He had enjoyed ten years of being totally irresponsible. At least that’s how Rylan’s father had always described his new lifestyle. He let out a snort as he gripped the paintbrush tighter. That was only because he didn’t wear a suit and tie every day. He dipped the tip of the brush into the paint before swiping it across the blank sheet. He didn’t punch a clock, didn’t bring in a weekly paycheck. So, he was living irresponsibly.
He made some quick hard strokes with the brush. His father had acted like he was living a life of sin. Drugs, alcohol, orgies. God, he didn’t know what the man thought exactly. He didn’t touch drugs, well there may have been some experimenting, but they didn’t make his art any better, and he’d avoided them since those early days. He drank, but not to excess. He couldn’t create when he was stumbling around drunk. And women, well they were nice, sure, but also a distraction.
His father was a hypocrite anyway when it came to sin. Rylan’s own mother had been married to another man when they’d gotten together. And he’d cheated on her just before their wedding, resulting in his only months older half-brother. Another hard stroke as he thought of his half-brother. Dead now. Dead because he’d rather join the army than his father’s business and the old man just couldn’t understand that.
And his father sat in a prison cell right now. Probably not for too long as he’d hired a shark for a lawyer. But, somehow hiring someone to to do your dirty work; harassing an innocent man, tormenting him when he was already grieving his wife and son, kidnapping a woman to draw him into a trap, wasn’t nearly as bad as living a less structured lifestyle.
Rylan added more color to the picture. He missed Lauren too, she was his sister, but he never would have thought to take it out on her husband. His father never believed in the man’s innocence though. He was blind, and now he was paying for it. Rylan refused to though.
He’d picked up a relationship with his older half-brother, Patrick, and his brother-in-law, Jason. It didn’t matter that his sister was dead and Jason was with another woman. He’d always consider him a part of his now very small family.
He continued painting even as a commotion rose outside. He knew what it was and didn’t bother going to open the door. She’d come in on her own. Though he hadn’t realized it was that time yet. He’d been more consumed in his painting and thoughts than he’d figured. That always seemed to happen when he was painting. He took a step back from the picture, studying it. It still needed a little work, but it was coming along.
Then, the door was opening. He kept his back to it, though a little smile slid across his face. The door slapped shut again, and his smile grew wider as he pretended to study the painting even more.
“Uncle Ry, I’m here,” the girl said, sounding a little put out.
“I heard the bus,” he said, not taking his eyes off the painting. “And the door.”
He could almost see her bottom lip poking out and had to fight back a laugh. “You’re not even going to look at me?”
“I know what you look like, Cora.”
She let out a heavy sigh, and he couldn’t hold back his laughter anymore. He finally turned around and saw he was right, her lip was sticking out. “Come on. I have some snacks in here.”
“Why do you pick on me, Uncle Ry?”
He smiled and pressed his lips to the top of her head. “Just teasing, Cora.” He wasn’t really an uncle, exactly. Even if his sister had lived, he didn’t think his brother-in-law’s niece would be considered his. And the feelings he had for the girl’s mother…yeah, they weren’t of the family variety. She was still recovering from what she’d dealt with from Cora’s father, though. So, right now he was helping her out…as a friend.
“When’s your mom picking you up today?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
Cora shrugged a shoulder. “Said she wasn’t sure. She has to talk to her professor after class. Said to tell you if it’s a problem, you can call grandma and grandpa to come get me.”
“No,” he said quickly, seeing the insecurity in the young girl’s eyes. “You know it’s never a problem for you staying here.”
She jumped up onto a stool as he went to wash the paint from his hands. “Uncle Ry?” she asked before he could turn back around.
“Are you gonna ask my mom out?”
He jerked at the question. “What makes you ask that?” he asked, still not looking at her.
“Braden, he’s in my class. He said his daddy told him you’re only being nice to us ’cause you want in mommy’s pants. I told him he was stupid. Her pants won’t fit you. Then, he called me stupid and said it meant you wanted to go out with her. Do you?”
Rylan’s fist clenched against the counter. Why was someone even discussing their lives, and around their, probably impressionable, son. Damn it. “I really like your mom, Cora. If she wanted to go to dinner with me, I’d be happy about that. I watch you for her, though, because she could use the help. And the studio is right on your bus’s route, so it makes it easier for everyone. And,” he added, “I like spending time with you. Come on, I think I could use a snack, too.”