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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(9)
Author: Jamie McGuire

Camille looked at Olive and breathed out a small laugh, pulling away from me while simultaneously licking her thumbs and then wiping away the smudged mascara from beneath her eyes. Her hair was longer than it had been since she was a girl, grazing the middle of her back and the same hue as Olive’s, with a shaved patch just above her ear to keep it ‘edgy.’ I’d just redone the tat on her fingers—the first tattoo I’d ever done for her, and her first tattoo ever. It read Baby Doll, the nickname I’d given her early in our relationship, and it had somehow stuck. As hard as she tried not to fit in, Camille was a classic beauty. The name fit her then just as it did now.

“I’m okay,” Camille said, following with a cleansing sigh. “We’re okay.”

She walked over to the doorway to give Olive a quick hug and then tightened the folded navy blue handkerchief she was using as a headband. She sniffed, the pain visibly fading away and disappearing. My wife was a badass.

“Cami,” I began.

“I’m good. We’ll try again next month. How’s Dad?”

“He’s good. Talking my ear off. It’s getting harder to get him to come out with me. Tommy and Liis are bringing the new baby …” I trailed off, waiting for the inevitable hurt in Camille’s eyes.

She walked over, cupped my cheeks, and then kissed me. “Why are you looking at me like that? Do you really think it bothers me?”

“Maybe … maybe if you’d married him … you’d have one of your own by now.”

“I don’t want one of my own. I want our baby. Yours and mine. If not that, then nothing.”

I smiled, feeling a lump rise in my throat. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She smiled, her voice sounding relaxed and happy. She still had hope.

I touched the small scar at her hairline, the one that never let me forget just how close I was to losing her. She closed her eyes, and I kissed the jagged white line.

My phone rang, so I left her long enough to grab my cell phone from the nightstand. “Hey, Dad.”

“Did you hear?” he asked, his voice a bit hoarse.

“What? That you sound like hell? Did you get sick within the last two hours?”

He cleared his throat a few times then chuckled. “No, no … every inch of me is just older than dirt. How’s Cami? Pregnant?”

“No,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Yet. It’ll happen. Why don’t you two come over for dinner? Bring Olive.”

I looked at my girls, and they were already nodding their heads. “Yeah. We’d love to, Dad. Thanks.”

“Fried chicken tonight.”

“Tell him not to start without me,” Camille said.

“Dad—”

“I heard her. I’ll just get ‘em battered and seasoned and get the potatoes in the oven.”

Camille made a face.

“Okay. We’ll be over in a bit.”

Camille rushed around, trying to get out the door to beat Dad to the oven. He’d left the stove on more than once, fallen more than once, and didn’t seem fazed when he did. Camille spent nearly all of her spare time trying to help him avoid accidents.

“Can I drive?” Olive asked.

I cringed.

She smiled mischievously. I groaned, already knowing what she was about to say.

“Pwease, Twent?” she whined.

I winced. I’d promised Olive when she first got her license that I’d let her drive me when she turned eighteen, and her birthday was months ago. It was second nature to say no. I’d never had an accident, even as a teen. The two I’d been involved in were horrific, and both were with women I deeply cared about behind the wheel.

“Goddammit, fine,” I swore.

Camille held out her fist, and Olive bumped it with hers.

“Did you bring your license?” Camille asked.

Olive answered by holding up a small brown leather wristlet. “My new Eastern State student ID is in there, too.”

“Yay!” Camille said, clapping. “How exciting!” She looked at me with a fake apology in her eyes. “You promised.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” I grumbled, tossing Olive the keys.

Olive clasped the metal in both hands and then giggled, running for the door and out to the driveway where Camille’s truck sat. As I walked down the flagstone walkway, I noticed Olive hop in and pull the seatbelt across her chest, buckling in and grabbing the wheel with both hands.

“Oh, stop. You’re not bad luck.” Camille opened the passenger door of her Toyota Tacoma quad cab and then pulled open the backward-facing rear door. She clicked her seat belt as I sat next to Olive. She immediately connected the Bluetooth on her phone to the truck, carefully choosing a song. Once the music began to play, Olive twisted the ignition and backed up. A new energy settled all around us. Camille rubbed my shoulders for a second to the beat thumping through the speakers.

“Maybe we should turn off the noise and let Olive concentrate,” I said.

Camille’s massage turned into a playful karate chop. “Noise?”

If I hadn’t experienced it, I would have never known she was crying in our bathroom ten minutes before. She was recovering quicker each time, but part of me wondered if it was real, or if she was just getting better at hiding it.

Just as we pulled into Dad’s drive, I noticed thunderheads building in the sky just west of town. Thomas and Liis were flying in with their new baby sometime soon, so I checked my phone for the seven-day forecast—something that wouldn’t have occurred to me to do ten years ago. Funny how time and experience completely rewired your brain to think about something other than yourself.

Dad wasn’t waiting on the porch as he usually was, prompting Camille to curse.

“Damn it, Jim Maddox!” she said, gesturing that she was in a rush for me to open the door. She scrambled out onto the grass, ran all the way to the porch, jumped the stairs, and yanked open the rickety screen door.

Olive parked and tossed me the keys, waving. “Going next door to tell Mom I’m having dinner with Papa!”

I nodded, feeling a small lump in my throat. All the grandkids called Dad Papa, and I loved that Olive did, too, even though she didn’t know how right she was.

I followed Camille into the house, wondering what we would find. The paint on the porch was peeling, and I made a mental note to bring over my sander. The screen door was barely hanging on, so I added that to the list, too. Mom and Dad bought the house when they first married, and it was nearly impossible to get him to let us make changes or updates. The furniture and carpet were the same, even the paint. Mom had decorated, and he wasn’t about to let anyone go against her wishes, even if she’d been gone for almost thirty years. Like Dad, the house was getting so old that it was becoming unhealthy and, in some cases, dangerous, so in the last few months, Camille and I had decided to start fixing things without asking.

Just as the hallway opened up into the kitchen, I saw Camille running toward Dad, her hands held out in front of her.

He was bent over, just putting the aluminum-covered potatoes into the oven.

“Dad!” Camille shrieked. “Let me do that!”

He slipped them in and closed the door, standing and turning to face us with a smile.

Camille pulled a pair of oven mitts out of the drawer, shoving them at him. “Why don’t you use the mitts that I bought you?” She walked over, inspecting his bandaged hands.

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