ENTIRE first 4 chapters!!
#Taboo #AgeGap #SmallTown #PageTurner #Sizzling #WickedTwist #NailBiter #EdgeOfYourSeat #Unputdownable #Wow! #BookHangover #INeedMore! #SOGood!
^^^ All things said by a few early readers! 😎
Rushing down the stairs, I nearly tripped over Hiccup as he dashed up past me like his tail was on fire. Crazy cat—or smart cat. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think even Hiccup sensed the unease of my dad’s impending arrival from work. We never knew what version of my dad would be walking through the door on any given night. Angry and verbally abusive, or drunk, batshit crazy and verbally abusive.
I’d gotten so caught up with my “homework” I lost track of the time, and I was surprised my mom hadn’t called for me to come help her with supper. Halfway down the stairs I could smell the heavenly aromas coming from the kitchen.
“There you are.” She turned to me as she pulled a casserole dish out of the oven. “I was getting ready to call you down.”
“Yeah, sorry.” I pulled plates and glasses out of the cupboard. “I was doing my homework and lost track of time.”
Just as our gazes met, she lifted a brow. “Homework?”
I smirked, setting the dinnerware down on the table. “Well, I did finish my homework before I started with my other stuff.”
She turned back to the counter where she lifted the crock pot open as I continued to set the table. Peering at her hand brace when it clicked against the stove, I glanced up at her. “Is your arthritis bothering—”
“We’ll need four settings tonight.”
She was still busy with the casserole dish to look up at me. It was only then that I noticed it wasn’t a casserole. The dish had four large twice baked potatoes in it. She slid another pan with rolls into the oven and set the timer.
Glancing around, I spotted the other serving bowls on the counter. One had what looked like her bourbon glazed carrots—something she only ever made on Thanksgiving—and the other held a big fresh salad. There was also a crumb cake on the counter. It wasn’t homemade because it was in a box, but dinners were never this formal and we never had dessert unless it was a holiday. “Who’s coming over?”
“A friend of your dads’.”
I walked back to the cupboard to retrieve the extra setting for the table and leaned over to glance at what was in the crock pot. It was a roast. Mom rarely made roast. The fanciest dinners we ever got around here were spaghetti or some kind of casserole with lots of pasta, rice or potatoes and minimal protein, which dad got most of. We used to dine on pizza bread, frozen corn dogs or something similar and we’d do so on our own. I’d take mine to my room where I preferred to eat—away from my ever-petulant dad.
It wasn’t until just recently that he started insisting we all ate at the dinner table. “Like a real family, damn it.” So, his suddenly inviting dinner guests shouldn’t have surprised me. But I was still curious.
Dad had never been the most approachable person in town. Though he tried hard to put up a front. The only friends he ever had over never got this kind of treatment. In fact, they rarely got invited inside. Instead, they hung out back with him, drinking beer while throwing horseshoes or playing cards, spewing out obscenities along with loud drunken cackles.
Those were the only people he’d ever let into his world. The kind he didn’t care about impressing because they were worse off than he was. Anyone else looking in from the outside thought we were a happy little family, with a respectable head of household, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“He said it’s an old friend.” Mom glanced at me, but quickly went back to what she was doing. “Guess this guy used to work with dad when he lived in California.”
Except for the few times I’d ever spent at dad’s farm equipment repair shop, I’d rarely seen him be social and halfway pleasant while sober. But it was his place of business and he had to be as pleasant as possible if he wanted his clients’ continued business.
“This should be interesting.” I placed the extra setting down.
“What was that?” My mom turned to me, but I shook my head.
Just then, the car pulled into the driveway, and I started away from the kitchen glancing curiously out the window. “I’ll go wash up.” I slowed to get a better look but couldn’t see anything from my angle.
Whatever. I shrugged, continuing to the downstairs bathroom. Anyone willing to hang out with my dad, has never been anyone I’d want to be around. I’d enjoy the special dinner, then excuse myself as soon as possible. I was anxious to get back to what I was working on upstairs anyway.
As I turned off the sink water, the most foreign sound in the world made me freeze. My dad was laughing and talking in a gracious sober tone I hadn’t heard in years. I stared in the mirror for a moment and almost laughed. The other unfamiliar voice wasn’t nearly as loud as my dad’s. I couldn’t even make out what he was saying, but it sounded like polite responses to whatever my parents were saying to him.
I dried my hands and headed back to the kitchen. A man sat at the table facing the other way. My dad, who sat across from him, was the first to see me. “And this here is my baby girl, Camila.”
The term of endearment caught me so off guard I didn’t turn my attention to his friend because I was busy eyeing the man at the table who said it. Whoever you are, please tell me you’re replacing my real dad, and he’s never coming back.
“Camila, this is my good friend Dante.”
I turned to Dante and the first thing that struck me was how much younger he was than I’d expected. When Mom first mentioned dad was bringing home a friend, I’d just assumed it’d be someone his age. I was no good at estimating people’s ages, especially ones out of their teens but if I had to guess, he looked to be about twenty-five.
I smiled politely. “Hello.”
Even as I nodded, I had to wonder why in the world this guy would want to hang out with an old guy like my dad. I could never remember my parents’ ages exactly, but I was pretty sure they were pushing, if not, in their early forties.
“Nice to meet you, Camila.” Standing, Dante extended his hand.
