I wondered how many Friday nights I’d spent in this exact same spot. Sitting at my dining-room table behind my sewing machine, overlooking the hustle and bustle of New York City but never really being part of the city that never sleeps. Whatever the count, it was high.
This machine and I spent almost every night together, and weekends were no exception to that rule. At least I wasn’t alone tonight.
Adi, my ten-year-old niece, was lying on the sofa in my living room—which was only a few feet away from me in my small apartment—playing on her fancy new tablet. Some game involving the popping of bubbles. I didn’t really get it, but she seemed to be enjoying it.
We’d cooked and had dinner together earlier, and I knew she was allowed to play on the device a little later on weekend nights than weekdays. I loved spending time with the little munchkin who was growing up much too fast for my liking, but I also didn’t mind her taking the time to unwind in her own way after a long week. It allowed me to work on yet another design no one would ever see while I babysat for my sister.
April, Adi’s mother, was at a fancy schmancy charity function at some posh hotel in Manhattan with her new husband, Chris. Also known as Doctor Sexy, Chris had achieved the previously thought to be impossible task of convincing my sister to believe in love again. Then, once he’d done that, he’d slapped a ring on her finger and wifed her, making her not only Mrs. Doctor Sexy, but also a billionaire.
Thanks to having invented some or other physical therapy device, the man was loaded and now April was too. Not that she cared about the money, but her husband also had a huge heart and he regularly dragged her to these charitable events. Which left me to look after Adi while they saved the world a few thousand dollars for a table at a time.
God, I sound like a bitter old hag. Even in my own head. I wasn’t bitter, though. Regardless of how my thoughts had taken a turn from sewing to my sister’s suddenly flourishing social schedule, I was truly happy for her.
Before I’d moved up to editor of the online fashion magazine I worked for, I’d covered plenty of these high society events for my job. I’d gotten to know photographers and designers and the people who bought and wore their clothing on the red carpet. While I’d been there for my job and not for pleasure, those kinds of parties still weren’t really my scene.
All the time I’d been there, I’d been gathering ideas and putting them into my sketches and designs—all those designs no one would ever see. That was what’d kept me going, seeing it as research for my actual dream job, which was to be a fashion designer myself.
As for actually having to attend the parties, network, and schmooze? No thank you. That was better left to others, such as April and Chris.
Adi’s tablet let out a victorious sound and she crowed, throwing her arms up in the air as she tossed the tablet to the side. “I beat another level. Who’s the boss? I’m the boss.”
She jumped up and did a little dance, and I chuckled as I watched her. She might not be my biological child, but my blood ran in her veins. I adored the heck out of her.
“I’m proud of you,” I said. “Even if I don’t know how one beats levels if the aim of the game is to pop bubbles. It’s what bubbles do naturally. They pop.”
The redheaded spitfire she was becoming in her preteen years let out an exasperated sound. “You and Mom are exactly the same. She also said that. These aren’t actual bubbles. It takes real skill to beat each level.”
I arched a brow at her, shrugging one of my shoulders as I shook my head. “If you say so, little love. I guess I’m just too old to understand it.”
She giggled. “Mommy says you’re only thirty-three and that that’s young.”
“Your mommy is just being nice.” I grinned and motioned her over. “Do you want to see what I’m working on?”
“Yes.” She crossed to me in only a few steps, bending down to peer over my shoulder. “Is that a wedding dress?”
“Yep.” I pulled my open sketchbook closer and pointed to the design on the left. “That’s what it will look like when it’s done.”
Adi tilted her head to take it in. As my biggest—and only—fan, she’d learned early on to look at my rough sketches, the bits of lace and material stuck to the page, and the arrows and different angles I’d drawn below it, and to be able to envision the end product.
“It’s not a typical, flouncy type of wedding dress,” I admitted while she scrutinized the design and leaned over further to inspect the detail on the part of the dress I was currently working on. “It’s more form fitted and it’s made out of silk with subdued lace details. What do you think?”
“It’s pretty.” She smiled at me, but I saw the questions suddenly clouding her eyes before she even started asking them. “Is it for you? Are you making your own wedding dress?”
“Nope. I’m not getting married anytime soon, kiddo.”
She gave me a look. “That’s what Mommy used to say too, but then she married Daddy Chris anyway. It could be the same for you.”
“I doubt it.” Marriage was the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. Not only was I perpetually single, but I stayed that way by choice. Between my parents’ rocky relationship and my sister’s failed, awful first marriage, I just didn’t believe in the concept of that magical, one true love.
Although April and her friend Luna seemed to have found exactly that, I wasn’t interested. Besides, they’d both snagged unicorns. A rare breed of man who was everything either of them could’ve asked for and more. It wasn’t likely there was another man like theirs left in the city and I wasn’t about to go around kissing tens of frogs, hoping that one of them would turn into a unicorn in a puff of glitter and lovey-dovey stardust.
Adi, however, was more than sold on the idea. She’d become a hopeless romantic—just like Luna always had been and April was slowly turning into. She sighed dreamily, running her hand over the strip of lace laid out on the table.
“One day when I get married, I want a big wedding just like the one my mommy and new daddy had,” she said. “Everything will be perfect and my husband will be both awesome and rich. Like Daddy Chris.”
