Authors: Laramie Briscoe
“Shit,” Addie yelled, clapping her hands, grinning as she did so.
It was then that he felt the presence of the only woman who ever made him stop running, made him stop looking for approval from others when he knew he wouldn’t get it. Turning around, he grinned at the woman who wore his necklace. “She didn’t get that from me.”
Meredith gave him her own grin back. “I stood here long enough to know that she did. Still not good with the hair?”
“I don’t know how you do it.” He shook his head. “I can’t seem to get the hang of it, no matter how hard I try.”
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she told him as she walked over to the two of them and had a seat on Tyler’s lap, pulling Addie into hers.
He watched as she went about pulling the mass of curls all up, not even bothering to try and still the squirming toddler. “I’m all ears, babe. Any secrets you got to tell, I’m willin’ to listen.”
Meredith shivered slightly. His lips at her ear still had the power to get to her. “I practiced with an old baby doll of Mandy’s until I had it right.”
He was stunned for a moment and then let out the loudest laugh she’d heard. “Are you fuckin’ serious?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I’ve never been a girlie girl. My friends and I didn’t do each other’s hair, I was never really into makeup that much, so I was at a loss for what to do. I did watch some YouTube videos.” She shrugged.
His large hand circled around her thigh. “You’ve always been all woman to me.”
It should have been illegal how much they still wanted each other. Had anyone told her she’d have a relationship like this when she was younger, she would have laughed. For her, life was all about career. No one needed a man—especially not her—who had prided herself in how many things she could do on her own. One night changed her whole outlook on life, and funny as it sounded, she was glad. Her life hadn’t turned out the way she’d planned, but it was so much better than she’d ever assumed it could be. “Stop.” She smacked his hand away playfully. “We gotta go. They’ll start the fireworks in a few hours, and I need to help Denise with the food.”
“Okay,” he sighed. “But tonight, I say we make our own fireworks.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him, her eyes meeting his. “You got yourself a deal.”
“I swear to God, Drew Walker, you push me in this pool again and I’m going home!”
Meredith laughed along with Denise as the two of them sat out all the side dishes on the deck that had been erected around the above-ground pool. Drew and his best friend Dalton had put the pool up themselves the summer before, and they had been the ones out here building the deck, just in time for the cookout. It looked like Drew was reaping the rewards of a job well done.
“Charity’s going to go home, isn’t she?” Denise mused as she nodded towards them. “’Cause my son ain’t gonna leave her alone.”
“She’s such a nice girl,” Meredith told her. “You lucked out on that. I see some of the sullen teenagers that come into CRISIS, and I fight to ask them if it’ll hurt to smile. I know they’ve been through a lot. I mean if they’re at CRISIS then life isn’t what any them thought it would be, ya know? But I want to tell them that a smile can change a person’s whole outlook on life.”
“She is a nice girl, no matter what her momma does for a living,” Denise affirmed. “I’m just afraid one of them is going to get their heart broken. Not only is she a nice girl, but she’s a smart girl, and she wants out of this town.”
“Well, I don’t blame her,” Meredith put out a bowl of fruit salad, leaving the cover on to keep the flies out of it until they could all sit down for the meal. “I have a stigma of a rape victim on me, even if it’s just to a few people. She has a stigma of being the daughter of a stripper. She’s never going to outgrow that, no matter how smart or beautiful she is. There are only so many stigmas we can escape at a time.”
“I know, and believe me, I get it. I think baby boy’s gonna be left with a broken heart at the end of this coming school year.
It was hard for Meredith to believe that Drew and Mandy were old enough to be seniors in high school, but that’s what they would be, come August. “Then you’ll do what all mothers who care for their children do. You’ll nurse his broken heart back whole and let him know that there are other fish in the sea.”
e’re gonna head out.”
Meredith glanced up, seeing Layne and Jessica standing together holding hands. She knew that given his past, Layne sometimes couldn’t handle loud noises and flash booms…it didn’t happen every time, but on those rare occasions that it did send him into a flashback, it could be hard to get him out of it. He wasn’t a fan of giving it a try and just assuming he would be okay in the end. He’d had a few flashbacks with Jessica around, and he was always worried he’d hurt her. When children were around, he was even more careful, which was probably why he was making a quick exit tonight.
“Thanks for comin’,” Tyler stood up, hugging the younger man.
