We're a WEEK out folks! Just one week and today Raven and I are dropping chapter one of ONLY LOVE! Make sure to check it out. Pre-order link above!
Victoria H. Smith and Raven St. Pierre
The heavy wooden door slammed against the frame instead of latching. Like everything else in the building, it was broken and probably would be for several months—maybe even longer. Repositioning the eight grocery bags in my hands, I prepared my mind to climb four flights of stairs, because, you guessed it, the elevator was broken, too.
Over the loud rumble of bass streaming from apartment 4A, and over the blaring television in 4C, I heard my daughter’s shrill cry as soon as I reached our hallway. That sound, her wailing like she was in a horror movie, had been my soundtrack for the past two weeks—she started teething again.
I fumbled with the keys, wanting nothing more than to get inside and pass out across my bed, but of course that wasn’t the way the evening would go. As if mocking me, my keys slipped from my numb fingers, which were awkwardly locked around the handles of my grocery bags. A long, frustrated sigh hissed from between my lips, and I crouched down to scoop them up, but halted when a deep, unfamiliar voice called out from behind me.
“Hang on. Let me get those for you.”
An arm covered in a thin layer of dark hair stretched to the floor and retrieved my fallen keys, gently placing them in my hand again. After accepting, I rested my eyes on the last person in this entire building I’d ever expect to help me—the cop who’d been assigned to live in our building to “babysit” my neighbors and myself. Rumor had it that he was supposed to be here to make us feel safer, but the city wasn’t fooling us. He was here to spy and report back. A snitch, if you will.
Giving him the side-eye, I looked him over. I’d seen him before, but had never allowed myself to really look at him until now, making this the first time I’d acknowledged he was attractive. And he definitely was. Being so close, there were a number of things I was able to take in for the first time—how blue his eyes were, his height, and the size of his arms. They were toned and defined just like the rest of his physique from what I could see through the material of his t-shirt and jeans. He wore a kind expression that caught me off guard, too. The look made his already handsome face even more so, drawing my attention to his lips and the slight cleft in his chin when a smile touched his mouth.
“I can take these,” he offered.
Before I could even protest, my left hand was relieved of the bags it cradled. Then the right was freed, too. He managed them with ease while I stood there, staring instead of unlocking the door. It was Marissa’s cry that pulled me from my thoughts. It seemed like she’d gotten louder in just the few seconds I’d been standing there. The moment I crossed the threshold, her eyes darted toward me—eyes I felt like I’d been staring into for most of my life. Her father’s eyes.
Gabby, my go-to sitter, quickly handed her off to me, and Marissa squeezed her tiny arms around my neck. She was a little feverish again and her tear-soaked cheek pressed against mine as she latched on. As my concern for her grew, I became less aware of the stranger standing behind me in the doorway, holding the bags of food.
“She’s been screaming nonstop for the past hour. I didn’t want to bother you in class, but I didn’t know what to do.” From the look on Gabby’s face, it was safe to say that Marissa had really put her through the wringer. Snacks were littered across the coffee table and almost every single toy I’d ever purchased was scattered about the living room. Clearly, Gabby had pulled out all the stops and nothing was working.
“I gave her the medicine on time and tried to get her to take that teething ring, but I think it might have irritated her gums even more,” Gabby continued to explain.
I placed a hand on her arm, letting her know I knew she’d done all she could. “It’s not your fault, Sweetie.”
Relieved, Gabby’s eyes shifted toward the door and it wasn’t until then that I noticed the man who’d kind of rescued me a moment ago. He hesitated for a fraction of a second when our eyes locked, and then without waiting for an invitation, he entered my apartment and took my groceries to the kitchen counter.
“What’s he doing here?” Gabby mouthed silently.
My only response was to shake my head. Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what he was doing here either; he could’ve dropped my bags at the door and left as far as I was concerned.
I bounced Marissa and rubbed her back, which soothed her a little—at least enough to allow me to now gather my thoughts to speak to Gabby. “You get your homework done?”
She shook her head, and I immediately felt guilty, knowing Marissa’s fussiness was to blame. I reached into my back pocket and took out the ten-dollar bill I had there. When I shoved it in the front pocket of Gabby’s backpack resting on the arm of the couch, she started to object, but didn’t when she saw the stern look on my face. She hated that I paid her, but knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’d been there for me more than my own family had, saved me more times than I could count when I didn’t have anyone else to babysit.
