Chapter 3.09

09-19-17_4-41-40 PM

—Theresa—

I turned my face up to one of the many paintings on the wall. It was one I kept coming back to over and over again. The bright splashes of color called to me, reminded me of my own work.

When I was a little girl, Mom would bring me to the art gallery whenever we had a girl’s day. While Dad and Nathan were playing with worms or hitting balls—whatever it was they’d done together—Mom had told me about art. The history of it, the passion behind it. Even at home, I’d happily spent hours sitting quietly, just watching her paint. It had mesmerized me—the way she seemed to see the picture hidden in the canvas.

I’d wanted to keep them all—I loved each and every one, after all. One day, I’d even told her as much.

09-19-17_5-15-19 PM

“Art is like love—it’s meant to be shared,” Mom had told me.

Of course, as a little kid, I hadn’t realized that those paintings were keeping us all fed. Dad made music because he loved it, not because it paid well. Mom never made it “big” but she’d done well by selling artwork to friends and local businesses. More than I’d ever done.

“Theresa. Theresa. Theresa.”

09-19-17_4-43-41 PM

I blinked and pulled out of my thoughts. I turned to find my supervisor frowning at me. “What?”

“You’re supposed to be showing the artwork, not admiring it.”

“Sorry, Angie,” I replied sheepishly. More or less, I enjoyed working at the art gallery. It sure as hell beat flipping burgers and most of the other things I was actually qualified to do. But I often got distracted by admiring the pieces I was supposed to be selling. Admiring, and dreaming.

09-19-17_4-18-32 PM

When I got home late that afternoon, I found Mom upstairs at her easel. Though she and Dad had converted my childhood bedroom into a studio for her when I was in high school, she still seemed to favor working on the upstairs landing.

09-19-17_4-21-06 PM

I sat down and watched her for a while, like I had when I was little, before I asked, “Mom, why didn’t you ever try to get recognized? I mean, your paintings are beautiful. You could’ve had a real career.”

Mom turned to look at me, put down her brush, and wiped her hands on a rag. She lowered herself onto the sofa next to me. “Fame was never what I wanted. Call me old fashioned if you want, but I always wanted to be like your grandma.” She smiled softly, remembering the woman I’d never gotten to meet. “I wanted being a mom to be my career. I got very lucky because I was able to do that; a lot of people don’t get that chance.”

09-19-17_4-27-46 PM

She studied me for a minute. “What about you, Theresa? Your work is remarkable. You should already be in galleries.”

I could lie. San Myshuno was a big place where everyone was trying to succeed. I could easily tell her that I’d tried my heart out, submitted pieces to every gallery I could find, done everything I could but still hadn’t gotten my name out there. It would be believable.

But it wasn’t the truth.

As much as I loved art, as passionate as I felt about it, I’d never felt good enough. I’d come close so many times to trying to show my work to a gallery only to chicken out. Maybe my lack of fame was why Peter had dumped me; perhaps he’d hoped to have a famous artist as a girlfriend instead of the nobody he’d ended up with.

“Honey?”

09-19-17_4-29-18 PM

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess my stuff just isn’t that good.” I stood up. “I’m going to go check on Zury.” I fled downstairs.

09-19-17_4-30-18 PM


08-25-17_10-57-11 PM

—Logan—

At the sound of the final bell, I hurried out of the classroom and headed downstairs. I didn’t stop at my locker or wait for Zoe; I hadn’t for days now. I just…My head was a total mess.

Downstairs, I glimpsed Zoe’s mom’s car at the front of the line. Like the pussy I was, I ducked into the boys bathroom to wait until the coast was clear. Then I slunk out onto the steps to wait for Mom to pick me up.

I was being an idiot and a coward—I knew that. But everything was so fucked right now. Had I just imagined being attracted to Zoe and other girls? Was I really into guys at all? God, I was just…there wasn’t a good enough word for whatever I was. “Confused” just didn’t seem to cover it.

08-25-17_11-11-45 PM

At home, I got out of the car only for Mom’s voice to call me back. She looked at me, concerned. “Are you okay?”

I grunted. “Yeah, why?”

08-25-17_11-16-59 PM

Her frown deepened. “You don’t seem okay. Did something happen? Maybe with Zoe? Did you two break up?”

“No, we’re fine, Mom. Nothing happened.” I shrugged. “It was just a crappy day.”

“Alright,” she said slowly, disbelief in her voice. Fortunately she didn’t press it further. “I’ve got to get back to the restaurant for a few hours. You know the rules.” Yeah, yeah. I was in charge. No parties or booze or sex yada yada.

08-25-17_11-22-27 PM

I turned and went into the house. I banged around the kitchen, half of me actually wanting something to eat, the other half just wanting to vent a little frustration by violently opening and closing the cabinets.

The doorbell rang.

“Jaz! Get the door!” No answer. He was probably playing a game upstairs.

08-25-17_11-29-44 PM

I skulked to the front door, and my stomach twisted into knots when I saw Zoe on the other side. I wanted to run away now, but she’d seen me; I could hardly pretend I wasn’t home. Reluctantly, I opened the door to her glaring face.

08-25-17_11-33-12 PM

She shouldered her way inside. “If you want to break up, you could at least have the balls to tell me.”

Immediately, it felt like I’d been punched. I deserved that; I was being a dick. “I’m sorry I’ve been acting weird, Zoe. I don’t want to break up.”

“Then what the hell is your deal? You’ve been avoiding me for a week. We didn’t even have a fight.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

08-25-17_11-36-57 PM

“Stop saying you’re sorry!” She glowered at me—God, she’s cute when she’s mad, I thought—and gave my shoulder a shove. “Just tell me what the fuck is going on.”

How could I possibly tell her what was going on? I’d never admit that I had a crush on another girl much less a guy. “I’ve just…I haven’t been feeling like myself lately,” I said lamely.

08-25-17_11-39-23 PM

I must’ve looked pretty pathetic because her expression softened some. She reached up and touched my cheek. “Is that really it? Because you can tell me if—if something happened. We could work it out.”

My heart squeezed in my chest. I really was the luckiest guy in the fucking world to have a girl like her. I took her hand. “I’m sure,” I said with actual confidence. “I don’t know why I’ve been such a jackass.”

08-25-17_11-41-08 PM

She smiled then, bright enough to light up the whole house. “Well, if you’ve just been feeling wonky, I know exactly how to get you feeling better.” She leaned up and kissed me with a sudden passion that went straight to my pants. “Are your parents home?”

08-25-17_11-42-11 PM

It wouldn’t have mattered to me if they were. Feeling lighter than I had in weeks, I pulled her into me and led her up the stairs.

A while later, I rolled onto my back, breathing hard. There was no way that I could feel that good with her if I was gay.

But I bet I could if I was bi.

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Chapter 3.08

08-25-17_10-02-19 PM

—Logan—

Study hall. Less than a week ago, it had been a welcome breather from real classes. Now I dreaded it as much as I was excited for it. Because of him.

My stomach did a flip as Felix walked into the room, and I mentally chewed myself out for the reaction. I didn’t care what conclusion I might have come to after talking to Tobi; I was a straight guy. I had a girlfriend I liked a lot—to myself, I’d even tried out stronger words and hadn’t been put off by them. My life was actually good; I didn’t need these weird ass feelings over Felix.

