Margaret drew a sharp breath. “Oh, my.”
“I’m not embarrassed, because it wasn’t my fault. But obviously you’re ashamed to tell people the truth.” God, this was pathetic.
Her mother’s resolve started to crumble. She kept her voice low and looked to her left briefly before saying, “We are not the kind of women who get into fights.”
The muscles in Avery’s forearms tightened.
“I’m so sorry to have brought this up,” Margaret apologized.
Avery stared her mother down. “On the contrary, I’m glad you did. At least now I know how my own mother feels about the subject. You honestly think I brought this on myself.” She pushed back her chair and grabbed her purse.
“Avery, sit down. Don’t be overly dramatic.”
When she was a teenager, her mother’s cue of calling her dramatic would have resulted in a loud tantrum that would grab the attention of every patron in the room. If she were honest with herself, she wanted to do just that. Instead, Avery kept her voice cold. “Tell Daddy I won’t be able to make our Sunday dinner next week.” She turned to Margaret. “Lovely seeing you again.” Said no one, ever.
With a turn of her heel, Avery offered her mother a view of her back as she left the restaurant.
“I just wish she liked me.”
Trina took center stage of their First Wives Club meeting, but that was to be expected, since she was on the verge of joining a Second Wives Club.
“Vicki likes you,” Shannon argued.
“When a future mother-in-law wants you to marry their son, she doesn’t go out of her way to be around every weekend. Wade and I seldom have the opportunity to be alone.”
“A future mother-in-law should be thinking of grandbabies.”
Everyone turned to Lori.
She jumped. “No. I’m not. I’m just saying . . .”
“You want a baby.” Shannon voiced what they were all thinking.
Lori shook her head. “Of course not. I’m too old.”
Trina started to laugh. “I’m sorry . . . Do you still have a period?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Then you’re not too old,” Shannon said. “Has Reed talked about kids?”
Lori stood and walked to her kitchen and grabbed the open bottle of wine they were working on. “He might have mentioned something the other night.”
“What kind of something?” Avery asked.
“About what our kids would look like.” Lori leaned her trim figure along the counter and stared beyond the three of them. “Would our girls have his brown hair and my smile? Would our boys be lawyers or join the Navy SEALs . . . you know, stuff like that.”
“Someone’s biological clock is ticking.” Avery leaned back on the sofa and stared at her friend.
“It is!” Trina said. “Nothing wrong with that. You’re married to a man you love and trust. You’re young enough to go there. It isn’t like the first round, where you knew you were married to Mr. Wrong.”
Of the four of them, Lori was the only one who had married her previous spouse for love and forever. Avery, Trina, and Shannon were all temporary, hired brides who entered matrimony for a predetermined amount of time and left their marriages several million richer. And for Avery, that was exactly how that played out. Trina, on the other hand, dealt with her late husband allegedly taking his own life and then found out he was offed by his own father. Cue the music for Days of Our Lives. And Shannon fell in love with her temporary husband and never got over it. Hence the cobwebs growing in her vagina.
To have one of them talking about having kids was a plot twist in itself.
“I totally want kids,” Trina told them.
All the attention fell back on her.
“I wouldn’t say no if Wade suggested it. He’s going to be a fabulous father.”
“I think we should get you married first,” Shannon suggested.
The four of them laughed.
Avery pondered for a few minutes. “Maybe that’s why Vicki doesn’t like you. You’re going to make her a grandmother. Since she was practically a baby when she had Wade, she isn’t ready for the title.”
They sat in silence and considered the thought until Shannon spoke up. “I want a baby.”
Avery’s jaw dropped. “You have to have sex in order to have a baby.”
Shannon narrowed her dark brown eyes. “Yeah, I took the class.”
“Seriously?” Lori asked.
“I’m older than all of you, and I know I want to have a kid.”
“Older by less than a year from me,” Lori reminded her.
“Still counts. I never considered how my life would be without kids. So if Mr. Forever doesn’t come along, I’m just going to do what I have to do to have a child.”
“Sperm bank?” Trina asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll have a one-night stand.”
Avery choked on her wine. The harsh taste going down into her lungs had her sputtering for several seconds.
Trina patted her back and Lori handed her water.
Once she got ahold of her breath, she squeaked out the words, “Shannon Wentworth does not have one-night stands.”
“Well, maybe it’s time she does,” Shannon defended herself.
Avery shook her head. “They will eat you up and spit you out.” Worry over her friend jumping into that kind of lifestyle made her skin tighten.
“I think that’s kinda the point, Avery,” Lori said.
Shannon smiled and sat farther back on the couch. “It isn’t like I haven’t had a one-night stand.”
“I don’t think college counts,” said Trina.
“Of course it does.”
“I support the idea.”
Avery stared at Lori. “The attorney is supportive of Shannon getting knocked up by a complete stranger and then never seeing him again?”
“A man knows the risk of any one-night stand. If there aren’t phone numbers or real names involved . . . I don’t see the big deal.”
“Isn’t that risky? What if he’s a sociopath, or has some health issue, or really bad family genes?”
Trina chimed in. “Since when is Avery the sound of reason and Lori is on the sidelines flashing pom-poms and cheering on team impropriety?”
“Think about it. Shannon hasn’t had sex since Jesus was in diapers, and we’re going to encourage her to dive into just anyone’s bed to procreate? There’s a lot of shitty men out there.” Why was Avery the only one thinking logically about this absurd idea?
“Maybe jumping into bed, anyone’s bed, is what triggers the buttons to add some romance to her life,” Lori argued.
“Excuse me.” Everyone turned toward Shannon. “I’m sitting right here, and I think I’m adult enough to make this decision on my own. I said I considered it, and in truth, haven’t ruled it out . . . but I’m not taking ovulation tests to see when is the best time to hit the bar. So everyone can stand down.”
That made Avery feel marginally better. “Take me with you . . . when you hit the bar. You need backup. I think we can all agree on that.”
Lori nodded and Trina voiced an affirmative.
A few hours later, once Reed and Wade returned from their guys’ night out, Shannon and Avery excused themselves to her condo in the same building as Lori’s. Even though Shannon’s home was only a twenty-minute drive outside the city, she’d planned on staying with Avery to avoid driving or needing to call for an Uber after a few glasses of wine.
Avery peeked her head into the guest room. “Do you have everything you need?”
“You’re sweet. Yes, you’ve thought of everything.”
Avery paused. “I meant it when I suggested you have me tag along if you go daddy scouting.”
Shannon scooted over on the bed and tapped the space beside her.
Taking the cue, Avery shuffled to the bed, jumped up, and leaned against the headboard.
“Are you okay?” Shannon asked.
“I’m fine. You’re the one searching for something you don’t have.”
“Mm-hmm . . . you see, the thing about being the silent one in the group is that no one knows when I’m watching them. And I’ve been watching you.”
Tension formed at the base of her neck.
“Normally I would expect Trina to catch on to your change in behavior, but she’s a bit preoccupied, taking on the title of wife. And Lori . . . yeah, same thing. But I’m not in the same sexual haze as our friends, and you, my dear, have changed.”
“I haven’t.” The denial sounded weak even to her.
“Please don’t underestimate me. It’s insulting.”
After thirty seconds of silence, Shannon read her mental list. “Your knuckles have been bruised every time I’ve seen you in the last six months. You never brag about your sex life anymore. You just allude that it’s there, say something expectedly trashy, and wait for someone to change the subject. Your smile isn’t as bright, and your laughter doesn’t come as much as it did last year. Something happened with your mom this week, but you didn’t open up to us . . . Why?”