Today I’m sharing a little snippet of my short story, “Forever Again” that is in the World Unknown Review, available now. This is actually a bit of a prequel to Duty to Protect. If you’ve read that, you may recognize these characters. Although they’re about 20-ish years younger in this story.
Rick kept glancing at the door. Then, to the booth where the little girl sat. He thought she was coloring on the back of the paper place mat at first. Then, he noticed her lip held between her teeth and how careful her hand moved. He couldn’t hold back his curiosity and moved toward her table. He realized she was writing on the place mat, not drawing. He stood back for a moment, watching her, then her head snapped up. There was a brightness in her eyes at first then it slid away to cautiousness. “I’m not s’posed to talk to strangers.”
“That’s a good rule to follow,” Rick said. “Sometimes strangers do bad things.” And sometimes it was those you knew. He’d dealt with both in his time as a lawyer, on both sides. “But, I know your mom.”
“Strangers sometimes say that,” she said, continuing to write.
He couldn’t stop the laugh. She had obviously been fully schooled in ‘stranger danger’. “You’re right. They do. I’ll go back to my table if you want.”
“It’s okay. You can stay. If my mom doesn’t know you, she’ll yell at you when she gets back. And Amber and Lizzie wouldn’t let you do anything to me. We’re family.”
“Lisa, what have I told you about talking to people you don’t know?”
Lisa turned her head and smiled up at Leann. “He said he’s a friend of yours. I told him you’d yell at him if he was lying. You don’t like it when I lie.”
He watched as her mouth twisted up into a wry smile. “That’s right, I don’t.” She glanced over at him, and his own smile tugged wider. “Rick is…a friend. Sure. Did you get any food?”
“Lizzie’s bringing me some. I’m okay, Mom.”
Leann set her hand on her daughter’s head, and something moved through him. He wanted to take them both in and hold them. Something was going on here, he just wished he could figure out exactly what. On impulse, he asked, “Would you mind if I joined your beautiful daughter for lunch? Since she’s not allowed to talk to strangers and all, you could introduce us.”
“It seems she’s already taken care of that.” She sighed and picked her apron back up. “Go ahead and have a seat. I’ll check on your food.”
He didn’t take a seat, following her toward the kitchen instead. She turned on him before he reached the doors. “You can’t follow me in there, Rick. I told you I’d bring you your food.”
“I’m not worried about the food. I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Perfectly normal.”
His brow furrowed. It wasn’t fine. It might be normal, but he didn’t think it was fine. “What’s going on, Leann?”
“Nothing, Rick. I already told you.”
“You did, but you’re upset. I can tell. What happened?”
“You don’t know anything about what I’m feeling.”
She started to turn but he closed his hand around her wrist. Not hard, just enough to keep her facing him. He didn’t want to frighten her, but he wouldn’t let her keep running. “I’m not a stupid man, Leann. I was a husband for almost seven years. I know when a woman is troubled. I’ve been a father for nine. I know when a child is fibbing about what they’re feeling. I’ve been a lawyer for nearly a decade. I know when someone’s being defensive. What’s going on?”
He watched the color drain from her face. “What kind of lawyer?”
“Prosecutor. With the Fremont county district attorney’s office.” She sighed, and he wasn’t sure if it was relief or disappointment. “What’s going on, Leann? Do you need me to prosecute someone?”
She shook her head. “You can’t prosecute someone for being a total idiot.” She glanced back toward the table where Lisa sat. “And if you could, you’d have to take me to court. I’m the one who married the asshole.”
Married. The one word felt like a lead weight in his stomach. He dropped his hand from her wrist. “I didn’t realize you were having marital difficulties.” He glanced down toward her hand, but he knew she didn’t wear a ring. He’d looked before.
She gave a sharp bark that was probably meant to be a laugh. “Difficulties? Most of our marriage was a difficulty. That’s why I divorced him almost two years ago. He still does everything he can think of to make my life difficult, and Lisa’s. That’s what I really want to strangle him for.”
Some of the tension dropped away from him. He reached for her hand again. “Do that, and I really would have to see you in court. That’s not where I want to see you.”
If you pick up a copy of World Unknown Review, you can read more of Rick & Leann’s story.