"Hey, hey, lovely ladies! How are my two favorite girls doing?" Looking between the two of them and the googly eyes they are making at each other, it's obvious these two have something going on.
"OK, you two. I've had just about enough of this. What is going on?" Both of them look like deer caught in the headlights. "And don't tell me 'nothing' because if you do, I'm locking you in a room until someone does!"
"Whoa, whoa … calm down. Did I miss something?" Joey looks from Amelia to me. Confusion and maybe a touch of embarrassment makes his face scrunch up funny.
Standing up, I walk across the room, grab Joey's hand, pull him to the couch and push him down beside Amelia. "OK, you two. Talk, spill the beans, is there something going on between you two?"
At the same time, Joey says, "Yes" with a sly smile and Amelia says "No!" and you can clearly tell she is lying. I look at Joey because I'm more likely to get something out of him.
"OK, Joe, talk."
Amelia starts to say something, but I hold up my hand to tell her to shut it. Joey runs his hands through his hair, that I'm now noticing is getting pretty long. It hangs below his ears but it looks good on him. He's only two years younger than Benji, but other than his eyes, he doesn't resemble him much. It’s a good thing, because I’m not sure how much time I could spend with him if he did.
"Well, we didn't want to say anything because we didn't know if you were ready for it." My eyeballs grow bigger.
"Ready for what exactly?" I ask, slightly worried about what they are going to tell me. Amelia is bent in half, with her head buried in her lap.
"Well …" Amelia groans beside him and he reaches over and grabs her hand and squeezes it. "We kind of like each other, a lot."
Rolling my eyes, I jump up off the couch. "Wow, guys. Do you really think that I didn't know
was going on?" I stare back and forth between them with my hands on my hips. "And I'm kind of pissed that you thought it would bother me."
Amelia swiftly lifts her head. "We just thought the timing was off, with … just … everything." She waves her arms around like a maniac as she speaks.
"Come on. I love you both, and just because I'm sad doesn't mean you guys can't be together or show how much you care about each other. Don't hide the way you feel about each other because as we all know that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. It makes me happy to see that you guys are happy."
Now crying, Amelia jumps up and throws her arms around me. "Thank you, Marin. I love you so much."
"I love you too, peaches. Now—" I pull out of the hug and look at her with a smirk "—what happened with the coffee?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's where this information highway comes to an end!" Joey yells.
Laughing, Amelia and I fall back onto the couch on each side of him. She leans her head on his shoulder, and I can't help the small twinge of pain I feel in my chest. But I really am happy for them. They have been there for me when I have needed them most. They have put their pain aside to focus on me.
It's time for them to be happy and live their lives and for me to focus on me.
Later that night, after taking much convincing, Amelia and Joey left. Joey was nice enough to bring home the office laptop for me to work on a few orders and payroll so everyone can get paid by Friday. After last night, I wanted a quiet night here by myself.
I worked through the payroll first getting it out of the way. Then moved on to the ordering. There are a few new releases coming out soon that I wanted to make sure I had by release day, but other than that, we are pretty stocked up. Completing those tasks doesn't take nearly as long as I thought and it's now only seven. Way too early to go to bed.
Walking into my bedroom, I open the closet and stare at everything on the hangers and floor. It's a combination of my items and Benji's. When I moved in, I packed all of his stuff together with mine and put it all away, like he was on vacation and would be returning home soon.
But he's not coming home. He's gone. It's time for me to pack his stuff up.
Maybe I will just box them and place them in the attic or spare bedroom.
Packing them away at this point will be better and easier than giving them away. I know I'm not ready for that step yet.
As I go through the items, many things are bringing back so many memories. Like this ratty old Chicago Cubs t-shirt that he's had for as long as I can remember. I bring it to my face and breath in as deep as possible, hoping to catch a small whiff of his scent still lingering on the cotton. But there's nothing. Just the smell of my laundry detergent, fabric softener, and me, most likely from being in close proximity to my clothing.
