“They’re not here,” Courtney Abrams-Thompson yelled, her words muffled by the pile of boxes surrounding her.
“They have to be.” Brad Thompson’s frame filled the closet doorjamb.
“Well, they’re not.”
“Did you look in all the boxes?”
“I didn’t look in the ones marked Christmas. I highly doubt your favorite hiking boots will be in there.”
“I wore them for our trip up Mt. Dickerson.”
“Where did you put them after that?”
“I didn’t put them anywhere. They’re your shoes, your responsibility. I’m not your mother.” Courtney pushed past her husband. He grabbed her around the waist.
“I know you’re not my mother. I’ve never had wicked thoughts about her.” Brad raised and lowered his eyebrows suggestively.
Courtney laughed, the irritation forgotten. “Did you look on the mud porch, underneath the bench?”
“Why would they be there?”
“That’s where we keep all our shoes.”
“Not my dress shoes.” He pressed feather-light kisses along her neck.
“No, not your dress shoes. Sneakers, slippers, boots, rubbers—”
“Rubbers I keep in the bedside table.”
“Not those kind of rubbers, rubber boots.”
Brad grinned. Courtney could see the twinkle in his eyes despite the low-lit room. She pushed against him playfully. “You are incorrigible.”
“Are you dissing me? I think you’re dissing me.”
Court kissed him with deliberate slowness, allowing her tongue to tease his.
“What were we looking for?” he asked, tugging at the scrunchie she’d wrapped around her hair to keep it in place. Raven locks fell about her face.
“You’re so beautiful. I never tire of looking at you.”
“It’s a good thing you have a sparkling personality then.”
“I can sparkle with the best of ‘em.”
They shared another kiss, then made their way to the mud porch.
“You found them?”
“Why else would I say Bingo?”
“Oddest damn thing I ever heard of.”
“Putting things in the same place over and over again so you can find them.”
Courtney socked him in the arm playfully. She was about to give him the put-things-back-where-you-found-them speech, but a cheery-faced Meg was staring at her through the window in the door.
“Hi! Didn’t mean to startle you or anything. Jacob and Jeremy have been pestering me all day about the tent. Did you find it?”
“Yeah. It was right where I thought it would be,” Brad said.
Courtney shot him a quick glance, then said, “Come in. We were just looking for Brad’s boots. He’s discovered a new trick, putting things back where he got them.”
“I hope he’ll talk to Bobby about it. That man can never find anything.”
“Two women in one place, I’m leaving. It can only mean bad news for me.”
“You’d better run,” Court warned.
Brad left the room. His hiking boots sat on the bench.
“Didn’t he say he was looking for those?” Meg asked.
“He didn’t take them.”
“I know. He’ll be back.”
“I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee, want some?”
“I’d love some.” Meg followed Court into the kitchen. “We almost waited too long to go on this camping trip. They’re saying it might even rain.”
“A little rain never hurt nobody. Besides, it’s more fun that way.”
“I’d rather have sun.”
“I love swimming in the rain.”
“Yes, but you’re weird.”
“Point taken.” Courtney poured coffee into two mugs. “Two sugars and a splash of cream.”
“Thank you. I love when people know me so well I don’t have to tell them how I like things.”
“Meggie, I know everything about you. There are no skeletons in your closet.”
Meg avoided Court’s eyes. “Have you seen Purity and Melody?”
“Not since last weekend. Mel is growing so fast. Seems like she was only born a few days ago. Every time I see her, she’s discovered something new.”
“The boys love her. Jeremy is so gentle with her and Jacob acts like he’s her protector.”
“He is. When she’s old enough to date, her boyfriends are going to be put through the ringer. They’ll have to get through Alex, Jacob and Jeremy.”
“You can say that again.”
“Don’t.” Courtney glared at her friend, then softened her voice. “How is all this for you?”
“I’m dealing with it. I’m deliriously happy for Pure, of course.”
Meg sighed. “I just wish…”
“I know.” Courtney put her hand on her friends’ arm. “I know.”
“Any new projects for you?”
“Nice change of subject. You know I wouldn’t normally let you get away with that, but I do have a new project and I’m dying to show it to someone. Come upstairs to my work room.”
“Hey, where’s Diego? He’s usually all over me.”
“He’s having a sleepover with a female dog friend.”
“They’re hardly puppies. Two Saint Bernard’s take up more room than two human beings, but he took a shine to her and they’ve been buddies ever since.”
“Can dogs fall in love?”
Court shrugged. “If they can, Diego is.”
“What’s her name?”
“Like in Charlotte’s Web?”
“Well, that Charlotte was a spider, but hey, I guess an animal is an animal.”
“Technically I think spiders are insects.”
“Whatever.” Court rolled her eyes.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me!”
“How can you see me doing that? You’re walking behind me!”
“A mother knows these things.”
Courtney smiled and turned to face her friend. “Yes, a mother knows, and you’re the best one I know.”
“Not for long.”
Meg nodded. “I’m trying really hard for this not to be a competition, but it’s hard. Pure’s always done everything well. It just stands to reason that she’ll be a better mother than me.”
“Nonsense. You can both be fabulous moms, in different ways. And, for the record, you can’t compare adopting two young boys from a fractured family with having a baby girl. You and Bobby were in the negative from the get-go. In sheer numbers, you win.”
“I know it sounds silly, but that means a lot to me. We’ve worked really hard with the boys. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s still not. We have a long way to go.”
“You’ll get there. We’re all here to help.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Courtney turned around and headed up the stairs. They walked down the hallway to the last door on the right.
“It’s a complete mess, but that’s nothing new.” Court opened the door to reveal a sculpture eight feet high and six feet wide.
“It’s huge! What is it?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“You made it.”
“Abstract means you don’t have any idea what it really is, right?”
“Exactly. I just carved what I felt.”
“Pepto Bismol might help with that feeling.”
Court stuck her tongue out at Meg. “Didn’t your mother teach you to say something nice or don’t say anything at all?”
Meg eyed the sculpture again. “It’s big.”
“You said that.”
“It’s wide. Why are there three circles in the middle?”
“I have no idea, but my guess is that it represents the trinity.”
“How can you not know when you created this piece of art?”
“I don’t dissect how I feel when I’m working on it. I just walk in the door and feel my way through it.”
“What were you thinking about?” Meg walked around the piece several times.
“Alex and Purity. And Melody, of course. And all of us, our friendship over the years.”
“Why are pieces jutting out over here?”
“They just needed to be.”
“Well, it’s the best abstract art I’ve ever seen.”
“Why do I get the feeling it’s the only abstract art you’ve ever seen?”
“That, too.” Meg smiled warmly, putting her arm around her friend and squeezing tightly. “You know I love everything you do.”
“Even if you don’t understand it.”
“Especially when I don’t understand it.”
“Hey, Court?” Brad yelled up the stairs.
“Have you seen my hiking boots? I know I just had them, but I can’t find them.”
“Did you try looking on the mud porch?”
“Why would they be there?”
Courtney rolled her eyes and looked at Meg. “Men.”
“Some things never change.”