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Wait for It: Chapter 26


“Tell her,” Josh whispered as he passed by me in the kitchen to refill his cup with apple juice from the fridge.

I ground my teeth and made my eyes go wide in his direction while going back to keeping an eye on my mom who happened to be standing at the stove in the kitchen, giving the rice she was making a stir. “I will. Give me a second,” I hissed at him, glancing in my mom’s direction one more time to make sure she was oblivious.

My eleven-year-old mouthed “Wuss” to me over his shoulder as he left the room with his glass full.

Sadly, I knew he was right. I needed to tell my mom who was coming over for Christmas dinner. Well, more specifically, why someone was coming over for dinner with Miss Pearl in tow.

Shit.

Grabbing a clean kitchen towel from a drawer, I’d barely dipped it under the running tap when I finally said, “Mamá, Miss Pearl and Dallas are coming over for dinner.”

“Miss Pearl? ¿La vecina?

“Yes, the neighbor. The one whose house burned down.”

“And who else?” she asked distractedly, her back still to me.

“Dallas. My neighbor. Josh’s coach.” It wasn’t like we hadn’t talked about him a dozen times before. Knowing my mom though, she was just playing dumb, possibly hoping I’d mysteriously come up with someone else with the same name.

“The one with all the tattoos?”

Jesus Christ. “He doesn’t even have that many tattoos,” I groaned.

“Enough,” she mocked back.

When I squeezed the excess water off the towel, I told myself that I wasn’t imagining it being my mom’s neck. “Please stop with the comments. You’re going to have to get used to them. You’re going to be seeing a lot of him.” There. I’d done it. I’d told her.

“¿Cómo?”

I turned to look at the woman who had carried me around for nine months, who fought me more than anyone else, criticized and judged me five times as much, and gave me more headaches than any person in the world. But she meant the world to me. Nuts and all. “You know como.”

One of her eyes went a little squinty, and I saw her let out a deep breath. “He’s your boyfriend?” she asked in Spanish, drawn out and in nearly a shocked breath.

I couldn’t disrespect her by lying, so I told her the truth. “You can say that.”

This dramatic woman, who had given birth to me almost thirty years ago, reached straight for her heart.

“I love him, Mom.”

She turned away, giving me her cheek. Jesus Christ. Slightly scared of her even though I was taller than she was, I took a step closer and lowered my voice, trying my best to be understanding. It didn’t work well, but I tried. “He’s the best man I’ve ever known, Mom. I’m lucky. Stop looking like you’re going to die, come on. Es un güero, he has tattoos. Rodrigo married Mandy who wasn’t even Catholic, much less Mexican, and he had tattoos. Stop with the face.”

“How can you even—” She gasped dramatically.

Here it was. “How can I what? The boys really like him. Louie is half in love with him. He has a steady job. His grandma lives with him. He was married and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me until he got divorced—”

“He was married!”

I blinked at her, almost at my end with her shit. So I threw down the one card I had to trump this freak out: “You were married before Dad. Remember that guy?”

She sucked in a breath that had me raising my eyebrows.

“You thought I didn’t know? Mom, I’ve always known. Dad told me a long time ago. Who cares?”

Her face went about as red as someone so brown was capable of. “Diana….”

I cracked a smile at her and took a step forward, trying to put my hand on her shoulder, only to have her move out of the way at the last minute. It hurt my feelings a lot more than it should. “What is it? I don’t care that you were married to someone before. You don’t have to be embarrassed. Obviously, we all struck out with our first relationships. It happens. Rodrigo did too, but look, you met dad and had us. It’s fine.”

My mom’s back went to me, and I could see her dipping her head, her shoulders hunching as she bent over the kitchen countertop. “Stop talking about Rodrigo, Diana.”

We were back to this? “Mom—”

“No, no. This has nothing to do with me and what happened before you were even born.”

All right, so she was ashamed I knew her secret from years ago. Fine. I understood. I would probably feel the same way too if I’d lied to someone for almost thirty years.

