So, note time!
I wasn’t sure that I was going to release this. Some of the story might not line up with KINDA DON’T CARE, but after letting my betas read it, they said that it needed to be released. So, you can thank them for this little snippet. BEWARE! This short story (and by ‘short’ I mean really short) might contain spoilers for Kinda Don’t Care, so read at your own peril!
“You’re not going,” I flat-out refused. “You’re not. You’re…”
“I’m a grown ass adult, Dad!” Janie, my daughter, screamed. “You can’t stop me!”
“It’s fucking nighttime,” I snapped. “You’re not going to find a goddamn thing at night. There are animals in those woods. You’ll be all alone, and likely by day break I’ll have to search for you, too.”
Janie was shaking in anger as she stared at me with a look I’d never seen cross her face before right then. “He was shot. He could have drowned. I can’t leave him out there. I have to know.”
My daughter’s best friend, which happened to be a forty-one-year-old man named Rafe, was missing.
Earlier in the day, he’d been in an altercation. Earlier in the day, he’d been shot. Earlier in the day, he’d then gone to help a woman who was drowning in her car—which had been purposefully pushed over a bridge with her child inside.
Then, somewhere after the woman and her child were saved, Rafe went under. Rafe, for all intents and purposes, died.
At least in the eyes of all the other search crew.
We’d arrived from our hometown of Kilgore, Texas to help in the search. But, after hearing about Rafe’s gunshot wound—which, according to the man that had helped save the woman right alongside Rafe, had been fairly substantial—it was determined that Rafe had passed out in the water and had died.
The banks had been searched. The immediate area dragged by boats. The area surrounding the river had been searched.
Literally, the only thing left was for the remaining part of the river to be dragged.
There was nowhere else he could be.
They’d searched twenty miles of river and bank. There was no way he was alive.
And Janie knew it.
My heart broke, and I wrapped my arms around her shoulder, pulling her into my chest as I’d done a hundred thousand times over the course of her young life.
“I’m sorry, baby.”
But, as if the universe was laughing at me, there was a loud commotion outside, causing me to glance up through the small opening in the stairwell door.
And what I saw made my belly drop.
I pulled open the stairwell door, and Janie gasped.
He was wet. He had blood running down his face and pooling in the collar of his shirt, and he looked about ready to pass out.
He did pass out.
He hit the ground about two steps outside of the elevator.
“Rafe!” Janie cried. “Oh my God! Rafe!”
And, as I watched my daughter land on her knees beside the man that I always knew wasn’t just a friend, I realized a few things.
One, my daughter was in love with a man that was almost twenty years older than her.
Two, Rafe was going to die—by my hand.
And three, this could go nowhere good.
Especially, I realized, hours later when we found out that Rafe didn’t remember any of the last six months.
My daughter’s devastation regarding the man’s lack of memory made me realize I was missing something.
I held my tongue, though.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know why it mattered that he couldn’t remember.
It was just a crush, right?
* * *
“He doesn’t remember her?”
James shook his head.
“Oh, no.” I moaned. “Oh, no, no, no, no.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“She’s devastated, isn’t she?” I whispered.
James walked to me and wrapped me in his oh-so-familiar arms. They hadn’t changed one single bit from the very first time he’d hugged me exactly like that.
His hair and beard had silvered, and the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes had grown deeper. More prominent.
“And get this,” James said, letting me go and running his rough hands down his bearded chin. “He’s engaged.”
My mouth fell open.
“He’s what?” I shrieked.
“Engaged,” he confirmed.
“Since, apparently, a while. He met her in Hostel.” He shook his head, and I felt his beard hairs mess up my bun. Not that I cared. “The woman came in. Apparently, she was his emergency contact along with his sister.”
Rafe had spent a whole lot of time with us over the years. He’d been an unofficial official part of the Freebirds team for a very long time. Ever since he’d saved a woman’s child from being abducted. One that the men of Free had promised would be safe.
Since then, he’d been here in some capacity.
Sure, he still did other things, such as he’d done for since he’d moved to Hostel.
But, I had a feeling that had more to do with a job that he was working down there—a job that none of the men had been able to figure out what kind it was—rather than just being a nice person that was willing to help out.
Rafe was very secretive. Very quiet, and honestly, stayed to his own business.
At least, he did with everyone but Janie.
I just wished I wasn’t so torn on whether I wanted him to remember or not.
If I’d had any idea what would be in store for me, maybe I would’ve been cheering a little more vigorously for him to regain his memory.
A few months later
I stood up from the table, and Janie’s hounds stood up with me, practically shaking in anticipation.
I sighed. “Let me put my shoes on.”
Both of them watched me with an incredible amount of intelligence, as if they understood every single word that came out of my mouth.
Both of them walked silently to where my boots lay haphazardly in the hallway, and waited next to them until I walked to them and picked them up.
Then they walked to the couch and both sat down, waiting for me to follow my usual routine.
Which I did.
I took the time to say hello to my kid, though, seeing as she was reading, and I loved nothing more than to mess with her.
“Harry Potter again?” I teased.
Scout grunted at me.
“You want me to leave you alone?”
She glared at me over the top of her book. “I’m at the part where Dumbledore dies, Dad. I can’t speak with you. There are too many emotions pouring through me right now to process speech that doesn’t include curse words.
I snorted and slipped on my boot, then went to the other one.
“Your homework done?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said.
“What about your chores?” I questioned.
“Been done for an hour. Why do you think I’m sitting here?”
The little smartass.
I just shook my head. “Where’s Rebel?”
“Outside doing something with one of Elliott’s heathens.”
I chuckled as I stood, “I gotta go take those dogs for a walk, or they’re gonna tear the place up. Do you want to come?”
