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Authors: Ashley Suzanne,Tiffany Fox,Melissa Gill

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BOOK: Rekindle
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CHAP
TER ELEVEN

NICK

What in the actual fuck am I thinking?  Dinner with her family?  I’d planned on calling her, going to breakfast, maybe going back to her place to finish what we started the night before, but now … dinner … with her folks … I’m fucked.

Her father never liked me to begin with and her mom tolerated me because Christina loved me.  I knew the score and I was okay with it.  Secretly, I hoped I would be the same way if I ever had a daughter—wishing death nightly to the man stealing away my little girl.  And Tina would be just like her mother—being a shoulder to lean on if needed and if not, she’d put on a happy face to keep her daughter happy. 

But what’s to stop Mr. Mitchell from killing me on the spot?  Nothing, that’s what.  I’m sure he’s had vivid dreams in the past about castrating me, and now he’ll have the option, and Tina won’t stop him.  Or would she?  Maybe? 

I’m going to need a drink or five.  I remind myself I can’t get drunk.  I have no idea where I want this to go with Tina past finding the release I was screwed out of last night, and if I want to get close to that again, showing up at her house drunk is not the right way to go about it.

Knowing if I have something now, it’ll just wear off before I show up to Tina’s, so I opt for a quick workout.  Wearing only my basketball shorts and sneakers, I jog down the stairs to the small home gym I put together over the last year.  Finding gyms going out of business and people selling equipment cheap online, I’ve acquired quite a bit and it’s enough to keep me from paying a membership somewhere I won’t go.

Cranking the stereo, letting the sounds of Static-X wash over me, I sit on the bench, lay back and begin lifting the weights to the beat of the song.  With each rep, I work toward pushing myself further than I did the arm day before.  Feeling the stress seep out of my pores, I finish my last round of bench presses and move over to the pull-up bar. 

Pulling my weight above the bar, it’s effortless until about the twentieth and it feels like I’m somewhere around five hundred pounds.  Gritting my teeth and fixing my jaw, I complete another ten before my arms are screaming for a break.  Knowing I’m at my prime time, I grab the dumbbells and almost immediately begin a set of curls.

When sweat’s pouring down my face, I finally break.  Wiping my brow and taking a large swallow of water, I glance at the clock and realize I need to start getting ready, as I’ll have a stop to make before I get to Tina’s.  With the towel draped around my neck, I walk up the stairs and straight to the bathroom.

After a longer than usual, relaxing shower, I’m out, dried and dressed in a matter of ten minutes.  Thinking it would be a good idea to do something with my hair, I run some product through it and make it look like I just woke up.  I should have scheduled enough time for a trim, but then again, I wasn’t planning on going to see my ex-in-laws for dinner.

An hour and a half later, I’m standing on the other side of Tina’s door, softly knocking.  When she opens and I see the grey material swirling around her legs, I can’t help but feel a surge of pride in my chest.  I specifically asked her to wear something, and she did.  I peruse her body, taking in all the curves I love and got a taste of the night before. My eyes connect with hers and she almost appears nervous.

“You look beautiful,” I say, wishing I could take it back as her cheeks flush an adorable shade of pink and her gaze casts to my feet. 

“Thank you,” she whispers, grabbing her purse from the arm of the couch and slipping into a pair of heels on the floor.  Extending my elbow, she casually slips her arm through and glances up to me. Even in heels, the top of her head only reaches my shoulders. 

“You look handsome.”  The blush returns and I chuckle in response.  God, she’s so fucking perfect.  Gorgeous and has no idea—the most perfect woman I’d ever find.  And I let her walk away.  Kicking myself in the ass, I walk her to my truck and help her climb into the cab.

The drive to her parents’ is only fifteen minutes and each and every second is full of uncomfortable, tension-filled silence. Had I known it would be this awkward, I would have pulled over and fucked the tension right out of her.  Then, I’d have to deal with inquisitive glares from her mother and looks of promising death from her father. 

“You ready?” Tina asks, hand on the door handle.  Apparently, I navigated to her family’s home on auto pilot as I don’t remember much of anything other than being inside my own head.

“Yep.  Let’s go.”  I put on a brave face, and it takes one hell of a man to admit he’s scared, and right now, I’m terrified.  I’m quite a fan of my heart beating and my testicles hanging between my legs. 

