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Chapter Eight

"That sounds like a plan," I said happily.

It was almost ten o'clock. Shel and I were curled up on opposite ends of the couch with a bowl of popcorn watching some horrible reality show. During the last commercial break, we had run down my weekly schedule.

"Want something more to drink?" Shel asked. I shook my head and smothered a yawn.

"You don't have to wait up with me, y'know."

I smiled apologetically. "Sorry, it's just been a busy day."

"I know. Go to bed. I'm not going anywhere."

I laughed and swung my legs off the couch. I gave her a huge hug.

"Thanks again for having me."

"You? Anytime. Joe? Another story."

We both laughed. After taking my bowl to the kitchen, I made my way to the guest room.

I didn't sleep away from home very often. I liked routine; I guess people would say I was a little boring. I took out my devices and put them in the tray that I had brought from home.

Even though Shel was close by; I felt vulnerable. I was in a strange room with no ability to hear what was going on around me...

I curled up in a ball and exhaled deeply. I thought about dad; I wondered if he was thinking of me from wherever he was. I thought of Brayden and Tristan. They were most likely already the stars of their camp. Then there was mom...

The last thing I remember thinking about before I obviously faded off to sleep was the way mom loved to play with my hair. It brought a smile to my face.

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

When I woke up, I thought I had somehow been smothered by a clown. A mess of red hair floated into my eyes, making them sting. A second later, I realized it was Brenna. She straddled my waist and clapped her hands, obviously excited that I was awake.

I couldn't tell whether she was shouting or not; but I was able to make out her exuberant 'Good morning!' I reached over and grabbed my devices from the tray.


Holy macaroni. I winced. "Bren, I can hear you! Shhhh!"

"All of Sadieville can hear her!" Mason said from the doorway. "Brenna, remember I told you Aunt Ally needs to put on her helpers before she can hear in the morning."

Bren's mouth formed a perfect 'O'. "I forgotted!" she said. She scrambled down and tackled his leg. He ran a hand affectionately through her hair.

Mason was absolutely, positively, drop-dead gorgeous. I had always had a little crush on him. I blushed as he aimed a perfect smile my way.

"Morning Al," he said. He scooped Brenna up. She flipped backwards; he tickled her stomach and she shrieked.

"Morning," I said a little breathlessly.

"Sorry about your wake-up call. Beaner got to you first."

"My name's not BEANER!" Brenna giggled. Mason presses his face against her cheek and blew a raspberry. "BEANER!"


Ugh. Now Mason wasn't just hot; he was adorable.

My sister was one lucky--

"I'll let you get ready. Shel's making her famous Pillsbury Toaster Strusels for breakfast," Mason said. He winked. "See you in a few."

"COME EAT WITH USSSSSSS!" Brenna yelled as they disappeared down the hall.

I stayed in bed just a second, thinking about where in the world I could find a Mason clone. With a giggle, I scrambled out of bed.

Per the plan, I was going into Lexington with Mason. I was thankful that I had picked out my clothes the night before. I wanted to look trendy, but far from ordinary. I knew how important first impressions were.

By the time I got into the kitchen, Brenna's face was smeared with gooey white icing. Mason was pouring heapfuls of sugar in his coffee with his right hand; his left hand was looped around Shelby's waist.

"Hewe's your stood-ler!" Bren said. She pointed a messy finger at my plate. I smiled.


"How'd you sleep Allers?" Shel asked.

"Good," I said. I took a sip of my orange juice and brushed my hair away from my face.

"Hey, is this a good time to ask my favorite sister-in-law a favor?" Mason asked. He took a seat across from me.

"A favor?" I asked in surprise. Mason glanced over at Shel; she rolled her eyes.

"I know it's a ways off, but I was hoping you might be able to babysit Brenna for us for my birthday."

"He thinks just because he's going to be twenty-one he has to drink," Shel said.

"No," Mason complained. "I just want a night out with my wife."

I could tell how much Shel loved hearing the word 'wife.' Her eyes softened.

"Well, when you put it that way--"

"I'd love to," I said. Mason held out his hand. I laughed and high fived him. Brenna shoved her messy mitt into the mix. Mason took it and nibbled her fingers, much to her delight. As he dropped her hand, he glanced at his watch.

"Yikes, we better go. Traffic can be wicked," he said. I quickly shoved the last bite of gooey goodness in my mouth. "Ready, Al?"

"Rew-dy," I said around the icing.

"Have a good day!" Shel said. Brenna's face crumpled as Mason grabbed his keys.

"Daddy, noooooo," she whined. Mason's eyes softened.

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry. I've got to go to work and school."

"I hate work!" Brenna declared. Mason smiled.

"So do I some days. Gimme a kiss."

Bren scrambled out of her chair. Mason leaned down and she gave him a big kiss. He held onto her for a long moment before standing up. Shel was next.

"Love ya. Have a good day. Don't wait up tonight."

Shel smiled. "You say that every night." She stroked his face. "Be careful."


I was standing by the door with my purse. Mason wrapped an arm around my shoulders and we headed outside.

"Ready to go make people beautiful?"

I laughed. "Sure."

"Think you could make me purty?"

He opened my car door for me and puckered his lips. I blushed from head to toe.

"I, er--"

"Mas, are you flirting with my sister?"

His green eyes crinkled at the corners. "I've only got eyes for you dear!" he called. I climbed into the passenger side while Mason continued to call out to Shel.

He got in the car whistling. I didn't know how he could be so happy. He must not have gotten home until well past midnight and it was only seven a.m.

"I'm glad you're here, Al," he said as he pulled the car out of the driveway. "Shel's been missing you guys a lot lately."

"I've missed her, too," I said. I played with the dozens of bracelets I had put on. "So are you bringing me home, too?"

Mason smiled. "I wish. No, today dad's going to pick you up. Well, dad and Joe."

"Both of them?" I asked in surprise. Mason laughed.

"Your brother's doing hard time. Dad's dragging him to the hardware store for barn supplies. Dad could spend a week in one of those places without stopping to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom."

I laughed. "Joe's going to kill himself."

"Either that or he's going to learn a thousand and one uses for a circular saw," Mason said. "A little knowledge never killed anyone."

I studied Mason's profile. The older he got, the better he looked. If knowledge did that to him...well...

There might be hope for Joe yet.