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by Caitlin Drake
Three passionate women are about to learn that the difference between “I do” and “I don’t” is a lot more than two little letters…
Birdy Cartwright has a problem. A big problem. Newly engaged to her lover of two years, Birdy is shocked to find herself spending more time thinking about hitting the sheets with her gorgeous new coworker than about waking up next to her bride-to-be. But what’s a crush compared with true love, right?
And who wouldn’t have a crush on athletic optimist Sydney Ramos with that killer smile and a body to match? Sydney wouldn’t have dreamed of flirting with Birdy if she’d known about the engagement—a fact that Birdy somehow “forgot” to mention—but the more their friendship grows, the harder it is to keep from dreaming of a lot more…
But charming and charismatic Brooke Winters is used to getting what she wants—and she wants nothing more than to keep Birdy’s future wrapped around her ring finger. Persistent and persuasive—in addition to being a sexual dynamo—Brooke will use every trick she knows to keep “her” bird from flying the coop.
GCLS Goldie Awards
One in the Hand — Finalist, Debut Author.
“Birdy, you know your girlfriend—excuse me, fiancée—is totally borderline, right?”
Saul was apparently under the impression his status as her best friend entitled him to critique her life without the filter of social grace.
“She’s not borderline, Saul. She’s just…passionate.”
“And she proposed to you in the most disgusting way possible.”
“It wasn’t disgusting. It was romantic!”
They were eating lunch at their favorite sandwich shop, Shmulsky & Stein, in Portland, Oregon. The small restaurant was quiet and her companion was anything but, so it was less than an ideal place to have this conversation.
“She put your ring in a baked potato,” he continued, pointing at her hand with the thick, black-rimmed glasses he had just taken off to rub clean with the end of his tie.
Birdy self-consciously moved her hand from her water glass to her lap. She couldn’t help but glance around to make sure no one was listening. Saul was on summer vacation from his work as a middle school guidance counselor, a job one would think would make him a little more sensitive about keeping her personal life confidential.
Straightening herself up and pushing a lock of nearly black, shoulder-length hair behind her ear, Birdy said, “She knows I love baked potatoes.” She fiddled with the corner of her napkin, unable to meet his gaze as she continued her defense of her fiancée. “And that showed a surprising amount of planning. Think about how hard it would be to get a diamond ring into a baked potato at a fancy restaurant. And she never even left the table. I was impressed by her effort.”
He replaced his glasses and leaned forward in his chair. “You chewed on your ring. You had to spit a giant glob of potato into your napkin.” Using his own paper lunch napkin for effect, he pretended to spit out mashed-up potato much the same way a cat would work out a hairball. “She had to dig into the glob and wipe your masticated, saliva-filled potato from the diamond so she could present it to you again. I’m pretty sure there’s still a chive in the setting. I swear every time I see the picture of you wearing that ring on Facebook, I can see a green glob in there.” Finally, he sat back and refolded his napkin onto his knee, looking satisfied at his performance of, what should have been, the most romantic night of Birdy’s life to date.
“First of all, it just happened last night. How many times could you have looked at the picture Brooke posted on Facebook? What was it? Thirteen hours ago?”
“You’d be surprised. My news feed is torturing me,” he said dryly.
Rolling her eyes, she continued, “Secondly, as you can see, I’m chive-free.” She wiggled her fingers for a moment before returning her hand, and the offending ring, to her lap. “Third, I’m sure it didn’t go exactly as planned. She probably thought I would pull it out of my mouth and it would be perfectly clean and sparkling. I guess I just didn’t handle it as gracefully as I should have.” She trailed off as she fingered a potato chip on her plate.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t very romantic. It had been a disaster, which was why she had skimmed over the details when she called Saul to tell him Brooke had popped the question. He had, of course, weaseled the whole story out of her, ferreting out the truth, sniffing out her disappointment.
What a rat, she thought ruefully, nearly smiling at her own joke. But she was marrying the woman she loved, right? That was all that mattered. The baked potato would just be a funny story to tell at their twentieth anniversary celebration, which at this rate, Saul would not be invited to.
He wasn’t ready to let it go, though. As Birdy’s oldest friend, dating back to middle school he knew her better than anyone and had always been clear about his dislike for Brooke, which was mutual.
