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A-Z Challenge: T is for Trisha Gosslar

T

Tissue Warning: I figure if I barely make it through writing without crying, I should warn the rest of you.

Trisha Gosslar leaned back against the pillows behind her. She had never liked being in bed much. Not to just lay there. She looked sideways at her husband. It had been a while since she’d done anything but that in this bed. “Jesse,” she said, bringing his attention from his hands back to her. She hated how weak her voice sounded, so she tried to put as much strength into it as she could. “Go to work. Kendall is coming. I will be fine alone for the short time.”

He glanced toward the doorway but shook his head. “Morgan and Bryce are at the garage. They can take care of things.” His voice was thick with tears he refused to shed. He’d told her more than once they didn’t have a lot of time left. He wouldn’t waste any of it grieving before she’d drawn her last breath. But, she wanted to tell him this was wasting time.

“Jesse, go,” she insisted. “Ken will be here soon, and I have things to say to her.” She had days according to the doctor, maybe a week. Of course that was the same doctor who’d said she had six months more than a year ago.  Still, there were things she needed to say before it was too late. “I’ve already spoken to the boys.”

Boys. Her sons were all grown up now. And yet it still felt too soon for her to leave them. Then, there was Kendall. She was only sixteen and still needed her mom. That may be what haunted her the most.

Finally Jesse leaned over and just barely brushed his lips over her cheek. “Okay, Trisha. I’ll go in for a little bit. I’ll check on you when I return.”

“I’ll still be here,” she promised him.

She closed her eyes when he left. Even talking took a lot of her strength these days. And she needed to get as much of that back as she could before her daughter got here.

“Mom?”

Trisha came awake at the sound of her daughter’s choked voice. Tears were already streaming down her face. “I’m not gone yet, Ken. Just sleeping.”

Kendall dropped into the chair her father had been in earlier. She took Trisha’s hand, and Trisha squeezed as hard as she could. “Did you have fun with Susan this morning?”

Kendall’s face colored, and she glanced away. Trisha had noticed that reaction happening more whenever someone brought up her daughter’s best friend. She’d considered mentioning it, but she’d always told herself she wouldn’t poke into her children’s relationships as long as she thought they were safe.

“Kendall, I want to tell you some things. I don’t have a lot more time.”

“Don’t, Mom,” Kendall cried. “Don’t say that. You can keep fighting. You can…you…” She broke down sobbing, and Trisha just clung to her hand until it had subsided.

“I don’t have a lot more time,” she said again. “I taught you everything about handling the office so you can help your dad once I’m gone. But, you don’t have to be tied to that. If something else makes you happy-”

“It does. That makes me happy. I like being at the garage, even if I don’t know how to work on the cars.”

“Good. Then, I hope you do it as long at it does. That’s all I want for you, Ken. What and who ever makes you happy. Promise you’ll always go after that.”

Kendall was silent for a moment then she looked right into Trisha’s eyes. “Even if it’s something, someone, everyone says I shouldn’t want?”

Trisha worked up as much of a smile as she could. She’d rarely had to work hard for answers from Kendall. “Especially then,” she said. She squeezed her daughter’s hand one more time. “I’m going to rest some more now. You don’t have to stay right at my side.”

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, sweetheart,” she said, her voice drifting off as she fell back to sleep.

Note: If you read Susan’s post yesterday, Susan mentioned Kendall’s mom dying. That’s this right here. I almost didn’t write this one because Trisha never shows up in the actual series, but I decided to anyway.

 

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A-Z Challenge: S is for Susan Holland

S

Susan Holland leaned back on the bleacher, her arms around one knee. Kendall was out on the field, pitching against the team from the hardware store. Her father’s team of mechanics was winning. Susan’s older brother was out there, too. She couldn’t believe he’d been in college for a year already. He’d brought a girl home this summer for a few days. Amy. She was nice, or seemed that way to Susan, at least.

Her gaze didn’t leave Kendall. She’d already struck out two of the hardware store’s players. And she was grinning at them while she did it.

Something about Kendall’s grin always had light bursting through her.

Susan shook off that thought. She seemed to be doing that a lot with thoughts lately. Particularly the ones that revolved around Kendall. It didn’t make any sense. Kendall was her best friend. Had been practically from the time they were born. Her mom had pictures of the two of them playing together when they couldn’t do more than crawl. Kendall had always been more like a sister than anything.

