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In her next life, Evie was going to think things through just a little bit more carefully. Think about things like good old cause and effect.
Brrrinnnggg! Bring, breeng! Bringgg!
Case in point. How come she hadn't considered just how terrible the shrill ring of a fake cell phone would sound in her baby daughter's hands when she was in Grab-A-Lot Dollar Store two days ago? Thinking ahead would have done her a lot of good.
Briinnggg! "Momma, make Missy stop! Her stupid cell phone is drivin' me crazy!"
Leave it to Jenna to tell it like it was. "Missy, stop," Evie said, more to please her seven-year-old than to bring about any change in her toddler.
Jenna had never been one to suffer fools, or to suffer her baby sister's needs and wishes. Actually, from the moment her little redheaded darling had been born, she hadn't been in the mood to put up with much of anything, which was really too bad, since Evie could have used some support at the moment.
Briiinnnngggg! "Momma! She's not stopping."
A better mother would be more patient and kind. But Jenna had come about her personality rightfully…which meant a lot of the time Evie didn't have much patience, either. "Thanks for the update."
"Can't you do something?"
"No, and you can't, either. Don't touch that phone," she added, when she heard Jenna shifting closer to the baby, which could only mean the toy was about to be snatched.
It didn't take a genius to know what would happen then. Missy screaming—loud, clear and unrelenting.
"Don't touch it."
Breeeinnngggg! Bring! Ding!
"I hate that phone! Can I at least say that?"
"You may." Evie drummed her fingers onher steering wheel and hoped she was going to make it to her parents' without going crazy or wondering yet again why she'd decided to make the drive from Texas to Florida's panhandle in two days.
After all, the girls were acting just like all the parenting books said they were supposed to. Jenna was all of seven and trying so hard to be helpful, even if she was only helping to benefit herself. Missy was just a baby.
As the toy rang and whistled and Jenna sighed dramatically, Evie glanced up to meet her eldest's glare in the rearview mirror. "Why don't you color or something?"
Out went the lip. "I'm sick of coloring. And I can't do anything with Missy going nuts with that phone."
"It's keeping her happy. Look on the bright side. She's not crying."
"Well, I'm not happy."
Evie wasn't, either, but since no one had cared about that during the last year, she didn't bother to bring it up now. "You're just going to have to be patient."
"How much longer until we get to Bishop's Gate?" Recalling that they'd just passed the sign for I-85, Evie guesstimated they were close. "One hour. Maybe less." Bishop's Gate was a sleepy little beachside town on the west coast of Florida. As the resort billboards on the side of the road advertised, nonstop fun was just minutes away.
Jenna groaned like that was an eternity. "Momma, we've been in here forever."
"Only nine hours."
"I don't see why we had to vacation in Florida, anyway."
"I told you why. We're going to Bishop's Gate because it's where I vacationed every summer when I was a little girl."
"Now Missy and me get to go."
It was truly amazing just how sarcastic a seven-year-old could be. "Yep." And they were going to have a fun time.
"Daddy said Gulf Shores was closer."
"Daddy's not here." Evie winced as she heard her sharp tone. Because she promised herself never to talk bad about John in the girls' presence, Evie added, "Don't forget, Grandma and Grandpa will be at the house when we get there. We're going to grill hot dogs tonight, then all go to the beach tomorrow."
As Missy pressed another three buttons on the phone and squealed with laughter, Jenna folded her arms across her chest, a true imitation of her father. "Daddy's going to be all alone while we're in Florida for one whole month."
Evie seriously doubted that. Ever since their divorce, John had spent very little time home alone. In fact, he'd spent very little time "finding himself," which was what he'd said he needed to do the night he'd said their marriage was over.
But that wasn't something good mothers told their daughters. "We'll call Daddy tomorrow. You can tell him all about the trip. You're going to send him pictures, too, remember?"
"I remember." As Missy kicked her pudgy legs against the navy car seat, Jenna twisted up her lips in a pout. "I'm going to tell Daddy all about your presents, starting with Missy's cell phone."
Evie smiled. "I think you should, honey. I think you should tell him all about every single little detail. Maybe you could even bring Missy's cell phone with you next time y'all go visit him. That way, he'll know exactly what it was like, traveling in the car with both of you for ten hours straight."
As Jenna pondered that one, Evie popped a tape in the cassette player. "I'm going to listen to Harry Potter now. You can listen, too, or put on your headphones."
Evie pushed Play before Jenna could react. During the last few years, Evie had learned there was a time to talk, and a time to hope for silence.
As the story clicked on and cars continued to pass her minivan, Evie let her mind drift, thinking about earlier days when she'd been the one sitting in the backseat on the way to Bishop's Gate. But back then it hadn't been a minivan, it had been an early model Chevy station wagon, and she'd never minded the drive because she'd always spent the time thinking about August Meyer.
For eight summers, they'd gone from boy-girl enemies to playground buddies to true friends. They'd argued and played and flirted and finally became something more special. Each summer, they'd shared secrets and swam in the warm gulf water. Nights had been for staying up too late and laughing too much. They'd flirted just enough to make things interesting, and finally kissed the summer before her senior year.
As the scent of the ocean became more pronounced through the open sunroof, Evie grinned, knowing she had no choice but to be honest with herself. They'd done a whole lot more than just kiss. They'd discovered all about love and lust in a cove off Cascade Beach, so much so that Evie had been sure August had been the One, and that she'd been just as special to him.
