“Jared, I need you.” The voice is familiar yet far away. I look around but see nothing.
Suddenly out of nowhere, I’m pummeled with something soft. Confused, I turn, yet no one is there. I feel the back of my neck for blood or part of my brain exposed, but I seem to be okay.
Jumping up, I sleepily look around, disoriented by the light bouncing off the beige walls instead of the gray in my apartment.
“It’s about time, sleepyhead.”
I notice three pairs of my socks rolled into each other, lying on the bed. Picking up a bundle, I look with annoyance to my dad standing in the doorway. “Did you throw these at me?”
He shamelessly nods. “I did. I had a hard time waking you up.”
“What time is it?” I crane my neck to look at my alarm clock, only to find it isn’t there. My phone is miles away on my dresser.
“It’s 9:40. Get up. I need you.”
Fuck, I have a headache. Ignoring him, I lie back down. This is my vacation. There’s no way I’m getting up this early, especially after a shitty night.
After leaving Rio, I managed to sneak into the house without running into Dad. He didn’t even notice my frequent trips to the refrigerator for more beer, taking two cans at a time, and each trip louder than the one before.
Rio and I always have been close to an extent. I tell him things I don’t tell Dash because Dash is too… cheerful. And he brings up the astrology garbage. I just don’t understand how a female can change Rio. He’s dated before, and he’s always stayed the same Rio. Not this time. This bitch blindsided him with her bullshit. He says I’m the one who’s changed, but I’m the same Jared Beckett, maybe a little older and wiser, or just perhaps a little wearier and more jaded.
“Come on, Jared. I see you had a rough night.” I assume he notices the beer cans on the floor and on the nightstand. “You better not have driven drunk.”
When I don’t respond, another soft wallop smacks my face.
I pull the blanket tighter over my head. “No!”
He sighs, seemingly satisfied that I’m telling the truth, which I actually am this time. “I need you to get up and dressed.”
I testily growl into the mattress, “What the hell for?”
“Watch it,” he scolds me like a child. Fuck me. I’d get more sleep on a park bench downtown.
I’m quiet, hoping he gave up on me and left, but hearing him sigh again, I groan into my pillow. “Dad, can’t I sleep in? Whatever it is can wait.”
“No. I want your expertise.” What the fuck?
“What expertise would that be? I have so much.” I laugh into my pillow, but it makes my head pound more.
“You’re good with a hammer. Now, get up.”
My eyes pop open. What shit is he getting me into? I wanted to relax before I start my new job. I knew he wouldn’t let me off that easily, but my first day here? Jesus.
He declares, “My assistant’s house burned down.”
I shift enough that I can see him without sitting up. “Uh, okay. Sorry to hear that, but wouldn’t it be better to call the fire department?” He laughs. Kind of odd, but whatever.
“You’re a structural engineer.” News to me.
“I’m glad you noticed.” I roll back over, burying my head in the blanket and saying a muffled, “Again. So? Not much I can do for a burning house.”
“It’s being rebuilt.”
Since it seems like he’s not going to leave without a compelling argument, I whisper a fuck before I grudgingly sit up and rub my eyes with the heels of my hands. “Dad, I work with skyscrapers and bridges, not houses.” They’re small potatoes. I’m in the big leagues.
With his hands on his hips, he nods while critically surveying my room again. “I know that. Overqualified is good. You can help with the build.”
Jackpot. The reason for my convenient existence here.
I sigh. “That’s what contractors are for. Doesn’t she have one?”
“Yes. Her eldest son owns a construction company, and he’s rebuilding the house. Brenda is also a friend. I’ve been helping after work and during the past couple of weekends. It’s turned into a grassroots project of sorts.”
I sleepily nod, but not really interested in the most likely long and definitely dull story.
He must read my mind because he shakes his head with a sad laugh, disappointment rearing its ugly, yet familiar head. “Jared, a handful of kindness goes a long way.”
