Authors: Sophia Henry
“I'm secretly excited there's more. Because I felt a little too dressed up for sitting at a drive-in.”
“You're dressed perfectly for the next one.”
Indie glanced down at her short skirt and heels. “Snowball fight?”
The twinkle in her eyes as she joked around made me want to give her anything she wished for: diamonds, pearls, a lung.
I placed my hand on her knee, and her head jerked up to meet my eyes. “If I could make it snow right now, I would.”
“Now that would have been an awesome surprise.” Indie set her hand on top of mine and gave it a slight squeeze.
“Hope this lives up to it,” I said as I pulled my truck into a parking lot in the heart of downtown Bridgeland.
As my hand rested on the bare skin of Indie's leg, my mind jumped to one way to give her anything she wanted. Genie lamps. And how does someone get the stupid genie out of one of those things? Rubbing and wishing.
As a bartender at a brewery in downtown Bridgeland, I knew all of the other bars around us. Peak City employees weren't allowed to drink on the premises, even if we weren't working that day, so my coworkers and I would walk down the road or across the street to one of the other watering holes.
Jason put his hand on the small of my back and steered me toward Wreckage, a tiny bar known for having a band every night of the week. The cop was two for two so far. I loved the drive-in and I love live music. Wreckage was always the right pick.
Though the smoking ban in bars had been in effect for years in Michigan, I always felt like I was walking through a murky puff as I edged my way to the bar along the side of the establishment. Must've been the smoke billowing from a dry-ice machine in the corner of the stage. Wreckage was oddly shaped, long and narrow. Couldn't fit many people, but it was always packed, because they usually booked great talent.
When I saw Greg, the guitar player for Strange Attraction, a small-time local band, leaning against the bar, I wondered if they were playing tonight, or if he was here checking out a show.
“Hey, Gregory.” I placed a kiss on his cheek.
“Indie!” Greg pulled me into a tight, quick hug, but let me go almost as fast. “I was scared for a minute. Thought my great aunt Mildred was here. âGregory!'â” he said in a really bad old woman's voice.
“Someone's got to keep you in line.” I took Jason's hand and pulled him closer to me. “This is Jason. Jason, this is Greg.”
“Hey.” Jason held out his hand. Greg clasped it and brought him in for that bro chest-bump thing.
“Hey, man, good to see you again. My great aunt Mildy and the law. I better be on my best behavior.” Greg flashed us a grin before downing the half pint of beer that was left in his glass. He already had another full brew waiting for him.
“Good to see you again?” Wonder how they know each other.
Ignoring my confusion at Jason and Greg's familiar bro-bump, I asked, “Are you guys playing tonight?”
“Yeah, and I'm late as usual. I gotta get up there. Enjoy the show. Catch you later, Auntie,” Greg joked. He tucked a few strands of shoulder-length, brown hair behind his ear and grabbed his beer off the bar as he brushed past.
“You guys know each other?” I asked Jason.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” he replied, with a hint of annoyance.
He didn't look jealous, but it was a jealous accusation, wasn't it? It wasn't the kind of jealousy I was used to, Tim's high school brand of blame-me-later kind of jealousy. I needed to stop comparing guys to my ex. Not everyone was an insensitive meathead.
“Greg has been my neighbor since we were kids.” Although Greg was a few years younger than I was, I'd known him almost all my life. His family had lived next door since I was five. Holden loved playing with Stevie, his family's golden retriever.
My stomach dropped. How had I not even thought about Holden until right now?
I dug my phone out of my purse and tapped Jason's shoulder. “I've gotta text my brother quickly. Do you mind?”
“Go for it,” Jason said. “I'm gonna grab us drinks.”
He raised his hand to get the bartender's attention and I took a step back. I tapped quickly on the keypad.
Me: How's it going?
It took only a few seconds before I got D's snarky response.
Damien: Hold on a sec. Holden is playing with matches and running with scissors.
Me: Why do you have to be a jerk? I'm just checking on my kid.
Damien: I watch him every time you work. How is tonight different?
I thought about his question for a moment. It wasn't any different than any other time Damien watched Holden. It just felt different to me because I was out having fun. Without Holden.
