Between the Books: Volume Thirteen
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J.L. kept his focus on the engineering drafts for the new equipment room, trying to force his eyes and mind to stay on the thin blue lines that needed his careful attention. He’d felt Krissy’s presence as she’d walked through the house and had quietly entered the dining room. Keep your eyes on the drafts, he told himself. One slip-up could cost the team their lives, if a system failed or a power line didn’t have redundant back up generators. The new compound had to be perfect, given all they’d faced so far. Why the hell had Rider taken Dan and Bobby out of the house and left him to such temptation!
“Good morning,” Krissy said, her soft voice making J.L. glance up.
“Morning,” he said quickly, sounding grumpy and unable to keep his eyes on the large engineering drawings strewn across the table. Damn it, she was morning itself. Too pretty in her pale pink, baby doll t-shirt and skin tight jeans… hair like spun gold flowing over her shoulders. He looked down at the papers. He had to remember, she wasn’t eighteen yet. Besides, the Berkfields had probably Dan picked for her, anyway, so there was no need in getting his hopes up.
He prayed that she would just pass him and go into the kitchen, but instead, she moved closer to him and peered down at the drawings.
“Way cool,” she said, her arm brushing his ever so slightly.
The touch made him bite his bottom lip. “It’s just basic stuff,” he said, stepping aside so their arms didn’t touch. Rolling the drawings up into a tube, he put more distance between them. “I’ve gotta go over to the site to be sure the construction workers make the adjustments I’d ordered to spec.”
He was out. But her eyes slowed him down.
“Can I go with you?”
He hesitated. This was exactly what he’d been trying to avoid—going anywhere with her alone. “I don’t think your dad is gonna—”
“Her dad isn’t gonna what?” Berkfield said, coming into the living room and rubbing his palm across his bald head.
Both J.L. and Krissy looked up at her father as he made his way past them in a worn, plaid robe and wearing beat up leather slippers. Berkfield stopped at the kitchen doorway, his glare withering.
“I asked J.L. if I could go with him over to the construction site to see how he’d designed the new equipment room and security sensors,” Krissy said with her hands on her hips. “Can I?”
Berkfield glanced between Krissy and J.L. in a silent standoff with his daughter. “Where’s your brother?”
“With Rider and Dan,” Krissy said, her voice escalating. “How come Bobby gets to go on a weapons purchase run, and cool stuff like that—and all I get to do is the dishes and laundry? Huh? That’s not fair,” she argued, not giving her father a chance to respond.
“Life ain’t fair,” Berkfield muttered, and then turned to head into the kitchen.
“Mom!” Krissy shouted.
J.L. cringed with Berkfield. Within seconds, Marjorie had scurried into the dining room, hastily tying her pink terry robe closed.
“Honey, what’s the—”
“Dad let Bobby go to do something really cool and really dangerous this morning, and all I asked to do was to go down the road a mile to watch J.L. give technical specs to a construction crew—and I can’t go!” Krissy had launched into her complaint at the top of her lungs before her mother could even get the full question out.
Shabazz and Marlene had entered the living room at the sound of Krissy’s shrill voice, and Big Mike’s lumbering footsteps behind Inez’s could be heard coming down the hallway. Jose peered through the screen door from the porch and Juanita didn’t even bother to stand up from where she sat in a porch wicker chair.
J.L. ran his palm over his hair. This was crazy. “Look, it’s cool,” he said, trying to play peacemaker. “I’m just gonna make a run to make sure all the correct power lines and generators get installed correctly in the building foundation—just like Carlos and D are over at their places making sure their buildings are going to spec and on time. That’s all. No biggie. I’ll be going over there a lot until that portion is done, so maybe next time… when Bobby or Dan are home and—”
“What are you trying to say?” Krissy demanded, whirling on him. “Why do I need an escort of my brother or his friend to go out in broad daylight to some freakin’ construction site with twenty or so guys swinging hammers?” Her hot glare raked her parents. “How am I ever gonna learn to fight like a Guardian if all I do is the same chores I used to have to do at home?” She pointed at J.L. while looking at her parents. “Have you seen this man’s tech work? He’s a genius, an expert, and I’m the next best in here on computers! I should have the same opportunity to learn from the best as my brother! It’s not right, and you guys are treating me like a baby when I’m seventeen, okay!”
“Oh… shit…” Big Mike muttered, and walked back down the hall towards the men’s bedroom.
Inez went outside and sat on the porch swing, passing Jose, who only shook his head and left the screen to disappear down the front steps. Shabazz and Berkfield’s line of vision locked. Silent empathy etched across Shabazz’s face. Marj gave Marlene a pleading look for an assist, but Marlene just shook her head, smiled, and left to take a shower.
“Honey,” Marjorie said, her voice a gentle balm. “It’s not that, uhm… You do have to learn how to fight, and it would be good experience for you to see an equipment room designed and built from the ground up, but—”
“Then what’s the problem?” Krissy challenged, her angry gaze going from her mother to her father.
“It is broad daylight, Richard,” Marjorie said with a sigh. “And—”
“And they’ll be twenty freakin’ hardhats over there hanging from rafters ogling my daughter! Hell no! She doesn’t need to be over there. And, we discussed this already, Marjorie!”
