“Well, finally,” Sharon, his real estate agent said. “I called your office line first and your new girl answered.”
“I don’t have a new girl.”
“Then your new girlfriend. She offered to take a message for me but after I told her the fabulous news—”
“Well now see, that’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Sharon said. “After I gave her the message, I realized I wanted to tell you myself so I tried your cell and hit pay dirt. You ready?”
“Just spit it out already.”
“Okay, Mr. Grinch, you’re not in a partying mood, I get it. But that’s going to change because . . .”
“Sharon, I swear to God—”
“We not only have an offer, it’s The Offer. Fifteen percent over our asking price! Merry fucking Christmas, Keane!”
He went shock still as conflicting emotions hit in a tidal wave. No, more like a tsunami. Over the past two days plenty of offers had come in, but nothing to write home about. He’d told himself the relief he’d felt was simple exhaustion.
But now that relief turned over in his gut because an offer for fifteen percent over his already inflated asking price was insane and more than he’d hoped for, way more. There was no reason not to jump on this offer, none. He’d told himself he wanted out, had wanted that badly enough to make it happen, and now here he was.
Wishes of his own making.
“Yeah.” Where was the elation? Or the sense that this was the right thing? “I’m here,” he said, squinting as the wind kicked up, rain slapping him in the face.
“Tell me I’m accepting this offer,” Sharon said.
If this was my home, I’d never leave it . . . Willa’s words floated in his brain.
“Keane,” Sharon said, suddenly serious. “I’m not going to lie, you’re scaring me more than a little bit with the whole silent act here. Tell me we’re selling. Say it out loud before I have the rest of this stroke you’re giving me. I mean it, Keane. If I die from this, and it feels like I might, I want you to know I’m leaving my five cats to you. Five.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I hear you.”
“So can I accept this offer?”
He tipped his head up, looking through the branches of the tree at the wild, stormy sky. When he’d put the house on the market, he’d done so because he knew he wasn’t cut out for the stability this house would provide. He couldn’t even keep a damn cat. And yeah, things were looking good with Willa but there were no guarantees. There were never any guarantees. “Accept the offer,” he said.
Sharon wooted and whooped it up in his ear and then disconnected, leaving him standing there in the storm, the icy rain slapping him in the face.
He should feel good. Instead, a pit in his stomach warned him that maybe he wasn’t thinking this all the way through, that maybe he was letting his lifelong, string-free existence rear its head and take over, ignoring how things had started to change deep within him.
Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the house, stopping in surprise when he found Willa on his porch. “Hey,” he said. “Why are you out here in the rain?”
“I tried calling you,” she said. She was hugging herself. And no longer wearing his sweatshirt. He started to take his jacket off to give it to her, but she held up her hand.
“I found Pita,” she said.
“You put a grate over the vent she went down last time, and then a chair over that, probably to dissuade her from another adventure.” She held his gaze. “Or maybe it was for aesthetic value so that the room looked good when real estate agents paraded their clients through here.”
Oh shit. He hadn’t told her. Why hadn’t he told her? Because you hadn’t really believed she could ever be yours . . . He opened his mouth but she spoke quickly. “Petunia somehow squeezed herself under the chair, snagged the grate up with a claw, and down she went.” She lifted a shoulder. “She was filthy so I cleaned her up in the bathroom sink. No worries, I cleaned up after, good as new for your new buyer.” Her eyes were fathomless. Unreadable. “Congratulations, by the way.”
“I was going to tell you about the offer,” he said quietly.
She nodded, which was kind of her since they both knew he hadn’t even told her when he’d put the place up on the market. “Willa, I—”
“No,” she said. “You don’t owe me an explanation. Not for that, and not for the fact that you’re giving Petunia away.” Her mouth was grim. “I’m sorry, your phone was ringing off the hook, I thought maybe it was an emergency so I answered. Sally’s friend’s coming tomorrow morning to pick up Petunia.”
Actually, Keane did owe her an explanation because it wasn’t what she thought. It wasn’t him trying to keep from getting attached, to the house or Pita. Or her. Because that ship had sailed. He was attached. He couldn’t get more attached.
He hadn’t told her about putting the house on the market because he’d been postponing doing that for so long he’d just assumed he could keep on postponing, never having to make the conscious decision to keep it.
As for Pita, he’d regretted that decision from the moment he’d so readily agreed. He’d thought being free of the cat and the house would simplify his life.
Turned out he didn’t want simple. “Sally’s friend wants to adopt Pita for her grandkids.”
“So you’re really giving her up?”
“Not me,” he said. “Sally’s friend wants her long-term.”
“And you don’t.”
Recrimination and disappointment were all over her face.
“It wasn’t my idea, Willa.”
She stared at him for a long beat. “Well then,” she finally said. “I’m glad for the chance to say goodbye.”
He shifted in closer, reaching for her but she took a step back.
“Willa,” he said quietly. “We all knew it was hopefully a temporary situation. There’s no choice here.”
She met his gaze. “There’s always another choice.” Keane had thought admitting that he wanted her in his life was difficult but the joke was on him. The hardest part was still in front of him. How was he going to maintain a relationship when he had no idea how to even start? He’d never been successful at true intimacy.