Eli shrugged and added the plates to the dishwasher. “She’s my friend. I care about her.”
“I always figured she’d marry one of my boys. You were definitely the front runner, but when you left, I was certain Drake or Cameron would scoop her up.”
Resting his hand on the edge of the countertop, Eli laughed. “Maybe she didn’t want to be ‘scooped’ by either of my brothers.”
Bev wiped her hands on an old plaid kitchen towel and folded it neatly on the counter before turning to face him. “What I meant was, I always considered her one of my own and selfishly I’d hoped she’d be part of our family…officially.”
Eli wasn’t quite comfortable with this particular topic. At one time he’d assumed Nora would be part of his family, too, but he’d made the choice to leave Stonerock and she’d made the choice to stay.
As teens they’d been in love, as much as teens could be, and had dreams like any other young couple. Then reality and goals flushed to the surface, leaving them no choice but to end their relationship.
That had been one of the hardest moments of his life. The second hardest was when she’d married Todd.
“It’s never too late,” his mother told him in that soft tone of hers. She offered a smile, causing the wrinkles around her eyes to deepen. “I know you still hold a special place in your heart for her.”
Yes, he did. But not nearly the same way or level he had when he’d been eighteen. This was so much more…intense and complicated.
“I’ll always care for her.”
Bev’s head tilted, her eyes softened. “Then why don’t you see where this will go while you’re home? You never know what could happen in a few months’ time. Plus with the holidays it’s the perfect opportunity to get closer to her.”
Eli raked a hand through his hair and sighed. “Because the end result will be the same, Mom. I’m going back to Atlanta. I hope to get that promotion and I just purchased a new condo. I really like the life I’ve started.”
“You haven’t mentioned any friends or girlfriends since you’ve been home. Just sounds like a lonely new life to me,” she muttered, but driving her point home just the same. “But I’m proud of you, of your achievements.”
Eli lifted the dishwasher door, closed it and reached out to hug his mother. “Some of us just aren’t meant to have long, happy marriages like you and Dad.”
Her tiny arms came around his waist. “I know, but I want the best for my boys.”
Eli heard the unspoken words: Nora was the best…for him.
Bev eased back, looked up to Eli and smiled. “I’m just glad you’re here now. I could’ve cared for your father on my own, but he was so worried about his clinic.”
Eli returned her grin. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else, Mom. You can always count on me.”
Eli and his mom both turned to the doorway where Drake stood with his hands in his coat pocket.
Eli hugged his mother tighter. “You’re just upset because I’m her favorite.”
Drake flipped him the bird.
“Drake Michael,” their mother scolded. “Not in my presence. Mind your manners.”
Drake crossed the room and kissed his mother on her cheek as Eli let go.
“I’m too old to be punished,” he joked. “Besides, I just had a rough couple of days at work. I blame all bad behavior on sleep deprivation.”
“Too many cats in trees?” Eli joked.
Drake laughed. “Funny. How many snotty noses did you treat today?”
Eli crossed his arms over his chest. “Two, actually, and it would’ve been more but I was called away to Nora’s clinic because of a break-in.”
“Is Nora okay?” Drake asked, suddenly not joking or smiling.
“She’s fine,” Eli assured him. “Happened before she arrived and they only took meds from the cabinet.”
“Odd,” Drake said, shrugging out of his coat and hanging it on the back of a kitchen chair. “Why break in there?”
“Cam says she’s an easy target,” Eli said. “She has no alarm system. Pharmacies do and Dad’s office does. Of course, Dad’s office doesn’t have anything of major street value, but we have the supplies.”