I woke on Monday morning with a sense of peace in my soul. Thornton had called us a family the night before as he comforted me, and whether he knew it or not, he had worked to erase a lot more of my concerns regarding our relationship. We’d settled into bed eventually, and as I listened to his soft snores for a few minutes, I felt a sense of rightness sink deep inside me.
Just as I was about to get up, I felt him wrap his arms around me. “What time is it?” he whispered sleepily.
I glanced at the clock to see it was just six in the morning. It was early for me to get up, but I needed to get a jump on the backlog of shit at my office. With the rest of the staff not due in until nine, I’d get a lot done with the quiet.
“It’s early, darlin’. It’s only six. Jude won’t wake up for a few hours because he doesn’t have school and I didn’t set his alarm. Are you going to be okay with him this week until camp starts next week?” I asked as I sat on the side of the bed with my back to him. If I looked back, I’d never get up. He was far too tempting.
“We’ll be fine. I’ll go to the school and pick up Jude’s things from the office. I phoned them on Friday and found out they’re open until noon all this week before they close up for June and July. We’ll find things to do, don’t you worry about us.” He sounded confident, but I wasn’t exactly the same just yet. Jude could be a handful, and Thorn hadn’t really been around kids as far as I knew.
“Well, if anything happens, call my cell. If I don’t answer, call Laurie, and she’ll find me wherever I am. I need to get a shower,” I told him as I walked toward the bathroom. I closed the door and turned on the shower, adjusting the temperature.
I stood at the sink to brush my teeth and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. Despite all of the bullshit that had taken place over the last few weeks, I looked better and more rested than I had in years.
As I thought about it, I realized I’d only contemplated taking a drink the night Lark had died. Since I stopped drinking three years earlier, there hadn’t been many days when I didn’t think about drinking, and I damn sure hadn’t gone an entire week without thinking about it before Thornton came back into my life.
I hurried through my shower and shave because there was a meeting on the way to work I could catch since I was so early. I damn well didn’t want to let go of my new momentum and going to a meeting was an excellent way to remind me I never wanted to go back to that shitty existence again. Drinking wouldn’t have helped me through the last week for sure.
As I got dressed, I reminded myself to call Juan and Franklin to see how they were doing and let them know I was doing well. I had a good support system in place, and I wasn’t about to take it for granted.
I strolled down the hallway with my jacket over my arm and my tie loose around my neck because the lure of coffee was too incredible to resist. Thornton had gotten me addicted again to the fancy shit he liked, much like many other things that I was experiencing for the second time.
I walked into the kitchen, seeing him in a pair of my basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He was leaning against the counter drinking a cup of coffee. When he saw me, he smiled brightly and offered me a cup prepared precisely to my liking. “You didn’t have to get up, babe,” I told him as I kissed him gently in thanks for the caffeine.
“Hey, a chance to see my man in a suit headed off to do an honest day’s work? How could I pass that up? Besides, I thought I’d write a while until Jude gets up. Do you have the number for his pediatrician? I need to schedule him for a physical for soccer camp. It has to be within the last six months, so the one he got in September for school isn’t going to fulfill the requirement,” Thorn advised me.
“Um, look on my desk. There’s a list with… Hell, babe, I’ll set it up. I’ve got the number at work. I don’t expect you to do everything,” I responded, feeling a little guilty for becoming so dependent on him so quickly. I needed to adjust to being the one to handle the responsibilities associated with Jude on my own. I didn’t think Thornton would leave me, but as I’d quickly learned, things could change in the blink of an eye.
He smiled. “Fine, you set up the appointment and remember to tell them I’ll be the one bringing him. You should probably notify them his mother is deceased so they can make a note on his file. Anyway, you have time for breakfast or…” I saw him wiggle his eyebrows, and I laughed.
“I wish I had time for ‘or’ but I’d like to hit a meeting before I go to work. Hold the thought for tonight?” I asked hopefully.
