“Not quite yet,” Nick interjects, stepping between his mom and me. “I’m sure Maude was getting ready to go without having to involve law enforcement.”
There’s grumbling, but Maude and the rest disperse. Slowly. Looking back every few steps to shoot Victoria a dirty look.
Once they are mostly down the driveway and out of earshot, Nick turns to his mom and lowers his voice to a demanding whisper. “You can still visit Limoncello in the garage, Mom.”
She glances over at the car and looks at it like she’s a kid on Christmas morning who got the pony she was asking Santa for. “But she looks so good out in the sun.”
“Mom,” Nick says. “Rules are rules, and if you didn’t want to live by them, you should have bought a house in the goddamn country and not the suburbs.”
Victoria and I make eye contact. I know in that instant that this woman is never going to visit her beloved muscle car in a garage, no matter how high-end it is. She’s going to bring it out in the sunshine and drive it around the neighborhood fast enough that it really hugs the curves, and she’ll flip off Maude every time she drives by the other woman’s house. I kinda love her on sight.
“Yes, darling boy, whatever you say.” She turns her attention to the retreating bunch of metaphorical pitchfork-bearing villagers. “But it does them good to have a little rebellion once in a while. My dear Maude will likely live longer from the exercise of her outrage. It’s a public service, really, when you think about it.”
She looks over and winks at me. It’s like getting noticed by a rock star. I’m fucking giddy.
Grasping Nick’s forearm, I lean in closer to him. “I want to be your mom when I grow up.”
He rolls his eyes. “God help me, of course you do.”
“Let’s go inside,” Victoria says as she turns and heads toward the massive double oak doors of the French chateau-style house that could double as a boutique hotel. “Your father no doubt has been watching the whole thing, pretending to not pay the least bit of attention to my antics.”
We follow Victoria into the two-story foyer with the double staircase and the no-lie huge chandelier in it, turn right at a butler’s closet, then into a study with dark-stained wood bookshelves that go all the way up past a mezzanine level accessible by an iron circular staircase to the ceiling.
A man reading a hardback copy of Karpov on Karpov looks up when we walk in. He has bone-white hair, blue eyes that look like they’ve been dipped in the Caribbean, and what seems like a perpetually amused smile that reminds me a lot of Nick’s.
“Are you done terrorizing the neighbors, dear?” he asks as he closes his book and stands up.
“Maybe,” Victoria says, lifting her cheek for him to kiss, which he does. “I’ll at least consider it for the moment.”
He walks over to us. “Hello, son.” Then he holds his hand out to me. “John Holloway, my dear. And how do you know Nick?”
Nick puts his hand on the small of my back. He doesn’t try to push me forward, not even with the most subtle pressure. “This is Mallory.”
I shake his dad’s hand, and we all walk over to the love seats positioned facing each other in front of a fireplace big enough to do yoga in.
We sit down. Me next to Nick on one love seat that definitely looked bigger than it feels now with us hip to hip on it. It’s impossible not to be acutely aware of being this near to him. Do I shift a little so that our thighs line up? Yes. I am weak and I gave in. I’m halfway to forcing myself to readjust when he lifts his arm and lays it across the back of the love seat, his fingertips landing on my shoulder.
“I’m sure Maude isn’t describing you in a kind way right about now,” John says to his wife. “Are you going to put the car in the garage?”
Victoria fiddles with the full-service tea set laid out on the table between the love seats.
“She,” Victoria says, “has a name.”
“Fine.” John gives his wife an indulgent smile as he toys with the flipped-up end of her bob. “Are you going to put Limoncello into the garage now?”
She pours a cup of tea from the pot. “I suppose.” She hands it to Nick. “But I’m waiting until after dark. Maude can sit and stew for a few hours.” She turns to me. “Would you like a cup of tea until it’s time for dinner?”
I gulp, suddenly aware that I am about to experience something akin to the Spanish Inquisition. “Yes, thank you.”
She pours a cup and hands it to me, then repeats the process for herself and John while I sit there trying to figure out what in the hell I’m doing. Here I am, meeting Nick’s parents as if we’re serious, when I all but shoved him two-handed out of my life—and he went—drinking tea and basking in the joy of being near him again.
Victoria adds a splash of cream to her tea and stirs it with what has to be a literal silver spoon. “So, John, I’m thinking that we could add a small track, nothing obnoxious, for Limoncello.”
Nick and his dad let out matching stifled laughs at the same time. An identical sound coming from two men is kind of adorable. And I can’t help but look between them to spot all the similarities. The easy laugh. The tolerant amusement at Victoria’s troublemaking.
“An interesting idea,” John says, calm as a cucumber slice on a socialite’s closed eyes. “I’d recommend, though, that you gift Maude a trip to Vail first.”
“And a fistful of Valium,” Nick adds.
Victoria sets her spoon down and sighs. “You’re no fun.”
“And you’re completely outrageous,” he says as if he’s uttered those words sixty-three times a day their entire marriage and gotten a kick out of it each time.
It reminds me of how Nick looked at me when I was lying in the grass in front of my house after having my ass kicked by the lawn mower. Amused. Interested. Happy. The realization makes my insides go all soft and gooey.
Meanwhile, Nick’s mom looks at his dad and they are having one of those married-for-a-long-time silent conversations that encompass everything and nothing in a matter of seconds. In that moment, I realize that I want that, and even more importantly, I want that with Nick. Not because I can’t live without a man, but because I need to live with him. I need to be loved by him.
The truth of that has me shifting on the velvet seat, unsure of what in the hell I’m supposed to do now.
“One of these days, John,” Victoria says, twining the fingers of her free hand through his, “I’ll get you to join in on the fun.”
“After forty years into this life with you? It’s possible, I guess.” He shrugs and shakes his head. “I know how you love a challenge.”