Integral Instruments - With prelude to Justified Voices (Book 7)

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Saturday morning...

One thing I loved about working from home in the evenings was that I was off every day and able to be with my girls all summer. It helped me become closer to them in so many ways.

The entire week went by and Ryan and I were still texting every night. It always started with random texts from him about ridiculous things, like music, painting, hiking and then led to deeper conversations.

He was actually pretty funny and intelligent. He wasn’t snobbish at all, like I had first thought.

I had gotten my car back yesterday and was ecstatic. She looked as good as new and ready to go for a drive.

This particular morning, Piper was flitting around the house all giggles and annoying her little sister, who was screeching. All the while, Arlee was still in bed. Sleeping the day away, like every other teen in the world.

I had woken up ahead of Elle, which was rare, but made for a better day. I was able to get my coffee in before the 5,000 questions and comentary of exactly what she was doing began. I really didn’t need to know that she was going potty or wiping herself before I pulled myself out of bed.

“Mom, can we go to the park today?” Piper asked.

“How about a hike?” I smiled down at her.

“I don’t want to go for a hike!” Elle argued, “Hiking is boring!”

“Hiking is fun.” I sighed, putting together sandwiches with everyone’s names on the bags. One liked light peanut butter on her PB&J, while another liked it normal and then Piper needed a different bread, with different ingredients entirely.

“You just have to know what to look for.” I had already planned our next hike. We were going to one of our favorite places today.

“Like what?”

“Like certain leaves, different birds and squirrels...”

“Squirrels all look the same.” She smacked her forehead and groaned in exhaustion.

“Yes, but you can count how many you see.” Counting was her thing. She liked everything on point and exact, and apparently numbers did that for her. The dramatization though, that was all her father.

“Plus,” I tried to hide my smile at my news, “You'll have to look for sea monsters and special shells.”

“Really?! We’re going on THAT hike?!” She screeched and ran up the stairs, "I have to get my bathing suit!"

Oh how her screeching killed my brain. It just echoed through my head.

“Yes, and get dressed!” I smiled calling after her, “It’ll be fun!”

Once Arlee was awake, we drove to our spot and parked in the gravel lot. There were a few other cars, but no one knew this place like us. We’d be alone on our trail.”

“Hey, Mom?” Arlee smiled mischeviously at me as I helped Rosie put her backpack on.

“Yes, babes?”

“Uhm...” She looked away nervously, “Nevermind.”

I didn’t have time to question her before a very shirtless, very tatted man came out of the woods and made eye contact with me.

He appeared to be winded as he smiled at me, attempting to catch his breath. Had he jogged one of the trails? He did appear very fit... Slim and fit... And sexy...

I mentally smacked myself for that thought. I think I needed to dust off my vibrator and use it again... I never thought like that...

“You have got to be shitting me.” I gaped as he made his way over.

“Fancy meeting you here.” He placed his hands on his hips and grinned as he made it to our car.

“Yeah...” I narrowed my eyes at him, grabbing my pack from the trunk. Arlee was hiding on the other side of the car and smiled at me. The look she gave me was hopeful and I gave her one of warning as I spoke to him.

“What are you doing here? Insurance company told you about this place too?” I asked dryly.

“Actually,” He scratched the back of his head, “I uhm, checked out that blog again, saw some pics from this place and wanted to check it out, but it was Arlee who may have hinted last night, that you'd be here today.”

I turned to my daughter in confusion, "My Arlee?”

“You stalked my mom," I heard Arlee gasp, "I just responded when you asked where it was. I didn't know it was you."

“It isn’t stalking. It’s public information.” His eyes went wide and his hands went up in surrender, “I swear, no stalking involved. I liked the pictures and wanted to see it.”

“Sounds like something a stalker would say.” Arlee teased as she tried to usher her sisters to the trail head, "He was reading the blog and commented, I commented back. I didn't know he was a creeper."

“Sorry, sarcasm runs thick in my house.” I sighed, looking at Arlee and shaking my head.

“Do you want to come to beach with us, Sir?” Piper turned to ask, “We have sandwiches and we can play in the rocks.”

“Yeah. Last time, Mom found a lobster and it was huge!” Elle’s eyes went wide with her over exuberance.