By the time I'm finished boxing everything up and pushing the tubs into the spare bedroom, not only is my closet bare but I'm beat. Exhaustion overtakes me, and I feel my eyes slowly flutter shut as soon as I hit my bed. As I slowly drift off, I see Benji in the distance smiling approvingly at me. That's the last thing I remember before sleep pulls me under its spell.
"Hey, man, I think you got an issue over there." Liam points to the ground underneath the older model Lincoln.
"God dammit!" I yell throughout the garage. I've been busting my ass all day on Mrs. Roger’s car, and I can't seem to keep my focus. First of all, I locked the freaking keys in the car and that was a major pain in the ass to get that taken care of. Then, I tried to put the wrong damn oil filter in the car, and now that I am almost finished with everything I forgot to put the
"Dude. Chill. It's no big deal. Happens all the time," Liam soothes as he makes his way over to the car. "You seem more out of sorts than normal today. What's up? Mel get on ya about somethin'?"
Sighing, I flop down on the creeper with the plug in my hand and slide under the car to put it in. "No, he's fine. Same old Uncle Mel. I wanted to get out of here. I have plans tonight."
He's quiet, but I can sense the smirk. I know exactly what he's thinking. I used to go out. A lot. There was a different lady every night. But it was always a mutual thing. I was always up front with all of the women I was with. Sex only, no relationships. I had too much going on in my life being under Sonny and J.R.'s thumbs to be worrying about someone else all the time.
"Don't even say it, Liam. It's not like that," I yell from underneath the car.
"Whatever you say, boss man." He laughs and I hear his footsteps walk back over to the car he was working on as I put the plug in place and slide out.
I'm a freaking mess. I need to finish up here and get cleaned up to head back into the city soon if I want to get there before the bookstore closes.
"So," Liam says from under a car hood, "what's her name?"
Sighing, I think to myself, there is no reason not to tell him. It's not like she actually means anything to me.
"Marin." I wipe my hands on the dirty cloth sitting on the work table. "She owns the bookstore on Fifteenth. I ran into her yesterday and helped her out with something so she's going to help me find a book or two to brush up on my business skills since I need to know more than fixing cars to take over this place."
He looks at me out of the corner of his eye from underneath the hood. "And what exactly did you help
I know exactly what he's thinking. It's either I hooked her up with drugs or sex. But that's not me. Not anymore. Or at least, I don't want it to be.
"Dude, come on. You know better than that."
"Do I?" He continues to work on the car. "I know your history is what I know."
"Yeah, well, I'm not denying that. But I'm trying to be better. I have been doing good. Staying out of trouble so give me a damn break. It was just a girl that needed help with something, and I just happened to be the only one around so I helped her out." I don't feel like explaining anything else to him. It's none of his business anyway. He's my employee, not my father.
"I'm heading out, Liam. Can you please call Mrs. Rogers and leave her a message that her car is done?"
"Yeah, OK." He starts to say something, else but I don't hear him because I'm already out the door and heading up the stairs to my apartment to clean up.
Finishing up in the shower and throwing an old towel around my waist and walk out into the open area of my apartment. This place isn't much but it's a reliable roof over my head and that's all that matters, I guess.
I pull out a long-sleeve t-shirt, a pair of jeans and socks from the plastic tub that holds my clothes beside my bed. Underwear aren't always a necessity, though.
As I'm finishing up, there's a knock at my door. I look out and see Uncle Mel standing there. I wish he wouldn't climb these steps. He could have called from downstairs, and I would have met him down there.
He knocks on the door again, and I quickly make my way over to it. I hope whatever he wants is quick.
"Hey, Uncle Mel. Why didn't you call me from downstairs?"
He waves his hand to tell me that's nonsense. "Boy, I've been climbing stairs longer than you have been living."
"Well, get in here." I close the door behind him and he flops down on my old raggedy recliner. "What's up?"
He looks me up and down with a skeptical eye. "Where you headed all fancied up?"
"I am meeting someone about … something." I'm not sure how to answer him. I really don't want him in my personal business but I know exactly what he's thinking.
"I sure as shit hope you aren't meeting J.R."