But, for the last several months, Susan hadn’t been thinking of her like a sister. And it was so wrong. Kendall’s mom had just died, and while she was still grieving, Susan had started having these thoughts. She didn’t mean to, but every time she gave Kendall a hug, held her while she cried, she couldn’t seem to help it. And Kendall was always touching her.

Kendall had always been like that. Even as kids, she was always holding Susan’s hand when they went somewhere, hugging, brushing their arms together. Just. Always. Touching. And then just before Kendall’s mom had died, Susan’s best friend had told her she wasn’t attracted to boys but to girls. Maybe it should have made Susan uncomfortable. But, it was Kendall. She’d never been uncomfortable around her.

Not until recently, but not because of her revelation. But, that was just silly. It was Kendall. And Susan was attracted to boys. So, it didn’t mean anything.

Kendall threw one last pitch and struck out the final batter. And Susan watched as Kendall’s dad ran from where he’d been playing as catcher and picked Kendall up in his arms. It might only be a community baseball game, but they celebrated a win as if it were more important than that.

Susan headed down the bleachers and waited by the edge of the fence. Kendall turned her head, saw her, and beamed. Then, she was jumping out of her dad’s arms and running over to Susan. “Did you see that?”

“I did,” Susan said. “You were great.”

Kendall leaned forward and pressed her lips to Susan’s cheek.

Warmth flooded through her at the touch, and she wanted to…No. This didn’t mean anything. She pulled back. “So…I thought I heard your dad say something about ice cream if you guys won.”

Kendall laughed and pulled her to where the rest of the team was gathered. It didn’t mean anything. Kendall was just her best friend. That was all.

Note: If you read any of the snippets I’ve posted from Love Who You Love, you’ve seen bits of Susan and Kendall’s story. But, here, they’re only ~16 and still figuring things out.

A-Z Challenge: R is for Rowan Portor

R

Rowan Portor leaned against the bar as the other guys around him cracked up about some joke. His own lips tipped up, but he didn’t find it quite as funny as they did. He didn’t know what his problem was tonight. He was usually more easy-going than this. And this was their one night of freedom before having to report to Curragh Camp for their advanced training. He should be having a good time, not brooding.

“You’re always brooding, páiste. His father’s words rang in his head. It wasn’t true, though. Just because he could be thoughtful didn’t mean he was always brooding.

“Stop brooding, Portor,” one of the men said, slapping him on the back. “We’re here to have fun.”

He lifted his glass of Guinness instead of responding to him. He didn’t understand this itch between his shoulder blades. He wasn’t usually like this, no matter what anyone else tried to say.

A laugh rang out from the other side of the pub, and Rowan found himself turning toward it. The woman’s head was still thrown back with that laughter. One of the other women at the table with her was wiping tears away from her face. He guessed they were of laughter, because that other laugh hadn’t sounded like one of evil intent.

As her head came back down, the laughter drifting away, her gaze clashed with his. Her face was as beautiful as her laugh. He set his glass down and moved away from the bar. “Where you going, Portor?” one of the men called after him. He didn’t respond just kept moving toward the table. He knew he shouldn’t. Should just let her have her laughs with her girl friends. But, he didn’t think he could stay away either.

Dia Duit, ladies.”

The other two women grinned at him, but the one who had been laughing didn’t take her eyes from his. He didn’t look away from her, either. “We have no idea what you just said,” one of the women told him, her voice sounding a little slurred, “but it sounded lovely.”

His lips lifted in a soft smile. He’d grown up switching between speaking Gaelic and English, and it still came natural to him. But, judging by the woman’s accent, they were definitely tourists. Or at least that one was. “Hello,” he repeated for them in English.

The woman who had been staring back at him slid over just a bit. “You can join us if you want,” she said softly, almost shyly. She had even more of a drawl to her voice than the other woman.

He did. He really did want to, so he slipped into the booth with her. “What brings you ladies to Ballyhaunis?”

Apparently something about the name of the town struck the women as funny because all three of them started snorting with laughter again.

“Sibh ólta,” he murmured with a slight shake of his head. The woman beside him raised an eyebrow at him and he gestured to the drinks sitting in front of them. “Quite drunk.”