I snickered, but let the girls down easy, “Girls, I’m sure he has other things to do, than listen to you ladies bicker all day. Plus, it looks like he’s already done the loop.”

“I did. I jogged the seven mile trip," He smiled at the girls, but it was all genuine, not like you'd expect. "The views are amazing. I wouldn’t mind exploring with you guys though. Just let me just grab my shirt from the car.”

As he turned and ran to the sports car I glared at my girls, “Be good today, okay? No comments from my little peanut gallery. Got it?”

Arlee just smiled, Piper looked confused, but Elle argued, “We don’t have any peanuts!”

“It’s a saying, Elle.” Arlee let out some air.

"And you," I glared at my teen who was in utter shock under my stare, "You invited him?!"

"No, I told him which park and the trail to take, and hinted that we normally come here a couple days before school starts.

“But I don’t work for a peanut gallery." Elle went on as though Arlee and I weren't talking, "I’m too young to work!”

I tried to hide my laugh as Arlee scoffed at Elle.

“She’s got a point.” I shrugged when Arlee gave me a dirty look.

Once he returned we were on our way down the trail.

We were about a mile in when the girls stopped for a snack and juice boxes. They were all seated around some rocks while I moved slightly down the path, Ryan followed.

“I like to try to give them some space. It’s cute when they’re getting along.” I smiled back at them, “It gives me hope that they’ll stick together when they’re older.”

And I’m gone... I didn’t add.

“Why does your middle one have a pack too, if you're carrying the snacks?” He asked, "She got some spy gear in there or something?"

"No, that was Arlee when she was that age." I gave a small laugh before telling him the truth, "Piper's pack is for security."

"What kind of security?" His brow furrowed as he looked around, almost like he was ready to protect someone.

"Every time she's asked about it, she says she keeps it incase of an emergency." I shrugged and examined him as I told him about Piper's condition, “Piper is different, which you'll see if you spend time with us. She has anxiety, some sensory and some allergies that may have aided in the anxiety, but she’s still young, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why she does what she does, when she can’t express it herself.”

“Does it make it hard on you?” His question seemed genuine and it shocked me. He didn't seem like the type to care about any of this stuff with kids, and medical conditions, but he appeared to.

“Not really,” I shook my head, “She just needs to be guided in busy places, like the grocery store, the park, and school, but when she's in nature, she's more relaxed. Her mind she has space to explore with only us, she’s different. She’s such a caring kid that it makes the stress seem... Not so stressful? Does that make sense?”

“It does. You love her, so you’d do anything for her.” His eyes met mine and I could see that he was seriously understanding me.

“Sometimes I just wish I could take it all away and give her a normal childhood.” I told him earnestly. I had never told anyone this before, why was I telling a man I barely knew? Tears flooded my eyes and threatened to spill over, but I reigned them in. “She deserves to live without all the fear and everything else she goes through.”

“Hey. I get it. I totally do.” He smiled softly, “I have an older brother with some special needs. Not too many people know that, but he’s a cool guy and I love him to death. I'd even go to war for his ass.”

That got my attention and I looked into his eyes. It wasn’t a line, I could tell that he was being earnest, but before I could say anything Elle shouted.

“Mom, we’re ready!” She jumped up walking past me and tossing her trash at me.

I sighed, “Elle, we have to wait for Piper and Arlee.”

“Ugh!” She colapsed, “I dont want to wait!”

“Well, you have to.” I stuck my tongue out at her and she rolled her eyes.

“That one’s got a personality.” He chuckled, “She’s very blunt.”

“I know, unfortunately she gets the bluntness from me,” I shook my head in disbelief, “But she doesn’t quite have a mental filter yet.”

“Mom, turn please.” Arlee walked up with Piper in toe and garbage in hand. I turned and they packed the garbage in my pack before we were on our way again.

“You guys hike a lot, right?” He asked curiously when the girls moved ahead.

“We do. The open air seems to be good for the girls. It gets out some of Elle’s energy, Piper sits outside and reads or she writes stories about our adventures and what we find. It also gives Arlee a chance to do something that’s not serious for change. I don’t think that girl was ever actually a child.”

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