"Why would you think that?" Although, I know the answer. I know I haven’t gained his trust yet, and he’s terrified I will end up back under J.R.’s spell that promises money and everything I could ever want.
"Because you never seem to be able to stay away from those troublemaking assholes!" He stands back up and walks over to where I'm standing. "Listen, I'm sorry. But Sonny stopped by the house today looking for you. He said J.R. had a job for you, and I just wanted to make sure you didn't take him up on any of his ridiculous offers."
I run my hand through my hair and let out a deep breath. "I had no idea they stopped by. I seriously haven't heard from them. I'm not meeting up with any of them. I'm actually meeting a girl." I see his smile grow. "About a book." Now he looks at me confused.
"You read?" He smirks and leans on his metal, drugstore cane.
"Ha ha. Very funny, old man." I rehash the story from this morning to him and what I'm trying to accomplish, and it makes me happy to see the proud gleam in his eyes. I think he may actually start trusting me soon.
I grab my old leather jacket off the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "I really have to go, Uncle Mel."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm leaving. I wanted to make sure you weren't getting into any trouble. I don't need the shop brought down in anything bad."
"I understand. And I'm not. I'm doing my best to stay away from them."
"OK. Good." He follows me out the door, and I turn around to ease down the steps to help him down. "Have fun with the girl tonight."
We get to the bottom of the stairs and I roll my eyes. "Whatever." Nodding, he walks across the dirt parking lot to his old house.
I have to figure out a way to cut J.R. and Sonny out of my life for good. I can't have them showing up here out of the blue and ruining this opportunity for me.
They always have a way of sucking me back in.
Since I’ve decided to park in the same lot as the last time I was in town, I’m able to walk to the bookstore. I’m not afraid to park here, but I hope Marin doesn’t park here anymore. I don’t see her car, though, so that’s a good sign.
It's warmer today than it has been, thank God. I live in Florida for a reason—I hate the cold weather. I remember when I was nine years old, my parents took me to New York City "sightseeing". I hated every minute of it. They thought it would be great for me to see what winter really was. I prefer a winter of warmth, though.
Turning the corner, I see the light from the bookstore pouring out onto the street at the end of the block. Slowly, I make my way down to the door and look in like some creeper. I'm more intrigued by Marin than the idea of learning anything about business. But I do need to learn if I want to make a serious go at this and make it last.
Swiftly, I walk the remainder of the way and pull open the door when a silly bell rings above my head. There is an attractive girl sitting at the counter on a stool reading a book but she looks up when the bell rings.
"Welcome to Fifteen! Can I help you find anything?" she happily asks.
"Actually, I was here to see Marin. Is she around?" Recognition shows in her eyes.
"Oh! Oh, my goodness. You're the guy!"
"The guy?" I ask.
"Yeah! She didn't tell me how cute you were."
Grinning, I shake my head "Thanks. So, um … about Marin."
"Oh, yeah, hang on a second. She's in the back." She walks to the back of the store but not out of sight. I decide that I will browse around while I wait and walk back toward the way she went. I can hear the girl talking to Marin from where I'm standing by the automotive section. How convenient.
"Marin! Why didn’t you tell me? Holy guacamole! He's fine as fu—" I hear Marin cut her off before she can finish.
. Lord, Gwenn. He’s going to hear you. Keep it down."
"Well, he is. I can't help it." I hear some shuffling around and can’t help but smile a little bit.
I glance over the shelf in front of me. There are books on muscle cars, books on transmissions, there are even books on vintage foreign cars. Have I seriously never been in a bookstore before? Because that sure as hell is how it’s feeling. I’m stuck in a mechanic’s fantasy, I think.
Marin starts talking again. "Yes, he is definitely good looking, but you know I'm not even close to being ready to think about other guys. And besides, he is way too good looking for me even if I was." I would tend to disagree with her, but whatever. I wasn't looking for a hook up anyway and definitely not a relationship, so I'm glad we are on the same page. I hear a door open and the blonde walks out. She can't see me since I’m standing behind this shelf and she starts to turn in a circle looking all over when she spots me.