Willow & Aiden After Forty

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Chapter 5

Aiden

Sitting down on my front porch, I tie my tennis shoes. It’s hot today, it’s seven in the morning, and the temperature is headed towards the eighties. I shake my head; people don’t think climate change is real; it fucking is real. It’s seventy-eight degrees in the goddamn fucking morning in late September.

I stand and stretch. I need to run around the whole damn park trail this morning, all eight miles to relieve the stress I feel. Fucking Guy Kruse is an asshole, and if I hadn’t made a promise to my mom, I’d beat the fuck out of him. The case is closed, it’s over. I don’t give a rat’s ass what his problem is or how much fucking money he’s lost in his investments. The fucker is lucky that when we investigated, his name wasn’t connected to anything suspicious, because being a family friend sure as hell wouldn’t have helped him with me. I’d had taken him down along with the rest of the greedy fuckers.

Today, I head north. I jog every morning; I don’t care what the conditions are outside, I run outdoors no matter what. If I didn’t, I’d go insane running inside on a treadmill daily like a robot. I need the smell of fresh air and the sound and rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement.

By mile four, my mind settles down and clears. My stride feels good; my body feels strong, powerful, and healthy. I’m on the other side of the park, and this section is the busiest; it’s near the main entrance into the city. Damn, there are so many more people on this side. This area became a little sketchy in the early eighties, but a revitalization started in the nineties, and the city has never looked back.

I glance at a bright green front door and see a woman standing with her hands on her hips, scowling out at the street. I stop. I’ll be damned, I knew I’d seen that pretty green-eyed woman before. That’s Lexi and Al’s friend, Willow, the one I thought I had met. Well, it seems, I’ve never met her, but I have defiantly seen her.

I’ve noticed a new, attractive woman running the park’s trails in the mornings. I’ve seen her all right. I’ve passed her several times running in the morning at different spots around the park loop. She concentrates on her run and pays zero attention to her surroundings like she’s doing right now. I’m stopped, one house down, and I am staring at her, and she has no clue.

I want to tell her I was correct, and I have at least seen her before. She removes her scowl, spins around, and looks at her closed front door with her hands on her hips. She tilts her head to the side. Looking at her front door, she lunges and stretches her legs. Then she turns and takes two steps down on her front steps, spins around, puts a leg two steps up, and stretches again.

I certainly would have remembered her at The Outline if I could have seen her body in the sack of a dress she wore that day. It’s her body that has caught my attention running in the morning. She’s in excellent shape with beautiful legs and a heart-shaped ass. Her brown hair is usually up in a ponytail. It wasn’t until I met her that day at lunch did I have the time to get a real look at her face.

She’s gorgeous, and her eyes are a mesmerizing green, she has an olive skin tone with full lips and pretty white, straight teeth. She wore very little makeup to lunch, and she was dressed a bit too sweet for my taste, but Lamar was fucking thrilled. Lexi has plans to fix them up. He went from dreading and bitching about Lexi continually meddling into his love life to pleased as fucking punch after he got a look at her friend last month at The Outline.

She jogs down her steps. I smile and widen my stance when she turns to run my direction; I want her to notice me. I’m six-four, a big guy, and I’m standing in the middle of the park’s run lane. She adjusts her headphones and sets off at a quick pace to start her run. I smile, waiting for her to look up and see that I’m here.

My smile falls off my face when she doesn’t; she doesn’t even glance my way. She runs right by me, hugging the left side of the jogger lane on the pathway. She doesn’t seem to realize a large gentleman was smiling at her, one who could easily pick her up and overtake her small statue in a blink of an eye. She doesn’t pay any attention. For fuck’s sake, I’m staring at her and standing in the middle of the goddamn trail.

