Delectable, p.11
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       Delectable, p.11

         Part #9 of Neighbor from Hell series by R. L. Mathewson

  “And what am I lying about exactly?” he asked, coming to a stop beside her.

  “Are you really going to tell me that you’ve been here for almost a week and none of the lovely natives have shared the tale of Kasey Gallagher? I don’t believe that for a second,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked out at the ocean.

  “You mean about the seventeen-year-old girl that was forced to raise a baby alone after her boyfriend lost his battle with cancer?” he asked, content to watch the waves roll in as they had the conversation that he’d been trying to avoid.

  “I see you’ve heard the kind version,” she murmured.

  “Is there another version?”

  “Oh, there are many versions to this tale, but only one of them is true,” she said, glancing up at him with a sad smile. “She was sixteen when she had Mikey. Michael died a couple of months into the pregnancy.”

  “I see,” he said, thinking back to when he was sixteen and wondering how he would have handled something like this.

  It was simple.

  He wouldn’t have.

  It was the one of the reasons that he’d made the decision to wait. He hadn’t been ready for a kid or the responsibilities that sex brought and had decided to wait until he was. That wasn’t the only reason of course, but it was the only one that mattered right now.

  “He was also her husband,” she said, nearly knocking him on his ass.

  “Christ,” he said, stabbing his hand through his hair as he tried to wrap his mind around everything.

  “Michael changed her, mostly for the better,” she conceded with a slight nod.

  “Meaning?”

  “Before Michael, Kasey was a bitch,” she said with a cringe. “Hell, even I hated her.”

  “What changed?” he asked, having a hard time believing the that the woman who was always smiling could ever do something to earn that title.

  “The eight grade dinner dance,” she said with a fond smile. “She found me crying in the bathroom, quickly figured out that I’d been stood up, and took it upon herself to go remind the guy that he already had a date by making him sing soprano for a week.”

  “Ouch,” he said with a wince.

  “Exactly. After that, we just clicked and became inseparable. I thought my parents were going to kill me the first time I brought her home for dinner,” she said, chuckling.

  “Why’s that?”

  “Well,” she said, slowly exhaling, “Kasey had always been a wild child, but at that point she was already following in her mother’s footsteps as the town slut. My parents, like most of the parents at the time, didn’t want me anywhere near her. They were afraid that she was going to rub off on me and I was going to end up pregnant, a high school dropout, or dead in a ditch somewhere.”

  “Were they right to be concerned?” he asked softly.

  She laughed. “With Kasey on my ass every time I stepped out of line? God, no! She knew things were bad and she didn’t want me ending up like her. She’d resigned herself to living out her mother’s legacy, but she wasn’t going to let me join her. As soon as my parents figured that out she was always welcome at my house.”

  “And when did Michael come into the picture?” he asked, feeling like an asshole, because he already knew that he wouldn’t have given her a second look in high school.

  “I honestly don’t know. I didn’t even think they knew each other. I mean, he was the star pitcher, popular, and she-”

  “Wasn’t,” he finished for her, not sure that he could handle hearing her being called a slut again.

  “I don’t know how it happened, but one day she was glaring at him and the next, she was falling in love with him. She started smiling more, trying harder in school, and suddenly became shy. I used to tease her, because you couldn’t even say his name without making her smile. I honestly thought that was it for her. She was going to get her life together, graduate, go on to college and marry Michael one day,” she said quietly.

  “But, it didn’t happen that way, did it?” he asked, his heart breaking for Kasey, because he already knew how this story ended.

  “First you have to understand that Michael’s parents weren’t happy when he brought her home. Michael was an amazing kid. By freshman year, college teams were already scouting him and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was going places. His parents didn’t want to see him throw it all away over a girl, but especially not someone like Kasey.”

  He didn’t say anything so she continued.

  “It started off with his leg bothering him, but he’d shrugged it off, thinking that it was just a pulled muscle. Soon, it was obvious that something was wrong and then it became a race to save him. The whole town came together, trying to save him, supporting his family, and I think that scared the hell out of him even more than the cancer. Everyone treated him like he was already dead.”

  “Everyone, but Kasey,” he said, already guessing that Kasey stood by him, teasing him and making him smile to the end.

  Nodding, she continued. “I think she truly believed that he was going to make it. I don’t think that she ever really thought that she was going to lose him. Michael, on the other hand, was absolutely terrified. He was also determined to die without any regrets.”

  “And that’s when he married Kasey and got her pregnant,” he said, slowly exhaling and reminding himself that Michael had been a terrified kid and probably hadn’t meant to destroy her life, but god, did he want to hate this kid for what he’d done to her.

