Straight Up Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #2)(7)

“It’s not like we’re having a party,” he says, amusement quirking his lips. “If I don’t make it over today, I’ll see them all at brunch tomorrow.” His nonchalance doesn’t fool me. Family is everything to Jake, and I know he’d have been at his childhood home already if he hadn’t been tending to me.

“How’s your mom doing?” I ask.

He stiffens. “She’s tired, but that’s to be expected. Yesterday was her last treatment in this round of chemo, so she’ll get a break. The nausea was intense there at the end, and I’ve never seen her so exhausted . . .” He trails off, and I know he’s not just thinking of his mom. He’s thinking of his dad, who died of cancer five years ago.

The news of Kathleen’s cancer was a blow to the whole family. She even tried keeping her diagnosis a secret and getting her treatments in Germany so her children wouldn’t have to watch another parent die.

“When will you know if it worked?”

“Shay said they scheduled the PET scan for June. That’ll show them the cell activity to see if the cancer is active or in remission. We’re all optimistic.”

Optimistic. But his smile is unsteady, and he avoids my gaze as he says it. That isn’t the face of optimistic Jake. That’s the face of a man who’s bracing himself for the worst because he’s been there before, and I ache for him. It’s going to be a long couple of months while they wait for that test.

When he lost his father five years ago, I was caught up in planning a wedding and starting my life with Harrison, but I still saw enough to know they were the worst days of his life. The idea of losing Kathleen guts me—she’s a second mother to me—but even worse is the idea of seeing Jake leveled by grief for a second time.

“I’ll get out of your way,” I say, clearing my plate. “You can still go visit.”

“No, don’t rush.”

“You can see me anytime,” I say, and when he flinches, I want to pull the words back. They imply that though I’ll be around, his mom might not be. While that might be true, I don’t want to be the one to remind Jake of it.

I step forward and wrap my arms around him, nestling my head into his chest and hugging him tightly.

“Whoa, what’s this for?” he says.

I’m not the most physically affectionate of friends, but we all need a hug sometimes. “It’ll be okay, Jake.”

He strokes my hair and presses a kiss to the top of my head. “I know,” he whispers.

He’s so warm and solid. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster—first with my ex sending me an invitation for his new wife’s baby shower and then a nasty week at work, all topped off with my thirtieth birthday, a date I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t a reminder of my ticking biological clock.

I close my eyes for a moment and realize that in my attempts to offer comfort to Jake, I’ve been comforted by him. That’s probably the perfect metaphor for our relationship. He’s always giving. I’m always taking. I hate that.

I release him, and when I step back, he searches my face. “Are you okay?” he asks.

“My problems aren’t problems in the scheme of things.”

He shakes his head. “Everyone’s problems are problems. They might not be the same as mine, but they still matter. Seriously, are you okay?”

I shrug. “Considering our morning started with a conversation about your sperm and my childless womb, I’ve been better.”

He grimaces. “Well, for what it’s worth, at least you can still surprise me.”

I don’t want to think about that too much. What seemed like a good idea after too many drinks is so obviously ridiculous and reckless now that I’m sober. Thank the sweet Lord he didn’t hand over the goods last night.

“Do you want your birthday present now?”

I frown at him. “You already gave me my present. Remember when I was stranded on 96 and you paid to have my car towed?”

“That’s a shitty gift,” he says, reaching into his back pocket.

I fold my arms. “Jake, we agreed.”

“This one’s for me too, okay? So it hardly counts.” He hands me an envelope.

I take it reluctantly—because I may be on the winning side of this friendship, but at least I have the courtesy to feel guilty about it—and open it. The card has a man in a speedo on the front dancing with a margarita. I unfold the paper tucked in the card and gasp. “Jacob Jackson, you did not!”

He grins at me and arches a brow. “I can give them to someone else if you really don’t want them.”

I clutch the tickets to my chest. “Don’t you dare! It’s Hamilton! I wanted to go so badly!” I really didn’t need to spend the money to go to the musical in Chicago, but I’ve been dying to see it, so I’ve practically had to sit on my hands to resist the splurge. I screech and do a little dance before throwing my arms around him in our second hug of the morning. “You are the best friend ever.”

“I know,” he says as I release him. “But those tickets aren’t free. You have to take me as your plus one.”

“Ellie won’t like it, but she knows she has to share me.”

He chuckles. “I hope the date works. I peeked at the calendar on your phone to make sure you didn’t have anything scheduled.”

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