I glanced at Deana, wondering how much she looked like Diane, and if that was hard for Jim and the boys. He seemed to be happy they were there.
“What is with the names?” I asked.
“I dunno,” Tyler said. “I guess it’s a Midwestern thing? My parents were named with the same first initial, so Mom did it with us, too.”
Taylor tromped back down the stairs and fell in between Tyler and me. Tyler elbowed his twin—hard—and Taylor yelped. “Fucking Christ!” Taylor yelled.
Jack helped Deana with her coat, and she kissed him on the cheek before he left her to hang it in the closet. Trenton fetched chairs from the dining room with Shepley’s help.
The second Shepley sat down his cousins began harping on him.
“No ring on Mare’s finger yet, Shep? Don’t you love her anymore?” Taylor asked.
“Right here,” Taylor said, hooking his arm around me. He kissed my cheek, prompting Tyler to yank him to the floor.
“America can only plan one wedding at a time,” Deana teased, winking at Abby.
Taylor rubbed his elbow. “Have you met Ellie? Her dad is Philip Edson. Edson Tech.”
“Whoa,” America said. “So you’re like … a billionaire?” She grabbed Shepley’s arm. “She’s an heiress! I think I’ve seen you in People magazine!”
“That would be my sister, Finley. My dad is the billionaire. I’m quite broke, I assure you,” I said.
“Ellie is the photographer for The MountainEar,” Tyler said.
Taylor piped in. “She takes action shots. Her stuff has been featured in five issues of the magazine over the summer.”
“Impressive,” Deana said with a sweet smile. “Sounds like you’re making it on your own just fine. I’ll have to look up that magazine for your work.”
“It’s not online. I’ll see if I can send you some copies,” I said.
Deana nodded, appeased for the moment. Of course I couldn’t send her anything, not with Taylor and Tyler’s dirty faces plastered all over the feature, digging and setting back burns with drip torches.
The twins seemed to relax, listening to the family catch up. Shepley’s parents would celebrate with Deana’s family this year, and they were going to miss Abby’s pies. In the middle of their visit, Thomas called, and the phone was passed around while insults were made as greetings and instead of terms of endearment.
Jim and Jack yawned at the same time, and Deana stood. “Okay, we’ve got an early morning and a long drive. Let’s head home, my love.”
Jack stood. “How do I argue with that?” He kissed his wife, and Shepley and America stood as well. They hugged me and everyone else, waving as, one by one, they stepped out onto the porch and made their way to Jack’s car.
Travis and Abby stood at the window with their arms around each other, watching them leave.
Jim stood. “All right. I’ll see you kids in the morning.”
The boys stood and hugged their father. Trenton was in the kitchen and back with a glass of ice water before Jim had even made it to the hall.
“Thank you, son,” he said, taking a sip on his way to his bedroom.
“I just know what he likes since … you know … I’m here to take care of him.”
They all groaned. “Too real, Trent,” Tyler said. “Let’s leave that shit for another holiday.”
Trenton lifted his middle finger, gathering his and Camille’s things. “See you tomorrow, ass hats.”
Tyler stood and held out his hand. “I think I’ll head upstairs. You coming?”
I nodded, standing and stretching. I glanced at the fridge, and Abby nodded just enough for me to notice.
“I could use a beer,” she said. “Want one?”
“Yeah, I’ll take one before I head up,” I said.
Abby strolled across the room and opened the refrigerator door, pulling out two bottles and popping the tops with her hand and the counter. I took one from her as I passed, and she winked. Tyler winked back.
Neither one of them was trying to enable me as much as they were trying to get me through the visit without outing my addiction. Something only the children of an alcoholic could understand.
Tyler led me up the stairs by the hand, and then down the hall to his bedroom.
I tipped the bottle in my hand. “Abby doesn’t miss anything, does she?”
“Nope. She’s definitely the matriarch of the family, and once you’re in, she has your back.”
Tyler reached back with one arm and pulled his T-shirt over his head. My eyes scanned the rise and fall of each muscle in his torso. He was already gaining back the weight he’d lost hiking countless miles in the mountains over the summer, looking like his old self and filling out nicely.
“What do you mean?” he asked, tossing me his shirt.
“She knows you’re not in insurance. You basically outed yourself when you told her about my feature.”
“Nah,” he said, unbuttoning his jeans.
I set down my beer and undressed, slipping his shirt quickly over my head. By the time Tyler had stripped down to his boxer briefs, he looked at me with a half-smile.
“Well, I knew you didn’t give it to me to wash.”
He laughed once, but his smile quickly faded. “What did you and Abby talk about outside?”
I shrugged, fidgeting with the bottom hem of Tyler’s shirt. “She knows.” I picked up the beer and took a big swing. “That’s why she made sure I had this. She told me to take Finley up on her offer.”
“Help. As in…” I trailed off, feeling my cheeks flush crimson. “I’m a functioning alcoholic, and my family wants to send me to a rehabilitation center.”
“What do you think about that?” he asked, zero judgment in his eyes.
“I think I want to be happy. I think there are a lot of things I want, but I’m afraid to say it out loud in case I screw it up.”
His eyebrows pulled together, hope and desperation weighing down his expression. “Say it, anyway.”
I swallowed, nervous. “I want to be gross with you.”
He laughed once, taking a step and gently pulling me against his chest. He didn’t speak for the longest time, but held me in his arms, touching his cheek to my hair. “Can’t you just say it? Just once?”
I looked up at him, thinking about the way the words would feel on my lips, and what it would do to me if I said them. I wasn’t brave enough for two huge confessions in one day. I lifted up on the balls of my feet, touching my lips to his.
Tyler stood still, letting me kiss him but nothing more. I reached for his hands and guided them up under my shirt until his warm palms were cupping my breasts. His thumb grazed my nipple, and I closed my eyes, letting out a soft sigh.