SECOND CHANCES

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Aaliyah only had one more hour before her shift ended, and the fact that made her practically skip around the diner. The end of the shift meant being able to see Jason, and that always got her in a jolly mood. Since their coupling, they would meet after she got off of work, and even spent their days off together. This evening, however, they planned to head down to Jason’s where he would teach her how to shoot a pistol.

As reluctant as she was about learning to use one, Jason had insisted. After learning about Nathan and the possibility of him murdering one of his colleagues just to locate her, Jason didn’t want to take any chances with her safety in case he wasn’t around to protect her.

“So what are you and Jason planning this evening?” Samantha asked.

“Nothing much,” Aaliyah shrugged casually. “He wanted to take me to his place and teach me how to shoot. Not really looking forward to that if I’m being honest. I hate guns.”

“I know, but Jason worries about you, Lia. Even more so now that he knows about your psycho ex-husband.” Samantha said softly. “He might be all smiles when he’s around you, but deep down he’s terrified of losing you.”

“I know,” she said softly, her lips quirking into a sad smile. “It was never my intention to cause him so much worry.”

“Then relieve some of that worry from him by learning how to protect yourself. Learn how to shoot a gun.”

She nodded but said nothing and reached for the glass of water beside her and sipped.

“Alright, enough with the heavy. When can I be expecting nieces or nephews?”

Aaliyah choked on her water and stared at her friend wide-eyed.

“I’m on the pill, Sam. Don’t expect them any time soon.” She said as she wiped the sides of her mouth and her shirt where the water spilled.

Samantha pouted. “Y’all are not getting any younger, you know?”

Aaliyah pointed a finger at her. “Girl, I’m four years older than you, don’t make me smack you.”

Samantha threw her head back in laughter, moving out of the way so she could dodge the balled up tissue paper Aaliyah threw as a missile to her head. Aaliyah pretended to be pissed, frowning at Samantha, but the younger woman’s laughter infected her and they were soon doubled over.

Their laughter died down and Samantha opened her mouth to speak, but an older woman stepped up beside them.

“Aaliyah Barnette?” She asked, walking towards their table and almost looking unsure whether she was speaking to the right person.

“Yes?” Aaliyah replied, a subtle feeling of nervousness washing over her. She looked to Samantha, who shrugged. What could this person want?

“I’m Rachel Mathers. I’m a close friend of the Moore family,” she began to speak. “I attended their wedding anniversary last month and was informed you were the one of the few who catered to the event. Is that correct?”

“Yes, is something wrong?” Aaliyah’s panic began setting in as her mind ran through all the things that could actually have gone wrong that day.

She laughed. “Oh no, dear. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When I tried your pastries, I was simply blown away. Before then, I don’t think I had ever tasted something so exquisite.”

“Oh, thank you.” Aaliyah smiled, relief washing over her features. “I’m glad you enjoyed them.”

“I think a bakery with your pastries would be a great thing to have in Port Isabel.” She offered, moving closer to the table Samantha and Aaliyah sat.

“I’m flattered. However, I’m on a rather tight budget. Opening something up that extreme would require a significant amount of money that I don’t have.” Aaliyah explained, giving a tight smile.

“That’s why I’m here.” Rachel smiled back reassuringly. Her crown of salt and pepper curls bounced as she bobbed her head while speaking. “I wanted to offer you a business proposal. We can discuss it perhaps during lunch tomorrow?”

“She’d love too,” Samantha piped in excitedly, her eyes wide with childlike excitement.

“Samantha,” Aaliyah whispered harshly, glaring at her friend before directing her attention back to the woman in front of them. “Listen, Ms. Mathers-”

“Please, call me Rachel.”

“Rachel,” Aaliyah corrected. “As honored as I am, I’m going to have to decline. Right now is just not the best time for me to open a business.” She gave the woman an apologetic look, hoping that the conversation would be over soon.

