"Nathaniel, baby, do me a favour. When you get hom this afternoon, could you please start dinner?" His mom yelled at him from his little brother's room.
"Sure momma, what should I make?" He answered heading toward the kitchenette.
"The fridge it empty. I have fifty bucks in my purse, stop at the store and get something please." He stopped with a soft sigh and turned back around to walk to his mother's bedroom.
"Anything specific?" He asked again pulling the bill from her wallet and stuffed it into his pocket. He walked back into the hall just as his mother came out of Xander's bedroom carrying the three year old on her back.
"No, baby. Get whatever. It's just gonna be the two of you. I'm working a double at the diner." She said pulling his brother from her back and dumping him in his arms.
"Okay. What do you want for dinner, little man?" He asked the blonde haired boy.
"Pop tart!" He exclaimed and Nathaniel laughed.
"That can be dessert. What do you want for dinner?" The boy scrunched up his face thinking as their mom pushed passed them and walked out of the house with a yelled goodbye.
"Uhmmmmmm" Xander hummed and Nathaniel carried him into the kitchen trying to think what he could give his brother to eat for breakfast.
He put the thinking toddler down and rummaged through the cabinets looking for cereal. He finally found some stale Cap'n Crunch in the corner and made a disgusted face. He was not about to feed his brother that shit.
"I'll call your kindergarten, tell them to feed you." He mumbled under his breath at his brother, knowing he couldn't hear and pulled out his phone to place the call.
"Hannah. Nathaniel Breuer here. I hate to do this but is there a possibility you could feed Xander today? We don't have food in the house." He said into the microphone and he heard the principal sigh quietly.
"No problem, Nate. Do you need money? I'll give you some money for food when you drop Xander off." She said even before he could answer her question.
At twenty four Nathaniel was still a student, studying business, at UCLA and his mom an ex whore. She'd gotten her life together when she ended up pregnant with Xander, sobered up and actually got a job at a diner.
"Thanks, Hannah. The fridge is empty again. I'm not going to give him mouldy cereal. I'll be there in about twenty minutes." They ended the call and Nathaniel turned back to his brother sitting in the stool watching him intently.
"Psketti." He said finally and Nathaniel burst out laughing and walked to the grinning boy, picking him up and hugging him tight. The little boy wrapped his tiny arms around Nathaniel's thick neck and peppered his face with kisses.
"Come on, let's get you to school. I'll pick you up after then we go shopping, okay?" Xander's blond head bobbed against his chin and Nathaniel got his backpack for kindergarten ready with two sets of extra clothes.
All the while the little boy clung to his neck, refusing to let him go, and when he finally got to the car Nathaniel struggled to get him into his carseat.
"What's wrong?" He asked after five long minutes of Xander kicking and slapping his hands away from the seatbelt. Bright green eyes met his and they were full of tears. Nathaniel felt his heart soften for his brother and he ran his hand through the blond tresses.
"I don't want to go." Xander's voice was barely audible over the lump in his throat.
"Why not?" Nathaniel asked quietly searching those innocent eyes.
"I get teased." Xander responded and Nathaniel's heart squeezed remembering how it felt to be pushed around and teased because he didn't have money.
"I'm almost graduated, little man, then I can start working properly and take care of everything." He said quietly taking Xander's small hands in his and gave them squeeze. His words seemed to cheer his brotber up a bit because he nodded and allowed Nathaniel to fasten the car seat's seatbelt.
"Good boy. I'll make sure to get us something nice for dessert with the pop tarts, okay?" He smiled when his brother giggled and nodded. Nathaniel shut the back door of the car and got behind the wheel adjusting the mirror to keep an eye on Xander, who was staring out the window.
He started the car and pulled away from their run down house driving toward Xander's kindergarten.
Hanna stood outside waiting for them and had Xander in her arms before Nathaniel even got out of the car.
"Thanks Hannah, I appreciate it." He told her as he gave her a one armed hug. His friend hugged him back burying her face in his shoulder.
"No problem. I remember how it was growing up. But hey, look where we are now. You're almost graduating and I'm principal of a kindergarten two years after my own graduation. By default, but I am!" She defended when Nathaniel opened his mouth to retort.
The previous principal had overdosed and Hannah had been the only teacher actually qualified as one at the school. The place had run much more smoothly since she took over.
"Here. A hundrend bucks. Get some food for the house." She said stuffing the bill into his hand and retreating before he could hand it back.
"No take backs!" She yelled over her shoulder as she hurried into the building with his brother and his backpack in her arms. Nathaniel shook his head in defeat and got in the car this time heading for college.
He parked in the student lot and headed toward his class buddies who were huddled around the announcement board.
