When Life Happened(7)

By: Jewel E. Ann


“I’ll be by around nine,” he said while walking away so she wouldn’t have a chance to argue anymore.

*

“Wait a minute, buddy.” Gus grabbed the wrist of his sidekick for the day a second before his pudgy little finger pushed the yellowed doorbell button.

“Why?”

Gus ruffled the mop of blond hair hanging in the boy’s innocent brown eyes, looking a bit like Rags. “We’re early. Let’s just hang out here on the porch for a few minutes.”

They sat on the top porch step, watching the birds and squirrels flitter and skitter about as Parker belted out the second verse to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

“I like this song.”

Gus chuckled. “Yeah? Sounds like she does too.”

Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” followed Taylor. Parker also knew every word to that song. Glancing at the clock on his phone, Gus’s mouth twisted into a grin with a slight head shake while the nine-year-old boy bobbed his floppy-haired noggin, his foot tapping to the beat. At 8:55 the concert ended. They waited the final five minutes to make sure there would not be an encore performance.

When they felt satisfied the curtain was down and the stage lights were off for good, the boy rang the doorbell as Gus stood a few feet back inspecting the empty flower boxes beneath the windows and hanging planters at each corner waiting to be filled.

“Just a minute!”

Before Gus could stop him, the eager finger pushed the yellowed button one more time.

“I said just a minute, not just a second.” Parker swung open the door, breathless, sweaty, and instantly grinning at the impatient culprit. “Oh, wow! I thought you said you didn’t have kids.”

Gus tried and failed at not homing in on her short gray dress that looked like something one might wear playing tennis. “No. This is my nephew, Brady. Brady, this is Parker.” He wanted kids, a gaggle of them running amuck and suiting up for little league, but his wife adopted a job instead.

“Hi, Brady.” Parker bent down to his eye level and smiled until her nose wrinkled. “I do believe you are the most handsome little boy I have ever met.”

He grinned and shook his head as if to see her better through his long, disheveled bangs. “Hi.”

“You’re out of breath.” Gus attempted to control his lingering amusement by rubbing his lips together.

Parker slicked back a few stray hairs then tightened her ponytail. “Yeah, I was tramping.”

Gus covered Brady’s ears. “Excuse me?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, rebounding … jumping … mini trampoline.”

“Ah, I see.”

Brady shoved Gus’s hands away from his head.

“Come in.” She held open the door as Brady stepped in first followed by Gus.

“Here, buddy, carry this.” Handing Brady his tool belt, Gus brought in a fancy-looking tool bag.

Her living room consisted of bare blue walls, a blue futon, a red bean bag, and a mini trampoline amid newly refinished dark wood floors. No knickknacks, pictures, scented candles, or anything else that gave a house the feel of home—except the smell of coffee.

“Male bonding, huh? I hope you two have more planned today than moving my outlets.”

“Little league game,” Gus said.

“Is that what they call geriatric baseball? Must be a Parks and Rec thing you’re doing. Huh, Gus?”

The gift of her contagious smile was worth the sacrifice of being the object of her amusement.

Scratching his chin, Gus pursed his lips. “Fun little jabs in front of my nephew. That’s not really fair, is it?”

“How so?” Mischief danced in the blue depths of her eyes.

“I have to be a role model, which prevents me from saying anything back to you.”

“What could you possibly say back to me?” She tapped her chin with her finger as her eyes rolled to the ceiling.

“Nothing, I suppose. Except maybe a bit about your karaoke performance.”

She nodded slowly, eyes flitting between Gus and Brady. “You were here early.”

“A bit.” Gus simpered.

“Define ‘a bit.’”

“Taylor Swift early.”

Her narrowed eyes grew wide with surprise. “And you … what? Stood at the door listening to me?”

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