  “Kasey’s mother hadn’t cared and his parents had been helpless to say no to him once they’d found out she was pregnant. They’d barely managed to say, ‘I do,’ when things went really bad and Michael ended up back in the hospital. Within days, he’d slipped into a coma and died and Kasey was left all alone, pregnant, and devastated.”

  “What did his parents do?” he asked, rubbing his hands down his face, honestly wishing like hell that she’d never told him any of this, because knowing made it a hell of a lot harder to stop himself from caring about her.

  “They were drowning in their own grief and Kasey was just a reminder of everything they’d lost. Before Mikey was born they’d moved out of town, taking Eric with them. By that time, Kasey’s grandmother had been moved into a nursing home and had reluctantly given Kasey the house. I honestly don’t think that she would have survived losing Michael if it hadn’t been for Mikey.”

  “She forced herself to keep going, determined to give Michael’s baby a good life. She got her GED, worked any job she could get her hands on, and struggled. She worked so hard and no matter how many setbacks she faced, she never gave up. She taught herself how to be a mom, how to cook, and how to stand on her own two feet.”

  “Why are you telling me this?” he asked, already knowing that this wasn’t something that she would share with just anyone.

  “Because she’s not ready for someone like you,” she said, meeting his gaze with a sad smile.

  “Is this the part where you warn me away?”

  “Would you listen?” she asked, with a curious frown.

  “Not a chance in hell.”

  Chapter 18

  “How much sugar do you think she had?” Eric asked, gesturing with the large bag of pink and blue cotton candy that Mikey had shoved in his hand a minute ago before she’d jumped in line for the Anti-Gravity ride, towards the small woman practically bouncing with excitement as she raced from one game to another.

  “I’m not really sure,” Kasey said, pursing her lips up in thought as she watched Haley, who hadn’t stopped smiling since she’d first spotted her an hour ago, do a little happy dance when she won a stuffed bear only to release an excited squeal seconds later when she spotted a vender selling caramel apples.

  “She seems to really like carnivals,” Eric noted as he helped himself to some of Mikey’s cotton candy.

  “She really does,” Kasey agreed with a solemn nod, shifting her attention to the man resigned to trail after her, picking up all the stuffed animals that she dropped in her haste to get to another game.

  “Can I go again, mom?” Mikey asked, smiling hugely as she ran over to join them.

  “Sure,” she said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out another strand of tickets that had cost a small fortune.

  “Thanks!” Mikey said before once again taking off and leaving them to watch as Jason was suddenly forced to change directions when Haley spotted the Ferris Wheel.

  “That poor bastard,” Kasey said, sighing heavily with a sad shake of her head as she shifted her gaze back towards Mikey, who was now standing in line with Trevor and Jason’s kids, laughing at something one of the twins said.

  “I can’t believe you let her play with them,” Eric said in disgust, drawing her attention back to find him standing there, viciously biting off a piece of cotton candy as he glared at Trevor, who she realized was glaring right back at him.

  “Is there something that I should know?” she asked, turning her attention back to Eric in time to see him discretely flip off the much larger man. “Besides the fact that you’ve clearly lost your goddamn mind?” she asked, wondering if this was going to end like last year’s chili cook-off.

  God, she really hoped not.

  “They’re Yankees fans,” he snarled as she stood there, blinking and wondering when he was going to get to the point.

  “And?” she found herself asking a minute later when it became obvious that he was going to ignore her question so that he could continue to glare like a psychopath at the man who had a good fifty pounds of muscle on him.

  “And?” he asked, frowning as he suddenly shifted his attention back to her. “What the hell do you mean, ‘and?’ They’re Yankees fans!”

  “I’m really not following you there, chuckles,” she said, shaking her head and wondering why he would think that she cared.

  “We’re Red Sox fans!” he hissed with a wild gesture to the old Red Sox tee shirt that he was wearing.

  “We are?” she asked, frowning, because she honestly hadn’t known that, which only seemed to make things worse.

  “What the hell are you talking about? How could you not know that the Red Sox are your daughter’s favorite team?” he demanded with a crazed look in his eye that just made this whole thing so sad.

  “Mikey doesn’t have a favorite team,” she said with a shrug, because if there was one thing that she knew about baseball, and this was mostly likely the extent of it, it was that her daughter didn’t have a favorite team.

  She had favorite players.

  “Of course, she does!’

  “Are you sure?” she asked, taking a sip of the
small fresh squeezed lemonade that she’d spent eight dollars on only to find it empty.

  “For God’s sakes, woman! She’s always wearing that hat!” he snapped, gesturing towards Mikey, who was at this very moment turning her hat around so that she could sit on the ride without the brim of her hat hitting the back of her seat, revealing a Red Sox emblem.