Liam, Travis, and Rooster were in the field, getting things set up, and it was customary for the other members to say their goodbyes before heading out. Jagger was talking shit with some of the teenagers that had come with Drew and Mandy.
“It’s always a great time,” Jessica grinned.
They still lived at the clubhouse, but Meredith knew that for this night they would probably be getting a room at their favorite hotel. It had always surprised Meredith how quickly and easily Jessica had given up her previous life, but she never acted as if she missed it. She hardly ever talked about it. She truly was happy in her life as a girlfriend and an erotica writer.
Talk and movement were beginning to die down. They had eaten and socialized. Everyone nursed full stomachs, and they were all moving from the picnic table and patio furniture to blankets that had been set out earlier in the day. The sun was finally beginning to set, and they were all getting excited for the fireworks show.
“You ready, doodlebug?” Tyler hitched Addalynn up on his hip. She’d been his doodlebug since she was five months old and he’d caught her playing with a crayon, making random doodles on a piece of paper.
She nodded, even though her head was heavy against his shoulder. The little girl was fighting sleep in a big way. If this were a normal night and not a special holiday, they’d be having bath and story time right about now. This family was nothing if not on a schedule.
“Not too much longer,” Meredith told her, smoothing back some of the hairs that had escaped the up-do she’d placed it in.
They had a seat on their blanket, in between Drew and Charity on one side, Dalton and Mandy on the other. Drew and Charity were wrapped up in one another; Drew had his arm around Charity’s neck, and he was saying things in her ear that made her giggle. On the other end of the spectrum were Mandy and Dalton. They weren’t close together, but it was close enough to make Meredith wonder what was going on with the two of them. Their heads were bent at an angle talking to one another, and Dalton reached over to grasp her hand, running his fingers along her palm. Whatever Dalton said caused a blush to form on Mandy’s cheeks.
“You two keep it PG,” Tyler’s voice boomed over at Drew and Charity. “Tatum’s runnin’ around someplace, and you know she’ll end up over there.”
The two teenagers’ faces lit a bright red as they realized what the older man had implied.
“Tyler!” Meredith smacked him on the chest. “Don’t embarrass them like that.”
Tyler let a slow grin work its way across his face and leaned close to his wife. “He and I still work out together, ya know? I have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing when he takes his shirt off and he has scratches down his back deeper than mine.”
Now it was her turn to blush. She’d known Drew since he was twelve; there was not one part of her that could even begin to imagine what Tyler was saying to her. “What am I gonna do with you?”
Before he could answer, loud booms filled the air along with all colors of the rainbow. Talking ceased, and the only sounds that could be heard were the oohs and ahs of the crowd and gasps of pleasure from the little kids. Tyler looked down at Addalynn, who happily clapped her hands; his heart was as full as it had ever been.
“She’s out like a light,” Tyler whispered as he and Meredith made their way into the dorm room they still sometimes used. It was nice to have options, especially on nights like this when it would be a late drive to their home.
“Then I’ll give her a bath in the morning. No reason to wake her up tonight,” Meredith said as she pulled back the covers in the bed that they used for Addie when they were here. It was a converted toddler bed, but it got the job done.
Tyler stopped what he was doing and looked at her, his brown eyes bright.
“What?” she asked, not able to help the grin that spread across her own face.
“She’s out…most everybody else is either in bed or they’ve moved the party somewhere else for the night…” he let his sentence die off.
Being together for years meant that you knew what your significant other was getting at or trying to say, but sometimes she liked to make him work for it. “That means we should sleep really good tonight. It’s been a super long day. Working at CRISIS means you don’t get to take holidays off.” She exaggerated a yawn and raised her arms up over her head, stretching.
He took the opportunity to grab her around the waist and lift her up. Using his hands, he spread her thighs and let her legs circle his mid-section. “I think you know just what I’m gettin’ at, sweetheart. No reason to act like you don’t.”
Of their own accord, her arms wrapped around his neck, pulling him in to a kiss that was hot enough to cause sweat to break out on his brow. He groaned in the back of his throat, tightening his grip on her ass.
“You’re right.” Her voice was breathless as she pulled away from the kiss. “Where can we go?” Some people were okay with having relations while a child was around, but that had never been her thing and probably never would be.
“Neither one of us got to swim tonight.”
“Give me five minutes to make sure that someone can watch Addie if she needs something before we get back and to grab my swimsuit.” She hurriedly grabbed the baby monitor they used while they were here and went in search of a friend.