He looked a little concerned, so I kissed him. I pulled away, and he smiled. “I’m glad you’re going to a meeting this morning. About tonight, I believe I should spend the night at my place. I don’t want Jude to think I’m trying to monopolize all of your time, and I think you need to spend some time together, just the two of you, to establish your new routine. I’m flexible enough to work around what you need, but I also think he needs you more since all of the activity has died down. Reality is going to set in for him, and I think it’ll be good for the two of you to handle it without him having to worry about me being in the way,” Thorn suggested.
I opened my mouth to protest when he placed his hand on my cheek. “I’ll stay tonight for dinner, but then I’m going home. I’ll be back in the morning if you let me know what time you want to start your day,” he compromised.
It would be a lie for me to say I wasn’t disappointed, but I appreciated his candor and compassion. “You’re right. Thank you for being so understanding about this. I’ll call you later today, and if you need me and I don’t answer my cell, call my office phone.” I walked over and hugged him, sucking hard on his neck a bit as I took in his unique scent. It had a calming effect on me, and I wasn’t dreading the day as I had the previous night.
When I pulled away, I saw the smirk on his face. “Marking your territory before you go off to work, love? I walked around campus with hickeys for the two years we were together. Why would I think you’d changed just because you’re twenty-eight-years old?”
I laughed. “Hey, I can’t help myself. You shouldn’t look so damn fuckable first thing in the morning. I’ll talk to you later. Love you,” I offered as I rechecked the clock. Thorn gave me a peck on the lips before I dashed out to my truck.
After my Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I went to the office, unlocking the door for the first time in a while. My inbox was full, and there was a call sheet at the center of my desk. Laurie had been leaving messages on my cell early on, but I asked her only to notify me of the emergency calls which couldn’t wait until I returned.
I glanced down the list to see most of them were from agents and authors who had current projects with Catnip. There were a few from some of our contacts at various distribution outlets that should have been directed to Rory, and there was a call from the attorney who had written Lark’s will. I noticed it was just after seven-thirty in the morning, so I decided not to call him until later.
I began working through my inbox, and before I knew it, Laurie was standing at my office door with a cup of coffee and the head-tilt of pity. “How you doing, Kennedy?”
I closed the file of rejection correspondence she’d left for me to approve and looked up. “I’m not great, but I’m going to be fine. Anything I need to know about that’s not on the call sheet?”
She walked in and closed the door, which didn’t give me a good feeling at all. “Your parents have each called every day. They wanted your cell, which I didn’t give them, telling them I wasn’t allowed to give it out to anyone. Your father threatened to fire me. Mariah said she overheard Rory in a shouting match over the phone with them. They’re getting a little…uh, ruder each time they call.”
Of course, they were. “If either of them calls, put ’em through or find me if I’m away from my office. Also, Laurie, if Thornton Marsh phones at any time, hunt me down immediately. Pull me out of meetings, the men’s room, lunch, whatever. He is the only person besides Rory who I will always speak with. My parents, that’s just for the time being,” I advised.
“Send these back to the rejection pool, and make sure they understand to attach the manuscript to the letter and send any additional copies to be shredded. I’ll be in Conference Room D. Is Aurora in yet?” I asked.
She punched something into her phone and looked up. “She is. Anything else?”
“Put a note on my calendar for tomorrow to swing by King Mortuary to pick up… to make a pick-up on my way home. Also, can you find a shipper I can use to ship human remains to Blanton, Mississippi? I’m sure there’s some sort of regulations around it.” I wasn’t looking forward to either task, but the crematory wouldn’t have the remains returned to the mortuary until Tuesday, and I wanted to take care of sending Lark’s ashes to her parents as soon as possible.”