Grabbing the bouquet of flowers from the backseat of the truck, I meet Tina on the other side and open the door, offering her my hand.  She accepts and allows me to lead her up the driveway and walkway until we reach the front door.  With my hand at the small of her back, she takes an even bigger breath than I do as she turns the handle.

“Ma.  We’re here!” she announces, the smells of a home-cooked meal hitting me the second I’m through the threshold.  It’s been too damn long.  I might just let Mrs. Mitchell remove my balls if she lets me have an extra plate.

“In the kitchen, Chrissy,” her mother’s voice echoes off the walls.  Remembering the Mitchell House Rules, I kick my shoes off at the entryway and follow Tina into the kitchen.

The moment I see Mrs. Mitchell, I offer her the flowers and put on my best ‘I know I was married to your daughter and fucked it all up, but I’m sorry, please don’t cut my dick off’ grin.  I’m immediately met with her turned up nose and pursed lips.

“Christina,” she says, acknowledging her daughter, and Tina’s muscles tense under my hand.  “Can I speak with you a moment?”

“Sure,” Tina squeaks and looks up at me, giving me the signal to give her a second.  Nodding my head, I set the flowers on the counter and make my way out of the kitchen.  Wanting to hear the shit she’s going to talk about me, I pause in the hallway instead of going into the living room, where by the sounds of the game on the TV, Mr. Mitchell’s probably in the vicinity. 

“What are you thinking, Christina?  Hasn’t he done enough?” Mrs. Mitchell whispers in a sharp tone.

“Ma, I don’t need this.  You asked me to dinner and I already had plans with Nick.  Figured we stop in here then go out,” Tina lies.

“And you didn’t think to call and let me know?  This isn’t appropriate, Chrissy.  You’re divorced for a reason.”

“It’s just dinner, Ma,” Tina whines.  “Can we just eat and you not make this any more awkward than it has to be?”

“You think this is awkward?  You have no idea what situation you’ve put me and your father in.”

Just as she finishes her statement, the doorbell rings, breaking me from my eavesdropping.  I slowly back away from the kitchen entryway so I’m not caught.  Halfway down the hall, I pause and wait for Mrs. Mitchell to answer the door.

“Mother!” Tina yells toward her mother as Mrs. Mitchell opens the door.

Rushing toward me, Tina pushes me into the bathroom and braces her hands on the sink, breathing heavily.  Raising her head, she rolls her shoulders and looks at me in the mirror with a sympathetic look.

“I’m so sorry.  I had no idea,” she mutters.

“What are you talking about?  I knew your mom wouldn’t be happy.  I’m the one who should be sorry.  I put you in a bad spot with your folks.  Maybe I should go?  Have your dad drive you home or I could come back and pick you up later?” I ask, feeling guilty for not thinking this through. 

“No, that’s not it.  I don’t give a shit what she thinks about you being here.  I invited you and I’m okay with that.  It’s just …”

“Just what?”

“She invited … someone else.”

“Who?”

“David McGuinnes,” she flatly states, and my lip automatically curls in disgust.  That little fucker’s had a hard-on for Tina since before we were married.  It was a running joke that if I ever left Tina, she’d be forced to marry David McGuinnes and have his pimply faced babies.  Now, here’s the dude, probably at half-mast, thinking he’s got a shot at Tina. 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I groan, meaning it to be an internal thought, but my vocal cords having other ideas.

“Nope.  Not kidding.  He’s here.  He thinks I’m single.  He thinks this is some sort of a lead in to a date.  My ma said he wants to go out after dinner.”  Her unexcited look makes me happy and puts me on the spot.

He thinks I’m single.

Isn’t she?  Fuck.  What am I supposed to say?  I feel like she wants me to save her from her impending doom-filled future with pimply faced David McGuinnes, but in doing so, I’d be leading her on.  Had Tina not divorced me, I probably would have never left her.  But she did.  And going back there—I don’t know if I can.  Sure, my physical attraction to her is more powerful than the emotional hurt I feel, but to be something more, I’d have to get over that.  Leaving someone at their absolute worst is a pretty big hurdle.

Sucking up my pride, releasing the idea of getting Tina in bed tonight, and realizing David McGuinnes isn’t just a joke we say to one another anymore, I place my hands on Tina’s hips, holding her stare in the mirror.

“I’m gonna take off.  It’s already weird, your parents want to kill me.  Give me a call if you need a ride home later?”  Squeezing slightly, I let go and place a chaste kiss on the crown of her head.