“The point, Birdy, is she manipulates you. She botched the big question and now suddenly it’s your fault it didn’t go smoothly. You go to sleep next to a ticking time bomb that resets each night, never knowing if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day. For any reason, no matter how carefully you tread she could explode. You’re constantly walking on eggshells with her.”
Birdy had heard it all from him before. Their meet-ups came less often now because she knew he would harp on Brooke, as he’d done since they first started dating nearly five years ago. Yesterday’s engagement only intensified his insistence that Brooke was not The One. Now, she glared at him sharply, with her jaw set to make clear she would no longer entertain his opinions.
Lighter than before, he continued. “I can tell from that look you’re done listening to me now, and I know you’re trying to think of a reason to go back to work early. I just have one last thing to say and then I’ll let you go.” He hesitated, apparently still wary of her annoyance. “Ever since you came out to me, you’ve always said you wanted to be the one who asks your girlfriend to marry you. You always had these huge, inventive schemes dreamed up, the type that would go viral on YouTube because they’d be so creative and full of love. You just hadn’t found the right girl to ask. You told Brooke that, right? You told her you wanted to be the one to ask because that was important to you, right?”
Birdy shifted, uncomfortable as he lowered his head to make her meet his eyes. The truth was, she had told Brooke that. On their better days they would lie in bed and talk about getting married. What their wedding would look like, who would give each of them away, and how many they would have in their wedding parties. Birdy had said emphatically, “I want to be the one to propose to you when the perfect moment comes along. I’ve never dreamed of that day when someone would get down on their knee and ask me. I always saw myself on the other side.”
Cupping her face, Brooke had said, “That would be wonderful.”
Had Brooke forgotten her dream? Or was this yet another sign that the woman she’d fallen in love with had changed?
* * *
Birdy clomped back into work still fuming from Saul’s words. Why couldn’t he just leave it alone, she thought. If he would just get to know her better, he’d like her. He doesn’t see the side of her that I see.
She flung herself into her desk chair, sending it rolling several feet from her desk. With a frustrated sigh, she kicked her feet like a paddling duck, scooting herself back up to her desk and then slumped deeper into her chair, brooding.
Furiously tapping a pen on her desk, she thought, why had Brooke asked her to marry? They had talked about marriage a lot, and Brooke knew it was important to her that she was the one to ask. Brooke also knew she’d been waiting until she had all of her ducks in a row—like a small chunk of her student loans paid off and a little nest egg in the bank rather than just her paltry checking account that was nearly depleted each month. She wanted her home too, which happened to be a boat floating just northwest of Portland off Sauvie Island, to be restored and functional. She had been saving up for a Tiffany ring for a year. It was the only money she could spare to put into her previously ignored savings account. Okay, so maybe she hadn’t thought of a way to propose to Brooke yet but she sure as hell could have done better than a baked potato.
Birdy couldn’t decide whom to be mad at. Damn Brooke for her poorly stitched plan and damn Saul for picking at the thread, trying to unravel her whole relationship. Deep down though, she knew it wasn’t his fault. He was only holding up the mirror she damn well didn’t want to look into.
Mare, Birdy’s boss and friend, strode into the office appearing frazzled. Her face was red, and white ink smudged her wiry, auburn hair.
Mare owned PDX Ink, the screen printing shop that had been Birdy’s second home for the past seven years. She had been hired as the company’s graphic designer immediately after graduating from the University of Oregon. In her time working with Mare they had become close friends despite Mare’s infuriating lack of insightfulness. The woman was completely unable to read people’s emotions, making her the least perceptive person Birdy had ever met. She regularly hired the wrong people, going through more than a dozen screen printers since Birdy had started working for her.
Their most recent printer had been with them longer than any others, but after eight months had quit unexpectedly, leaving them in a lurch. Without a press operator, Mare had to step in and cover a full-time printing job as well as run the busy office. They weren’t having any luck finding someone qualified, and she was wearing herself thin trying to make up for the loss. Despite her stress, she seemed in better spirits than she had in two weeks, but as usual, was oblivious to Birdy’s sour mood.