J.L. could feel the hair standing up on the back of his neck. This wasn’t about construction workers, it was clearly about him. Cool. No problem. He knew that going in, which was why he’d told Krissy no, too… or at least had tried to deflect her effort to join him. But the way her Mom’s gaze slid away to the floor, and her father had crossed his arms over his chest, told him all he needed to know. J.L. looked down at the floor. Hey, a decision had been made, and that was that.
“So, that’s it?” Krissy hollered. “I don’t have any—”
“He could take a gun,” Marjorie offered, her gaze now hard on her husband, “if you’re worried that some redneck might try Krissy.” Marjorie’s hands went to her hips in a slow, burning defiance. “Or, maybe J.L. is so awesome that he wouldn’t need a firearm against twenty hardhats to protect our daughter, given his black belt status. I, for one, trust that young man to do the right thing, if he takes our girl out for the day to teach her some very critical technical information. Yes, Richard, we have discussed it. But I think she’s old enough to learn, especially if you think our son is.”
The turn of events stilled everyone in the house. Confusion tore through J.L. as he watched the older married couple struggle on some silent issue before him, not sure what part of it had them at odds—his Asian heritage or the mere fact that he was male. Although the construction worker argument was a lame excuse, until Marjorie blew it away, that had been enough to allow everyone in the room to save face. However, it felt really good that Krissy’s Mom had taken up for him… maybe he’d been wrong, after all? Maybe the decision wasn’t a done deal? Maybe, just maybe, at least her Mom was neutral and liked both him and Dan as a potential choice? Maybe Mrs. B would allow Krissy to make up her own mind?
Hope made him foolish enough to step into the fray. “Mr. Berkfield, sir, I can take a gun, if you think something will happen out there.”
“Give my daughter one,” Berkfield muttered. “And remember, I also have one.”
J.L. forced himself not to smile. It wasn’t a heritage thing; it was a father-daughter thing. Okay.
“If you two get in trouble,” Marjorie said, glaring at her husband, “Richard has a gun and can come to the rescue—not that I think it will be necessary to pull a firearm on civilian construction workers.”
J.L. smiled, unable to swallow it any longer. Mrs. Berkfield was cool people; the consummate diplomat.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Berkfield muttered.
“So I can go?” Krissy squealed, barreling into her mother’s arms.
The sound of her voice at that pitch sent a shiver through him, but J.L. kept his expression humbly stoic.
“You can do whatever you like,” Berkfield grumbled. “It’s on your mother, whatever happens—since she knows all.” He huffed into the kitchen in search of coffee, banging a mug down on the counter.
J.L. thanked Marjorie Berkfield with his eyes and a silent understanding passed between them. “I’ll take good care of her and have her back soon. I promise.”
Marjorie nodded as she released Krissy from her embrace. He watched Marjorie stroke her daughter’s hair once as she pulled away.
“I’m counting on you to do that, J.L.,” Marjorie said softly. “Until she’s old enough.”
He nodded, knowing exactly what her mother meant.
“This is soooo cool,” Krissy said, oblivious to all the subtle messages that had passed over her head in the dining room.
She bounced out to the porch. J.L. followed her, his destination the truck, and he tried to avoid the sly smile Jose gave him.
“Be cool, bro, and take care of daddy’s little girl,” Jose teased as they passed each other on the walkway.
J.L. just quietly flipped Jose the bird and climbed into the black, Ford F150 next to Krissy and started the engine. Before he could get out of the driveway, she had turned on the radio full blast with a wide smile.
“I thought we’d never get away from them,” she said, closing her eyes and slumping in the seat. “Oh, they get on my nerves! Parents!”
“Be glad you’ve got ‘em. We’re all not so lucky, you know,” J.L. said cautiously, pulling the vehicle onto the service road behind the house. No matter how he felt, it was now about honor between him and Marjorie—she’d trusted him, so he’d keep his distance from her daughter.
But the way Krissy sat up, turned to him, and landed a gentle hand on his arm as he drove, made that a difficult proposition.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I forgot you lost your parents.”
He shrugged, not wanting her gentle touch and soft voice to work its way further into his system.
“I meant what I said about you being a genius,” she added, and then shyly looked away. “I’m glad I’m getting to spend some time alone with you without all the noise and distractions in the house… maybe I can really concentrate and learn from you now.”
He refused to address the multiple implications her words contained. It was too difficult to sort out as they drove the short distance between the house and the construction site. Even though it was still early, the Arizona air was already heavy and hot… or maybe it had to do with the close proximity to her, he wasn’t sure. But he wanted to be certain that he was reading all her signals right. She’d been in Dan’s company—a lot. There was no secret about how his team brother felt about her; it was written all over his Guardian brother’s face. Theirs was also a very silent, urgent struggle between men.
“Yeah, well,” J.L. said, hedging, “I know it’s chaotic in the house, but from time to time, you’ve been able to get a lot of one-on-one training from Shabazz, Marlene, Dan…” he wished he hadn’t put extra inflection on Dan’s name; that had just slipped out by accident.
