Read With Strings Attached Online

Authors: Kelly Jamieson

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Erotica

With Strings Attached (3 page)

BOOK: With Strings Attached
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Corey nodded. “Well, maybe your parents will let you get it done in a few years.”

“The tattoo place won’t do it without a parent’s consent until you’re eighteen.”

“Tattoo?”

Amanda nodded. “Yeah.” She frowned. “What’s wrong with a tattoo? You have one.”

Corey checked another smile. Maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned that to the younger girl. “I didn’t get it until I was twenty-five.” Hers was also discreetly located on her hip, a little orchid-like flower, the blossom of the Theobroma Cacao tree.

“Don’t worry, I don’t want a tattoo. Well, maybe I do, but first I want my eyebrow pierced. You know, I could do it myself. I know a girl who pierced her own belly button.”

Corey held in a gasp, knowing Amanda likely wanted a reaction. “I guess you could,” she said calmly. She picked up her coffee and took a sip. “It’d probably hurt.”

“Life hurts.” Amanda radiated angst and anguish.

“Yeah,” Corey agreed. Life did hurt. Especially for kids like Amanda. “But it gets better.”

Amanda made a face as she filled a piping bag with ganache. “Today I feel like walking into the ocean and never coming out.”

Corey hated to hear Amanda say things like that. At first she hadn’t known whether she was acting the emo part, competing for attention with her brother, or actually serious, but after spending time with her for nearly a year now, she’d gotten to know the teenager and was pretty sure that her emotional talk was just that—talk. At first Amanda’s inventive euphemisms for suicide and death had concerned her so much she’d contacted the psychologist who worked with Amanda, worried about her family history, but the psychologist had confirmed Amanda wasn’t schizophrenic like her brother. They’d talked about strategies for Corey to use when Amanda made comments like that. It turned out Amanda had no real plans for what she’d do or how she’d do it, just vague statements about dying. Corey was aware of one girl in the support group who cut herself, but Amanda had never done that and Corey now felt confident she wouldn’t harm herself that way either.

So she asked mildly, “How come?”

Amanda grimaced. “Brittany is going out with Jared now.”

“Oh no. Doesn’t she know that rule about not going out with your friends’ exes?”

“Apparently not.”

“It bothers you?”

“Yeah.” Amanda blew out a breath and paused in her stirring of some melted chocolate. “She’s such a suck-ass poseur. She pretends to be all depressed and sensitive, but her life is perfect.”

“I thought she was your new friend.”

“Yeah. I thought so too. I helped her with her English assignments…that poem we had to write.”

“How’d you do on that?”

Amanda’s scowl deepened, but her bottom lip quivered a little. “I got a C. My teacher said it was emo drivel.”

“Really?” Corey paused to stare at Amanda. Amanda was such a good English student with a talent for writing. Sure, she liked to put a lot of her emotion into her writing, but that was good, wasn’t it? “I don’t think your teacher should talk to you like that.”

“Well, maybe she didn’t say those exact words. But she didn’t like it. Meanwhile, she gave Brittany an A-. After I practically wrote it for her.”

“Oh no.” Corey could see where this was going. She’d had a bad feeling about this sudden friendship with Brittany, and Amanda spending all that time helping her with her homework.

“I helped her with other stuff too, and then she turns around and…and…” Corey watched Amanda swallow and bend her head, blinking rapidly. Corey’s heart squeezed. “She knew I liked Jared.”

“Oh crap.” Corey’s insides tightened. This wasn’t the first time Amanda had been hurt like this. She gave so much of herself, helping everyone, doing anything for anyone.

“Brittany’s one of the ones who thinks Justin’s crazy,” Amanda said, her voice thick. “And because he’s crazy she thinks there’s something wrong with me too. She used me and then turned Jared against me, and…” Her voice broke. “And she’s going to turn all my other friends against me too.”

Corey’s own eyes stung, and she set down the piping bag and crossed over to Amanda. She wrapped her arms around the girl and hugged her tight. “Oh, honey.”