Yeah, well, tell that to the telltale thump-thump of my heart.

08-25-17_10-05-13 PM

Felix dropped down in the seat next to me with a wide smile. “So, I watched you practice yesterday.”

A red flush threatened to creep up my neck. “Really?” I played soccer—or football, as it was called there. Unlike a lot of guys, like Tobi, I hadn’t joined one of the professional clubs. It was just a hobby for me, not my future.

“Mmhmm. I had to leave before it was finished, but it looked like fun. I never really got into sports.”

08-25-17_10-06-16 PM

“It’d probably be hard getting into clubs and teams when you move around all the time.”

He nodded. “Partly, yeah. I also just never had much interest. I don’t mind watching, though.”

“So I’ll see you at some of the games then?”

“I suppose I can go. As long as you’re not just going to sit on the bench or something.”

I laughed. I may not be the star player, but I was hardly a bench warmer. “I promise that I’ll be playing.”

08-25-17_10-08-00 PM

Felix grinned and something shone in his eyes. It made my stomach twist. “Good. I mean, it’s not like I’ve lived here long enough to have school spirit. I’ll just be there to cheer for you.”

I felt a responding smile come to my face. Was I leaning closer to him? Was he leaning closer to me? “You’re gonna cheer for me?”

“What else would I be doing? I don’t even know anyone else on the team.”

08-25-17_10-15-32 PM

My voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I’m nothing special.”

Felix’s head tilted slightly, reminding me of a puppy. “Liar.”

Just like that, I started to lean in. At some point I hadn’t realized, my eyes had dropped to his mouth, and I was moments away from throwing caution to the wind and just going for it.

08-25-17_10-20-44 PM

I jumped to my feet, heart pounding in my ears. Behind me, my chair crashed to the ground. Every eye in the room turned to me; Felix stared up at me with surprised confusion. I opened my mouth to say something—what? What could I even say? So I didn’t say anything. I just ran out of the room.

08-25-17_10-22-03 PM

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Chapter 3.07

08-24-17_6-28-16 PM

—Blake—

I parked outside Mom’s small house. It was the same one she and Brianna had moved into after Mom had saved enough to rent her own place. It had been intended as a temporary house, but Mom had ended up loving the little thing; she’d even bought it from the landlord a few years ago. She’d made it into a great little home.

Only now Brad was trying to fuck it all up. I knew my brother; he was just like our piece of shit father—worse, perhaps, in some ways. After all, Huy Casillas had a laundry list of faults but, to his credit, “convicted felon” wasn’t among them. Call me a pessimist, but I knew Brad. He was going to sit on his ass and mooch off of our mother until she had nothing left to give. I’d be damned if I was going to let him do it.

08-24-17_6-29-03 PM

I got out of the car and went to the door. I knocked and, from inside, I heard, “Ma! Someone’s at the door!” I could hear the TV—I could see him sitting right there on the couch. He was just too lazy to get up. I gritted my teeth.

A few moments passed by before Mom, looking a little frazzled, opened the door. A smile immediately took over her face. “Blake, this is a surprise.”

I stepped inside and gave her a hug. “Yeah, I just thought I’d swing by.”

08-24-17_6-36-25 PM

“Well, come in. Sit down! Can I get you anything?”

A weak smile curled my lips. She never stopped trying to take care of me. “No, Mom, I’m good. Actually, could we talk?” I gave Brad the side-eye. “In private?”

08-24-17_6-38-22 PM

“What?” Brad piped up, pulling up from his slouch. “Something you can’t say in front of me, little bro?”

“Go back to watching TV. And don’t call me bro.”

“Blake,” Mom said reproachfully.

I shrugged, refusing to apologize. There was no love lost between me and Brad—he’d been an asshole to me from the day I was born and hadn’t gotten any better with age. I’d figured out a long time ago that I didn’t have room in my life for people like him. “So, can we talk?”

She sighed with a gentle shake of her head and gestured to her bedroom. “Sure, Blake, of course.”

08-24-17_6-41-48 PM

I stepped inside with her and took a seat on the edge of the mattress. “Brad’s in typical form.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come on, Mom. He’s bossing you around. I bet he’s not doing a damn thing around the house. He’s treating you like crap.”

08-24-17_6-43-38 PM

Her eyes narrowed slightly in irritation. “Mind your language. Your brother is adjusting. It’s been hard for him since he…since he got out. He just needs help.”

I sighed softly. Different lyrics, same tune. Hell, Brad and Dad even rhymed. “Are you sure this is ‘helping’? Has he even tried to find a job?”

08-24-17_6-47-03 PM

“That’s not so easy for him, now,” she hedged.

“So, no, then. Mom, you know he’s using you. He’s just like Dad—although at least Dad had a job. This is what Brad always does. He’s never going to change. At least, not if you keep going like this. Kick him out, Mom, and make him grow up.”

Her face twisted in anger. “Blake Casillas, you don’t tell me what to do. Bradley is your brother—my son—and he’s in a rough patch right now. He needs my help—I would do the same if it were you or your sisters.”

“Mom—“

08-24-17_6-48-14 PM

“Don’t ‘mom’ me! This was my house, Blake, the last time I checked, and I’ll decide who stays in it and who doesn’t. And I think right now that you should go and think about things.”

I couldn’t fucking believe how deep in denial she was. I’d thought she’d gotten over that when she finally left Dad. “You know what? Fine.” I stood up. “He’s going to bleed you dry, Mom. Fucking dry.” I left the room and then the house, slamming both doors behind me.

Anger seethed under my skin. She’d kick me out—the son who actually gave a shit about her—but not the one who only cared about the spare bed and her bank account. Un-fucking-believable.

I was so wrapped up in my own head, I didn’t even notice that someone had joined me outside until Brad came into my sight.

08-24-17_6-51-16 PM

“Still rude as shit, huh, little bro? Aren’t you ever gonna change?”

I turned a glare on him. “I don’t know. Are you ever going to stop being a useless waste of air?”

“Hey, fuck you!”

08-24-17_6-52-00 PM

“No, fuck you.” I jabbed a finger at him. “You need to get off your ass and out of Mom’s house. Go stay with your fucking dealer or something—just leave Mom alone. She’s been through enough.”

Brad snorted, a derisive sound. “Whatever. She’s my mom. I’ll stay here as long as I want to and you can fuck off.”

“Yeah, I figured you’d say that.” I turned away from him, only for him to open his fat mouth again.

“Hey, bro, can I have fifty bucks?”


08-24-17_7-02-28 PM

I walked into the house—my house, one in which Brad would never step foot—and all but collapsed onto the couch, emotional exhaustion so heavy it threw me right onto the cushions.

Oh, but I was fifty dollars lighter, wasn’t I? My knuckles had itched to connect to his face, but I’d given him the money—knowing it made me just as much an enabler as Mom was. If I hadn’t, though, he’d have just bummed it off of her. I could spare it easily; I doubted she could.

“It’s been a day,” I sighed to the empty room.

Just when I’d decided to give up on the rest of the afternoon and climb into bed, my phone rang.

