My jaw hangs and my head tilts to the side as my smile fades. All the nervous energy circulating through me dissipates, and my fingertips tingle with red-hot heat in the seconds that pass before I snatch the journal out of his hands.
“If this is how you treat your fans,” I say, “then you’re heartless.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” he huffs, his eyes holding mine. “So you admit you’re a fan.”
Jaw set, I reply calmly through gritted teeth and press the book against my chest. “Like I said, I didn’t write this. I found it in front of your steps, and I was returning it.”
He lets out a cruel chuckle, his hands hooked on his narrow waist. The man towers over me with a good eight inches and his long, muscled legs are wrapped in low-slung jeans.
Tucking the notebook under my arm, I feel an angry burn in my face, my tongue on fire with everything I want to say to him. “And by the way, you may think I’m here for an autograph, but I honestly have no clue who the hell you are, so fuck you.”
I turn to leave, feeling exhilarated yet fuming at the same time. The number of times I’ve said the words “fuck” and “you” together in a setting beyond my bedroom door I can count on one hand. Growing up in small town Red Fern, Missouri, we weren’t raised to speak to anyone that way. Problems were solved over a slice of banana bread at the kitchen table and sealed with a hug and kiss. Kincaid women didn’t solve their problems with nasty words and chipped shoulders, we rose above them with dignity, always taking the high road.
But today? I’m taking the low road because that man, that jerk, deserves it, whoever he is.
“Fucking asshole,” I mutter under my breath as I round the corner, moving quickly because I can’t get away fast enough. My hands tremble with anger, and I’m slightly out of breath.
But at least I have the notebook, and given the fact that I’m never going to know its rightful owner, I suppose that makes it officially mine.
And I suppose that also means I’ll never get a chance to see the face of the man behind the words, and I’ll never know if he was able to be with his one and only.
Tucking the book under my arm, I head to the park for my run, and after that I’ll head home to Wren and Enzo, to the least asshole-ish people I know.
Good riddance, crazy guy.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
“Maybe you had the wrong townhome?” Wren suggests as she stirs a boiling pot of macaroni noodles.
“Nah,” I say, sitting across from Enzo at the kitchen table. He’s rifling through his superhero backpack in desperate search of a permission slip he was supposed to have signed last week. “I’m ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine percent sure I had the right place.”
“It’s possible someone was walking by and it fell out of their bag,” Wren says. The timer from the microwave dings, and she places a metal colander in the sink. Draining the pot of pasta, she turns to Enzo. “Find it yet, buddy?”
“No, Mom. But I know it was in here. Mrs. Caldecott says we have to have it turned in by tomorrow or we can’t go to the Museum of Natural History.” My nephew frowns, shaking his head, and I’m reminded that bad days are all relative.
I spent the rest of the afternoon ticked off about the bearded giant with the piercing stare and the broad shoulders. Not even a three-mile jog could snap me out of it. I let him ruin my afternoon, and for what? A year from now, I doubt I’ll even remember what he looked like.
That’s not true.
I can’t forget a man who looks like that.
He’s brooding gorgeousness like I’ve never seen, and truth be told, I haven’t been able to get his face out of my mind all day.
“Surely she could’ve sent home another. It’s the last week of school for crying out loud. You’d think she could cut the kid some slack,” Wren says, clucking her tongue. “I’ve just about had it with Mrs. Caldecott. She’s always trying to teach these kids life lessons, but that’s what parents are for, you know? Teach them math and English and science and leave the rest to us.”
“I disagree, sister dear. I’m of the ‘it takes a village’ camp,” I call out, knowing I can never change my control freak sister’s ways. She’s already planning to infiltrate the PTA at Enzo’s school next year because she’s dissatisfied with their homework policy. Yes. My sister is that mom, but she always means well. “Buddy, let me help you.”
Enzo hands me his backpack, which has an unnecessary abundance of zippers and compartments. I reach down to the bottom, which feels like a bottomless black hole, and retrieve a crumpled piece of paper.
“I’ll just write one by hand,” Wren says, returning the macaroni to the stove and dumping in the powdered orange cheese. “If it’s not good enough, I’ll march into Principal Watkins’ office and–”
“Hold on there, Mama Bear.” I unfold the crumpled sheet, which Mrs. Caldecott clearly printed on goldenrod paper to make it easier to find amongst the piles of paper she sends home with the kids on a daily basis. “Found it.”
Enzo does a happy little jump in his seat and rips it out of my hand before flying across the kitchen to hand it to Wren.
“Calm down, buddy.” Wren runs her fingers through his hair, grinning, and steps away from the stove to retrieve a pen from the junk drawer. The first one doesn’t work. Neither does the second. Muttering under her breath, she finally pulls out a black Sharpie and signs the slip. “Put this in the front pocket of your bag. From now on, I want all of the really important papers to go in the very front, do you understand?”