“Sure. Also, you mentioned when we spoke you’d enrolled Jude for summer camps and activities to fill his time off of school. Do you have the numbers for me and the names of the camps so if they call I can find you? I’m making a list of numbers I need, now that all calls will no longer go through, um… Lark. Do you have a new emergency contact for your personnel file? Connie called and asked about it. Also, she needs to discuss your insurance beneficiary, and she mentioned she’ll need a copy of… um, the death certificate to make any changes. I’m sorry, Kennedy, but it’s…”
I motioned for her to sit down because she was too damn efficient for my own good. “I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding all of these issues, but I’ve had my hands full. Make me a list, and I’ll get together what you need. You’re a great assistant, and I appreciate you wanting to help out. A lot of things have come up I’ve never considered, and it gets a bit overwhelming at times, but I’ve got a lot of help. How’s the gossip mill with this news?”
“The only people who are aware of your loss are the people on this floor. Rory swore all of us to secrecy. We all know how private you are, and we respect you. We’d like to contribute to a charity in her memory if you’ve picked one. We always enjoyed her visits with Jude,” she proclaimed, which surprised me.
“I’m working on it. Maybe that’s something you could help me with? Some sort of suicide prevention… no, let’s not go that way. Find out if there’s some sort of organization to support people suffering from mental and emotional disorders. That seems like the most productive way to address the issue. Come up with a few organizations, and I’ll talk to Jude and Thornton about them,” I requested.
She seemed surprised. “Thornton Marsh, the writer? I thought you were just trying to get a book out of him. Do you know him personally?”
I hadn’t considered that no one aside from my sister would know about Thornton’s and my history. I definitely wasn’t ashamed of him, and I wasn’t hiding our relationship, so it was time to give up a little bit of the precious privacy I clung to like a lifeline.
“Thornton Marsh and I have known each other for ten years and are best friends. We, uh, were out of contact for a few years, but he’s been invaluable to me at handling all of the issues that have come up recently. He’s as efficient as you, as a matter of fact. He’s taking care of Jude this week for me, and he’s been a great helper to me through all of this, just as he used to be when we were in college,” I spelled out. Laurie’s face still showed surprise, so I decided to wrap it up.
“I’ll get all his contact information for you so you can have him added to my address book and send him my calendar on Friday afternoons so he can let me know if there are any conflicts in our schedules the next week. Anything else?” I asked.
She giggled a little. “Damn. I owe Mariah five bucks. That man is smoking hot, and she told me she was sure he was gay, but I guess I was hoping he wasn’t. Anyway, good for you, boss. Best friends? I think you’re not telling everything, but I won’t pry.” She looked at her watch and smiled. “You better get going, or you’re going to be late.”
She hurried out of my office, leaving the door open. I hurriedly pulled on my suit coat and grabbed the file I needed for the meeting, not really looking forward to discussing division budgets for two hours. Rory had called the conference, and after the week she’d had with having to handle her job and my job, I owed it to her to be there in support.
After my second meeting that morning, I strolled back to my office, stopping at Laurie’s desk to see her giggling as she stared at the two bouquets of flowers sitting on her desk. “Oh, he’s just walked up. May I put you on hold for a moment? Thank you.”
She pressed the hold button and looked up at me with a mischievous look. “Your best friend is on the line. You forwarded the list to him and failed to give him my electronic information, so he didn’t have to bother you with it. He’s really a delightful man. Anyway, talk to him while I get your lunch. I’ll be back,” she ordered as she handed me the receiver to her phone and hit the button.
“Just be careful!” I heard yelled.
“Thorn, where are you?” I asked, hearing a lot of commotion in the background.
“Oh, hey babe. Your assistant is a sweet young woman. She and I were having a very entertaining conversation regarding your work habits. Anyway, I’m at a place called Get Air in North Town Mall. It’s this huge indoor trampoline park, and Jude is in heaven. We’re meeting his friend Petey and his mother here for a playdate because the park got canceled due to the rain,” he informed.
“Rain?” I asked. Hell, I hadn’t even looked outside since I’d arrived at the office.
“Yes, love, it’s raining cats and dogs. So, how’s everything going?” It was somewhat quieter now, which made me wonder where he’d gone.
