The Trouble with Bree (Spotlight #1.5) (7 page)

BOOK: The Trouble with Bree (Spotlight #1.5)
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Chapter Fourteen

“Forget laboratories. If scientists really wanted to study disease, all they have to do is hang out at a preschool.” Josh joked as I stripped Lucas’ bed. All the boys sat on Landon’s bed, watching me dry heave while I worked. I’d already put Lucas in the shower, which freaked him out because he’d never had anything but a bath. Of course, Landon thought the whole thing was hysterical. “You’d think the teachers started off the day by having all the toddlers lick the sickest kid in the place.”

“You have a pretty well formed theory for someone who’s worked in a preschool for a week.” Thankfully, Bish came out of the incident unscathed. I waved him in the air before putting him on Lucas’ new pillow, which was really one of mine. His was beyond rescue and going in the trash. Lucas dove onto his bed, still looking a little green, and moaned. “Let me get a bucket.”

“I interned before I graduated. Come on, they don’t just let anyone in there.” Josh winced as Lucas got sick again. He mostly hit the bucket. I learned long ago to appreciate the small victories. “Of course, this is just a theory. No scientist is actually sadistic enough to hang out at a preschool.”

“Mama.” Landon’s eyes grew huge and I hadn’t noticed how gray he was until that moment. “I gotta—“

“Okay baby, hang on.” I didn’t even let him finish, I picked up him up and hauled ass to the bathroom. It was impossible to be mad at him when he puked in the bathtub instead of the toilet. My stomach swam at the smell. I sat on the floor with my face scrunched up, not letting any of it in, while Landon cuddled beside me.

“Are you guys all right in here?” Josh knocked on the door and opened it slowly, knowing revolting things could be in progress.

Lucas pushed past him, tears streaming down his face, and landed on me in something that was more a tackle than a hug. “I threw up, Mama.”

“He hit the bucket.” Josh stepped in, showing me the evidence. “We have that to be grateful for.” I pressed everyone’s face to my chest and squeezed everything on my own face closed as he emptied it. Once he was finished, he put the bucket in the bathtub and sunk down next to me.

“Hopefully they’re both empty now. I don’t know how little bodies can hold that much disgusting,” I said as I peeled one eye open to look over at Josh, who had his lips pressed together to suppress his laugh, and that was it. I burst out laughing at the whole thing. Lucas moaned in protest against my chest, pushing my arm to make me stop. Not a chance, buddy.

“What’s funny, Mama?” Landon asked, his voice so weak. We weren’t out of the woods yet.

“You guys. Josh.” I nudged him with my elbow. “Everything.”

“Not funny,” Lucas insisted, pushing my arm again.

The bathroom was crowded with all four of us in it, sitting on the floor, but it seemed like an excellent strategy to stay put. That way, we could keep any further disasters contained to easy cleanup areas. I was sweating, with two hot little bodies attached to me, but somehow, I was happier than I’d been in a long time. I leaned my head back against the wall, closing my eyes. Josh slipped his hand behind my neck, and started rubbing my shoulders and the back of my head.

I rolled my head toward him. “How do you always know the right thing to do?”

Josh sighed, but didn’t stop kneading that spot between my shoulder blades just below my neck. Heaven. The sparkle in his eyes went away, like it got snuffed out in the breeze. “I just think of the things that I always wanted someone to do for me.”

I leaned over as much as I could to meet Josh’s lips in a kiss. Nothing fancier than a peck, of course, since we had an audience who wasn’t much for happily ever afters. “Yuck.” Landon giggled. “You guys are kissing.”

“Yuck yourself, Pukey McPukerson.” I wrapped my arm around Landon, kissing his hot little forehead repeatedly. He squealed, but Lucas didn’t protest this time, because he’d fallen asleep.

“It’s been about a half an hour.” Josh said quietly. “We might be in the clear.” Landon had fallen asleep on my other side, and my eyes felt like someone had rubbed sand in them. I nodded, but then had no idea how to get out from under two sleeping bodies at this angle without waking them.

Josh kneeled beside me and pulled Lucas off my lap. He rested his head on Josh’s shoulder and in his sleep he snuggled against him. I mimicked his movement, picking Landon up. “Their beds are trashed.” Shit. And the bathtub was full of nuclear waste. “I have to do laundry.”

“Leave it.” Josh rocked Lucas back and forth. “You can’t even keep your eyes open.”

“It will be even more revolting in the morning.” I sighed. “They can lay in my bed until it’s done.”

It was torture to stay awake until it was time to change over the load. Josh cleaned the tub and then set the alarm on his phone. We stayed in the bedroom with the boys sleeping in the bed while we snuggled together on the floor at the foot of the bed. We were trying to behave ourselves but we were having a really hard time. Once one of the boys started snoring, Josh took that as the all-clear to push my T-shirt up, running his fingers over my nipples, kissing one, then the other. It was like when I was a teenager and I used to sneak boys into my room after my mom went to sleep, but she would get up at random times in the middle of the night so the chance of getting caught was always there.

