Join Prism Book Alliance® as we countdown to GRL 2015 with a very special flash fiction from GRL Author Felice Stevens.
(please note: all rights to these prompts remain with the artist)
The doorbell rang for the fifth time in twenty seconds.
I set my favorite mug on the table by the door. Labeled “Handyman,” the cup was short, wide, and held a lot of coffee. It could’ve been my twin.
The doorbell rang again. Bracing myself for a blast of Saturday afternoon heat, I opened the door and gawked at the group standing on my porch. “Mr. Perfect!” A flush pounded through me.
Jake Miller’s uncertain smile wavered, and then he narrowed his clear gray eyes. “Superhero,” he accused in return, as if I’d insulted him.
Far from it. My secret childhood name had suited Jake perfectly, and he’d matured into even more gorgeousness. He stood tall and military straight in jeans and a blue T-shirt.
I blinked at the two chocolate-haired girls who accompanied him. In his arms he held the smallest girl, perhaps three or four. She pulled out her thumb from her mouth with an audible pop. “Thuperhero?”
Beside him the older girl, maybe seven, wrapped her tiny arms around his leg in a vise grip. She scowled as if I’d done something icky. “This isn’t Andy?”
“Yeah, this guy is Andy Blake.” Jake bobbed his head toward the girl attached to his leg. “This is my sister Abby.” He shifted the cherub in his arms. “And here’s my other sister, Mira.”
Two of them? On that awful, unforgettable graduation night six years ago, among other shocks, Jake had discovered the existence of only one sister. I swallowed. “Uh, pleased to meet you. Come into the air conditioning.”
Jake stepped inside with the girls. I tilted my head to meet his gaze. “Six years,” I hissed, my face burning.
He stiffened. “I was in the Navy, and I had to spend my breaks with Mom and her new family.”
“Only a couple of emails in all that time!”
His mouth tightened, but he merely shrugged and walked further into the room, Mira clutched to his chest. He looked around. “Wow. You really expanded. Hard to believe your house had the same floor plan as our small, dark place next door.”
The spacious living room, separated from the kitchen by a wide counter, was cheered by natural light and lots of plants. A wall of windows and French doors opened to the greenery in the back yard.
“Yeah, Mom kept me and Dad busy with the remodel while she was busy….” I stopped. Mom had been busy dying of cancer. Not a subject to discuss in front of the girls, and Jake already knew she’d passed the year after he’d left.
He sat on the sofa, Mira in his lap. Abby climbed up beside him. “Why’d you call him Superhero?” She cast a doubtful glance over me.
Smart girl. I pulled my T-shirt lower over the slight bulge of my stomach. Unlike Jake, I’d never been athletic.
“He’s a superhero because he can fix anything.” A pleased smile decorated his too-handsome face.
I squirmed with hot jealousy, trying not to think of all the guys he’d shown that smile over the last few years.
“Andy and his dad ran a handyman business. My father and I had very little money, and the Blakes helped us out a lot. They’re the only reason I had a working computer and a car.”
He gave me a very direct look as if to remind me of the other reason he’d called me Superhero.
Jolted by his electric gray gaze, I clapped my hands. “Anyone want lemonade?”
Mira popped out her thumb. “Lemonade.”
“Please,” Jake instructed.
“Please.” Abby added a shy smile to her request, and I had to concentrate on not turning to mush. Kids tended to hit my goo-meter fast.
Jake’s tender regard of the girls contrasted with his intense masculinity, hitting me low in my body. “So. Lemonade.” I escaped to the kitchen area. My hands shook as I assembled the drinks.
“You totally lied, Mom,” I mentally scolded heavenward. After mortifying me with The Talk when I was a kid, she’d promised a day would come when my libido would no longer rule my life. At least my baggy shorts hid the reason for my discomfort.
Returning to my guests, I set the tray of drinks on the coffee table and thumped onto the chair across from them. I sent Jake a meaningful stare. Time for an explanation.
Mira scrambled off his lap to take a lemonade from the tray with two hands, though she remained pressed against his knee. Abby eyed the drinks but didn’t move from his side. Why were the girls so clingy?
Jake drank and set his glass precisely in the center of a coaster. “Is your dad here?”
I started. “Oh. Well, of course you don’t know, because six years.”
He winced. “What happened?”
“Don’t worry. It’s good news. Dad moved out when he remarried last year.”
“Great.” His rigid expression made the word a lie. “He’s happy?”
“Yeah. Gloria is fantastic, and Dad got a couple of step-grandkids out of the deal.” The boys had taken about three seconds to figure out calling me “uncle” instantly opened up my heart, not to mention my wallet. I was a sucker for the little demons. “We still run the handyman business together.”
Mira set down her glass with great care and held onto Jake’s knee. “Mom and Mama got died in the car.”
I gasped. My pulse jacked up.
Abby fused herself to his other side. “Jake promised he wouldn’t die too.”