Scout sighed and closed her book, leaving her finger in place to mark her page, her face taking on a hint of concern. “Janie said that she was on the way over with Tegan, and to prepare yourself because he wanted to ‘officially’ meet you.”
He was going to ask for Janie’s hand, and I was going to have to tell him that I didn’t want him to have anything to do with my daughter. I wouldn’t be able to hold it in. I wouldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t.
Janie was going to be so pissed at me!
Despite my dislike for the man, I knew he was all wrong for my daughter, and that had nothing to do with the fact that I found him repulsive.
She didn’t love him.
And, if I were being honest, I knew that she was with him because she was trying to make it look like she’d moved on—as if Rafe, her childhood crush, didn’t have a fiancée, and that it wasn’t breaking her heart.
Sadly, Rafe had never returned those feelings.
Janie had begged, cajoled, pleaded, teased, and ultimately bothered the shit out of him for years.
Life would be easier if he did, though.
Rafe, I could actually tolerate.
Dimwit, also known as Tegan, was someone I would never, ever, have asked for in a man that would be dating my daughter. Her boyfriend was hated with a surprising amount of passion.
Nobody liked Tegan, not even Janie’s best friend Kayla.
“You think she’s going to say yes, don’t you?”
My stomach soured. “Let’s hope not.”
Then I walked outside with Janie’s two hellhounds at my heels, and hoped that what I thought was about to happen didn’t come to fruition.
* * *
I looked at Tegan like the toad he was, and waited with my arms crossed for him to get on with what he was going to say.
It didn’t help that Rafe’s raptor-like gaze was locked on Janie as if nothing else surrounding him mattered—as if she was the real threat.
Which, in truth, I supposed she was. To him, at least.
She was a puzzle that he could never quite solve—at least lately.
“Janie, honey, why don’t you go put your dogs up? They’re probably thirsty. We’ve been outside a lot today,” I said, keeping my eyes on Tegan.
I could practically feel the tension in him.
It would’ve been amusing had he not been there to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage.
Janie gave me a thumb up, and moments later called to her dogs as she started walking away.
“You mind waiting inside?”
That was directed at Rafe, who’d been standing there with Janie and Tegan as I’d walked up after taking the dogs for a short walk.
Rafe didn’t say a word.
He passed me on the way inside the house, but stopped somewhere right inside the door to listen to the train wreck that he could likely see about to happen.
Tegan’s obvious words had me returning my attention back to him. “Nice to see you again.”
I couldn’t even pretend to be happy to see him. “Wish I could say the same about you.”
Tegan’s brows rose.
“I came over today to let you know that I’m in love with your daughter.”
“Is that so,” I drawled.
Please, say it isn’t so.
“Yes, sir,” Tegan replied. “I’m glad that we’re getting to meet. I wanted you to know how I felt about your daughter, and to ask you a question.”
I knew it was coming.
“I have a feeling you’ll be happy,” Tegan replied.
“I can’t say that the feelings that I’m exhibiting right now are good ones,” I countered.
“I want to ask your permission to marry…”
Hell. Fucking. No.
I flipped over the final page of the bridal magazine I was reading and sighed. This was going to be a colossal mess.
I reached over and took the next magazine off the stack, flipping it open to the first page.
Janie was across the table from me, flipping through her own magazine.
We were at our home, or at least mine. It was still Janie’s, too, whenever she wanted. But she’d moved out over five years ago into her father’s old place a few houses down. It was what the women of Free had called the ‘bachelor housing.’ The housing that the men had occupied before the women had come along.
The Free compound was a very weird thing. It was odd to the rest of the city, what we had going on here. But to us and our men? It was a way of life.
I’d been married to James twenty-one years. The majority of the time I’d been in Kilgore, Texas, I’d lived in this very compound.
It was made up of about ten houses on about eighty acres of land. All of the houses were clustered into a neighborhood-type housing complex, and I freakin’ loved it.
Raising our children in a place like this had been a Godsend.
When Sam, Max, James, Jack, Gabe and Elliott had proposed this ‘compound,’ I didn’t think they had any idea that it’d turn out quite like this.
Really, it was like we had our own little village.
Everybody had helped raise everybody’s kids, and they were better for it—the kids and the adults.
“Do you think I’m making a mistake, marrying Tegan?”
That was a loaded question if I’d ever heard one.
“What do you mean?” I asked carefully, hoping she’d clarify what mistake she was referring to.
I had a feeling that was the one she was referring to, but I didn’t want to branch out into my own worries right then. I’d tried that before, and she’d not taken the news well. She was a stubborn one, this girl of mine.
I wasn’t her mother, not by blood, but everywhere else that counted, she was my daughter. I’d helped raise her. Loved her. Nurtured her. She was mine, just as surely as she was James’s.
And again, I was about to tell her a few things that she for sure didn’t want to hear.
“Honey,” I said to her. “This thing…this thing you think you have isn’t going anywhere. Rafe has been nothing but professional around you. He works here with your father. He’s almost twenty years older than you. Trust me, this thing y’all have going on? It’s only one-sided. He sees you as his friend’s kid, and nothing else.”
Janie looked heart broken, but someone needed to share with her that she couldn’t make something happen between the two of them…not if the feelings weren’t reciprocated. It was never going to happen.
Rafe was different. He was mysterious. He was married to his job. He left and didn’t come back for months at a time. Sometimes, eight or ten months would go by, then he’d show up one day like he’d never been gone.
Lately, well, lately had been one of the first times since I’d known the man that he’d hung around—at least close enough to be in driving distance—for more than a week.
Though, what I’d thought was due to a job he had in Hostel, Texas was shattered moments later when Janie said what she said next.
“I slept with him.”
My eyes widened.