“Um … sure.”
“Great. See you tomorrow.”
I turn back to Flint and shoot him a sheepish smile. He grumbles something and stomps out the door.
“What was I supposed to do?” I jog to catch up to his long strides. He doesn’t have to escort me to my car. I will leave the premises without being kicked off.
“Fine.” I stop and pivot back toward the house. “I’ll go back in and tell her no.”
“Stop. Just …”
I turn back to him.
He rubs his hands over his face. “It’s fine. Just let it be.”
I brush past him, too hungry and tired to deal with his family issues. Or maybe they’re just Ellen Rodgers issues.
“Fine. I’ll let it be.” I get in my car.
Flint grabs the door before I can shut it. He leans down putting us at eye level. There’s not room for oxygen and him in this vehicle. My heart pounds like a metal detector nearing a treasure.
If I lean in three inches, our lips will meet. I like his lips, and the way he’s looking at mine leads me to believe the feeling is mutual.
“Thank you for bringing him home.”
He smells like herbs, like I imagine a chef might smell. I’m hungry. I’d settle for him, but I don’t think he’s on the menu tonight. I don’t know if he’ll ever be on the menu. He’s that dessert on the dessert tray that no one ever gets to eat because it’s just a display.
“No problem. Did you notice how I returned him to you without bitching about my time? And I didn’t put him in a brown paper bag and threaten to dump him out the window without stopping the car first.”
His lips press together and he hums. “That was very kind of you.” Those dark eyes shift to my mouth again, then lower.
I feel his gaze everywhere. It’s warm and tingly. “Go easy on him.”
“We’ll see.” He straightens to full height. “Goodnight.”
The door shuts.
“It’s not okay for you to leave without telling anyone where you’re going.”
Harrison, perched on his window seat, keeps his nose in a book while ignoring me.
“You said I could play guitar with her if I—”
“You take things too literally. I meant if you showed me a pattern, if you did it for a week or more. And then I would take you to the office. I would call to make sure it was okay with her. You’re twelve. You can’t ride your bike that far alone. It’s not smart. It’s not safe. Had she not given you a ride home, you would have had to ride home in the dark with no reflective clothing, no lights on your bike, and no sense of direction because I know damn well you rely on familiar things that would not look familiar at night.”
I hold back my irritation to his fine remark. It’s his version of sorry. I know this, but it still irritates the hell out of me when he says it so dismissively.
“Grandma invited Ellen to dinner tomorrow night, but after that, you’re going to take a break from seeing her.”
I hold out my finger. “And if you argue with me, I’ll send the borrowed guitar home with her like I should have done tonight.”
He leaps up, stomps across the floor, and slams the door in my face.
I remind myself that raising him is a gift and a debt. Tonight it doesn’t feel like a gift.
My court case drags out. It should have ended by now, but opposing counsel sprung a new witness on me, and now I have the weekend to prepare a cross-examination. Harrison is giving me the silent treatment, which is better than him relentlessly pushing my buttons like he usually does. And my parents are cooking up a storm in my kitchen for Ellen, the woman I’m evicting as soon as I can squash my son’s obsession with her.
I take my penance without complaining. Killing my wife shouldn’t come with any sort of mercy.
“She’s here!” Those are the first words I’ve heard out of Harrison since he slammed the door in my face last night.
I continue to comb over the evidence in this never-ending case as I listen to voices echo from my parents greeting Ellen.
“Flint? Dinner is almost ready. Come out of your office and join us,” my mom calls.
“In a minute,” I mumble to myself.
One minute turns into fifteen before I get another dinner call from my mom. I tug at my already loosened tie and stand with a sigh. This suit has to go, so I take the spiral staircase in the back corner that goes from my office directly to the master bedroom. It’s one of the original design features I love most about this old house.
I untie my tie and return it to its drawer, remove my shirt, and unfasten my pants just as the toilet flushes in the en suite bathroom. “Harrison, how many times do I have to tell you to use your own—”
The pocket door slides open, and Ellen sucks in a quick breath, eyes wide. “I … the hall bathroom was …” Her gaze roams along my bare chest and down to my unfastened pants.
I picture her rats, imagine her with spinach stuck in her perfect teeth, anything to keep my dick in check.
“I’ll be downstairs in a minute.”
Ellen nods slowly but her gaze remains affixed to my chest. I don’t get the sense that my words registered with her brain. She moves toward me, but the dresser at my back prevents me from retreating. Her warm breath along my bare chest sends an instant message to my dick. Not even rats can compete with the nearness of her body to mine.
“I think your mom is a great cook. It smells delicious downstairs.”
There’s nothing I love more than having my mom’s cooking mentioned at the same time I’m imagining my cock in Ellen’s mouth because she won’t stop wetting her lips.
Rats. She owns rats. My dick needs to get that unsavory message.
Nope. Not even that thought can make this erection disappear.
“I’m evicting you,” I whisper.
She steps back and nods, redirecting her gaze from my chest to her feet. I’m not trying to be a dick about it, I’m just trying to go to dinner without a hard-on. The reality of our professional relationship and her reaction to it is enough to abate the situation in my pants.
She looks up. “I signed a new lease this morning.”
I open my mouth to speak, but I don’t know what to say.
“See you downstairs.” She smiles.
“Nice of you to take a break and join us for dinner.” My mom nods to the lone chair opposite Harrison and Ellen.
“Ellen was just telling us her father lives in Cape Cod.”
I lay my napkin over one leg while inspecting the woman who is really still a mystery to me. “I didn’t know that. I thought you were from California.”
She dabs her mouth and swallows. “I moved here from California, but that’s not where I grew up.”
“And you think it’s cold here?” I narrow my eyes.
“College in Florida and my first job in Southern California spoiled me.” She shrugs.
“I’d never live in California. You’d have to be stupid to live near the San Andres fault. Eventually everyone will die.” My uncensored son pipes up.
“It’s fine.” She chuckles. “Good thing I moved here.”
“It’s not safe anywhere. My mom died because it was raining.”
Your mom died because I was drunk. More penance. I deserve this more than the oxygen in my lungs. It should have been me. This boy I love beyond all words is a walking reminder of who I am—a murderer.
“My mom died too. Life’s not fair. Fate doesn’t show favoritism.” Ellen shrugs.
Harrison nods like he understands her, like he connects with her.
“I wonder what it would feel like to be on a boat in the Pacific if there were an earthquake in California.”
I grin. Harrison is always three topics behind the conversation—fixating, obsessing over one thing.
My parents ask Ellen a million questions about her job. I hear a few of her answers, but my thoughts war between court tomorrow and the needy woman I brought to orgasm in a dark alley.
“Dinner was great, Mom. Thank you. But I have a few things left to do before morning.” I wipe my mouth and push my chair back. “Help with the dishes, Harrison, and then get to bed. Okay?”
He doesn’t acknowledge me. No surprise.
“We’ll make sure he pitches in.” My dad gives me a reassuring nod.
“Goodnight.” I give Ellen a brief glance before retreating to my office.
For the next hour, I block out the chatter and clanking in the kitchen, giving my full attention to preparing for court tomorrow. As I shut off my computer and rub my tired eyes, the voices get closer.
“He won’t mind if you say goodbye one more time,” my dad says just outside of my office before knocking twice on the door.
“Ellen’s leaving. She wanted to say goodbye,” he says.
“Harrison went to bed and your mom and I are turning in too. Be a gentleman and see her out. Okay?” He winks before stepping back to let her into my office.
“Thank you. Goodnight,” she whispers to him before turning toward me.