Scratching my head, I drop my hand to the bed. “It’s a Saturday!”
“They’re working every day since it’s his mother’s house.” For the love of Christ.
“So, you only need me for today?” I cautiously ask, praying I’m not signing my entire vacation away.
He puts his hand on the doorknob, hesitant. “Well, no. My vacation also starts today, so I’ll be over there every day for two weeks.” My mouth blatantly falls open in horror, and he takes that opportunity to kick me while I’m down. “And so will you.”
I pound the bed with my fist. “What?”
“Get the lead out. Doing charity work will make you feel better. It’ll also help speed things along.”
“I’m sure the builders are doing just fine without me.”
Dad drops his hand and firmly orders, “Jared Adam. Get up. Now.” Fuck. I hate when he does that shit.
He leaves the room but warns from the hallway, “I’ll be back with a ketchup-filled water gun if you’re not downstairs in ten minutes!”
For fuck’s sake.
“And make your bed and clean up the cans!”
Sighing and cussing myself out for not getting a hotel room in the first place, I rub my hands over my face and drag myself out of bed to get dressed.
Fuck making my bed.
Damn it to hell.
Walking into the kitchen that my grandmother decorated with fucking roosters when I was five, I round the table too fast and nearly lose the load of cans in my arms. As I stabilize the cans, I see Dad looking out the window over the sink, drinking coffee from the Rad Dad mug I gave him in fifth grade. I then notice a squirt gun on the counter. I glance up at his profile. “Are you serious?”
Before taking a sip, he asserts to the window, “As a stroke.”
I shake my head. “You have some serious issues, dude.”
“It was effective, wasn’t it?” I scowl at the back of his head as I go to the utility room to dump the cans into the recycling bin. After dropping several on the floor and cussing them out, I return to the kitchen and head to the refrigerator. Already, this day can go to hell.
Opening the door, I see what’s left of my beer after last night’s chugfest for one. I’m tempted to grab a can but not with my dad as my damn guardian. I resentfully decide on orange juice, but before closing the door, I check for a chilled bottle of vodka to add to it. Sadly, yet as expected, there isn’t any, so I make a mental note to get some.
I drag my feet over to the counter, almost dropping the jug on the floor in my attempt at setting it down. In my peripheral, I see my dad turning to watch me. Hopefully, deciding I should stay home instead of playing Lincoln Logs with his lapdog assistant.
I grab a glass from the cabinet and groggily pour my juice as Dad rinses out his mug. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
“What?” I look up from my glass, then down at my clothes, and back up to his peculiar expression. I’m wearing carpenter jean shorts, a gray tank top, an old flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off, a baseball cap, and old work boots. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s usually what I wear fishing.
I raise a questioning eyebrow. “Is there a dress code?”
He chuckles and slaps my back, which is exceedingly jarring for this morning. “Nope. Just asking.”
“Well, that’s a relief. I wouldn’t want to offend the fashion police.” I go to the cabinet where he keeps his Tylenol and grumble in frustration when I can’t open the childproof cap. After spewing more curse words, Dad takes the bottle from me and easily pops it open. I frown at his superior smile and shake two pills out of it.
“Why don’t you ask Dashiell to tag along? He’s on summer break.”
That would be excellent payback for last night’s antics.
I set my glass down, nodding. “Yeah. That’s a good idea,” I say with an eager laugh that’s worth the painful surge in my head as I yank my phone from my pocket.
Fucking Dash doesn’t answer, so I text him with the address my dad gives me, threatening bodily and psychological harm if he blows me off. He was all about including my dad and treating him all nice and shit. If I have to suffer, then so does Calder.
Dad parks his truck in front of the house. It has a roof, so there’s that going for it.
I check my phone, but no Dash. Dickwad. I’ll drag him out of bed myself if he doesn’t answer me by noon.
A sudden, sharp knock on my window makes me jump ten fucking feet in the air. “Jared, get a move on!” Fuck my life. And his.
