The doorbell rang just as I had picked up my brush. I huffed softly. The first time I’d had a chance to paint in days and now someone wanted to pop by for a visit.
I poked my head into Joshua’s room. “Joshua, did you invite someone over and forget to tell me?”
He didn’t even look up from his computer game as he shook his head.
Maybe it was Shirley. Houston always called before coming by, but my sister sometimes popped in without warning. It had been a week or so since we’d seen each other, so this visit might be nice, even if I had been looking forward to putting some time in at my easel.
I opened the door and the gears in my brain stuttered and ground to a halt. I had never expected to see this (ridiculously handsome) face again. “Carter?”
He smiled at me. “You remember.”
How could I possibly forget the name attached to those amazing gray eyes? “Yes, but what are you doing here?” The words how did you find me sprang to mind.
He laughed. “I didn’t know this was your place. Alison wanted to come see if her friend could play. She said he’d told her he lived in the pink house in this neighborhood and there’s just the one pink house.”
Alison grinned at me. “So can Josh play?”
“Oh, of course, sweetie,” I said distractedly, trying not to let myself stare at Carter. I was much too old to be perving on a boy fresh out of his teens. “He’s upstairs in his room; you can go on up.”
She bounded up the stairs, leaving Carter and I in the hallway. “Ah, would you like to come in? I guess you’ll be staying until it’s time for Alison to leave.”
“I absolutely will.” He grinned and walked with me into the living room. “This is a really gorgeous house.”
I took a seat in the chair. Did he look a little disappointed I hadn’t sat by him? “Thank you. It belonged to my parents.”
“Hey, why don’t you show me some of your art? You told me you were a painter.”
“Oh, I don’t know…”
Carter looked at me with puppy-dog eyes. “Please?”
I fought against the smile that wanted to curl my lips. “Okay. I really don’t keep much of it for myself, but I’ve got one piece in Nora’s room.” We went into the bedroom and I showed him one of my favorite paintings I’d done. I glanced over at him to gauge his reaction.
“It’s gorgeous. You should have it out where more people can see it.”
I flushed under his praise – which was silly. I was modest, but I knew I was talented. I’d professionally made a living in art for years until I had Joshua. My connections still paid the bills around here. But hearing him tell me he liked my work… “Thank you, but I like it in here. It goes with the room.”
We went back into the living room and both took a seat on the couch. I needed to ask him to leave, I really did. I was attracted to him, as awful as that was. “Carter, I think – “
“I think you should go on a date with me.”
I stared at him. I couldn’t have been more shocked if he had slapped me across the face. My mouth opened and closed a few times as I struggled for words.
My shock must’ve been extremely apparent, because he smiled. “You’re really cute when you’re surprised.”
“Carter!” I spluttered. “I am nearly old enough to be your mother.”
He huffed softly. “I think your math is a little off.”
I waved his words away. “I’m a middle-aged divorced mother. What on earth do you want with me?”
He took my hands and drew me to my feet. “I think you’re beautiful and charming. You’re so talented and passionate about your art. I feel that way about music. I’d really like to get to know you better.”
A larger part of me than I wanted to admit ached to say yes to him. It felt so good to have attention lavished on me again. When he was looking at me, I felt special, important. But it wasn’t real. He’d probably heard one too many locker room jokes about hot mothers. “Carter, you’re a really sweet guy, but you’re just too young. You need to go out and find a girl your own age and get to know her. There are lots of pretty, talented, age-appropriate women out there for you.”
“I’m sure there are,” he agreed. “But I like the woman standing in front of me.”
I sighed and walked away from him. “The answer is no, Carter.” No matter how nice it might feel to think he wanted me, he’d never be interested in anything serious. There was no point in taking myself down that road.
I found my resolve tested on an exceedingly regular basis. Several times a week, Carter and Alison showed up at my door. While Alison and Joshua played, Carter would sit in the living room or even upstairs in my artist’s nook and talk with me. I’d offered to watch Alison and he could pick her up later, but he always elected to stay. Worse, I found myself looking forward to the visits.
“I love to watch you paint,” he said in a husky voice from his spot on the bench sofa.
I flushed and focused more on my painting. “You can’t say things like that.” His determination hadn’t wanted a bit; every single time he brought Alison over, he asked me on a date. Every single time, I said no. But it was getting harder to do so.
He seems so sincere. Part of him probably was sincere about wanting to date me. Maybe even all of him was – now. I doubted he’d be so interested in me once the clothes came off. Or, if he made it longer than that, once my hair went gray and everything on my body took a sharp turn south. He’d still be a fairly young man when I was in my old age.
What are you doing, even thinking about being with him that long? The very thought was ridiculous.
“Haddie,” he said softly, “go on a date with me. It doesn’t have to be more than that. I’m sure you could use a night out of the house.”
I closed my eyes. Haddie. Houston had always called me Hads for a nickname, like Shirley. I liked the way this nickname sounded on Carter’s lips. “Yes,” I said softly.