  “It’s worn in,” she said with a shrug, already getting bored with this conversation.

  “Mikey!” Eric yelled, obviously a glutton for punishment. “What’s your favorite team?”

  Squishing her face up adorably, Mikey shrugged and admitted, “I don’t really have one.”

  “Oh, my God,” Eric choked out as he slapped a hand against his stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

  “My heart is literally breaking for you,” she said dryly as she popped the top off her drink, hoping that there was a little juice left at the bottom only to discover that the only thing left was the ungodly amount of ice that they’d filled her cup with.

  “You’re welcome,” Sara said with a satisfied sigh and a smile as she finally joined them, an hour later than promised, she’d like to point out.

  “For what?” Kasey asked absently as she tilted her cup to the side, hoping to draw out a few forgotten drops of lemonade only to end up resigning herself to forking over another eight bucks.

  “I can’t believe this…after all this time!” Eric mumbled to himself, because she’d already stopped caring.

  “Do you really need a reason to thank me?” Sara asked, shaking her head with a tsk as she pulled out her phone and started checking her email.

  “Yes, in fact I do,” Kasey said, reluctantly throwing her cup away and pulling out the money she’d set aside for the fair only to blink when a large cup was held in front of her.

  Unable to help herself, she followed that large tan hand holding the cup up to the equally large man that it belonged to only to find Reese standing next to her, looking bored as he glanced around the fair. “Be ready by eight,” was all he said before she found that large cup pressed in her hand and he was walking away, leaving her standing there, not really sure what just happened.

  But something told her that it would probably be in her best interest to be ready on time.

  *-*-*-*

  “I’m not going!” came the loud refusal as soon as Reese reached the front door the next morning.

  “You’re going!” came the instant reply.

  He didn’t bother knocking, because at this point he really didn’t see a point. He simply leaned back against the house, noting that the shingles were loose and that the house would have more appeal with grey siding when the front door opened and Mikey stepped outside. She didn’t see him, but then again, she was too busy stomping off saying, “I’ll never forgive you for this! Do you hear me? Never!”

  “Because I’m making you go to summer camp where you’ll spend your time learning how to make macaroni art and building friendships that will last a lifetime?” Kasey asked, blinking as she stepped out of the house. “Is that why?”

  “Yes!” the little girl hissed as she stormed off towards the driveway.

  “Is this your way of telling me that you’re not excited about going to camp?” Kasey asked dryly, making his lips twitch. “Is that what you’re telling me?”

  Mikey turned around to hiss, “Yes!”

  “But, today’s clay day! Isn’t that exciting?”

  “No!” Mikey growled, turning back around so that she could march the rest of the way to Kasey’s SUV.

  “This makes me so sad, pookie,” Kasey said, adding a fake sniffle that had him chuckling as he pushed away from the house and joined her.

  “Good morning, Yummy,” she said brightly, barely sparing him a glance as she took a sip from the black tumbler cup in her hand, which he’d be willing to bet held juice, and joined her daughter, leaving him to follow.

  “Good morning,” he said as he placed his hand at the small of her back and steered her towards his truck.

  “Back to the manhandling, Yummy?” she drawled, smacking her lips lightly as she savored another sip.

  “Never stopped,” he admitted with a smile, wondering what it was going to take to bring back that blush that he really liked.

  Chapter 19

  “So, what exactly am I doing here?” Kasey asked, as she nibbled on one of the apple fritters that they’d picked up from Aaron’s Bakery before returning back to her house so that he could break out the measuring tape.

  “Keeping me company,” he said, as he measured the distance from the door to the sink before adding the measurement into his iPad.

  “By eating all the apple fritters and playing on my computer?” she asked from the living room couch where it was decided after Reese had dragged some of the furniture back inside that it was the best place for her since it kept her out of his way.

  “Yes,” he said absently, rechecking the measurement.

  “I could help you with…” she started to offer only to snap her mouth shut and return her attention back to her computer when he shot her a look that he probably used on criminals to intimidate them, because it had her shutting her mouth and pretending to be working while he continued to do whatever it was that he was doing.

  “So, you run a website?” he asked a few minutes later, interrupting her as she was scrolling through Facebook, shaking her head and wondering when Facebook was going to come out with the “Bullshit,” button, mostly for entertainment purposes to see how many FB fights she could start.

  “Yes,” she said, deciding that it would probably be for the best if she got back to work.

  There was a slight pause before he said, “And?”

  “And that’s pretty much it,” she said, glancing down at her empty glass and wondering if it was worth trying to sneak back into the kitchen that was now apparently off limits to her between the
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