But then everything changed. After one late period, she and August had pondered babies and futures and their relationship.
But when her monthly had come and with it the knowledge that no baby was on the way, the damage to their relationship had been done. Summer ended, college had come calling, and though they'd promised to stay friends, their letters and phone calls to each other became a thing of the past.
Evie had gone to Texas A&M, August to Florida State. Then she'd met John, had thought she'd found her future, and before she knew it, those summers down at Bishop's Gate at the Silver Shells Beach Resort were a distant memory.
Until her dad called on Memorial Day and said she should pack up the girls and join them for a month of fun in the sun. Evie found she couldn't say no. Life had become too hard and too stressful, the memories of happier times too vivid to ignore.
With a clunk, Missy's cell phone dropped to the floor of the backseat as she fell asleep. A quick glance in the rearview assured Evie that Jenna had done the same. Seeing that she only had fifteen miles to go, Evie dialed her mother.
"I'm on I-85, on the edge of town, Mom."
"Good! Your dad and I just got back from the store and are putting groceries away. Dad got you two six-packs of Coors Light."
Evie couldn't help but smile. Their relationship had truly come full circle. Back when she'd been a teen, she clearly recalled the night she and August had each sneaked a bottle of beer and drank them on the beach, the warm water swirling around their toes as they perched on rocks and pretended they'd never get caught.
Now her parents were buying Evie her own supply. "I'll be ready for a cold one."
"Your dad's gonna fire up the grill. You hungry?"
"I am," she said with some surprise. It had been a while since food sounded good.
"We can't wait to see the girls. Dad and I just put fresh sheets on Jenna's bed and put the crib together. You won't have to worry about a thing."
Evie could feel her shoulders relaxing. "Thanks, Mom." Evie already pictured herself in an old pair of sweats, sipping a Coors and watching the sunset, while her mother held Missy and her dad chatted with Jenna about anything and everything. She might even have ten whole minutes to sit and do nothing. Ten minutes to—
"We're going to have so much fun together, especially since the Meyers are coming over tonight."
Hold on, now. "The Meyers?" "Yep, your dad's going out to play golf with August tomorrow morning."
"Why are they coming over tonight?"
"Because we asked them to. Goodness, Evie, it's been a full three years since you've been here. Bev said all I do is talk about Missy. She wants to see that baby."
Three years. When she and Jenna had last gone down to visit, John had been away on business, and August had been on vacation.
"Evie, is that all right?"
"Of course, Momma," she answered in a rush. "I'm sorry, I'm just tired." And nostalgic. Gosh, seeing August again! She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
"August and Tanya are doing pretty good managing that resort. You'll have to ask them all about Silver Shores."
"AndAugust finally broke up with Erin, thank goodness." Evie turned off Harry Potter and listened to her mother a little more closely. "Erin?"
"She's a local girl. I guess Erin and August knew each other back in high school. I have to tell you, Beverly and I knew from the beginning that that match wasn't meant to be."
"How long did they date?"
"Off and on a couple of years, I guess."
"I never heard about that."
Her mother paused. "Well, you were busy with John, then busy with other things."
Other things. Code for getting a divorce and trying to pick up her life. "Oh," Evie said, though that word pretty much summed up nothing.
"You're going to love catching up with August and his family, I'm sure of it," her mom said brightly. "We'll talk more when you arrive, honey. Bye!"
Stunned, Evie clicked off and pondered that one as she exited the highway, drove on the bypass, then finally took the turnoff to Silver Shells, a cottage and resort community that had been nestled in Bishop's Gate for well on twenty years.
After another series of right and left turns, she pulled into the driveway just as Jenna was waking up.
Evie had just opened her car door when her dad came trotting out.
"Hey, honey," he said, enveloping her in a hug. "Glad you made it okay." "Me, too," she said as her dad opened the van's side panel and smiled broadly at Jenna.
Evie stood to one side as she watched her dad scoop up her eldest and shuttle her on inside, Jenna squealing in delight when he pretended to almost drop her.
As the front screen door slammed, a huge sense of relief filled Evie as she climbed in the backseat and crouched in front of Missy, whose head was listed to one side. Just looking at the sleeping twenty-two-month-old made her smile, and think every day was so worth it, even when things seemed completely insurmountable.
As she unfastened the front buckle and carefully lifted the top out from around Missy's wispy curls, her daughter's body hung limply. She had never known anyone who could sleep as soundly as Missy. Evie scooped the baby up, resting her daughter's curly-topped head against her shoulder as she backed up and began scooting out toward the door.
Only to be stopped by a hand on her hip. "Whoa, there," the hand's owner murmured.
Whoa, was right. Though the contact had only lasted a split second, the touch vibrated through her whole body. Evie twisted out of the van, planted her feet on the ground and took a deep breath, all the while doing her best to keep Missy firmly upright.
And then it was all she could do to stand still because the man staring at her was one she would've known anywhere: August Meyer.
"Need a hand?"
She looked at his hand—big, capable, devoid of rings. And because he looked just a little bit cocky, she raised an eyebrow. "Not on my butt." "Sorry." He didn't look the least bit contrite. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't." She juggled Missy a little closer.
His eyes softened. Green eyes that looked so familiar and warm. Comforting, like a hug. "How are you, Evie?"
Her mouth went dry as she realized she remembered far more about August than she'd ever admitted to herself. "Truthfully?"
He held up a pinkie, just like they used to do so many years ago. "Of course."
"I…I don't really know."