Authors: K. S. Thomas
hen I woke up later that same morning my first thought was that I’d been kidnapped by my stalker Sue Lea and locked in her bedroom. My second thought was that judging by the décor, she lived in a brothel. By the time I sat up and actually had a coherent thought, I was staring straight at a framed picture of Embers and May which had been strategically placed on the dresser across from me.
. I hadn’t been kidnapped. This was way worse.
I could hear voices coming from the living room. With my eyes still closed, I stretched out my arm, checking the mattress for May. She was already up. This was excellent news for me, since it meant that Jessa was with a semi-responsible adult and I could remain in bed for at least another fifteen minutes.
Although, the longer I lay there, the more aware I became of the heavenly coffee scent which had somehow managed to waft into my room in spite of the door being shut. Damn Margo and her wonderful ways. I wasn’t going to be able to wait fifteen minutes. I wasn’t going to be able to wait five.
I strolled out of my room wearing nothing but a tank top and boy shorts, essentially my underwear from the night before, not giving it a second thought. Then I saw Brady.
Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of him yet again, I held my head high and kept walking as though I had always intended for him to see me braless, with half my ass hanging out. Suddenly having minor
boobage didn’t seem like such a disadvantage. Although, even on the small side, they weren’t nearly as perky as they could have been, nor would they ever be again. Breastfeeding for a year had taken care of that.
“You’re up early.” I nearly shouted it. So much for not embarrassing myself. What made matters worse was when I realized I had been walking through the room on my tip-toes. Don’t ask me why. I wish I knew. Even more so, I wish I had been able to stop.
I gave an awkward wave to Jessa and May as I walked past them in the living room. May’s expression spoke volumes, but much to my relief, her big mouth did not.
“Not much of a morning person?” Brady was sitting on one to the barstools at the breakfast bar scouring over yesterday’s paper.
“Not exactly.” The second I reached the counter, Coyote came flying down from up on top of the cabinets. She had a tendency to hide up there just so she could pounce and scare the crap out of me as soon as I walked over. Like that would motivate me to feed her faster or something.
“This is Coyote.” I had always been taught it was rude not to make introductions. To me, this rule was not exclusive to human beings.
“Really?” He reached over and began to scratch her chin, just the way she liked it. “Because it looks like a cat.”
“Trust me.” I walked over to the coffee maker and poured us each a cup. The second he removed his hand from Coyote’s chin to take his mug, she let out a blood curdling howl. Brady was so startled he nearly spit out his coffee.
I tipped my head in a sideways nod and grinned. “Told ya.”
“That’s a strange fucking cat.” He was staring at her in a mixed state of fear and bewilderment.
“Relax, she’s all howl and no bite.” Just to be sure she wouldn’t prove me wrong, I opened up a can of cat food for her.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
“Why are you asking me? I’m your landlord, not your fucking tour guide.” It was easier than admitting I had no agenda. It was Saturday, which basically wasn’t so different from any other day since my life consisted of essentially three things: Jessa, work and the beach. Mostly I just rotated from one straight into another.
crabass, let me try this differently. I was thinking about checking out this art festival I was reading about. Would you maybe want to go with me?”
“The art walk? Sure, that sounds fun. Haven’t been to one of those in ages.” I went to take another sip of coffee only to be met with disappointment. My cup was already empty. As always it had gone down way too easily.
“Cool. Then I will let you finish waking up and I will see you after the caffeine has taken its full effect.” He did that smirking thing he did so well and then headed toward the door.
After he was gone I went and crawled onto the couch for a morning snuggle and cartoons with Jessa.
“Looks like someone has a date,” May taunted me from the recliner.
“What? No I don’t. You’re going, too.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I am.” She popped another piece of Captain Crunch into her mouth. Cereal was like crack to her. She couldn’t stop and she always ate it straight from the box.
“What do you mean? Of course you’re going. It’s not like you have anything better to do.” I reached over and took a handful of her breakfast.
She made a face but didn’t stop me. “Um, yeah I do.”
Jessa let out a loud sigh. “Could you guys keep it down please? I’m trying to watch this.”
She was very serious about her morning shows.
Knowing that May would take the interruption as a way to conveniently forget about the topic at hand, I repeated myself. This time at a whisper.
“I don’t have to tell you, you’re not Mom.”
“Yeah, she is.” I don’t know why Jessa wanted us to be quiet if she was going to listen in anyway.
“Well, she’s not
mom.” Just then I thought maybe I could have been though, considering May sounded like a four year old.
“You’ve got nothing.”
“Fine, I’ll go. But only because you clearly need the backup.”
“Thank you.” Then I took another handful of cereal and turned my attention on the television.