“I could listen to him all night, even if I don’t understand him,” one of the women on the other side of the table said. “Don’t you agree, Alexandra.”

The woman beside him flushed then glanced back over at him. Her gaze dropped back to the table though without her saying a word. “What are you and those other guys doing here?” one of her friends asked.

Dul chun drabhláis,” he said with a grin. He wasn’t going to translate that one for them, though.

The waitress came over, and he ordered a round of pints for all of them. While they drank those, he found out the three of them had indeed come from America: Alexandra from Texas, the red head, Karen from Mississippi, and the brunette, Cynthia, from Georgia. They’d sat on the plane together and hit it off during the flight. From the way they acted, he would have thought they were long-time friends. But, he’d never left his family’s farm outside Bekan until he’d joined up with the Army, so he hadn’t met a lot of new people. Until he had joined up. And he’d hit it off like that with some of the other recruits.

The other women kept interjecting, but it was Alexandra he spoke to. Who kept touching him. Who he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of. And when their round was finished, he slipped out of the booth and held his hand out to her. “Can I walk you to your hotel?”

The other two women giggled and staggered out in front of him. He’d make sure they made it to their rooms as well. He noticed Alexandra didn’t stagger. And her words hadn’t been slurred. Maybe she wasn’t as drunk as the others.

She proved that pretty well when they made it to her room, slipping her fingers deftly into the belt loops of his pants and holding him in front of her. “You have to leave for Kildare in the morning?”

If she remembered one of the first things he’d told them when he’d sat down, he definitely didn’t think she was too impaired. “Yes,” he said, regretting it for the first time. She’d said they were only here for a few more days. She was traveling all over the country then jumping over to the UK and the continent. She wouldn’t be coming back here until the following June and then only to return home to Texas.

“Then, come in with me,” she said. “Please.”

“You sure, Alexandra?”

“Yes,” she said and pulled him into her room.

***

Rowan walked down the street, taking the pushes from the guys around him with practiced ease. They’d ribbed him so hard on the way to training five months ago. And it hadn’t ended there. Every time he saw a blonde woman, and he reacted like it was Alexandra. Every time he got lost in thought, remembering that one night they’d had together. Every time he let her name slip out.

He needed to get over it. It’s not like he was ever going to see her again.

So, when he did see another flash of that same shade of blonde hair, he sucked in a breath and looked the other way. He was off duty today after a trying few weeks patrolling the border. Things were bad lately with the IRA. Thankfully no one in his unit had been blown to bits. They were supposed to be back here in Athlone for a while, at least that’s what the commander said.

“Let’s grab a bite,” one of the men said, gesturing to the nearby pub. The same one that woman had gone into.

It was fine. It wasn’t her. She’d been planning to head to England in the weeks after he’d met her, touring through Wales and Scotland, too. She was probably still there. It shouldn’t make his chest ache so much to know he’d likely never see her again.

He pushed through the doors of the pub and headed for the bar with the other guys. “I thought you said a bite, not a pint,” he said when the man who had suggested coming in had the bartender draw him a pint.

“I can have some o’ the both,” he said, grinning at Rowan. Then, he looked over Rowan’s shoulder and something in his expression shifted. “Hey, isn’t that the girl you have been mooning over, Portor?”

Rowan rolled his eyes. “Not falling for that, Dolan.”

“No, I’m serious, Row. It looks just like her. Pretty sure I heard that Texas drawl you would not shut up about, too.”

He did whip his head around at that, to the laughter of his buddies. He almost turned back, sure they were having fun at his expense again. But, before he could, he saw her, too. It was definitely Alexandra, but there were some slight differences. She sat in a booth alone this time, and she seemed to be drawn in on herself, her skin looking pale and almost fragile. Was she sick? She seemed to be just pushing the food around on her plate.

He moved away from the bar without ordering anything. Dolan reached for him. “Don’t do this to yourself again, Portor.”

He ignored the man and headed for her table. “Alexandra?” he asked, afraid he’d made a mistake.

Her head jerked up, though, and her eyes widened at the sight of him. It was her. “Ro-Rowan,” she stammered. “What are you doing here?”

He slid into the booth with her. “I’m stationed here now. We didn’t have to work tonight,” he said, gesturing to the group he’d come in with. “What are you doing here?” he echoed her question. “Thought you would be in Scotland now. Or should you be on your way to France?”

