Speaking of. She turned and faced Troy. Tanner was paying him to work the party. His job was to watch the perimeters in case anyone got close to falling into the water, in which case he was equipped with a radio that he’d proudly hooked on his belt. If he spoke into it, he’d get his dad or Cole.
His secondary job, which Callie had hired him for, was to keep Lucille from the open bar if at all possible.
In fact, ever diligent, his eyes were on Lucille, who was on the arm of Mr. Wykowski. “I feel a little bit like I’m stealing money from you,” he said.
“What happened to you resenting having to babysit the old lady?”
“She’s not that old,” he said. “And she’s smarter than most of my friends.”
Wow. High praise. “You look different,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
“Yeah.” She studied his face for a long moment. “You look happy. I know, I’m not supposed to say that to a teenager, right?”
He flashed a grin. “Promise you won’t tell?”
Oh boy. “I’m not keeping any more secrets,” she said.
“Oh, not like that. Mr. Wykowski’s paying me today too.”
“Whatever for?” she asked.
“To distract your grandma at the end of the party while he gets ready.”
Troy leaned in. “His proposal,” he whispered.
She blinked. “Are you serious?”
“Yep.” Tanner laughed. “You might be getting a new grandpa. But don’t worry. He doesn’t approve of her use of social media. I’m starving, how’s the food?”
“Amazing.” She moved with him to the food table, where they bumped into Tanner with a group of people she didn’t know along with Cole, Olivia, Sam, and Becca.
Clients, Callie realized as Cole introduced Olivia as his “girl,” which made Olivia—and Callie—melt. Sam, of course, introduced Becca as his “wife-to-be.”
Tanner was up. He pulled Troy in with an arm hooked around his neck in a quick, easy, affectionate gesture. “This is my son, Troy,” he said, and met Callie’s gaze with the same easy smile. “And this is—”
Callie held her breath and time slowed. What would he say? Girlfriend? Was it too soon for significant other? Yes. Yes, of course it was. Girlfriend. It was an old-fashioned word but it fit. They weren’t just friends with benefits, and the truth was they never had been. They were so much more than friends. And benefits. She was already smiling as time sped back up to normal and Tanner finished his sentence.
“—Callie.” He smiled at her.
She stared at him. Everyone had gotten a label but her. She was aware of the conversation going on without her, but her brain wasn’t participating. She wasn’t a significant other. She wasn’t a girlfriend. She was…just Callie.
Tanner leaned in and kissed her on the jaw. “Be right back, wait here for me?”
She tuned in and realized he was waiting for a response before moving off with Cole and Sam. She managed what she hoped was a smile and a nod.
And it must have translated because he squeezed her hand and was gone.
Barraged by unwelcome emotions, she stood there, trembling. The truth was, she’d created a fantasy—a relationship with Tanner. But it wasn’t real. They weren’t a couple at all. And the very thing she’d promised herself wouldn’t happen—that she’d go into this thing with her eyes wide open and not get hurt—had come to be.
Because she was hurt. To her heart and soul.
Tanner didn’t expect to enjoy himself at the party. In fact, he’d approached it like he would a root canal or paying bills. A chore he had to get through, no more, no less.
Not that he didn’t want Sam to be happy with Becca. He wanted that very much. Sam deserved happiness, maybe more than anyone else he knew.
But being social wasn’t really Tanner’s thing. Not in big groups. He’d rather be out on the water. Or in the water, far beneath the surface with nothing but the steady thump of his own heartbeat and the hollow, beautiful sound of the world below in his ear. Or with Troy, who was probably teaching his grandma how to Instagram or something equally horrifying.
Or best yet, he’d rather be in bed.
With Callie beneath him.
Or on top of him.
Or however she’d have him. He’d take her any way he could get her. Especially since he was having trouble getting any time with her here tonight at all. Every time he sought her out, she was busy.
Mr. Wykowski stood up and toasted Becca and Sam, and then turned to Lucille. He thanked her for “loving him since the last ice age” and then took her hand.
“I can’t get down on my knee,” he said. “It don’t bend that way anymore. But, Lucille, I want you to make an honest man out of me.”
Then he shocked everyone by producing a ring.
“You old dog,” Lucille said, and cackled. “Yes. Hell yes.”
And for the first time in Tanner’s memory, the gossip manager of Lucky Harbor became the gossipee.
The party really kicked into gear then. At midnight he sent Troy and Beatriz home with Lucille and Mr. Wykowski. The last part of the evening became a blur. The night was a dark one, but they’d strung a million lights along the dock and on the boat and they were both lit up like Christmas. Someone had cranked up the music, and everyone was dancing like loons.