“What the hell, man?” Jake groused at my side. “We got jailbait at our six and cougars at our ten.”
Then turning to face me, he sounded like we’d entered the Twilight Zone when he said, “The Saturday morning grocery run just ain’t what it used to be.”
So maybe that was why we had jailbait trailing after us.
They were confused too, only over a different kind of Twilight.
I would be a kickass vampire though.
None of that sparkly shit for me.
But rather than say that – because then I would have to admit to learning all about the different kinds of vampires from Sookie, who I couldn’t admit to knowing so well, even though it was her who’d made me binge watch old episodes of Buffy with her one weekend, while she expounded on their individual virtues and flaws – I only teasingly mocked, “Aww…poor Goldicocks. This pussy’s too young. This pussy’s too old. Maybe you’ll luck out and we’ll get called out to a modeling agency because someone passed out from not eating anything more than a celery stick in the last month and then you can find pussy that’s just right.”
“Are there modeling agencies in town?” he asked, with wide hopeful eyes. And then, without waiting for an answer, he accused, “Why didn’t I know this? I ain’t no fuckin’ probie anymore. I should know if there’s some place around here where hot women gather. Hot is my business.”
My laughter at his outburst quickly turned into a choking cough, when he ended his rant by asking, “Is that why you ain’t been horndoggin’ it with the rest of us lately?”
There you are karma…
Did you miss me?
I knew the guys were becoming suspicious when my excuses to not go trolling for women were getting flimsier and flimsier.
Telling them I had to go home and sort my socks – rather than going out with them to our local bar on Ladies Night – hadn’t been one of my finer moments.
But it wasn’t my fault.
Sookie had just texted me a picture of an all too familiar pink pinstripe shopping bag sitting on her bed, with nothing more than a question mark.
I didn’t need to know what was inside of it to know that I wanted it.
So I could then take it off of her.
With my teeth.
But with my luck, the guys would just start to suspect I was gay, which – when I thought about it – was preferable to them finding out the truth. The only reason I continued to keep up the charade, by keeping my relationship with Sookie a secret from the guys in the firehouse now, was to keep the news from bleeding across the red and blue lines.
Gossip – especially salacious gossip – would spread like a wildfire, with fraternal loyalty becoming nonexistent.
We were like a bunch of old women sometimes, sitting around in a hair salon and playing, ‘Did you hear?’
So I was thankful when fate stepped in – in the form of a decent looking brunette – and kept me from stepping into a self-made pile of bullshit I would have had to keep shoveling to keep Jake from suspecting something more was up.
Looks aside, I couldn’t tell if I was automatically turned off because no one could hold a candle to Sookie in my eyes anymore or if it was from the way she didn’t even try to hide her blatant eye fucking.
At least act like some effort was needed to get into your pants.
But from the way Jake automatically pulled out his ‘Humble Hero’ routine, I figured he’d found his just right for now pussy and left him to it, while I finished getting everything on our shopping list.
He still hadn’t shown up by the time I checked out twenty minutes later, so I took everything out to the rig myself. Spring had barely begun and it was already hotter than Satan’s ball sack outside, but it wasn’t until I was pushing the now empty shopping cart towards one of the corrals in the parking lot that I forgot all about my own discomfort.
Because all of my attention was drawn to the sound of a screaming kid coming from the car parked next to the corral.
She couldn’t have been more than two years old and her hair was plastered with sweat to her reddened face, but it was no wonder considering how hot it was outside.
The temperature inside of the car would feel like an oven.
There wasn’t anyone else around – much less anyone in the car with her – and my first reaction was to pull on the door handles, but they were all locked.
Rather than wasting time by looking around for something to break the window, I sprinted back to the rig where I knew I could find the right tool and made it back to the car in record time.
Breaking the front driver’s side window with the blunt end of the ratchet in my hands, I dropped it to the ground and unlocked the doors, before pulling her from the car seat she’d been strapped into.
A few other now horrified shoppers had stopped and took notice, with a woman coming over and offering me a bottle of water that I used to pour over her head and shoulders to cool her off.
But knowing she would need to be checked out at the hospital, I asked the same woman to call 911, while I carried the girl back towards the rig.
I’d started the engine already to get the air conditioner going inside, but before I get her into the cabin, Jake came running over asking, “What’s going on?”
But it was what I heard coming from that same brunette he’d been talking to inside – and who had followed him out of the store, with her shopping bags in hand – that stopped me in my tracks and made me see red.
“That’s my daughter! What happened?”
“What happened?” I yelled, feeling slightly bad for making the baby cry even louder by shouting. So I held her to my chest and rubbed her back, while I growled at her mother, “You left her in the fucking car! Never mind the fact someone could’ve taken her and done god knows what to her. It’s close to ninety degrees out! She was baking in there!”
“She was asleep!” she yelled back. “I was only inside for a few minutes!”
“Bullshit!” I yelled back and turned my back on her to climb into the cabin with the baby still tucked against my chest.
Getting her cooled off was more important than me lighting off on her mother and I had no patience for assholes.