“It’s as busy as I figured it would be. Our fiscal year ends next month, and it’s budget time which is a pain in the ass. Be happy you don’t have to deal with this side of things. You won’t mind if I put you down as my emergency contact, will you? Lark was listed in my file, but obviously, I need to change it. Rory’s here if anything happens, so she’ll likely be the first to know, but I need a back-up.”
He chuckled. “Sorry. I guess I’m in a bad spot. I’m here. I stepped into a little alcove where I can still see Jude and hear you, and I’m blocking the ladies’ room entrance. I suppose I look like some sort of a pervert hovering outside the ladies’ room. Anyway, I’ll send Laurie an e-mail with all my contact information so she can give it out to whomever. I’d be honored to be your emergency contact. Does that mean we’re going steady?”
I laughed as Laurie walked back to her desk with a fax and a plastic container for me, placing one on her desk that was identical. “What’s this?” I asked her.
“Your best friend had lunch delivered for us. You better marry him, or I’m going to figure out a way that I can,” she informed.
Based on the laugh I heard from Thorn, he overheard her and was cracking up on the other end of the line. “I really like her. Tell her my heart belongs to you, but I appreciate her interest. Oh, it seems Jude’s friend is here. I better go introduce myself before the woman thinks I’ve just abandoned him at a trampoline park. I’ll talk to you later. Love you, Kennedy.”
“Love you, too, and thanks. See ya tonight,” I responded without thinking.
I looked up to see Laurie smiling coyly. I had to stop her before I found myself red-faced at my office. “Don’t start. Who are the flowers from?” I asked as I handed her the phone and flipped open the container revealing a very delicious, seared tuna steak on baby greens. She gave me a fork and a napkin as she dug into what appeared to be a grilled chicken breast over the same salad. I took a bite of the tuna, finding it cooked perfectly with a delicious citrus vinaigrette drizzled over the top.
“Well, these are for me, and they are from Mr. Thornton Marsh. ‘Thank you for making Kennedy’s life easier. I appreciate it. Sincerely, Thornton Marsh, a fan of yours’. I guess since they’re from the same florist, this bouquet, which is addressed to you, is from him as well. Are there any straight ones at home like him?” she asked as she handed me the card from the pick in the beautiful bouquet of mixed gerbera daisies, both of our favorites. Laurie’s flower bouquet was a variety of all white blooms, and it was very fragrant. I opened the card and saw my son’s familiar printing.
Have a good day at work, Dad
At the bottom, there was a little arrow that directed me to flip the card over. When I looked at the other side, I saw it was a note from Thornton.
Your son is quite remarkable.
I hope these brighten your day.
I’ll be thinking about you.
I love you,
“You’re so much in love!” Laurie gushed. Hell, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, so I didn’t even try.
“Bring your lunch and come with me,” I ordered. I grabbed my lunch and the vase of flowers on Laurie’s desk and went to my office. I placed the salad on my desk and the flowers on the credenza to my left where they’d be in my line of sight when I worked on my computer.
I took off my jacket and draped it over the back of my chair and sat down, flipping my tie over my shoulder so as not to stain it as I dug into my lunch. Laurie went to the little fridge in my office and grabbed us each a bottle of water, taking a seat across from me. “Okay, dish,” she ordered as she opened her lunch container, crossed her legs, and leaned forward.
I laughed at her and carefully considered the best way to answer her questions without giving away too much. “He and I were together for two years in college. We broke up, and he transferred schools. It was messy, and I don’t want to rehash it, but during that time, Jude came along,” I gave her the highlights.
She wiggled her fork at me, so as I rolled my eyes and continued. “Thornton wrote a book we were interested in publishing, and that was how we got back together. We both admitted that just because we’d been apart for several years, it didn’t mean we’d gotten over each other, so we’re giving it another try,” I admitted.