I let out a put-upon sigh and yank on the bill of my cap, lowering it, so maybe I won’t be as noticeable.
As soon as I shut the truck door, Dad puts his arm around me and enthusiastically squeezes me to him, jostling my aching body and bad mood. “This’ll be fun. Put on a happy face.”
“Yeah.” When he lets go of me, I give him a sour look. “Did you drink the last of the booze this morning?”
He laughs, smacking me on the back, most likely on purpose, flaring my headache. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
I scoff, “I was here last night and this morning.”
“Not with me, though. You went straight to your room.” Fuck. Does he want me to punch a time clock? “Now, we have some father-son bonding time.”
Son of a fucking bitch.
“Adam! Good morning!” A perfectly styled, longish-haired brunette and her big tits wave to us from next to a table with a drink cooler and white boxes. She cheerfully sashays over to us, way too enthusiastically for a Saturday morning. I desperately want to kick my father’s ass for forcing me to be here.
“Brenda, good morning to you.” Dad grips my shoulder. “This is my son, Jared. Jared, this is Brenda Stratton, the best damn assistant ever.”
She smiles, clasping her hands underneath her chin. Her teeth are blindingly white. “The Jared Beckett?” Huh? My forehead crunches, and I’m confident I look confused as hell. “It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you! Your dad brags about you and your sister Hadley every day.”
He needs a damn hobby.
She offers her hand to me, and I give my dad an undecided look before taking her hand, saying, “That’s surprising.”
“I’ve been his assistant for three years now, but I feel like I’ve known you forever without even meeting you.”
Letting go of her hand, I smile but would rather roll my eyes. I have nothing to add to that. I didn’t even know my dad had an assistant, let alone one who looks like she displayed prizes on The Price Is Right.
He says, “Hadley will be here next weekend. I’ll bring her by.” Of course, she will be. What a fucking coincidence.
“You’re as handsome as your dad.” Brenda’s gaze slides up and down me, and I involuntarily narrow my eyes. What’s her deal? Suddenly uneasy, I cross my arms. “I have a daughter about your age. She’s around here somewhere.” She swivels her head left to right, craning her neck. Christ. This isn’t what this is fucking about, is it—my dad setting me up like I’m the main attraction on The Bachelor? He’ll be sadly disappointed when I don’t play his game because he owes his assistant a favor.
My dad squeezes my shoulder. To Brenda, it looks like an affectionate gesture, but I know he’s warning me to play nice. Fuck that. I’m no rented stallion.
Cutting the small talk, I impatiently ask, “What is it you need me to do?”
“Oh! So eager!” She laughs and looks behind her, waving to someone else, before turning back to Dad and me. “My son Tony is over there. He can tell you what he needs help with.”
“Come on. I’ll introduce you,” Dad says, grabbing my upper arm, leading me past a white van with Gephardt Construction in bright blue lettering. He walks me over to a stern-looking, blond, bearded guy, maybe in his late thirties, wearing a camo shirt, khaki cargo shorts, and a worn, red cap. Dad makes an introduction on my behalf, and Tony’s facial expression remains unmoved, but he instantly puts down the large box of screws he’s holding, offers me a greeting and his hand, giving me a firm handshake accompanied by a terse nod with steadfast eye contact.
After a couple more awkward introductions, along with fantastic restraint from grabbing a nail gun and putting it to my head, I’m given the job of helping Tony install windows. Just what I had dreamed of doing this very morning.
While my dad is off helping Ed with windows upstairs, Tony and I work downstairs. I flip my cap backward and focus on Tony’s brief instructions. As Tony and I work, I find him to be a man of great contradictions but few words, frequently communicating with hand gestures, grunts, and nods. We fall into a mostly silent yet comfortable working partnership and actually move smoothly from window to window without driveling small talk making our task fucking unbearable.
Caught up in our progress, when Brenda interrupts us from behind, I flinch. “Jared, I wanted to introduce you to my daughter.” I suck in a deep breath and inwardly roll my eyes as Tony puts in the last mounting screw before giving me a nod, clearing me to let go of the jamb.