Rachel nodded, her warm smile never faltering once. “I completely understand.” She said as she reached into her purse and pulled out a small business card and handed it to her. “In case you change your mind.”

“Thank you.”

“It was lovely meeting you, Aaliyah. I hope our paths cross again soon.” Rachel said, waving to Aaliyah and Samantha as she walked away in small, gingerly steps. Her heels click-clacked all over the marbled floors and both women watched her until she was out of sight.

“You know, you really are a special kind of stupid.” Samantha deadpanned, an annoyed look on her face. She folded her arms over her chest and leaned back into the chair, staring at Aaliyah with accusing eyes.

Aaliyah smiled at her insult. “Quite the opposite in fact,” she said. “The last thing I need is Nathan showing up because of a careless mistake.” She shrugged, picking up her water and taking several small sips.

“I suppose you have a point,” Samantha murmured, her frown never leaving her face. “I wish he weren’t a factor, because this is such a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity, you know?” she sighed sadly, resting her chin in her palms sadly.

“Damn right I have a point.” Aaliyah grinned. She rolled her eyes and pulled Samantha into a side hug.

“Stop being so dramatic Sam, these things happen for a reason. If it’s meant to be, it will be.” She sang the last part, smiling when Samantha smiled as well. She then turned to leave to check on her two tables.

The last forty-five minutes flew by quickly, and by the time she grabbed her things to leave, Jason was waiting for her outside the diner.

“Jason!” She squealed the moment she was him and bounded into his arms. He caught her and lifted her up, letting her wrap her legs around his waist as they hugged. She caught his face between her hands, kissing him passionately, as if she hadn’t seen him in a whole week. She felt his lips stretch into a smile under hers and she pressed one last firm kiss to them, before pulling away.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy.” Jason laughed, hugging her small frame even closer to his.

“What can I say, I’ve missed you.” She murmured, pulling away from the hug and peppering kisses to his face.

“I’ve missed you too baby, I always do.” He smiled and set her down, hugging her once more before letting his hands wrap around her protectively.

“Make sure you tell him about that business proposal you got!” Samantha shouted from her car, shooting Aaliyah a wink and a mischievous grin, waving to both of them and driving off.

Aaliyah sighed and placed her head on Jason’s chest. Dammit, Samantha!

Jason arched a brow, intrigued. “A business proposal?”

She lifted her chin to look at him. She took a deep breath, cursed at Samantha in her head and began to explain.

“I had a woman come in earlier, she said her name was Rachel Mathers. Evidently she was at your parents anniversary party and enjoyed my food. She wanted to have lunch tomorrow to discuss a business opportunity for me opening my own business.” She explained in one breath, letting her eyes meet his again.

“Really?” Jason’s eyes widened in excitement. “That’s amazing, babe! Congratulations!” he pulled her into a hug, his grin never leaving.

“Thanks. Are you about ready?” she asked with a smile, clearly eager to change the subject—or at least shift its focus for the time being.

“Yup.” He opened the passenger door and motioned for her to get in.

“I can open my own door, you know.” She remarked, rolling her eyes as she got up onto the seat.

“Right, but you know that’s not how I was brought up.” He grinned, taking his own seat and laying a hand on her thigh.

Aaliyah giggled, kissing his cheek. “I know.”

***

“This is a Glock G23. Or a .40 caliber Glock.” Jason said and held out the Glock. Aaliyah grabbed it, held it in both hands— a weight that buoyed her. The gun felt good in her hands. It felt wonderful in her hands, and there was some trepidation and excitement weighing in the pit of her stomach at the thought of being able to use the weapon.

“Now remember,—” Jason started to explain, making sure to grab her attention. “—always treat every firearm as if it were loaded. Even if you know the gun is unloaded, still handle it as if it were loaded and point it in a safe direction, so you don’t hurt anyone, alright?.”

Aaliyah nodded mutely, signaling she understood.