“I know,” she said, staring at him with wide, blue eyes. “But it’s not the same as being with you.”
He glimpsed her from the corner of his eye, watching what the sun did to her light tan, and how the sun played in the golden highlights of her hair. “Dan is great on explosives and has mastered the slingshot, is—”
“He’s okay and a good friend… he and Bobby are tight,” she countered, toying with the threads of her multi-colored friendship bracelet. “But, like, that’s different. I just like hanging out with you.”
He glimpsed her again; she was looking down at her wrist. His heart was slamming within his chest. Shit… Okay. “Uh, yeah, well, I like hanging out with you, too. Don’t get to do that very much, though.”
She looked up and stared at him. “You do?”
The joy in her voice was a rush of innocent yearning that made him keep his eyes on the road ahead.
“Yeah,” he finally said, not wanting to forestall answering her.
“I like what you teach me, J.L.,” she said, her voice so soft that he wished she hadn’t turned on the radio. “I mean, you’re the first guy who didn’t think I was a pure geek for being into computers and stuff… and you don’t talk down to me like I’m stupid… or teat me like a cheerleader.” She cast her gaze out of the window. “And you never… you know what I’m saying. Dad thinks all guys want one thing, and you’re not like that.”
Conflict mixed with guilt tore at him and helped his resolve. She was right, in that he knew she had a brilliant mind and a decent soul—he’d felt that from the moment he saw her. She was a breath of fresh air and had brought light into the group like he’d never seen it. But her dad was also right… she had no idea how beautiful she was, and any guy in his right mind definitely wouldn’t be male if he didn’t think about making love to her. Opting for a bit of chivalry, he decided to take the high road and defend her father’s position.
“Krissy, your dad is just trying to make sure that you don’t get hurt. A lot of guys are slimy—losers, and will go after a beautiful woman like you… and then dump her. If I had a daughter like you, I’d be the same way.”
She turned down the radio and sat back. “You think I’m beautiful?” she asked in a near whisper, missing the point. “I didn’t know you saw me like that.”
His mouth went dry. “Yeah… Krissy, a man would have to be blind not to see that.” He could feel his pulse racing, and tried to correct himself before things got too deep or he said too much. “But you’re also really, really smart, and that’s what I like about you most. When we’re on the tubes, maaan… and you make me laugh a lot. I need that—laughing. In our profession, that’s hard to come by.”
“You think I’m smart?” she whispered.
She’d breathed out the words with such awe in her tone that he’d momentarily stopped breathing.
“You’re brilliant,” he said too quietly. “A natural.” His voice was on autopilot, and had dropped way too low in his throat.
“I think you’re awesome,” she said, her eyes raking him in a way he wished they wouldn’t. “When I watch you work and figure stuff out… sometimes it gives me the chills.”
It was time to get out of the truck. She was sipping air in; each inhale made her breasts rise and fall to a rhythm that was beginning to cause him sure agony. He could see her nipples begin to harden beneath her thin t-shirt, and her mouth was glistening with a sheer pink gloss that made him know it desired a kiss. They were at the site and she wasn’t legal. She’d produced gooseflesh on his arms with the admission, and if he didn’t jump out of the truck in two seconds, he’d have wood in his jeans.
“Okay,” he announced, “let’s make sure these guys have our power lines laid right.” He quickly turned off the engineer, grabbed the blueprints, and jettisoned himself out of the cab without looking back.
He could hear her footfalls behind him on the dirt, but kept his line of vision on the workmen before him. The foreman glanced up. The crew gave him a causal, but disdainful, assessment.
“Just here to go over the mid-section of the building,” J.L. said to the foreman.
The broad-shouldered man in his mid-fifties was already reddened by the sun, and his dirty t-shirt hugged his pot belly as though holding up a fifty-pound load of bricks.
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. “We know. The center of the house is where all the generators gotta go.”
J.L. scanned the other workmen who’d temporarily stopped moving to watch Krissy walk up to the site. Broad smiles in multi-hued faces and glances of appreciation shot between the construction crew members.
“Make sure the little lady stays back from the area,” one guy called out. “She needs a hardhat, boss, if she’s gonna do a walk-through while we’re working.”
“Oooh! Can I?” Krissy squealed, laughing.
“I got your hardhat right here, little lady,” another guy yelled, grabbing his crotch and making his friends on a steel beam all chuckle.
J.L. gave the guy a hard look. Curious glances passed between the men on the beam, and a silent challenge was in the air. The disrespect bristled J.L. to the point where the foreman read it.
“Knock it off, guys,” the foreman said, shaking his head. “Sorry ‘bout that. Those guys are so ignorant sometimes.”
Accepting the apology from the man in charge, J.L. begrudgingly nodded. He knew the deal; she was a blond, he wasn’t—so the assumption was that she wasn’t with him, or at least shouldn’t be. If Bobby had brought her here, they would have respected him. If Dan had, they would have given him props. If Rider came with her, they would have assumed he was her Dad, and never tried it. If Marlene and Shabazz had come there together, or Carlos and Damali, or the Berkfields, or even Jose and Juanita… any of the couples, they wouldn’t have made a ‘babe’ comment to the woman those men were with. If Big Mike had brought Inez here, they wouldn’t have even blinked wrong at her. Obviously, they thought he couldn’t defend Krissy, given his size versus theirs. He pulled on every Zen principle he owned and let the dig pass.