But the asshole in me felt a huge sense of satisfaction when Jake shut the door behind me, staying on the other side and – by the looks of it – giving the woman hell.
Flipping the air on high, I turned every vent to face us as I held her in my lap and used more water to wet a towel that I then wrapped around the back of her head and shoulders. Her crying had slowed down to hitched breaths, so I slowly tipped the water bottle into her lips to help her regain a little of the fluids she’d lost.
All of us were trained first responders for a medical emergency, but hearing the telltale sirens I knew by sound were coming from both an ambulance and the cops, I knew they would be arriving any second and decided to let the paramedics handle everything else.
Instead I dug out one of the small stuffed toy Dalmatians that we carried around to hand out to kids we usually encountered when their homes were on fire and held it out to her, getting her to laugh when I made it dance in front of her and made goofy barking noises.
But looking down at her tiny body, I couldn’t help but remember the conversation I’d had with Sookie, when I’d been getting ready to leave her place that morning.
It had been a week since the brawl, but I was still feeling the aches and pains, so I’d been rooting through her medicine cabinet in search of Tylenol or the like, when I stumbled across her birth control pills.
I don’t know why they held my attention. I’d known all along she was on the pill and had taken advantage of that fact for months.
If I never had to wear a condom again, it would be too soon.
But flipping it open I studied the rows of pills and could see that she had taken them all the way up until the day before. Considering it was five o’clock in the morning, and she was still sound asleep in the adjoining bedroom, I didn’t think anything about her not having taken today’s pill.
However I found myself thinking it wouldn’t be a bad thing if she didn’t take it.
Or any of the others left in the pack.
If I got her pregnant, then she would have to tell her family about us.
But knowing her, she would probably want to wait until she was in labor.
And even then, she might want to wait until the birth announcements were sent out.
Was it selfish of me to even consider forcing her hand like that?
Would I replace her birth control pills with placebos if I had them at the ready?
But her sixth sense must have kicked in because she appeared behind me seconds later, wrapping her arms around my waist and leaning the side of her face against my bare back, still sounding half asleep when she asked, “What are you doing?”
Still holding her birth control pills in one hand and an open bottle of Tylenol in the other, I decided to get a read on her thoughts on the idea.
Tipping the Tylenol bottle into the sink, with the pills making a soft racket as they hit the porcelain, I replied, “Dumping your birth control pills down the drain.”
No longer half asleep, I could tell my answer had jerked her awake by the way her body stiffened against my back and her head darted around my side to look down in the sink, while she stammered, “Wha…? Why would you do that?”
Well…at least I had my answer.
Making babies was a no go for now too.
At least I still had practicing making them with her to look forward to.
“I’m kidding,” I said out loud.
‘Not really,’ I said to myself.
But seeing the Tylenol pills in the sink and not being an actual mind reader, she just playfully slapped my side and said, “I thought you were trained to help people who had a heart attack, not cause them to have one.”
“Would it really be such a bad thing?” I heard myself softly ask.
Knowing I wasn’t talking about her having a heart attack, she went back to her previous position by pressing the side of her face against my back and squeezing me tight in her arms before softly sighing out, “No, but we’d have to break the news to my dad in the cardiac care unit, so they could go right to work on him when he had a heart attack.”
I outwardly chuckled, but inwardly I cringed, hearing the certainty in her voice. She was absolutely positive her family would all but disown her if and when they found out about us. And knowing how close she was to all of them was the only thing that kept me from pushing her too hard or giving her any kind of ultimatum.
Not because I was afraid she wouldn’t choose me, but because I didn’t want to put her in that position.
It was already tearing her up inside that her family had put her in that position and they had no idea they’d even done it.
So instead I tried to lighten the mood by joking, “Just think…our baby would be a whole new breed. Half red and half blue, our kid would be purple. That’s the color of royalty.”
But I could tell she didn’t really relax until I added, “We could even name him Barney and tell your dad it’s a nod to Barney Fife.”
“And if it’s a girl?” she asked, with her smile pressed against my back.
“Then you’ll need to give birth in the cardiac care unit,” I answered solemnly. “Because I’ll be the one having a heart attack.”
Hearing her snort at my very true statement, I knew she was feeling better.
And her helping me clean up in the shower – only to dirty me up and do it all over again – made me feel better, so watching her take her birth control pill after she brushed her teeth that morning wasn’t too disappointing.
All I needed was a little patience.
It would be worth it in the end.
The rig door opening pulled me from my thoughts and seeing Jason Stackhouse standing there, still sporting the reminders of our last meeting on his face, reminded me patience wasn’t a virtue either one of us could maintain on a regular basis.
But it was how he chose to respond to our current situation that put me at ease.
Pulling himself up to stand on the running board alongside the door, he looked down at the baby in my lap and asked, “How is she?”
“Better, I think,” I replied, smiling down at her watching her hug the stuffed toy dog to her chest.
But hearing her mother still yelling close by, I added with an evil glare aimed her way, “No thanks to her.”
“Yeah, I got that,” he answered with his own evil glint in his eye and jumped back down onto the asphalt, so I followed him out of the truck and handed the baby over to the paramedic waiting to take her.