Brianna’s distressed voice came over the line. “Blake? Dad’s in the hospital.”

08-24-17_10-24-56 PM

Just shy of an hour later, I walked into Willow Creek Medical Center, wondering just why I’d let my sister convince me I so desperately needed to be there. I hadn’t said a single word to Huy since I moved out, for God’s sake.

Brianna waved at him from down the hall, grabbing my attention. “Over here.”

I walked over to her. “So, what exactly happened?” She’d been pretty much hysterical on the phone and hadn’t made a whole lot of sense.

08-24-17_10-30-00 PM

She reached up and rubbed at her red, puffy eyes. “I went to see Dad today—you know I do every so often.” Unlike me, she still had a relationship, albeit strained, with the old man. “Everything was fine until he collapsed. I called an ambulance and they rushed him here. They haven’t told me anything yet.”

I started to ask her why she’d called me and not her husband, but, at this point, did it even matter? I was already there. Although, not for long, if I could help it.

“I’m sorry you were there for that, Bri.” It was the best I could come with, since I honestly couldn’t give a shit about our father’s health. “All his drinking is probably catching up with him.”

08-24-17_10-31-20 PM

My little sister turned a glower on me. “You’re not helping.”

I sighed, feeling like a dick. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I just pulled her into a hug.

She pulled back after a long minute and scrubbed a had over her face. “It just…it really scared me. He went so pale and then he just dropped.”

“I’m sorry, Bri.” And I really meant it. For her, at least.

She sniffled softly and then focused on something over my shoulder. “Oh, here comes the doctor. Maybe he finally has news. Doctor, this is my brother, Blake. Can you please tell us what’s going on? I’m going crazy.”

08-24-17_10-34-17 PM

The doctor, a man in his sixties, made a soft sound between a sigh and a hmm. “I wish I had good news for you, Mrs. Hartman, Mr. Casillas. The preliminary tests indicate that your father has cirrhosis. It’s a condition that affects the liver. Unfortunately, it’s something we see in a lot of heavy drinkers.”

Since Brianna seemed to be barely holding it together, I asked, “When will you know for sure?”

“A few days, a week at most. Although the diagnosis isn’t certain yet, you should prepare yourselves. I believe your father’s case is advanced. It’s highly likely that he’ll need a liver transplant.”

08-24-17_10-38-53 PM

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Chapter 3.06

08-24-17_4-48-37 PM

—Blake—

As I moved around the kitchen, my sister, Loralee’s, cookbook propped up on the counter near me for reference, my mind was only half on the carbonara I was making.

Tomorrow, I really have to talk to Rachel in accounting, I thought to myself, idly stirring the pot on the stove. I wonder if there’s room in the budget for another development team…

The little indie game development company I’d started back in college had actually taken off—we were a major name now, competing with Rainy Day Entertainment, the very place Camille used to work. Honestly, I could hardly believe the success I’d had, most days. We’d gone from four guys in a rental unit at a strip mall to having a dedicated building with actual departments and teams.

08-24-17_4-51-30 PM

“If you don’t stop thinking about work, you’re going to ruin dinner,” came a teasing voice from behind me.

I laughed softly and glanced back at my husband, Danny. “How do you know what I was thinking about?”

08-24-17_4-56-09 PM

He leaned in and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “Come on. What don’t I know about you, Casillas?”

I snorted softly. “Yeah, alright. I was thinking about getting a new game into development. It’s one Camille and I have been brainstorming for a while.” After she’d helped me get away from my asshole father, Camille had become like a second mother to me over the years. Though she’d always been a willing person to bounce ideas off of, she’d often consulted for me since she retired. There was still no one else I’d rather talk games with.

“There’s probably some wiggle room somewhere,” Danny assured me. “We’ve had a really good year.”

08-24-17_4-59-25 PM

I turned off the stove. “Maybe I can just stop paying you,” I teased. After Danny had finished his marketing degree, he’d come to work for me; now he was the head of said department. It was nice working together.

He leaned in to nip my ear. “Ha, don’t even try it.”

“So when’s your sister getting here? Food’s going to get cold if it isn’t soon.”

08-24-17_5-03-34 PM

“I’m sure they’re almost here. I doubt it’s easy getting out of the house with a two-year-old.” At the mention of my little nephew, I felt a tug in my heart.

Five years ago, we’d really hit our stride; we’d released Terror to massive success. Though we’d been doing well before it, that game seriously put us in the big league. After that—after I’d realized that we’d “made it”—I’d had the chance to actually think about something other than the business. I’d realized I was ready for the next step. A family. Danny had been right there with me.

First, we looked at adoption. More than looked, we’d nearly adopted a baby boy—only for the birth mom to change her mind at the last moment. Just after that, my nephew was born. The moment that I’d seen his squishy little face, I’d known that I wanted a baby that was a piece of the man I loved.

Danny and I had talked and talked. We’d considered our options. It had taken us over a year to finally broach the subject of surrogacy to Brianna. Tonight, we were hoping for good news.

“There she is,” I sighed in relief at the sound of the doorbell.

08-24-17_5-14-26 PM

I left the kitchen and went to the door, Danny a step behind me; I smiled at the trio on the other side. “Hey, guys.”

“Sorry we’re late.” Briana stepped inside and lowered her son, Andy, onto the floor. “He’s been in a mood all day.”

08-24-17_5-17-15 PM

As soon as he was on his feet, Andy toddled over to me. “Up!” I was only too happy to oblige. The tugging on my heart worsened when his chubby little arms wrapped around my neck.

“You’ve got perfect timing. Dinner is only just done.” Danny gestured towards the kitchen. “Corey, how about you dig out the high chair while I make the food presentable?”

A few minutes later, we all were seated at the table. While the adults had chicken carbonara, Andy was dining on chicken nuggets; he’d made his feelings about carbonara very clear. Which was probably not remotely cute to his parents but was pretty adorable to the uncle with baby fever.

08-24-17_5-28-10 PM

“So, I went over to Mom’s yesterday. Brad was there.” Brianna glowered briefly into her plate. “I saw him actually giving Mom orders.”

I sighed and resisted the urge to vigorously rub my face. “Yeah, he’s been there since he got out last month.” My delightful older brother, Bradley—or Brad as he’d come to insist on being called—was now an ex-con. He’d broken into a house and stolen thousands of dollars in electronics and jewelry. Before that, he’d gotten popped for shoplifting a couple times and spent nights in the drunk tank. What a fucking winner. At any rate, as soon as he’d finished his jail time, he’d taken up residence with our mother—and showed no inclination to leave.

“I know he’s our brother, but…” Brianna shook her head. “He just treats Mom like shi—garbage. And she just lets him treat her like a doormat.”

08-24-17_5-30-03 PM

“You say that like you’re surprised.” I loved our mother, but she’d still be married to our father if it weren’t for Brianna’s sake, I was sure. A backbone had never really been one of Anna Casillas’s strong suits.

“Blake, you should talk to her.”

My eyes widened in surprise. “Me? Why?”

Brianna gestured vaguely at me. “You’ve always been better at it.”

I honestly wasn’t sure exactly to what she was referring, but I could guess why she didn’t want to have that conversation herself. I was pretty sure Corey was the one with the conflict resolution skills in that relationship.

