The past month had been a whirlwind. Clay and I had been working hard on the house, Julia had convinced me to serve on the festival committee, and I'd acquired a dog. Porter was around enough to make my breath catch, helping his father paint and plaster, sending me long slow smiles, disappearing in the afternoons, reappearing with parcels and packages under his arm, always with that steady look. I was breathless a lot, and it didn't all seem to be from the work.
I was sprawled across the rocker, tiredly studying the stars just starting to peep out past the porch roof and trying to work up some enthusiasm to go figure out dinner when a cough and a footstep alerted me that I had a visitor. Wood, the half-grown hound pup Clay had found skulking around the junkyard when he'd been dropping off a load from the basement, lifted his head, thumped his tail once, then relaxed again. I wasn't surprised when Porter stepped into the circle of light - Wood had spent two weeks with Clay and Porter before finding his way up the drive and into the house. (I had better treats.) Now he showed no signs of leaving and I..... liked it. I'd never had a dog, but he was company and it was nice to have life in the house. His foolish face smiled a lot, and he was a pretty good listener.
The ghost of Mama seemed to have retreated. These days, I was living fully in the present - working hard, learning who I was, growing up. Maud would be surprised.
"My, Miss Kitty, you do look a sight" Porter said, half-mockingly. "Did you and Dad finish everything today?"
I was sleepy and content where I was and suddenly, horribly aware of what a wreck I must look like. This is my house, I told myself sternly, ignoring how my stomach leapt when I saw him. I look tired and a mess because today has been long and hard and I got a lot done. But....
"No, not everything. But quite a bit. I'm learning a lot. I think I ask more questions than your Dad has time for, but he's been terrific. And look at the house!"
He rocked back on his heels and stuck his hands on the pockets of his jeans. "She's coming alive, all right."
I scrambled up and went out on the lawn, admiring my home. Pink, purple and yellow coneflowers and lantana rioted in the windowboxes and lined the newly re-bricked walk, lending happy colours to the scrubbed brick of the steps and chimney and re-whitewashed siding. Soft light glowed in the windows, Wood snored on the porch, and the dusk dressed the old house like a dowager in her best dress.
I was happy, I realized suddenly, and couldn't resist a quick turn on the grass. Porter put out his hand and pulled me to him, grinning, then spun me away. "A dance, Katie? Under the stars?" He hummed something under his breath and lowered his head to mine, his arms continuing to shuffle me slowly around the square.
His voice died after a minute, and I lifted my head to see him staring intently at me. Instantly blushing (and glad that the deepening twilight made it likely he couldn't tell) I swallowed a few times and blurted the first thing that came into my head "I like it when you call me Katie."
Porter looked amused. "You do, huh? I find it much easier to make a girl pay attention to me if I call her by her name. 'Hey you' doesn't work as well." He was stepping back, diffusing the odd tension that had sprung up between the two of us when he took me in his arms, and I was grateful to him for it.
"No, I mean it. The only one who calls me Katie is my grandfather. Maud called me Kitty the first time she saw me, and it stuck."
He studied my face. "You look like a Katie." He was suddenly very close. "I think of you as Katie." Porter murmured and brushed my hair back from my cheek."I want to kiss you, Katie."
He put a finger under my chin, his eyes dark and turbulent. "I won't, though. Not tonight. Tonight - dance with me, Katie."
I went back into his arms gladly, and we danced, there in the shadows, all sorts of unanswered questions swirling around in my head. Why was I so afraid? I'd been kissed before. But Porter was different than the boys I'd walked out with in school. Porter was....different. And I was very afraid I was falling for him.