Try as I might, I couldn’t focus on a single thing I was seeing. The only thing I could think about was whether or not Brady had really asked me out. If he had, I wasn’t sure I was feeling the appropriate emotions. I mean, it had been a while, okay, a long while, since I’d been asked on a date, but I had a faint recollection of turning into a female version of Goofy and running around saying things like ‘well garwsh, I just can’t believe this is happening’ and then yelping loudly with gusto all the while tripping over things and being an overall klutz due to giddy intoxication.
None of those things were happening just then. Instead there were some rather unpleasant emotions swirling around. Like fear. And doubt. And a tinge of anger. But mostly fear. Obviously I wasn’t afraid of Brady. But me? I scared the shit out of myself.
When it came to the men of my past, I had made some real awesome choices. Sensing the sarcasm there? Yeah. Suffice it to say, men to me were now the equivalent of mistakes. And most of mine had been whoppers.
After the last one, I had made a promise to myself that under no circumstances was I ever permitted to trust my own judgment ever again, since clearly, I had none. And for the last three years, that had been working out pretty well. Of course, aside from the random drunk customer at 3am, Grilla had been the only guy around to hit on me. And turning him down had been a snap. If you’d ever met him, you’d understand. And it wasn’t even because of something shallow like the fact that he looked like a fucking penguin when he walked or the fact that it was 2014 and he was still attempting to rock a mullet, but rather the fact that he was too nice to me and I knew eventually, I would end up breaking him.
I’m a good girl, but I’ve led a harsh life and it has left me rough around the edges. You can tell me all you want that I’m an idiot for choosing bad guys and turning away the nice ones, but you don’t understand why I do it. I’m not
in it for the risk or the drama. I end up with bad boys because at the end of the day, they’re the only ones who will stand up to me. And a girl needs that. I need that. Hence, I gave up men all together. Because men were no better than drugs. They made you euphorically happy for a moment, but then turned your life to shit in the long run.
here was a knock on the door and a second later I heard May as she let herself in. Clearly she was taking our little rental agreement pretty loosely.
“I take it you’ve run out of clothes?” she asked when she found me standing in the bedroom wearing nothing but one of her rose colored towels.
“I just got out the shower.” Like, forty-five minutes ago.
I’m sure she noticed my hair was completely dry already, since she didn’t even bother to respond. She did however march directly over to her dresser where she yanked open the bottom drawer and then stood beside it like one of those models from the Price Is Right as if she was presenting me with a brand new car. “I know you have a multitude of condoms to choose from, but for the art walk you may want to consider something that actually covers up your penis.”
“Your bag was open when I wandered in here this morning. I’ll have you know I dreamt I was a sales clerk at Sam’s Club selling condoms in bulk after that visual. So, thanks for that.”
I shook my head as if my brain was an Etch a Sketch and shaking it around enough would somehow make this conversation disappear. “Look, I’m sorry my safe sex practices had a negative effect on your sleeping habits, but I’d actually rather walk down the street buck ass naked wearing nothing but a condom than do so in your clothes.”
“You’re a moron.” She leaned down and pulled out a pair of shorts. “On what fucking planet would you fit into my clothes? You’re built like a goddamn ape while I have more of a pixie stature.” She actually curtsied. Then she threw the pants at me. “These are Marshall’s. He’s a goddamn ape as well.”
“Peace out.” And she was gone again.
I was just coming out of my room after having changed clothes for the fourth time when May came in
“What were you planning on telling Austin regarding the whole Brady situation?”
I scrunched my brows together in a frown. The sound of his name did that to me.
She scurried past me, taking my hand as she flew by and dragging me over to the window. “Because he just pulled up. Saw that bright ass Camaro as it was coming toward the house when I was leaving my apartment.
“I know. What do you want me to do?”
“Just keep Jessa busy. I don’t want her anywhere near if things start to get ugly.” It was a given really. May knew the drill.
She grabbed the crayons from the kitchen table and headed into Jessa’s room in a pre-emptive move to activate mission ‘child diversion’.
As I braced myself for the conversation ahead, I heard Austin’s boisterous voice coming from the stairwell. There was his usual laughter accompanied by some ‘
no way dudes’
this is so nuts, Jack Cole!’s.
By the time they’d both reached my door, Austin would be acting like he had found a new best friend and Brady would likely welcome him with open arms. Austin had that effect on people. He’d certainly had it on me.
Austin sauntered in, true to form without so much as a knock. He had never lived here and yet he still always acted like he owned the place. I felt my insides turn to rock. The last thing I wanted was to give Brady a full on demonstration of how dysfunctional my life really was.
