Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods

He hesitated. “I don’t know about that, Susie. It’s probably a bad idea. Besides, Mick hasn’t mentioned it to me.”

“He will,” she predicted. “And you will say yes. Even if he doesn’t track you down, I’m asking you now, and again, the correct answer is ‘Yes, thank you very much, I’d love to come.’”

To Mack’s surprise, she sounded awfully determined. “Why?” he asked.

“Because I haven’t had a date for one of these family shindigs since I turned eight and dragged Joe Campbell along. It was his second Thanksgiving dinner of the day and he threw up. After that, nobody ever encouraged me to bring someone.”

“Joe Campbell always did have a weak stomach,” Mack said. “You had lousy taste in boyfriends back then.”

“Did you not hear me say I was eight? What did I know about boys?”

“And now?” he asked, suddenly on edge. Had he missed something? Was Susie interested in someone else? He’d seen no evidence of that, but maybe she was as sick of living a totally celibate life as he was. Maybe Thanksgiving was some kind of test. If he failed, was she ready to cut him out of her life for good? Was that what this whole conversation was about?

“Apparently I’m still on shaky ground when it comes to figuring out men,” she said. “Which makes it even more important that the next man I turn up with at a family function is the kind of solid guy my family will approve of. They all like you, and I’m pretty sure you won’t throw up before the pumpkin pie.”

“Not even after,” he promised. He cursed himself for his inability to stick to his guns. There were way too many ways this could go badly. Even so, he said, “Okay, I’ll see you there.”

“Maybe you should pick me up,” she said. “That way you aren’t as likely to chicken out.”

“And your family will think it really is a date,” he speculated. “Is that wise? I gather Mick is already getting ideas about taking our situation in hand.”

“He is, which is annoying, but not unexpected. Frankly, though, the non-dating thing really isn’t working for me anymore,” she said, startling him. “I think it’s time for a serious attitude adjustment.”

Once again he heard that bold, reckless note in her voice. What on earth had gotten into her? And why, heaven help him, now?

“Susie, maybe we should rethink this,” he said urgently. “I might not be around for Thanksgiving, after all. I have some things I need to take care of.”

“More important than showing up for dinner with friends?” she asked. “Are these things so important that you’re willing to let me down?”

There was a warning note in her voice that caught him off guard. It strengthened his suspicion that this dinner was, indeed, some kind of a test.

“Okay, what’s going on here, Susie? You’ve been saying stuff all night that’s not like you. Now you’re issuing some kind of subtle warning. What’s that about?”

“Maybe I’ve decided it’s past time to shake things up,” she said. “Maybe I’m sick of all this dancing around we’ve been doing for way too long now.”

“And you’ve just had this epiphany this week?”

“Yes,” she said flatly. “Just tonight, in fact. Deal with it.”

The blunt order was so unlike Susie, he had no idea how to respond to it.

“Have you been drinking?” he asked, because he couldn’t come up with any other explanation.

“Have you ever known me to drink more than an occasional glass of wine?”

“No, but there’s a first time for everything,” he said. “Has somebody been talking to you, putting ideas into your head?”

He envisioned Will having some kind of heart-to-heart with her and getting her all stirred up to take charge of things. It would be just like him, since he knew Mack was having second thoughts about the whole proposal thing.

“Have you seen Will?” he asked suspiciously when she remained silent.

“I saw him earlier today, but he didn’t give away any of your closely guarded secrets, if that’s what you’re worried about. He and Jake are more tight-lipped than some international spy. I’m sure they could give lessons to the CIA.”

“Good to know,” he said with relief. Of course, that still raised the question of what had gotten into Susie tonight. Maybe he should invite her over and get to the bottom of this.

Then, again, given her reckless, unpredictable mood, that could be dangerous…for both of them.

“I’ll give you a call before Thanksgiving,” he said eventually. “We’ll make plans.”

“And in the meantime, what?” she demanded. “You’re going to be in hiding?”

“Something like that. Like I said earlier, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

“Whatever you say,” she said. “But don’t even think about standing me up on Thanksgiving. If you try to, I will come over to your apartment and drag you out, if necessary. I will bring my brothers, Will, Jake, whoever I need to, to get you to Uncle Mick’s—is that understood?”