The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 28

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  Tara looked at Mia and found the girl still smiling, and felt the helpless curve of her own mouth. “Yes. She has a way, doesn’t she?”

  “Yeah. ” Mia looked down at the box and was quiet a minute. Normal for her, not normal for Tara. She had to bite her tongue to keep it from running away with her good sense, to keep from filling the silence. And damn, it was hard to do, but when Mia finally spoke, it was worth the torturous wait.

  “You thought of me,” she said.

  Tara let out a low laugh. “A little. ”

  Mia lifted her gaze from the box and met Tara’s.

  “A lot more than a little,” Tara said very softly.

  Her daughter’s eyes warmed, those beautiful eyes that made Tara think of Ford every single time she looked into them. She wanted nothing more than to have Mia keep looking at her like that, but she had to tell her all of it. “I want you to know the truth, Mia. I need you to know the truth. I don’t regret giving you up. ”

  Mia went still. “Oh. ”

  “I loved you,” Tara said, and put her hand to her chest to absolve the ache she felt there at the memory of that sweet, sweet baby looking up at her. “Oh God, how I loved you, from the moment I first felt what I thought was a butterfly on my shirt and turned out to be you kicking. But I wasn’t capable of the kind of love you needed. ” Tara paused, her throat tight. “Even in all my teenage selfishness, I knew you deserved more. You deserved everything I couldn’t provide. So that’s why I don’t regret it, Mia. Because in giving you up, you had a childhood that I couldn’t have given you. ”

  Mia ran her fingers over the grooves in the wood of the recipe box, her silence killing Tara. “And something else I don’t regret. ” Tara reached for Mia’s hand. “Having you here this summer. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything, getting to know you. ”

  Mia’s fingers slowly tightened on hers. “Even if it means facing your biggest mistake?”

  “Oh, Mia. ” Tara risked all and slowly slid an arm around her beautiful, smart, reluctant daughter. “I meant what I said about that. You were never a mistake. You were meant to be, and I’m so very, very glad you’re here. ”


  “Really. ”

  After a beat of thinking about that, Mia laid her head on Tara’s shoulder, and Tara’s heart swelled to bursting. They sat there quietly a few more minutes, Tara ignoring the occasional and insistent vibration of her phone. She knew it was Jan; she could feel the temper coming across the airwaves, but Tara didn’t want to get up.

  “I’m glad I’m here, too,” Mia said.

  Tara smiled. “It’s been fun giving you the good jobs and making Chloe clean the bathrooms. ”

  Mia’s mouth quirked. Ford could do that, too, project an emotion with next to no movement. From within Tara’s pocket, her cell went off yet again, but Mia was looking at her, something clearly on her mind, so Tara didn’t move.

  “I’ve just been trying to imagine it,” Mia finally said. “Me, right now, having a baby at my age. It’s… incomprehensible. The trauma. The utter responsibility of it all. ”

  Tara laughed without much humor. “Don’t forget the abject terror. ”

  “Were your parents awful about it?”

  “My dad, yes. ” Tara could still hear the bitter disappointment in his voice over the phone line. It’d taken him days to return her tearful message from wherever he’d been traveling for work. “But your grandma, she was surprisingly supportive. ”

  “Why surprisingly?”

  “We didn’t see each other often. Just sometimes in the summers. But she didn’t judge or yell. She didn’t try to make me feel bad. She just found me a special high school to attend in Seattle, and she was there when I needed her. She came for your birth. And she was there for you later too, when—”

  “When I got sick. ” Mia nodded. “My parents told me. She helped pay the medical bills. ”

  “I didn’t know it at the time,” Tara admitted. “I never heard anything about it until she died. But I snooped through her papers and read about your condition. You had a problem with a heart valve. ”

  “It was… misbehaving. ” Mia put finger quotes around the word. “That’s what my parents called it. I had surgery, and now my heart’s perfect. That’s what my cardiologist said. Perfect. ”

  “It must have been so scary for you. ”

  She shrugged. “My parents kept buying me presents, and they took me to Disneyland afterward. ”

  The resilience of youth…

  “How about Ford? How did he handle the news of you getting pregnant?” Mia asked.

  “Better than me. He was…” Strong. Steady. Calm. Looking back, Tara knew he must have been freaking out every bit as much as she was, but he’d never shown it. “Amazing. ”

  “And you’re not together why?” Mia asked, smiling when Tara sighed. “Sorry, couldn’t resist asking again. ” She pulled out another index card. “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket. ” Mia laughed again, and the knot in Tara’s chest, the one that had been there since the girl had first shown up in Lucky Harbor, loosened. God. God, her baby was so beautiful. “This is nice,” Tara said. “I like being with you like this. ”

  Mia stared down at the box. “I’m sorry I said you were rigid and uncompromising and stubborn. ”

  Tara blinked. “You never called me those things. ”

  “Oh, right. Well, I thought them. ” Mia winced. “I’m sorry. ”

  “It’s okay. I am those things, and more. ”

  “You’re also smart, and pretty, and you care,” Mia said quietly. “You’re, like, all calm and collected, and you have this don’t-mess-with-me vibe, but you also care about everyone in your orbit. Even people who drive you crazy. ”

  Tara laughed a little, shocked. And touched. Unbearably touched that her daughter appeared to know her so well. “How do you know that?”

  “Chloe told me. She said she drives you crazy and you’re still there for her, no matter what. That’s her favorite part about you, and mine too. ”

  Tara’s heart throbbed painfully. In a good way. “You know what my favorite part is?”

  Mia shook her head.

  “You. ”

  Her daughter’s eyes got misty as she smiled, and Tara had to fight for control as well. She reached for Mia, and then they were hugging just as Tara’s cell phone vibrated yet again. Mia sniffed and pulled back. “Somebody really wants to get a hold of you. ”

  “It’s my boss. ” Tara swiped beneath her eyes. “Mascara?”

  “Still okay,” Mia assured her. “You need the waterproof kind, though. And a nicer boss, like I have. ”

  Tara laughed and got to her feet, brushing off her butt and hoping she wasn’t wrinkled. “Come to the diner after you finish here, and I’ll make you dinner. ”

  “Can I bring someone?”

  Carlos, Tara thought, which was something else that had been keeping her up at night—the idea of the teens moving too fast. Already, they were inseparable. “Honey, about Carlos,” she started slowly. “He’s”—A horny teenage boy?—“too old for you. ”

  “He’s my age. ”

  “Well then, he’s too…” Hell. He was too nothing. He was a great kid. But no boy was going to be good enough, she knew that already.

  “Actually,” Mia said. “I meant Ford. Do you have any objections to him? Because he likes to watch you cook. He told me. ”

  Tara paused, struggling to change gears. “He did? What else did he tell you about me?”

  “That he loves to see you and me together. ”

  Aw. Dammit. There went her heart again, squeezing hard.

  This question was accompanied by a certain look in her daughter’s eyes, a speculative gaze that had Tara narrowing hers. “Sugar, you’re not up to anything sneaky, are you?”