The man underneath me wasn’t putting up much of a fight. At the lack of a struggle—and a look into his panicked and confused blue eyes—I let up. Slightly.
I growled as I saw E jump out of the car and run toward us. “Stay where you are!”
Her face had turned bright red. “That’s Lynette’s father! His name is Gale, and he owns the music store!”
Joe and Big appeared beside me, but luckily they were smart enough not to try to hold me back.
“She’s telling the truth; let him up,” Joe said quietly.
The man beneath me was nodding furiously, and after a few seconds I got to my feet.
E was nearly hysterical as she ran to his side to help him up. “You can’t just attack people like that!”
My temper rose. Didn’t she get it? I pointed in the man’s face, giving him my full attention. “You can’t just run up on her like that; do you hear me? I’m trained to act first and ask questions later.”
“I understand,” the man replied, wheezing. I pegged him at midfifties. A faded Stones T-shirt and white jeans covered a thin frame. He set a hand on E’s shoulder. “It’s all right, my dear. He’s right.”
“I’m not the president of the United States,” E fired at me. “Heck, I’m not even Beyoncé. You could have really hurt him!”
“I’m just doing my job, E. I’m getting really tired of having to explain myself to you,” I snapped. I couldn’t help but be surprised at the tone of my voice. I quickly reined in my emotions and chastised myself for getting so worked up. It wasn’t like me.
She sighed and didn’t spare me another glance as she said, “I’m getting tired of you, in general.”
Looping arms with the man, she started walking him toward the back door of the music store. Joe and Big followed her wordlessly while I stayed behind.
I didn’t speak to E for the rest of the night. The ride home was silent, and once we arrived back at the house, she holed up in her room. I could hear the gentle pluck of guitar strings, but otherwise no word. It was better that way. If she couldn’t get into her brain the seriousness of her own situation, I was done trying to convince her. She would do what I said, and I didn’t care how she felt.
God, these four months couldn’t be over soon enough.
The next day dawned hot and humid. The fickle nature of New England weather was nothing new to me, but it did nothing to better my mood. I was still steaming over the events of the previous day when I made my morning rounds around the property. Rob met me out back, a clipboard in his hand.
“X, good to see you,” he said briskly, typing on his cell phone. “I heard the signing was a great success.”
I didn’t reply until he looked up and made eye contact. “It was.” Which was true. No one got hurt.
“Everything is coming along nicely here,” he said, looking around. “I can’t believe you got all this done so quickly.”
I nodded, taking in the altered landscape. There was not an inch of Eloisa’s property that was hidden from one of the security cameras. Faux red lights flashed here and there to deter a potential intruder, including along the windows, which were all secured with individual codes.
“Anyway,” Rob continued when I didn’t answer, “I’m going inside to find Eloisa. We have a few technical details to hammer out.”
He walked toward the back of the house just as my cell rang.
“Happy hump day!”
The exclamation was followed by peals of my father’s laughter. I felt a small smile touch my lips at his happiness.
“Get it, son? It’s Wednesday.”
“I get it, Dad.” I decided to tease him. “I just can’t believe it’s the first time you’re hearing that joke.”
He laughed again. “I learn something new every day.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’m fine, son. I’ve got me a hot date tonight!”
Nearly choking, I stopped short on the sand. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Your old man’s got a date—met her at the grocery store. Her name is Rose, and I’m taking her to dinner.”
Different scenarios and implications ran through my head. “But…does she…how are you going to…a date?”
He made a sound of disapproval. “Stop overthinking it. All that matters is today—I’m alive. And today I’ve got a date with a beautiful woman. Everything else is just details.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I had already been planning to talk him out of going to the boat club for dinner this Sunday, and now this. He never took anything seriously or considered the risk of his actions. He should be on bed rest, not gallivanting around on dates. Every question I had—even growing up—had always been answered with a carefree response. It was a wonder we were related.
“Now tell me. How’s the beautiful Eloisa Rae Morgan?”
“A pain in my ass.”
“Are you going to bring her here? I’d love to meet her.”
I sighed, watching the waves lap against the shore. “No. But I’ll be there on Sunday.”
“You be nice to that girl, Xavier James Cannon. I didn’t raise you to be so indifferent to women.”
I raised a brow. “Ah, yes. I remember your advice. Don’t judge a woman…from one hundred feet away.”
That sent him into another round of hearty chuckles. “That one never gets old,” he wheezed.
“See you Sunday?”
“Yes, enjoy your hump day. I know I’m going to enjoy mine!”
He hung up amid another round of laughter, and my mood couldn’t help but lift. It was bittersweet. Hearing him laugh, enjoying life. But the familiar guilt I felt after almost all our conversations hit me hard. I owed him so much. First and foremost, an apology that I just couldn’t seem to get out.