“Hey, Coop, you in here?”
Heidi finds me in my workshop, where I’ve been holed up for the past six hours. Orders keep pouring in for new furniture pieces via the website Mac had set up for me. She’d asked someone who worked on her apps to design it, and one of her marketing people created an advertising account for my Facebook business page too. Just another way she’d changed my life for the better. The orders are coming almost faster than I can fill them, so every second I’m not on one of Levi’s jobsites, I’m in here busting my ass to push out new work. Can’t say I mind the distraction. It’s either keep myself occupied, or wallow in self-destructive misery.
My head jerks up in a quick nod of greeting. I have a raw piece of oak from a fallen tree that I’m chiseling into a chair leg. The repetitive motions—long, smooth strokes—are all that keep me sane these days.
“Why does your porch look like a funeral home?” Heidi says as she hops on my worktable.
“Mac. She keeps sending my gifts back.”
For two weeks now, I’ve tried sending flowers, baskets. All kinds of shit. Every day, they end up on my front porch instead.
Initially, I was sending them to the hotel, knowing she was out there daily checking on the work Levi has one of his crews starting on. But then I wore Steph down and she told me Mac is staying with her and Alana. I thought for sure I’d at least get one of them to accept delivery. No such luck.
The intensity with which this chick refuses to let me apologize is fucking ridiculous. She even took our dog. I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking I hear Daisy barking. I’ll roll over and ask Mac if she’s taken her out, only to realize neither of them are there.
I miss my girls, damn it. I’m losing my mind.
“Guess that answers the question of where you two stand.” Heidi draws a sad face in the fine yellow dust. “Not for nothing, but I told—”
“I swear to God, Heidi, you finish that sentence and I better never see your face here again.”
“Whoa, what the hell, Coop?”
I put too much force behind the chisel and crack the wood. A huge gash opens down the middle of the chair leg. Dammit. The chisel flies out of my hand and pings off the floor somewhere across the garage.
“You got exactly what you wanted, right, Heidi? Mac won’t talk to me. And now, what, you’ve come to gloat? Fucking spare me.”
“You think I did this to you?”
“I know you did.”
“God, Cooper, you are such an ass.” Cheeks stained red with anger, Heidi throws a handful of sawdust in my face.
“Motherfucker,” I curse. There’s sawdust in my mouth and up my nose.
Muttering under my breath, I douse my head with a bottle of water and spit up tiny splinters on the concrete floor. My wary gaze tracks Heidi’s pissed off movements as she starts pacing the garage.
“I warned you this was a bad idea,” she fumes. “I said it was cruel to play with someone like that. But you didn’t listen because Oh that Heidi, she’s just jealous. Right? Isn’t that what you thought?”
A sliver of guilt pricks my chest, because, yeah, it’s precisely what I thought when she’d protested Evan’s revenge scheme.
“Well, I’m sorry it blew up in your face exactly how I knew it would.” She jabs her index finger in the air. “Don’t put that on me.”
I jab my finger right back. “No, you only made Mac miserable every second she was around until you finally got your chance to drive her away.”
“She was eavesdropping. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
I’m so goddamn over Heidi and her attitude. For six months, I’ve made myself grin and bear it, but there’s a limit.
“You made it pretty clear you hated her from the second we got together. I asked you, as a friend, to do me this one favor. Instead you stabbed me in the back. Honest to God, I thought we were tighter than that.”
Heidi launches forward and chucks a sanding block at my head, which I manage to catch before it wallops me in the face. “Don’t pull that loyalty card nonsense on me. All you’ve done since the summer is act like I’m the heartsick psycho who can’t get off your dick, but it was you who showed up at my door drunk and horny one day, and the next you’re treating me like a stalker.”
“Where did this come from?”
“You, jackass.” Heidi paces around the table. Too close to my chisels and mallets for my liking. “Yes, okay, sorry, I made the unforgiveable mistake of catching feelings for you. Fucking crucify me. I don’t remember you telling me our shit was over. I don’t recall a conversation where you said, Hey, it’s only sex and we’re cool, right? One day I’m getting the brush-off and that’s it.”
I falter, forcing myself to look back to last summer. My memory is a bit fuzzy on the details. I’m not even sure how we ended up in bed the first time. Can’t say I remember having a meeting about the particulars either. There’d been no what are we talk. No discussion where we laid out some ground rules. I just … assumed.
And that’s when I realize, as I feel the color drain from my face and guilt twist up my insides, that maybe I was the asshole.
“I didn’t realize that’s how you felt,” I admit, keeping my distance because another violent outburst is not out of the question. “I thought we were on the same page. And then, yeah, I guess I felt kind of cornered and took the easy way out. I didn’t want to make it awkward.”
Heidi stops. She sighs, slumping down on a stool. “You made me feel like some random hookup. Like, even as a friend, I didn’t mean anything to you. That really hurt, Coop. Then I was so mad at you.”
Fuck. Heidi’s always had my back. I was so up my own ass I didn’t think for a second how I did her wrong.
“Come here,” I say gruffly, holding out my arms.
After a second, she comes forward and lets me hug her. Though she does slug me in the ribs before wrapping her arms behind my back.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. If I’d seen someone else treat you that way, I’d have beaten him senseless. It wasn’t cool at all.”
She peers up at me, and there’s moisture clinging to her lashes. She hastily wipes her eyes. “I guess I’m sorry too. I should have put on my big girl pants and cut your brake lines like an adult instead of taking it out on your girlfriend.”
Ah, fucking Heidi. Never can tell with this one. I wouldn’t for a second put it past her.