“Thanks,” she finally conceded. Situating the straps on her shoulders, she leaned in. “Night, Rissa. Feel better,” she said before kissing my daughter on the forehead over my shoulder.
“See you in the morning,” I called out just as she stepped into the hallway and disappeared.
A tall figure emerged from the dimly lit kitchen and cast a shadow just in front of my television. Reluctantly, and a little bit confused, I looked up at the officer who somehow ended up inside my personal space. I noted again how handsome he was—those eyes, those lips, his large, toned arms; however, his looks didn’t overshadow the fact that he was unwelcomed in this building, and especially in my apartment.
“Thanks for your help, but you didn’t have to bring my things in. I could’ve handled it,” I informed him, not wanting to give him the impression that his kind gesture changed my views of what he represented.
My cold tone seemed to go in one ear and out the other when he spoke. “She teething?” he asked casually, removing his hand from the pocket of his light-denim jeans just long enough to point toward Marissa.
Still working to settle her, I only nodded to confirm.
He took a step closer and my eyes shifted down to his feet, sending out a silent warning for him to keep his distance. When he didn’t come closer, I assumed he got the hint.
“I heard your sitter mention that she wouldn’t take the teething ring. If her gums are sore, she probably won’t,” he added.
I said nothing. Instead, I just stared, wondering where he was going with all this.
“Try wetting one of her washcloths and sticking it in the freezer for a bit. Thirty to forty minutes tops. The cold will relieve some of the throbbing, and it’s softer than those hard rings you get at the store.”
I rubbed Marissa’s back, but still didn’t acknowledge his advice.
“Do you have any small sandwich bags?” he asked. “If not, I think I have some I could grab for you if—”
“I have some,” I said sharply, causing him to purse his lips.
“So, yeah… just try that. Or don’t. Totally up to you,” he added under his breath, turning his back toward me when my cold disposition sent him scrambling for an exit.
It only took a fraction of a second for me to feel bad. Regardless of what I thought about his occupation and his assignment here in this building, he’d been kind to me tonight. And as much as I wanted him to feel as uncomfortable as the residents in this building feel, as much as I wanted to dislike him, I found it strangely difficult to stick to any of that with him standing here. At the moment, he wasn’t just the officer assigned to live in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. He became human. Just a guy helping a girl with her groceries and her crying baby.
He halted at the sound of my voice and turned to stare with those baby blues, causing me to hesitate when I again noted how beautiful they were.
“Thank you. You know, for the groceries… and for the advice,” I blurted.
A gracious smile tugged at one corner of his mouth, and I found myself liking that particular expression almost as much as I liked his eyes.
“You’re welcome. I hope that trick works out for you. Both of you,” he added when Marissa stopped crying long enough to notice him. The officer gave her a small wave and grinned her way. To my surprise, she smiled back, despite the fact that she still had fresh tears in her eyes.
“And if you need anything, I’m only one floor up. 5C,” he offered, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked.
I nodded. “Thanks again.”
“No problem. Name’s Adam, by the way.”
His hand extended toward me, and I wasn’t sure if I should shake it or not. Marissa, now silent and still clinging to my neck, stared at Adam long and hard just like I did.
Finally, trying to hide my skepticism, I returned the gesture. “Aubrey.”
Adam smirked a bit as I softened up. His hands were cool to the touch, and soft, but not too soft. Despite the strength I was positive those hands held, his grip on mine was surprisingly gentle.
No other words were spoken as he left me to my usual nightly routine of dinner, bathing Marissa, and then bed. While she ate, I took one of her cloths from the basket of unfolded laundry and did the steps Adam had recited, fully believing in my heart it was all for nothing. None of the pain relievers had done a thing, so certainly there was no way something this simple would solve the problem.
I went about my night as usual, and when I was done, I retrieved the cloth from the freezer just before trying to lay Marissa in her crib.
“We’re gonna try something new tonight,” I said to her as I shut off the lights in the apartment on the way to her bedroom, balancing her small body on my hip. She sniffed back a few tears, and I was already dreading the process of trying to get her to bed. What used to take about twenty minutes, now took a couple hours, which meant I was missing out on quite a bit of sleep by the end of the week.
