Home > The Fix (The Carolina Connections #1)

The Fix (The Carolina Connections #1)
Author: Sylvie Stewart

Chapter One

Pants? Who Needs Pants?

LANEY

I awoke to a foot in my mouth.

No, not the old feeling of having said something horribly inappropriate that you immediately wish you could un-say, but an actual foot. In my mouth.

“Ung guh!” I spat. To say this was a disturbing way to begin one’s day would be a gross understatement—emphasis on the gross. “What in the … ugh.” My head dropped back to the pillow as comprehension dawned. Rocco’s size twelve with those cute little toes lay on the pillow next to my face, along with a small puddle of drool. I took in his sleeping form, passed out upside down in nothing but his Ninja Turtle underwear.

“We can’t keep doing this, dude,” I whispered to myself. My little exhibitionist, having contorted himself into some kind of inverted nocturnal backbend, had spent the night in my bed—yet again. Being awakened by small naked body parts was starting to mess with my head. Not to mention, who knew where those little feet had been? Oh, wait, I did. Blech.

Completely unprepared to get up for the day, I snuggled back into my favorite dogwood printed sheets and stared up at the ceiling. I was discovering that moving to a strange new house was rough on a kid. Hell, it was rough on me and I was twenty years older than him. All things considered though, Rocco had been a real trouper since leaving the only house he’d known at my parents’ and moving into the cute fixer-upper we now call home. But there were obviously still some kinks to work out—case in point, my rude wake-up call.

When my parents first brought up the possibility of their out-of-state move, I don’t think I had ever seen them so edgy. There was lots of hand-wringing and “um, well, you know” before I had demanded they just spit it out—I was halfway convinced one or both of them were dying of Ebola or something equally horrifying.

I’d been feeling increasingly uncomfortable for leaning on them so heavily since the little stick had turned blue, so it was almost a relief to have the decision to get a place of my own taken out of my hands. Turns out while I had feared our moving out would hurt my parents’ feelings, they had been afraid I’d fall to pieces without them. One come-to-Jesus conversation later and my mom was accepting a new position at the University of Richmond in Virginia while I was on the phone with a realtor.

The truth is, early on, I would never have survived a day of motherhood without the undying, and most importantly, non-judgmental support of my family and my best friend—as well as the financial, if not physical, support of Rocco’s dad. But it was past time for me to pull my big girl panties up and I knew it. All the support I’d received had allowed me to finish my associate’s degree and get a job which, while not being entirely stimulating, allowed me to take care of my kid and me. As far as single moms went, my situation was the dream, and I knew it.

Turns out there is something remarkably satisfying about holding ownership of the place where you lay your head at night, and our new house was adorable. It had bright white siding—after a power-washing from my dad—and black shutters that were mostly on straight. And it was topped off by a cheery bright red front door. The house was a ranch and it was a bit older, but it had three bedrooms, two baths, and a fenced-in backyard for Rocco and the dog I was sure we would eventually get. It was close (but not too close) to the stores and restaurants, and the street was nice and quiet. I loved it and I was proud of our new home, even if it did have some drawbacks—leaky faucets, a few uneven floors, and maybe a few more major problems. But that was okay. All of that could be fixed with time and a little help from my idiot younger brother. I hoped.

On the condition that he would help with the repairs and renovating, I had agreed to let him stay with Rocco and me. It was a win-win—my faucets wouldn’t drip, and my brother wouldn’t be homeless, considering that his previous residence had also been my parents’ house. Even he had to admit that, at twenty-two, following your parents to a new state in order to live in their basement was borderline Jay and Silent Bob. And besides, all his drinking buddies were here in Greensboro so there was that …

So now the house was ours and we were making it into a home. What I didn’t know before moving was that a new house breathes differently than your old one. It has its own voices and creaky bones to creep you right the hell out if you’re not used to them. And we were definitely not used to them—thus the previous month of waking up to Professor Underwear crowding my sleep space in an entertaining array of positions.

It was past time to get out of bed so I laid my hand on Rocco’s bare foot and pressed a soft kiss to his head. I inhaled the unique “boy” scent of sweat and the outdoors, trying not to wake him. The floor squeaked under my feet, and out in the hall I tried in vain to avoid the cockeyed floorboard that’s entire existence was centered around mocking my lack of coordination. One stubbed toe and several curses later I reached the kitchen and went straight to the vintage avocado-colored fridge for my morning coffee. Okay, what I actually mean is Diet Coke. Don’t look at me like that. There are plenty of people who don’t like coffee. And some of them are even over the age of thirteen.