Gah! I slapped my hand to my chest. There was a long pause while I tried to get my breath back and Jake blinked away tears. “I’m very sorry,” I said hoarsely.
“He’s a policeman now,” said Abby in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she hadn’t just nuked us.
I cleared my throat. “So you’re out of the Navy?”
Jake nodded. “I’ll start with the San Jose Police Department next month.”
“We were supposed to live with Grandfather, but he was mean and wouldn’t let us stay,” said Abby.
Not surprised. Jake’s father had always been a pseudo-religious Minister of Mean. “He sold the house next door a while back. Where’s he living now?” Thank goodness my voice sounded normal. The girls didn’t need my emotion piled onto their grief.
“Los Gatos. He remarried too. His wife is well off,” Jake said in a neutral tone.
Los Gatos was an expensive area. “So much for his vow of poverty,” I growled with old hatred. Jake’s father had kept him ridiculously deprived throughout his childhood. My mom and dad had supplied frequent treats and an occasional piece of nice clothing, and I’d shared my electronics.
“Andy.” Jake ran a hand through his hair. The blond had deepened to dark oak and was cut in a tragically short style. “When we were seventeen, your dad said I’d always have a home here if my father ever learned I was gay.”
My jaw dropped at the implication.
A home, here.
Okay, it made sense. Very few cops, teachers, or people in the service trades could afford to pay the insane rents in the San Francisco Bay Area, let alone buy a house. I only owned this San Jose home because Dad had paid it off before Mom died and gifted it to me upon his remarriage.
“I wouldn’t ask, but it’s for the girls, and only until I find a place. Lots of cops share rent.” Jake drooped and looked miserable.
I sat back. For a year I’d rattled around this empty house, two of the upstairs bedrooms unused. A single person didn’t need three bathrooms. My ancient handyman truck filled only half of the garage, and lately I’d put some thought into building a swing set in the back yard for my step-nephews.
“So now I get to live with two short ladies and their big brother,” I said offhand, hiding my thrill at the idea of filling this house with Jake’s family. My heart banged around my chest cavity.
The girls perked up, their heads swiveling to check out their new home. Jake slid his eyes shut for a moment. “Thanks, man.” He leaned forward and traced the condensation running down the side of his glass. “Is there a boyfriend who’ll be upset if I’m here?”
“I’ve dated, and I’ve had a boyfriend, but I’ve been single for a couple of years,” I said without hesitation.
Abby scrunched her forehead. “But where’s your mom?”
No reason to hide the truth now. “She died when I was nineteen.”
“Oh!” Mira skipped around the coffee table and climbed onto my lap. She gently patted my cheeks, and her arms were so short my eyes crossed when I focused on her face. “We keep you company,” she promised gravely, her eyes big brown puddles of compassion.
I melted. Dissolved into mush, right there in the chair. I rested my hand on her bird-boned shoulder. “That would be really nice,” I choked out.
Jake’s expression cleared, and then he blinded me with a grin. “You broke her record. Didn’t take more than twenty minutes to wrap you around her little finger.”
I manned up enough to cook a healthy dinner while Jake unloaded a bunch of stuff from his car. A friend in Phoenix was waiting for his okay to ship the rest of their things.
After a noisy, splashy bath, the girls settled into the bedroom with twin beds. We couldn’t bear to separate them before they’d recovered from all the trauma.
Jake closed their door halfway and gestured down the hall. “They’re finally asleep. Let’s talk in your room.”
“Sure.” My pulse throbbed through every vein. I’d been waiting for this talk for six damn years.
He followed me into the master bedroom and shut the door. My feelings must have shown on my face, because he jerked and held up a hand. “Whoa. I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I said between my teeth. I paced the room, years of hurt blasting through my control. “For plastering me with our first kiss the night you found out your father had lied about your mom being dead because she was gay—and then you drove off and left me? For not contacting me and sharing what it was like to spend time with your mom and her new family?” I stopped and glared at him. “Or maybe you’re sorry for not letting me know she’d died for real!” I spun around and sat on the side of the king size bed, my back to him.
The bed dipped. He sat close enough to align our sides. “Yeah, I’m sorry for all of those things.”
Our gazes connected. The years fell away, and I relaxed into the comfort of our old friendship. My ass sank further into the mattress.
“Andy, my mom and her partner were amazing. I couldn’t bear to spend my break times away from them and Abby, and later they got Mira too. After the car accident, I—I couldn’t talk at all.” His voice had cracked on his last words.
“I’m so sorry, Jake.”
He looked up, his eyes hardening with steely determination. “I never thanked you.”
“Our junior year, Father found my gay porn, and you said it was yours.”
A trace of remembered shock sizzled through me. His father had burst out of their front door, shrieking like a madman, and threw the magazine at our feet. A hell of a way to discover Jake was gay, but he’d had good reason to hide. Pure instinct had driven me to claim ownership of the porn. “You called me Superhero. That was thanks enough.” It remained the best compliment I’d ever received.