The problem was, Krissy had taken offense. Her hands were on her hips, and he could see the feminist principle burning in her gaze. He begged her with his mind to let it go—but she wasn’t a telepath, neither was he.
“You got a problem with a female on this site, dude?” she hollered up at the men on the beam.
“Whooo, no, honey. Not one as pretty as you—ain’t that right, fellas?” The verbal offender slapped his hardhat and leered at Krissy, and then whistled.
“Okay, okay, guys,” the foreman said with a smirk. “I told you fellas to knock it off.”
J.L. glanced at the foreman, realizing that he, too, thought the same way and his peacekeeping was just a front.
“Whistle again, and my boyfriend will kick your ass!” Krissy shouted. “We didn’t come here for this bullshit!” She whirled on J.L. “Do you believe these assholes?”
For a moment, he was at a loss for words. Several things had just happened in a very dangerous collision of events. Krissy had claimed him, openly, as a mate. Twenty burly construction workers, of the un-evolved variety, had been baited and challenged. He had been put on the spot to defend her honor, as he’d promised her parents. Shit, he’d promised that to himself. Her eyes were waiting for a response. Guys on steel beams were laughing at him and shaking their heads. His woman had been disrespected,
“All, honey, now don’t get yourself all worked up. We were just joking around, and your boyfriend seems like he’s gonna have a stroke with just the thought of a yard fight—so, here’s a hardhat on us. It’s safe to walk under our beams.”
The offender tossed down a hardhat at Krissy. J.L. caught it in front of her before it ever hit the ground.
“Say one more thing to her,” J.L. warned, his eyes keened to the males on the beam, “and I’ll dust your ass in this yard.”
Laughter rang out from the beams. Krissy folded her arms over her chest. The foreman shielded his eyes to the sun.
“I told you knuckleheads to lay off these kids,” the foreman said, his smile growing. “You wanna make us lose this contract, screwing with them?”
He shook his head and began walking to the board and horses where J.L. had set down the blueprints, but J.L. never moved. Now it was a matter of face.
“Apologize to her,” J.L. ordered.
Raucous laughter ensued as a response. Before his brain had consulted his hand, the hardhat became a discus. It whirled through the air so fast that it caught the offender dead in the center of his chest, made him lose his balance, and fall off the four foot high beam he’d been on with a dusty thud.
“Now, you just hang on a minute!” the construction worker bellowed as he quickly stood and his crewmen doubled over with laughter.
“Whooowee, Billy—the little pipsqueak got your big, dumb ass! Ha ha ha ha ha!” one of the men said, as the others continued to roar with laughter.
“He sure showed you!” another said, sitting down on an exposed beam in a spectator’s position.
“Hey, hey, hey,” the foreman shouted. “No fightin’ on the site!” He hustled his burly frame to stand between J.L. and the would-be contender.
“I’ll kick his narrow little chink ass!”
“What did you call him, you big, dumb, redneck?” Krissy shrieked.
In an instant, the foreman had body blocked the angry worker and was trying to keep him away from J.L. “Go after him, and I’ll dock you a day’s pay!”
The angry crewman looked over his foreman’s shoulder. “You’re lucky that the boss won’t let me kick your ass!” he hollered, pointing at J.L. “And your trashy little—”
“Let the sonofabitch go,” J.L. said between his teeth, walking forward. “What did you call her?”
“I said she’s poor white—”
“Yo!” the foreman said nervously, cutting off the foul comment. “These folks are paying customers, and—”
“Let that stupid bastard go,” J.L. said evenly. “This is off the record. He won’t be docked, but you’d better up your medical and dental plan, because his ass will be on disability leave.”
“Since it’s off the record, and he threw the first cheap shot,” the man argued over his foreman’s shoulder, “Lemme go! His scrawny ass is mine!”
Krissy tipped her chin up. J.L. took a wide legged stance away from her across the clearing. Every man on the worksite found a beam to sit on and watch.
“Don’t you hurt him, none—hear, Billy! I swear, this is out of hand, this is a good contract, and I’m not gonna be responsible.” The foreman looked at J.L. and Krissy. “Let me get him calmed down. Why don’t you guys go on and get into the truck. Billy’s a good ole boy, he’s just got a short fuse and—”
“Let him go,” J.L. said so coolly that the foreman did a double take, and then released his hold on the angry crewman.
The crewman rounded his boss, ignoring his protest and took a stance. “So you think you’ve got something? Then show me, you little punk.”
J.L. rolled his shoulders and shook his head no. This was not supposed to be happening this morning. But something irrevocably male had been engaged. “Take it back,” he said between his teeth. “Apologize to her and I’ll let it ride.”
“Fuck you and that little bitch! Let her go back to her Momma’s double-wide trailer, messing with the likes of you,” Billy yelled. “I’ll kick your ass and have you wishin’ you’d never left that shack up the road you live in.”
“Make my day, asshole,” J.L. said, feeling a level of insanity threading through him that he couldn’t hold back any longer.