I give her another squeeze before releasing her. “Are we good?”
She shrugs. “Eh. We will be.”
“If you need me to grovel some more, say the word.” I flash a self-deprecating grin. “I’ve gotten damn good at groveling these past couple weeks.”
Her lips twitch with humor. “The flowers on your porch say otherwise. But sure, I’ll take some groveling. You can’t act like a fuckboy and expect to get away with it.”
I wince. “God. No. Definitely don’t let me get away with it.” A groan slips out. “I just realized something. I’m Evan. I fucking Evan’d you.”
Heidi starts to laugh uncontrollably, bending over to clutch her side. “Oh my God, you did,” she howls. When she regains her composure, her cheeks are flushed and stained with tears of laughter rather than pain. She grins at me and says, “I almost feel like that’s punishment enough.”
I know Heidi well enough to be sure we’ll work our stuff out, and it’s especially promising after our talk in the garage. The harder mission right now is Mac, whose determination to ignore me has surpassed even my most pessimistic estimations. Two weeks becomes three, and the stubborn woman continues to act as if I don’t exist.
I’ve taken to texting her as I get off work, a reward to myself for making it all day without leaving her a dozen voicemails. Not that she ever replies, but I’m holding on to hope that one day she will.
I’ve just hit send on my latest Please please call me when Levi signals me and Evan as we’re getting into my truck and asks us to meet him down at his lawyer’s office on Main Street. He mentioned something recently about amending his will, so I figure it’s about that. But when we get there, he drops a bomb on us.
After we’re ushered into a small conference room and take our seats, Levi slides a small stack of documents across the table.
“For you boys,” he says.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Have a quick read.”
Confused, I scan the documents. My eyes widen when they land on the words Hartley & Sons. “Levi. What is this?” I repeat.
Evan pulls the papers toward him to take a better look.
“I’m restructuring the company,” Levi explains, pushing two pens toward us. “And, if you’re interested, Coop, bringing your furniture business under the new H & S umbrella.”
“Wait.” Evan pops his head up after a careful reading of the contract. “You want to make us owners?”
Levi nods with a reserved smile. “Equal partners.”
“I…” Am lost for words. Dumbstruck. I didn’t see this coming whatsoever. “I don’t understand. What brought this on?”
Levi clears his throat and gives his lawyer a look that gets the older man peeling out of his big leather chair to give us some privacy. “The day Shelley left town for good, when I came by the house to check on you,” he starts. Then stops, clearing his throat again. “What you boys said really got to me. About being all alone now. Feeling like orphans. And, well, if I’m being honest, I always thought of you two as my sons.”
Levi’s never been married or had kids of his own. It wasn’t until we were in high school that Evan and I caught on that his friend and roommate Tim was his boyfriend. They’ve been together as long as I can remember, though they try not to be obvious about it. The Bay that Levi grew up in is of another time, so I get it. He prefers to keep his personal life private, and we’ve always tried to respect that.
“I figured, well, let’s make it official.” He gulps, shifting awkwardly in his chair. “If you’re good with it, that is.” Another gulp. “I want to make sure you boys have a legacy you’re proud of in this town.”
All I can do is stare at him. Because … wow. No one has ever invested anything in us before. Growing up, most people wrote us off as a lost cause. Bound to end up like our parents. Drunks. Deadbeats. Drop-outs. All waiting for the day they could wag their fingers and say, See, I knew it. But not Levi. Maybe because he’s family, but mostly because he’s a decent guy. He saw us as worth protecting. He knew, if given a chance, an ounce of help, we’d turn out okay. A little frayed, maybe, but still in one piece.
“So, what do you say?” he prompts.
My brother wastes no time grabbing one of the pens. “Hell yes,” he says, the crack in his voice revealing he’s as affected by this as I am.
I always knew our uncle cared, that he’d never let us down, but this is more than I ever expected. It’s a real future. Something to build on. It’s the feeling that Evan and I finally have some firm footing in this world. One thing that isn’t crumbling around our heads.
Evan scribbles his signature on the bottom of the page. He jumps to his feet, meeting Levi first with a handshake and then a back-slapping hug. “Thanks, Uncle Levi,” he says in a very serious un-Evan-like tone. “We won’t let you down. I promise.”
My hand shakes slightly as I add my own signature to the page. I get up and embrace our new business partner. “I can’t thank you enough,” I tell our uncle. “This means so much to us.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” he says with a smirk. “You’re owners now. That means early mornings and late nights. I’ve got a lot to teach you.”
“I look forward to it,” I answer, and I mean every word.
“Good. I’m thinking first thing we do is get one of you boys to head up the demolition crew at Mackenzie’s hotel. Frees me up to focus on the Sanderson restaurant.”
I flinch. Just hearing someone say her name stirs up a world of pain. “Yeah. Maybe Evan’ll handle that. I don’t think Mac is ready to have me around on the site every day.”
Levi’s brow furrows. “You two are still on the outs?”
I nod miserably. “She won’t answer my calls or accept my gifts.”
“Gifts?” he echoes in amusement.
My brother speaks up, taking great delight in describing to our uncle the field’s worth of flowers I’d sent, the numerous heart-shaped chocolate boxes, the overstuffed baskets. “So many baskets,” Evan stresses. “It’s disgusting.”
“And futile,” Levi says after a bout of gentle laughter. “Boy, you’re not winning back a girl like that with candy and flowers.”
“No?” Frustration jams in my throat. “Then what do I do? How do I get her to talk to me?”
My uncle claps a hand over my shoulder. “Easy. You need to think bigger.”
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