Initially, when I turn around, I’m met with sunglasses and purple-streaked, chocolate brown hair. I’m fully aware that my mouth has just fallen open as I look at her and then to Brenda.
What the hell? How old did Brenda say this girl was?
Moving past the hair shock, I notice her banging body. I can’t help but give her a slow once-over. Her tight, red tank top hugs her tits and waist nicely, and her cut-off jean shorts complement the curve of her hips. God, I hope Brenda didn’t lie to me, and her daughter’s a minor.
When she lifts her dark sunglasses into her purpled hair, I’m met with big, profoundly blue eyes, and I freeze. There’s something peculiar, yet familiar, about them. The blue is almost fake looking, being too blue. Aside from that detail, with the black eyeliner and mascara, they’re the kind of eyes that scatter your thoughts, ceases your breathing, and compels you to forget time completely. Though they’re not the same color that had drawn me in years ago, they’re still rare to encounter. I thought I’d only see that kind once in a lifetime.
An illuminating grin methodically brightens her face and sweeps her glistening, berry-pink lips, which in turn, involuntarily induces me to smile back.
Quite a feat.
“Jared, this is my daughter, Kat.” Fuck. Of course, it has to be that fucking name. “Kat, this is Adam’s son, Jared.”
Lost in the look she’s giving me, I’m suddenly Rio Duquesne—not knowing how to act or of the right thing to say. Good thing Dash isn’t here. He would’ve already fucking talked her ear off before I spoke a word.
Risking a brief glance at Tony and Brenda, I’m unnerved how they’re watching us with mixed curiosity and amusement.
Kat doesn’t say anything, leaving a heavy, expectant pause hanging between us. I need to take charge of my damn faculties before she thinks I’ve adopted a vow of silence.
Since her mother and brother are standing inches from us, and without taking my eyes off her face, I put out my hand. “Jared.”
She quickly puts her hand in mine. Her touch is warm, and I strangely feel a connection to her as she slowly returns my handshake, nodding, again, looking as if she’s waiting for me to say something more.
I rush out, “Nice to meet you.” It’s the only thing I can think of to say on the spot without sounding like a complete nimrod.
Unexpectedly, her smile’s intensity dims as her eyes widen. Another moment of silence commences, only this one is prickly for some reason. I’ve been friendlier to her than I usually am. I don’t know what her problem is.
Kat stares at me, wide-eyed, but I can’t even look away. Astonishingly, I’m trapped in her eyes with the weirdest, goddamned feeling. Discomfited melancholy. I’m not even sure if I’m breathing or if my fucking heart has started beating again.
Suddenly, she seems to come to, rapidly blinking her eyes and reassembling her gaping mouth. In a trance, I watch, not because I want to, but because I have to. It’s a fucking obligation to some unknown energy, and I’m unwillingly bound to it.
I’m unsure of what’s she’s going to say. However, she promptly answers all my unanswered questions when she swiftly replaces her sunglasses over her eyes, closing off any further discussion before mumbling, “I have to go,” and nearly knocks over her mother on her way out of here.
What the fuck just happened?
“That was weird,” Brenda states, turning in the direction Kat flew.
Tony shrugs. “Pretty normal for her.” He returns to securing the window while I’m left dumbfounded by a girl, especially one I just met and confused about why I’m giving her a second thought at all in the first place.
Frowning, Brenda explains, “She’s been busy. I’m sure you two will talk again. She’s always here helping since school’s out.”
“School?” Holy shit. I thought Brenda said her daughter was my age. Maybe it was another daughter she’s referring to, and here I was checking out this one, who could possibly be a fucking kid. I’m bad with guesstimating people’s ages, but how young is she? Purple hair. College?
Fuck. High school?
Putting my hands on my hips, I stare off into space, and Brenda fills in the blanks. “She’s a teacher. Third grade.” Thank Christ.
