Home > Well Played (Well Met #2)(15)

Well Played (Well Met #2)(15)
Author: Jen DeLuca

I don’t know yet, I responded. Dad’s going to update me as soon as he knows. I’m at work. I winced as I hit Send. When I wrote it out like that, I looked like a real jerk. Why had I gone to work today? I should have been with my parents.

But Dex’s response didn’t judge me. I’m sure he’ll let you know something soon. I’d tell you not to worry, but of course you’re worried. Let me know if you need distraction.

I’ll definitely need distraction. Just no dick pics, okay?

Ha! Not exactly my style.

I blinked at that. Dick pics were a hundred percent Dex’s style. In fact, I was frankly surprised that he had never sent me one. Or any other picture of himself or some other lickable part of his body. Now that we’d adopted text messages as our major form of communication, I had figured it was only a matter of time. After all, this was the guy who’d sent me more than one U up? text the first summer we’d hooked up. Maybe he really had changed.

I put my purse in its drawer, and before I opened the office for the day I ducked in to see the office manager. Lindsay and I had been cheerleaders together at Willow Creek High, and while we hadn’t been besties, she was the one who’d hooked me up with this job when I’d needed one. And sure, in some ways it was weird to have an old high school classmate essentially be my boss. But she was also a friend, and I knew I could count on her on a day like this.

As usual, she was the first one here, so I wasn’t surprised to see her already behind her computer, frowning at something on her screen.

“Hey.” I kept my voice low so she wouldn’t jump out of her chair, and I flashed her a weak smile when she looked up. “Real quick, I need to keep my phone out today.” I took it out of my pocket and waved it in illustration. “My mom’s . . . uh, she’s . . .” To my surprise, I couldn’t say it out loud. I could text that she was in the hospital, but saying the words out loud made it more real.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to say anything. “Oh, God, yes, of course.” Her brow furrowed in concern. “Is she . . . Is she gonna be okay?” There was that good thing about small towns. I didn’t have to explain. Everyone just knew.

She’d already risen to her feet with her Concerned Face on, which just made me revert back to my usual smile. The one that said Nothing’s wrong! Everything’s great! Nothing to see here! “Oh, she’s going to be fine,” I said in the sunniest voice I could manage. “I’m just waiting for Dad to call, and he gets worried if he can’t get hold of me right away, you know?”

Lindsay nodded slowly and sat back down. “Well, don’t worry about it. If Dr. Cochran says anything, I’ll take care of it. And when your dad calls, if you need some privacy, feel free to come in here. I think I’m the only one with a door that shuts.”

And that way she’d be the first to know what was going on. But that was the trade-off, wasn’t it?

I went to unlock the front door, fully expecting to spend the morning on pins and needles while I waited for a call from my dad. I knew it would be a while before I heard from him—hospitals were notoriously slow—but that was a good thing, right? If there was something seriously wrong with Mom, they’d move a lot faster, and Dad would have called by now. It was all well and good that Mom didn’t want me to worry, but we were past that now.

My phone first buzzed about fifteen minutes after we opened for the day. My heart leapt into my throat at the vibration against my hip, but it only buzzed once, so it was a text, not a phone call. If Dad was barely a phone call guy, he definitely wasn’t a texting guy. When the lobby was quiet I slipped my phone out of my pocket to see a picture of a Starbucks drink, something iced and so pale I wondered if there had ever been any coffee in there at all. It’s not pumpkin spice, the accompanying text said, but I told you I take a lot of cream.

The picture and its caption made me smile. You’re not kidding, I texted back. Did you just get a cup of milk with some ice in it? His response was a shrug emoji, and when nothing else was forthcoming, I put my phone away, turning my attention back to the mother and daughter who had come in for a yearly checkup.

My phone buzzed again about twenty minutes later. Another text. Another picture, this time of a pony dressed up as a unicorn. Meant to send you this over the weekend! I met this unicorn at the faire we’re currently working. He says he wants to come to Willow Creek soon.