As soon as she saw her kid, she started screaming again – which only made the kid start screaming again – while she yelled, “I want him arrested for kidnapping! And for what he did to my car! He had no right!”
“Those are some serious charges,” Stackhouse responded wide-eyed and I started to wonder if he was really considering arresting me on some trumped up charge as payback for the hockey game, when he looked at her and calmly said, “Why don’t you show me what he did to your car, while the paramedics check out your daughter.”
Looking completely vindicated – while I looked completely flabbergasted – I followed behind them when she began leading him over to where her car was still parked and pointed at the hatchet still lying on the ground where I’d dropped it, haughtily saying, “You should fingerprint that. I’m sure it’ll prove he was the one who used it to break my window.”
“Is that true,” he asked, now looking at me.
Not that I would’ve denied it anyway, but our station number was written on the handle.
It was obviously one of ours.
And any patience I had for his sister didn’t extend to him in that moment because I growled, “You’re goddamn right it’s true. You can’t seriously be…”
But he cut me off by simply raising his hand and turning to her to ask, “Can you please take a look inside and tell me if there’s anything missing from your vehicle, ma’am?”
Craning her neck, she stared into the car before turning to him and saying, “Not that I can tell.”
“So why do you think he would break your window like that?” he asked, sounding confused.
Having been in his presence on more than a few occasions, it seemed like confusion was a familiar state for him.
But I could tell by the look in his eyes there was something more at play here and kept quiet, while she said, “Well…to kidnap my daughter.”
“Oh,” he huffed out with a low whistle and then added, “Were you hurt at all? Did you get cut from the glass raining down on you or did he knock you down when you tried to stop him?”
Then he turned to face me, so that she couldn’t see him when he smirked, “I know he can throw a hard punch.”
I tried to keep my expression from revealing my amusement, now understanding what he was doing.
He’d just given her the shovel to dig her own grave with.
And she did by admitting, “Well…no. I mean, I was inside of the store when it happened, but only for a minute.”
“You were able to get enough groceries to fill three bags and go through the checkout on a Saturday in only a minute?” he asked, eying the plastic sacks still in her hands.
Shifting where she stood, seemingly catching on to what he was getting at, she argued, “Maybe I was inside for more than a minute, but it wasn’t more than five minutes.”
“It was at least twenty minutes,” Jake interjected, having followed us over to the car. Then looking at Stackhouse, he explained, “I glanced at my watch when she walked up to us because I knew he would only give me thirty minutes to get her number before he would leave my ass here.”
He knew that from experience.
It was why I always asked him if he had cab fare whenever he tagged along with me to the grocery store.
“Twenty minutes,” Stackhouse repeated and looked over at her, showing every ounce of disgust he felt. And the menace in his voice was unmistakable when he said, “The temperature inside of a parked car raises an average of nineteen degrees in the first ten minutes. Your daughter was cooking inside of that car and he,” he pointed at me, “saved her life. You should be thanking him.”
Then taking the shopping bags from her hands, he dropped them on the ground and spun her around, pulling the handcuffs from his back and securing them to her wrists, while he said, “Maybe you can think of a way to do that, while you’re in your holding cell. You’re under arrest for child endangerment because it’s not against the law for being a twat.”
She put up a fight, both verbal and physical, as he all but dragged her back to his patrol car.
Then shoving her inside the backseat, before he slammed the door, he added, “Now we can tack on resisting arrest.”
Seeing her still yelling from the patrol car, when he made his way back towards me, I offered, “Turn your car off and I’ll treat you to a long lunch at the pizza place.”
The grocery store was a part of a strip mall, with assorted smaller businesses attached to it, to include a pizzeria.
He chuckled, running his hands through his hair, and said, “Tempting, but her stroking out in my backseat will mean I’ll have to do even more paperwork.”
Then shaking his head, he glanced back at her and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with people anymore. It’s bad enough to forget you left your kid in the car, but to do it on purpose. It boggles the mind.”
“It does,” I agreed, knowing we’d both been forced to face that kind of tragedy in our line of work.
It left a mark that never truly left you.
And suspecting his thoughts had strayed to the same place as mine, he visibly shook it off and changed the subject, by adding with a smirk, “Just ‘cause I’m not arresting you today, doesn’t mean I’ll be taking it easy on you and the rest of the water fairies at the next Guns N’ Hoses event.”
The charity softball tournament was only a few of weeks away, so I smirked in return and said, “Well I’ll be sure to tell my guys to take it easy on your guys the next time we respond to a call.”
Barbs were always thrown on both sides, no matter if it was a fire or a rescue, and seeing his incredulous look, I quipped, “We’ll be busy being heroes, so we’ll need someone to direct traffic.”
Smiling with an eye roll, he turned to make his way back towards his patrol car, calling out over his shoulder, “Asshole.”
“I told you we’re not so different,” I called out in return and smiled seeing him flip me off once he was inside of the car.
And we weren’t so different.
We both loved his sister.
He just didn’t know it yet.
But with a little more patience on my end, he would find out eventually.