08-24-17_5-38-52 PM

“I guess I can try,” I reluctantly agreed as I got to my feet. I gathered up the empty plates and put them in the sink, leaving them to wait until later.

I turned towards the living room where the other three had already taken their seats. I looked over at Andy, who had toddled over to the armchair. My heart squeezed in my chest.

Please don’t leave us hanging anymore. Whatever Brianna’s answer was, I just wanted to finally know.

08-24-17_5-43-34 PM

I went into the living room and sat down next to Danny. At once, Brianna’s gaze turned serious. I shared a look with Danny. This is it.

“So, Corey and I have talked. A lot. I didn’t want to take so long to give you an answer, but…” She smiled softly and shrugged her shoulders. “It was kind of a big thing to process.”

I swallowed thickly, throat suddenly gone dry. “But now you’ve made a decision?”

08-24-17_5-45-22 PM

“We have.” Brianna and her husband linked hands. “We know how much Andy means to us.” She cast the toddler a tender look. “Every day, I see pieces of both of us in him. I want for you and Danny to have that, too.”

Relief coursed through me, making my heart flip and beat wildly in my chest. I almost couldn’t hear the rest of what she had to say over the thundering in my ears.

“Corey and I talked a lot about this. The only thing I can’t do is carry the baby for you. The bond Andy and I had before he was even born…I don’t think I could give up a baby after carrying it. So I’ve decided to donate my eggs. If you’re okay with finding another surrogate, my eggs are all yours.”

08-24-17_5-57-19 PM

I was up and pulling her into a bone-crushing hug before she’d even finished speaking. “Yes, yes, that’s perfect. Thank you. God, thank you, Bri.”

My sister laughed and squeezed me. “You’re welcome, big brother.”

Then I felt my hands being taken, and I wasn’t in Brianna’s arms anymore. Now I was looking up in the beautiful brown eyes of my husband.

08-24-17_5-59-48 PM

“We’re going to be parents,” I said, beaming up at him like an idiot. It was actually happening. We were going to be parents.

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Chapter 3.05

08-22-17_7-55-18 PM

—Logan—

It was absolutely stupid. A passing joke, nothing else. So why, then, had Zoe’s words instantly left me feeling off-kilter? There was no question about my attraction towards women; just looking at Zoe, with or without clothes, made my mind go fuzzy. The physical reaction was most definitely there.

And yet I felt…off.

08-22-17_7-59-05 PM

Then he walked into the classroom. Felix. My stomach did not just do a little flippy thing. God, why did Zoe have to make that stupid joke and somehow short-circuit my entire brain?

“Took back your spot, I see,” Felix said as he sat down in the chair I’d occupied the previous day.

“What? Oh, yeah. Habit.”

08-22-17_8-02-02 PM

I looked at him—really, really looked at him. He was definitely attractive. Clear skin—teach me your secrets–, nice lips—not too thin, not too full–, pretty green eyes, and freckles that, if they were on a girl, I’d call adorable. These were all things I’d noticed in passing before now. I always had. Now…Now I wondered.

Was I, a straight guy, not supposed to notice if another guy was good looking or not? Was I not supposed to notice how soft and thick his hair looked? It wasn’t like I ever really thought about it…although…Thinking back, I could remember a few times when I’d thought to myself wow, he’s hot about some guy or another. I’d always thought that everyone, male or female, was like that. You see a physically gifted person and you recognize it.

Was that not normal?

“Logan?”

I blinked, focusing on Felix’s face. His—yes—cute face. “Sorry, did you say something? I totally spaced.”

08-22-17_8-12-54 PM

The other boy laughed softly, a rich honey-like sound. “I think I should be insulted.” He looked at me teasingly—and was there something…more in his expression?

Shut up shut up shut up! I mentally yelled at the voice in the back of my head.

“Oh, shut up,” I said aloud to Felix. “Like your mind’s never wandered.” Oh, was it wandering. It needed to wander the hell back.


08-22-17_8-34-33 PM

After school, I walked up to the Tudor-style house and rang the bell. Immediately, I froze. Shit, you weren’t supposed to do that with babies in the house. I had a very vivid memory of my sleep-deprived mother going off on a very confused German-speaking religious pamphlet pusher when my little sister was a baby.

08-22-17_8-38-03 PM

“Hi, Logan,” Mrs. Klein said kindly as she opened the door. “Tobi is in the living room.”

“Hi, Mrs. Klein. I hope I didn’t wake the babies.” There were three of them in the house, one belonging to Mrs. Klein and her husband and the other two belonging to my friend, Tobi.

#Awkward

08-22-17_8-40-32 PM

Tobi’s mom laughed softly. “Well, since I don’t hear crying, I think you’re good.”

I went down the hall and dropped onto the couch next to Tobi, who seemed to have dozed off in front of the television. “So, what are we watching?” I asked loudly.

08-22-17_8-52-44 PM

He jumped, turning a startled look on me. “Logan? When did you get here?”

I snorted. “Just now. The twins still running you and Colette ragged?” Back when I’d first met Tobi, he’d talked often about the French girl that he only got to see at summer camp. Well, last summer, he’d done a lot more than see her.

“You said it yourself—twins.” He smiled and shook his head. “They’re amazing, though.”

08-22-17_8-54-13 PM

“Oh, I know,” I said, heading him off before he could go on about just how amazing they were. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear about Joce and Luc, but I’d learned from experience that he and Colette both could go on forever about their kids. “I figured I’d come and save you from fatherhood for a few hours. You look like you could use a break.”

“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.” We rose to our feet, Tobi standing several inches taller than me. “I need to check with Lettie and my parents.”

A few minutes later, we left the house and headed to the nearest place that sold delightfully greasy burgers.

08-22-17_9-11-50 PM

We sat and talked for a bit after we’d eaten, and I took the opportunity to look at him, much like I had Felix earlier. There was no denying that Tobias Rosebrook was a hot guy. You’d have to literally be blind not to notice the perfectly tousled blond hair, big brown eyes, and the mountains of muscle on him.

The thing was, I definitely felt a difference when I looked at Felix than right now when I was looking at Tobi. Tobi was my best friend—the first one I’d made at my current school. He was damn near like a brother to me. Felix, on the other hand…I shied away from applying a label to him.

08-22-17_9-14-16 PM

“Hey, Tobi, can I ask you something?”

He arched one platinum blond brow. “Sure.”

08-22-17_9-17-02 PM

“Do you ever, like, see other guys and, I guess, recognize how attractive they are, but not, like, actually want them or anything? Same way you see a girl and think she’s hot but not want to actually do anything about it, you know? It’s just a thing that you know.” If that made any sense, I’d be fucking amazed.

Tobi looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “No,” he said slowly, drawing the word out. “I don’t look at other guys. Why?”

08-22-17_9-19-33 PM

I shrugged, shifting in my seat. “No reason. A friend and I were just having a conversation earlier.” It was a hollow excuse and I knew it, but, fortunately, Tobi didn’t press.

I wasn’t surprised by his response. I’d thought that I was normal. That it was just a typical way of looking at people. I’d been wrong.

Felix, again, came to my mind, and, unbidden, I felt a warmth in my stomach. That was crazy, though, because I was straight. I was straight, and I always had been.

