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Story a Day: Day 31 – Reasons Upon Reasons

The last day of Story a Day, and today’s prompt was to “Go Big”. Taking everything we’ve done this month and put it toward something new. This takes place shortly after “Put the Brakes on“.

Gabriel opened the door, not sure he’d ever been this nervous. Which was rather silly. It was Lora. His friend’s little sister. Who he’d talked to enough times through the computer. No screen, or thousands of miles, between them now, but it didn’t have to be any different.

And then he saw her. Gabriel imagined she thought the outfit was professional, and he was sure it was. But, it clung to every curve, giving him just a taste of what was under it. Stop it, he scolded himself. She was here for business, and he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let his thoughts go there. He’d made a promise to Aaron, and just because the man wasn’t here to make sure he’d keep it didn’t mean Gabriel would go and break his word.

“Come in,” he said when she looked at him curiously. He must look like an idiot just standing in the doorway, staring at her.

She stepped inside and let out a little shiver as she slipped off her sweater. “I thought it was warm when I left the bed and breakfast. I would have grabbed a coat, too, if I’d realized the temperature had dropped so much.”

He couldn’t say he was too disappointed that she hadn’t. Then, he reminded himself, again, that he wasn’t going to think like that. “We’ll get you warmed up,” he said and hung her sweater on a hook by the door.

He caught the way her eyes darkened as the words slipped out of his mouth. Shit. He hadn’t meant it like that, but now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. “Roommate threw some soup in the slow cooker this morning. House has smelled amazing since I got home.” Which had been fairly early since there wasn’t much to do, even in the office. And he’d needed to clean the house up anyway.

Her face tilted up, her nose twitching as if smelling the air. “You’re right,” she said, “it does smell good. Is it ready?”

“He said it would be whenever we wanted to eat.” Had he told her who his roommate was? He couldn’t remember now, though he wracked his memory for it.

“Is he joining us?”

“I don’t think so.” Actually Erik had made it pretty clear he wanted to be anywhere but near them tonight. And he knew his roommate had reasons upon reasons for that.

Gabriel led her into the kitchen. “Have a seat,” he told her. “I’ll get the bowls.”

He took a moment to draw and release a few breaths as he took the bowls out of the cupboard. Being here with her shouldn’t be dragging this response from him. They were going to eat and go over the proposal. That was it. And yet, this felt awfully close to the panic he’d found himself fighting off nearly daily when he’d first come home. He hadn’t dealt with that for a while now, though. He’d thought he was over it.

“Gabe, you okay?” Lora asked from over by the table.

He drew in another breath and said, “Fine,” on the exhale. And he was. This wasn’t a typical panic attack. It had felt like it at first, but the feeling was changing. Still, he breathed through the feeling as he dished out the stew Erik had made then cut a few slices of the bread he’d brought home.

When he carried the first of the bowls to the table, she still looked vaguely concerned. “I could have helped you with that. I should have. Your hand-”

“It’s fine,” he said, almost snapping the words. Even though relief nearly flooded him when she did. His father and brother nearly refused to acknowledge that anything was different and he had to make certain accommodations because of it. Having someone note it without acting like nothing had changed was a relief.

She jerked back, and he winced. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s been a little rough. Had an argument, I guess, with my roommate. Did I tell you who that was?” He rubbed at the side of his head, it was aching a little. Like it always did when he felt a small detail escaping from him. The blast had done more than take part of his arm, though most of the time the other issues didn’t affect him as much.

“Yeah,” she said, that curious look on her face again. “You’d said Erik was living with you.”

He cringed at the way she said that. But, she had to know. If they were going to be working together, she’d hear what everyone else in town said, so he should set her clear now. “We live in the same house, yes,” he said, testing his words carefully. “People may tell you there’s more going on, but that’s really all there is.” Except those few times. But, he wasn’t going to mention those. It wasn’t anyone else’s business how they both managed to cope late at night.

“I never thought any different,” she told him, still with that slightly curious look on her face.