I sucked in an excited breath, because while on the outside I was twenty-seven and mature as hell, on the inside I was still a nine-year-old who squealed at the sight of a unicorn. Simon would love that, I responded. Send me that unicorn’s digits and I’ll put him in touch with someone who can make that happen!

It’ll probably be people you’ll be dealing with, not the unicorn. Unicorns don’t have thumbs and have a hard time operating a smartphone.

Well, have his people contact my people, then. I grinned as I hit Send and put my phone away again.

The rest of the morning went like that—a text a couple times an hour from Dex, with a random thought or a meme he pulled off the internet. It hit me, after the fourth or fifth innocuous text, that not once did he ask if I’d heard from my dad or how my mom was doing. He was distracting me, just as he’d promised. He was also making me accustomed to the feel of my phone vibrating in my pocket, so by the time my dad finally called, a little before lunchtime, I didn’t jump out of my skin the way I would have if my phone had been silent all morning.

“She’s fine,” he said without preamble. “Indigestion, can you believe it?”

“Are you kidding?” Lindsay had already left for lunch, so I ducked into her office and left the door cracked so I could still keep an eye on the lobby. I’d already switched the phones over to the answering machine; it was only five minutes early, no one would notice.

“Your mother said the same thing,” he said. “But it’s true. She’s got a prescription for an antacid and we’re following up with an ear, nose, and throat guy later this week. It’s got nothing to do with her heart. She’s fine.”

It took a few frantic heartbeats for his words to sink in, and while they did, I’d taken a seat in one of the little chairs in front of Lindsay’s desk, my knees shaking too much to keep me upright. “She’s fine,” I echoed.

“Well, she’s cranky as hell and I’m taking her home for a nap. But otherwise, yes.”

I blew out a long, relieved breath, and my shoulders relaxed for the first time since he’d called that morning. “Thanks, Dad. Just . . . I was so . . .” My throat closed, and I had to cough hard before I could speak again. “It was just so much like last time. When—”

“I know.” His voice was as somber as mine. “I know, Princess. But she’s fine. It’s not like last time at all.”

“Okay.” A few more breaths, and I was breathing normally again. “How about I pick up something for dinner tonight? I can be home about six or so.”

“Oh, that would be great. Thanks, honey.”

I managed to keep it together until we hung up, then the leftover adrenaline coursed through me, making me shake and my breath turn into barely-there sobs. She was okay. Mom was okay. But my mind was full of memories of that first frantic trip to the hospital, finding Dad in the waiting room, seeing Mom hooked up to machines . . .

But that was then. This was now. And she was fine this time.

I pushed to my feet and nudged the office door the rest of the way open. Lunchtime, but I wasn’t sure if I could eat. My emotions had been on a roller coaster this morning, and my stomach felt jumpy from it all. But I got my purse out of its drawer and locked the front door behind me on the way out. Getting out of the office would be good for me, at the very least.

I took my phone out of my pocket and let my feet carry me blindly down the sidewalk to the deli. I had one more text to send.

All good with Mom. Thanks for keeping me company this morning. It helped more than you’ll ever know.

It didn’t take long for him to text back. I’m glad I could be there. Well, not THERE. But you know what I mean.

A smile flickered over my face. It had been a tough morning, but I’d smiled more than I’d expected to. And that was all thanks to the man I was texting. This was the next best thing. This would have been a tough day if I’d been all alone.

You’ll never be alone. Not if I have anything to say about it.

I wanted to hug the phone to my chest, but even I knew that would look a little weird. Instead I went to slide it into my bag when it chimed again. Wait. Did that sound stalkery? I promise I’m not a creep.

I snorted. You’re definitely not a creep. I’ll let it slide.

Thank God. But he was still typing. I have to get back to work now, but I’m glad your mom is doing all right.

Me too, I texted back. I put my phone in my bag and pushed open the door of the deli. I wasn’t hungry now, but I would be later tonight. And so would my parents. I put in an order for three large sandwiches and a vat of chicken soup that I could pick up on my way home from work. By the time I got back to work for the afternoon, it felt more like a regular workday. I’d see my parents tonight, as I did almost every night, and no one would be hooked up to anything. Everything was back to normal. I was relieved.

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