All this time, I couldn’t have been living a lie.

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Chapter 3.04

08-22-17_4-20-56 PM

—Logan—

Ah, free period. Also known as study hall. The best damned “class” of the day, in my opinion. I walked into the room to find the “teacher” at her desk, finger flicking over the screen of her phone as she played a game. As long as the lot of us didn’t get too loud, she didn’t care what we did. My favorite teacher.

08-22-17_4-24-22 PM

I approached my desk only to find, to my surprise, that someone I’d never seen before had taken it. I dropped into the spot next to it. “Hey, man, are you new?”

The other guy looked at me in surprise, pale green eyes flashing. “Oh, yeah. Is this your seat? I can move.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I offered him my hand. “I’m Logan Thoreau.” Well, legally my last name was Thoreau-Smithson but try saying that a few times in a row.

08-22-17_4-28-25 PM

He shook my hand. “Felix Mann. I’m guessing you’re not a native?”

I laughed. “What gave me away? My name or my accent?”

He smirked. “Both? You’re American, right?”

I nodded. “My family moved here when I was eleven. You?”

08-22-17_4-29-21 PM

“Born and sometimes raised. My parents are both anthropologists. They travel a lot and take me with them. We’ve been in Shang Simla for the last two years.”

“Really?” I caught myself leaning closer to him in my intrigue. “Have you lived in lots of foreign countries? What was it like?”

“It was really cool. So hard to learn the language, though. Nothing like German or English.”

“You speak three languages?”

He smiled. “Wellll, I kind of speak more than that, but I’m pretty rusty in French and Italian now. I haven’t used them much in a long time.”

08-22-17_4-35-15 PM

“Wow,” I said softly. I’d always felt pretty worldly, having lived here and in the States, but I had nothing on this guy. “What are you doing back here?”

“My parents wanted me to finish school here, and the field work is done on their current project, so they’re going to teach at the college here for a year or two.”

Before I could open my mouth to form another question, he leaned into me with a grin. “Okay, mister interrogator. It’s your turn. Where are you from?”

08-22-17_4-39-50 PM

Unbelievably, I almost blushed. I had kind of been throwing questions at him, hadn’t I? “The States—Texas.” Though most of my family had—and still did—live in Louisiana, I’d grown up a few hours away in Oasis Springs.

“Really? I went to New Mexico once over Christmas. My parents had a dig there. I couldn’t believe how warm it was.”

“You should see a Texas summer.” I could still feel the sticky July heat. Of all the things I missed in Oasis Springs, the summers were not one of them.

“What brought your family here? Work?”

I shook my head, my mood dampening. “My grandpa died. Grandma Ava was sick and alone and couldn’t come to us so we came to her.” I didn’t like remembering that time. Dad being gone constantly, Mom unhappy. I’d just known they were going to get a divorce.

08-22-17_6-46-00 PM

Felix’s smile fell. “Oh, shit, man. I’m sorry. Is your grandmother alright?”

“She passed last year.” That…had been a pretty bad time, too. Dad had been crushed. There had been some question as to whether or not we’d move back Oasis Springs, even, but Mom and Dad had eventually decided not to uproot us all again. Whether I would’ve preferred we move or not, I wasn’t sure. Windenburg wasn’t a bad place to live.

“I’m really sorry.”

I shrugged. “It’s okay. She was hurting for a long time.” It was horrible to say, but, even though she’d lived with us, I’d never been that close with her. For most of my life, she’d been a distant figure that I saw once, maybe twice a year.

“Still.” Felix shook his head. “Damn, I really know how to bring the mood down.”

I snorted softly. “Yeah, how dare you not know my backstory before you ever met me? You inconsiderate douche.”

08-22-17_6-51-17 PM

He laughed in a loud crack, drawing a few eyes our way. “Fair point.”

I leaned close to him again. “Hey, so tell me more about China.”


08-22-17_7-27-50 PM

“I’ve got to introduce you to Felix, Zoe. He’s been fucking everywhere,” I said. Zoe had come home with me after school, and we’d immediately headed into the backyard to relax. “He’s got this hilarious story about a crate of coconuts and a komodo dragon—but I have to let him tell it. I won’t do it justice.”

08-22-17_7-28-40 PM

My girlfriend laughed softly. “He sounds interesting. I’ve never seen you like this before. If I didn’t know better— “Her eyes went heavy lidded, voice suggestive. “—and I definitely know better—I’d say you’ve got a giant crush on him.”

The gears in my head ground to a halt.

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Chapter 3.03

06-13-17_1-06-13 AM

—Theresa—

I stood on the sidewalk, Zury on my hip, and stared up at the small pink house. Behind me, the taxi driver took my bags from the trunk, but, honestly, he could’ve driven off with them, and I wouldn’t have noticed; all my attention was on the house I’d been raised in. It had first belonged to my mother’s parents, who had died long before I was born. During the first years of my life, there had been four of us kids, more than the house had been built to handle; my parents had expanded the basement just so my twin brother and I would have a place to sleep.

11-14-15_6-57-26 PM

There were so many memories contained within that little pink house. I remembered Josh, my older brother, fighting with Mom, though it had taken me years to understand why they’d fought and why he’d moved out. I remembered Nora, my sweet older sister, being depressed and crying all the time—pregnant at sixteen by a boy who broke her heart. I could still vividly recall giving her my Chompy toy because it had always made me feel better. The weight of all those memories were enough to stagger anyone, but they weren’t what weighed me down now.

No, it was the guilt. Looking at that house, I was reminded that it had been over six years since I’d seen it. Six years since I’d been home—could I even call it home anymore? Peter, who I’d been seeing for six months at the time and living with for two, and I had come to visit for Christmas. Somehow, we’d never come back. I realized now that Peter hadn’t wanted to come back because this suburban life didn’t fit with the life he wanted for himself—and so he’d manipulated me into cutting it out of my life as well.

Hindsight was always twenty/twenty, wasn’t it?

06-13-17_1-07-38 AM

The front door opened, pulling me from my thoughts. “Theresa!” Mom called with a blinding smile. She hurried down the front steps, late summer sun glinting on her silver-white hair, and pulled me and Zury into her arms. Immediately, the smell of my childhood overwhelmed me.

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“Hi, Mom,” I said, my voice betraying how choked up I was.

“I am so glad to see you, baby.” Her eyes looked misty themselves.

06-13-17_1-14-41 AM

“You, too.” Zury fidgeted in my arms, and I turned my attention to her. “This is your grandma, Zury. You haven’t seen her since you were a tiny baby.” Zury looked curiously at mom but burrowed in closer to me.

Mom smiled fondly at her. “Poor thing has been through a lot.” Her eyes turned sad as they focused on me. “You both have. Let’s get inside.”

06-13-17_1-16-43 AM06-13-17_1-15-57 AM

 

She led the way into the house, chattering on about how glad she was to have me home, but I’d stopped in my tracks the moment the door closed behind me. It felt like I’d just stepped into the wrong house.

Mom turned back when she realized she’d lost me. “Theresa?”

Where was the house I’d grown up in? “You…remodeled?”

The older woman blinked in surprise. “A few years ago now. I emailed you pictures of it, I think?”