The man rushed forward, J.L. left the ground, and sent two rabbit kicks to his abdomen to avoid cracking the man’s ribs, before he flipped to a stance behind him. Fury and adrenaline tore through his system. He had to remember this was a human, demonic behavior notwithstanding. If he hit the brute too hard, he’d kill him, and that couldn’t happen.
“Apologize!” J.L. yelled, hoping with all his might that the fool would give it up and comply before he really got hurt.
“Fuck you,” the man wheezed, whirling the face J.L., holding his stomach and then upchucking as his friends laughed and yelled from the steel beams.
This was bad. Obviously the jerk refused to loose face, and had put up his dukes again after wiping vomit away from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You gonna let his skinny little ass beat ya down, Billy-boy? Hot damn, wait till the guys at the bar heard this one!” a guy jeered, egging their friend into futile combat.
“Bruce Lee—oh, man! The pool hall is gonna love it!” another shouted and slapped five with a nearby construction worker.
Snorting, red in the face, broad shoulders squared, and his blonde hair matted to his skull with sweat, Billy rushed his six-foot-two, hulking frame forward and hurled a punch. Opting not to break his arm, J.L. dodged the punch, scissor grasped him around the waist and spun him down hard to the ground.
“Apologize,” J.L. repeated, not even winded.
The man rolled out of J.L.’s hold with a growl, stood and rushed at him again. J.L. dropped to the ground on his back, caught the guy between the legs with a hard kick to the groin and flipped him to sprawl in the dirt on his back. J.L. was in his feet in one lithe flip. The guy was curled into a fetal position groaning with both hands between his legs.
“If you get up again,” J.L. warned, his anger beyond the point where he could trust himself not to kill the man on the ground, “I’m not responsible.” He looked at Krissy. “Let’s go.” He dusted off his jeans and strode over to the makeshift worktable to collect his blueprints. “The next time I come here,” he yelled, pointing at the foreman, “if I see this asshole on site, your contract is cancelled!” He looked up to the beams at the men who were no longer smiling. “If she is ever disrespected on this site, I will come up there and break your necks!”
- * *
He had to keep driving and couldn’t walk back into the compound this enraged. Krissy sat quietly beside him as he seethed. How could he face her father and mother now? He’d let something happen out there, and Berkfield had been right about the construction site. Clearly her Dad knew about the types of guys working on the building, and he’d probably mistaken Berkfield’s concerns as being prejudiced when that wasn’t the full picture. Plus, the whole construction crew now had bad energy, and he didn’t want them working on the new compound with those vibes.
J.L raked his fingers through his damp hair. Shabazz would have a coronary, as would Marlene, to learn he’d been out fighting a civilian over something so stupid… especially when he could have compromised his soul by killing one unnecessarily. He’d broken Guardian rules, and had thrown out the principles of discipline. The reason would be unacceptable to the old-heads on the team; pride. But damn, she was worth it.
“I’m sorry,” Krissy said, wringing her hands in her lap as he sped the truck towards town.
“Forget about it,” he muttered.
“No, I can’t,” she said, suddenly shifting in her seat to face him, her eyes filled with tears. “They only said something smart to me because they’re bigoted assholes. I hate people who act like that, and I couldn’t stand by and have them treat you that way. I didn’t care what they called me, but I could see it in their eyes—they didn’t think you had a right to be there telling them what to do, and they didn’t like that I was with you! What gives them the right?” Her voice had cracked and then she sat back in the seat and swallowed hard. “But you are smarter, stronger, faster, nicer, classier, everything than them, and I just wanted to climb up that beam and yank that jerk down off it by his stinking hair!”
Oddly, his foot eased on the accelerator. For some reason, he sat up taller in his seat. She wasn’t offended by what that SOB had said to her, but by the disrespect the guy had shown him? Krissy had baited the guy into a fight she knew he’d lose, just to teach the Neanderthal a lesson—not because she was playing some dumb, young girl game? Oh, shit… and she thought all those good things about him… to the point of outrage… like that? She’d also called him her boyfriend.
“You can’t go around yanking bigots off construction beams all the time,” he said, trying to regain his calm and to make her smile. “Your arms will get tired. There’s too many of them in the world.”
She was still pouting, but gave him a half smile when he glanced at her.
“So my Dad was right?’ she asked with a hard sigh.
“Yeah, he has a point. If you can avoid them, that’s best.”
“But what if you can’t?” she countered, turning again to face him. “What if you’re surrounded?”
He smiled. “First off, you try to stay in environments where you won’t have to be surrounded. Second off, you try to reason your way out verbally, or seek the law, thirdly—”
“Get serious. You can’t reason with apes like that, and I don’t want to have to be afraid to go out with you anywhere.”
He looked at her, almost driving off the road. Just like that? She’d made up her mind? Women could do that… that fast? When did that happen!
“I’m serious, J.L.,” she said, her gaze intense. “Like, when I turn eighteen, and Dad finally gets used to the fact that I can date, like, what if you wanna take me to a bar or a club? Or, what if we wanna go to a movie in this hick town? Or, one day, what’ll happen if we want to check into a motel, or something, and the clerk gets an attitude, or whatever?” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and folded her arms, confronting him.