Even at fifteen, kids had pretty intense feelings, although she knew for a fact Jared and Amanda’s relationship had been tame. But Amanda had been heartbroken and had spent hours in her room writing poetry and listening to My Chemical Romance and Dashboard Confessional.

Sometimes Corey didn’t know what to say, sometimes she felt like a fraud trying to mentor Amanda and help her deal with her issues, when Corey knew she still had so many issues of her own. But the program people assured her that it was enough for Amanda to have someone to talk to, to confide in, someone who understood. And Corey understood.

“It’s not fair,” Amanda sobbed.

“No, it’s not.” Corey remembered how often she’d thought that same thing as a teenager, though she’d had nobody but herself to say it out loud to. Her mother had been institutionalized by that point, and her foster families sure as hell hadn’t cared that she thought life was unfair. They thought she should have considered herself lucky to have been taken in by them, even though she was nothing more than some extra money coming in and an extra pair of hands to do dishes and clean the bathrooms. “It’s not fair. But it’s life. It’s what we have. I made it, Amanda, and you will too.”

Amanda clung to her for another minute, then stepped back, her face a smudgy mascara mess. She swiped at her eyes. “Sorry. I’m going to go use the bathroom. Be right back.”

Corey smiled and nodded as Amanda disappeared up the stairs to her apartment. She sighed as she turned back to her chocolates, her heart aching for the young girl. Amanda’s problems were different than her own had been, but she understood exactly how Amanda felt, how hard it was for Amanda not to blame her brother, how hard it was to understand that someone who was ill like that couldn’t help it. And Amanda was so soft-hearted, though she tried to put on a tough exterior, Corey had a feeling she was going to get hurt a lot in life. Those were hard lessons to learn.

When Amanda returned a few moments later, her eyes and nose were pink but she’d composed herself.

“I want to try something new today,” Corey told her. “What do you think about wasabi and chocolate?”

Amanda gaped at her and Corey laughed.

“That sounds disgusting,” Amanda said. “You’re joking, right?”

“No, seriously. Let’s try it.”

“Okay.” Skepticism tinged Amanda’s voice, but Corey’d distracted her and they worked together creating a new confection.

 

 

“I have to go over to my mom’s place,” Matt told Dylan Saturday morning. “She’s got some problem with her toilet, it keeps running after she flushes it or something. So I’m going to check it out and see if I can fix it for her. You wanna come or hang out here?”

Dylan looked up from the couch where he was sprawled playing Xbox. “I guess I’ll hang out here. I don’t know much about plumbing.”

“Neither do I.” Matt grinned. “But I know more than my mom, that’s for damn sure.”

“How long will you be?”

“Not sure. Should be a quick fix. But I’ll probably stop by my sister’s place too. Her husband’s away right now and there’s probably a bunch of things she needs done around the house. With two little kids, she’s pretty busy.”

“Her husband’s in the Navy, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. He’s been gone for the last month. She starts to get kind of stressed after that long on her own, so I go over and see what I can do. Sometimes take the kids out for a while to give her a break.”

“You’re such a sweet guy like that.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right.” But he did feel an obligation to help his mom and sisters as much as he could. On the other hand his motives weren’t completely unselfish—he loved his niece and nephew and enjoyed spending time with them.

His dad had died when he was fourteen, leaving his mom with three kids. Matt’s sister Jenna had been sixteen, and Neve only eleven, and for Matt there’d never been any question that he had to step up and look after all the girls, including his mom. She wasn’t old, but she wasn’t exactly a strong independent woman, and although Matt had suggested many times she should move out of the family home now that she was on her own, and into a condo or something, she kept refusing. She loved her house, and in a way he didn’t blame her for not wanting to give it up. But man, there was always something that needed fixing or installing and she had no clue about home repairs.

He drove to his mom’s house a little farther down the coast, and parked in her driveway. She was so close to the beach here that there was sand on the street, and he took a big deep breath of fresh morning sea air as he climbed out of his Jeep and bounded up the stairs to her front door.

