Authors: Susan Stoker
Chief stood up and started gathering dishes. The group didn’t typically let dishes sit in the sink and they didn’t hang out around the table, chatting after eating. They never knew when a call would come in and they much preferred to get the dishes done and put away as soon as they ate, rather than having to deal with it after a call, when they might be tired, dirty, and irritable.
Twenty minutes later, when the dishes were done and the group was dispersing, Driftwood put his hand on Crash’s arm, halting him.
“We really good?”
“I meant what I said. I didn’t know she meant something to you. I thought she was just another hookup,” Driftwood said.
Crash nodded. “I know. But, bud, you need to stop treating the women you meet as if they’re nothing but a roll in the hay. You might miss her.”
“The woman meant to be yours. If all you expect is a quick fuck, you could let someone special slip through your fingers and not even know it.”
Driftwood eyed his friend for a long moment. “How would I know the difference?”
The two men looked at each other for a long moment before Driftwood nodded. “I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
Crash lifted his chin and watched his friend walk away toward the main room to watch TV. Pulling out his phone, he typed a quick note to Adeline, hit send, put his phone back in his pocket, then followed behind Driftwood.
* * *
wenty miles away
, Adeline looked down at the phone in her hand and smiled. She hadn’t ever dated a man who was as considerate as Dean.
: Have a good day, beautiful. Know I’m thinking about you. Be safe. I’ll call you tonight if I get the chance.
he glass blob
he’d made the night before sat on the windowsill of her kitchen. The sunlight catching it and throwing lines of red, purple, and green all across the small space. Every time she saw it, she remembered little things about him.
How his lips had felt against her own.
How he’d run his hand through his hair when he’d thought he’d offended her.
How his fingers felt at the small of her back.
Yeah, Dean Christopherson was going to be very hard to resist…but she didn’t feel even the slightest need to do so.
* * *
You want her to like you.
No more yelling.
She likes coffee. She drinks that flavored stuff all the time. Get her some.
Smile at her. If she smiles back, you’ll know that she likes you and wants you to keep paying attention to her.
Ladies like to be wooed.
Coffee first. Then lunch. Then dates.
She’ll be yours forever and will never leave you. Never.
Friday night and Adeline was exhausted. She hadn’t lied to Dean, she knew the week would be tiring, and it had been. The new client was enthusiastic and excited about new advertising and marketing opportunities, which was great. But dealing with a new account also made for very long days.
Not to mention, the seizures were unrelenting. In fact, they seemed to be increasing in frequency. The thought of surgery in the back of her mind didn’t make them any easier to deal with either. It was as if with each seizure it was hammered home even more she’d have to make a decision that much sooner.
She hadn’t wanted to believe that brain surgery—having part of her brain cut out, for God’s sake—was the answer. She kept hoping that a new drug would come out to miraculously reduce her seizures. But it hadn’t, and Coco was working overtime.
She’d had a seizure every day since her date with Dean and she was tired. Tired of feeling stressed about when one might happen. Tired of worrying whether she’d have a seizure at work. Tired of pretending they didn’t sap the strength right out of her. Adeline so desperately wanted to be normal, but it was looking like that was nothing but a pipe dream.
Work was good, but it was also not good. Douglas had switched his tactics. Instead of being the standoffish asshole he’d been since he’d been hired, he’d started hanging out with his employees more. He stood in their office doors and chatted. He showed up in the break room and had lunch with them. He smiled at them and even seemed to be listening to their ideas.
Adeline didn’t buy his good-guy act for a minute. He was up to something, but no one seemed to know what it was. He’d brought her a cup of coffee that morning, setting it on her desk, proud as he could be.
“What’s this?” Adeline had asked.
“Coffee for you. Just the way you like it. Strong. Two creamers, three sugars,” he’d said happily, putting his hands behind his back and smiling down at her.
“Uh, thanks. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. You look nice today, Adeline.”
Now really uncomfortable, she’d merely mumbled, “Thanks.”
“I thought we could get together at lunch and discuss the Wolfe account and you can catch me up on the new client you met with this week.”
Was he asking her out? He totally was. Eek. “Oh, well, I’m happy to discuss both with you, Douglas, but I can’t today.”
“You’re going to skip lunch? That’s not good for you,” her boss chided.
“I already had plans to eat with Pam and Twila,” Adeline told him, knowing the two women would back her up if asked. They’d had more than one conversation about Douglas and how weird he’d become recently.
“Hmmmm,” Douglas muttered. “Maybe some other time.”
There would definitely
be another time, but Adeline wasn’t going to tell him that. “I’ll email you the notes I took this week and you can look them over,” she’d said instead.
“That’ll do for now,” her boss said, then straightened. “Enjoy your coffee.”
Adeline looked down at the cup of steaming coffee he’d brought her and suddenly wondered if he’d done anything to it.