Blinking out of my stupor in time to see my dad trotting down the stairs, I blandly nod. “Slacking again?” he asks, smugly grinning and raising an eyebrow. I irritably roll my eyes. I don’t get the point of his constant harping on me.
Pivoting away to slyly look out the window for any signs of her, I edgily retort, “Hardly.”
Brenda says, “He just met Kat.”
“Oh. Scare her off already?” Fucking hell, Dad. “You ready for lunch?”
Reluctantly—as if I’m being dragged by my hair to my own hanging—I follow him outside. He tries to chat me up, but I’m severely distracted, and Dad eventually gives up on trying to engage me in deep conversation.
That name… She’s so… Those eyes…
I can’t fucking go there.
I spend the rest of the day looking out each window we hang for any sign of Kat, but it’s as if she disappeared into thin air. I avoid asking Tony anything about his sister because I don’t want to seem overly interested in her. I’m not. Tony would probably tell his mom I asked, and she’d run to Kat about my inquiries. I don’t need Brenda to get the wrong idea. I just wonder what the hell is up with her daughter.
Late afternoon, I finally get a reply from Dash. Sorry. Helping my mom with the shop. Maybe next week?
Still nothing from Duquesne.
By the end of the day, Tony and I finished the downstairs windows and even picked up Dad and Ed’s slack upstairs. Tony warned me that we’ll be working on siding tomorrow if I want to ditch. I promised I’d be back.
Because purple streaks and striking lips have rudely invaded my every thought.
In the morning, my dad didn’t have to wake me. I barely slept and was up at the first light seeping through the blinds.
Yes. I even made my goddamn bed.
When we get to the site, I jump out of my dad’s truck before he turns off the engine. I’m so fucking edgy. Everything is grating me this morning, especially him. His numerous attempts at joking with me have fallen flat, more so than usual, even for his track record.
Stealthily, I look for her. I have no reason to. We didn’t exactly hit it off yesterday, and if we had, it’s still not my style to hunt down a female. But my curiosity needs to be squelched. I just have no reasonable explanation of why.
I obligingly wave to Brenda. Hopefully, it’s a good sign that she’s here because then she will be here.
Seriously. What the fuck is my problem? I don’t even know this girl, but I’m so hell-bent on finding out why after meeting me, she took off like she’s the getaway driver in a bank robbery.
Walking through the construction’s main entry, it’s not long before I find her gazing out a front window. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence, but I know she saw me coming up the walkway.
I’m annoyed by that, yet oddly eager.
“Uh, hey.” Suave, Jared. I clear my throat, feeling fucking maladroit and ridiculous.
“Hey.” She still doesn’t turn around, making any kind of conversation a thousand degrees of awkward, at best.
Crossing my arms, I take a deep breath. “So, your mom is my dad’s assistant?” Thick silence follows, enveloping even the wall-less room. Shit. Small talk is not my thing.
She finally says, “That’s the rumor.” Neither is hers, apparently.
Shifting, I unfold my arms and hang onto the frame of the living room entryway with a hand. I casually try, “Your mom said you’re a teacher?”
“Yep.” Seemingly bored, she doesn’t look away from the window even to tell me to fuck off.
“My best friend is a gym teacher.” I cringe at how classy that was not, and like all teachers belong to a secret society and know each other. I sound like a dumbfuck.
“Oh.” More boredom.
What am I even doing? I practically hear the whistling thud Wile E. Coyote makes when he falls off a cliff.
I wait for her to elaborate, but she doesn’t, which unnerves me even more. I want to walk over and shake her until she at least protests. Anything, except to ignore me.
Her loud sighing brings my attention back to her. Kat shakes her head before reaching up to pull down her sunglasses, muttering to the window, “I have to help my mom.” She doesn’t even give me a courteous glance before leaving.
