Say I'm Yours (Page 23)
Cooper: I’m grabbing a bottle of wine. Do you like red or white?
Me: I think skipping the wine is a good idea.
Last night wine and I were best friends. This morning, not so much. Wine makes me a foolish girl.
Cooper: My kind of girl.
Me: Well, I sure hope so. You’ve been quite persistent.
I smile as I picture him laughing.
Cooper: Tonight I’ll prove why you should choose me.
My teeth grip my lip as I debate how to respond. I can be cute and coy or go with a much more forward response. I completely understand why people stay in crappy relationships, because this dating shit sucks.
I stare at the phone and another text appears.
Cooper: I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that I’m planning to win you over.
Me: I hope you’re hungry.
I hope you’re hungry? Really, Grace? Could I be anymore awkward?
I thank my stars that he let me off on that one. I could’ve said a million different things, but my bumbling mind went with that.
Me: See you in a few hours!
I toss my phone and start to get ready.
Since Cooper and I are only hanging out tonight, I want to be comfortable. I grab a pair of jeans and a cute top that makes my boobs look a little bigger. I’m the only one in my family who wasn’t blessed with a chest. Instead, I’m best friends with any kind of push-up or cleavage-enhancing product.
My alarm on the phone goes off, alerting me I need to start cooking. I toss the meat in the oven, check on the potato salad, and mix the green beans. I say a prayer the food tastes great.
Right on time, Cooper knocks on the door.
“Hey,” I open the screen, and he enters.
“You look beautiful, as always.” Cooper notes as he looks me up and down.
Two friends. We’re two old friends sharing a meal. One where I’m not planning to be the entrée or any other course.
Keep it neutral.
“You okay?” he asks.
“I’m great. I’ve got dinner in the oven, it should be ready in about fifteen minutes. Do you want a beer?” I look at the case in his hand.
“I’d love one.” Coop follows me into the kitchen and runs his hand down my arm. “Grace?” he says after a few seconds.
“Relax, there are no expectations, okay?”
I let out a deep sigh. “I know. I’m just nervous.”
“Nervous of me?” he questions.
It baffles me how he still doesn’t get it. Maybe guys don’t see all the complications that can happen when you start dating, but considering what I’m going through on the breakup side . . . it’s a lot. We’ll be around each other, like I’m around Trent all the damn time. There’s no avoidance in this town.
“More of what it means for us,” I explain as I pop the tops off two beers. I hand him one and take a long draw from my bottle. “You see what it’s like with . . . him.”
“I’m not anything like Trent. If this doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t. You’ll still be Grace, and I’ll still be Cooper. We’ll act like adults.”
Well, that’s a concept I clearly have no experience with.
“Okay, no more talking about this. We’re on our friend date.” I lift my bottle.
“Deal, but it’s a date, date, remember?” Cooper clinks his bottle to mine.
“Sure. Whatever you say, Coop.”
We both chuckle. “It smells great. Is that your mama’s whiskey pork?” His face brightens, and the familiar scent fills the air.
I nod with a grin. “Yup!”
“They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” He raises a brow. “Are you tryin’ to seduce me, Grace Rooney?”
I shrug and let my playful side out. “Maybe, or maybe I’m hopin’ you think I’m a shitty cook and run for a better woman.”
Cooper’s head falls back as he laughs. His arms wrap around my waist, and he pulls me close. “You’re out of your mind. I know you can cook.”
“What if I forgot?”
“Then I’m sure your mama could give you a few lessons,” he suggests with mischief in his voice. “Just don’t ask Presley. I can remember Mama tryin’ to teach her and Pa and I gagging after we tried to eat. I pray, for Zach’s sake, she’s improved.”
He isn’t lying. Presley and I were always in the kitchen and half the time we’d toss whatever she made because it burned so bad. If it didn’t burn, we’d wished it had. It was the little of this and little of that part she couldn’t do. Baking was always her niche.