“You really don’t have to go, Nick.  We can have dinner then go to Shenanigans later.  I swear it’s okay.”

“I know, but your mom’s right.  We’re divorced for a reason.  Just don’t have any pimply faced babies anytime soon.  Chief won’t be happy if his best paramedic is off on maternity because she couldn’t keep it in her pants,” I say, smiling and walking out of the bathroom.

“It was nice to see you again, Mrs. Mitchell.  Take care and put those flowers in some water,” I call over my shoulder as I walk out the front door, down the path and to my truck.  Turning the key, I back out of the driveway and head straight for Shenanigans for a few beers with the guys I know will be there.  That and if Tina needs a ride, I’m only a couple miles away.

Hopefully she’ll call and not end up in the backseat of David McGuinnes’s car in her parents’ driveway.

CHAP
TER TWELVE

TINA

I’m much more disappointed that Nick left than I thought I’d be.  For some strange reason, I was really looking forward to having a dinner with my family, including Nick who will always be a member of my inner circle, and then going out for drinks later.  It was almost like Nick was trying to start over from the beginning.  I’m probably over thinking the entire thing, but for a brief second, I felt good.  Really, really good. 

Now, I’m sitting at my parents’ oval-shaped dining room table, a full feast laid before us and David Fucking McGuinnes sitting across from me, eyeing me with his creepy-ass stare.  Looking down at my mashed potatoes, I pretend to not hear my mother’s sweet as molasses voice asking David all the questions she should be asking the guy I actually want to be on a date with.

“So, David, how’s work going?  Your mother tells me you’re assistant manager at the Walmart now,” she all but coos in his direction.  I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with working at Walmart, there are certainly far worse things he could be doing, but how does she, or anyone else, expect me to go from a big, sexy hero to a paper pusher at fucking Walmart? 

“Sure am,” David says with a mouth full of food.  Gag.  “It’s really exciting.  We’ve been training our shoplifting prevention team and I actually got to work with the police a few weeks ago.  Even assisted in taking down a perp,” he says, looking to me with a huge smile, probably seeking validation.

Stabbing a piece of meat on my fork, it’s all I can do from spinning my finger in the air in a “whoopdie-do” gesture, but I refrain.  And please, for the love of all that’s holy, someone stop this creeper from watching
Law and Order
.  If you’re going to overcompensate, don’t start throwing around lingo you know nothing about.  Perp.  Snort.

“So what have you been up to, Chrissy?  It’s been a long time,” David asks between bites. 

“Well, you know, the usual.  I got divorced.  He was actually leaving when you arrived.  But other than that, just working.”  I try to hide my annoyance, but my sarcastic side can’t help but seep through.  It’s evident when my mother kicks the hell out of my shin under the table, all the while keeping her perfect smile on her face.

“You’re a nurse, right?”

“Nope.  Paramedic.”

“That’s cool.  I gave my grandpa the Heimlich one Christmas when he got a piece of ham stuck in his throat.”  I can’t help it.  My eyes roll.  Not only do they roll, but the kind of roll that your mom yells at you about when you’re a kid.  Then my own mother glares at me, giving me that signature ‘they’ll stick like that’ look and I crack a smile.

“Well, thanks for dinner, Mom and Dad.  I’ve gotta get going.  Work tomorrow afternoon, so ….”  I stand from my chair, tossing my napkin next to my barely touched plate and step to the side to kiss my daddy and hug my mom.  “It’s been real nice to see you, too, David.  Have a good night.”

I start walking down the hall toward the door when my mom nearly tackles me.  Placing her hands on my shoulders, she spins me to face her, her face a very distinct shade of pissed the fuck off. 

“What are you doing, Christina?  I’ve invited this nice boy here tonight and you’re just going to run off before I’ve even had the chance to serve dessert?  I even made pineapple upside down cake.  Your favorite.”

Kissing her cheek, I smile sweetly and feign exhaustion.  “Thanks so much for tonight, Ma.  It was so nice to see you and Daddy, but I really do have to get going.  They changed the schedule at work and I’ll be on for two days.  If I don’t get my sleep now, I won’t get it again for a few days.”

“If you’d just get a nice secretary job,” she starts and I cut her off with another kiss.

“I know, Ma.  You worry about me, but remember, I’m only as strong as I am because you raised me this way.  Just give me a hug, tell me you love me and you’ll harass me tomorrow and tell me all the juicy stuff David says about me when I leave.”  I have no doubt David will hang around long after I leave, if only to get the scoop, and if I placate my mom—letting her think I’m interested—I might just make it out of here alive.

