Cindy smiled as she watched the little boys sleeping in the van after they left Pizza Palace. The twenty-minute ride was just long enough for them to nod off, their sauce stained hands clutching bags of plastic toy soldiers, bouncy balls, and cheap suckers from the ticket prizes.
Elijah pulled into the driveway and cut the engine.
“The next time Molly suggests we go to that place we’re sending her by herself with all the kids.” Elijah leaned his head back on the seat. “My ears are still ringing. Man, horror movies have less screams.”
Mike chuckled. “Yeah, even Michael Myers would run from that place holding his head.”
“Quit being babies,” Cindy said. “The boys had a great time, that’s what counts. Let’s get them inside.”
Mike left Drew in his seat. “I’ll come back out for him.”
He picked up Josh and Elijah lifted Gabe.
Cindy carried Benny who snuggled into her shoulder, wrapping his arms around her neck. She kissed his cheek and whispered, “We’re home, Benny.”
He moaned but his eyes stayed shut. They carried the boys to their bunk beds and laid them under the covers.
“Should we have them brush and use the bathroom?” Elijah asked.
“No, they can brush tomorrow. And they’ll wake up if they need to pee, they always do.”
Mike patted Elijah’s shoulder. “See ya later. Thanks for the great time.”
Elijah grinned. “Yeah, we’ll go again sometime.”
They both looked at Cindy and laughed.
“Not,” they said together.
“You guys are brats.” She pushed them both in the chest then took Mike’s hand. “Let’s get Drew in your car.”
“Alright. Bye, Elijah.”
“Later,” Elijah grunted, heading for the bathroom.
She and Mike walked back to the van. He lifted Drew, transferring him to the car, without waking him.
“Wow, did they put sleeping pills in the pizza?” She pointed to Drew passed out in the front seat of Mike’s car.
“Maybe that’s a courtesy they throw in for the parents who have to suffer through the experience. That way they can relax once they get home.”
“You’re probably on to something there.”
He closed the door and leaned against the car, pulling her to his chest. “I had fun tonight.
I’m just kidding about all the other stuff.”
She leaned into his body and almost purred. “It was fun. I think it’s just what they needed.”
“Was it what you needed?” He rubbed his hands on her back.
“Yes, I had a great time.” She tilted her head back to look at him. “But tomorrow, it’s just us.”
“What do you want to do?”
Her stomach tingled. She knew what she wanted to do. “I don’t know, surprise me. As long as we’re alone.”
He moved his face toward hers. “That just what I need.”
His kiss was warm and strong. It could last all night and never be enough. The porch light came on flooding them with its glow.
She giggled. “I think that’s a signal.”
He narrowed his eyes at the light. “That’s a gutsy move. Just when I thought we were getting along.” He kissed her again, quick.
“That reminds me,” she said. “What happened tonight? When you and my brother went outside.”
“I told you, we talked.” He blinked, dropping his gaze to her lips.
Mike winced. “I just wanted tonight to be fun.”
The warm glow surrounding her dimmed. “What happened? Did you and Elijah argue?”
“No.” He closed his eyes for a second and shook his head. “But Jamal and I did.”
She ground her teeth. “What? Why was he there?”
Mike told her about Devon at the meet and what he said, and about searching for Elijah at the restaurant. Her face grew more and more heated as he talked.
“God, I hate that guy. He’s bothered me ever since the first time I met him when I went to get Elijah from one of their stupid parties.”
“Forget about him.” He kissed her again and her anger melted away. “How long do you think I could kiss you before Elijah comes out here with a baseball bat?”
“With the mood he’s in after that crazy place? I’m surprised he isn’t out here already.”
She pulled him back to her for one last kiss, then stepped away. “You better get Drew home.”
“Right. My mom’s probably wondering where we are.” He rubbed a hand down her arm.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night.” She waited for him to open the door. “I love you.”
He walked back to her and hugged her. “I love you, too.”
The porch light flashed, and they both laughed.
“I’ll pick you up around ten.” Mike waved toward the house and got into his car.
She waved as he drove away then went inside.
Elijah sat at the table in the kitchen, drinking a glass of milk. He smirked when she walked in. “Oh, back so soon?”
“Funny.” She joined him. “Tell me what Jamal wanted.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Jamal?”
“Yes, Jamal. Mike said he was there when you went outside.”
Elijah narrowed his eyes. “Man, that boy tells you everything.”
“Why shouldn’t he? You were the one who didn’t want him to lie to me.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged. “He came there looking for Mike.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “He came there to fight him, didn’t he?”
He nodded. “Maybe. Jamal found me first and I tried to keep him away. Told him Mike wasn’t there.”
She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. “Then Mike came out to find you and Jamal knew you lied.” She swallowed to wet her throat. “Elijah, I told you not to hang out with him. He thought you were a punk like him and now…” she didn’t finish.
“Yeah, now they won’t trust me again.” He put his glass in the sink. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not hanging out with them anymore. You should be happy.”
“Happy that they want to beat you both up now? That’s how they work.”
“They’re all talk. You could take Jamal, he’s a wimp. Last year he got in a fight with a dude, took one punch and got knocked out.”
“So, maybe that guy got lucky.” She pictured Mike’s face bruised from Elijah. “Can Mike even fight?”
Elijah raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you know he has a black belt in karate?”
“He does? Then how did you beat him up so bad?”
“Your confidence is overwhelming, sis.” His head bobbed from side to side. “I know how to fight.”
“You know how to street fight. When’s the last time you fought Chuck Norris?”
“Damn, fine,” Elijah grumbled. “He let me beat him. He said he hurt so bad on the inside from you leaving him, he wanted to hurt more on the outside to forget about it.”
“That is seriously sick.” Tears prickled in her eyes. “But awesomely freaking sweet at the same time.”
“Oh God, do NOT tell him I told you that. This is already like General Hospital.” He threw his arms up. “Who am I kidding, you two can’t keep anything a secret. You’ll tell him everything I said. I’m going to bed. Good night.”
He walked away and Cindy followed, laughing, glad the day was over and happy she could end it with a smile instead of tears.
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