Me: Sorry for checking in. Glad you have everything covered. Grab the box with our insurance papers in case he figures out the matches.
Damien: Already have them in the car. See? I'm responsible.
I couldn't help but smile at the interaction. I dropped my phone into my purse and looked for Jason. He stood at the bar waiting for drinks. His profile was striking. Strong jaw dusted with scruff, wavy hair cropped over his ears, not one of those military-type buzz cuts some cops wore. He had the kind of hair you could put your fingers in and really latch onto during a good kiss orâ
I shook away my lusty thoughts. I knew better than to think like that on the first date. Or the second.
Jason handed me a bottle, which I accepted and swigged from. “So how do you know Greg?”
“Through the lead singer.”
“Auden?” I asked.
His short answer didn't give me a clue as to how he knew Auden. Before I had a chance to ask, her voice filled the air, belting out the slow-building first verse of the song “Making Believe.”
I directed my attention to the stage, immediately engrossed in Auden's sultry stage presence and the haunting hum of the guitar, like every time I'd seen Strange Attraction. The girl's ability to change from the quiet goofball who pounded dinner rolls dipped in ranch dressing at Peak City to this confident woman fronting a band always fascinated me.
I had a hard enough time pretending to be someone I wasn't on first dates. Most guys assumed I was a working college student like anyone else. Which is true, but I use first dates to decide if a guy could handle the knowledgeâand responsibilityâthat I have a kid. As a full-time mom, full-time student, and employee at two places, my real life was exhausting enough. I couldn't imagine juggling a fake persona.
But the lead-singer role seemed to come as easy to Auden as her random comedic routines with KK. It was like they were always “on,” though I doubted they even realized the show they gave people. Their personalities naturally gelled when they were together.
I stole a glance at Jason, always interested in how guys acted at live performances. Would he stand there like a decorative column? Would he dance? Would he try to dance but end up looking corny and uncoordinated?
Jason bobbed his head and bounced with the beat, concentrating on the music. He squinted slightly. He seemed to be transfixed by Auden as well.
Which made me question why he'd be so interested in the lead singer when he's on a date. Granted, if I were a guy, I'd probably have a hard-on for Auden, too. But stillâ¦
I'm not a jealous person. Never have been. Not even in high school while dating Tim. I never cared if other girls flirted with him. Never cared that I found earrings and thongs in his truck that didn't belong to me. Never cared, because it took some of the pressure of having sex off me.
It may sound like I had super-low self-esteem, but in reality, I didn't care because I barely even liked him. I wasn't with Tim because I thought we'd be high school sweethearts, still married at our twenty-year reunion. I admit it: I dated him for the status, the popularity.
Strange Attraction started an upbeat song, one of their own, and the crowd began jumping around to the music. Jason shook his head, stopped staring, and shuffled behind me, encircling me with his arms. His hold formed a cage to protect me from the bodies pushing at us from either side. The crowd jostled him a bit, but I felt completely safe. He still bounced on his toes with the beat while keeping me boxed in. I bobbed as well, bending from my knees and swaying my hips.
The telltale excitement fluttering in my stomach made it hard to deny how much I enjoyed the friction the front of his jeans created against my backside as we moved.
The song ended, but Jason didn't let me go. Instead, his hands slid to my waist, his fingers squeezing my skin every time someone in the crowd bumped us.
“So, today is my brother's birthday,” Auden told the crowd. “I know, I know, most of you didn't even know I had a brother. Hell, I didn't know I had a brother. I was an only child for twenty years before I found out. But it's really cool that I do because he's a cop and I can totally get out of speeding tickets now.” She winked at someone standing near Jason and me. “So, we're gonna wish him a happy birthday by playing whatever song he requests.”
I watched as almost all the heads in the tiny bar swiveled toward me.
Nope, not me.
Jason yelled a song title at Auden, loud enough for her to hear, but not the whole place.
What the H E double hockey sticks? Jason was Auden's brother? I mean, he told me he had a sister, butâ¦
“I don't know that one,” Auden lied.
“Bull,” Jason responded.
My eyes flicked back and forth between them as if I were trying to follow the most confusing tennis match ever.
“You're an ass.” Auden stuck her tongue out at Jason before she spun around to talk to her band.