I shook it, making note of his slightly callused, yet otherwise strangely soft hand. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
I took the seat next to him at the table. But what I really wanted to say was that I was stunned to meet him. I expected someone around my dad’s age. Maybe not as obnoxious as the friends he’s had over in the past, given the spread my mom put out. But still, he was pretty much the opposite of what I’d imagined.
Aside from being much younger than expected, he was clean shaven, well groomed, dressed nicely in clean jeans, a short sleeved buttoned shirt and even smelled nice. Not like the blend of whiskey, BO, and cigarettes the friends Dad usually had over. Clearly, Dante went the extra mile to not only shower and appear presentable, but he even wore cologne.
As much as my father was playing the part of a happy family man who came home to a dinner like this every night, I knew better than anyone that this was so not the case. When he got home drunk from work, which was often, I actually preferred it that way. It meant he wouldn’t be eating, which meant I was free to take my food upstairs and eat in peace.
Mom had already set the serving platters on the table, and I started to reach for one. “Not until I’ve said grace, Camila.”
With my hand frozen in midair, I stared at my dad in disbelief, and my jaw nearly dropped. I brought my hand back slowly, turning to my mom who nodded holding her hands together in front of her. Grateful that she did, because otherwise I wouldn’t have even known what to do since we’ve never said grace before, I did the same.
Clearing his throat, my dad started, and I closed my eyes because this was as awkward as it was ridiculous. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.”
I heard my mom say Amen, then Dante followed, sounding a little unsure with his own Amen. I opened one eye and saw my dad reach for a roll. Just like that, his prayer was over, and I had to wonder if he didn’t just Google and memorize the three sentences on his way home from work. I mumbled an obligatory Amen under my breath, but doubt my dad heard or even cared.
Dante didn’t immediately reach for any of the food, even as my dad slopped food on his own plate like it might run out. “Help yourself.” Dad smiled at Dante. “I’m probably biased but the little wifey here is a heck of a cook.”
I’d officially entered the Twilight Zone. My gaze met my dad’s as I tried to make out if someone really had taken over his body. But then I saw it. His smiling eyes went from easy-going and sweet, to his usual hard demeanor. I could almost hear his silent warning. You keep your fucking mouth shut and just go along with this.
I had no clue what my dad was up to, but I knew him well enough. He was up to something. He started telling Dante about the shop. From the sound of the conversation this wasn’t the first time they’d talked about it. Dante asked about a tractor dad was working on; stuff I didn’t know, nor had I ever cared about.
I ate quietly, not paying attention to what they were discussing. My interest in my mother’s delicious spread outweighed anything dad said. Until he dropped the news on us. But he didn’t really tell us, so much as tell Dante like it was something we already knew about.
“The garage is all set up for you.” I glanced up in shock. Dad was too busy stuffing his face to even notice. “There’s a bed out there, and a chest of drawers for you. Even got a couple of fans set up for you, to beat the summer heat at night. No bathroom but you’re welcome to use the one in here anytime you need to.”
When I glanced at Mom, her eyes again said it all. Obviously this was news to her as well. She stared at my dad, who still hadn’t bothered looking her way. She too appeared to have been caught mid chew. When she turned to me, she started to chew again as if this didn’t actually shock her as well.
This shouldn’t have surprised me. Not only had my dad’s drinking grown heavier over the years, so had his lack of respect for either of us. Not that he’d ever actually respected a snot nosed kid like myself but at least he used to tell my mom in advance when he was having company—which in this case apparently, he did—just left out the part about him inviting his guest to move into the garage. I used to think he kept his foul-mouthed friends outside, out of respect for my mom. But as I got older, I distinctly got the feeling they were discussing things out there he didn’t want my mom to hear.
“I have some money put away.” Dante turned to my mom as if maybe he’d picked up on the fact that this was the first, she was hearing about this. “As soon as I’m able to find a place I can afford in town, I’ll be out of your hair.”
“No worries.” My dad shook his head adamantly without giving my mom a chance to respond. “You can stay here as long as you need to. That’s what friends are for, right?”
The Cheshire grin on my father’s face turned from Dante to me and then my mother. As if he hadn’t just dropped this news on us completely out of nowhere. Now his having been out in the garage for days doing what my mom referred to as spring cleaning, made sense. The man was a slob. The only reason this house wasn’t a pigsty, was because of my mom and me. I should’ve known something was up. But I’d just been glad he was spending his time out there and not inside bullying me and my mom, so I hadn’t cared.
The conversation went back to the shop and fixing farm equipment and soon dinner was over. Dad took Dante out to see his new place while mom and I cleaned up. The moment they were out of hearing range, I turned to my mother. “What the heck was that about? Did he tell you he was gonna move his friend in?”
“Of course not.” She moved about quickly. “But he did say he’s wooing a new business partner. I guess this is his idea of wooing.” She shrugged as she loaded the dishwasher. “Dante seems nice enough. Could’ve been worse. At least it’s not one of his usual friends.”
Mom cleaned in a rush, and I suspected she wanted to be done and in her bedroom by the time my dad returned. She stopped a couple of times to massage her hand with a wince.
She nodded but as usual shrugged it off as if it weren’t a big deal. “I’ll just need to up my dose tonight.”
Frowning, I didn’t push for more. I helped her with the cleanup, and we were done quick enough. We headed to our bedrooms without any more talk of our new house guest or even the weirdness of my father’s demeanor around him.
Wooing a new business partner. It made even more sense now. I should’ve known money had everything to do with my father being such a kiss ass. It just made me wonder how a man who’d be living in our garage could possibly help my dad financially.