“Hey lady, did you have a good lunch?”
Birdy continued to tap furiously with her pen.
Mare moved closer, sitting at her own desk, which faced Birdy’s. “Hey, did you have a good lunch with Saul?”
“Yeah, wonderful,” she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Good!” Mare chirped, shuffling through the invoices on her desk, oblivious to her sarcasm as usual. “Oh, by the way, I hired a new printer while you were at lunch.”
“You what?” Birdy sputtered. “What…how? What are you talking about?”
“Well, I got an email this morning from a girl—Sydney is her name, I think—and she sounded great. A bachelor’s in fine arts…worked at a screen printing shop in Austin. Plus, she knows how to operate both the automatic and manual presses. She sounded perfect so I asked her to come in. And I hired her!”
“Mare, we both know your track record with new hires. I thought you were going to let me help with the hiring from now on?” Birdy tried to keep her voice light but the frustration that was once split between Brooke and Saul now converged on her boss.
“I know, I know, but I had a really good feeling about this one. I think you’ll love her, and she seems to really know her stuff.”
Birdy gaped at her disbelievingly. “You thought Steroid Steve knew his stuff too.”
“How was I supposed to know he was as high as a kite on juice?”
“He came to the interview in a sleeveless muscle shirt. In January. He was so jacked up and sweaty, it looked like he’d just gotten out of a pool.”
“Well, some people are just hotter than others. I can’t not hire someone because they sweat too much.”
“You’re right. I think though, you would have gotten a clue when he literally had a heart attack during the interview.”
“Okay, okay. So he was an addict. I don’t see how I was supposed to know that, but I see your point. But no worries,” Mare said with a wave of her hand as if dismissing any other negative comments Birdy might have for her, “Sydney is definitely not an addict. She gave five references and not a one of them, might I add, was her sponsor. Also, her previous address is not a rehab facility so she’s already a step ahead of Steven.”
“And Meth Mouth Michael,” Birdy added with so much cynicism she thought even Mare couldn’t miss it.
“Oh, Michael. He was a nice guy. Pretty cute too,” she added, gazing dreamily out the window. Yep, she missed it.
“You mean besides the rotting teeth, right?”
“They weren’t that bad. Anyway, her references are excellent. You’re really going to like this one.”
Mare’s unerring good nature and naivety usually won Birdy over but this time she was too frustrated to go along with her boss’s optimism.
She let out a long sigh, her anger turning to exasperation. “Mare, I love you but you’ve made a mistake. She’s probably never screen printed in her life. Or she took one class in college and thinks she can run a shop now. At least you’ll be training her so you’ll see quickly enough that she can’t cut it.” Birdy straightened up in her seat and turned on her computer monitor, willing herself to get started on her mountain of work. “When does she start?”
“First thing tomorrow.”
Birdy shook her head at the woman’s impulsivity. And then she noticed her puckered lips and darting eyes, which gave the creeping impression another shoe was about to drop. She narrowed her eyes and raised her brow questioningly. “What?”
Mare took a deep breath, and speaking very quickly so Birdy wouldn’t have a chance to interrupt, blurted out, “I actually won’t be training her. I’ll work with her tomorrow but my cousin’s getting married next week in Vegas. I wasn’t going to go because Jeff up and quit on us, but since Sydney is experienced I’ve decided to after all. So, actually, you’ll be training her mostly…all next week. I fly out to Vegas Saturday.”
Sydney Ramos stepped ashore onto the bank of an island in the Willamette River, setting firm foot in her new home of Portland, Oregon once again. She dragged her rented kayak up onto the gravel bank, tossed her lifejacket inside and found a shady spot on a washed up log to relax with her bottle of water. Across the slough she had just been paddling, wetlands and a wildlife refuge spread out before her. Long-necked and lanky, a bluish-gray bird swooped in, landing in the shallows. She thought it might be an egret. Or maybe a heron? Were egrets and herons the same thing? Sydney didn’t know birds very well, especially in this new region, so she promised herself she would do some research before her next paddling trip.
The tapping of a woodpecker in the distance was calming until she lost the rhythm in the sloshing sounds of water nearby. Her friend Beth was wet docking her kayak next to the spot Sydney had just left hers.