"Dude, check this ad from a photography student." Jordan said stuffing a flyer in his hand.
NUDE MALE MODEL NEEDED
Photography student in need of tall, masculine male for a photoshoot.
The model will be paid handsomely.
Please call Cassie Page if interested
A number was printed below the bold script. Nathaniel looked at his friends who were looking at him expectantly and he raised his brows.
"What's this got to do with me?" He said and they ganged up on him ominously.
"We dare you to do this. C'mon dude, you get paid." Cameron said with a sly grin.
Bastards knew he needed money.
"This is fabricated right? When I call the number it's gonna be one of you assholes." He said angrily throwing the flyer at Jordan's face. The dude caught it and flattened it out again and pulled out his phone.
"Do you know who Cassie Page is?" He asked punching the number into his phone and looked at Nathaniel curiously.
"Yes. That's why I don't believe this shit. Why would she need to put out an ad for a nude male model when every fucking guy would do it the moment she opens her mouth." He said with a shrug and Cameron laughed.
"They fell over themselves this morning. Then they hear it's for a public project." Nathaniel's jaw dropped and his friends laughed.
"The current price for the photos are over three grand. That's what she'd pay for a model. Because no one will do it." Jordan said before pressing send and handing the phone to him.
"Hello?" A sweet voice answered after a few rings.
"Hi, is this Cassie Page?" He asked glaring at his friends.
"No, this is her assistant photographer, Amanda. How can I help you?" She said and Nathaniel already felt a bit better.
"I'm Nathaniel Breuer. I'm answering the ad for the model position." He said and he heard her sigh loudly.
"Look, Cassie is about to give up on this project. Guys come in saying they're what she wants and they're not. Send me a full length shirtless photo. Keep the boxers in, for now. I'll call you back if you qualify." Amanda sounded tired and worn out so he arranged to send the photo later that afternoon when he got home and hung up.
"You're actually going to do it?" Cameron asked with raised eyebrows. Nathaniel glared at him but nodded.
"I need the cash. Even though my mom's working, no money is making its way into the house. I had to ask Hannah to feed Xander today." His friends winced and nodded patting his shoulders in support as he took down the number on his phone.
The day passed quickly and Nathaniel headed to Xander's kindergarten as soon as his last class let out.
"He ate like crazy before nodding off to sleep not an hour ago." Hannah informed him as she passed his sleeping brother off to him and he nodded in thanks. She wrapped an arm around his waist and gave him a squeeze before opening the back door for him.
He put Xander in the carseat gently and fastened the seatbelts for him with a soft click. He then turned to Hannah who was watching him intently.
"Do you need help?" She asked quietly and he shook his head.
"No, thanks, Han. I got it." He replied and she turned him toward her.
"I don't mean with Xander or financially." She whispered putting her hands on his chest lightly digging her nails into his pecs.
"Han..." he wrapped his hands around her wrists fully intending to push her away when she leaned up and pressed her soft lips against his.
She kissed him softly at first. When Nathaniel didn't react at first she deepened the kiss. He pulled back slightly and met her eyes. Her gray eyes were filled with desire.
"You seem frustrated, Nate. I can help." She said quietly and Nathaniel pushed himself back, keeping a firm hold on her wrists.
"Hannah, we were good in high school. I'm not going to sleep with you." He replied and her face fell before the crestfallen expression turned to one of anger. Her beautiful face twisting into a mask of anger and sadness.
"No one said anything about sleeping, Nathaniel. I was just talking about a quick fuck. Stress relief." She hissed.
Nathaniel dated Hannah in his freshman and sophomore year of high school. She dumped him the next year for one of his friends. He'd given them his blessing and moved on.
"No, Hannah. Even though Byron's gone I'm not going to fuck you. Or sleep with you or even kiss you. You were his wife, Han. I'm not tarnishing his memory." He walked around the car and looked over the roof at Hannah.
"Get someone else, anyone else, but not any of his friends. All of us will react the same way. Cameron and Jordan included." He said before opening the driver side door and getting in.
She tapped on the window and he rolled it down slightly.
"Thank you, Nate. I miss him so much." Tears gathered in her eyes and he felt himself softening.
"We all do. If anyone is to blame it's his family." He answered gently as a tear broke free and rolled down her cheek.
"He died unnecessarily in a war for his country. Caught in the crossfire." He went on.
Byron Abernathy was the only one of the high school crew that joined the military. It was his family legacy. The only difference was that Byron didn't leave a child behind like every man before him. That small difference had the Abernathy family hating Hannah.
"I know." She whispered and tapped the roof of the car.