“The safest direction to point a gun is always downrange.” He continued. “Make sure to keep your trigger finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you have found a suitable target, and made a conscious decision to shoot.”

She nodded again, looking down at the gun and doing the things he had just said.

Jason circled around to stand behind Aaliyah and guided her hands into their mandatory positions.

“Your dominant hand should grip the gun high on the back strap, this will give you more leverage against the weapon which will help you control recoil when you fire the gun while your non-dominant hand should be against the exposed portion of the grip not covered by the gun hand.” He explained softly, his deep voice floating into her ears.

At his command, she was suddenly aware of how close their bodies were, how warm his flesh felt against her skin. While he spoke, his voice was smooth like her favorite rum, going down her stomach and igniting a certain heat she always felt whenever they were together. Her breaths became heavy as she felt his against her neck, her heart racing wildly. Instinctively, she pushed herself flush against him, enjoying the feel of his hard body behind her, hard as a pillar.

She was started when he let out a little cough, pulling her out of her little imaginative reverie.

“Stand with your feet and hips shoulder width apart and bend your knees slightly.” Jason continued as he let go, releasing her arms and taking a step back to watch her. Aaliyah nodded in understanding and did as she was instructed.

“Now, raise your weapon toward the target and squeeze the trigger.” He instructed, folding his arms and focusing on her.

Aaliyah screwed her eyes shut and squeezed the trigger, squealing when the gun went off and completely missing her target.

“How do you expect to hit your target with your eyes shut?” Jason laughed incredulously, palming his face.

“I’m sorry!” She blurted sheepishly, rushing to amend her actions. In her defense, guns were big, scary weapons and she had never shot one before.

“Hey, you’re fine. Try it again, only this time with your eyes open.” Jason laughed at the last part, looking away when she scowled at him.

Aaliyah nodded, got back into the athletic stance and squeezed the trigger, wincing as she heard the wood splinter beside her target as the bullet penetrated the split rail fence.

“Better,” he said. “Now do it again, only this time try exhaling slowly, right before you squeeze the trigger.”

Aaliyah complied and the effects were immediate, the bullet knocking the can clean off the fence.

“Oh…” Was all she could manage.

“Not bad,” Jason muttered, smirking.

“Really?” she ventured, her smile bright and hopeful and Jason found himself smiling back in response.

“Really.” He assured her, going forward to arrange a different can on the fence

Aaliyah looked down at the weapon in her hands. If Nathan returned, she was ready, no longer the helpless damsel she used to be. She knew how to use guns now, and she could protect herself.

***

The sun was starting to set behind the hills as the two walked back to Jason’s place. The sky was ablaze with oranges, blues and lilacs mixing above them and casting dreamy hues onto their faces. The wind tickled their skin and wove through their hair as they walked, hand in hand and lazy smiles on their faces.

“So this offer you received, are you going to take it?” Jason questioned, weaving his fingers together through Aaliyah’s.

Aaliyah started to speak, but paused to think. “I would love to,—” she said after a long minute.”— but realistically I can’t see it happening. At least not right now. I’m not licensed for any of that like I was back in Los Angeles, and using my real name is entirely out of the question.” she said, sadness lacing her voice. She pulled her hand away from his and ran it through her hair.

“Lia,” Jason whispered sympathetically, not knowing what else to say to comfort her.

Aaliyah wove her fingers with his again, scrutinizing his hands. She couldn’t help but notice how each digit seemed to fill the spaces between hers perfectly, almost like their hands were made for each other.

“It’s fine, really.” She said honestly. “I don’t need to start another business just to be happy. I’m perfectly content with where I’m at...here with you.”

He smiled down at her and lightly squeezed her hand. “Me too.”

When they reached his truck, Jason opened the passenger side door and opened the glove department, depositing the pistol back in its place and rummaged through it until he produced something small and black.

“Here,” he said, motioning for Aaliyah to hold out her hand. When she did he distributed a small, cellular phone in her hand. “So we can stay in touch while I’m not around. My number is already programmed on the speed dial.”

