think it’ll be a thousand degrees in your truck, after it’s been baking in here for the last two days?”

 

“Wimp,” Michael teased. “It’s barely even spring – how will you handle the summer heat?”

 

“The same way I always do. With lots of whining. Lucky for me, I’m cute enough to be whiny and it’s still okay.”

 

“Yeah, we’ll see if your new boyfriend thinks so.”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” she retorted, elbowing him in the side as they walked. “I’ll have driven him away by then. I drool, remember?”

 

Michael dropped his arm around Renee’s shoulders and pulled her close to his side. “You snore a little too. It’s pretty gross. I mean really – the last time you slept at my house, I could hear you all the way in my room. Probably a miracle I got any sleep at all last night, too, drowning in your slobber and listening to you snore. Sleeping in a waiting room chair isn’t even so bad, when you compare it to the snoring and the drooling. I could have slept easier next to a … I don’t know, a bear or something. Something that drools. And snores. And farts.”

 

Horrified, Renee pulled away, and Michael laughed as his arm dropped back to his side. She shot a glare at him from beneath lowered brows as she muttered darkly, “Michael, you jackass. Maybe
you
need a boyfriend, then. He could protect you from my cats – when I become a cat lady. And help you mop up my drool. And buy you ear plugs. And air freshener.”

 

“Oh no,” he laughed, holding his hands out, palms up, as if in defense. An old woman walking in the other direction glanced at him, and he laughed harder, waiting for her to move out of hearing range. Finally in control again, he leaned closer to Renee and poked nudged her with his shoulder, saying, “No thanks. I got nothing against dudes who like dudes and chicks that like chicks – but this dude likes chicks. Only chicks.”

 

Shaking her head, Renee gathered her hair again and twisted it into a loose braid over her shoulder, still keeping in step with him as they walked. “Are you parked far up?” She laughed softly. “I think I’d have forgotten where I parked after leaving my car in here for two days.”

 

“Nah, it’s just up one more floor. Just around the corner here.” Michael fished his keys out of his pocket, shaking the keyring to untangle them before pulling his truck key away from the rest of the bunch. “We’ll have to stop and get some gas before we head out to your house though. I’m not out, but I’ll need some. That okay with you?”

 

She touched his arm softly before moving away, and they separated as they each went to opposite sides of his truck. “You know, Michael, I could sleep at your house tonight if you’ve got a shirt I can sleep in. Then I can grab a shower and put something clean on, and you just drive me home in the morning.” She was already looking at him as he froze, and their eyes met over the truck bed. “I know you’re tired,” she shrugged. “And your house is a shorter drive.”

 

“Renee,” he said, but she shook her head to stop him.

 

“Would you do it for me?” she asked. She propped her elbows on the side of the truck bed and looked over at him, her face shadowed in the darkness of the garage. “If
my
mom was in the hospital, and my siblings couldn’t be there with me for whatever reason –
You’d
sit with me, wouldn’t you?”

 

Michael sighed, smiling. “You know I would.”

 

“Even if it was late?”

 

Knowing already what her next question would be, Michael conceded defeat. Nodding, he unlocked the truck and turned to open his door – but, glancing back at her one more time, he grinned. “Even If it was overnight,” he said.

 

“Exactly. So shut up, alright?” She shrugged one shoulder, and her braid fell down her back as she opened her door. “I’m glad I was able to be here – I know you’d have stayed even if you were by yourself, but … well, anyway.”

 

“So you’re crashing at my house, then.” Michael shook his head, hiding a grin behind his hands as he scraped his palms over the two-day growth on his cheeks. “I think you need your own room at my house. You’re there so often, it feels weird calling your room the guest room.”

 

“Maybe I should start leaving my own shirts there,” she teased, “so I can stop making you loan me yours when our movie nights run late and I’m too lazy to drive home.”

 

The slamming of the truck doors echoed loudly, resounding through the parking garage as Michael and Renee climbed into the truck. “Yeah, you could do that,” he nodded. “It’d make things easier on you, probably. And not having to smell like me after you take a shower. If you put some stuff in the –“ he turned to her and mimed quotation marks in the air between them, “– guest room –“

 

“I’m still a guest, though,” Renee broke in, reaching up to press his hands down. He tried not to let her noticed the arc of electricity that hit him at the touch, but she wasn’t paying attention; she shook her head, smiling as he started the truck. “Besides, it might make it hard for you to bring dates home if you had a bottle of my shampoo in the shower.”

 

Tossing an amused look her way, Michael shifted the truck into reverse. “When I bring a date home, she’s not exactly there to clean and inspect the bathtub, you know.”

 

Renee blushed, the wash of pink flaming on her cheeks before trailing down her slender throat. “Well, I figured that, Michael,” she said quietly.

 

Michael watched, perplexed, as she turned her face away. She chewed on the end of her thumbnail, sighing, and he saw her eyelashes flutter as she blinked.
What was that about?
Confused by her sudden change, he turned away too, to concentrate on his driving.

 

“Want something to eat before we go to my house?” he asked.
What was wrong with her? And more importantly – what was wrong with him?
He felt suddenly apologetic, and completely unsure of why.

 

“I’m alright. We can stop if you want something though, but I try not to eat this late at night.”

 

It was a lie, and he knew it was a lie. She would eat popcorn with him at three in the morning if they were watching a movie – she couldn’t watch movies without popcorn.
Was she angry with him?
“Alright,” he said. “But no, I was just offering for you. I’m good.” She nodded, turning to force a smile. He saw the stiffness in her shoulders and wished it wasn’t dark – he couldn’t see her eyes, couldn’t make out her expression. “You sure you’re alright with staying?”

 

She smiled again, a little less stiff this time, but still somehow different from her usual friendly grin. His stomach clenched, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as she nodded. “Yeah, I’m alright,” she said.

 

Nodding silently, Michael turned his attention back to the road.
What the hell just happened?

 

 

BOOK: More Than Friends (Kingsley #4)
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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