He nods, an easy smile on his lips. “Night.”
I shut the passenger door and take the path around the back to the sliding patio door. The lights in the family room are dim as I walk inside, but there is no missing Nick. He’s half lying, half hanging off the couch that’s barely long enough for me and definitely not for his long legs.
“Hey there,” I say, keeping my voice soft so I don’t startle him.
Sleepy-eyed, he smiles up at me, his usual firm lines and determined set to his square jaw softer now. “Sarah crashed about half an hour ago after we finished Kill Bill. I told her to take your bed, figured that’s what you’d want.” He sits up and rolls his neck. “She really liked that movie.”
A movie about a betrayed bride out for revenge? Yeah, that definitely tracks. “With our family’s history, when it comes to men, wouldn’t you? And yes, I’ll definitely take the couch. Poor girl. She needs sleep.”
Nick nods. “She’s coming by the office tomorrow. I’m going to help her get palimony and child support arrangements made.”
Awwww. That hits me right in the soft and vulnerable spots. “Always looking out for the Martin sisters, huh?”
“Someone has to, because it seems like you two look out for everyone else but yourselves.”
I want to argue, but I can’t. Instead, I plop down on the couch next to him. “Apparently, it’s our fatal flaw.”
We sit there for a few minutes in silence but, unlike during my date earlier, this is comfortable. Neither of us seems to feel the need to fill the quiet space. My eyes, though, are getting heavy. I wasn’t lying about being exhausted. They’re half closed when Nick moves beside me, getting off the couch and holding me by the shoulders as he maneuvers me so I’m lying down. He tugs the afghan blanket from where it’s draped across the back of the couch and lays it over me, tucking the edge under my chin.
My eyes flutter shut. “Night, Nick.”
Then he’s gone and I’m alone on the couch, exactly like I want to be, need to be. But for some reason, it feels lonelier than ever before.
There’s nothing quite like waking up and feeling as though you’re dead—or wishing you were. First, there was the hangover from hell the other day and now, after a single night on Aunt Maggie’s Victorian-style sofa-slash-torture-device, I’m seriously wondering if my neck will ever work properly again. I turn all the way to the left just fine, but if I look to the right? Oh, that is very much not happening unless I suddenly become very into pain and the idea of paying for a chiropractor.
If Aunt Maggie had been a different kind of woman, I’d be worried she’s haunting the place. Of course, if she was, her ghost would be putting on David Bowie records and leaving a trail of Quaaludes everywhere she went.
I let my eyes flutter shut. Really, what’s the hurry when I can just lay here and enjoy my own demise under a super-soft brown-and-tan afghan blanket? I let out a deep breath, and the moment I inhale, it hits me. The beautiful, life-giving scent of heaven itself—freshly brewed coffee.
The lightly caramelized and almost nutty scent teases my lids open half a second before the meaning hits my still-half-asleep brain and I jackknife up to a sitting position. My right shoulder blade pinches, the nerves in my neck cry out with a bitch-what-are-you-doing, and I let out a yap that sounds like it comes from Christee’s little dog. It’s worth it, though, because someone is making coffee in my kitchen and, at this moment, I love them with all my heart.
Moving a little more slowly this time, I get up off the couch and shuffle past the stacks of old lampshades heaped one on top of the other and toward the kitchen.
“Are you sure this is safe to drink?” Nick asks, his voice carrying down the hall.
I nearly trip over my own feet. Nick? He’s here? Already? I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror hanging from a nail by a pink ribbon and cringe. I definitely look like I spent the night face-planted on an unforgiving couch.
Frizzy hair? Check.
Pillow line etched into my cheek? Check.
Supposedly sleep-proof eyeliner on only one eye anymore? Check.
I hold a cupped hand to my mouth and breathe into it. Whew. Morning breath is a triple check.
Yeah, I’m totally not prepared to go see Mr. Knight in Shining Armor. But there is coffee…
Sarah chuckles. “What’s wrong, pretty boy? Are you scared of a little caffeine?”
I continue down the hall toward the big yellow kitchen, tiptoeing as if I’m a burglar in my own house—at least it would be mine if I could actually pay off the inheritance taxes, back property taxes, and HOA fines. Well, and the mortgage, but luckily I don’t have to start paying that just yet.
“No one would call this a little,” Nick says. “You doubled the recommended amount.”
“Come on, live a little,” my sister shoots back. “Take a drink. Doooooooo it.”
Nick laughs, and it’s warm and rumbly and makes me think of roasting s’mores over an open fire. Of course, that could just be because, judging by the scent wafting out from the kitchen, Sarah used the Oh Fudge beans. Usually, I can’t help but smile when I get a whiff of the chocolate-flavored coffee, but not this morning. Instead of a silly giggle at the punny name, I can’t work past the jealous pang in my belly.
He doesn’t laugh with me that way. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard him laugh around me. Chuckle? Yes. Epileptic-seizing quiet-laughing at me? Okay, that too. But a real, deep-in-your-belly, happy laugh? No.
But he does around Sarah.
Pull it together, Mallory. This isn’t a Karl and Sasha situation again. This is your sister and your neighbor. That’s all. Stop trying to make overthinking your mission in life.
Yeah, this is definitely a case of I-don’t-like-myself-all-that-much-when-I’m-hangry. It’s time for peaches-and-cream oatmeal and enough coffee to power a nuclear submarine. Kinda mean but totally on the money pep-talk complete, I walk into the kitchen.
Nick is standing with one hip leaning against the big oval kitchen table. I allow my gaze to flick over to him for 3.6 seconds. Any longer and I’m afraid I’d melt into a puddle of early-morning want right there in the middle of the linoleum floor. What can I say? Mornings are always my let’s-go time. It must have something to do with the fact that the day hasn’t beaten me down yet, making morning sex forever the best sex.
“About time you got up, sleepyhead,” Sarah says when I finally tear my eyes away from Nick.
She shoots me a teasing smile as she pours me a cup of coffee and holds it out to me as I walk into the light-filled room.