Authors: Catherine Johnson
He guided Thea into the overgrown wilderness that surrounded the house for an amount of privacy. He knew she was itching to say something.
She turned to him as soon as they were out of earshot of the others. “I’ll pay you rent.”
“You’ll do no such fuckin’ thing, sweetheart. There’s empty rooms in there, plenty of space for your stuff. At least here you’re not in danger of wakin’ up in the night and walkin’ in on an orgy.”
“Jesus, Dizzy.” She whispered. “I have some pride left.”
He caught her face in his palms then and made her look at him. “You do. But there’s no shame in needin’ a hand along the way now and then.”
Thea seemed lost, more so than before. He wanted to kiss her, wanted to wrap himself around her and protect her from the harsh world. But he’d surprised her today. She was down, and he’d had to kick her dignity a bit more to ensure her well-being and cooperation.
If she wanted space, then fine, she would get it, but on his terms. This last month, living without them, having only had the smallest of hopes to cling to, had made him realize with crystal clarity exactly what it was that he wanted.
What he didn’t want was for Thea to pull away from him. He didn’t want to make her run. He could be patient.
“If it makes you feel too uncomfortable, sweetheart, I’ll move into the clubhouse.”
“No!” There was a tenuous thread of anger there. “I won’t chase you out of your own house, not when you’re keepin’ us off the street.”
She breathed out a sigh that was heavy with defeat. “Let’s get it done, then.” She brushed his hands away, and went to help the others move her into his home.
It took more trips than he’d thought to get them moved, but with the whole club helping, it didn’t take more than a few hours. They were done with barely any time to spare before Josh was due to finish school.
When Thea voiced her intention to pick Josh up, rather than letting him ride the school bus, Dizzy decided she was doing so with a full complement of bikers at her side, most of whom were impatient to see their young friend again. Thea was immediately concerned that the school would see the phalanx of leather and Harleys and call Child Services without hesitation, but Dizzy would not back down. He was confident that being within the family of the club could only be better for Josh and Thea than the hell they’d been enduring alone.
Josh was overjoyed to see them all. As soon as he spotted them he took off running towards them, a wide smile on his pale face. Dizzy had to swallow hard when he saw the boy close up and realized how much weight he’d lost. Josh barreled into Shaggy who staggered back under the force, even of that small weight. Then Shaggy scooped Josh up with a whoop and swung him around. ‘Let the teachers and the Principal watch’, thought Dizzy. He hoped they choked on their good intentions if they called the authorities in after witnessing such unrestrained affection.
Scooby whirled Josh around next. Dizzy kept his palm in the small of Thea’s back, steadying her as she watched her son being welcomed without reservation by his friends. She was trembling.
Once he was done being smothered with friendship, Josh walked shyly up to Dizzy and threw his arms around his waist, which was about as far as his height reached.
“I missed you, Dizzy. I missed you all.”
Dizzy barely heard the muffled words that had been mumbled into his stomach, but he knew Thea had caught them when she strangled a sob.
God-fucking-damn it! This kid was a heartbreaker. Dizzy blinked and sniffed. He would not cry in front of his brothers. Would not. But when he looked up, he wasn’t surprised to see that Shaggy had quiet tears flowing freely down his cheeks. Dizzy had to wait to speak until he was sure his voice wouldn’t crack.
“Hey, li’l bro. We’ve got a surprise for you, but d’ya wanna go to the clubhouse and get pizza first?”
Josh looked like maybe Christmas had come early. “What’s the surprise?”
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise now, would it?”
“Guess not. Can we, Mama?”
Thea couldn’t speak. Dizzy could see that she was fighting hard to keep from breaking down. When she nodded, Josh fairly squealed with glee.
To Dizzy’s mind, that evening at the clubhouse was something of the party that Thanksgiving should have been. During the holiday, he’d been elbow deep in the guts of a fat Mexican. This, being surrounded by his brothers, his family, was everything that night should have been. Annelle had, without consulting him, shut the club for the night and brought the girls over when she’d gotten wind that everyone had congregated. Dizzy couldn’t bring himself to chastise her for it. She knew how to run the business, he knew he could trust her to make the bank back. And when all was said and done, the presence of the mother hen and her chicks added to the feeling of family.
When Josh, replete with happiness, looked almost ready to drop from fatigue, Thea suggested that they go home. Dizzy was only too ready to take them.
He crouched in front of Josh where he was sagging in a corner of one of the couches. “Hey, li’l bro. You ready for your surprise?”
“Whaa’s it?” Josh was so tired he was slurring. He’d been so excited to be in the clubhouse again that he’d forgotten to keep badgering everybody about the promised surprise.
“You gotta wait and see. Come on.”
Josh looked at him pleadingly and only held his arms outstretched. Dizzy chuckled and leant forward. Josh hooked his arms around his neck and Dizzy straightened, picking him up. As he stood, Josh wrapped his legs around Dizzy’s waist. Feeling more at peace than he had in weeks, Dizzy carried Josh out to Thea’s truck and deposited him in the passenger seat once Thea had opened the door.