The thought was ridiculous. Douglas was her boss and they were at work, he wouldn’t drug her or anything. At least she didn’t think he would.
“Well, I gotta go,” Douglas said. “I’ll see you later. Have a good day.”
The entire conversation rubbed her the wrong way, but Douglas hadn’t said or done anything that she could make a complaint to human resources about. He was just being…nice. And Douglas and nice were two words that didn’t go together in the least.
She wished for a moment that she’d let it slip she was seeing someone. It really wasn’t any of Douglas’s business, but maybe if he knew she was off the market, so to speak, he’d go back to his asshole self. It was sad that she’d prefer him to be a jerk than to hit on her.
The only really good parts to the last week were her communications with Dean. They’d been texting a lot. And he’d called almost every night. They’d even started FaceTiming. Adeline was reluctant at first. She was tired from work and hadn’t wanted him to see her without any makeup on in her “lay around the house” clothes, but Dean had insisted.
And it was good.
It was nice to be able to see his face while they were talking. His smile wide and happy, and his eyes sparkling when she made him laugh. She had no idea what he saw when he looked at her, but supposed the fact that he kept calling meant she wasn’t turning him off too badly. She hadn’t thought she was, but since she hadn’t had the best luck with men lately, the reassurance was nice.
But tonight she was feeling off. She didn’t really want to talk to Dean. Or her sister. Or anyone. She wanted to hibernate in her room, in bed, covers pulled up over her head, and hide from the world. Simply put, she was grumpy.
Not wanting to cook anything, she’d cut up some tomatoes and put salt on them. Then she sliced half a cantaloupe, and then ate two slices of kosher dill pickle right out of the jar. It wasn’t a dinner of champions by any means, but it was easy, fast, and hit the spot, as weird as it was.
Adeline sat cross-legged on her bed and pulled up the covers. She’d already cranked down the air; it was beastly hot and humid outside and she’d felt as if she was melting all day. She was blankly flicking through the channels, not finding anything she wanted to watch, when her cell rang.
She thought about ignoring it, but when she saw it was Dean, relented.
“Hey, beautiful. How are you?”
There was a pause before he said, “You don’t sound good. Everything okay?”
“It’s just been a long week. I’m so happy it’s Friday.”
“Your conference call go okay with that guy today? Did he like your mockups for the Google ads?”
“Yeah, he was happy with them.”
“What about the website proposal you had for him?”
“That too.” Adeline knew her voice was flat, but she just wasn’t in the mood.
“Then what’s really wrong?”
Adeline sighed hugely and put the TV on mute. She curled up on her side, holding the phone to her ear. “I’m just…tired. I don’t want to talk about my work, or fucking Douglas, or anything about ads or marketing. Okay?”
“Okay, beautiful. No problem.” He didn’t even sound like he was the least bit irritated with her tone. “How about I talk about
“You know this was the second of three days of my shift, yeah?”
She did know. He’d told her his schedule last weekend and she’d gone home and put it in her calendar like she was twelve years old, doodling his name and hers in big hearts in a notebook. “Yeah,” was all she said.
“You know about the domestic we were called to yesterday?”
“Uh huh.” He’d told her all about the call they’d gotten for an “injured person.” They’d arrived and had found a woman who’d been beaten by her boyfriend. Her two kids had hidden in a back room and were scared out of their minds.
“Well, we got called back to the same residence today. The woman had refused to press charges and had bailed the guy out. He came home today and apparently got drunk and did it again.”
“Oh my God. Is the woman okay?”
His voice got soft and Adeline could tell he was less than happy. “Yeah.
was fine. Bruised all to hell from yesterday, her eye swollen shut, but fine. He’d taken his anger out on one of the kids this time.”
“Shit,” Adeline breathed.
“She’s five. He hit her in the face, just like he did her mom the day before, then kicked her in the side when she was down. Driftwood talked to a nurse he knows in the emergency room and found out he busted her spleen. She had to go to surgery.”
“Was the guy arrested again?”
“Yup. But that’s not the worst part.”
“Oh fuck,” Adeline breathed.
“Her mom refused to press charges again.”
Suddenly, Adeline wished she was there with Dean. He sounded pissed and extremely upset at the same time. She wanted to give him a hug. Hell, she wanted him to give
a hug. “Please tell me those kids don’t have to go back there. It’s one thing for a grown woman to make a decision to stay with someone who hurts her, but it’s inexcusable for her to put her own kids in a situation like that.”
“I agree. And no, the kids aren’t going back. We kept the younger girl in our truck until the cops arrived and got everything straightened out. She grabbed hold of Chief and wouldn’t let go. He actually ended up going with the cops to the station to meet with child protective services.”
“Is he okay?”