Laurie smiled before she wiped her mouth and spoke. “That’s one of the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“When this thing with Lark happened, he was there, and he’s been a huge source of support and relief. We’re trying to work things out between us, and he gets along famously with Jude, which is a godsend. That’s as much as I’m giving you, and if I hear this circling the grapevine, you’re fired,” I taunted.
“Oh, please! The other employees hate Mariah and me because we refuse to give up information on you and Rory. Riah and I chat discreetly between ourselves so we can give each other a head’s up if trouble’s brewing, but you know nobody keeps your private life more private than me. Most of the people on the different floors don’t even know you have a son, and those of us on this corridor don’t discuss what happens up here,” Laurie vowed, which I knew to be true.
Laurie smirked at me before she took a sip of her water. “Besides, you’re not the only one floating on Cloud Nine around here. Mariah and I met guys last Wednesday when we went to happy hour. We’re both in love, having had wonderful weekends, so there,” she stated, sticking her tongue out at me for emphasis.
“I know. I’m just teasing you. So, who is the mystery man with whom I have to share you?” I asked. It wasn’t like me to sit and swap stories with Laurie, but she’d worked for me since we opened the Spokane office, and she’d proven her loyalty many times over.
“His name is Taylor, and he’s an attorney. He’s about your age, and he went to Gonzaga for his undergraduate and UDub for law school.” For the next fifteen minutes, she extolled the wonderfulness of Taylor, and by the time she finished, I was laughing my ass off.
“What?” she asked me, anger clouding her pretty face.
I wiped my mouth and took a drink of water. “Is the guy’s last name Crosby?”
She looked surprised. “Yes, do you know Taylor?”
“I believe he was my roommate my freshman year of college. We weren’t close because I was with Thorn, but he was a pretty nice guy. Ask him if he remembers me. I’m sure he’ll have some colorful stories to tell you about walking in on us in my dorm room and seeing mine or Thornton’s naked—uh, yeah, I’m sure he’ll remember us,” I explained with a laugh.
I expected her to laugh with me, but she had a severe look on her face. “Kennedy, I didn’t tell him where I work or for whom. I’d never… I’ll stop seeing him. I mean I just met him and if he knew you…”
“Oh, hush. That doesn’t bother me at all, and don’t you dare give up a guy you really like because of me. What kind of law does he practice and is he good at it?” I asked.
“Family law. He’s up for partner next year, and he’ll be one of the youngest partners at his firm, so I’d guess he’s outstanding at it,” she responded. Family law? That was precisely what the hell I wanted to hear.
“Can you get me an appointment with him? Explain to him who I am… I mean, his old roommate, not anyone super famous or anything. Ask him if he handles custody cases,” I told her. She looked worried again, but I didn’t expound on the problem.
“Sure, yes, of course. ASAP or first opening you have on your schedule?” Laurie asked apprehensively.
“First opening he has in his schedule. I also need reservations to New York for next weekend. Red-eye on Friday night with an afternoon flight on Sunday. Also, get me a hotel. I won’t be staying with my parents,” I requested.
“Okay, um, just you?”
“No, Thornton Marsh and me. First class on my personal credit card. I need to see Taylor before I go, so juggle my schedule however necessary to ensure I can make the appointment, please.”
She nodded as she picked up our empty containers and the silverware. “If you need anything, Kennedy, you know you only have to ask. Call me anytime,” she offered.
“Thank you, Laurie. I need to make a few calls, and I have back-to-back meetings, so take off when you want. I’ll see ya tomorrow,” I told her. She nodded and left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.
I dug around my desk for the call sheet and called Jenkins Zucker, Lark’s attorney, regarding her Will. I wasn’t surprised when he made me aware that a petition for custody had come up during a search through a legal database using Lark’s name. I told him I knew and thanked him for giving me a head’s up. He promised to have fifteen copies of Lark’s Death Certificate couriered to me as soon as he received them, and we hung up.
