“You’re just surrounded by women, huh?”
She didn’t know the half of it.
I laughed. “Yeah.”
“You’d better have a son someday, then.”
The comment made me almost ill, a reminder that kids were likely not in the cards for me.
I quickly changed the subject. “So, what did you and Jimmy like to do growing up?”
“We fought a lot as siblings often do, but we loved each other. It was just the two of us. We led a simple life. You know my dad owned a farm, so we rode around on the tractor a lot. Every Sunday morning, we’d go to the local farmer’s market and sell produce. It seemed kind of boring to me then, but of course, I’d give anything to get those days back now.”
“Wow, you really are a country bumpkin.”
“Tried and true. Everything was always homemade and organic, too. You can see why I like to bake you stuff and why I always use fresh ingredients.”
“Organic…don’t you mean orgasmic? Seriously, no one’s ever done stuff like that for me.”
“Given you an orgasm?”
Fuck. Don’t say stuff like that when I’m trying not to want you.
“Nina Kennedy, get your mind out of the gutter. Nobody’s ever baked for me. My mother never had the time, and even when she did, God love her, she couldn’t cook for shit.”
“You know, Jimmy actually never cared for my desserts. He always preferred packaged Hostess cupcakes from the grocery store and used to hoard them in his room. He insisted they were better.”
“Of course, I baked all the time anyway. Baking is to me what drawing is to you. It’s therapeutic.”
“Yeah. My therapy is much less fattening, though.”
“You’re really amazingly talented, you know that?”
“Thank you. I’ve been practicing for a while.”
Nina and I sat on that couch talking intimately until one in the morning. Minute by minute, we’d slowly inched closer together until she was leaning her head on my shoulder. I ended up telling her the whole story about how I found my sister. I also told her something that few people knew about, that my mother also had a second daughter born out of wedlock who died as a teenager. Nina was floored that I, too, had lost a sibling even though I never got a chance to know Amanda.
She also opened up to me more about the situation with her loser ex and the circumstances of their breaking up. Spencer had cheated on her with a girl he worked with. Hearing how badly he’d hurt her made me want to hunt him down.
Nina was still wide awake when she asked, “Aren’t you tired?”
“Sleep is overrated. I’d rather be up talking to you.”
An idea came to mind, and I got up to get my coat.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back. I’ll be gone about ten minutes. Don’t fall asleep.”
Nearly freezing my ass off, I literally ran down the street. It felt like I was high off of her, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the warmth of being next to her.
There was a small 24-hour grocery store about two blocks away. The bells on the door chimed as I blew through the entrance.
Weaving through the aisles, I scanned the market for what I was looking for.
I paid the cashier, not bothering to collect the change from my five-dollar bill.
Reentering the apartment, I was out of breath. Nina was still sitting in the same spot.
“Where the heck did you go?”
“Hang on. I’ll be there in a minute.” I took the paper bag into the kitchen and got out two plates. Removing the Hostess cupcakes from the packaging, I placed a single candle inside each.
Nina covered her mouth in surprise as I set the plates down on the coffee table. With a flick of my lighter, I lit both candles.
“Let’s celebrate Jimmy tonight. He’d be disappointed with anything less than these gourmet confections.”
Her eyes turned watery. She looked up at the ceiling for a moment and looked like she was sending him a silent message. It was simply beautiful to watch.
“I can’t believe you did this. Thank you,” she said as she blew out the candle.
I blew mine out too, and we inhaled the cupcakes in silence. Remnants of frosting coated her lips, and I yearned to lick it off.
A few minutes later, Ryan walked into the kitchen for a middle of the night glass of water and dampened the mood. He didn’t acknowledge us but gave me the evil eye before walking back to his room.
“What’s his problem?” Nina asked.
“He doesn’t like you hanging out with me.”
“Screw him. I don’t care what he thinks. He doesn’t know you like I do.”
You don’t know me like you think you do, baby.
My jaw tightened. “He’s said stuff to you about me?”
She put her plate down and hesitated. “He just thinks you’re not good for me and has no real basis for it. He’s judging you by your looks.” She nudged my shirt and chills ran down the length of my body. “I happen to like your looks, and what’s inside even more.”
I slid away from her, my heart pounding because I was this close to telling her everything. My voice lowered to a whisper. “Did you ever wonder whether Ryan could be right?”
“No,” she said defensively. “I may not know everything about you, but I know how you make me feel. Whatever happens…I’m just really glad I met you, Jake.”