Aaliyah arched a brow. “You got me a phone?”

Jason scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “Well, you don’t exactly have a landline at your place, and I also worry about you being there all by yourself.”

She tilted her head, sending her long hair spilling over one shoulder as she peered up at him curiously. “You worry about me?” her voice was small and childlike as she looked up at him through her lashes, sending waves of electricity through his stomach and spine.

“Sometimes.” He answered, pretending to be busy with his hands.

“Just sometimes?” She asked with feigned sadness, her lips in a childish pout.

Jason sighed heavily, hiding the amusement he felt. Aaliyah was too adorable sometimes. “Okay, fine. All the time.”

Aaliyah grinned as Jason lowered his head slightly to look at her, his eyelids squinting and a slight frown forming on his lips.

“You like it when I worry?”

“Worrying means you care. I like it when you care.”

“So the more I worry, the more I care; and the more I care, the more you like it. In other words, the more miserable I am, the happier you are.” He concluded with a raised brow, amusement painted onto his features.

“Well, when you say it like that it sounds bad,” Aaliyah giggled, slapping his chest lightly before turning and heading to the house. She had only walked a step or two when a large hand around her wrist stopped her. He twirled her around and she found herself looking up into Jason’s kind, blue eyes.

“You know,” he said. “I might stop worrying a little less if you move in with me.”

Her eyes widened at his request. Aaliyah and Jason had only been together a few months, but it was no secret to her that she felt deep affection for him and wanted to spend every waking moment of her days with him. Before their relationship had progressed, she had made him aware of the fact that her abusive ex husband was a psycho, and that he had been trying to locate her for a while. Despite it all, Jason had been there for her, going over and beyond to help her hide away and feel safe, just until the time was right. She felt safer with him than she had in a long time, and now that she really thought about it, moving in with him didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

“You want to live together?” She asked in surprise, her eyes wide like two saucers.

“Well, I mean, if you want to that is…” he trailed off, his hand scratching away at the back of his neck while his gaze wandered everywhere but at her.

“Are you sure, Jason?” Aaliyah asked, stopping in her tracks and tugging on his hand so he could meet her eyes. Moving in together was a big deal, and she needed to know if he knew this, and was really serious about it. She didn’t want him regretting his actions after a few weeks or months of living together.

Jason took a deep breath, and looked into Aaliyah’s warm eyes, keeping his gaze steady. “Of course I am. I’ve never been more certain than anything. I love you, Lia.”

Her eyes went wide again and her heart felt like it would palpitate out of control. This was the second bombshell he was dropping, saying the L word, and she couldn’t help the wide smile that spread over her cheeks.

“Well that’s a relief, because I love you, too.” She giggled, her face tinted a light dusting of pink.

“So is that a yes?” Jason cocked an eyebrow, hoping that it would be a yes. Moving in with Aaliyah was something he had thought about for so long since they had been together. Making sure she was always safe was hard, but if they were closer, he would be able to strengthen the odds. It had been on his mind for a while, but no time seemed perfect enough to ask except this moment, and he grasped it by the horns, praying to all the gods he could think of, that she would agree.

She nodded, laughing. “Yes.”

Jason leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead, his tone turning suggestive as he said, “So now that it’s official and all, I’d like to do a little celebrating with you right now.”

“Oh? Is that so?” she asked back, a mischievous little smile on her face.

“Yup,” he said as he hoisted her up and over his shoulder, surprising her, and Aaliyah yelped.

“Jason! Don’t you dare drop me!” She screamed, trying to be legitimately angry, but failing and laughing as he bounded up the porch steps. She rotated her shrieks with uncontrollable laughter, kicking and trying to wriggle free from his grasp.

“Drop you? Ms. Barnett, I would never do such a thing.”

Reaching over, Jason smacked her lightly on her behind so she yelped and laughed once more.

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