“Hey! You give those back! You… you… Richie rich!”
She hoped his head imploded. With the screeching fore and aft, it was a possibility. Fortunately, though, she had more control than the little troglodyte at the door. That one gave no sign of winding down, but M had some self-respect. She hoped to make a reputation for herself in this city, and yelling and swearing—almost, she’d caught herself in time—in one of the wealthiest areas in town, wasn’t quite the impression she wanted to make. It was people like this that she’d need to make her plan work. The people on this street and all their muckety muck friends.
She zipped her lip and barreled up the stairs. If she fell, she was suing. For every penny he had.
Not that she could afford a lawyer.
Jonathan Davenport—a.k.a. Jonny, ha ha— was just inside the door, trying to get his sister to stop wailing. Unfortunately, he still held onto M’s bags, or she would have grabbed them and run.
He was on his knees, eye to eye with the little monster. “Alicia, please. Sweetie, calm down. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”
And the band played on. The kid had incredible lung capacity. She could put an opera diva to shame.
M had had enough. Who was in charge here anyway? Dumb question. Obviously the short one.
Apparently the tall one was a wuss.
Not stopping to consider the appropriateness of her actions, she stepped forward, and tilted the child’s chin up with a finger. She didn’t know squat about kids, but as far as she was concerned, lowering herself to the brat’s level and giving up superiority at a time like this was a bad move. Counterproductive. With a look that meant business, and a voice to match, she said, “Stop. That. Racket. Right. Now.”
Alicia’s eyes widened, and her mouth snapped shut.
After pinning M with a glare that nearly robbed her lungs of air, Jonathan stood, then reached down and picked up his sister. He kissed her cheek and brushed away her tears. “I promised you. I’m not going away. Okay?”
Giving her a squeeze, he said, “Can you try not to forget it the next time I walk out the door?”
She nodded again. After a moment, she kissed him back then flung her arms around him. Burying her face in the crook of his neck, she said, “Wuv you, Jonny. Forever an’ awways.”
M watched as his hand came up and cupped the back of her head in a gesture so tender, so protective, it made her ache. “Wuv… love you too.”
Alicia lifted her head and looked at him. “Forever an’ awways?”
He looked like he wanted to cry. “Forever and always.”
Until that moment, M hadn’t even considered the ramifications of Summer’s death. Her husband’s death. Okay, she had, but only how it impacted her. This child had lost her parents. And no matter how hard it was for M to picture Summer as any kind of mother figure, the fact remained. For a few years, she had been Alicia’s mother.
Maybe she needed to cut the kid some slack.
Jonathan put his sister down. “Now, I need to talk to this lady. Can you go back to your playroom and play by yourself for a bit?”
In the lightning swift mood change of a child, she grinned up at him. “’Kay, Jonny. Bye, wady!”
With that, she charged up the stairs. And what a surprise. It was another grand staircase.
M still wasn’t in the mood to play nice, and besides, she didn’t believe he deserved it. And if she had to keep reminding herself not to turn to pudding inside just because he’d treated his sister with more concern than her own father had ever treated her, so be it.
With her hands fisted and her arms folded over her chest, she tapped her foot. “My bags, please. I’d like to leave.”
He moved his own foot and stood on the strap of her bag.
Yeah, call her crazy. She’d been so distracted by the scene when he picked up his sister, she hadn’t realized he’d had to set her bags down to do so. If her brain had been firing at full capacity she would have grabbed them and ran when she had the chance.
Oh, well. Spilt milk and all that. And since her life consisted of bathtubs full of spilt milk, she knew how to deal. Suck it up, and move on.
That brought her up short. “Huh?” She cringed. Apparently her vocabulary was packed away like everything else she owned.
“While it certainly wasn’t your place to do so, I’m saying thanks for getting her to quiet down. I never can. This is all new to me, and she can be a bit of a handful.”
M snorted. “That’s not a ‘handful’. That’s out of control.”
His eyes narrowed.
The words were barely out of her mouth when she began to castigate herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Would you learn to keep your mouth shut?
“Sorry. I… sorry. She just lost her parents. Um… how long ago did they die? What happened?”
He hunched his shoulders, then scrubbed a hand over his face. “Six months ago. Summer was…”
She actually heard his mouth slap shut.
“Forget it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Look, either you tell me, or I find out from someone else. Summer was what?”
She watched him struggle for a moment, then give up. “Summer was drunk. She was driving. They’re dead.”
His words hit her with the staccato beat of bullets from a machine gun.
M kept her expression stoic, but inside, she cringed. She had to bite her tongue. How many times had she apologized for her family because they were too lazy, too drunk, too stoned? She’d promised herself she’d never do it again.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Which sounded incredibly trite, but at least she wasn’t apologizing for Summer’s actions.
“Thanks.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “Will you stay?”
She shrugged. “Thanks for the offer, but why should I? We’re not family. You don’t owe me anything. Besides, I’ll figure something out. I always do.” Her eyes shot firebombs at him. “I’m not a charity case or a beggar.”
And a new short story, Spinning Wildly, is FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!