What the fuck is her problem? I’m actually making an effort here, but her fuck-you attitude is beyond bizarre. I haven’t done a damn thing to her. I don’t even talk to females much, yet this one blew me off before I had the opportunity to drop her first.
My aching knuckles make themselves known, and I release my grip from the frame, pissed off that I’m wasting my time on this girl who means zilch to me. Shaking my head, I leave in a huff to find Tony. However, instead of working with him today, I’m helping Lange with siding. It’s a light blue, which is probably better than having boring white in my face the whole damn day.
I continue to watch for Kat, still irked from our non-convo earlier but even angrier with myself because I’m still checking for her whereabouts. With her again on my mind, I’m pretty useless. Lange often has to repeat something or ask if I’m okay.
When Lange announces it’s time for us to take a break, I grab some water, a stale donut, and disappear to the back of the house, taking a seat on one of the back patio’s steps. The backyard is approximately half an acre of nothing. My dad’s yard, which is about the same size, is nothing but trees. My sister and I used to play hide-and-seek in and amongst them. One time I lost my grip, as well as my balance and fell, breaking my arm. Good times.
I knew my dad would plan a family reunion while I’m staying with him. He’ll take any opportunity to shove my sister in my face, making his comparisons and telling me what I’m doing wrong with my life. It doesn’t matter that she had no fucking clue what she was doing with hers until three years ago when she got her current job and moved away.
As I lift my blue Solo cup to take a sip of water, a soft blur catches my eye, and I automatically pull the cup away from my mouth. Looking the other way, Kat sits down on the brick patio’s wall, making sure not to give me the impression she wants me to talk to her, which only provokes me more.
Determined to figure out what her deal is with me, I stand and go over to where she’s sitting. “This seat taken?” I try joking with her. Unfortunately, I’m too tense, and I end up sounding stilted and as cheesy as my father.
Looking up, I notice how her purple streaks glow in the daylight while her sunglasses hide her eyes, but they can’t hide her pursed lips. Bowing her head to the ground, she shrugs and blandly mutters, “I guess not.”
“Calm down. I said I’d sit with you.” I smirk at my teasing, but she doesn’t respond, so I stupidly continue. “So, you from Annapolis?” Fuck. Why do I care?
“Yep.” Oh, we’re back to this answer.
“I am, too.” I prop my foot on a huge rock next to the wall. “What’s your last name?”
She actually glances at me before dipping her head down again. “Brandcroft.”
She nods at the ground. “I know.”
“Oh. Right. My dad.” I roll my eyes at my own ineptness. We sit in wooden quiet until I idiotically ask, “Is there something wrong?”
Grasping the edge of the wall, she leans forward like she might jump down and take off again. “Why would there be?”
“Because you barely talk.”
“Maybe it’s you.” Me?
“Me? What did I do to you? We just met! I don’t usually get that accusation until after a date.”
Kat dourly laughs. “Yeah.” She looks at me, the light brightly reflecting off her sunglasses, and shakes her head. “We just met,” she repeats with a not-so-subtle bite to it.
Perplexed, I scowl. “I don’t get you.”
“You absolutely don’t,” she says, forlornly this time. Twisting away, she swings her leg over the wall and leaves me, gaping after her.
I spontaneously jump up and follow her. “What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. I can’t do this with you.”
“Do what?” She ignores me, walking faster, which makes me walk faster.
“Jared, you ready?” I abruptly stop and give my dad a sharp look, but when I look back to Kat, she’s gone.
“What going on?” he asks, observing the blazing trail she just made.
“I have no idea.”
“Well, let’s go. We can order a pizza if you want.”
I mindlessly answer, “Sounds good.” And so does getting drunk off my ass.
Monday morning, I’m on a mission. I don’t take kindly to being treated like shit by a girl, especially one I’ve been nothing but cordial to.
The night before, my dad tried to get me to have dinner with him, but I was in no mood, so I told him I had a headache and wanted to sleep. Though, I didn’t do as much sleeping as I did staring at the ceiling.
