- 2 -
Seeing Alex’s door was still closed, Claire decided to help her aunt out of bed. On her way to the kitchen to make breakfast, she played My Chemical Romance and pumped up the volume. Her headbanging and singing along while she cooked lasted only two songs, though. The music stopped abruptly and Chris Daughtry replaced Gerard Way. The girl smiled.
Alex dragged her feet into the kitchen a moment later and crumbled on a tall stool at the breakfast bar, resting her elbows on the bar to hold up her head with both hands, eyes hardly open.
“Rise and shine, Al!” Claire said, bringing mugs and dishes to the bar. “Here, it’ll wake you up.”
“Who says I wanna.”
“Pete’s bringing the table and the table in a while.”
“Why so early? It’s Saturday.”
“’Cause you told him so. You should’ve kept that in mind before pulling an allnighter with George.”
“Jesus. You’re my niece, not my mother. I wasn’t an allnighter. I came home about three. And I was at Clyde’s, not with George.”
“Shame on you, then, for being so trashed after not getting laid.”
Alex’s snort made Claire laugh heartedly.
Pete and Harry ignored Alex’s constant warnings about the just-painted walls as they carried the bookshelves and the restored table into the store. They were on their way out when a truck from out of town parked behind Pete’s pickup truck, loaded with boxes for the Corbans.
Once alone, after piling up boxes at any available corner of the store, Claire opened her computer to play some music.
“Enough of My Chemical Romance,” Alex said.
“Enough of Daughtry,” Claire replied.
“Okay. But please stick to the classics.”
The girl played Red Hot’s album Californication and they started opening the boxes and sorting books on the shelves. An hour later, Alex saw George’s car pull over across the street. He stepped out, stopped to greet somebody and walked into the realtor’s office without even glancing at the bookstore.
She paused to watch him, his friendly smile, those warm ways that had earned him such a quick acceptance in their closed community. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she knew the morning sun would add a green spark to his blue gaze. She waited until he walked into the two-story office and resumed sorting historic novels with a sigh.
A nostalgic prick pinched her heart, and it was somehow good. That was what she’d hoped for. She didn’t want to be with him just because of what he felt for her, or because she was supposed to. She wanted to want him. It was the only way to stop seeing Aidan’s face in her mind every time George kissed her.
She was aware that Claire was right and Aidan was only a temporary good fit. But that’d been all Alex had had with him. She hadn’t had the chance to grow tired of his detached alpha ways and his smartass quips. All she had was her memories, and they showed they’d had fun out of everything: going out for a drink, arguing, having sex, driving. Even being in danger felt sort of good with him.
Aidan was the cowboy born to save the day, kiss the girl and ride away into the sunset. A simple, everyday bond like the one she’d shared with George was no match for those few intense days she’d lived with Aidan. Not yet, at least.
“Wasn’t that George?” asked Claire behind her. “He didn’t drop by? Weird.” Alex’s silence caught her attention. “How are things between you two?”
Alex shrugged, keeping her back turned to her niece. “We had a little conversation and I— I told him I’m not ready for a relationship right now.”
Claire was sensitive enough to shut down her empathy and ask, “Oh. And how are you feeling?”
“I miss him, of course. On the bright side, at least I don’t feel like a cheat anymore.”
“Bummer. Honesty ain’t no bliss, huh.”
“It never is.”
They took a break at noon to have lunch at Jill’s. They sat at the counter to eat, and they were chattering with Jill when Rob Thompson came in holding hands with Sophie Malher. Sophie spotted the Corbans and hurried to them.
“Claire! I’m so lucky to find you! I need to ask you for the recipe of the chocolate pudding you bake here on Wednesdays.”
Claire faked a questioning frown. “Intending to break my monopoly?”
Sophie shook her head, giggling. “I wish! My friends and I got a stand on the Anniversary Fair, and we wanna make it a bakery.”
“But the Fair’s in November,” said Alex. “Two months from now.”
“Oh, but it’s gonna take us many tries to make our pudding nearly as good as Claire’s.”