Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods

“I’m their friend, too.”

“Of course you are, but they’re guys. There’s some kind of loyalty oath they all take when they’re, like, eight. We don’t stand a chance.” She set a cup of coffee, heavily laced with cream and sugar, in front of Susie. “What are you really worried about?”

“That Mack has made a decision finally to cut me out of his life,” she said. “What if he’s just working up the courage to tell me?”

“Has there been even the tiniest indication lately that he’s tired of spending time with you? Last I heard you were still inseparable, which has caused no end of confusion for the rest of us.”

“Not really,” Susie admitted. “But come on, Shanna, this can’t be normal. We’re supposed to be friends. It’s the one thing I’ve been able to count on all this time.”

Shanna shook her head. “Now, that’s the part that’s not normal. How the two of you have gone this long deluding yourselves that you’re nothing more than friends is beyond me. It’s beyond all of us, for that matter. Sometimes I want to lock the two of you in a room—preferably a bedroom—and leave you there until you figure out what the stupid bed is for.”

Susie smiled despite herself. “I’m pretty sure Mack has sufficient experience with beds to know what to do in one. I’m kind of counting on that,” she said wistfully.

“And yet how many times have you reiterated to him that all that experience is precisely why you won’t date him?”

“I have done this to myself, haven’t I?” Susie said despondently. “It started out as a defense mechanism, but Mack took all those protests to heart, and now neither one of us knows how to change the dynamics between us.”

“It’s pitiful, that’s for sure,” Shanna said.

“What do I do?”

“You could start by telling him what you really want,” Shanna suggested. “I hear that’s the mature way to go about these things.”

Susie winced. “And risk total humiliation?”

“Or get exactly what you want,” Shanna countered.

“I’ll think about it,” Susie said eventually. “Of course, telling Mack what I want when he’s not even answering his phone could prove to be tricky.”

“Then go over to his apartment,” Shanna suggested.

“Will and Jake said he needs time to deal with whatever is going on.”

“They’re men. What do they know? At the very least, keep calling until he can’t stand listening to your voice on his answering machine and either takes your call or calls you back. This is no time to be faint of heart, Susie. Go after what you want.”

“And if I fail?”

Shanna gave her a commiserating look. “Will you really be any worse off than you are now?”

“What if I lose him for good? At least now we’re friends.”

“I repeat, will you really be any worse off than you are now? No matter how often you say it to me or to yourself, it’s obvious that just being his friend isn’t cutting it for you anymore.” She looked into Susie’s eyes. “Or am I wrong about that?”

Susie sighed. “No, you’re not wrong. I want more. I want it all, everything you have with Kevin, everything Abby, Jess and Bree have found with the men in their lives. I even grew up with perfect examples all around me, at least when it came to my parents. Even Uncle Mick and Megan finally got it right.”

“Okay, then, do whatever it takes to get what the rest of us have. Personally, I don’t think there’s the slightest risk in hell that Mack is going to reject you. In fact, I think he’ll welcome you taking the initiative.”

“Maybe,” Susie said, though she still had her doubts. Hundreds of them, in fact.

Then again, something had to change. Limbo had been bad enough. She certainly wasn’t going to let herself wallow in misery.

“Thanks, Shanna,” she said, giving her friend a hug.

“Keep me posted, okay? I’m here anytime you need me. The whole family’s on your side, you know.” She grinned. “Especially your uncle Mick. In fact, if you need motivation, just remember that resolving this yourself will be a whole lot better than letting Mick work up a full head of steam as a matchmaker.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind,” Susie said. As Shanna had said, it was the best possible motivation.

Mack sat in the dark listening to what had to be Susie’s twentieth message in the past forty-eight hours. She was starting to sound just a little frantic. Or maybe angry. He couldn’t recall ever hearing Susie sound quite so fit to be tied before.

“So help me, Mack Franklin, if you don’t surface soon and tell me what’s going on, I’m calling the police and putting out an all-points bulletin on you.”

Mack winced. He knew she’d do exactly that. Susie might appear shy and vulnerable, but she had a spine of pure steel and a glint of determination in her eyes that could scare a man half to death. It might take a while for that gutsiness to kick in, but once it did, she was formidable. Normally Mack considered that admirable, but tonight it made him shudder.