Dean chuckled in her ear. A low sound that sent electricity right to her crotch.
“Yeah, beautiful, Chief’s okay. He has a soft spot for kids, he’d be the first to tell you that, so don’t think I’m telling you anything that’s a state secret. Something about growing up on the reservation out in New Mexico and taking care of the little ones in his neighborhood. He said it took a while, but she eventually warmed up to the women who came to meet her. Because of her history, they’re placing her with a lesbian couple.”
“Wow, um…I don’t mean to sound prejudiced, because I’m not, but is that normal?”
“That the super-conservative state of Texas approved a lesbian couple to be foster parents?”
“Beautiful, they’re two people who have volunteered their home and love to abused kids who need a place to stay to be safe. Foster parents are in short supply. They don’t give a fuck.”
“And the fact that those kids don’t have to be in a house with a man is the best thing for them right now. They can heal and find out what ‘normal’ is.”
“So Chief grew up on a reservation?”
He didn’t even falter at her change in subject. “Yup. He’s only about a quarter Native American. His mother was born as a result of a one-night stand with someone off the res, and he doesn’t know who his dad was, as his mother followed in the same footsteps as
“Only a quarter? I wouldn’t have guessed.”
“He might not be one hundred percent, but he grew up there, living in poverty along with the rest of his people. Knowing there wasn’t much opportunity for him there, he moved to Texas. He worked his butt off to get his fire science degree, and I can tell you, if I was ever in trouble, I’d want him at my back.”
“I’m glad you have that. Can I ask something else?”
“Of course, you can ask me anything,” Dean told her.
“It’s about Chief. I don’t want to offend you.”
“You’re not going to offend me. Well, as long as you don’t tell me that you’re interested in dating him rather than me. I’ll definitely be offended by that.”
She chuckled. “No. Definitely not. I like you, Dean.”
“Good. ‘Cause I like you too.”
Knowing she was smiling like an idiot, but not caring, Adeline asked, “Being that Chief is part Native American, his nickname seems kind of…” She paused, searching for the right word. Then finally finished, “Wrong.”
“He’s not offended by it, beautiful. He’d be the first to tell you that too. In fact, his nickname around the station used to be Gromit. You know, from
Wallace and Gromit
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Adeline told him with a small shoulder shrug.
“I can’t believe you’ve never seen
Wallace and Gromit
; we’ll have to remedy that. Anyway, Gromit is Wallace’s dog, and doesn’t ever say a word. But there’s no doubt that he communicates. He’s got this eyebrow-raise that makes you know exactly what he’s thinking. Anyway, Chief got the nickname Gromit early on because he doesn’t talk a lot. But one day we were all out drinking and some asshole cowboys started calling him Chief. The rest of us were pissed beyond belief and ready to kick the shit out of the guys, but Chief merely shrugged and said, ‘I like it.’ So it stuck.”
“It’s still weird,” Adeline pressed.
“Honestly, he doesn’t care what others think of him. He grew up on a reservation and has spent his life being proud of who he is and his heritage. Other people stereotyping him and saying insensitive shit doesn’t faze him.”
“I like him,” Adeline blurted.
Dean chuckled. “Me too. He’s become like a brother to me in the time we’ve worked together.”
“How was the rest of your day? Did it live up to your nickname?” Adeline tried to lighten the mood as she changed the subject.
“Yup. Three vehicle accidents. Two smoke investigations and one structure fire.”
“Are those dangerous?”
“What? Structure fires?”
“They can be. But this one wasn’t. By the time we got there, the mobile home was fully engulfed. Nothing we could do but throw water on it until the flames were out. It was completely destroyed.”
“No one was hurt?”
“No one was hurt. Can we FaceTime?”
The question coming out of the blue surprised her and Adeline hesitated. Apparently it was too long, because Dean said quickly, “I need to see you, beautiful. I’ve had a crap day and it sounds like you have too. There’s nothing I’d like more than to lose myself in your eyes.”
“I’m in bed, Dean.”
She could hear the smile in his voice when he said, “What’re you wearing?”
Adeline giggled. She couldn’t help it. “Nothing sexy. Sorry.”
She sighed. “All right.” As if she could deny him anything. She clicked a button and soon his face showed up on the screen of her phone. Suddenly shy, she said, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he returned with a smile. “You really are in bed.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. Again, it was a long week. I cranked down the air because I’ve been hot all day. I love snuggling under blankets.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Dean,” she scolded.
“What? My girl likes the air conditioning in the house to be on the chilly side. I can deal with that. I’m out in the heat all day myself. If I get cold, I’ll put on sweats. And, just sayin’, I’m down with snuggling to keep warm.”
“As long as you don’t wear socks to bed. That’s gross.”
He chuckled. “I’m not telling you. Again, you’ll have to find out my bad traits without me helping.”