Sitting in the mauve recliner in the corner of Marissa’s bedroom, I handed her the semi-frozen cloth, watching her inspect it in her tiny hands like I knew she would. She never just made things easy. In that way, she was a lot like her father.
I watched with an air of skepticism as she took the cloth to her lips and eventually began to squeeze it between her sore gums on the side where the new tooth was trying to come through. Instantly, I saw a change in her demeanor. She relaxed in my arms and rested her head against my chest. The tears that threatened to spill a moment ago were now dry, and for the first time in days, I had a glimmer of hope that I’d get to bed at a decent hour.
Within fifteen minutes, she had taken her medicine to keep the pain away throughout the night and drifted off in my arms. She didn’t even stir when I put her down in her crib. I stood there in her doorway, amazed at how well Adam’s technique had worked. Now I had yet another reason to thank him.
With the extra time before bed, I took to the computer to check my email. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as my eyes lingered on the first name I came across—Javier Ruiz. A lifetime of memories, both good and bad, flooded my mind. I stared at the screen and swiped away the single tear that fell, missing him and secretly being grateful for the distance all at the same time. Knowing whatever this message said would rob me of the peaceful night I thought I’d have, I opened and read its contents.
‘Babe… I’ve been trying to call all day. Yesterday, too. Something’s up and I hate that I’m too far away to talk to you face to face. I don’t know what’s gone down in the last couple months, but I see it. Hear it in your voice. Feel it through the phone. Half the time, you don’t pick up when I call, and when you do, all you want to talk about is Rissa. Not how you’ve been handling things on your own. Not about work or school. Not about how much you miss me. None of that. I mean, I know it’s hard with the distance and everything, but this feels like more than that. I’m gonna hit you up tomorrow at around 10 a.m. your time. Please, please pick up. We need to talk.
Kiss my baby and tell her Daddy misses her like crazy.
The plate of eggs had just hit the table when Gabby breezed through my door. I left it unlocked every morning just for her.
“Pancakes?” she asked, wearing an infectious smile.
“Nope. The usual. I’m running a bit behind today.” I didn’t explain that the reason my routine was lagging was because I’d slept through my alarm after lying awake half the night. Reading Javi’s letter affected much in the way I predicted it would.
“Speaking of running late,” I said sarcastically, glancing at the clock on the kitchen wall. She should’ve been here ten minutes ago by my calculation.
“Had to make my morning rounds,” Gabby answered. “Gotta make that money,” she said, referencing her side hustle, which consisted of her buying up candy at the liquor store and reselling it for double the price to people in the neighborhood. It was illegal, but I didn’t mess with her too much about it because there were definitely worse things she could be getting into at the age of fifteen.
“I even went to the cop’s place,” she mentioned casually, reaching for the strawberry jelly.
I glanced at her, but hid that I was intrigued, mostly wondering if she knew she’d just walked her illegal business right up to the law’s door—literally.
“And he didn’t slap a pair of cuffs on you and haul you down to the precinct? Shocking,” I said, unable to hide my distaste for law enforcement. Their impact on this neighborhood in particular had left a bad taste in my mouth.
“I don’t think he’s like that,” Gabby replied with a mouthful of toast. Marissa giggled at the sight of it.
“Yeah, right. They’re all like that.”
Gabby shook her head in protest, but continued eating of course. “Nah, he even bought a couple candy bars from me—thanked me and said that was the closest thing he’d had to breakfast all week.”
I pretended to only be moderately interested in her interaction with Adam, but probably wasn’t playing it off very well. “What else did he say?” I asked.
She didn’t make eye contact, but smirked. “Nothing, but I think you should invite him down to eat with us.” She eyed the spread. “I mean, I could definitely eat all this food, but only because it’s here. There’s enough to make him a plate.”
Her suggestion rang in my head as I toyed with the idea.
“Besides, he was really nice last night. Brought your bags in and put the groceries away and everything.”
I burst out laughing. “That man did not put my groceries away. Quit exaggerating.”
She grinned while biting down on a piece of bacon. Her eyes softened, and I tried not to let the expression get to me. “Still, he was nice. Not a whole lot of that going on around here.”