We both dove for the phone when the alarm went off. I pulled my shirt back down, kissing Josh one more time before I went to change over the laundry.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” My downstairs neighbor, Kim, confronted me as I put the sheets in the dryer. “Some of us have to work in the morning.”

“I’m sorry.” Just seeing her pissed me off. She never missed a chance to bitch about me or the boys. “The boys got sick all over everything. I wouldn’t do this now if I had anything to put on the beds.”

“You can explain it to the office. I’ll be calling them as soon as they open. And you can tell them that guy isn’t living with you, because I don’t believe it.” Just to make sure the rest of the building didn’t sleep through the night either, she slammed her apartment door shut. I leaned against the dryer and counted to ten, because if I retaliated against this bitch, I’d get kicked out of here for sure. And that was the last thing I needed.

I was still steaming when I came back upstairs. “Kim says hi.” I grumbled as I put the fitted sheet on Lucas’ bed. Of course, I didn’t line up the corners right the first time and had to flip the whole thing around. “And she’s going to get my ass tossed out of here in the morning.”

Josh scoffed, I turned around to see him way ahead of me on Landon’s bed, already tucking the top sheet into the foot of the bed. “Not going to happen.”

Now that I had the bottom sheet tucked in, I sat down on the bed, head in hands. “What are we going to do?”

He sat down beside me, rubbing my back. I leaned against him. Josh was as strong as a rock, but eventually, inevitably, he would crumble. “I’d be much more worried about this if we were doing anything wrong.” He must have read my mind. “But we aren’t.”

“I can’t lose this apartment.” I hadn’t had an easy time finding it and there were some rules about how often I could have overnight guests. My heart pounded, because I knew that number was much lower than the amount of times Josh had stayed over since we’d met. “And you can’t lose your job.”

He kissed the top of my head, but didn’t say anything right away. “And I can’t lose you.”

Chapter Fifteen

Josh was deep in denial about the situation, thinking that just telling the truth would make everything better. I knew it was a coping mechanism. I’d been to the place he was at, when I couldn’t believe anything else could be taken away from me. It was a dark place, and when I’d been there, I usually fell down through the trap door to someplace worse.

“Do you have a minute?” Miss Kate asked, smiling too sweetly at me when I came to pick up Landon. “They want to see you in the office.”

“Who wants to see me?” I returned her phony smile. I’d been a nervous wreck all morning, knowing this was going to happen. I’d already tangled with the apartment complex, who said the next complaint they got from other residents would result in them contacting the housing authority. I was already skating on thin ice.

She shrugged. “Not sure.” Like hell. God, I wanted to smack her.

Lucas wanted to play at the Lego table in the classroom, so Miss Kate said I could let him stay with his brother while I went for my punishment. How nice of her. I kept my cool as I walked down the hallway to the offices, the same feeling I had when I’d get in trouble in school came flooding back. But this time, unlike a detention, there were real consequences on the line.

A middle aged woman I’d never seen before greeted me in the waiting area. “Ms. Farrell?” I nodded and stood. She held out her hand to me. “I’m Nancy Finnegan. I’m a regional director for Head Start. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

“Not at all.” I followed her into the same office I sat in when we came for Landon’s orientation. Josh’s office. She sat in his chair, and I noticed there was no sign of him here. A lump formed in my throat, making it hard to breathe. “Is this about my son, Landon?”

“It is.” She didn’t smile, her pinched mouth made smaller by the wrinkles that ringed it. “Can you tell me how well you know Josh Maxwell?”

Tell the truth
, Josh’s voice echoed in my brain,
we haven’t done anything wrong
. But I noticed she didn’t mention his title. “Very well. We’ve been dating for a couple months.” She hadn’t asked for specifics, but they mattered.

She scribbled something down on a yellow legal pad. “Have you introduced him to your children?”

“Yes.” I paused to think of how I wanted to word the rest of my answer. “I’m a single mother, so my kids are always with me.”

She nodded. “Has Mr. Maxwell ever been alone with them?”

“No. I don’t think so.” Nothing like a good old fashioned interrogation to instill doubt. “Why do you ask?”

“Landon has told some of the teachers here that Mr. Maxwell has slept at your house and has been in Landon’s bed.”

“To read him bedtime stories. I was in the room the whole time.” But still, my heart pounded. Friday night I let him go alone, but that was on Landon’s insistence, and after Miss Kate had reported Josh. I didn’t mention it, because I knew Josh would
never
do anything like what she was insinuating.

“Ms. Farrell, you do understand that a school administrator should not have such a close relationship with one of his students? There are many reasons for this.”