Of course she hadn’t. Aaron had known, but he’d never told anyone. Not even his sister, despite how close they’d been. He turned and grabbed the other bowl of stew, but before he had turned back, Lora was reaching around him for the bread. He had to stop and take a breath, calming himself at the feel of her so close.

By the time he’d set his bowl on the table, Lora had taken a tub of butter out of the refrigerator and was heading back. It was like she belonged there. No. He couldn’t think like that. She didn’t belong here, not with him.

But, when he looked up after taking a bite of stew, she was watching him. He couldn’t exactly say what the look encompassed, though. Some curiosity, certainly. He was acting strange. He knew it, even as he couldn’t do anything to stop it. But, there seemed to be something else, too. He dropped his gaze again before he could think too much about it.

He couldn’t let himself go there.

But, she reached across the table and laid her hand over his. As if she knew the thoughts were bouncing around in his head, and that touch was the one thing that seemed to slow them down. How could she know that, though, when he’d never told anyone else? Still, there was something there between them. He couldn’t deny it, even if he’d never act on it.

He owed his old friend that much at least.

 

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Story a Day: Day 18 – Perfect Coincidence

Today’s prompt was to write a story based on a painting. I used one of the examples on the Story a Day page for the prompt. The two girls in this aren’t quite the same as in the picture, but I used more the idea of it for this. And this will fit perfectly into where I’m at in Break on Me. Love when that works out.

Lora headed out of the bed and breakfast and looked both ways as she reached the sidewalk. It shouldn’t be too hard to find her way around this town. She’d grown up in what she thought was a small town, but this one beat even that. And she’d spent the last year and a half in a town several times larger. How did people even live in a place like this?

She shook off that thought and headed down the sidewalk. The mechanic who had brought her car in the night before had dropped her off at the bed and breakfast, but he’d told her how to get to the garage so she could see about her car. It shouldn’t be hard to find it. And everyone seemed to have already shoveled the snow that storm had dumped on them. She’d grown up in the opposite corner of the state, where it wasn’t normal to see snow at the beginning of November. But, since she’d moved up this way, she’d learned it was here. Something else to get used to. Like living in a world without Aaron.

She pushed away thoughts of her brother. He was part of the reason she was here, but the grief wasn’t going to help at all. She’d found it best to keep it locked away in its own box until she had time to deal with it. She’d had enough people tell her she shouldn’t feel the way she did, since he’d done it to himself. That didn’t change the fact she’d lost the last of her family. She hadn’t fought those battles in his head, so she couldn’t say why he’d ended it all. She only knew she still missed him.

She was just passing the parking lot that seemed to house a grocery store, with a couple gas pumps next to it, a hardware store, and on the other side a diner. She’d have to remember the diner and check it out later. It seemed like a lot of those places were dying out, being replaced with Subways and other chains.*

She saw two women heading away from the diner, coming right toward her. Though neither seemed to see her. One had her head bent slightly, her hands moving with her words. The other woman tipped her head back slightly, dragging her hands through auburn hair, then let out a laugh. Lora couldn’t stop watching them. Something about this interaction struck her. Then, the first woman took the other one’s hand and pulled her a little closer, going up on her toes until she could put her mouth on the other woman’s lips.

Oh. Lora did turn away now. Not because she felt there was anything wrong with that. But, it seemed a little intimate for her to watch. But, then they were walking toward her again. She really should keep walking. Her toes were already starting to feel a little frozen in her boots. Yet, these two seemed perfectly comfortable in their jackets, no gloves or hats as they walked arm in arm now.

She saw the name sewn on the jacket the shorter woman wore. Kurztown Auto Repair. The same as what had been on the side of the tow truck the night before. Well, that was just a perfect coincidence, wasn’t it? “Excuse me,” she said, stepping forward.

Both women turned toward her, the auburn-haired one eyeing her warily. But, she saw the other woman squeeze her hand, and she didn’t let go of it. “What can we do for you?” she asked, her voice light.

