“Turn around and look at me,” I demand.
She slowly turns to face me, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
“You’re not leaving me.” My voice is like steel. “You're staying."
Holding up the piece of paper, I rip it in half.
"Youlookmightyprettyfor a city girl."
I turn away from the mirror to beam at Carlinya. "You look mighty pretty yourself."
And it's the truth.
It's been one year since her chemotherapy and radiation treatments ended. Gray ringlets fall softly around her pink cheeks. And true to her word, she's put on enough weight to be considered pleasantly plump—and perfectly healthy. For now, the score stands at Carlinya Cooper: 1. The Big C: 0.
As for my own beauty? I suppose it's in the eye of the beholder. Some women look positively radiant during pregnancy.
I am not one of those women.
I've been sick throughout my "advanced age pregnancy." My skin is pale as a sheet one day and red as a beet the next. The undereye circles are so severe that it looks like I've been punched in both eyes. And my ankles ceased to exist two months ago.
But at least my maternity wardrobe is to die for. As soon as I found out I was expecting, I started curating a seaside maternity collection for the store.
"How's The Bait Bucket remodel coming along?" Carlinya asks.
I smile at that. "Tuck finished yesterday. You should stop by and see."
Tuck's Kayaks is now on the first floor of The Bait Bucket, along with bigger items like poles, rods, and the coolers for live bait. The upstairs apartment has been completely remodeled to hold rows upon rows of tackle and fishing lures. We even moved great-aunt Hildy's motorized chairlift next door for better accessibility for Tuck’s customers with mobility issues.
Now that I'm reaching the end of my pregnancy, though, I regret moving the chairlift. I move with as much ease as a beached whale these days.
"You should come upstairs and look at the nursery, too. Tuck and Jared finished assembling the cribs last week, and I bought the most adorable bedding for the babies."
"Are you going to send it back this time?" Carlinya teases.
She raises both eyebrows.
"Probably not," I amend.
She laughs. "This may be your only pregnancy, so—"
I shake my head. "Um, this willabsolutelybe my only pregnancy. Not only will I be forty-two when the twins are born, but I'm getting two for the price of one! Can't beat that deal."
She laughs. "I suppose not. Do you have any names picked out?"
"Just one so far. We're going to name our little girl Hildy."
Carlinya smiles. "That's a lovely name, and a lovely tribute, too."
"If not for great-aunt Hildy, Tuck and I would never have found each other. She didn't do it on purpose, of course, but that doesn’t matter. We're still grateful."
"No names picked out for the boy yet?"
"I suggested Houdini, but Tuck vetoed it."
Carlinya makes a face. "I'm with Tuck on that one."
At the sound of his name, the fat, orange cat appears seemingly out of thin air.Leprechaun magic.
I scoop him up from the ground and cradle him against my massive body. I give Carlinya a mischievous look. "I think I want to visit Tuck. You?" And with that, I snap Houdini's collar off of his neck. "Let's go find the Keeper of Collars."
Lovestrikesagaininthe town of Friendly! Hazel Tuck finds love inMaking the Cut. Pre-order today.