My second call was to Franklin to catch up and ask if he and Brenda would be up for taking Jude for the weekend. I explained why to him, and he said they’d be more than happy to pick him up Friday afternoon. Brenda had Friday’s off, and he assured me he’d have to tie her down to keep her from being at my house at the crack of dawn. I thanked him and made the third call on my agenda for that day. Juan Jiménez.
I walked into a bar which wasn’t unfamiliar to me—not many in Spokane were. I saw the old bartender, Henry, smile when he recognized me. “Kennedy, it’s good to see you, but what the hell are ya doin’ here, son?”
I smiled at him. “Can I get a glass of iced tea with lemon?” I asked as I walked down the bar to where Juan sat with a shot glass of white liquor in front of him.
“Juan, how long have you been talking to that glass?” I asked quietly.
His head whipped around, and he smiled a little. “I was sittin’ here for an hour before you called. It’s reminding me how disappointed my Sarah would be if I drank it. What brings ya here?” Henry set the tea in front of me with a bowl of sugar packets. He looked at me with concern in his eyes, so I winked at him.
“I needed to talk to a good friend about what’s going on in my life lately. My son’s mother committed suicide, so it’s been a rough few weeks. I asked someone who cares about me a lot to get me a bottle because I thought it would be the easiest way to handle the loss and the aftermath. He said he’d get me one and get one of his own, and we could just drink ourselves to death, reminding me if we didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, which I’ve tried to do in the past when we woke up hung-over as hell, it wouldn’t bring Lark back to life. If you drink that glass, will it bring Sarah back?” I presented to Juan.
He turned to look at me, studying me for a moment before he responded. “I say this with the utmost respect. Go fuck yourself, kid. I’m sick of being alone. I’m sick of having two daughters who don’t give a good god damn about me, and I’m sick of waking up every morning without my wife. At least, if I have Don Julio to keep me company, I won’t give a shit.”
I’d been in his shoes not too long ago, so I understood his response. “Point taken, but what makes you think your daughters don’t give a shit?” He’d never mentioned he had daughters.
“Mostly my fault. When the girls were young, I was a drunk. I wasn’t a nice drunk, either. One of my daughter’s lives in Hawaii and didn’t even come for her madre’s funeral because I’d be there. Wants nothin’ to do with me. The other one actually lives with me, and she and the bastardo she married are just waiting for me to die. I guess I decided to give God a hand,” he answered, staring at the glass again.
“I know what you mean about being a drunk with young kids. My son is only eight, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to have some shitty memories of me from when he was younger. I tried not to drink when he was around, but that didn’t always work out. Hey, I’ve got a good idea. Why don’t you have Henry hang onto that, and you come home with me for dinner? My boyfriend’s cooking, and he’s a hell of a cook,” I volunteered, pointing to the glass of tequila. I hadn’t told him I was gay, so I waited for a reaction.
He turned to me and smiled. “My daughter, Juanita, her girlfriend is in the Navy. That’s what she’s doing in Hawaii. I actually hear from her girlfriend once a week. I don’t think Nita knows she calls me because she phones from Base. Eh, what the hell? Let’s go.”
I turned to Henry. “How much I owe ya?”
Henry smiled. “Not a damn dime. You ever wanna talk? Come in, and I’ll have my Eden make ya some of her lemonade. I’ve been sober for fifteen years, and I find when things get tough, I sit down with a friend and a glass of lemonade and talk things out. It all gets better, and hell, I don’t miss the headache the next mornin’.”
Henry reached out his hand and patted mine where it rested on the bar. “Kennedy, it’s good to see you lookin’ well, son. Same goes for you, Juan. You need an ear and a glass of lemonade? I’ve got a picnic table out back under a little carport. Ask anyone. I can talk till the cows come home.”
We both thanked him for his offer, and I tossed a ten on the bar for my iced tea and his kind words. Juan followed me home, and when I opened the door, I wasn’t surprised by the smells coming from inside. It smelled like how I imagined a home full of love would smell.
To be continued…