“Of course I do.” I took a deep breath, because I was pissed, and I didn’t want to make things worse for Josh than they already were. “On paper, it makes perfect sense. But what you need to understand is my boys love Josh. In two months, he’s been more of a father to them than their own fathers have ever been. I can assure you their lives are better with Josh in them. Nothing questionable has happened.”

“I understand that.” This woman never smiled. “But it’s in violation of his contract.”

She might have understood, but she certainly didn’t care. “So what happens now?” I asked.

“Mr. Maxwell has been placed on administrative leave while we finish our investigation.” My heart stopped at the word investigation. “And then we’ll decide what the best course of action is.”

“Can I ask if you’re speaking to anyone else?” My blood ran cold at the possibility. “About a similar situation?”

Ms. Finnegan’s face finally softened. “No. Landon’s the only student that has mentioned a potentially inappropriate relationship with Mr. Maxwell.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” I forced a smile. “Because there’s been nothing inappropriate that’s happened in their relationship.”

**

“We’re going to Josh’s house?” Landon asked, his eyes wide. I headed straight there from school, still in a half-daze, half-rage after my talk with Nancy Finnegan.

“Yes.” I didn’t know if we’d catch him there or not. I didn’t call him first, because I wasn’t sure what I’d say to him, even in person. I just had to see him.

His car was in the driveway, and I urged the boys to be quiet as we climbed the stairs. It was the middle of a Monday afternoon, but people could still be around. Quiet wasn’t always our strong suit. Landon wanted to knock on the door, so I let him. “Knock louder than that.” I knocked too, just make sure we were heard. Lucas squeezed between both of us to help.

Josh opened the door, looking down at us with the saddest smile I’d ever seen. I was still crouched down, showing Landon how to knock like he meant it, and I froze when I saw him. Dark smudges had formed under his eyes, he hadn’t shaved, and he just wore a pair of sweatpants. “So you know?” He leaned against the door, mashing his lips together.

“Some lady named Nancy Finnegan called me into her office, your office actually, and questioned me.” I stood up, but Josh still looked down. “They think—“

“I know what they think.” His words were hollow. “You know that I would never hurt your boys, right? Anyone’s kids.”

“That’s exactly what I told her.” I put my hand on his arm, and he flinched. He finally looked up at me, his eyes wild with panic, like he’d gone back to that place where bad things happen. Fallen through the trap door. I stepped closer, putting my arms around him, even though he still hung on to the doorknob like he’d fall if he let go of it. “I told her how good you are to the boys, and that they love you, and you’ve been more of a father to them than their actual dads.”

With that, he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me against his body. He didn’t say anything right away, but his heart pounded against my chest. “You have no idea how much that means to me.”

“You have no idea how much you mean to them.” I rubbed his arm as the boys pushed passed us into his apartment, looking for something to play with. Pulling away from him so I could look into his eyes, I remembered something he’d said on Friday night as we sat on the floor of the bathroom.

I just think of the things that I always wanted someone to do for me.
Those words had hit like sledgehammer to my heart.

I went up on my tiptoes and kissed him softly, because it was just what I would need if I were him right now. He pressed me up against his body, then closed the door so we could both rest against it. I raked my fingers through his hair and he moaned, his eyes fluttering. “We’re going to support you, no matter what. But—“

I couldn’t say the rest of the words without choking on the emotion.

“But what, Bree?”

I took a deep breath. “But I understand if you have to make some hard decisions.”

Josh wiped away the tears that ran down my cheeks. “There’s no decision to make.” He sighed, his body still pressed against mine. “God, I never thought they’d accuse me of
that
.”

“We told the truth.” I ran my fingers down his cheek to turn his face back toward mine. “I’m sure they’re making sure our stories match up. Then they’ll realize that they’re overreacting, and everything will go back to the way it’s supposed to be.”

His tight smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I violated the terms of my contract in the first week of school. They might decide that’s enough of me.”

“They brought you here from New York. They wanted you, Josh. You. They wanted something different and that’s what they got. There are going to be growing pains. It’s a misunderstanding.”

Josh nodded, but I knew he wasn’t convinced. Honestly, neither was I. But we had to think positive.

Landon tugged on my shorts. “Can we go to the park?”

“Sure.” I tousled his hair. “In a few minutes.”

“Can Josh come, too?”

I looked back to Josh, who was looking down at Landon with pure love on his face. My heart broke all over again. He’d given his heart to us, even though he’d known the danger. “If he wants.”

“Of course I want to go.” Finally that smile reached his eyes. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Yay!” Landon ran over and tackled Lucas. “Josh is coming with us to the park,” he announced.

Josh’s gaze was fixed on the boys, who were already wrestling with each other in the middle of the floor. I turned him back to me, surprising him with a kiss.

BOOK: The Trouble with Bree (Spotlight #1.5)
9.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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