“You work at the garage?” she asked, gesturing to the name on the jacket.

She kept smiling and nodded at Lora. “I do. Name’s Kendall Gosslar, most people just call me Ken, though. What can I help you with? You need your car brought in?”

“No. Actually, it should already be there. I went off the road in that storm last night, and uh, Doren I think was his name, brought me into town. I just, well I thought you could help me find my way there. He gave me directions, and this place is small enough, I’m sure I could find it. But-”

“It’s too cold to be out here wandering around hoping you find your way,” Ken said, still smiling at her. “And Doren isn’t the best at giving directions, no matter his talent at working on cars. I have to get over there anyway. You can walk with me.”

The other woman was still studying Lora. “You’re the one Jarrett found. The one Doren went out in that storm for.”

She almost thought she heard some judgment in those words, but she had to be imagining it. “Yeah, but it’s not like I planned for my car to skid off the road and get stuck. You know them?”

“It’s okay, Sue,” Kendall said, squeezing her hand and pulling her in closer. “They both came home last night.”

The woman–Sue, Lora filed the name away for future reference–drew in a long breath then nodded before focusing on Lora again. “They’re my brothers,” she said. “I just…I worry. But, Ken’s right. They’re fine, and it wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry.”

She understood worry. She’d worried about Aaron every day he’d been deployed. Even most days he was stateside, hearing too many stories about training accidents. She’d thought that was over when he’d left the Army. It had only gotten worse, though.

Kendall turned into Sue and kissed her again. Lora turned away, her face warming a little. “I’ll see you after work, right?” Kendall asked the other woman.

“Yes.” From the corner of her eye, Lora saw Sue reach up to caress Kendall’s cheek. “I’ll come by the garage when school’s out.”

Lora waited until Kendall joined her and started off down the sidewalk. “So, your girlfriend’s a teacher?”

Kendall stopped and turned to look at Lora, her eyes wary for the first time. “Yeah. You got a problem with that?”

“Nope,” Lora said, shoving her hands in her coat pockets. Even with gloves on, the cold got through to them. “Just making conversation.”

Kendall’s shoulders relaxed, and she fell into step beside Lora again. “Sorry. We had some problems in town because of our relationship. She almost lost her job because of it, but neither of us are willing to hide anymore.”**

Lora actually thought it was kind of amazing that someone could love enough to take that kind of risk. She knew not everyone would see it the same way. And she wasn’t sure what else to say, not wanting to put her foot in her mouth again. So, they walked in silence until the garage was right in front of them. Kendall took out a set of keys and unlocked the door to the front office. “Doren lives in that house right behind the garage,” she told Lora. “He’ll be in soon. Saying good-bye to his girlfriend, too.”

Lora looked in the direction she’d gestured and saw the man from last night with his arms around a darker girl. She looked away again, once more feeling almost like a voyeur. Kendall must have seen the blush in her cheeks because she let out a soft laugh. “Come inside,” she said. “I can start some coffee, and you can get warmed up. Doren will be over soon.”

“Thanks,” she said and wandered into the office. But, this gave her too much time to think. About Aaron, how he would have reacted to the moment between Kendall and Sue. Though she didn’t really know, but she knew his opinion about homosexuals–and women– in the military. She’d never agreed with him on either point, but the arguments had gone round and round.

Then, her thoughts wandered to what she was really doing here. Would she see Gabriel? She shook away that question. Not likely. She hadn’t seen him since Aaron’s funeral. She’d made sure of that. She’d lost her brother, but she didn’t need someone else who treated her like a little sister. Just because he shared a last name with the company she was consulting with didn’t mean anything. Even in a town this size, she could probably avoid him.***

Feeling a little better after convincing herself of that, she accepted the cup of coffee Kendall handed her and waited to see if she’d be able to drive her car away from here this morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*Diner in my hometown, that this is modeled after, actually has been replaced with a Subway

**Events that happened in Love Who You Love

***Hahaha. Keep telling yourself that, Lora.

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