I turn and watch her run until she blends in with the crowds of people already out this morning. I shake my head; she’s attractive but clueless. She may have lived in some podunk little town, but she’s not living in one now. I know she’s single from Lamar’s bitching about his own love life at lunch. Someone needs to give her the heads-up that she needs to pay attention to her surroundings. She’s a pretty, attractive, single female; I made it clear, and I wasn’t hiding the fact that I was watching her. Being utterly clueless in the city is asking for trouble. Thinking of trouble, I look at my watch; it’s eight.

I decide to run home the way I came instead of finishing the loop around the park. I need to pick up my pace on the way home. Ryan better have his ass up and be ready to go to work when I get there. I try to put the kid out of my mind and concentrate on my feet, hitting the pavement.

I meet Ryan coming out of the front door when I’m walking inside after my run. “I’m glad I didn’t have to wake your ass up today. What time do you get off work?”

“Six,” he sneers at me.

I shake my head at him, “Go, so that you won’t be late. I’ll see you at six-thirty tonight.”

“Whatever.” He jogs down the front steps and walks away.

I go inside and into the kitchen to get a bottle of water before I hit the shower. The kitchen is a mess; cereal boxes and bowls are lying everywhere, and the dumb ass kid left the milk sitting out on the counter. I go to put it away.

“Goddammit,” I curse when I trip over a pair of tennis shoes lying on the kitchen floor. “Why the fuck are his shoes in here?” I kick them out of the way so I can get to the refrigerator. I grab water and down most of it. I look around the kitchen and shake my head.

Ryan may be the one thing I can’t win. I married his mother, Margaret when Ryan was only two years old. We were married for four long, dreadful, unhappy years. The only happy time I have from the part of my life is my career and Ryan.

In the beginning, Margaret told me that Ryan’s father was her ex, Chuck, and he didn’t want anything to do with the kid. Shortly after our Vegas wedding, I realized she had no idea who Ryan’s father is, and that Chuck had left her when he figured out the baby wasn’t his. I freely admit I gave up on the marriage shortly after we said our ’I do’s, but I tried my best with Ryan.

I was planning on adopting him and was looking into who Ryan’s father could be, because I didn’t want problems with the adoption. That was when I found out about Margaret fucking his flag football coach. Sam, my PI guy, started following her and found out the coach wasn’t the only one she was spreading her legs for around town. She was also fucking a married man, a father of another kid on the team.

I pick up Ryan’s shoes and carry them upstairs. Opening his bedroom door, I sigh. Every inch of floor space is covered with shit. I sniff. Christ, the room is starting to smell like ass. I slam the door. Poor Jill, I need to give her a raise. I scowl, I don’t want to think about what his bathroom looks like. Hell, I need to give Jill, my housekeeper, a bonus to ensure she doesn’t high tail it out of here.

I walk downstairs to my bedroom. I strip off my clothes, take a piss, and start my steam shower. I brush my teeth and get my straight-edge razor and my bowl for shaving cream out, then lather up my face and begin my daily routine. My overactive mind continues to race. What the fuck am I going to do with Ryan? I have no claim to him, he was six when we divorced, and Margaret quickly remarried. His new stepfather seemed like a decent man; he also had a son, Alex, who is two years younger than Ryan. Ryan seemed to adjust and loved Alex and took to Maxwell, his stepfather. I always kept in touch with Ryan, checking in with him and making sure he knew I was still here for him.

When Ryan became a teenager, Margaret divorced Maxwell and remarried a younger man. She had a child, a girl, Ava, who is now four. Ryan just turned nineteen, he’s dropped out of college and hates the world. He showed up at my door last month, saying he needed a place to live; he couldn’t go back to his bitch mother because she was crazy.

I sat him down and grilled him about everything, his life past, and present. It wasn’t a smart move on my part. I should have thought it through more, thought about him being a teenager versus a criminal witness. I lawyered him hard. I had to pry answers out of him about his past. He begrudgingly replied with short, smart-assed answers and asked me where his room was located.