Then she shook her head dramatically, clutching her chest again, and my sympathy disappeared. “How can you bring another man into your life? Into the lives of the boys? They already had a father. A great one—”

“What are you talking about? I’m not getting them another dad. I love him, and I know he feels the same way, and even if we got married one day in the distant future—” I scoffed, not believing what my mom was trying to imply. “—no one could ever replace, Rodrigo, Mom. How could you think that from me just finding someone I like? I thought you were going to freak out because you hate everyone I’ve ever dated, but this one is different. It’s so different. He’s wonderful. He’s probably too good for me. But he has nothing to do with Rodrigo.”

I could see her shake her head, see her shoulders shake, and I came up behind her and wrapped my arms around her neck.

“I think about him all the time. I talk to the boys about him. None of us have forgotten him, and we never could. But don’t you think he’d want us to be happy?”

She didn’t say a word and my stomach turned.

“Mom, I love you. What is it?”

Her chin lowered until it touched my forearm, and she said nothing for a long time. “I’m sorry, amor. You’re right. You’re right,” she finally admitted.

“I know I’m always right.”

She sniffled, wet sounding and reluctant. “No te creas.” Her palm went to one of my hands, interlocking our fingers. “I miss your brother,” she whispered softly, like saying the words too loudly would cut her. “I caught myself buying him a Christmas present twice this year.”

I wanted to ask her for more, to tell me more about when she thought about him. But I kept the question in my mouth. I loved to push and push for more, but with something like this…. What she gave me was more than enough. It was a start. Or maybe if it wasn’t a start, it was something.

“I only want the best for you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’ve made so many mistakes, Diana. I know I have, and I don’t want you to repeat them. I haven’t always been the person you wanted me to be, and I’m sorry.”

Ugh. “Mom, you’re fine. I know I haven’t always been the person you wanted me to be either, but you’re kind of stuck with me and I’m stuck with you.” I gave her a squeeze. “I love you anyway.”

Te quiero mucho, amor.” Her small fingers gave mine a squeeze that was a lot stronger than someone so little should be capable of. “Not everyone can marry a man like your cousin, I understand.”

I rolled my eyes so far back I wasn’t sure how they found their way forward again. God. I should have expected this from her. I wasn’t sure why I let her continue to shock me.

When she released my fingers and gave the back of my hand a pat, I decided to just let it go. “Okay, I’m fine now.” She didn’t turn around to look at me as she acted like nothing had happened. “You could have told me earlier there were more people coming. I could have worn a nicer dress.”

I gave her shoulders, not her neck, a squeeze as I took a step back. “Who are you trying to impress? You’re already married.”

That had her peeking one teary eye at me over her shoulder. “I don’t know where I went wrong with you.”

A knock came from the front door just as I said, “Me neither.”

I was 99 percent sure as I walked out of the kitchen that my mom threatened me with her shoe, but I was too relieved that we’d gotten that conversation over with to do anything but smile at the person standing on the other side of the door. Miss Pearl’s hair was a pale halo around her head and she’d put on a turtleneck with Christmas trees on it and cute dangling earrings with snowmen on them.

“Merry Christmas, Miss Pearl.”

The older woman gave me a smug smile. “It’s Christmas Eve, Diana, but Merry early Christmas.”

God help me. I laughed as I leaned forward to give her a gentle hug. “Come in. Come in,” I told her as I backed up to let her pass.

And that was when I finally took in the man who had been standing right behind her. In a soft gray flannel shirt with the top button undone was Dallas. He took a step forward. “Hello, light of my life.”

I scrunched up my nose. My heart was racing instantly from one beat to the next, from one blink of my eyes to the following one. Was this ever going to get old? I sure as hell hoped not. “Hi, Professor.” I reached up on my tippy-toes and felt him press his mouth against me, the kiss slow and sweet, a reminder to my heart of what we’d done in my bedroom three nights this last week. Of what I hoped we’d do in my bedroom, with the doors locked, tonight, too. He’d left to help Trip with something the day before so he hadn’t come over last night. I trusted him—both of them, really. I didn’t need to ask what they were up to.

“Thanks for having us.”

Rolling my eyes, I pecked his mouth again. “Don’t thank me.”

“Okay, you can thank me,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out something pink. Dallas reached up over my head so quickly, I couldn’t get a good look at it until his fingers grazed the sides of my face and something came down over my hair. His eyes flicked down to mine as he settled the pink material over the hair I’d left down and curled. “I made you a cap.”