Apparently, Austin was in agreement with me for once. Clearly not wanting his new BFF to see what I lovingly referred to as Dark Austin, he pulled me in for a pseudo-affectionate hug and hissed in my ear, “We need to talk.”
With a smile stretched across my gritted teach I replied, “I’m glad you stopped by. One of the vents in my bathroom fell out of the ceiling and I need you to fix it.”
Austin stretched out his arms as if he lived for this shit. “Excuse us, Jack. I’ll be right back. Unless of course she has a jar of K.Y. Jelly back there she needs me to open for her.” He winked at Brady like it was an inside joke only guys would get.
“That shit comes in a tube, jackass. Now come and fix my vent before you hurt yourself trying to be funny again.”
I led the way to my room, but not before catching a glimpse of Austin gesturing how nuts I was to Brady. Asshole.
Things didn’t get any cozier once we were behind closed doors.
“You want to tell me what the hell is going on with you and this guy? Why is he staying under the same roof as my daughter?”
“Because we invited him. This is our house. We can do that if we want.” I had walked further into the room and placed myself on the opposite side of the bed. Experience had taught me that distance was always favorable. Not that Austin had ever hit me, but he certainly seemed to enjoy towering over me while completely invading my personal space. To him it was all about intimidation and he was prepared to achieve it by any means necessary.
“You like him, don’t you? You’re so fucking stupid.” The first verbal punch to the gut was always the hardest. The follow up round wasn’t much easier. “There is no way he’d ever go for a dumb bitch like you, with your used up tits and nasty ass stretch marks. I mean, I’d still do you, but that’s more out of obligation. Jack Cole has access to top of the line pussy. He doesn’t need to bother with yours.”
I took a deep breath in and then blew it out along with every insult I wanted to fling at him. Engaging would only make things drag on. I needed him gone. If that meant taking a hike through one of his verbal minefields, so be it. Wouldn’t be my first.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you want, Austin.”
His eyes drilled into mine, searching for any signs of surrender, or at least an indication that I had been severely wounded. I gave him nothing. Sure, on the inside I was sobbing like a two year old, but on the outside I was stone cold.
Having already gotten bored with of the verbal abuse, he moved on to his next tactic. Extortion. I was powerless to it and he knew.
“I came by to get the payment for the truck.”
“What are you talking about? That’s not due for another two weeks.” I watched him closely trying to see if this was motivated purely by the sight of Jack Cole or if he had really come out here in need of money. If he had, it definitely wasn’t to make the payment.
“Look Em, I don’t have time to explain to you how bill paying works. All you need to know is that those of us who have good credit know what we’re doing. Those who do not, shouldn’t be questioning it.”
“You asshole. The only reason you ever had good credit is because you spent your early twenties living on a Visa card mommy and daddy paid off for you monthly while I was busy paying cash for everything. I didn’t have bad credit. I had no credit at all.”
I bit down on my lip hard and continued chewing on it all the way to my nightstand where I pulled open the drawer to retrieve the money from our deposit bag. I hated giving him cash since it was untraceable, but there wasn’t enough in the account and I had no way of getting it there now. With my luck, he’d deposit the check via his ATM and the damn thing would clear first thing Monday morning, causing the account to overdraw and several other payments to bounce.
“Here. Was there anything else?”
He grinned maliciously. “Yeah. I’m gonna need the truck for tonight.”
“What? No. It’s a Saturday night. That’s our busiest night of the week, Austin.” I came out from hiding behind the bed and went to take him straight on. He turned his back on me as usual, letting me know that it was a done deal and nothing I said would make a damn difference.
“Not really my problem, Em. Few friends of mine are throwing a huge party and I told them I’d bring the truck and feed everyone.”
“It’s my fucking business, Austin.” But he didn’t care. In fact, the more I argued, the more delighted he became.
“Well, it’s my fucking truck. And if you’re not a little nicer to me, I may decide to party with my buddies all week. After all, it
Tears started to well up in my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop them. Once again he’d pushed me to my breaking point.
Satisfied with his work, he added insult to injury by forcing me into yet another meaningless embrace. “Don’t cry. You know I can’t stand that.”
Then he opened the door and walked out.
I took a moment to choke down all of my feelings, then followed him. I was just in time to see his regular rendition of ‘best dad in the world’ and my stomach began to churn all over again. At least that was one area of my life he had no control over. Not that he hadn’t tried to, but at the end of the day, Austin had more skeletons in his closet than a serial killer. There wasn’t a judge on earth who would have given him physical custody.
“Well, Jack, it was cool meeting you. Call me if the level of estrogen gets too high around here. I know a couple of places you’d
Brady’s demeanor seemed off somehow as he shook Austin’s hand. “Yeah, man. For sure.”
And then, thank GOD, it was over.