Marco held up his hands. “She pays me very well, Miss Edson, and I love so much what I do.”
I rolled my eyes. “Send him home. I’m sure he misses you.”
I hung up the phone, shut Marco’s door, and made sure his phone rang before tucking my own phone in my back pocket. Abby hooked her arm in mine as we walked across the street.
“Yeah,” I said, cringing and squinting in the afternoon sun.
I sighed. No point in denying it any longer. “I’m a drunk, Abby. My parents invoked the last resort of tough love. I was pretty out of control.”
“My mom’s a drunk, too. I remember when she tried so hard not to be.”
“Not alone, and she’s too proud to ask for help.”
I looked down at the ground, kicking at the uneven sidewalk with my boots. “I don’t deserve Fin’s help. I don’t deserve anyone’s help.”
“Did Tyler tell you about Travis and me?”
She tucked her hair behind her ear, glancing back at the house. “I was sure he was wrong for me. My family was worse than dysfunctional. My father nearly got me killed. I pushed Travis away, thinking he was bad for me, and then I pushed him away again, thinking I was bad for him. Turns out, when I finally let him in, all the bullshit fell away, and we could just be good together.”
“I’ve known all along I was bad for Tyler. He won’t listen.”
“If he’s in love with you—and just the fact that you’re here tells me he is—he’s not going to give up on you. I can see that you care about him.”
She narrowed her eyes. Her radar was going off. “Right.”
“I do,” I blurted out. “I care about him. I might even … I feel guilty that I can’t seem to let him in or let him go. Either way feels wrong.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” Abby said without hesitation. “But your sister is right. You don’t love yourself right now. That’s why you can’t get things right with Tyler. That’s why you don’t want to.”
“I’ll make you one. But if I were you, I’d take all the help I could get if it meant happiness was on the other side. And believe me … these boys … when they’re happy? It’s like living in a fairy tale. They don’t know how to half-ass anything, and loving someone is no exception.”
The brothers stepped out onto the porch with Camille just as Marco pulled away from the curb. Tyler descended the steps and crossed the yard, hooking his arm around my shoulder. “You okay?”
“We’re good. I haven’t called. They were worried about me.”
Tyler guided me inside with Abby trailing behind. Travis instantly hugged her and rubbed his hands along her upper arms. Then he cupped her hands and blew on them. They stared into each other’s eyes like they were privy to a secret. Suddenly, gross didn’t seem so bad.
Tyler helped me with my coat, and then we settled in to watch documentaries on Netflix—Jim’s favorite pastime, apparently.
Tyler and I sat on the sofa next to Travis and Abby. Trent and Camille made a pallet on the floor and whispered while he drew on the palm of her hand with a Sharpie. Jim was sitting in his recliner, his eyes getting heavier by the minute.
“On his way. He had to take care of some things, first.”
I nodded. “And the oldest? Is it Thomas?”
“Yeah, he was invited to his boss’s house this year. Couldn’t say no.”
I nodded again. Tyler relaxed back against the worn sofa cushion, resting his hand on my knee. No one bugged us about our ambiguous friendship like I worried they would. We all just sat around, spending time together in what seemed to be an uncharacteristically peaceful Maddox moment.
Just as the credits of our second documentary of the night began to roll, the front door swung open, and Taylor dropped his duffel bag.
Trent and Travis jumped up and immediately tackled their brother, all three of them falling outside onto the porch with a thud. After a few seconds of scuffle, Tyler sighed.
He rushed over to aid his twin, and I winced a few times when I saw the grappling escalate.
With some effort, Jim pushed himself up from the chair, making his way to the door. “All right, all right! That’s enough!” He used his foot to poke at the writhing pile of Maddox boys, and then Travis finally broke out of the dog pile and began separating the others.
Abby shook her head, unfazed. Camille watched from the floor, not the least bit worried.
The boys walked in, breathing hard and chuckling, red blotches on their faces and arms. Trent used the back of his hand to dab his bleeding bottom lip, and Travis pointed at him and laughed.
“Don’t grab my nuts next time, dick licker,” Tyler said.
Camille went to the refrigerator and returned, giggling as she held a small ice pack covered in a dishtowel to Trent’s lip.
“God almighty,” Jim said, returning to his chair.
Travis didn’t seem to have a scratch on him, but Tyler limped to the sofa.
Abby patted my knee. “Might as well get used to it. It’s a regularly occurring thing.”
Tyler tugged at the crotch of my jeans. “That fuck knuckle tried to rip off my balls.”
Trent cocked his head. “Nice. I like that one.”
Trenton frowned while everyone else laughed—even Camille and Jim. He reached for Taylor’s duffel and tossed it to him. Taylor jogged over to his dad, leaned down to kiss the top of his head, and then made his way up the stairs.
“You boys are going to give me a heart attack,” Jim said.
“No, you eating a pound of bacon every morning is going to give you a heart attack,” Trent said.
Someone knocked on the door, and then it opened, revealing one younger couple and one older. The older gentleman looked very similar to Jim.
All but Tyler and Jim stood again, including Abby. She threw her arms around a stunning, long-legged blonde, and they chatted non-stop for a solid two minutes.
Tyler pointed. “That’s America. She’s Abby’s best friend and Shepley’s girlfriend. Shepley is our cousin. His dad, Jack, is my dad’s brother, and his mom, Deana, is our mom’s sister.”
I turned to look at him. “I don’t follow.”
He grinned, expecting my reaction. “Shepley is our double cousin. Both sets of parents are siblings. Dad and Jack. Mom and Deana.”