“Uh…” The last part of what she’d asked was blowing his mental circuits. She’d thought about that, with him? “I don’t think your dad is ever going to be ready for that,” he said cautiously, entering the small town, numb. He tried to focus on the street lights and stop signs, looking out for pedestrians, lest he accidentally hit someone.
“My Dad is just old-fashioned, but not a redneck, J.L. We weren’t raised like that, and frankly, I’m offended that you think he is. Do you think that about me, too?”
Her voice contained so much hurt and anguish that he pulled into the diner back parking lot, just so he could think and speak at the same time without worrying about driving.
“Hold it, hold it,” he said, putting the truck gears into park. “I never thought he was prejudiced, per say… I just thought Dan made him more comfortable, and—”
“He’s only more comfortable with Dan because Dan sucks up to him to get to me. But you don’t.” She tipped her chin up in defiance. “My Mom is neutral. She always told me that she just wanted me to be happy—and not to get pregnant before I got married, like she did with Bobby. Okaaaay. It isn’t because you’re from Laos.”
J.L. rubbed his hands down his face. The conversation had taken some mysterious, giant, intimate leap that he wasn’t prepared for. The back lot was completely deserted, and the front lot only had a few, lone, tractor-trailer trucks and pick-ups in it that had been left by road-weary patrons searching for coffee and grub. It was too isolated in the sleepy little town diner lot, and she was sitting waaay too close to him for comfort. That, with a combination of fight adrenaline still running through him, was volatile.
“You wanna get some breakfast?” he asked, deflecting the direction that the conversation had been headed.
“You don’t like me, really, do you?” she asked quietly, and then looked away. “I understand, and I’m sorry I read your being nice to me wrong.”
For a moment, he simply stared at her.
“Are you kidding?” he whispered.
She glanced up at him and then held his gaze. “Then why don’t you ever seem… I mean… is it because I’m not Asian?”
“It’s because you aren’t eighteen,” he said quickly and then sent his gaze out the front window. “If I start…”
“That bad for you, too?”
He swallowed hard. “You wanna get some breakfast?”
“I don’t like Dan like that, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said softly, touching his arm.
“Let’s get back to the part about your Dad,” he said as calmly as possible, trying to ignore the rush that washed through him. “I respect the man. You’re his daughter. I promised your mother, on our way out of the door that, nothing would happen to you. We’re good friends, and maybe, when you’re old enough, if they say it’s all right, we can go catch a movie, or something, ya know?”
“In my high school, I was the last vir—”
“That doesn’t matter,” he said fast, truly needing to not have this conversation.
“I’m not a baby,” she replied softly, scooting closer to him in the seat and allowing her hand to capture his. “Even with all those people in the house, we’re side-by-side day and night… you listen to me, make me laugh, and every morning I look forward to a new day and I’m not afraid, because I can’t wait to boot up a system with you, or learn some new way to hack into a database, or—”
“I know, I know,” he said, unable to pull away from her, but summoning his discipline not to move in closer. “But, see, Kris, it’s more complicated than—”
“When I told those guys you were my boyfriend, you didn’t deny it. Are you?”
He briefly closed his eyes and hung his head, letting out his breath hard. Her silence finally made him look at her, and her sad, anxious expression drew his fingers to trace her warm, soft cheek.
“Kris, when you’re old enough, I’d be honored to be that, if you still want me to.” Her mouth was a magnet, so were her intense blue eyes. “You’re beautiful from the inside out and the outside in, which is so rare. Sometimes… I can’t even breathe around you, but you’re the first person I look for everyday, too,” he whispered, taking in her features one by one. “I’ve never had anybody accept this poor kid from Laos just on face value, other than the team, so keeping harmony on it is very important to me… and once you’ve been without a family, you know how important it is to have one. I cannot make your father lose face, or dishonor your mother. Don’t make me do that.”
She nodded and closed her eyes, turning her cheek into his touch. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just can’t help it sometimes. I dream about you.”
“I’ve always dreamt about having someone like you with a pure heart to come into my life,” he murmured, running the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip.
She kissed his thumb. “Me, too… but that’s not what I meant.” She opened her eyes, and they contained a desire haze in them that was unmistakable. “I dream about you. Do you ever dream about me?”
His hand trembled as it caressed her cheek. “All the time,” he said in a whispered rush.
She placed a finger on his eyebrow, and then slowly smoothed it out to the edge, her eyes following it as it traced over his cheekbone until he shuddered.
“Don’t,” he whispered, closing his eyes. “I’m a tactical.” He sat back and drew his hand away from her cheek, suddenly short of breath.
“Can we be boyfriend and girlfriend in secret, then? Until I’m old enough?”
He nodded and closed his eyes. “Only if you promise not to disrespect your parents. Okay?”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. The sensation imploded in his groin.
“I just wanted you to know how much I liked you… in case some other older, prettier girl came along before I got a chance to tell you,” she said in a soft murmur so close that her breath merged with his. “I know I’m not blessed with special powers, like the others in the house, and I’m the baby in the group, and you probably think I’m silly… but at night, J.L., when I’m lying in bed… and all of us are crammed in the room, and there’s no privacy, and everybody else has somebody, and I’m not stupid… I know they slip off to be alone, and sometimes I feel like I’m crazy, do you know what I mean?”