She let out a little laugh, but it was watery, and he could already see the tears welling in her eyes. “I cancelled the rest of my plans,” she said. “The doctor said it would be fine for now, but I didn’t want to risk it. And when it would be time to come back, I probably shouldn’t fly.”

That didn’t make much sense to him, but tears were falling from her eyes, and he couldn’t take that. He slipped out of the booth and moved over to her side. “You’re sick?” he asked, feeling chilled and sick himself.

“A bit,” she said. “I’m sorry, Rowan. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. Or I would have told you. I swear.” She was hiccupping with sobs now, and he didn’t understand.

“It’s bad? How long?” Her dying was the only thing he could think of that would cause her to act like this.

“About six more months,” she said through more sobs. “I didn’t know. Not until you were well gone. I’m sorry.”

Sorry? She was dying, and she was sorry? “Why? It’s not like you did it on purpose. There’s…nothing they can do for you?”

She shook her head. “It’s a baby, not a tumor, Rowan.”

That kicked him in the gut, and he pulled back to look at her. Now, he could see it, just the slight rounding of her stomach. “A baby?”

She sniffed and nodded. “I’m not…I don’t sleep around, Rowan. I swear. Even though…what we did. I don’t run around sleeping with every guy who talks to me in a bar. I swear. I haven’t…not anyone but you. Not since I left Texas.”

His heart was still pounding hard, and her words hardly made it through the fog in his head. Maybe that was why her words didn’t make a lot of sense. “A baby? Mo leanbh.”

She let out another watery laugh. “I’ve been studying, Rowan. Yes, your baby. I told you, I haven’t been with anyone else.”

He believed her. He didn’t know what they were going to do, but that didn’t matter. He pulled her to him, pressing his mouth to hers. “We’ll make this work. Whatever we need to do, we’ll make it work.”

Note: This is the story of how Declan’s parents met. It took them a while to figure everything out, which led to Declan bouncing a lot between Ireland and Texas.

Note2: I had a lot of fun(ok, too much) slipping Gaelic into this one. I have an Irish-English Dictionary & phrasebook I’ve had for a long time that I used for most of it. For everyone else, a pronunciation guide

páiste [paashchi] – child

Dia Duit[jeeu ghich] – hello

Sibh ólta[shiv aulta] – you are quite drunk

Dul chun drabhlá[dul hun drowlish] – go on a spree of revelry and debauchery

Mo leanbh[mu lanov] – my baby

A-Z Challenge: Q is for Piers Quincey

Q

“Right there. Yes, just like that.”

The man in front of Piers nearly choked on a laugh. “God, Piers. Do you make everything sound dirty?”

Piers had just set his hand on the back of Xavier’s over the mouse. But, he froze at that, rewinding the words in his head. Then, heat flooded his face. It had sounded dirty. “Not my words that are dirty, X, but your mind. Pervers,” he muttered, but he couldn’t quite keep his mouth from twitching at the corners.

“I might not know much French, but even I can figure that one out.”

He didn’t move his hand away even though he knew it would be smart to put some distance between them. Xavier might act like he was flirting, but he did that with everyone. Even Casey and Alex. And he was pretty sure both of them were completely straight. It didn’t mean anything.

It couldn’t mean anything.

He’d been careful, so damn careful. He couldn’t let this little country boy destroy everything. Xavier’s arm flexed against his, refuting the supposition that Xavier was just a boy. He was the same age as Piers after all, they’d gone through basic together, even if there was something about him that made him seem younger, more innocent.

And it was getting harder and harder to hide his own attraction. He rubbed a hand over his face. That was not the word he should use if he wanted to get his mind away from this train of thought. Because it was making him harder.

That wasn’t helped when Xavier shifted in the chair, pressing a little deeper into it. Piers gripped the back of the chair, surprised his fingers didn’t dent the wood. Very hard wood.

He nearly groaned. He just needed to stop thinking. Even the words in his head were turning dirty. He couldn’t blame that one on Xavier. Except everything about the other man seemed to turn him on.

“Piers?” Xavier asked, but his voice seemed to waver.

Right. He was teaching the other man everything he knew about coding. It was a lot. Certainly more than he could teach him in one afternoon. But, they could get through the basics. “Right. So…” He’d never forgotten what to do next when working on a computer. But, he could see the reflection of Xavier’s green eyes in the screen. And it struck him dumb for a moment.