“Thanks for leaving me in your dust back there,” Beth called out while unbuckling her own lifejacket and dropping it on the bank.
“You used to be more competitive in college. I thought you could keep up, or at least die trying.”
“We’re old now.”
“Twenty-nine isn’t old.”
“It feels old. I’m in bed by ten these days. Even on Saturdays. I can’t have two glasses of wine without getting a hangover and I sure as hell can’t paddle upstream like that.” Beth collapsed tiredly on the log next to Sydney and guzzled her drink. “You’re a beast. I’m glad you’re in town now so you can whip my ass back in shape. It’ll be like our old softball days.”
“I’d be happy to. It’s the least I can do to repay you for letting me stay on your couch the past two weeks.”
“It’s been fun. Staying up late, at least by my standards, catching up. I’ve liked sharing a space with you again. And it sure beats that shit hole we lived in our senior year. God, that house was nasty.”
“Oh God, the roaches.” Sydney shuddered at the memory.
“And the mold around the shower.”
“I might be living on a couch with all my belongings in storage but I’ve definitely moved up in the world.”
“And, as of today you’re no longer unemployed. Cheers to that.”
Sydney tipped her bottle to Beth as they toasted her new job. “I guess I’ll start looking for an apartment this weekend.” “My one-room abode and itchy couch aren’t good enough for you?” Beth made an exaggerated pouting face.
“That couch has given me a permanent rash on the left side of my body. Seriously though, thanks for helping me figure this all out. I thought I would just be passing through…I didn’t expect to love it here. Seattle was supposed to be my next stop. Instead I was that weekend guest that just never left. Hope I haven’t been a total imposition.”
“It’s been horrible, you freeloader.” Beth jabbed Sydney with her elbow. “Just kidding. Glad I could help. When I moved from Texas, it was easy since I have family here. My uncle Al found me my apartment, bought me groceries, the whole shebang. I am not buying your groceries, but I’m glad I could support you in your time of need.”
Their eyes drifted back over the water and Sydney was once again drawn in by the large gray bird, now grooming, its long neck buried under its extended wing.
“What is that? An egret?” Sydney asked.
“The gray one?”
“It’s a bird.”
“And you’re an ass.”
Birdy returned home after work still in a crabby mood. She had spent all day crafting speeches in her head for Saul, Brooke and Mare, wishing she had the opportunity to unleash her fury on any of the three people who had made her day miserable. She would never have the guts to say any of it out loud, but she enjoyed her self-pity so much, she’d fueled the flame all afternoon.
Just over five years ago, a few months before meeting Brooke, Birdy had made real her lifelong dream of being a live-aboard. Swept up in the romanticism of living on a boat, she thought of live-aboards as preppy vagabonds, people with a sense of adventure and restlessness that only the constant lapping of waves against the boat hull could calm. The simplicity of the lifestyle—only the clothes that could fit in two large moisture-proof plastic tubs, virtually no furniture that wasn’t bolted to the floor, and less clutter—both physically and emotionally appealed to her. She dreamed of spontaneous trips upriver, chugging past the scenery whenever inspiration struck, and languidly floating under the stars when she craved connection and introspection. Having saved every dime she could during her first two years at PDX Ink and with a sizable chunk loaned to her by her mom, she was able to buy the beautiful old boat. The only catch being that it didn’t actually run.
She had bought it with the intention of fixing the engine and entirely overhauling both the interior and exterior. After several years spent learning her way around the boat, she’d logged many hours of her weekends and evenings sanding, sealing and painting. The perks of manual labor—a flat stomach and toned arms—were something she definitely enjoyed. She felt enormous pride whenever she saw her nearly completed project. All she needed now was to get the engine up and running. Unfortunately, two things stood in her way: money and expertise.
She really knew very little about the inner workings of a boat. Since moving aboard, she’d learned a lot about how to live on a boat and keep it shipshape, but she didn’t have the slightest clue how to make it seaworthy.