He stared at her, nodding quietly. “You do have special powers,” he murmured. “There’s nobody else for me, but you. I don’t think you’re silly at all.”
“Then why do I feel this way, and you’re so cool, so able to just…”
He knew it was going to wreak havoc with his system, but the look in her eyes and her intensity drew his hand to her hair. The silken tresses added to the ache, but he couldn’t pull his fingers away. He knew exactly what she meant about the lack of privacy in the house; he bunked in the crammed male dorm-like room, and that was the last place one wanted to be exposed in this condition. He always made sure he was the last one to go to sleep. Cold showers weren’t even working any more. It was probably going to be worse, now that he knew how she felt about him.
“I’m just older, and have more at stake, like my life,” he finally said with a sad smile. “Getting shot can be a bad way to end things.”
She didn’t smile; her expression was stone serious and her breathing had become stilted. “I trust you, J.L.,” she whispered, “and if we’re really friends, you won’t laugh at me, if I tell you something really private?”
The smile slid from his face as his eyes searched hers. “Anything you ever say to me is always just between you and me, forever. I swear it.”
“I’ve never felt like this before in my life… and I don’t want to seem like I’m some nutcase babe with a monster crush… but sometimes when you pass me in the hall, or we’re sitting side-by-side working on the systems, I feel like my skin is about to catch fire.”
She glanced away, a rosy tinge rising to her cheeks, and then she covered her face with her hands. “Oh, my God, why would I tell some guy something so lame?”
Stunned silent, every hair on his body stood at attention. The need to be with her was so acute that it had burned his throat dry.
“It’s not lame,” he rasped. “I go through it every day, too.” He sat back in his seat and blew out a hard exhale, putting his hands on top of his head and lacing his fingers together to keep from body slamming her in an embrace.
“You think I’m a tactical sensor?” she asked, removing her hands from her face and staring up at him.
“I think we need to either go into the diner to eat breakfast, or go back to the house before I dishonor your parents.”
He simply looked at her, but she didn’t look away. Her nipples had become so hard beneath her shirt that it made his hands hurt not to touch her. But when her gaze slid down his body and landed on his lap, his stomach clenched.
“You’re feeling it, too, aren’t you?” She hadn’t removed her gaze from his erection for a moment, and then she suddenly sought his eyes.
He couldn’t answer. “I think we should go home.”
“I’m dishonoring your parents in my mind.”
“So am I.”
He watched strands of her hair begin to pull away from the mass, becoming static charged by electricity within the small space of the cab. Her eyelids were heavy and she was breathing in sips of air through her mouth. She’d pressed her knees together tightly and placed a flat palm on her chest as though about to have an asthma attack.
“The only time I can be alone with you is in my mind… in the bathroom, when I can—”
“Kris, don’t tell me,” he said, gripping the steering wheel and leaning his head forward on it with his eyes shut. “I’m way older than you; you’re only seventeen.”
“Do you think about me like that, to the point where you have to get somewhere alone and—”
“Yes,” he whispered through his teeth, refusing to look at her.
“It’s so embarrassing,” she said quietly.
Again, he could only nod and hold onto the steering wheel tighter. Her agony was his. Every ache within her had penetrated his aura and tactical field, sending jags of desire through it until he nearly wept. He had to get this girl home and take a long walk by himself… to the private spot he’d found in the woods… where he could release the tension and think of her without dishonoring his word. Her admission was breaking his back.
“Can we just kiss, and not go all the way?”
The plea in her voice made him lift his head and stare at her. Was she insane? “No.”
She looked away hurt, toying with the strap of her baby doll t-shirt.
“If I kiss you, I’ll want to touch you… and if I do that, things could get out of hand… and we’re sitting in a parking lot in broad daylight, Kris.”
Despite his protests, his eyes couldn’t help following the lazy trail of her graceful fingers moving up and down the strap… which led to her shoulder, and the swell of her breasts in profile, then the defining hard tips that pushed against the fabric, begging to be caressed. Somehow his mouth wound up on the softest shoulder it had ever brushed, and the deep moan that escaped her almost made him press her hard against the seat.
“That’s why,” he said, pulling back again and setting his jaw hard. He dabbed sweat away from his brow with the back of his hand as a shudder passed through him. Just kissing her shoulder was bad enough. If he took her mouth, he knew they’d be in trouble.
But she reached for his hand again, and this time brought it to her breast with a grimace. Her eyes slid shut as though she’d been dazed. She immediately bought her other hand up to cup the swollen lobe that he hadn’t touched.
“Oh, God, what’s in your hands?” she moaned, and then leaned forward and kissed him hard.