Dizzy followed the truck back to his house, wanting to keep Thea and Josh in his sights. He wondered if Josh was relentlessly questioning his mama, or if he’d fallen asleep.
From the harassed expression on Thea’s face when they pulled up outside his house, it looked like Josh had been interrogating her.
“Where’s this? What’re we doin’ here? Ain’t we goin’ home tonight?”
Yep, Josh’s questions came thick and fast.
Thea crouched down in front of Josh, in front of the steps that led up to the porch. “No, bud. This is Dizzy’s house. We’re gonna be livin’ here now.”
“But what about all our stuff?”
“We moved it while you were at school. It’s all inside.” Dizzy laid his hand on Josh’s shoulder to reassure him.
Josh turned wide eyes to his mother. “What happened, Mama?”
“Nothin’, bud. You know we don’t own our place, we pay someone so that we can stay there?”
“Well, that guy wanted someone else to live there, so we had to find somewhere else to stay. Dizzy said we could stay here with him.”
Josh looked between Thea and Dizzy several times. He looked confused.
To cut off any questions he might be about to ask, that neither of them had answers for, Dizzy jumped up onto the porch and unlocked the door. He beckoned for Josh to enter with a sweep of his arm.
Finding some last vestiges of energy, Josh hopped up the steps and into the house.
The front door led straight into the living area that was both lounge and dining room. From the front door there was a direct sightline, bar low furniture, to the French windows that led out to the back yard. One corner of the main room, to one side of the French doors, was given over to a kitchen area. The central room was bracketed by bedrooms.
So far Josh would not be looking at anything that had come from their house. Since Dizzy had more comfortable sofas, a more stable dining table and a bigger TV, they’d tucked Thea’s lumpy sofa and rickety table into a corner of one of the garage bays. Personally, Dizzy would have suggested doing away with them altogether, but he didn’t want to push Thea too hard, make the move seem too permanent. As far as he was concerned, they wouldn’t be leaving, but she had to come to that conclusion on her own.
Dizzy led Josh through the room to a door on the right, which opened into a small hall. From the hall, doors led to two bedrooms and a small bathroom. Thea had asked that Josh’s room be the one at the back of the house, and Dizzy hadn’t disagreed. That room had been completely empty yesterday, only furnished with carpet and a coat of paint on the walls. Now all of Josh’s furniture and belongings were organized in it.
“Oh. Wow.” Josh breathed out, stunned. Then he turned to Thea. “Can I sleep in here tonight, Mama?”
Dizzy thought that was an odd question. Where the hell else would the boy be sleeping? But as he was about to say something, Thea gave him a hard look, so he kept quiet and determined to ask her about it once Josh was in bed.
“Sure, bud. You wanna wash up and turn in?”
Josh nodded enthusiastically, so Dizzy showed him to the neighboring bath, which held all of their toiletries. With only a little nagging from his mama, Josh was soon ready for bed. Dizzy left Thea to tuck him in, and having poured two small glasses of straight Jack, took the drinks on to the porch.
The night was the wrong side of cold, but the air was fresh. It was such a welcome relief from the blazing heat of summer that Dizzy liked to enjoy it now and then, even if it did raise gooseflesh. His Stetson kept some of the chill away. After a while he heard the door click. He waited. Thea sat next to him, but not near him, on the step. She’d pulled a faded sweatshirt on over her shirt and top.
“He all settled?” Dizzy handed her one of the glasses. Thea took a sip, and grimaced at the burn of the undiluted liquor.
“Out like a light. Thank you for this. I don’t know how to say that and mean it any more than I do.” She slumped over a little. “You saved us from havin’ to sleep in the truck.”
He had been about to tell her that she was safe now, but he didn’t want to trigger any bad memories, so he changed the subject some.
“Where else would Josh think he’d be sleepin’ if not in his own bed?”
Thea looked at him before she answered, and the look in her eyes was tired and much, much older than her years.
“He’s been sharin’ a bed with me. He has nightmares, still. I’m sure Nell filled you in on that.”
“About the nightmares, not that he’d been needin’ to sleep in the same bed as you.”
“Look, I best get my head down. Hopefully all the excitement will have him flat out ‘til mornin’.” Thea tossed back the rest of her drink and stood. Dizzy stayed where he was. He feared that if he stood, he’d put her up against the side of the house and fuck her ‘til she screamed.
He was confused when he didn’t hear the click of the lock. He half turned to see if he’d missed the door opening and shutting. Thea was standing with her back to him, her head bowed, her hand frozen on the handle.
“Thank you, Dizzy. I mean it, but I can’t...” She tailed off.
He downed the rest of his own drink and stood, praying for a measure of strength and composure from somewhere.
“I told you, sweetheart. I’m not expectin’ payment, not in any form.”
Thea gave a tight nod, and without looking up, let herself into the house.
Dizzy watched as she walked to her room. She didn’t look back.
Dizzy debated going back to the porch to clear his head in the night air, which would be almost as effective as a cold shower, but he was nearing exhaustion and some of his injuries were still in the mood to complain once in a while, particularly after some exertion.
Dizzy went to his room which was on the other side of the house. The great room felt like an ocean separating him from his family.