Her parking spot was under a large oak tree that grew not far from the water’s edge. This entire section of riverbank was thick and shady with trees. Following a path mulched with acorns and twigs through the small forest of vegetation, she relished the calm she always felt when the river broke out before her, the sun reflecting on its undulating surface. Standing on the dock always had a way of steadying her, despite the constant pitch and sway. Her boat hadn’t always been a beauty but it was now. She slid her hand along the glossy black hull, enjoying the warmth of the sun that sat like a thick layer on the wood.
To say she had made improvements to the boat in the five years since she had bought it was an understatement. Crusty and peeling, it was no more than a weathered and dirty heap of wood when she had first laid eyes on it. The owners had it dry-docked, hoisted up on a rusty boat lift not far from where her car was now parked. It hadn’t seen the river for a decade and, at first sight, she wasn’t sure it would even float. Despite the disrepair and the patina of age, she had fallen in love with its sturdiness, its classic lines and most of all, its potential.
The entire hull had needed to be stripped, sanded and restored, tasks she did all by herself. Well, mostly by herself. John and Sylvie, the boat’s former owners also owned the land she was now docked to. The couple lived in a beautiful old farmhouse about fifty yards from the dock. Though she’d bought the boat outright, she paid them a small monthly mooring fee, which came with a lot of perks that included the occasional freshly baked pie. At times, John lent a hand with the more grueling tasks, often doing more chatting than working. Unfortunately, his boating knowledge didn’t stretch much farther than Birdy’s, as he had only inherited the boat, never taking on the project of restoring it himself.
Gripping the glistening silver rails of the small stepladder, she pulled herself aboard. The teak decks were her favorite feature of the boat. They had been weathered with dark gray and black stains when she’d bought it, but with some help from John and a lot of elbow grease, she had managed to repair them, bringing them back to life. Now they gleamed in the sun, the richness of the wood shining through.
Unlocking the door to the cabin, she immediately heard raucous meowing from inside. Her cat Hoots, a large brown and white Snowshoe, was sitting on one of the built-in benches next to the galley. The elderly cat slid to the floor and trundled toward her, his large stomach swinging as he waddled. All the while he mewed loudly, as if he had been left alone for days rather than hours.
“Hello, Hoots.” She bent over to scratch his head. “You’d get a lot more attention if you would stop yelling at me all the time.”
Hoots had no intention of giving up his desperate pleas for affection so easily. He followed her around the small living room as she kicked off her shoes and hung up her bag.
The boat’s cabin was sunken a few feet below deck. The same reddish-gold teak covered the floor and lower walls, while the upper portion was nearly encircled in large rectangular windows. Inviting and bright, the boat was now over fifty years old, and she loved the midcentury feel of the interior. She’d tried to keep as much of the original charm as possible, while updating where she could. Toward the back was the galley, where she had refinished the cabinets, installed new countertops and updated the small apartment-sized appliances.
Opposite the galley was a small set of stairs that dropped down into the bow of the boat. The stateroom, housing nothing more than her bed, had taken the most getting used to.
The first night aboard, Birdy feared she had made a mistake. Never one to suffer from claustrophobia, she was surprised when the small, dark space seemed to close in on her. Supine on her mattress, the boat swinging with the water, she stretched her arms wide and her fingertips grazed both the port and starboard walls.
In a bit of a panic that night, she had kneeled on her bed and reached up to slide open two of the long, high windows that dotted the hull just below the ceiling. The cool breeze that had been causing the boat to sway gently but steadily felt like silk against her clammy forehead. Allowing it to flow through the stateroom made the tight sleeping quarters feel twice as large.
Birdy was thankful she’d accepted the breeze as her ally that first night, as it led to much greater peace with the more aggressive winds she had since experienced. The stateroom was now her place of solace and she loved the cool wood that greeted her outstretched hands in the night.
When she plopped down on the end of her bed still in a huff about her afternoon, Hoots saw his opportunity. Lacking cat-like grace or agility, he shifted his weight from foot to foot preparing for the massive leap onto the bed. He made it halfway, digging his back claws into the mattress. With his nose peeking over the corner of the bed, his front legs pawed the sheet.
She took pity on the poor creature and hefted his considerable bulk onto the bed before laying back again, staring at the same woodgrain pattern on the ceiling her eyes usually sought out. One that looked eerily like John Travolta.