Apparently a long enough moment to have Xavier turning in the chair to look at him. “You okay, Piers?”

Piers cleared his throat, but it was hard to think with Xavier’s eyes pinning him. His tongue slipped out to wet his lips, and he saw Xavier’s gaze drop to his mouth. He wasn’t flirting now, though. Instead his eyes came slowly back to Piers’, and they’d darkened. Oh, God. This was…not going to end well.

“I, uh, I think our lessons should be over for today. We can get it up…pick it up,” he corrected quickly, “another day.”

Xavier stood from the chair, and to Piers’ surprise, just turned it around and sat back down. “What’s going on?” he asked. “You said you had all day to teach me.”

“I…I.” What happened to his smooth words? He might not be quite as verbose as his bunkmate, Declan, but he was usually better than this. “I can’t do this,” he said, turning away.

He heard Xavier move, but it didn’t prepare him for the other man to rest a hand on his back. “Piers.”

He tensed, but it didn’t matter. Xavier just came around in front of him. The other man’s eyes were serious, something that didn’t seem to happen very often. He was always there with a joke or funny story. Especially when the tension got too tight between the other guys. But, this tension between them was about to snap. And no one else was here to relieve it.

“You want to know something, Piers?” Xavier asked.

He wasn’t sure he did, but when he didn’t say anything, Xavier continued, “I already know basic coding.”

His gaze snapped down to Xavier’s gaze. His eyes were still serious, but his mouth curled up slightly. “Then, why’d you ask me to teach you?”

“Figured it was the only way I’d get so close to you. And I was gonna take what I could get.”

But, that meant…it wasn’t just his usual teasing. “Are you serious?” he asked, his throat tight.

“Never been more so.”

Piers was already moving forward, his hands sliding into Xavier’s hair, until their mouths were fused together. It had never been like this, not with a first kiss. Not with the girls he’d dated, or the very few boys he’d kissed. There was so much more here than he’d ever felt before. Even those thoughts spiraled away as Xavier’s tongue ran along his bottom lip.

He heard the thump before the door knob started to turn. He jumped back quickly, trying to make sure there was no evidence of what had just happened before his bunkmate stepped into the room. “Thought you’d be gone longer, Dec.” He wished his voice didn’t still sound so thick. He couldn’t even make himself look at Xavier.

“Must have missed you,” Declan said with a wink, tossing himself on his bed.

“I’ll head out,” Xavier said, and Piers couldn’t help but look at him. His face was as flushed as Piers’ felt, his lips swollen from their kiss. “See you tomorrow for another lesson?”

“Yeah,” he found himself saying, though he knew it would be smarter not to. “Tomorrow.”

Note: Piers and Xavier showed up in Guarding the Heart. I knew Piers would, as he was in the first version I wrote back in 2011(I think). Xavier was a surprise. In fact, even though I knew pretty much right after he showed up on the page he was gay, I had no idea him and Piers had a thing in the past until closer to the end of the story. Now, I only know something happened between this moment and when Guarding the Heart occurs(probably around 15 years). But, Xavier gets two stories next week(U & X), so I’ll probably dive more into that.

A-Z Challenge: P is for Patrick Williams

P

Patrick Williams bent over the table, the pencil tight in his fist. He wanted to snap it in half. Wanted Sophia to just stop talking at him, nagging him. “I hate you.”

If he hadn’t cut his gaze up to her as he said the words, he wouldn’t have seen her face pale. But, he did, and it had a strange ache splitting through his chest.

“I know you don’t mean that, Patrick,” Sophia said. “You’re just upset right now.”

He didn’t understand these feelings roiling through him. So, he lashed out again. “You make me upset. All the time. Every day. I hate you.”

“That’s not true.” She still kept her voice calm.  “You just need to calm down.”

“I don’t hafta do anything. You can’t make me.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair.

She took a step back and over to the high chair where the infant was starting to shriek. “No, I can’t,” Sophia said. “But, you are starting to scare Alison. You don’t really want to scare your baby sister, do you?”

Guilt crept in, but he still said, “Half-sister. She’s your little brat.”

“Now, that is enough, Patrick.” Her mouth had turned down, her face settling into hard lines. Sophia didn’t look like that very often. “I know you love your sister. I don’t know where this tough act is coming from, but it’s not you.”