"They're still not over the miscarriage." She said looking him in the eyes.
The news of Byron's death had Hannah miscarrying at a very late stage of her pregnancy and almost lost her own in the process. Byron's family blamed her for the loss of the child.
"They won't be. Their line ended. Just be there on the anniversaries and don't let them bother you." He answered quietly and she looked away before saying goodbye and walking back into the school building.
Nathaniel watched as the door closed behind her, checked on Xander still fast asleep in his chair, and started the car driving to the convenience store a block away from his house.
He got out of the car and removed Xander as gently as possible from his carseat and walked to the entrance, grabbing a cart on the way into the store.
Xander was fast asleep in his arm with his head snuggled into Nathaniel's shoulder as he walked through the aisles maneuvering the cart to go where he wanted it.
Naturally it wasn't cooperating and he bumped into the basket of a woman standing at the produce.
"I am so sorry." He apologized immediately, pulling the cart back, and met her seafoam eyes behind large black rimmed glasses.
"Oh! No problem. I can see you have your hands full." She smiled a warm smile, showing a neat row of white teeth, her eyes landing on Xander.
"Do you need help?" She asked tentatively looking between the cart and Xander then meeting his eyes again.
"That would be great!" He whispered as Xander stirred, tightening his grip around Nathaniel's neck.
"How about I put my basket in the cart then I take the cart and you keep hold of your kid?" She suggested and Nathaniel felt himself flush.
"Sure. Thanks." He said moving away from the cart, giving her the space to place her basket in and to take hold of the bars.
"So where to?" She asked and looked up at him. Her coral hair hung down to her curvy butt, her thin waist enunciated by the racer back shirt she was wearing. Her full lips were parted in a smile and Nathaniel felt his heart start racing.
"He wants spaghetti for dinner and pop tarts for dessert," Nathaniel said shifting Xander's weight slightly to support him with both arms and the little boy snuggled down against his chest.
"He's adorable. How old is he?" She asked as she started walking toward the sweets aisles.
"Three last month. Unfortunately we weren't able to give him the party he wanted." He replied and looked at the back of the curvaceous woman walking in front of him. She looked over her shoulder briefly at him before turning her attention back to the space in front of her.
"How so?" She asked and popped a bag of bite sized toffees and chocolates into her basket, defying the purpose of the mounds of fruits and vegetables already inside.
"He wanted Avengers and we could only afford Power Rangers" he replied trying to make light of the situation. She walked a bit further and stopped in front of the pop tarts.
"Aw, that's so sad." She said looking at Xander's peaceful face turned toward her.
"Yeah," he said and she changed the heavy subject to food.
"What kind does he like?" She asked and mentioned toward the row in front of her with a flourish causing Nathaniel to chuckle.
"Marshmallow." Nathaniel replied and she took three boxes and placed it in the cart.
"Just one box" he said softly and she looked up at him.
"Fine." She said and took the other two placing them in her basket with a sly grin.
"Oh no. You're not gonna do what I think you're gonna do." He said looking at her in disbelief.
"Hey, I love kids. If I can make a child happy, I do. It's nothing weird or pity or charity." She added firmly when he opened his mouth like a fish.
"I take your silence as consent." She said and began walking again. She wove through the aisles dropping things into both basket and cart as she went, ignoring Nathaniel's protests until he gave up fighting the kindness of the stranger in front of him.
Finally when they stopped at checkout the cart was half full of food and products with her basket resting on the baby chair. Xander hadn't moved in the entire spree from his position against Nathaniel's chest.
He shifted his brother to take out the cash in his pocket and her slender hand covered his.
"No. It's on me." She said and started putting everything on the counter for the cashier to ring up.
"I can't let you do this." Nathaniel said looking at her, pleading with her to let him keep his pride. Her face softened and her eyes fell on Xander again before lifting to meet his.
"I told you it's not pity or charity. Your little boy will be ecstatic to have this in the house." She pointed to a gallon of orange juice and the stacks of meat. Nathaniel couldn't help but feel she was using Xander as an excuse to stock his cabinets and fridge.
"Let me repay it then." She smiled brightly at his words and shook her head before stopping as though to consider something.
"Alright. But only if we meet again. By chance." She said as he opened his mouth to ask her on a date and he laughed at her ability to know what he was going to say.
She grinned and paid the cashier before taking her bags in both hands and turning to him. She placed a soft kiss on his cheek and one on Xander's head.
"Enjoy and see you around." She said as she walked away toward the parking lot. An attendant rushed over to her as Nathaniel watched and she shook her head then pointed in his direction. The attendant rushed over and took Nathaniel's cart and asked him to lead the way to the car.