The longed-for sensation caught his breath in a strangled gasp. His tongue sought hers within an urgent tangle that wasn’t supposed to be. His hands skimmed her body, following the rise and swell of tender flesh beneath pink cotton, arching her into the touch just as he’d always imagined until his mouth found soft, burning-moist skin at her neck and shoulder. Her thigh was somehow wedged between his and his pelvis moved creating glorious friction in the dense morning air. He couldn’t help it; his hands were under her backside, she’d been flattened horizontally against the seat. His body craved entry, could almost feel it, as his kisses spilled over her face. Tears were running down her cheeks from the corners of her eyes. Her head was thrown back, her mouth open, and her grip tightened as she suddenly convulsed and shuddered in his hold. He almost did, too, but pushed himself up and then sat back quickly.
Panting he ran his fingers through his hair. Too close. How the hell was he gonna pass her Mom and Dad if he blew his load in his jeans?
She remained where she’d been sprawled, breathing hard, close to sobbing. “J.L., I could feel it…”
He held up his hand, closed his eyes, and shuddered. “This is why your Dad didn’t want you going out alone with a tactical.”
“Yes, I could feel it, too, all right!”
“Are you mad at me?”
“No!” he shouted.
“Then why are you yelling?”
He let his face drop into his hands. “I’m stressed.”
The moment he heard her zipper rip down, he glanced at her in alarm.
“I have to take you home.”
“I’m so ashamed,” she whispered, “but I have to.”
Frozen for a moment, he couldn’t move as he watched her slide her hand into her pants, close her eyes, and two big tears roll down her cheeks. It was the highest compliment any woman had ever paid him, and compelled against all reason, he found himself kissing her belly, pulling up her top, his mouth lavishing her breasts as her hand feverishly worked beneath her jeans.
Her softness, her light female scent, and her impassioned gasps drew her tiny pink nipples onto his mouth, his moan lolling over them with his tongue. He couldn’t stop pleasuring her, even if a gun were to his head. Close to dry humping the seat, he almost yanked down her pants, his mouth hungering to taste her. But before he could, she convulsed hard, let out a strangled wail, arched hard, and collapsed.
She lay there breathing hard for several minutes, making him want her all the more. A huge wet spot was beginning to appear in his faded denims where sheer agony resided, thudding out a call for merciful release. He kissed her stomach and lowered her shirt, rousing her.
“I have to take you home,” he whispered, and brushed her mouth.
“Okay,” she whispered back. “But what about you?”
“My situation is a little more complicated,” he said with a tense smile. He glanced down at his pants. “This is already gonna be a problem to cover, any more of a stain than that, and your Dad will blow my head off.”
“But that’s not fair,” she said, sliding over to him and kissing his cheek. “If you felt like I did, then you have to be going crazy.”
He nodded, unable to deny it. “I’ll live, though.”
When she touched him, he groaned. “Baby… don’t. I’m too close.”
“I’ll swallow,” she said, making him look at her. “That way, they’ll never know.”
“Oh, shit… don’t promise me something like that and not mean it,” he whispered, glancing around the parking lot and taking odds on the possibility.
“It’s the only way, isn’t it?” She glanced around the lot, her eyes feral. “I mean, what are you gonna do? You can’t make it through the day like that can you?”
“I’ll go take a long walk in the woods,” he said, gasping. “Like I always do.”
“I thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend, now? I’ll wait until I’m eighteen, but…”
He stroked her hair, gazing at her in pain. “This isn’t right, and you know it.”
“I want to, it’s not like you’re forcing me.”
“You sure?” he said, his will decimated as her hand slid across him again. He lifted his hips to her touch, drowning in need. His t-shirt was sticking to him, sweat rolling down his temples. Her pulsing pressure against him made him see stars; her kiss promise-destroying, like her skin. She’d found the head and was playing with it, learning, exploring… oh, God, it felt so good—forgive him, he was a tactical Guardian… human… oh, shit… it had been so long! Her parents would never understand how it had gone down. But, still, she was jailbait.
“I… I… listen, Kris,” he stammered, tearing away from her kiss and holding her wrist firm to stop her insanity-producing strokes. “I’m not gonna be able to hold back, and if you change your mind at the last minute while doing that, it’ll be in your hair, all over your clothes, or—”
“I won’t, not feeling like this,” she argued, kissing him until he groaned inside her mouth. She pulled back, urgency trapped in her gaze. “I’ve never actually tried it before, but my girlfriends said you just—”
“Ohhh, noooo, no, no,” he said, sitting up straight and turning on the engine. He was supposed to be a Guardian—a protector of the innocent. The word ‘girlfriends’ had connected to the word high school, then connected to Marjorie’s pleading eyes, which ricocheted to Berkfield’s glock nine and fatherly glare. “Not like this, not out in some diner parking lot while you’re underage. Uh uh.”
“But don’t you want to?”
J.L. banged his head on the steering wheel as she sat back and zipped up her jeans. “I must be a fool.”
“Well, like, ye-ah…”
He glanced at her sad smile and put the truck in reverse, careening it into a spin to face the road. If Rivera had suffered like this as a vamp, with the whole Guardian team pointing nine-millimeters at him, then he’d walk it off. He also now understood Jose’s pain, and wasn’t even angry at Dan, anymore. A new level of appreciation entered his consciousness. The burden of honor was beyond fucked up. He repeated her age in his mind like a mantra.
“Six more months. I can do this,” he muttered, talking out loud more to himself than to her, and speeding the entire way home.
See Also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
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