“You don’t know anything about me. As soon as you got my dad, you stopped pretending to care.” His chest ached. She was going to walk away. Any minute now, she was going to give up and walk away.

“You know that isn’t true either. I love you, Patrick, as much as I do your dad or Alison.”

He jumped up from the chair. “Heard that before. Why don’t you just skip out now? I know you want to.”

She lifted Alison our of the high chair. “Sit down, Patrick.”

“Why should I?”

“I’m going to put Alison down for a nap then we’re going to talk.”

“I don’t wanna talk to you.”

“Then, I’m going to talk, and you’ll listen. Now sit at the table.” He watched her walk out of the kitchen the  dropped back into his seat. As much as he wanted to take off out the door, he knew that would just get him into more trouble later.

When Sophia finally walked back into the kitchen, he glanced up from the toes of his shoes. Her face was still tight, but the corners of her mouth briefly flicked up. “I’m a little surprised you listened.”

“Took you long enough,” he muttered.

Her smile was firmer this time. “You know your sister always wants just one more hug. Hard to deny that sweetness.” She pulled one of the chairs closer to him and sat facing him. “Look, I know I’m not your mom,” she finally said.

“Thank God for that,” he mumbled dropping his gaze back to his shoes.

“Why…I know you’re upset, but why would you say that, Patrick? What have I done to you?”

He looked up and saw tears welling in her eyes. The ache in his chest turned to a hard throb. “Don’t cry. Sophia. Jeez, I’m sorry.”

“You told your dad you didn’t care if I joined your family. What’s changed your mind, Patrick?”

“Nothing.” He still couldn’t meet her eyes, though.

“Then, why are you so angry with me all the time? Why don’t you want me to be here?”

“Didn’t say that.”

“You just said you don’t want me to be your mom. What else could that mean?”

He looked up at her and saw her eyes were still wet. That had it all ripping out of him. “That I don’t want you to be her. I hate her. I hate her so much it hurts. I hate her, hate her, hate her!” He yelled it the last time then his shoulders slumped forward.

“Don’t say that, Patrick. She’s still your mom.”

“She left us,” he cried. “Said she’d come pick me up later, and she never came back.” His own eyes burned, but he wasn’t going to cry. He was nearly twelve years old. He wouldn’t cry.

“You were three, Patrick. I’m sure-”

“That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. I know what she did. I’m the one who was there, not you. She didn’t come back, she didn’t want me.” No matter how much he fought it, tears started to spill over. How long ’til you don’t want me either? I don’t wanna hate you like I hate her.”

“I’m not leaving, Patrick. I’m never going to leave you and your father. There will never come a time when I don’t want to be a part of your family. I promised your father forever, and I don’t break promises. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” She handed him a tissue and gave him a moment before asking, “Now, how about we finish this homework? Your teacher said you were struggling with it, but I know you can figure it out.”

***

Patrick looked up at the knock on his door. “Come in, Dad.”

The door swung open, his dad standing there, his uniform shirt wrinkled but still buttoned. “How’d you know it was me from just a knock? And do not roll your eyes at me, Patrick.”

Patrick stopped in the middle of the eye roll. How did he always do that? “You’re the only one who knocks like that. And dinner’s not ready yet, so it wouldn’t be Sophia.”

“She said you two had a discussion today.” He sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Sure, just sit on my bed, Dad. Not like I’m on it or anything.”

His father’s mouth thinned into a firm line. “Enough with the smart mouth, Patrick. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Nothing. She kept on me about doing that stupid assignment Mrs. Archer gave me. I’m the only one who got it. I didn’t wanna do it, and I got upset.”

“That’s not it, Patrick. Sophia told me what you said.”

“Snitch.” He couldn’t put much heat behind the word, though.

“She’s a lot prettier than most of the snitches I deal with.”

He couldn’t help rolling his eyes again. “That’s not funny, Dad.”

“Sure it is. When you’re a cop. Look, Patrick, I know-”

“You don’t know anything,” he snapped out. “You’re not the one she got tired of.”

“Your mother walked away from me too,” he said, putting a hand on Patrick’s knee. “And I was angry for a long time. I almost didn’t give Sophia a chance because of it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be angry with her. You have every right to be.”