“Well, how are you going to get home?” she asks.  Keeping a smiling face, inside I kick my own ass.  How could I have forgotten I don’t have my car?  Thinking on my feet, I pull out my phone and text Nick, asking him to pick me up.

“Nick brought me, so the least he can do is take me home.  I’ll call you the second I walk in the door, okay?”

“Why don’t you just sit down and have a slice of cake while you wait?  I’m sure Nick, being the gentleman he is, will honk when he’s outside.”  Not mistaking her jab at Nick, I turn the door handle and step out onto the porch.

“Save me a slice, okay?  I’m gonna walk down to Jerry’s and say hi before I leave.”  Jerry’s is the liquor store on the corner.  Growing up, Jerry, the owner, always took care of me, making sure the penny candy was always full and my favorite pop was in the coolers.  Great man, and now that he’s older, I make sure to stop in and say hey whenever I’m down this way. 

“He’ll love that.”  And I knew she would, too.  It’s pretty easy to please her once you’re in the dog house, so to speak, and I knew Jerry would be my ticket out.

Walking down the steps, I walk the short block to the liquor store, running inside to see Jerry isn’t even working tonight.  Sighing, I send Nick another text to let him know where I am and to hurry.  It’s not really cold, but wearing this thin grey dress and heels, the wind’s cutting through the fabric like nobody’s business.

After fifteen minutes of standing with my back against the brick wall, Nick’s not here nor has he returned any of my messages.  Taking my chances, I dial his number and let it ring three … four … five times until the voicemail picks up.  Shaking my head, I call the only other person I know will come get me.

“Hey, boo thang,” Lacy answers, water running in the background.

“You giving Dakota a bath?” I ask.

“Nope.  Dishes.  What’s up?”

“Need a ride.  Please and thank you.”

“Where are you?  And where’s your car?”

“I’m at Jerry’s by my parents’ house and my car’s at my apartment,” I say, praying she doesn’t ask any more questions.

“Yep.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.  We are talking about this, just so you know, so don’t try to avoid it.  I’ll just pester it out of you.”

“I never for one second thought you wouldn’t.  Thank you and love you,” I say, preparing myself to twenty questions of why I trusted Nick again.

“Love you.”

*****

“You make a habit of going to your mom’s for dinner wearing this dress?” Lacy asks the moment I sit in the passenger seat and fasten my seatbelt.

“Nope.  I do, however, seem to be really good at wearing what Nick wants me to wear only for him to ditch me at my parents’, tell me he’ll come get me when I want, and then ignore my calls and texts.  It’s a fairly new habit and one I hope to break soon,” I say, sarcasm once again dripping from my words. 

“Well, aren’t
you
forthcoming this evening?  I feel like I could ask you just about anything,” she jokes, trying to calm me down, and it’s starting to work.  Usually Lacy can bring me back down to earth when I’m in a mood, tonight being no different.

“Your ass looks fat in those pants,” I say, sticking my tongue out at her.

Breaking out in a huge grin, fanning her face, Lacy takes my hand in hers, “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.  Thank you.  I’ve been doing lots of squats, hoping to get a fantastic ass like yours.  Glad my hard work’s paying off.”

“I said fat, not fantastic.”

“I know what you mean.  For the first time ever, my ass is something other than nonexistent.”  Scrunching up her nose and squeezing my hand, I wink in response. 

“What are you going to do about Nick?” she asks, my bad mood settling back in at the mention of his name.  Damn her for not keeping up with the casual banter we do so well.

“I’m not going to do a fucking thing.  After last night and now this shit, I don’t have time for it.  If I was confused earlier about what to do, I’m convinced we’re just done.  No need to open old wounds.”  Saying the words out loud, a cloud of sadness settles over me, but I shove it aside. 

I was foolish to begin with to think Nick and I could rehash anything we had before.  Even if I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, I know now that nothing should happen going forward.  I had glimpses of the man I had loved with all of my being, but that’s all they were … glimpses of the past.  He’s not that man anymore.

And I’m not the woman who’s willing to sacrifice any more of who I am or who I want to be in order to keep him.  I was stupid for letting things get out of hand last night, ignorant for thinking he was trying to be who he used to be and a fucking fool for thinking I could depend on him for anything.

