He’d texted a couple times to tell me the police had no leads and that the case against Jared was moving along normally. He told me to get in touch with him if I needed anything but didn’t say anything else, and I figured it probably wouldn’t do to text him that I needed his dick in my hands and in my mouth, even though I really wanted to. I was learning to slowly but surely make those smart and appropriate decisions.
After a little debate about what truck we wanted to eat at, I let Asa talk me into the one promising a modern twist on soul food and was pleasantly surprised at how good everything looked and tasted when we got our order. I loved food and I loved to eat. Being in the kitchen, even when everything seemed terrible and hopeless, had always been my refuge. I could throw a bunch of ingredients together and was always impressed with whatever result I ended up with. When Dad and Mom split I spent a lot of time alone because Dad was at the bar and Mom wasn’t one to sit down and share a meal with me at the time. I cooked dinner almost every single night in an effort to feel better about myself and so that I didn’t feel so alone with my tragedy and guilt. There was freedom and comfort in creating with food that always soothed the parts of me that felt exposed and raw.
We walked over to a low cement wall and sat down, side by side, as we plowed through our fragrant-smelling lunch.
“So, Wheeler’s lady sucks?” He asked the question around a mouth full of grits and I made a face at him.
“Yeah. She’s always yelling at him and freaking out. She does it in the front yard and ambushes the poor guy when he gets home from work.” I scowled. “There’s also a red Honda that shows up in the driveway after he leaves for work, stays most of the day until it’s about time for him to come home. I haven’t seen who’s driving it, but …” I shrugged. “She’s awful and he seems like a nice guy so maybe one of his friends should mention the Honda.” I gave him a pointed look as he grunted and wiped his face with a napkin.
“He’s a supernice guy. He goes back with Nash and Zeb a long ways. He works hard, but never says much, and keeps his nose out of most of the drama that pops up. He’s never brought his lady around, but I have heard a couple of the boys mention they aren’t exactly missing her being part of things. We’re all invited to the wedding in January.” My dad’s boys reached far and wide. They were all a tight-knit circle that seemed to be forever growing thanks to love, and all the rewards it brought with it.
I finished the corn bread I was shoving into my face and brushed my messy hands off on my jeans. “Maybe it’s prewedding jitters or something.”
Both his eyebrows danced up as he took my Styrofoam box and headed to a trash can. “Maybe, but that wouldn’t explain the Honda, would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t. Since apparently I am completely unemployable, I will keep an eye on it and let you know if there’s something solid you can take back to the car guy.”
He chuckled and lifted his hands to push through his hair. I heard a soft sigh and turned my head to see a group of young college-aged women watching him like he was a matinee. I bit back a laugh as he told me he would appreciate it and offered a hand to pull me to my feet.
“You aren’t unemployable, but you walk into these places practically screaming the fact that you’re overqualified and that slinging sandwiches and pizza is below you. The people hiring realize you’re only going to be there until something better comes along, so they don’t want to invest the time and money on training you and getting you settled.”
I blinked at him in stunned silence as he turned and pointed us in the direction of my dad’s house.
“Overqualified? Are you high? I dropped out of college, I barely squeaked my way into graduating high school, and I got fired from my last job for stealing. I think making sandwiches and pizza is exactly where I need to be … if someone would give me the chance.”
He shook his head and grinned at me. “That bullshit might work on someone that hasn’t tasted your food or seen you run a busy kitchen during a lunch rush on your own. You can cook, Avett. You know food and what tastes good. You also know how to operate a line, which is something no college degree can teach you. You would run circles around the kids in these mom-and-pop shops and they know it. You need to live up to your potential, not sell yourself short.” Asa had been my boss for the short time I worked at the bar, so it wasn’t as easy to brush off his praise and his assertion that I had more to offer than two willing hands as it should be. He had seen me work and he had eaten my food. I was good in the kitchen, probably too good to be a short-order cook or a counter jockey. But I needed to do something, and I wasn’t afraid to start off with that something being small, and easily managed and maintained.
From somewhere in the not so far distance, the wail of a siren split the air. I turned my head to try and track it and scowled at Asa. “That’s what Quaid told me after the charges against me got dropped. That I should live up to my potential.” I’d turned it around on him and made my potential sound like something sexual because I wasn’t really sure what my potential beyond stirring up all kinds of trouble and chaos was.
“Quaid’s a pretty smart guy.”
He also was the best kisser I had ever tangled tongues with and had magical hands, but I doubted Asa needed to know that.
“He’s also a very expensive guy, which is why I need to find a job, any job, so I can pay you back for hiring him for me.” I tugged on the end of my braid as the sound of the sirens got louder and drew closer. “That’s the least I can do after everything.”
He came to a jerky stop and put his hand out in front of me, forcing me to stop as well. “Avett.” His drawl was extra thick as he said my name quietly. “I didn’t pay for Quaid. He called me right after he met with you, before the arraignment, and told me your dad was picking up the tab. I told Brite I would cover it, that I got the money from the farm when it sold, but you know what arguing with your old man is like.” He shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything, doll.”
I felt like a ton of bricks had landed on me. I knew Dad had borrowed the money for my bail from his retirement fund, but if he had also paid Quaid’s retainer, it meant he must have depleted the entire thing. My dad wasn’t going to have anything left to live on; he was going to be flat-ass broke and it was all my fault. I put a hand to my chest as the reality of the fact that even though I had been on a mission to destroy my own life for years, the one that constantly kept taking the hits and kept getting damaged was my dad.