“I’m not angry. I hate her.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“But,-”

“I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve it, or that you should just forgive what she did. But, carrying that hate does nothing to her. The only one it’s going to hurt is you, Patrick. You need to stop letting her do that.”

“How?” He wished it was as easy as his father made it sound. But just thinking about his mother had all that anger boiling again.

“God, I wish I could give you an easy fix for it. You just have to move on. Let Sophia in. She wants to be a mom to you, Patrick, not just your stepmom. It doesn’t mean she’ll leave you, too. You need to put that out of your head. And you know you’ll never be rid of me, right?”

“Yeah, Dad, sure.”

His father stood up from the bed. “I saw those eyes rolling again. Come on. Dinner should be ready soon.”

Note: If you read Olivia’s story yesterday, Patrick is (one of) Rylan’s half-brothers. They share a mother, who abandoned them both. I have Patrick’s own story written, though I don’t know when it will be released. Probably not until at least next year.

Note2: If this dialogue looks familiar, it’s because it’s from one of my Story a Day pieces from last year, a dialogue only story.

A-Z Challenge: O is for Olivia Stevens

O

Olivia Stevens stared out the kitchen window at the kids playing in the yard. Her son, Bryson, was kicking a ball against the fence over and over as it came back to him. He was quick to move to intercept it when it didn’t come right back to him. She smiled as she shifted her gaze to her daughter, Lauren. She was playing in the little house Charles had paid to have built for her. None of those plastic constructions for his little girl.

A streak of red raced across the yard, and the smile fell away from her face. Rylan, of course. That boy never slowed down. Or listened. Her kids could play quietly by themselves, but he had to make the most noise, bring the most attention to himself.

She may have raised him since he was only a couple months old, but he’d never be hers. She’d tried. Olivia had comforted herself with that. He was only a few months younger than Bryson. She tried not to think of that. How Charles had married another woman after their night together that had changed her life. Then, not even a year later, Olivia had heard about his divorce and shown up at his door when her son was only a few weeks old.

Their life had been off to a good start. Then, his ex-wife had shown up and shoved her son off on them. They’d never seen from her again. It had nearly wrecked their marriage in its early days. Then, she’d been pregnant again. She liked to think it smoothed the rough edges of their relationship. But, she saw the way he looked at his middle child, and maybe it influenced the way she treated him as well. She didn’t like to think of that, though. She took care of him. That’s what really mattered.

The door slammed open, and she jumped a little. She’d been so lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed Rylan coming toward the door. He ran across the room, skidding to a stop when he saw her. “I was, uh, coming in to…Can we have some juice?”

If she hadn’t been in here, Olivia knew he would have just grabbed the juice boxes from the refrigerator. Which she’d told him he had to ask first. Also, “How many times have I told you not to wear your muddy shoes through the house? I just cleaned the floor.”

Heat flooded his face, and he glanced down at the floor, at those tracks of mud. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Can we have the juice?”

She let out a long breath. “Fine. Stand on the mat, and I’ll get it for you.”

He retreated the few steps to the door, and the mat there, while she retrieved the juice boxes. When she handed them to him, she said, “Hose off those shoes before you come back in or leave them outside.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said quietly, still not looking up at her.

She had a quick spurt of guilt at the dejection that had fallen over him. But, she wiped it away. The boy needed discipline, that was all. The least she could do was make sure he got it.

Note: Rylan didn’t have the greatest childhood, since neither of the people who raised him seemed to care much for him. One of my current projects is actually his story about 20+ years after this, and he’d still dealing with the feeling of being rejected by everyone who should have cared about him.

A-Z Challenge: N is for Nila Siddell

N

“Julian’s heading over this way.”

Nila Ascott forced herself not to look the way her friend, Adreanna Hamlett was gesturing. Julian Siddell was probably coming to see Adreanna anyway, not her. And if he was, it probably wasn’t for any good reason. None of the white boys in Kurztown ever came near her with good intentions. “Let’s just go,” she told Adreanna. “We can meet the others at the diner.”

Adreanna squeezed her hand as if she understood. She probably did. She saw the way the others treated Nila. The Ascotts weren’t the only black family in the town. But, pretty close. And she took the brunt of the town’s ignorance. “Julian’s different. He’s never joined in with the others.”