He immediately headed for her chest and settled down, legs splayed across her stomach and his wet nose inches from her cheek, not caring he was blocking her view of the Travolta ceiling which was luckily more reminiscent of John circa 1994’s Pulp Fiction than his later role as Edna in Hairspray.
“You are the most annoying cat ever,” she said, scratching his head lovingly. “What a shitty day, Hooters. Saul was a total bitch again about Brooke, which is ridiculous, since he hasn’t kept a girlfriend for more than a year ever. He doesn’t get it.” She sat up, her legs folded in the middle of the bed, letting the cat slide to the mattress.
Hoots moaned his displeasure at the change of positions and peered at her with large blue eyes that were slightly crossed.
“He doesn’t get that when you’re in a relationship you have to make a lot of compromises. It’s not all easy and you’re going to have some bad days. But as long as you sacrifice and work at it, it’ll all work out. Right, Hoots?” She picked him up by his armpits, his long body hanging between her elbows, and kissed his nose. He didn’t appear amused to be dangling in the air, so she put him back down on the bed and smoothed his ruffled fur. “A place for everything and everything in its place. That’s how you like it, huh Hoots? As long as your place is on top of me.”
As if to agree, he settled on her hand before she had a chance to scoot off the bed. Carefully extricating her hand from under his soft belly, she began collecting clothes and toiletries for the night. She and Hoots would be spending the night at Brooke’s apartment. Time away from her home, packing and unpacking almost daily, had become an unexpected chore. Given her growing collection of clothing at Brooke’s, it was harder to find what she needed.
“I think you have it right, Hooters. Everything needs a place, which is exactly why it’s okay that I’m selling the boat when we get married. At least everything will be in one place. Her place. This is the type of necessary sacrifice that Saul just doesn’t understand.”
* * *
“Hey babe,” Birdy said as she entered Brooke’s waterfront luxury condo.
Brooke greeted her at the front door with a quick kiss. Dressed in jeans and a loose-fitting button-up shirt that looked like she might have borrowed it from a boyfriend—if Birdy didn’t know better—Brooke was the epitome of easy casualness. Her sexiest look by far. The heels she wore all day at work were kicked off into a corner by the door and the jacket of her usual power suit was draped over a dining room chair. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a thick, curling ponytail. With a cell phone wedged between her shoulder and her ear, she waved around a wooden spoon covered in red sauce. “I’m making spaghetti. Sound good?” At Birdy’s excited nod, she spun back to the kitchen and resumed her phone conversation.
Birdy set Hoots’s carrier on the ground and freed him into the foyer. Both surveyed the room cautiously, waiting for Pumpkin to bark his way into the room.
Neither she nor Hoots liked Brooke’s Pomeranian rat-dog, who was five pounds of pure evil. The only thing saving Hoots from the dog’s snapping and snarling was his size. At nearly three times Pumpkin’s weight, Hoots usually could swat him hard enough to send him running to his mommy.
Tonight, however, the only sounds came from the kitchen—pots, pans, boiling water and Brooke’s pleasant laugh. Birdy couldn’t help thinking how nice the change was from Pumpkin’s incessant barking.
She scooped up Hoots, since he was sitting on her foot anyway, and went into the kitchen.
“…And then I said…will you marry me? And she said yes! Can you believe it? I’m engaged to the love of my life.” Brooke paused, listening to her friend. “Yes, we’re both very happy. I’m so lucky to have her.”
Birdy smiled. Aha! Take that, Saul! Ticking time-bomb my ass!
She pressed herself against Brooke’s back and hugged her tightly, enjoying the way Brooke’s butt wiggled against her suggestively. With a kiss to her cheek, she leaned in to inhale the simmering sauce.
As usual, it smelled delicious. Birdy’s idea of spaghetti was dumping a jar of whatever was on sale at the grocery store over some boiled noodles. Brooke, on the other hand, was a fantastic cook, and this sauce was undoubtedly made from scratch. The smell of fresh basil was Birdy’s undoing and she nabbed the wooden spoon to stir a moment before sneaking a taste. She was rewarded with a playful bump of Brooke’s hip before the spoon was snatched away.
“Where’s Pumpkin?” she mouthed during a pause in Brooke’s conversation.