“But he treated you like shit our entire senior year. I should’ve shut him up.”
“No. He’d have beaten you and kicked you out if he suspected.” I put a hand on Jake’s thigh. The hard muscles clenched with the tension that rode his entire body. “I was lucky. My parents were fantastic. They understood it was better for me to accept blame for the porn, and they helped me when your father’s insults hit too hard.” I frowned. “I never knew how you found out about your mom.”
“I saw her graduation card before Father could throw it out. I couldn’t believe he’d lied to me all my life about her being dead. She was just dead to him because she was gay.”
My throat wanted to close. “But then you… you did that thing.”
A light twinkled deep in his solemn gaze. “I kissed you.”
I shook my head, unable to skip over the scene that had stuck with me like a knife buried in bone. “It was the middle of the night. You stood beside your car, shouting at your father for lying about your mom. I came outside. You looked at me, and I could tell by your expression you were going to tell him. I called out, but you wouldn’t stop talking.”
Jake placed his hand over mine on his leg. “I told him I was gay, and then I did what I’d been wanting for a very long time.”
My lower lip trembled. “You left,” I said in the voice of a toddler. Way to be mature.
“I was talking about the kiss, but yes, I left. I had to go to my mom.”
“Why did you throw me out of your life?” His abandonment still scraped my nerve endings.
“I believed you deserved to have someone who would stick around. I had no plans to return to this area, not ever.”
“You’re here now.”
“Andy, my two moms are gone. There was only a little life insurance and no other relatives. For the girls, I was forced to ask my father for help.”
His rotten-hearted father had always put a wary look in his eyes, but now I ached to see them darken with still more nightmares. “Father had led me to believe he’d take us in, and when we arrived today, I got the treatment. I was lucky to shut the girls in the car before his words turned violent.”
“He wanted revenge on your mom.”
“Enough.” Jake shook himself and gripped my thigh. We were hanging onto each other now. “So, about that kiss.”
“Why did you do it? I was a fat nerd. You were—are—gorgeous.”
He moved his hand to my hip, and I swallowed. “Don’t insult yourself. You’ve always been my best friend. No one has a bigger heart. You’re kind, loyal, funny, beautiful, sexy as hell, and—and I’m at home with you.”
His words ponged through me. “But you didn’t stay home.”
“Nothing but family could’ve kept me away.” He bent until his lips curved near mine. “Like you said, I’m here now.”
I scented a mixture of coffee, baby shampoo, and man. My body had been reacting to him since he’d shown up on my porch this afternoon, and now I swelled with painful speed.
Very slowly, giving me time to back away, he moved in for our second kiss.
I didn’t back away.
“Ah, my bestest chair,” I sighed. After a full day of repairs and harassment at what Dad and I called the House of the Sisters Fussy, my exhausted body was primed to drop into the cushy upholstery. I’d lowered my ass halfway to the seat when Abby’s soft voice came from the sofa. “Look out for Mira.”
“Ack!” I twisted midair, torqueing my back, dented my ribs on the chair side table, scraped off a few layers of skin rolling over its edge, and slammed to the hardwood floor, slipping at least three vertebrae. Air percussed out of my lungs. Nevertheless, I manfully cracked my neck to check on Mira.
The chair was empty.
I squinted at Abby, who stared at me owl-eyed. “Quite the little jokester, aren’t you?” I wheezed.
Footsteps pounded down the stairs. Jake bolted into the living room, gut-clenching handsome in his navy blue uniform. Mira trotted after him.
Happy, healthy, unharmed Mira.
Jake looked from me to Abby, who radiated guilt like one of those online wall of shame puppies surrounded by a torn-up pillow. He raised a single eyebrow at me. “I know you like to keep the floors clean, Andy, but did you need to inspect this one quite so closely?”
I let my eyes tell him that if I could’ve moved, I’d have thrown something at him.
“I said he was going to squish Mira,” Abby confessed in a shaky voice.
“Oh, Abby. This is your second practical joke. We talked about this.” He tipped his head toward the stairs.
Slumping, she trudged up the stairs for a time out. Mira followed with sisterly loyalty.
I turned my head, careful of my broken neck. “Six months here, and she’s finally acting out.”
We’d attended lots of therapy. I knew some kids could only misbehave when they felt safe enough to be themselves. With Dad’s cooperation, my job hours were flexible, and as a new cop, Jake mostly worked nights. One of us was always home with the girls.
“Your dad and Gloria helped. Instant grandparents.”
“And they’re babysitters for date nights.” I shifted and winced. “Which we won’t need for a while, unless it’s to go to the emergency room.”
Jake assessed me, his alarm not quite hidden.
I waved away his concern. “I’m okay. Just flesh wounds.”
His shoulders relaxed, and he squatted beside my crumpled form on the floor. He touched my nose and gave me his perfect smile. “See? My superhero.”
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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