And he smiled as he said it, his palms curving downward to cup my cheeks.

All I could do was blink.

“Pink like Princess Peach.”

I swallowed, hard. “If you’re trying to get laid, we have to wait until everyone leaves,” I whispered.

Dallas grinned and I did too.

“Thank you,” I told him. “I can’t believe you knit me one.”

“I told you I would.”

He had. He really had told me that. I took his hands from my face watching as he winced at the contact and looked down at the big palms and long fingers I was holding between us. The knuckles were a purple-ish red and two had the skin broken. I blinked. “What the hell did you do?

There was no hesitation in his answer. “Stuff.”

I peered up at him, narrowing my eyes and ignoring the sneaky smile creeping at his cheeks. “Did you guys beat someone up?”

Trip, I could see getting into a fight for whatever reason. Dallas? It had to be a damn good reason. Maybe Trip had gotten into a fight and Dallas had stepped in—

His nonbruised hand came up to my cheek again and he flat-out grinned. “Yes. He deserved it.” Before I could react, he leaned forward and kissed my mouth softly.

Had he… Jeremy…? With his lips hovering just above mine, I asked slowly, “Where did you go?”

“Fort Worth.”

Holy shit.

Dallas pressed his lips to mine again. “It’s better if you don’t ask any more questions, hmm? Consider it one of your Christmas presents, baby.”

My heart seemed to swell about ten sizes larger than it originally was and in one of the rare occasions in my life, I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was draw his injured hand to my mouth and kiss the knuckles, snickering and laughing as his eyes met mine. I must have done something fucking awesome in another lifetime to deserve this man. And it was pretty damn easy to not ask any more questions about where he’d been and what he’d done. I was still grinning at him as I asked, “Are you still off the day after tomorrow?”

Dallas nodded, those green-brown-gold eyes focused in on mine.

I wasn’t surprised by how much my chest didn’t tighten or how my stomach didn’t ache as the question came out of my mouth. I’d thought about it last night while I lay in bed and decided to go for it. “Could you watch the boys for me for half the day? I have clients—”

“Sure,” he cut me off.

Did he look relieved or was I imagining it?

“You asked me for help.”

This funny feeling rolled around in my belly and I smirked at him. “So?”

“You really do love me.” His mouth was gaping. Ugh.

“Shut up,” I groaned. “You better get used to it. I’m not letting you get out of this one day because you get tired of me asking for help.”

Dallas shook his head. This giant smile that seemed like the greatest Christmas present in the world took over his mouth. “I won’t. Ever.”

I couldn’t help but eye him a little. “You said it.”

“I’ll get it to you in writing one day.”

“Uh-huh.” My face went hot so I changed the subject. There was only so much my heart could take in a day. Maybe one day I’d get used to him, but I hoped I didn’t. You stop appreciating things the moment they become a routine. “Did you get in touch with your brother by any chance?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “No. I left him a voice mail. Trip said he thought he saw him last week, but I don’t know.”

I scrunched up my nose. “I’m sorry. I hope he calls you back.”

“Me too.” He kissed my cheek. “The good news is that Nana’s trying to play it cool, but she’s excited to be here,” he said, his mouth inches from mine when he pulled back.

“Good. I made sure we have lots of Mexican food she can stuff her face with.” I smiled at him. “Has she said anything else about… you know, us?”

His hands came back up to my cheeks. “She was awake a few nights ago and caught me sneaking in. All she said was about time.”

My face went red and I couldn’t help but crack up from how embarrassing that was. God. “Okay. Now I have to sit through dinner knowing she knows you come over.”

“I came over right now.”

“That’s a whole different kind of coming over.” I laughed. “It’s more like crossing the street, if you know what I mean.”

Dallas shrugged, easy, easy, one of his thumbs going to my bottom lip to tug it down a little. “One day we can have Christmas and I won’t have to cross the street, hmm?”

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.” I looked him right in the eyes. “All I care is that this is the first of many. I hope.”

His smile grew wider, his forehead going to mine, and he sighed, “You’re damn right it’s the first of many.”


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