When we pull up, I notice Tony’s van. He’s always the first one here. I don’t know what kind of car Kat drives. She’d better be here. We need to finish our conversation.
I can’t do this with you.
Before I find myself asking Brenda where her daughter is, I find Lange, and we continue working on the siding.
By late morning, I’m immersed in siding and Lange’s stories about his kids. Normally, that would bore me out of my skull, but his kids are idiots and should probably live in a cage.
“The night of his college graduation, he came home wearing a Frisbee around his neck, his hair spray-painted neon green, and his fingernails painted bright pink. You don’t even want to know about the Barbie tattoo we saw on him two days later.”
“Shit.” I laugh, shaking my head at his grimaced face.
“He and his best friend picked out each other’s designs and kept it a surprise. Well, surprise.” He leans his head back, looking up at the side of the house as he places his end of the siding section. “Don’t even ask why he painted his hair green because trust me, it’s best you don’t.” I again find myself laughing.
“Do you know how hard that shit is to get out of hair? Sherry and I refused to be seen with him. We told him to shave his head or no graduation money. He went right out and had it shaved, right down to a shiny dome. We told him he looked worse than he did with green hair, so he had to wait three months for it to grow back. I thought he was going to cry. We gave him the check after we stopped laughing.”
“That’s a new level of evil.”
“Lange. Jared. Coffee?”
I nearly drop my end of the siding as I look over my shoulder. Kat stands at the bottom of our scaffold, holding up a tray of Styrofoam cups. With a smile. My expression positively has to give away my confusion.
As soon as we make our way down to the ground, Lange thanks her as she hands him his cup, but I’m still undecided. She pushes the tray at me and smiles again. When I take the cup, she smiles even wider. “Sorry, it’s not very hot. I had some errands to run. Do you need cream or sugar?”
We both answer no.
Still, with a smile, Kat says, “Have a great day.” She turns to leave, glancing back once before disappearing around the corner.
“I think she likes you,” Lange announces with a snort.
“I doubt that.”
“Better watch. The boss’s sister.” He laughs again, elbowing my arm.
“I’m pretty sure she hates me.”
“What’d you do to her?”
“I have no fucking idea.” Striving to sound as casual as possible, I use my shirt to wipe my face as I ask, “Do you know much about her?”
He scratches his graying beard and shrugs. “No. She’s pretty quiet. I’m not around her much, though.”
Considering what he said, I take a large sip of my coffee, and the taste that invades my mouth is horridly bitter. As if my head is launched from a slingshot, I turn, spraying the coffee into the air.
Lange humorously asks, “Not Earl Grey, my lord?”
My fist goes to my mouth as I splutter a cough. “Fuck! That is shit!”
“Maybe you got the bottom of the pot?”
“The bottom of a moldy coffeepot would be an improvement!” I lift the cup and study the side of it, not sure why, but maybe it holds some sort of clue.
“Then, you haven’t tasted a shattered heart and broken dreams,” he says with a laugh.
I spit on the grass and then frown at him. Hesitant, I take a whiff into the cup but can’t smell anything. Turning to Lange, I ask, “Has she ever brought you coffee before?”
“Nope.” With a shit-eating grin, he takes a drink of his ostensibly great-tasting coffee.
“Figures.” I roll my eyes and then hone in on the surrounding area, but there’s no sign of her, as there shouldn’t be. The coward.
I irritably throw my coffee into the dumpster and get back to work, but not before I scrounge for gum from Lange, who, unfortunately, only has the spongy shit, which has melted into purple globs from sitting in his hot truck. I have no choice but to take one just to get rid of the disgusting aftertaste due to the coffee from hell. The gum tastes like grape Kool-Aid, and I make a face. Lange laughs, and I reward him with a bubble snap into his face, and for the rest of the day, he can’t stop laughing at me.
Seeking out Kat is a tremendous waste of time. She’s either hiding or left altogether. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give a troublemaker like her a second thought.
Then why am I giving her a third?