He still had a key, of course, so finding the door locked, he let himself in. The spacious house was cool and quiet and smelled faintly of the peach potpourri his mom liked. He called out, “Hey, Mom. It’s me.”

He walked into her kitchen, expecting her to be there, expecting a pot of coffee that he could help himself to, but the kitchen was empty. Huh. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Nearly eleven. He hadn’t exactly gotten an early start that morning after a late night sitting around shooting the shit with Dylan, and it was surprising Mom wasn’t around either. He heard a noise upstairs, a bedroom door opening, and then closing, another door opening and closing.

He made a face. She must just be getting up. Probably be down in a minute. He grabbed a muffin from a plate sitting on the counter and took a bite. Damn. His mom had always liked to bake and this was good, some kind of cinnamon and brown sugar combination. He leaned against the counter and finished the muffin and was brushing his fingers off when his mom rushed into the room.

“Matt! What are you doing here?” Her hands were still tying the robe she wore.

“I came to fix your toilet. Remember? Sorry if I woke you up.”

“No, that’s okay, I was awake. I just, uh, wasn’t out of bed. Yet. Coffee. I’ll make some coffee.”

She seemed kind of flustered. “Yeah, coffee’d be great. So which toilet is it that’s the problem?” He moved toward the door to the hall.

“It’s fixed.”

“What?” He stopped and turned to look at her. Her head was bent as she concentrated on scooping coffee grounds into the filter basket. Had she colored her hair? She was only fifty-four but she’d been getting quite a few gray hairs among the golden brown. Now there were none, just shiny golden highlights in the short strands. “How’d you fix it?”

“I…um…”

A door upstairs opened and closed again. Matt went very still. He looked up, then back at his mom. “Someone’s here?”

“Er…yes.”

He waited. “Neve?”

“No.”

“Mom. What’s going on?”

“It’s Corwin.”

“Who?”

“Corwin Barrett.” She turned to face him and straightened her shoulders, smiling. “We’ve been seeing each other for a while now.”

“Seeing each other?” What the fuck? “As in…dating?”

“Well, yes.”

He blinked. Had he heard right? Had his mother actually said she was dating someone? After all these years? And the guy was upstairs…Jesus Christ! They’d been in bed together. Matt covered his eyes with one hand. Oh God. It was his mother. “Who is this guy?”

“He’s a lawyer. He’s working with Paul now at the firm, and we met when I went in to update my will.”

So the guy knew exactly how much she was worth. Great. Just great. “Mom…d’you think that’s a good idea?”

“Is what a good idea?” Her brow furrowed. “Me dating someone? You and the girls have always said I should do that. I thought you didn’t like to think of me being on my own.”

“I…I mean…dating him. Or…hell.” He shook his head. “I guess I mean, I don’t know this guy.”

She smiled at him, affection lighting up her eyes. “Matt. Do I need your approval?”

Hell yeah! “Well…”

“I’m a grown woman,” she said gently. “I know what I’m doing. Corwin is a very nice man. I want you to meet him. He fixed the toilet for me. And he fixed the lawnmower the other day when I couldn’t get it started.”

“I thought you had a kid from the neighborhood mowing your grass.”

“I do, but he uses my lawnmower.”

“Well. That’s…good. I guess.”

So now what was he supposed to do? He’d come there to fix the damn toilet only to find it no longer needed to be done and some guy was upstairs probably naked in his mom’s bed. Urgh.

“So sit down, have a cup of coffee,” she invited him. “What’s new with you?”

“Er…you sure this is a good time?” He sent another glance upward.

Mom smiled. “Corwin will join us, if you want to stay for a while.”

“Okay.” He slowly pulled out a chair from the round oak kitchen table and lowered himself to it. “Well. Dylan’s home. You remember Dylan Schell?”

“Of course. He’s still surfing?”

“Yeah, but he broke his foot so he’s off for a while. He decided to come home for a visit.”

“His parents don’t live here anymore, though, do they?”

BOOK: With Strings Attached
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