His mouth turns down into an even deeper frown, and I realize I’ve been counting the unseemly bulges of his abdomen. Are those meant to be seen clear through clothing?
“Good evening. You must be Jason,” I say brightly, holding out my hand. “I’m Naomi Clemons. Charmed.”
He props a meaty forearm on the doorjamb and shakes his head. “Yeah. This isn’t going to work.”
I keep my hand extended. Just hanging there, like it has no protocol for being ignored. Can he sense how useless and inexperienced I am? He must. “I’m sorry?”
A single dark eyebrow goes up. “About what?”
His deliberate obtuseness rankles, and I’m surprised to find myself growing kind of irritated. At least it’s a welcome change from the insecurity. “I’m sorry, as in, I don’t understand what you mean by ‘this isn’t going to work.’ We are midway through introductions, sir. You haven’t even taken my hand yet.”
“Don’t plan to.”
“I’ll just leave it here,” I say, ignoring the growing strain in said limb.
He shrugs a mountain-like shoulder. “Be my guest.”
I’ve never been more tempted to stomp a foot. “Take the hand.”
A sigh gusts out of him. “Fine.”
The man takes my hand and gives it a firm squeeze—and promptly covers my palm and fingers in thick, black grease. He revels in it, smiling just enough to reveal a set of strong, white teeth that look absolutely indecent set against his dark beard. He’s waiting for me to whine or admonish him, too. I can tell. And it’s shocking to have anyone display such impoliteness toward me. Especially a man. Where I come from, men bend over backwards to make me feel welcome. I am the furthest thing from welcome right now. I am distinctly unwelcome.
I’ve had a bad day. I’m tired and hungry. Those delicious Funyuns were not enough to tide me over. This unfamiliar town has me feeling like a fish out of water, and I don’t even know where I’m laying my head tonight. That has to be the only reason I’m hit with a burst of defiance the likes of which I’ve never experienced. At least since this morning.
Pasting a pleasant expression on my face, I wipe my greasy hand straight down the front of my white linen dress. Hallelujah is all I can think when Blackbeard’s smile loses power, enough to hide his teeth. “Well, now. Let’s start over.” I breathe deeply and square my shoulders. “You must be Jason.”
His grunt is apparently the only answer I’m going to get. A tangle of wills ensues. It reminds me of the Battle of Fort Sumter, because once a winner is declared and the loser surrenders, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be over. More like, it’s going to kick off a whole darn civil war. Thankfully, neither one of us is required to raise the white flag. We’re interrupted by another set of approaching footsteps, this one far lighter than Jason’s.
“Is that her?” a young girl calls. “Jesus, Jason. Invite her in.”
Jason doesn’t budge. He’s too busy frowning at me and my grease stain.
“Move,” she says, her hands appearing on his sequoia tree waist and pulling ineffectively. “She’s the only one who answered the ad.”
Having claimed the upper hand, I wink at him. “How surprising, when it was so beautifully written.”
“This isn’t going to work,” he says, repeating his earlier sentiment, before stomping into the house. In doing so, he reveals the temperamental teenage girl outlined in the doorframe, in all her pierced, blue-haired, ripped leather glory.
Lord have mercy. This is going to be a challenge.
What if I’m not up for it?
If you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you, son.
I’ve got 99 theories and spontaneous combustion is actually a completely viable one.
I don’t like surprises.
Especially in the form of little blonde beauty queens.
Didn’t help that I saw her changing in the back seat of her car. In my defense, the windows of her Rover were tinted, and with all the wiggling around, I initially thought some kids were making out in the backseat across from my house and was preparing to go send them on their way. By the time I realized it was a solo, half-dressed woman, I’d already witnessed the whole damn show. That was before I saw her walking across the street in the fading sunset light, one hand holding down the wind-fluttered hem of her skirt, her mouth moving in what looked like a rambling pep talk. What was she saying?
Annoyed at my own curiosity, I follow the girls into the living room. And there she is again. Still here. I’ve never seen someone arrange themselves on a couch before. That’s exactly what she’s doing now. Knees pressed together, ankles crossed and out to the side, fingers smoothing out her dress, hair being rested behind shoulders, hands folding together. Watching her glide across the street, I’d had not a single doubt in my mind that my wild child little sister would run roughshod over this smiling Disney princess. Then she’d gone and wiped motor oil on the front of her white dress without batting a single one of her curled black eyelashes.