*****

The next afternoon, I arrive at the firehouse a few minutes before my shift and luckily, Nick’s truck isn’t in the lot.  Changing into my uniform, I catch up with a few of the guys in the mess hall and pray for a call to come in so I can get out of the house before Nick shows up.  My prayers go unanswered. 

While I’m talking with Jones about a charity event taking place downtown this coming weekend, Nick casually strolls through the door and takes his seat at the opposite end of the table.  Not even looking at me, he joins in a conversation with Mack and Richards. 

In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve rolled my eyes more than I have since I was sixteen.  Getting up from the table, I march into the garage and make sure the rig is packed.  Noticing the last shift didn’t restock the supplies, I get to work, ensuring I’ll have everything I could possibly need while in the field.

Taking the initiative, assuming since they didn’t restock, they didn’t clean, either, I run bacteria killing wipes up and down the walls, seats and gurney.  Spraying everything I can’t wipe with an industrialized Lysol, Frankie peeks her head through the back door.

“Hey.  How’s the apartment going?” she asks, stepping inside and checking the meds in the cabinet, writing down our inventory.

“It’s good.  Never thought I’d enjoy living alone as much as I do.  It’s pretty peaceful,” I respond and it’s not a total lie, though I do miss Lacy and even more than Lace, I miss Dakota.  That sweet little girl was always good for a laugh when I was in a bad mood.

“I thought the same thing when I got rid of my roommates.  But my house is too big for just me.  I might put it on the market or something.  I don’t know.”

“Wait?  You own your house?  You’re like twelve and just graduated.  How do you afford it?” I ask, immediately regretting my line of questioning when her smile fades and eyes glaze over with unshed tears.

“My parents left it to me and my brother when they died.  I was almost nineteen.  Then, last year, my brother died, so it’s all mine.  Lots of memories, so I’d hate to see it go, but sometimes I think those memories haunt me more than they remind me, you know?”

“Yeah, I do know.”  Thoughts of Tim filter through my mind.  Before Nick and I were married, he and Tim shared the house Nick still lives in.  I’d asked him about selling it, but he said he’d never let it go.  At the time, I understood.  It was his—something he owned free and clear.  Now, listening to Frankie, it might actually help Nick grieve if he could just let go.  “How did your parents die?  If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Not at all.  Mom and Dad were hit and killed by a drunk driver on Southfield.  Then my brother was hit in a drive-by on the East Side.” 

“I’m so sorry, Frankie.  I had no idea.  I … just … I don’t even know what to say.”

“Something I learned, that I hoped I never would, is this … sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.  It hurt.  I lost everything I loved.  Some people think they’re alone, but I truly am.  But I’m okay.  I’m doing everything in my power to become a woman my family can be proud of.  Who knows? Maybe they’re up there smiling down on me.  If that’s the case, when they see me, I want them to see someone good.”  I’m in awe of this strong, wonderful young woman.  If I only had half her strength at her age … I don’t even know what I would be doing, but I can say I wouldn’t let a lot of stuff that bothers me now get under my skin.

I might just have to live by the motto ‘What Would Frankie Do?’ until further notice.

“Is that why you became an EMT?” I ask, wanting to destroy any negative thought I had earlier about her only coming here to get closer to Jones.  I want nothing between me and my new partner.

“Yep.  I thought I’d have Tony to lean on, but he’s as cold as ice around me.  Just like with everything else I’ve been through, I’ll survive this, too.  But I want more.  I thought I would go back and become a paramedic.  I don’t think I want that anymore,” she says, staring off into space.

“What do you want?” I ask, and when she looks me in the eye, I don’t even need her to answer.  I’ve seen that look before.  I know that fire.  The drive and courage.  The passion lurking underneath.

“I signed up for academy a few days ago.  I wanna work squad.”  All of a sudden, her chest puffs out, her shoulders straighten and she nearly grows right before my eyes. 

“It won’t be easy, Frankie.  I’ve been around long enough to see how they treat women probes.  They’re not nice.  They’ll ride you harder and expect more.  You’ll have to prove yourself each and every day.  And even after you do, they won’t let up.  If you think being a female EMT in an all male house is difficult, you have no idea what you’re getting into,” I tell her.  I don’t want to discourage her from achieving her dreams, but I’d be a terrible friend if I didn’t tell her this.  It’s not easy.  It’s not a cakewalk.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done—walking in here trying to be on the same level as these guys—but I do it day in and day out.  I can only imagine the hell a woman firefighter would get.

BOOK: Rekindle
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