“Hold on, Emily.” She put the phone against her chest. “I took him to get his teeth cleaned. They’re keeping him overnight, so unfortunately it’s just us and Hoots tonight.” Brooke frowned and then turned her attention back to her phone.
“Poor guy,” Birdy said, matching Brooke’s solemn expression. She scooped up her cat and left the kitchen quickly. Once in the hallway, she celebrated with him, holding his paw in victory as she sang to him quietly.
“What are you doing?”
“Just…waiting for dinner.” Birdy quickly dropped Hoots to the floor, where he scurried away, erasing any implication he’d been involved in the celebration.
“But you were dancing. And singing.”
“That’s just something Hoots and I do. I call it…cat dance time.”
“You are so weird.” Brooke rolled her eyes. “Dinner’s ready.”
* * *
Unable to take another bite, Birdy pushed her plate away. She swirled the last of the wine in her glass and moaned a sigh of contentment. “That was amazing. You make a mean plate of spaghetti, Miss Winters.”
“Why, thank you,” Brooke replied, straightening in her chair to add a haughtiness to her formal tone.
Birdy reached across the table, holding her hand open for Brooke and then squeezed when she felt the softness of her fiancée’s palm against her own. “How was your first day as an engaged woman?”
The warmth that spread across Brooke’s face seemed to travel through their hands and overtook Birdy as well. She felt a happy glow in her chest seeing the excitement and love she felt mirrored in Brooke.
Brooke kissed her knuckles and then said, “I had a fantastic day. I think being engaged suits me well. And it looks pretty good on you too.”
This feeling of love and exhilaration was exactly how she should have felt all day, she realized. Instead she had allowed Saul’s criticisms and Mare’s decisions to shroud her joy. Stroking the back of her hand, she marveled in the amount of love she felt for this woman. Now that she was in Brooke’s presence, surrounded by their love once again, she felt ready to shake off Saul’s words. One little thought though niggled in the back of her mind. One last hesitation that she knew she needed to air.
“Why did you ask me to marry you?”
With no hint of uncertainty, Brooke responded, “Because you’re the love of my life. I’m crazy about you, Birdy. You make me feel grounded, centered. And you make me feel loved. More than anyone else ever has. You’re so devoted and attentive. I love you so much.”
Even after five years of loving this woman, the sincerity of her words made Birdy’s face warm and her stomach tingle. It wasn’t the answer she was looking for though. She needed to know why Brooke had rushed the proposal rather than waiting for Birdy to ask.
“I love you too. What I meant though—”
“Hold on. My turn to ask. Why do you love me?”
The answer was easy for Birdy. “Because you make me feel. Love, happiness, anger, excitement—they all feel amped up with you. Like I’m experiencing everything at a higher voltage than before. You make me feel like I’m flying. You’re exhilarating and addictive and it doesn’t hurt that you’re smoking hot.”
Brooke laughed at the last comment. “I feel like we just wrote our vows.”
“Well that’s one thing we can mark off our list at least.” Before she could get sidetracked Birdy asked her question again. “Why did you ask me to marry you instead of waiting for me to do it?”
Brooke scooted forward and took both of Birdy’s hands in her own. “Oh, Birdy. I’m sorry if that’s been bothering you. I knew you wanted to be the one to propose but I also knew that financially you weren’t ready to buy a ring. I thought if I went ahead and did it, that would take some of the burden off of you. Maybe I was impatient but it’s because I love you so much. I want to hurry up and marry you already. Did I totally ruin it by asking you first?”
“No, not at all.” Birdy felt much better now that she had broached the subject. Her fear that she had forgotten, or worse, ignored her desire to be the one to propose had been laid to rest. She was merely trying to ease Birdy’s burden, and Birdy felt ashamed for having given Saul’s suspicions credence. Now that the time was here and they were engaged Birdy wanted to hurry up and marry her too, with one stipulation. “To make it up to me, you have to let me pick the music we walk down the aisle to.”
“Deal.” Brooke leaned back in her chair with a smile and drank the last of her wine.
“Let’s see…I’m thinking maybe some AC/DC?”
“You’re such a romantic. Take me to bed and you can shake me all night long.”
“Now that’s a deal.”