Just With You

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CHAPTER 20

STELLA

“Drew, it’s Stella. How are you?” I ask, crossing my legs and grabbing my to-go cup of coffee from my desk.

“Hey, Stella. What’s up?”

“Listen, I have a favor to ask.”

“No, I can’t make Jace cool. I’ve never been able to.”

Laughing, I look up when I see Ashley walk into the room, sitting down with a huff next to me. I hold a finger up to her and turn back to my call. “So, the reason I’m calling.”

“What do you need?”

“Jace’s birthday is Sunday. You know this, obviously. I want to throw him a party, but I can’t figure out what to do.”

“You called the right person, don’t you worry. Best thing to do is to surprise him. He’s a cop, so it’s hard to throw him off his game, but we’ll do it. What time do you take your lunch?” he asks, and I look down at my watch.

“I don’t really have a regular time, but I don’t have any set appointments today, so why don’t you swing by the office at one? We can go out somewhere close by.”

“Text me the address and I’m there.”

Ending the call, I look over at Ashley and toss my cell on my desk. “You okay, girl?”

“If finding my boyfriend in bed with another girl is the definition of okay, then I’m peachy.” She drops her head into her hand with a groan.

“He did not,” I seethe, hurrying to give her a hard hug, heartbroken for her when I see the tears swimming in her eyes.

“He did.” She sighs, brushing at her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s not like I thought I’d found happily ever after with him or anything.” I can tell she’s trying to be strong, but she’s hurting and it kills me. She’s my best friend.

“I have just the thing to get your mind off ole what’s his name.”

“What’s that?”

“Drew is coming over this afternoon to help me set up a surprise birthday party for Jace on Sunday. You wanna come?”

Ashley gives me the faintest smile and nods. Taking her hand, I squeeze it tight and smile at her.

She makes her way over to the break room to get her own coffee, and I turn back to my work, needing to get a few things done before lunch.

“So, the easiest way to get him is to have it at a bar or restaurant. If you tell him you’re going out for his birthday, he won’t suspect anything, but if you tell him you have a surprise, he’ll instantly know something’s up.”

Drew sits across from Ashley and me at a local diner, where we’re eating burgers and fries. She’s in much better spirits, and she gets along well with him.

“What about Walker’s? That seems to be one of his favorites.”

“Good idea. Let me call Brody and see if he wants to help out.”

“Tell him I’ll pay extra if he needs,” I say, and Drew presses his phone to his ear with a wave.

“Please, his older brother is Jace’s best friend. He won’t take your money…. Brody. Hey, man, what’s up?”

I take a sip of my Diet Coke as Ashley and I watch his conversation. In just a few brief minutes, he ends the call, sliding his phone back into his pocket.

“We’re good. He’ll keep a space empty for us, and he said beer is on the house until seven.”

My eyes widen. “I can’t let him do that.”

“Already done, sweet thing.” Drew winks, and I jump out of my seat and go around the booth to kiss his cheek, laughing when he rolls his eyes at me.

“Now, the real question is what do I get him for a present?”

“A new personality?”

I throw a French fry at his face as we all laugh. I reach into my purse for a pad of paper, and Drew helps me come up with a small group of people to invite, then tells me he’ll have a list of phone numbers by the end of the night.

Jace: I miss you. How are Mason and Jules?

Smiling at my cell phone, I type out a response.

Stella: They’re good. Miss you, handsome.

“Auntie Stella, do I get to come to the birthday party too?” Jules asks, helping me roll out the dough for our cookies.

“Actually, you and your daddy are invited to the party.”

“Jules, it’s your mom’s time with you this weekend, kiddo,” Mason says from the kitchen table where he’s working on something for work.

“Aw, Dad! That’s not fair.” Her bottom lip juts out, and her big blue eyes fill with tears.

Mason sighs and rubs his forehead. “I’ll ask your mom if it’s okay if I take you, but you aren’t skipping your weekend. I’ll bring you back to her house after the party.”

“Okay!” All traces of her momentary sadness are gone as she sprinkles chocolate chips over the dough.

“I’m in so much trouble with her,” Mason grumbles, and I just grin.

“You’re just now figuring that out, Mase?”

“Not funny, little sister.”

“I’m hilarious, thank you very much.” Grabbing my cell phone from my back pocket, I attach it to the Bluetooth speakers and hit Play on my country playlist. Carrie Underwood begins singing through the speakers, and Jules and I sing along, dancing to the music.

“So how long has it been, Stell? A little over two months?” Mason asks as he walks into the kitchen and reaches into the fridge for a beer.

“Since what?”

“You and Jace.”

“Two and a half. But who’s counting?”

“Happiness looks real good on you. Have I ever told you?” Mason squeezes me into his side and kisses the top of my head.

“Thanks, Mase. Love you.”

“Love you way more.”

He makes his way over to Jules and grabs her hands to dance with her. Watching my brother and his little girl dance around the kitchen warms my heart, and I look over at my phone, the background lit up. Jace and me on one of our first dates. His gorgeous smile stands out the most in the photo.

“Auntie Stella, come dance!”

And with that, I push my boyfriend from my mind. Well, at least until I’m with him tonight.

I miss him.

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