After two weeks of hardly speaking and making no move to do anything other than sleep and go out, I laid down the fucking law. To live in this house, you fucking work, and not some part-time lazy-ass-job like he wanted to take at some fucking head shop selling pot paraphernalia and rock tee shirts. No, he needs to see what the real fucking world is like, so I called up an old friend and asked him to put his ass to work. I didn’t care if the little fucker cleaned shitters for eight hours a day, he needs to learn the lesson of hard work. My friend, Tom, owns the largest auto mall in the tristate area. I told him I don’t give a rat’s ass what he does there for work, as long as the kid shows up and puts in a full day.

We made it through the first week of work, but so far, this one, the second week on the job, I’ve had to wake him up every day except for this morning. I’ll do my best by him. I was surprised he chose to come to me and not Maxwell since he lived the longest with Maxwell and loved his stepbrother. He admitted that he loves Maxwell and considered him a father figure. Still, he also admitted that Alex, his stepbrother is really into shit and struggling, and Maxwell’s attention needed to be with him.

So, in other words, I am his last and only option. I helped raise the cute, sweet little boy, who believed in the tooth fairy and Santa and shit. But this kid in a man’s body is a stranger to me. I realize now he always kept his life and what was going on with him dull and on the surface with me when we would hang out, catching a game or a movie. We spent our time together, always doing or going to an activity; I half-assed checked in with him. Now, after what I’ve learned about his life, I know I didn’t do a good job.

I called and spoke with Maxwell last week and questioned him about Ryan’s time living with him. He was shocked to hear about him dropping out of IU. He said Ryan was smart, quiet, and a good young man. He said he noticed how Ryan became withdrawn and aloof about his life after he and Margaret split up. But he thought that was due to how bad things ended with Margaret. He also shared how horrible his marriage was, and how he was afraid Ryan would pay the price for it one day. Margaret is still a slut. I don’t care about the words ‘slut-shaming’ or whatever the fuck people can get on their high horse about, but she is a fucking slut, a cheater, and a lousy mother. I promised Maxwell I’d keep in touch about Ryan. He offered to help any way he could. He loves the kid despite the fucked-up situation his mother left his family in, which was hurt, cheated on, pissed, and bankrupt.

I’ll do whatever I can for the kid, but he came to the wrong man if he wants to be coddled and babied. If he works and learns to pick up after himself, we will get along fine. Fall should be in the air, but since it’s Ohio, it could arrive tomorrow or not at all. I’ll keep on his ass through next month, October. I’ll start laying out the reasons and the pros to him of returning to college after the first of the following year. Hell, he can stay here and live with me if he needs or wants to and go to State University here in the city. He can transfer from IU. I’ll pay for him to attend anywhere as long as he sticks with it and finish college. He did well academically during his freshman year at IU. I don’t necessarily think college is for everyone, but I lived with Ryan and came to know and love him before anything had happened to him. He was an adorable little boy. Our connection was effortless and easy. He was a curious, witty, intelligent little shit by the time he turned three. I saw all of the opportunities in him and who his true self is before the bullshit of fucking life got ahold of him.

I rinse off my razor; my bathroom is steamy and warm. I step inside the shower, sit on the bench, and rest my head back on the marble tile. The Methodist Hospital case is close, settlements have already begun, and there will be no appeal. It’s been nice only going into the office five days a week. I have one small case currently open, and then I am done. I’m not accepting any new clients or cases.

I shocked my partners, my staff, and the junior associates who have worked their young asses off for me the last five years. My team of twelve is worth every penny I pay them. They will have their choice of where to work after I make my announcement after the first of next year. I’m not concerned about them. They have proven themselves, and they will all be successful with whatever avenue they go down. They are already known to everyone because they’ve been on my team, a winning team.

I stand, reach up, and stretch. I turn and rest my hands on the marble tile, letting the water pound onto my back. I inhale the steam and blow out a breath, “Let’s get this fucking day started.”

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