The man who’d ejaculated to contribute the sperm that had been responsible for Adi’s conception had never been much of a father to her. Craig had popped onto the scene whenever it suited him and disappeared just as fast when he got bored of having to be a dad. The last time he’d decided he wanted to be part of her life, he’d gotten Adi injured so badly that she’d ended up in the hospital, which was where April and Doctor Sexy had connected.
In the months after, Craig had really gone off the rails. Even for him, it’d been a spectacular disaster that’d ended with him signing over all his rights to Adi and tucking tail to Mexico. Good riddance.
Chris had really stepped up for both Adi and April, making sure they were safe from the threat posed by her ex before marrying my sister and adopting her little girl. He treated her like she was his own, which I had mad respect for him for.
Adi called him her new daddy when she was talking to anyone, but he was just daddy when he was around. In time, I was sure he’d just be daddy and the new part would be completely forgotten. It was a process, though.
In the meantime, it seemed I needed to have a talk to her. “You don’t need money or a flashy wedding to be happy, sweetheart.”
“It seems to have made Mom happy,” she said.
I caught my breath and held it for a second as I contemplated how best to handle her comment. “Mommy is happy because Chris is a good guy, honey. He makes her happy, not the money. Do you remember how mommy was before she met him?”
“Yes?” Quiet contemplation had filled her eyes as she listened to me.
Adi had never been an average child. Maybe I was biased, but she was smart. Perceptive. Sweet as pie and extremely resilient. She and April had made it through some tough times, and that had formed her in a way.
She didn’t stomp her foot and demand things, nor did she only care about herself or let the world rush by her without noticing what was happening in it. As her aunt, I felt like it was my responsibility when things like this came up to tackle them head on and help April mold her into a responsible, independent young woman.
“Mommy was happy before she met him,” I said. “Luna was happy before she met Cyrus. They’ve found partners and best friends in those partners, but neither of them needed a man to make them happy and you don’t either. Money and men have nothing to do with happiness. Real happiness comes from within.”
Adi looked skeptical, her little face scrunched up in thought. I decided to leave her to process it all. She would come to me if she had any questions. It was just the kind of relationship we had.
“In the meantime, since you’ve got years before you need to start thinking about men or marriage, how about I show you how to sew a seam in a straight line?”
Her features smoothed out and she nodded, pulling up a chair next to mine. We turned our attention back to sewing and neither of us brought up the other thing again for the rest of the night.
When April and Chris arrived to pick her up, she flung her arms around me to say goodbye, then went straight to Chris after saying hi to her mother.
“Daddy!” The man immediately opened his arms to her, his light green eyes lighting up as he lifted her clean off her feet.
“How’s my girl doing?” he cooed, swinging her around before setting her back down. “You weren’t getting ready for bed yet, were you? We got away as early as we could. You and I still have a chapter of that book to get through tonight.”
It was like he’d dumped a bucket of pure delight over her with his words and immediate undivided attention. Her lips spread into a bright smile as she looked at him like he’d caught a falling star especially for her.
She giggled. “I’m not tired yet. You’re on time.”
He beamed at her, looking like a damn actor out of a Christmas rom-com in his tailored tux with his bow tie hanging loose around his neck and his blond hair shining like spun gold in the light of the hallway outside my door.
“Excellent news. Let’s get going, then.” He grinned at me. “Thanks for having her, Katie. One day, we’ll return the favor.”
I rolled my eyes at my brother-in-law. As perfect as he was for my sister, I wished he’d stop making those jokes with me. “I wouldn’t hold my breath for that day to come if I were you. You’re welcome, though. We had fun. Bye, Adi. See you soon.”
I leaned down to kiss her cheek. Then she took Chris’s hand and they walked toward the stairs. April hung back with me, smiling as she watched them go.
“I’m still impressed with how well he’s taken to fatherhood,” I said. “He’s amazing with her.”
“Yeah, he is. I finally found a good one.” She inhaled deeply through her nose, letting her eyelids flutter closed for a second as her smile softened.
After taking her moment, she turned and patted me on the arm. “It’s your turn now to find Mr. Right. He’s out there, sis. I know it.”
I laughed. “I’m more concerned with keeping my job than dating.”
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if you lost your position at the magazine,” she said with a shrug. “You could finally start your own fashion line. It might even be the push you need to do it if the magazine really does go out of business.”
Sighing as I pressed the corners of my mouth in, I gave my head a quick shake. “If it was going to happen for me, it would’ve already. I’m too old to try breaking into the market now. I’m not going to become a designer, but I might just be able to keep a roof over my head if I can keep the magazine afloat.”
April peered past me and jerked her thumb in the direction of the dining-room table. “Why are you still designing dresses if you’ve given up? The short answer is that you haven’t given up. Not really. Somewhere inside, buried deep underneath your chronic need to be responsible, that dream of yours is still alive. Don’t let it go, Katie. You know what they say. Never say never.”
She winked at me. “Trust me. I tried it. I said I’d never get married again and look at me now. I swear, saying never is like tempting fate to prove you wrong. You’ll see. Anyway, I should go. They’ll be at the car by now.”
“Have a good night.” I gave her a hug, then locked the door once they were gone.
My free-spirited, filterless younger sister had struck again, though. Her words resonated with me, staying with me while I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. I doubted she’d meant for it to happen, but she’d left me with a lot to think about.
Have I really given up on my dream, or am I just telling myself I have because I’m afraid of letting myself hope it could still happen? And if I hadn’t really given up, what was I going to do about it?