She couldn’t even blame Betsy for her curiosity. Juicy scandals didn’t come along all that often around here. And Claire couldn’t lie to herself. Rumors and gossip were kind of fun when they weren’t about you, which explained the popularity of reality TV. Fortunately there were no cameras in the bakeshop. Being the next viral sensation would not be a good way to build her professional reputation.
Claire felt Logan’s presence, but her gaze had locked with Peyton’s. The blue head scarf didn’t flatter Peyton’s new scarlet skin rashes, and her eyes no longer sparkled with life and wit. Her coat and clothing fit more snugly than normal thanks to chemo weight gain, which Claire was sure Peyton hated as well.
Memories bombarded Claire, starting with the first time she’d met Peyton, when Steffi had invited them both for a sleepover, and Peyton had arrived looking like Britney Spears in a Juicy Couture velour tracksuit, like the coolest girl on the planet would. And when they all celebrated their high school graduation with a spa day at the Norwich Inn.
Hopeful, happy times filled with sisterhood and support. But then Claire remembered Todd breaking up with her. His deceptively kind face, glistening with the sheen of nervous perspiration, as he handed her a box of the things that she’d kept at his apartment. Even now, she went numb with the same dismay and pain as when she realized the reason behind his sudden change of heart. At least today there wouldn’t be a days-long crying jag that followed. Or the whispers and consolations of well-intentioned neighbors and friends. Or the shame. Oh, the shame.
The details of Peyton’s current appearance turned blurry as tears coated Claire’s eyes. She squeezed them closed to stave off crying. When she opened them, she saw Peyton whisper something to Logan before she turned and left the store.
Her lungs burned—a feeling she’d once loved after an intense tennis match, but not one she welcomed now. Her muscles were tight. Honestly, she couldn’t believe that Peyton didn’t force a conversation. That woman never backed down from anything in her life before today.
“Claire.” Logan started toward her. Only then did she notice that he’d shorn his hair. All that gorgeous hair, gone!
She dropped the croissant bag. Shoot. She’d just promised herself she’d be prepared when she saw him next. He’d better not say one word about his sister. She wasn’t ready to defend herself, especially not after seeing Peyton look so sick and defeated.
Crouching hurt Claire’s hip, but she needed that croissant more than ever.
Logan leaned forward just as she bent over to pick up the bag, so they bumped into each other. His strong hands gripped her shoulders to steady her, then he handed her the croissant. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” she mumbled, eyes downcast, gripping the bag so tightly the chocolate had probably squirted out of the pastry. She’d have to lick the paper, or smear the chocolate over the top of the crust. She peeked up at Logan again. Short hair only emphasized his refined bone structure and those penetrating green eyes. Who knew he could be even better looking? She didn’t want him so close. “You cut your hair.”
The right side of his mouth turned up as he ran his hand over his shorn head. “You noticed.”
Impossible not to. Many of her fantasies about him had involved her hands playing with all that hair. Now she’d never get the chance. Not that she would’ve been offered the chance anyway. Or wanted it anymore, darn it. She was an independent woman Logan Prescott could not hold sway over anymore.
“Trying to keep the peace at home?” She knew his father disliked Logan’s artsy side, and she knew Logan both loved and hated that fact. But if he wanted to help Peyton transition and rest, he probably needed to appease his father while they were all living beneath one roof.
Logan tipped his head, his eyes searching hers, almost smiling. “This wasn’t for my dad. I did it for Peyton.”
“What do you mean?” Claire’s palm itched to feel the tickle of his short hair.
He shrugged one shoulder, his voice wistful. “Solidarity.”
They’d all envied Logan’s hair for years, but now that Peyton had lost hers . . . Claire’s heart swelled with respect and awe for the depth of love and commitment he had for his sister. Having a big brother must be such a comfort. Then again, given the unfamilial feelings she harbored for Logan, she thanked God he wasn’t her brother.
Her thoughts continued to ping-pong, proving she’d lost her mind this morning. First, the disappointing news from Mrs. Brewster, then this run-in with Logan and Peyton.
Peyton, who left because she couldn’t face Claire . . . or didn’t think Claire could face her. That thought was rather lowering.
She noticed Betsy wiping down the counter, pretending not to be taking copious mental notes. This was all too much. She had to get outside so she could breathe. Nothing like cold, salty air to stimulate the senses. Of course, Peyton might be waiting for her on the sidewalk.