She didn’t know it yet because my face was still blank, but she broke me. She’d made several good points, and I was out of excuses to give for not feeding a man who was about to go to work with nothing in his stomach but pure sugar.
When I set my fork down, Gabby eyed me.
“Watch Rissa for a sec,” I said as I stood from my seat. Without even looking Gabby’s way, I knew she was cheesing.
I wasn’t even sure this was a good idea just yet, but I’d already committed to extending this invitation. So, whether Adam accepted or not, I was going to offer him a semblance of gratitude for his kindness the night before. Hopefully I wouldn’t regret it later.
Zipping up my bag of gear for today’s shift, the light tap, tap, tap at my door got my sudden attention. The candy bar I had lodged in between my teeth dropped from my mouth and into my palm as I turned my head to the door. Visitors were pretty scarce around my place, so the knock caught me off guard. Although, I was already running late this morning, which also had me a bit off kilter.
The knock hit again and my gaze shifted over to the wall clock hanging up in my apartment’s kitchen. I sucked in a breath upon realizing the time. I still had my morning rounds to do of the complex before heading into work. I normally didn’t do this late thing, but I was up past one last night looking at pictures. I guess I couldn’t help it and knew it would be a bad idea. It was a bad idea because doing so nearly made me have to pick up the phone and call my sponsor. Those two things usually went hand and hand. Those pictures and drinking. I hadn’t been that close in a while. I got it together, though. I got it together.
Letting out a breath, I shoved my candy bar into the pocket on my shirt uniform while I buttoned up the last few buttons. I normally got dressed at the precinct, but on the mornings I decided to do rounds of the apartment, I did so in uniform to make myself look official. I didn’t like intimidating people, but my chief advised it when I made rounds. I appeased him but not all the time. I usually did in the mornings as more people were up and around, but at night I kept it easy by wearing jeans and t-shirts mostly. These people were at home. They didn’t need a constant reminder of the law more than there already was. What, with me living here and all.
I made it to the door and unlocked it without looking, figuring it was one of two people. Option A was a neighbor complaining about another and wanting me to do something about it. I got a handful of those since I moved in a couple weeks ago. Usually folks avoided me like the plague, but if they needed something, they came by. I welcomed that seeing as that was my job. To protect and serve. The other option, B, was one of my moms.
Cringing as I turned the knob, I hoped it was the former. A neighbor complaint could be dealt with quickly. A worried mom (times two) couldn’t be. I heard no end of the dangers of taking this position by living here from my mom and her partner of twenty years since I told them I’d be moving into this neighborhood for my job. This new living arrangement offered not only cheap rent but also respect from my boss. Two things I couldn’t pass up. Tell that to my moms though. They came by before the last moving box hit the apartment floor. It took forever to get them out the last time.
Cracking the door, the visitor fortunately wasn’t them, and I widened it, blinking in surprise at the dark eyes, heart-shaped face, and long curls coiled tightly as they rested on her shoulders. They left tiny droplets of water on the tops of them, dotting her cinnamon-brown skin. She must have just showered; a scent, feminine and sweet, suddenly wafting through the air of the normally musty apartment complex let me know that.
Dampening my mouth, I stood tall, forgetting myself and my manners by not greeting her. “Aubrey. Hi. Good seeing you again.”
I had to admit, she was the last person I thought would make her way up here. I always knew when folks wanted to be left alone. That came with the job and she had definitely been in that category when we spoke last night.
She didn’t say anything. Her damp shoulders suddenly went tight, her body stiff, and when she wouldn’t look at my eyes, her gaze targeting lower to what I wore, I knew she wasn’t seeing anything but the uniform.
I internally cursed at my choice not to dress at the precinct this morning. My voice did cause her to look up though, long lashes flashing up in my direction. She cleared her throat. “Hi, Officer…” Her eyes drifted to my name badge. I internally cursed again. “Holloway. Likewise.”
She said this, but I knew she didn’t feel the same. That it was actually a good thing to see me again. Even if she hadn’t suddenly addressed me formally, her body language spoke of her true feelings. Last night she had her guard up. This morning, though? Something like Fort Knox came to mind.