He hadn’t, at least not to her face. But, that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Especially if his friends were with him. Not the ones she saw him with on the weekends, like Joel Holland and Patrick DiSalvo, they were decent to her, too. But, the ones he played baseball with after school, like Jakob Morrey and Caleb Sharrock, were ones she did her best to avoid. They didn’t always keep their mistreatment to taunts, either.

“Nila.” Julian’s voice was smooth behind her, and she couldn’t help but turn now. Only Patrick was with him. That had her relaxing a little bit.

“Julian, Patrick,” she greeted both of them, but she was already starting to fidget. She wasn’t afraid to walk down the street of her own town. But, just standing here talking made her nervous.

“Can I talk to you?” Julian asked her.

She swallowed and glanced over at Adreanna. “Uh, we were just heading to the diner to meet Diana and Natalie.”

Patrick’s eyes lit up a bit at that. “I’ll walk there with you, Adreanna,” he told her.

They weren’t leaving her with any excuses. But, Julian smiled softly at her. “We can follow right behind them if it makes you feel better.”

She knew Julian was a decent guy. He wouldn’t do anything to her right out here on the street. “It’s okay,” she said. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

He scratched at the back of his head and glanced away. She’d seen him do that in class, too, when the teacher called on him, and he wasn’t completely sure of the answer. She always thought it made him look a little sweet, it was even more endearing now.

“I actually wanted to ask you something,” he corrected.

“Okay,” she said, glancing from the corner of her eye. “What did you need to ask me?”

He was quiet for a moment, and they were already nearing the diner. She was about to turn to him when he blurted out, “Will you go out with me? We could get dinner, maybe catch a movie?”

He ended it on a question, as if he wasn’t quite sure. She wasn’t, either. “Why, Julian?”

“Why not, Nila?” he asked, one side of his mouth pulling up into the smile she loved to see.

“You know what people will say about you dating me?”

“I don’t care,” he said, turning fully to her. “I’ve wanted to ask you out for a long time. If they’ve got a problem with it, they can-”

She didn’t need to hear the rest of whatever he was going to say. “I’ll go to dinner with you, Julian.”

***

Nila stood at the doors, waiting for Julian to come out of the school after his practice. Usually she saw him during the day, but it seemed like he’d been avoiding her. She didn’t understand it. They’d gone out for dinner several times, and they’d spent almost every evening talking. Why the distance now?

She’d hung back when the rest of the players had come out. Why wasn’t he with them? Usually he was. Something wasn’t right, and it didn’t leave her with a good feeling.

Finally, she saw him coming, his hat pulled down low on his head, leaving his face in shadows. Nila stepped forward. “Julian.”

He jerked back, his eyes meeting hers for just a moment before dropping again. But, it had been enough. “What happened to your face?”

“I thought you would have gone home already,” he said, starting to walk past her.

He didn’t even attempt to answer her question, the sidestep obvious. She reached out for his sleeve. He stopped but didn’t turn to face her. So, she moved around in front of him and pushed his hat back on his head. And drew in a sharp breath. “Did you use your face as a glove at practice today?”

His lips quirked up, but then he winced. “Didn’t happen today,” he said. “And wasn’t baseballs hitting me.”

She ran her finger lightly along his jaw, where the worst of the bruising seemed to be centered. “It’s because of me, isn’t it? No one wants you dating me.”

He reached up and wrapped his fingers lightly around her wrist, bringing her hand down to his lips. “No,” he said. “Don’t say that, Nila. It’s because Morrey and Sharrock are dickheads, and no one else will stand up to them. But, there was no way I was going to let them talk about you like that.” He brought her hand down and pressed his lips to hers. “I love you, Nila. My mom loves you, and trust me, she doesn’t say that about everyone. My brother likes you. That’s all that matters. If the rest of the town has a problem with it, they can go to hell.”

Nila let out a little laugh then wrapped her arms around his neck. “I don’t want you fighting for me, Julian. Not like this. We can stand against them another way.”

“As long as we’re standing together.”

“Always,” she told him and hoped that time limit, or non-limit, never changed.

Note: For anyone who has read snippets from Scars and All(Book 2 in my Kurztown series), these are Cassie’s parents. So, this is sometime in the middle-ish ’80s. By the time Cassie and Doren get together, the town is at least a bit more tolerant.

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