I struggled to cast my mind back. I thought I might vaguely remember such a thing.

“Are you okay?”

06-13-17_1-22-06 AM

I pasted on a tired smile and went into the living room. “Yeah, I just got thrown for a second.” I put Zury down and looked around. The space was so similar and yet completely different.

Mom looked at me sympathetically and sat down, patting the seat next to her. When I’d taken a seat, she squeezed my arm comfortingly. “Why don’t you tell me everything?”

So I did. I told her all about how Peter had dumped me and left me all but destitute. How the court had favored him because he was on the fast track to be the next District Attorney. I told her how, now, I could see the cracks that had formed between Peter and I after I got pregnant.

06-13-17_1-25-28 AM

“I should’ve seen this coming,” I admitted quietly. “I knew he didn’t want kids.” Like any couple in a long-term relationship, we’d had long talks about the things we’d wanted. It had been no secret that he hadn’t wanted a family, and I’d honestly been okay with it—until I’d gotten pregnant. I’d never once considered doing anything but keeping the baby. Peter hadn’t asked me to do otherwise, so, in my happiness, I’d let myself think he’d changed his mind, too. But, looking back, I could see that he hadn’t been happy at all.

06-13-17_1-26-46 AM

Mom squeezed my hand tightly. “We’re all blind when we’re in love. What matters is that you got help when you knew you needed it. You and Zury being here—it will be for the best.”

“I hope so.”

06-13-17_1-28-04 AM

Her face creased as she smiled. “It will. You two can stay here for as long as you want. Permanently, even. This house is too empty with just me and your dad.”

“Where is he, anyway?”

“He ran out to get some things for Zury.” Mom looked down at Zury who was exploring the living room. “We’re both so happy to have her close. We can finally spoil her.”

06-13-17_1-30-03 AM

 

That brought a genuine smile to my face. I remembered how Mom and Dad both had doted on Josh and Nora’s children. “Yeah, this move will be good for Zury.” In truth, I really was happy about the move for her sake. Growing up, my family had always been tightly knit. I wanted my daughter to be close with her aunts and uncles and all the cousins just like I had been.

“Liana isn’t too much younger than her. I bet you they’ll be fast friends.”

“Liana?”

“Josh’s youngest. She’s just over a year old,” Mom answered, seemingly unfazed by my lapse.

06-13-17_1-32-36 AM

I, on the other hand, felt myself on the verge of tears again. I hadn’t just forgotten my youngest niece’s name—I’d forgotten she existed at all. That pretty effectively—much more than forgetting that the house had been remodeled—showed how truly disconnected I’d become from everyone I’d left behind in Willow Creek.

Mom said that I could live here—but I really didn’t think that was so. I had wondered if I could call this house home anymore, and I thought I’d found my answer. I was an outsider.

“Oh, I hear the car,” Mom said with a smile, oblivious to my inner turmoil. “I wonder if Carter bought out the toy store?”

06-13-17_1-36-37 AM

A moment later, the door opened. Foosteps. And then Dad appeared.

06-13-17_1-39-55 AM

Before was aware of doing so, I was moving. I crossed the room and all but threw myself into my father’s arms.

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Chapter 3.02

06-12-17_9-12-55 PM

—Theresa—

On feet worn down to nubs, I trudged up the flights of stairs to my tiny hovel of an apartment. The elevator was, again and unsurprisingly, broken, forcing me to climb more steps than I cared to think about. And, God, tell me I did not just hear the skittering of a rat. Suppressing a shudder, I sped through the final flight of stairs and let the stairwell door clang resoundingly shut behind me—if nobody else in the building cared about noise, why should I.

06-12-17_9-15-07 PM

I passed my door and instead stopped at the one just to the right. It belonged to Mrs. Perlmutter, the one ray of sunshine that had come into my life in the last months.

I knocked on the worn door; a chip of paint flaked off and fluttered to the rough hardwood floor. A few moments later, Edna Perlmutter’s lined face appeared. “You’re late again,” she said, not unkindly, by way of greeting.

I sighed softly. “I know. My replacement was late and the manager wouldn’t let me leave until he got there.”

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Edna made a disdainful sound and stepped back to let me in. “Retail never changes.”

I followed her into the living room, a smile finally curling my lips when I saw Zury, playing happily with blocks on the rug.

“Thank you, again, for watching her.”

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“Ah,” the older woman grumbled, taking a seat in her recliner. “I think you can stop thanking me by now.” She shrugged. “Besides, I don’t really mind the company.”

I shook my head and picked up Zury. Edna liked to act like a crotchety old crone, but, secretly, she adored children. Since her own never brought their kids by, she’d warmed up to my daughter as soon as we’d moved in next door.

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“I get paid on Friday, so I’ll bring your money by on Monday, if that’s okay? They’ve actually scheduled me off the whole weekend.”

Edna nodded, sinking deeper into her chair. “Fine, fine.” I couldn’t afford to pay her much—and she hadn’t asked for payment at all—but I couldn’t accept her as a babysitter unless I gave her something.

06-12-17_9-52-23 PM

I left the apartment, Zury on my hip, and let us into our apartment. As soon as I walked inside, I just sighed. It truly never ceased to be one of the saddest things I’d ever seen. Not for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder, how did I end up here?


06-12-17_7-41-51 PM

I sang—badly—along to the radio while my paintbrush glided across the canvas in front of me. Sometimes, I had to really try to paint. I had to dig deep and will the creativity out of myself. On some days when my paintbrush refused to sing, I even felt like the cold, modern apartment I lived in with my long-time boyfriend was trying to stifle my creative spark.

Today—today was not one of those days.

06-12-17_7-43-45 PM

My daughter, Azure—little Zury—was playing quietly in front of the television, occasionally raising her babbling voice up like she, too, was singing along with the upbeat pop coming from my radio. I hoped that she’d keep being so good; Peter thought I just had nothing but time to paint, since I didn’t work, but being a mom was a job itself.

06-12-17_7-45-37 PM

The front door opened. Even over the radio and Zury’s cartoon, I knew Peter’s familiar footsteps. I put down my brush and turned to him with a smile on my face—only to have it die when I took in his grim expression.

“Pete? What is it?” I left the easel and crossed over to him.

06-12-17_7-48-57 PM

“We need to talk, Theresa.”


I could still hear his words in my ears, his tone so cold, so matter-of-fact as he sounded the death knell to our relationship. Seven years together—seven years I’d devoted my life to that man—and it ended with a veritable whimper. No blow out argument, no affairs—that I knew about, anyway—just we need to talk, Theresa.

06-12-17_9-53-57 PM

“Mama, down,” Zury said insistently. At her urging, I realized I’d been standing frozen in place for some time.

“Sorry, baby girl,” I murmured and lowered her onto the grimy carpet. I sighed again looking at it; no matter how much I vacuumed, it would never be clean. I’d even borrowed a carpet washer from a coworker to no avail.

06-12-17_9-55-23 PM

Zury, completely unfazed, toddled over to the toy bin. I was at the same time grateful and annoyed that I’d been able to bring everything of hers with us when we left. Grateful for obvious reasons, annoyed because it meant Peter had no desire to share custody. Sure, he could easily have afforded to replace everything, but I’d known as soon as he’d told me I could take it all. Deep down, I’d always known that while Zury was a happy accident for me, she’d been a mistake to him.