I stepped forward a bit, but kept a fair distance from her. I wanted her know I was approachable but didn’t want to intimidate her. Pushing my hands into my pockets, I smiled. “Glad to hear it, and I believe I asked you to call me Adam.”
I hoped to break ground a bit by saying that and keep things casual with her. I didn’t know if it worked, but she didn’t step back from me. That was something.
She let out a breath instead, smoothing her hands down the gray sweat pants she wore. “Adam, right. Sorry about that.”
I simply smiled. “You’re forgiven. Can I help you with something this morning?”
A familiar awkwardness in the form of silence cut through the air again. Just like last night. I was about to push again when her mouth moved, forming words.
“Um, yeah. Um.” She went fidgety, running her fingers up and down the strap of her pink tank top restlessly. Realizing she was doing that, she let go, passing off the action when she scratched at the skin just beneath her earlobe, petite fingers continuing to be restless by brushing down to the base of her neck. “I just wanted to thank you for yesterday. Your advice with the baby.”
I looked up from her neck, and it took me a moment to recall what she was referring to. Once I did, I gave her another smile. “It worked then?”
She was still fidgety, opting to rub her neck now. “Mmmhmm. She slept through the whole night. That gave me a break.”
I was happy to hear that, but did wonder why the burden to get the baby through her teething was left on her shoulders and why she had no one to help. I supposed that wasn’t my business.
I nodded at what she’d said, my lips lifting with the knowledge that I had helped. “I’m glad. Hopefully last night is the first of many quiet nights for you.”
I genuinely meant that. I wasn’t just saying that because I should, but I actually wanted that for her. Taking care of a baby wasn’t easy; especially if she was doing it by herself.
I think she understood my sincerity because for the first time since we started talking, her hand dropped from her neck and she didn’t look so anxious. In fact, she was actually looking at me, finally in my eyes and not at everything else about me. She chewed her lip for a moment before her gaze wandered to my shirt pocket, the one with the candy bar poking out of it. Hesitantly, she lifted a finger. “Is that your breakfast?”
I tapped the pocket lightly, chuckling. “I guess so. I just moved in recently. Haven’t really been out shopping yet, and well, I’m a guy, so me and the kitchen probably won’t be acquainted for a little while.”
She shifted on her pink flip-flops in silence. Like she was in debate of something, but even still, I never thought that debate would be what she said next. “Do you want to maybe come downstairs? For breakfast? Gabby told me you were making that chocolate bar your meal,” she said, eyeing my hand on my pocket.
Laughing, I dropped my hand. “I did say that.”
The girl really surprised me by coming to my door. Again, I didn’t get many visitors. Not only that, but she tried to hustle me by selling candy she clearly bought at the store. I gave her a break and contributed to the cause. She had drive and that was good. Hopefully, she channeled it into the good stuff like school, too.
Aubrey shrugged her tiny shoulders once. “So what do you say? About breakfast that is?”
Aubrey’s invitation was the first sign of a welcome I had in the last couple weeks, but I was running late this morning. I raised my wrist, checking my watch. Maybe I had a few minutes; I could make a few minutes for her. She’d been so hesitant of me before. I didn’t want to ruin these new signs of trust she seemed to be giving off.
“You’re busy,” she said.
Before I had a chance to determine how much time I had, she was already lifting her hands, stepping away. “Have a good day, Officer.”
Just like that, the guard went back up. I closed my door without thinking, locking it right after. I caught up to her in two strides and she stopped walking, looking up at me with those dark eyes.
“Yeah, I am busy,” I said. “What’s for breakfast?”
I guess I’d be skipping rounds today.
Aubrey left that same trail of feminine scent behind her. It tagged along with every step she made downstairs. I kept close as well, but not too close, and she often peeked back, a quick look over her tiny shoulder, almost as if she was trying to keep me in check. I couldn’t get too close to her and she was letting me know. That same warning about her followed all the up to her woven, multicolored welcome mat despite the fact that it was she herself who’d invited me down for breakfast. When we got there, she turned her doorknob, but her hand hesitated pushing the door open. I thought to offer her an out, let her know I was running late anyway, but she pushed, granting me access to the same apartment I was in last night. The warm smell of eggs and bacon before I crossed the entry rumbled my insides, awareness that this morning’s chocolate bar just wasn’t doing the trick.
