Thirty-One and a Half RegretsBy: Denise Grover Swank
His mouth dropped open in surprise.
“Oh, you don’t have to. It’s just that Violet and I aren’t on the best terms right now and I don’t want to go alone, although I’m sure that Neely Kate—”
“Rose, yes.” His voice softened. “I want to come.”
“Of course. I’m honored that I’m the one you asked. Do you want to go this weekend?”
I nodded. “If you can swing it.”
“How about Sunday? I know you work at the nursery on Saturday.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” But my stomach was in knots thinking about it.
“Great, we’ll work out the details later in the week.”
“Okay.” I paused. “But can we see each other before Sunday?” Now that we’d established he wasn’t avoiding me, I was eager to spend more time with him. Mason was one of the few people who made me feel at home with myself.
He laughed. “I have court tomorrow, but the case should be wrapped up by the end of the day. How about lunch on Thursday? At Merilee’s. You can have Neely Kate join us if you’d like.”
My chest warmed. “Lunch on Thursday. Sounds good.”
Mason pulled me into a hug, lingering for a moment before dropping his arms. “It was good seeing you, Rose.” He smiled then walked down the sidewalk to his car.
Neely Kate was already at a table when I walked into the restaurant. Her long blonde hair was curled and very full, and she was wearing a burnt orange cardigan sweater with rhinestones around the collar and a jack-o-lantern pin. Underneath was a beige button-down collared blouse. I did a double-take. I had never seen her in any shade of beige before. Neely Kate believed in living large and that included bright colors and bling. I sat down and shrugged off my sweater, feeling happier than I had in weeks.
“Does the smile on your face have anything to do with the fact I saw you talking to the Fenton County assistant DA just now?”
I blushed. “Maybe.”
“Are you going to go out with him or what?”
“I’m still not ready, Neely Kate. I’m working through things with Jonah.”
“Rose.” Disappointment was heavy in her voice. “Are you sure you’re not just holding back because you’re scared?”
She had a point. I’d let fear hold me back from living my life until Momma’s death. Then as I waited to be murdered or arrested for her murder, I worked my way through a list of twenty-eight things I still wanted to experience. That list changed my life. But I knew it wasn’t fear holding me back this time. I hadn’t sorted me out yet. “No. I promise. I just want to take it slow and Mason understands that. If it makes you feel any better, we’re having lunch on Thursday and he’s going with me to visit my birth mother’s farm on Sunday.”
Her smile fell. “You’re kidding.”
“I thought you’d be happy.”
“I am, but I’m stuck on the fact that you said you’re going to your birth mother’s farm.”
“Jonah thinks I need to confront my past. And her farm is part of it.”
“It’s not a very romantic date. The last time I forced you to talk about the farm, you said it’s run down and no one’s lived there for years.”
“It’s still run down, but it’s not a date, Neely Kate, not really.”
“Mason seemed happy to go with me.”
“The man would tie your shoelaces if you let him just so he could be with you.”
“Neely Kate.” The way she said it made me reconsider asking him. I didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness. He’d done enough for me.
“I’m kidding. Kind of. I’m sure he’s happy to go with you. And it could be romantic, just bring lunch and—”
“It’s not supposed to be romantic, Neely Kate. It’s supposed to be about me connecting with my past.”
“And doing it with the man of your future…” Her face lit up. “I changed my mind. It is romantic.”
A dreamy look filled her eyes. “Yes, a hopeless romantic.”
We ordered lunch, but Neely Kate only took a few bites of her sandwich before pushing it away.
“I’m not feeling very well. It must be all that Halloween chocolate Tiffany brought into our department. I’m a sucker for those mini Snickers bars, but even those have been turning my stomach.”
“That’s not like you.”
She inhaled and sat back in her seat. “I know. I’d call it a stomach bug, but it’s lasted for days. I’m so exhausted every night that I’ve been falling asleep before ten.”