06-12-17_10-01-38 PM

“Mama, play.”

I forced a smile and knelt down next to her. “Sure, baby. Let’s see what we’ve got here…”

06-12-17_10-04-25 PM

Later that night after I put her to bed, I sat down at our excuse for a dining table and looked at the mountain of bills in front of me. Rent, phone, electricity…I carefully went through them all. Twice. The numbers added up just fine—just to more than I was going to make that month, even if I didn’t give Edna a dime and fed myself on bologna sandwiches.

06-12-17_10-06-40 PM

Tears sprang to my eyes, and I covered my face with my hands. I’d forgotten how expensive it was to live in San Myshuno. When I’d first arrived, I’d been twenty-three and living with a friend, a fellow college drop-out who had moved here along with me so we could pursue our art. Back then, it had been easy—almost fun—living in an apartment much like this one. We’d had the time to devote ourselves to making and selling art, and we’d scraped by.

Now…now I was older. I had a daughter to think about. A shit job that took all my time but paid for only a fraction of it. And a cunning prosecutor ex-boyfriend who had the means to get far better representation than me in our custody suit. By the end of it, he’d come out of it paying next to nothing. Enough to keep Zury fed and not much else.

06-12-17_10-10-48 PM

I looked at the bills again. I looked at my bank statement. I’d need a second job, maybe a third one, to keep up with all of our expenses. When would I even see Zury if I worked another job? I barely had the energy to play with her as it was.

The burning in my eyes became fully formed tears and they slipped down my cheeks. What was I going to do? What would my mother have done if she’d been in my position when her first husband left her?

As soon as I thought the question, I knew the answer.

06-12-17_10-14-15 PM

I picked up my phone. I knew they’d be asleep, but I dialed the number anyway.

Riiing. Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.

Finally, a sleep-scratchy voice picked up. “Hello?”

06-12-17_10-16-17 PM

I sniffled softly. “Mom? It’s Theresa. I…I need your help.”

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Chapter 3.01

1

—Logan—

I slouched back in my chair, glazed-over eyes directed at the clock above the blackboard. Fifteen minutes until freedom. Tick tick tick.

Most days, I didn’t mind Mr. Schmidt droning on and on about a supposedly exciting math theory—sorry, man, it’s never going to be cool; stop trying to make math happen—but this wasn’t most days. It was my six-month anniversary with Zoe, and I knew she was counting on something special. She’d been bringing it up constantly for weeks. So, yeah, even though it was totally lame to celebrate it, I’d actually gone to a bit of effort to make today special. And, okay, I was actually kind of looking forward to it.

I tapped my foot impatiently, focusing on the hands of the clock. Eight minutes until freedom.

With painful slowness, the minutes ticked by until at long, long last the bell rang, waking the rest of the class from its boredom-induced stupor and signaling my imminent release.

2

“Alright,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Remember to read the first three sections of chapter four; there may be a quiz on Monday.” People were fidgeting and packing up but nobody had gotten up; I was ready to fly out of my seat.

“You’re dismissed. Have a good weekend!” I was out of the room before he’d even finished saying “dismissed.”

3

I headed down the hall to my locker where I found Zoe waiting for me. I broke into a smile as soon as I saw her. Whenever she was around, I couldn’t help it.

“Hey.” I leaned in to kiss her. “How was class?”

4

“Oh, you know,” she said flippantly. “A lot of dead guys.” She had history last period.

I shoved my books into my locker—lol studying—and then took her hand. “So, tonight, maybe avoid the super spiky heels.”

Zoe laughed and looked up at me curiously. “Silence all week and this is the first clue I get?”

5

I grinned. “I’m also picking you up at six.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re a jerk.” I could tell by her smile, though, that she really liked the suspense. “Give me a clue.”

I shook my head, holding the door open as we left the building. “Can’t do that. You’ve gotten all you’re going to get.”

“I hope not.” She shook her head, a light brown lock of hair falling into her face. She quickly tucked it behind her ear. “Fine, keep your secrets, but you better not disappoint. Dinner at your mom’s restaurant really doesn’t count anymore.”

“Pfft, you should be so lucky.”

6

Zoe’s mom’s car pulled up at the front of the pick-up line. I waved to her and then kissed Zoe’s again. “I’ll see you later, baby.”

“Bye, babe.” She turned and walked away. I shamelessly watched, letting my eyes linger on her ass.

A minute later, Mom’s sleek blue car pulled up. Not for the first time, I had a moment of wishing we were back in the states. I’d be driving myself around by now. I shrugged it off and went over to the car. I had better things to worry about than how I was getting home.


7

A couple of minutes after six that evening, I stepped out of the Uber outside of Zoe’s house. The small wrapped box in my pocket felt ten times heavier than it really was; I’d never given a girl jewelry before. Well, not real jewelry. Cheap stuff, sure, but I’d had to give up a big chunk of my meager savings and promise away a month’s allowance to get my parents to let me buy it with their card. And that wasn’t even mentioning the way they’d looked at me when I’d told them what I wanted to do; their eyes had screamed isn’t our baby so cute and aww he’s growing up. And I think they’d glistened.

8

I walked up to the door and rang the bell. I really hoped Zoe wasn’t disappointed with what I had planned. I’d find out soon enough.

After a minute, the door opened to Zoe’s smiling face. Just seeing her made the growing knot of nerves in my stomach fade away. “I’m ready to go.”

“Actually, wait. I wanted to give you something before we go.”

Her eyes widened in surprise when I reached into my pocket and pulled out the rectangular box. “I got this for you.”

9

Grinning excitedly, my girlfriend tore into the wrapping paper to reveal the velvety necklace box beneath. When she pulled it open, the thing actually did the whole twinkle-in-the-light thing as if I’d planned it that way.

“Oh, Logan, it’s beautiful.” She looked up at me wide-eyed. “It’s—it’s gorgeous. Thank you.”

I smiled, more than a little relieved. “Do you want to wear it?”

10

“Hell yeah.” She took the delicate chain of gold out of the box and handed it to me. I clasped it around her neck, and she turned around to face me. “How does it look?”

“Beautiful,” I said honestly.

11

She leaned up and kissed me slowly. “Thank you, Logan.”

No matter how many times I heard it, I couldn’t help but smile at the way she said my name; she tried to say it the American way, but the G was still too soft. “You’re welcome. So, let’s go?”

She laughed but started walking with me. “You mean there’s more tonight?”

12

I grinned. “What? You mean all I have to do is give you a necklace and it’s naked time?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, lover boy.” She gave her hips a saucy shake as she climbed into the Uber. “It’s just going to be a tough act to follow.”


13

“Okay, I started to get confused when we ate dinner at a burger joint, but now we’re getting on a ferry, and I’m really confused.”

I squeezed Zoe’s hand and smiled over at her. “Would you just trust me?”

We boarded the ferry. I led her over to the side, and we watched the lights glimmer over the water. After a few minutes, I covered her eyes.

“Logan!” She squawked. “I know we’re going out to an island.”

“But not which one,” I said with a grin.

