School took more energy than usual after Lily had missed a day. How she'd have ever coped if she'd stayed in Florida for a week or two with her dad, she didn't know. She lugged home books to catch up, but tossed them on the hall table. She had the entire weekend to get to them. For now, she was determined to find Tiger Lily's soul mate doll.
She tiptoed into her mother's room. Guilt churned inside her, but she ignored it. She walked quietly across the worn wooden floor, as if noise would disturb her mother's private space. Her fingers tingled as she opened the closet door. She shouldn't be doing this. It was wrong. But she had to know. She'd done this once when she was a small girl, searching for Christmas presents. She hoped she had better luck this time. Back then, she'd come up empty-handed.
Carefully, she moved clothes to peek behind them. She looked on each shelf. Nothing. She went to her mother's chest of drawers. She slowly opened each drawer and looked inside. Nothing again. She looked under the bed. Where would her mother hide a rag doll?
She looked everywhere in the apartment that she could think of. There was no doll waiting for the right moment to be revealed. There was only one place left to search. The basement. She went down the stairs and pulled the strings for the bare lightbulbs, hanging overhead. Her heart sank. If the doll was down here, it would take hours to find it. The basement was filled with a hodgepodge of cast-offs, and the doll could be tucked inside any one of them. This job would have to wait until tomorrow. She'd use her entire Saturday to find the doll if necessary.
Glancing at the clock, she had an hour before she had to start supper. Time enough to get a little work done on Caroline’s doll. She hoofed it upstairs and looked at Caroline’s picture. She was a really pretty girl, but the glint in her blue eyes warned of a fierce disposition. Lily hoped she could capture that in her likeness. To start, she mixed the powder for the cold-water putty with water to create the right consistency. She crumpled newspapers into an oval, then rolled a lump of putty into a pie shape. She started molding the head over the wad of papers, making slight depressions for the eyes and smoothing a wide forehead and a pointed chin before attaching the head to a column of putty that would form the neck. That done, she centered both onto the putty shoulders draped over a roll of newspapers to create a curve. She added a strip of putty to form the suggestion of a nose. In two days, the putty would dry to a skin-tone that didn't need painted. That was as far as Lily could go at the moment, and it was already a rush job. It was a good thing it wasn't a real order. Even thrown together as it was, though, the resemblance was still remarkably striking.
Lily gave Caroline's head a satisfied nod before rushing upstairs to the apartment. She barely had time to throw three steaks in a hot pan, heat a can of corn, and dump a bag of salad into a bowl before she heard Woodrow and Jackson climbing the stairs.
"Are we talking juicy, red meat?" Jackson asked, sniffing the air.
"A meal for a carnivore," Lily told him.
Woodrow narrowed his eyes, studying her. "Did you find it?"
Lily didn't have to ask what he meant. Her shoulders slumped. "Not yet."
"Is the basement on the agenda for tomorrow?" he asked.
She grimaced. "Yes." He read her too well.
He gave a tiny grin. "You know, your mother might have given it to someone to save for her."
Lily had never considered that. Was that why she'd never found her Christmas presents, even though she’d searched every inch of the house and garage?
"Hey, don't get distracted! The steaks are starting to smoke," Jackson said.
Lily glanced down at the griddle that covered two burners of the stove. "Sorry." She flipped the T-bones over, happy to see grill marks on them.
Woodrow inhaled deeply. "What did you put on them? They smell extra good."
Another little gush of pride surged through her. She'd gone to some extra trouble with these steaks, making a rub for them the night before. She wanted to impress Woodrow. "I put a spice rub on them. And I've made flavored butter for them too."
"Flavored butter?" His brows rose.
"Just something to echo the flavors on the steak." She'd read that on the recipe she'd found in a cookbook. She hoped it tasted as good as it sounded. She'd added butter and salt to the canned corn too. And she'd bought croutons and cherry tomatoes for the salad.
"You're killing me. Let's eat." Jackson went to get drinks for each of them. "By the way, did you start Caroline's doll?"
"I molded the head and shoulders. They have to dry before I can do much more."
"Did you get any feelings, any images?" For a patient man, he was anxious about his future.
"It's too soon. The doll has to feel more like Caroline before I see her soul mate." She nodded toward their plates. "I think everything's ready. Let's eat."
There wasn't much small talk as the men dug into their food. Jackson even picked up the bones of his T-bone and gnawed on them to get the last shreds of meat. When they leaned back, satisfied, he grinned. "Delicious. So, what are you cooking for my date tomorrow night?"
"Have you no shame?" Woodrow demanded. "First, you talked Lily into making a doll for you and then you volunteered her for your date with Caroline."
Jackson looked contrite. "I am sorry about that, Lily, but I was desperate. I'm a little afraid of her, and I didn't want to be alone our first time together."
Lily tried to decide what would fluster Woodrow, what he'd back down from, and couldn't think of anything. She shrugged. "I like Caroline. What do you think would be a good date meal? Something romantic?"
Jackson shook his head. "Nothing like that, at least not until the doll's done and you think I'm the right person for her. Something safe. What's safe? Chicken?"
Lily smirked. "I watched Rachel Ray on the Food Network, and she made Lovebird Chicken with puff pastry."
"No!" Jackson smiled. "You're just giving me a hard time. How about roast chicken and stuffing? That's sort of like your Grandma's at Thanksgiving."
"Forget it. We just had turkey and dressing at Christmas," Woodrow said.
Jackson grimaced. "Okay, something fancier, but nothing romantic. What have you got in mind?"
"I can make Chicken Seville with artichoke hearts or chicken piccata with capers and lemons. What do you want?"
"Never heard of either one of them. They sound fancy."
Lily sighed. "I don't do fried chicken. It's too much work."
"Barbecued chicken?" Jackson asked.
"It's January, but I can make it in the oven."
Jackson's smile grew. "Good. Perfect. It sounds more casual."
Lily gave him a look. "For such an easy-going guy, you can be a pain in the neck."
Woodrow laughed. "It's about time someone noticed that. Just because a person smiles doesn't make him easy to live with."
"Hey!" Jackson protested.
"You're an artist." Woodrow gathered up his dishes to take to the sink. "You're particular. We all are."
Jackson looked at Lily and shrugged. "When he's right, he's right."
The buzzer went off on the oven and Lily pushed herself to her feet. "I hope you guys can stay for dessert."
"Dessert?" Jackson licked his lips. "What did you make?"
"A frozen peach pie." She opened the oven door and pulled it out.
"I love you," Jackson said. And Lily's eyes went to Woodrow's.
"You went to a lot of bother," he said, gazing at her intently.
"It's Friday. That makes it special." She made her voice sound nonchalant, but if Caroline Litton could whip up wonderful desserts, she could at least buy a frozen pie. And if the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, as her grandma always used to say, Woodrow McCord was going to be hers.