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Chapter Thirty Four

"Is he hiding in there?"


"What's hiding in there?"


"Is she gonna scream?"

I reached over and flicked on the table lamp. Brenna's eyes were huge, her hand full of popcorn that she was slowly bringing to her mouth.

"Bren, we're watching Tangled. Your mom and I used to watch this all the time when we were little. It's not a horror movie."

Instead of answering, Bren shoved a multitude of kernels into her mouth. Her cheeks bulged as she bobbed her head up and down in animated chew. I tried not to laugh as she worked around it enough to talk.

"Wha abo' shawks?"

"There aren't any sharks!"

"This movie's da-umb."

Bren reached for her locked lidded cup with the bright pink straw. She took a generous sip of apple juice.

"I watched a sharky movie with Landon," she announced, her teeth trying to gnaw on the end of the straw.

"Was it scary?"

"Real scary. His sister was watching us and he crawled under the sheet and he bite-d my leg!"

She put the cup down and started to wave her arms like a drowning victim.

"And what did you do?"

"I bite-d him back!"

I laughed. "Of course you did."

Shelby's assumption that Brenna would fall asleep from sheer exhaustion still hadn't happened. We had a jumble of sheets and pillows scattered right below the couch. We were on our second movie in an hour. Brenna had declared that Enchanted was 'moldy' it looked so old. Tangled obviously wasn't much of an improvement. I lowered the volume and snuggled up to my pillow, hoping Brenna would take the 'sleepy' hint. I turned to face her.

"So is Landon your boyfriend?" I teased.

Bren's chubby little body flipped to her side in a perfect mimic of me. Her nose scrunched up and her little face turned red.

"NO-OOO!" she said loudly. "He's not a boy!"

From the mouth's of babes, I thought. "Then what is he?"

She had to think about that one for a little bit. "He's Landon."

"But he is a boy."

Bren's eyes narrowed; she seemed to be gearing up for a heavy argument. I decided I had teased her enough. I leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"Hey, want to play a game?"

Her look of indignation disappeared. "What kinda game?"

I smiled. "It's the quiet game," I whispered.

"How do we pway?" Bren whispered back.

"We both have to be really quiet. Whoever is quieter longest wins."

"Wins what?" Bren asked.

"Um..." I pretended like I was thinking hard. "The winner make cinnamon rolls in the morning."

Bren broke into a chipmunk-cheeked grin. "Okay!"

She clamped her mouth shut and I did the same. I loved that she didn't even stop to consider how she would have made cinnamon rolls for me if I had lost. I purposely started to lower my eyes after about fifteen minutes. Bren started to thrash around, but to her credit, she didn't utter a peep.

I think I must have laid there about a half hour before I opened my eyes all the way and glanced over at her. She was curled up in a ball, her arms wrapped around the pillow, and her mouth open.


She had put up a good fight, but in the end I had won. I glanced up at the clock. It was ten minutes until ten. I quietly reached over and snagged my phone. Stefie had been texting me non-stop, asking if I was okay. It didn't take a genius to realize she had heard about my hospital stay. I figured I owed it to her to check in. I sent a quick text and waited for a reply.

The reply came less than a minute later. We got into an intense finger-flying discussion about my breakdown, Stefie's upcoming birthday in September, and the finalization of her parents divorce. I was about to announce my own bedtime when she threw one more question at me.

Has anything GOOD happened to you this summer?

I bit my lip, but it wasn't enough to hide my smile. The word 'GOOD' automatically conjured up an image of Marquis. The pads of my fingers tapped against the screen as I hesitated for just a moment whether or not to share 'the kiss' with my friend.

I caved.

Does kissing a hot French doctor count?

The reply was lightning-quick.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Somehow I had fallen asleep with my hearing devices still intact. My head was cocked at an odd angle on my pillow. When Brenna jumped on me, chattering away like a tequila-laden Minnie Mouse, I heard every word.

"Bren," I groaned.

"I won-ded the game! I want cim-man rolls!"

"Five more minutes," I begged. I had stayed up way too late the night before explaining about Marquis and then mapping out, with Stefie's help, my fairy-tale nonexistant summer romance.

Making cinnamon rolls seemed like an epic feat.

"AWWY YOU PROMISED!" Brenna cried. There was a thump which I assumed was her falling on her bottom. She began to bawl, the kind of fake cry that was more for show than anything else.

Sleep wasn't going to happen.

"Okay," I grumbled, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. Bren's cries stopped. She scrambled onto all fours, a triumphant look in her eyes.

"YAY! Cim-man rolls!"

Like a puppy, she followed me to the kitchen. I had just gotten out the Pillsbury tube and was breaking apart the perfect circles when the back door opened.

It seemed too early for Shelby and Mason to be home.

I was right.

"GAMPA!" Bren cried in delight. She ran to dad, wrapping her arms around his leg. He walked the rest of the way inside, carrying her on the toe of his shoe. When he got close to me, he pried her off and picked her up. She planted a kiss on his nose, oblivious to the look on his face; a look that told me instantly that something was wrong.

"What's up?" I asked, my heart leaping into my throat. Even the anti-anxiety pills couldn't keep my hands from beginning to shake. I grabbed for a kitchen towel.

"No, make those for Bren," dad said. "While she's eating I need to talk to you."

"There's been a problem."