She complained for a minute longer, a laugh in her voice, before throwing in the towel. “You’re enjoying this too much.”

“Kind of, yeah.”

14

When the ferry finally stopped, I led her off and walked up the shore with her and into the trees. “We’ll be there soon.”

“Where?” She laughed. “Murder Point?”

“Ha ha.” The last time we’d been there, we’d gone the direct way. This time, I’d found a second way in so that it would actually be a surprise. I just hoped I didn’t get us lost.

15

Just when I was starting to worry we’d taken a wrong turn, we stepped out of the brush and there it was.

“The Bluffs,” Zoe said, a soft smile on her face. She turned to me. “This is where we came on our first date.”

I smiled broadly, more than a little proud of myself. “I invited you to a party the football team was throwing.”

16

“And before we came, I made you stop at the burger place because I was worried they wouldn’t have food here.” She wrapped her arms around me. “Has anybody ever told you how sweet you are, Logan Thoreau?”

“I can think of a girl who might’ve mentioned it once or twice.” I brought her hand up and kissed it, feeling the chill that had started to set in. “Why don’t I see if I can’t get that bonfire over there going?”

I went over to the wood I’d stacked the day before and started the fire. A few minutes later, orange flames were licking up at the sky.

17

Zoe joined me and slid her arm around my waist. She tilted her head to lean against my shoulder. “You’re pretty much the best boyfriend ever.”

I just smiled and squeezed her against my side.


18

“I wish you could stay the night,” Zoe said with a sigh, sitting up on the side of the bed. “My parents won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon.”

I pulled my pants up. “My parents would find me and murder me long before that.”

19

“They probably would just ground you.”

“I’d rather not test that theory.” I bent down and picked up my shirt from the floor. “As it is, I’m going to get chewed out.” Zoe’s bedside clock was taunting me with the time: 12:40 AM. It’d be after one when I finally got home.

“Was it worth it?”

20

I took her hand and tugged her to her feet, pulling her into a deep kiss. “Fuck yeah, it was.”

Reluctantly, I pulled away from her and finished pulling my clothes on. I promised to call her the next day and left the house.

21

When I got to the house—which was a far cry from the one I’d grown up in in Oasis Springs–, as I’d feared, lights were still on. I could even see Dad’s figure through the window. I took deep breath and let myself into the house.

22

Dad stood up angrily. “And where the fuck have you been?”

I sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. Zoe and I lost track of time.”

“Doing what I wonder.”

23

“God, Dad, we’ve had this conversation. I’m not going to end up like Tobi.” The last thing I wanted was a kid.

“If you want us to trust you, you might try getting home when you’re supposed to. Two more times, Logan, and then the curfew goes back to ten every day of the week.”

24

“Whatever.” Thanks, Captain Buzzkill. “I’m going to bed.” I turned away from him and went upstairs.

I stripped down and climbed into bed. Aside from a slight fight with my father, tonight had gone way better than expected. I’d never forget how happy Zoe had looked when she saw the necklace. Even though I’d just seen her, I looked forward to talking to her tomorrow. Seeing her on Monday at school.

25

I let the lingering scent of her sweet perfume lull me to sleep.


Hi guys! Any of you still remember me? I wouldn’t say that real life is calm now–I still don’t have a job or my own home (a big thanks to raerei for letting me play home invader)–but I’ve felt a lot more interested in writing. Thanks in no small part to an inspiring trip to Maine where I got to visit with the very best minds in simlit (obviously I mean CitizenErased14, Raerei, Trip, and Julyvee), I’ve been brainstorming and outlining and, yes, writing. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that I can keep going.

Starting today, chapters will post every Tuesday.

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Chapter 2.125

1

Hey, Nora!

I think I’ve FINALLY got a few minutes to sit down and write you back.

2

We’ve really hit our stride with Tomalee-Two, finally (knock wood!). I got the financial report this morning, and I almost can’t believe how good it’s looking. Profits are so consistent that I think we’re going to break even months earlier than expected—WAY sooner than we did with Tomalee. Don’t tell Tommy, but I’m even kinda-sorta scouting locations for a restaurant in Falkenburg (no, I will not swear not to call it Toma-Three). Oh, and the cookbook is doing better than anticipated, too!

3

Now that my unabashed bragging is out of the way, I know it’s Toddler Time because it’s just not an email from me without an update on Tomlyn the Terror. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

So, you know I’m doing interviews for a new Tomalee manager since Casey is moving. Thanks to timezones, I was video-interviewing this guy while Tommy was in the other room giving Tomlyn her bath. Or, at least, he was SUPPOSED to be.

4

Do you even KNOW the mortification of your naked, screaming toddler running through your meeting!? My office needs to be finished ASAP so I can stop working out of my bedroom! lol

I know I need to enjoy the early years, but dang is this girl making it hard! I swear, the boys weren’t nearly, so, well, bratty. Tommy says she must get it from me, but I’ll have him know I have always been a perfect angel! (Shut up. 😛 )

I’m a little worried about Jasper, Nora. He’s on the soccer team (I don’t care what they call it here—it’s soccer) but he doesn’t really seem that interested in it. It seems like he only wanted to play because Logan does.

5

Tommy and I have both tried to find stuff that interests him, but he just says he’s fine. And he SEEMS fine, so I don’t know why I’m worrying. I guess it’s just a feeling, you know? He IS only nine. Plenty of time for him to figure out his interests, I suppose.

Speaking of Logan, I have the most amazing story and you are SO going to be jealous. I told you about the new school we sent Logan to this year, right?

67

Well, he made this new friend, Tobias. Tobi came over to the house the other day to work on a project, and he just looked SO familiar that I had to ask him about it. Guess who his grandfather is? Alex Rosebrook!!!

8

Turns out, I actually met his mom forever ago that day I got Alex to sign his book for you. Isn’t it so funny? Of all the people Logan could’ve made friends with he ends up best friends with Alex Rosebrook’s grandson. He’s a sweet kid, too. Always talking about this French girl he only gets to see at summer camp. It’s kind of adorable, really. Logan’s been so moody since we moved; I think Tobi’s good for him.

9

Oh, I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you—Tommy is going to take over the construction business! His boss got diagnosed with cancer (he’s supposed to be fine, thank God!), and he wants to retire. Since none of his kids want to take over, he’s passing the business to Tommy. I know construction has never been Tommy’s dream job, but, honestly? I love it. It’s safer than law enforcement (Cody’s unfortunate accident not withstanding) and the hours are better.

10

Ava is so proud of him. She has her good days and her bad days (a lot of bad days), but I think we’ve seen more good ones since Tommy told us the news.

Before I sign off, it’s your turn. You need to tell Caleb for me that I’m so proud of him for deciding to learn welding. If he sticks with it, it’ll lead to a really good job.

11

You also aren’t sending me nearly enough pictures of Ella. You know I need more of that little cherub in my life. And how is she getting along with her teacher? (I still can’t believe she’s in kindergarten!)

Okay, I think I hear Tommy coming, so I better end this. I can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. I know you’re going to be covering the conference, but you’d better plan on spending a lot of time with your favorite cousin! And don’t you even think of booking a hotel! Logan can just sleep on the couch for a few days.

Talk to you soon!

xoxo Loralee

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