John took Clarice’s hand and gently squeezed it. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise. I hope you don’t lose that card. Or decide to ‘accidently’ throw it out.”
He laughed. “I don’t think that will happen.”
Her hopeful expression threw him for a panic-ridden loop.
What am I saying?
“I mean, I generally don’t lose things.”
No. That’s all wrong too.
“Umm.” He chuckled self-consciously and scratched the back of his head. “Sorry. I’m terrible at this.”
“Then, we’re in the same awkward boat. That’s good to know.”
“I will call you. I promise.”
Ohh, why did I say it like that? She’s going to think that I have feelings for her.
Clarice smiled. “I look forward to it.”
What kind of response is that?
“I look forward to it too.”
Barbara sat in the passenger’s seat and closed the door.
John buckled himself in and rested his hands on the steering wheel. “Barbara, do you mind?”
“Mind about what?”
He hesitated. “I like her. I. I want to see her again, but if you don’t think I should. If it would hurt you to see me with another woman. Someone who isn’t your mother. Someone—”
“Dad. I know you’ve been hurting all these years. If she can heal that hurt, if she can make you happy, why would I mind?”
“Do you mean that?”
“Absolutely.” She hugged him and he hugged her in return.
“I love you, punkin.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
Clarice pulled out of the parking lot and side-glanced at Elsie. “So?”
Elsie sighed. “So, it’s weird.”
Clarice smiled. “Weird, huh? I don’t see any tension in the air.”
“Good. Because I am not tense.” She shook her head. “It just…It’s so weird to see you chasing after Barbara’s dad. Barbara. Ambrose’s fiancé, which is a separate level of weird. My mind can’t even process that right now.”
Clarice stopped at a red light.
“It’s even weirder that…I’ve detested that girl. From the moment I saw her in Ambrose’s hotel room, I hated her. I saw her as a cheap floozy that Ambrose was hooking up with until he moved on to someone else. I hated how she looked at him, how he looked at her. The way he kissed her.”
The light turned green.
Clarice drove forward. “And now?”
“Now. I had a decent conversation with her. And I didn’t think about killing her. Not even once. She spoke to him on the phone right in front of me and it didn’t hurt me. I don’t hate her anymore. I hate to say it, but I almost like her.”
Clarice laughed. “Well, that’s good to know. I don’t want you to be the wicked stepsister if Sweet Lovin’ and I get hitched.”
Elsie frowned. “Do you really think it will go that far?”
“You think it won’t?”
Clarice turned the corner. “I’m hoping for the absolute best. Maybe I’ll be hurt. Maybe I’ll be disappointed. And maybe I’m setting myself up for the worst heartbreak I’ve ever known. But I like him. He’s a good man. I just want to bundle him up and stuff him in my car’s trunk and ride off into the hot blistering sunrise of mad sweaty love with him. He’s a little overweight, but I bet looks great in a tight little Speedo.”
“Mom! Please! I don’t want those kind of mental images about someone’s dad. That’s just sick and wrong.”
Clarice laughed. “I bet you’re imagining Hildreth in a Speedo now. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. Can’t blame you. That man is so hot.”
“Mom! I’m not imagining any such thing.”
“So? That’s why your face is so red? Because you aren’t imagining him in a pair of teeny black skivvies?”
“I’m not going to honor that with a response.”
Clarice laughed again. “I’m gonna bet you twelve new pennies you’ll be imagining all that next time you see him.”
“It’s not even worth betting on. I can tell you right now that you’ll lose.”
“Nope. I’m going to win.”
“Oh, yeah? Fine. I’ll take your bet. I’ll call you as soon as I get home.”
“And you’ll tell me that you owe me twelve new pennies.”
Clarice winked. “We’ll see.”