After I entered, I closed the door behind me. Her apartment was the same, though a peek into her kitchen let me know she’d put her groceries away. I wanted to do that for her last night, but I had a feeling the effort would have been interpreted wrong. As more of an intrusion than a favor from a stranger.
Sitting in a chair at a square table, the teenager who sold me the candy this morning, Gabby, turned, waving at me. Two dimples creased a round face, her dark skin. “Officer Holloway,” she said in greeting, grinning while she chewed a piece of bacon.
I had to laugh. “You can call me Adam, Gabby. I’m not on duty here.”
She looked more accepting of that than Aubrey did, not looking at the uniform at all. “Ah, okay,” she said. “You joining us for breakfast?”
She crossed a look over to Aubrey, who only shook her head before going to the other person I noticed sitting at the table. Her little girl. The baby.
“Uh, yeah. Aubrey invited me,” I returned to Gabby, my attention a bit distracted as I watched the mom with her child. Chubby arms reached up to her mom, which Aubrey appeased by letting them lock around her neck as she lifted her into her arms. The baby was a bit lighter than Aubrey, her curly hair looser, and I believed those indicated a mixture of races. She gurgled a laugh when Aubrey picked her up, and I smiled. The littlest things made babies happy, didn’t they? Attention and whatnot, and the smile Aubrey returned confirmed, for me at least, that happiness was always shared in return by the parent.
“That’s Rissa,” Gabby said, tugging on her chubby leg and breaking my thoughts. “Short for Marissa.”
I waved at her like I did last night, and both mother and child looked my way. More specifically, Rissa watched me while Aubrey watched Rissa, a curiosity in both gazes. Rissa studied me for only a moment before she released the material of her mom’s tank top and stretched her tiny fingers out toward me. I think Aubrey and I were both surprised by that, but I didn’t hesitate before I reached my finger out toward her to take.
“She doesn’t really like strangers,” Aubrey said, but she barely finished the sentence before Rissa latched onto my finger. She giggled, shaking my finger in her small fist.
Gabby laughed, looking up at her. “She seems to like this one.”
“I like her, too,” I said, surprised my uniform didn’t put her off like it did her mom. I was glad.
Aubrey’s lips actually threatened to smile while Rissa played with my finger, curling up a bit in the corner. Ultimately the expression didn’t completely make it when Rissa decided to use my finger for her own person teething ring, popping it into her mouth and chewing. I didn’t mind and laughed, but Aubrey clearly did. Removing her daughter’s newly chosen toy from her mouth, she apologized profusely, her eyes wide like I’d cuff them both at any moment. I raised my hands, hating the look.
“It’s fine. Fine,” I said, taking a seat at the table across from Gabby.
She didn’t accept that and said she’d put the baby in her playpen. I watched the pair again, folding my hands and setting them on the table. The playpen was in front of the couch and Aubrey placed Marissa there. She tickled her belly and that gurgled laugh hit the air again. The sound was magical.
“So have you ever killed anybody?” Gabby asked, eyeing the gun secured in my holster. She picked up her tumbler of orange juice and took a sip casually, like she’d asked me about the weather.
Aubrey shot her head around from her location at the playpen. “Gabby!”
Gabby lifted her hands. I think she was trying to look innocent, but that grin she sported kind of had the adverse effect. Putting her glass to her lips, she asked, “What?” before taking a sip, laughing into the juice.
Aubrey groaned, and I had to keep my smile in. She really was upset. She got to her feet and charged over to us, snatching a baby wipe out of a container on the end table by the couch along the way. Before I knew it, she had my hand in hers. I had no idea what she was doing, but I didn’t stop her as she rubbed it along the surface of my hand, taking extra care along my index finger. I relaxed and just watched her.
“I’m sorry about this,” she breathed out with a huff. “Rissa’s spit,” she paused, dropping my hand and taking the other. She rubbed there as well with the baby wipe, sneering in Gabby’s direction. “Her.”
Her annoyance only got Gabby chuckling into her juice even more. I kind of found the whole thing funny as well. Aubrey clearly freaking about how the morning was going, and now, rubbing down my hand to the point of making the skin raw like I was her own kid, but I didn’t dare laugh. That didn’t stop Rissa, though, as even she was having a laugh. She stood up in her pen, banging her hands on the bar as she watched her panicking mom. The whole thing went to all new heights when Aubrey dropped my hand, slid a plate over to me, and not only served me by putting eggs and bacon on my plate, but also picked up a piece of toast and continued to butter it for me.