We would spend hours imagining we were old married women, making things for our husbands. Some kids might have played house with dolls, but we did it with our houses. We would put our mama’s aprons on and pretend to be the Hennington wives. Presley would pretend Zach was coming home after a long day of baseball. She and I would clean the house, make dinner, and have big plans for a night of television with the boys. At least it worked out for one of us.
“He seems to be okay, unless he’s going to his parents’ house to eat.”
Cooper’s eyes shimmer as he smiles at me. “Well, I would eat your crappy food because that’s what a man does for a woman he likes.”
He leans down, kisses my cheek, and releases me. “How was the rest of your day?”
I groan. It was fine other than when I returned to the store, which was still a mess.
“That good?” Coop questions.
I fill him in on what is going on at the store as he leans against the counter. He listens as I tell him my fear with my mother and father. I know that Cooper can empathize because he took over when his dad couldn’t do it anymore. But that was what Forrest wanted, and I know I’m going to have to force my mom’s hand. She still thinks she’s thirty. “I don’t know if I should hire someone behind her back or talk to her about selling the store . . .”
Cooper looks at the bottle and then back at me. “I think it’s a tough call. You definitely should talk to her. It’s hard because it was my dad’s idea. He was the one who was tired, and I think he wanted me to take over everything before I could leave town.”
“Would you have?” I’ve always wondered if Cooper had bigger dreams than this.
I was always content to stay in Bell Buckle. As much as I hate it at times, I love this place. It’s full of heritage and landmarks. It’s a place where your kids can run outside from sunup to sundown and you don’t have to worry.
We didn’t have cell phones when we were kids; we had neighbors. That mentality is still strong here. I always hoped I would have kids that could experience a childhood even half as fun as mine.
Cooper takes a second to think and then shrugs. “I don’t know. When Presley left, it wasn’t a choice anymore. Someone had to take over on the farm, and that someone was me. I was angry about it for a while, but this is my life. Whatever choices I made, I don’t regret. I work hard and have a good life. I’m just hopin’ for the rest of things to fall in line.”
“Yeah,” I say on a sigh. “Hey, I meant to ask you, has Wyatt said anything about Angie? I called over there today, but she didn’t answer.”
“He’s at that family fishing thing so I haven’t heard anything. I know this pregnancy has been tough on her.” Cooper takes a swig of his beer. “I told him to take some time off to stay home, but he knows we’re shorthanded since one of the ranch hands left. I keep pushin’ him to take care of his family.”
“You know Wyatt . . .”
Family is everything to us here, but so is honesty and integrity. Wyatt is stuck between the two things he deems the most important. And to an extent, the Townsend’s are family. All our families are very deeply intertwined.
The timer dings, and I shoo Cooper out of the kitchen. I need to get the pie in while we’re eating so that it will be done in time. I open two more beers, put the pie in, drain the remnants in my first bottle, and plate our dinner.
“Here we go.” I sit the plate and beer on the table.
“This looks amazing, Gracie.” My heart sputters. Cooper never calls me Gracie. Trent is the one who started it, and he’s the only person that ever says it. I freeze and try to get myself under control, but Cooper grabs my hand. “Did I say something?”
I shake my head and I try not to let my nerves ruin tonight. “No, you didn’t do anything. Let’s eat.”
Cooper doesn’t release my hand, and my eyes go back to him. “Don’t lie. If I said or did something you need to tell me.”
He deserves to know why I became an ice sculpture. This is the stuff he mentioned and I need to be open. “No one else calls me Gracie but Trent.”
He leans back, clearly a little uncomfortable. We’ve done so well for the last thirty minutes, but once again, Trent manages to wiggle his way in. Thankfully, it isn’t literal this time.
“I’m sorry. It just came out.”
“Please, don’t apologize.” I take his hand. “It’s just that no one ever says that, and it took me by surprise. I’ve been having a lot of fun tonight, and I would like us to finish our dinner and then the God awful movie you picked.”