One could say I am not a morning person. As in, I may be borderline vampire. All these people who wake up at the crack of dawn to enjoy a leisurely pot of coffee and read the paper completely baffle me. And don’t get me started on those five-a.m. gym weirdos. In my world, no sane person ever wakes up a minute earlier than it takes to frantically throw things together and arrive at the day’s destination a mere hair’s breadth from being tardy. And usually looking like their five-year-old styled their outfit. And hair.

Armed with my caffeine, I made my way into the laundry room—okay, “room” may be a tad generous, technically it’s more of a laundry “closet”—to see if I had somehow managed to wash and dry appropriate clothes to dress Rocco for daycare and me for work in a somewhat presentable fashion. Luckily, the dress code at Brach Technologies, where I log my 40 hours a week, is pretty laid back. I can usually get away with pants and a blouse or even a nice t-shirt if I throw a sweater over it. Comfort is key if I’m going to sit in a cube all day being hypnotized by my monitor, so my work wardrobe receives almost zero effort from me—much to my best gal pal’s horror.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, my best friend, Fiona, puts together outfits in a manner I can only describe as “crafting.” Copious amounts of thought, skill, and passion are involved when Fiona gets dressed in the morning. Remember the character Cher in Clueless? Now you’re getting the picture.

Last Tuesday I rendered Fiona completely speechless (a miraculous feat in itself) when she’d picked me up from work and spied the pair of Skechers I was wearing. What?! They’re comfortable! And they were the dressy-ish kind anyway, so suck it!

The moment my Skecher-shod foot had hit the floorboard of her Prius, Fiona’s mouth dropped open, her head tilted back, and she crossed herself, all while doing some kind of deep breathing thing. I had already settled in the passenger seat so there was no escaping the drama. May as well get comfortable, so I pulled my brunette mess of hair into a sloppy ponytail with the hair tie I always keep on one wrist. Let her rant about that one too.

“Dear Saint Jimmy, she knows not what she does. I swear,” she muttered to the roof of the car.

“Um, I know who you’re talking to and I’m pretty sure he’s still alive and well and no doubt creating more toe crushers as we sit here.”

“Of course he’s not dead!” Fiona’s head snapped to me.

Oh, it looked like Exorcist Fiona was coming out to play.

“I just wanted to apologize in case he’s listening,” she whispered before clearing her scowl and finally gracing me with her cheery customary Fiona smile. “So, aside from the fact that you clearly got dressed in the dark this morning, how was work?”

Letting her dig slide like I always do, I tapped my index finger to the side of my mouth in feigned thought. “Let’s see, ten being a complete lobotomy and one being menstrual cramps, I’d give it a six. Annette brought doughnuts,” I explained.

“Mmmm,” Fiona mused while pulling carefully out of the parking lot, both of us silent for a moment, contemplating the sheer yumminess that is a perfect doughnut.

“Oh!” she brought her head around suddenly, startling the bejesus out of me. “You’ll never guess who I saw on my Starbucks run this morning! For once I know something before you do,” she taunted in a sing-song voice before prattling on and gesticulating like a varsity cheerleader with the semester’s hottest gossip. “And don’t let me forget to tell you about the party we’re invited to this weekend—a wellspring of man candy, I promise you. God, I need to get laid.” Her head tilted back before she straightened again, perhaps remembering she was supposed to be driving. “Anyway, about the coffee thing, I was running late because Gary kept reminding me about needing his half-caff extra, extra hot, as if that’s actually a thing, so I had to wait forever for the poor barista to get it right and I was just turning around when—” she stopped abruptly. “I forgot. Where am I taking you? Pete’s or the other place?”

My seven-year-old Corolla had kindly held onto the last fragments of its bald tires just long enough for me to save for the new ones, thus my chauffeured ride to the body shop. “Pete’s. He gave me a better deal on the tires and said he’d try to fix my door dent for free,” I replied. Is there anything more depressing than blowing $300 on tires?

She looked at me out of the corners of her Gucci-sunglass-covered eyes. “Yeah, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with Thelma and Louise bobbing around under his nose when he gave you the estimate.” Her chin raise saluted my “girls.” “Did he manage to bring his eyes anywhere above chin level at any point in the negotiation?”

I chose to ignore her little joke at the expense of my rack. If I’ve told her once I’ve told her a thousand times, you don’t get to have big boobs without having big other stuff to go along with it. Mother Nature has some sense of justice, after all. “So, continue with this big news,” I redirected her, pulling my drugstore sunglasses from my purse.

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