Gabby was nearly losing it at this point, her hand over her mouth, and I couldn’t contain mine either. I snorted, and that’s when Aubrey realized what she was doing.
She lowered the butter knife from the bread, her expression nothing short of mortification. “You can probably do this yourself, can’t you?”
I could. But I kinda sorta wanted her to. I liked watching her do so. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed anymore though, so I took the knife from her. “Thanks.”
She nodded in return. Smoothing her hands down her pants, she backed away slowly. “I’m gonna get dressed for work.” She glanced over at Gabby. “Watch Rissa?”
Gabby lifted her glass to her, and Aubrey breezed out of the room. All this was definitely worth missing rounds for. Definitely.
I got started in on my food as Gabby finished hers. She got Marissa out of her pen and returned, placing her on her lap. Rissa watched me eat, wanting my eggs by reaching out toward them. I asked Gabby if it was okay, and she said fine, but just a little. I gave her only a little on the tip of an extra spoon on the table. She gummed it happily.
“But seriously, have you killed someone?” Gabby wiped Rissa’s mouth free of the extra egg with a napkin while she asked.
I shook my head in response, doing so with a laugh. I got that question a lot. I think people thought the life of a cop was way more exciting than it actually was. Especially the kids. Gabby looked let down by my response, and I could only shake my head again. An exasperated “Frickin-A!” came from behind our seats at the table. It seemed Aubrey only had time to get half dressed. When she came out of what I assumed was her bedroom from down the hall, she still wore her sweat pants with a dressy top. She charged down the hallway, ripping a hair tie off her wrist and placing it in between her teeth.
“Can you walk to school today, Gabs?” she asked around the hair tie, bunching her hair up. She pushed her curls into a ball before putting the hair tie around it. “I have to take Rissa to my aunt’s today. She lives on the other side of town and I won’t have time to run you by the school.”
Aubrey reached out for Rissa, and after the change off, Gabby nodded, saying “Sure,” before slipping her book bag off the chair she sat in. She pushed her arms into the straps. “Is everything okay? Why isn’t she going to daycare?”
Aubrey opened her mouth, but then her gaze went to me still at the table. I turned away, giving them privacy. I didn’t want to listen in, but the thing about ears was they were hard to turn off. I didn’t miss when she said her check for the week of daycare bounced, though I made it look like I had, scraping my fork along my plate. Like I was distracted and not listening. Gabby started to say goodbye when I chose to make my presence known again. I rubbed my mouth with my napkin and stood.
“I can take her,” I suggested. Both girls’ eyebrows twitched up at the proposal and I shrugged. “I pass the high school on my way to the precinct. Not a problem at all.”
“You want to take her,” Aubrey said, eyebrows narrowed in my direction. Rissa patted lightly at her face, but the woman’s gaze didn’t let up. “In your squad car?”
Yeah, the thing was an eyesore. But again, something my boss requested I drive once I moved in. I didn’t have to drive it all the time, but I did have to have it in the area. I shrugged again. “I’d take my car, but I’m headed into work right after.”
“I like the idea,” Gabby popped in, exchanging a glance between the pair of us with a clear excitement in her eyes.
Fighting a smile, I pointed at her. “She likes the idea.”
With a quick goodbye, Aubrey let us go, though she did so begrudgingly, I think. Gabby gave Rissa a kiss before she went into the hallway. I was last and left to close the door. I raised my hand to Aubrey and Rissa still in the hall. “Thanks for breakfast this morning. It was great.”
“Though a little crazy?” Aubrey added, her baby still patting her face while her mom stared at me.
I chuckled. “Yeah, a little crazy. But still good.”
I didn’t say what I really wanted to. I wanted to add it was a little perfect, too. Aubrey nodded and I got a cute little grin from Rissa just before Aubrey turned around with her, her back to me. I heard her mutter something as I closed the door. Something that sounded like: “Only one day with Aunt Jen today. We’ll figure out daycare tomorrow.”
Again, I wondered why she had no one to help her.