The Best Goodbye(Rosemary Beach #13)(3) by Abbi Glines
Laughter was the first thing I heard when I walked into the kitchen, Brad’s deep chuckle followed by a feminine one. I followed the sound to the back of the kitchen and found Brad covered in what looked like flour, while Rose held her stomach and laughed to the point of breathlessness. Rose turned to look at me.
A tightness in my chest hit me as her eyes danced with laughter. The clear blue of them was familiar, but it was more than that. It was as if I’d seen her laugh before. Heard her laugh. Watching her made my chest ache in a way that didn’t make sense. As if I . . . missed her. But I didn’t even know her.
All too soon, her smile fell, and she wiped away the tears that had formed from laughing so hard. She shifted her gaze to Brad. I made her nervous, but then I’d never been nice to her, exactly. She was just an employee I’d hired. I’d be leaving soon enough. I wasn’t here to make friends.
“Sorry, boss. I was reaching for a box on that shelf over there, and a bag of flour fell over, and, well, you can see what happened,” Brad explained, still chuckling. I tore my gaze from Rose and looked at Brad. He winked at her and began a futile attempt to dust the flour off. He needed a shower. I wouldn’t mind if he put some distance between himself and Rose.
Franny’s blond curls bounced as she ran from the edge of the water toward me. Mrs. Baylor sat under an oak tree with a fruity drink in her hand and a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head. The two of them had bonded, and Mrs. Baylor had offered to watch Franny while I worked. She said it gave her something to do and someone to spend time with.
Franny had never had any kind of grandparent in her life, but she wanted a family. It was something she’d always noticed about other kids—the way they were surrounded by a mom, a dad, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles—and she longed for the same thing. But it was the one thing I couldn’t give her, because I hadn’t had a family, either. As a foster child from the time I was five years old until I ran away at sixteen, I only had one person in my life whom I considered family. The only family Franny had, too: River.
She had my hair, or at least my natural color, and my eyes, and bless her heart, she seemed to have inherited my short stature, too. The only thing about her that wasn’t a complete replica of me was her complexion. I was fair, while Franny turned a golden brown from being out in the sun, even for just a little while. She got that from her father. She also had his sense of humor and his smile. But those were things only a mother would notice. To everyone else, she was just like me.
“I caught a fish, Mommy! A real live fish. Except I had to take the hook out of its mouth and throw it back before it died. I didn’t want to kill it. I hope the hook didn’t hurt it too badly. Mrs. Diana said it was OK. Fish are supposed to be eaten, but I wanted it to find its family. They could have been missing her.”
Franny hardly took a breath in her long explanation, then she threw her arms around my waist and hugged me tightly. “I missed you today, but we had fun. We made chocolate fudge brownies.”
I bent down to kiss the top of her head and turned to look over at Mrs. Baylor. She smiled warmly and stood up. The long strapless dress she wore danced in the wind around her legs as she walked toward us. She always looked so put together and glamorous.
“How was work today, Rose?” she asked.
“Good, thank you,” I replied, smiling. “I hear the two of you had a full day of fun.”
Mrs. Baylor grinned at Franny fondly. “This one makes the days brighter. But a fisherman she is not.”
Franny giggled and tugged on my hand. “Let’s go inside and have some brownies and milk.”
“Yes, let’s all spoil our dinner with the decadence of chocolate fudge,” Mrs. Baylor agreed, gesturing toward the main house. She never seemed anxious for us to go back to our own cottage. I wondered if she was going to miss Franny once school started next week. They had gotten so close. At least I knew that when Franny got off the school bus every day, she’d have a treat and a hug waiting for her.
It made everything so much easier. I had struggled with the decision to leave Oklahoma, where we were settled in and safe. Franny had friends there, and my job as the secretary at her school had kept me close to her. Moving here had been a major leap for us, but I had done it for Franny. And deep down, I had done it for River.
I didn’t want to regret this decision, although the more I saw of River, the more I wished we had stayed in Oklahoma.
Fourteen years ago
Another foster home. I didn’t get attached to any of them. I’d stopped wishing for a family years ago. Now I just hoped that no one would hurt me and that I’d get fed every day. Because I knew what being hurt and not getting fed felt like.
Cora stood beside me, with her hard frown and tense stance. She didn’t expect me to last here, either. We had been through this before. I’d been moved from home to home over the past eight years, ever since my mother had left me in a grocery-store parking lot. Cora Harper was my social worker and had been in charge of placing me in each new home.
“You be good here, Addison. Don’t argue with them. Don’t complain. When you’re told to do something, then do it. Get good grades, and no fighting in school. This home could be the one for you. They want a daughter. You just have to be good.”
I was always good. At least, I tried to be. I didn’t argue. I asked for food when my stomach hurt because I was hungry, and I only got into a fight that one time at school because the other girl had pushed me down and called me names. I tried my best to be good. I just realized that my best wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t hope it would be different here.