“We heard what he said!” a guy a few feet away from me yelled at the stage.
“Yeah, yeah. I know you heard him. I can't lie, can I?” Auden called over her shoulder.
After a minute, she straightened up, leaned into the microphone, and sang, “ââI threw a wish in the well.'â”
The audience members who knew what was coming next from that line alone hooted and hollered. Auden released the microphone to extend both middle fingers to the crowd before breaking into the rest of the pop hit “Call Me Maybe.”
“You're so mean.” I smacked Jason's hand, which was still resting on my hip. Thankfully, he hadn't released me.
“You're lip-synching,” Jason said into my ear after catching me in full karaoke mode.
“What?” I glanced at him over my shoulder. “I like this song.”
Jason's lips brushed my ear, causing a tingle straight down to my toes. “Why did you call me mean?”
“Because it doesn't look like Auden is too happy about your song choice.”
“Then how does she know all the words?” he countered.
After Strange Attraction ended their set, Jason slipped his hand in mine and guided me toward the bar, where we took a seat at a high-top table two girls had just stumbled away from. He moved a chair from the opposite side and placed it next to mine.
“Are we going to talk about this?” I asked when Jason sat down.
“About what?” He glanced at me, then lifted his hand to get a server's attention.
“Auden is your sister?” I asked, trying to lead him to the conversation.
“I've known her for yearsâliterally yearsâand she never mentioned a brother.” I paused to give him a chance to explain before more questions rolled out.
But Jason didn't offer a response, only silence. He stared off at a point in the distance.
So I continued. “She's brought her grandparents to Peak City multiple times, and I don't remember seeing you with them.” I paused again, hoping he'd throw me a bone this time.
Why would he bring me here if he didn't want to talk about it? He had to have known she'd be playing.
Jason glanced at me. “We didn't know about each other.”
Oh. That's weird.
I reached out to put my hand on his leg, but stopped and pulled it back. I almost reached out again, but thought better of it. My shoulders dropped in defeat, unsure of what to say. I honestly didn't know how to respond.
“Happy birthday,” I offered quietly.
Worst subject change ever, but his brief answers told me he didn't want to talk about Auden. And if he didn't know about her until recently, maybe it was a sore subject. But they had such cute banter during the show. Andâ¦
“Thank you.” His eyes finally met mine and he smiled.
“Why didn't you tell me it was your birthday?”
“Because it's not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal. It's the day you were brought into this world. The happiest day of your parents' life.”
At least that's how I felt as a parent. Holden's birthday was the most painful, terrifying, happiest day of my life.
Jason's smile disappeared and his lips morphed into a thin line. He shook his head, slid his arm around my waist, and cupped my hip, drawing me closer. “I'm glad I'm spending my birthday with you. Thanks for agreeing to go out with me. I didn't think you would. I normally steer clear of women who have nicknames for me like âOfficer Jackweed.'â”
A rush of heat spread through my cheeks. “Who told you that?”
“I'm a cop. I have sources.”
“I need to know the source, so I can have a chat about what's told in confidence.”
“Rule number one, there's no such thing as a secret unless you keep it to yourself. The people who are promising to keep a secret are the ones blabbing it all over town.”
“Agree with you on that one.” I nodded.
I knew that lesson all too well. It had been my former best friend who'd started the “rumor” when I was pregnant. A leak that came from me telling her my dilemma in confidence.
“Rule number two, I can't name names. Let's just say having a sister with a best friend who works with you has its perks.” Jason smirked.
I'd have to remember to zip my lips now that I knew Auden was Jason's sister.
“A spy in my network. Good tactic, copper.”
“Can't seem to catch a server, so I'm gonna run to the bar,” Jason said. “Do you want another drink?” He'd been drinking water all night.
“Don't you drink?” I asked.
“I do, but I have an early shift tomorrow. Don't want to wake up with a foggy head.”
I understood that. With a three-year-old who woke up at the crack of dawn, I didn't have the luxury of sleeping off a hangover, either.
“Just a water, please.”
Jason edged his way past the crowd to the bar. He wasn't the jackweed I originally thought. First impressions aren't always correct, it appears.