So why was I wasting a free evening and hundreds of dollars on dinner with a woman who would never go to bed with me? Simple. I liked her. I wanted to spend time with her. In fact, there was nothing I’d rather be doing than hearing about her students and talking with her about my life. She was brash and funny and direct, and I liked her.

Halfway through our appetizers, I found myself telling her more about my childhood.

“I was the one who bought cheap bulk rubber bands, the colored ones, and sold them at a profit to little kids who used them to make bracelets. I was all about generating money, and my brother was the protective one, the athletic one. I was good with numbers, started tutoring for ten bucks a half hour when I was in fifth grade. I knew how to turn my skills into cash. I was covering the water bill before I was thirteen and swung new shoes for my brother and me for Christmas by that time as well. While my brother was trying to score an athletic scholarship that never came through—hence his enlistment—I got my tuition paid at a state college and still tutored did work-study for my books and housing. My mom still thinks to this day that the scholarship covered my housing and everything. I was resourceful, but my brother was out there saving lives.”

“He sounds like a great guy. I have two older sisters, so I know about being competitive at home. One of my favorite memories is making and decorating Christmas cookies with my sisters every year. My mom always took us to the nursing home to deliver the cookies, too. What was your favorite memory?”

“My mom always read to us. Even when she was dead tired from working two jobs, she’d stay up to read us a library book. That’s where I got the idea how important education was, and how much more there was to her than just some woman whose life got derailed by a pregnancy. She was really into the Harry Potter books. We read all the books, watched all the movies on TV. I remember us saving up to get her a bathrobe, this stupid bathrobe that looked like a Hogwarts student robe. She loved it. To this day, she has it on a hook in her bathroom. Thank God it’s a nicer bathroom than she used to have. That was my number one, taking a corporate job instead of starting my own firm. Hadley paid me enough as a hiring bonus to make a down payment on a house for her.”

“You bought her a house?”

“When I was twenty-four. I paid it off a year later. I retired my mom. That was my goal.”

“That’s so sweet.”

“Nothing I do could ever repay her for the sacrifices she made or the shit she put up with raising us. My brother was genius at forging her name.”

“Why would you forge her name?”

“To get free breakfast and lunch at school. We qualified but she had this thing about not taking charity, paying her own way. So we just signed up for ourselves in third grade, saved her a fortune on feeding growing boys. If she ever noticed that those boxes of cereal lasted a long time, she never said,” I shook my head. “Now that I think about it, I’m positive she knew. I mean she was on top of stuff, and she’s a smart woman. But we thought we were so clever, she probably let us think we had her fooled.”

Maggie wrapped her arms around me and kissed my cheek, “That’s very sweet. Every woman deserves such a son, so protective and resourceful.”

“Thank you. I’ve been working my whole life to make her proud. I’m not sure she’d be proud of the job I’m doing now, shutting down businesses that support a whole town,” I shook my head ruefully.

“She’s proud that you’re a hard worker, and you’re not as much of a bastard as you pretend to be.”

I gave a wry laugh, “There’s a compliment for you.”

“You have a heart, even if you do try and hide it.”

“Okay, so I’ve never actually told anyone all of that. So tell me something you’ve never told anyone.”

“What, you showed me yours so I have to show you mine?” she laughed.

“Exactly. That’s the date. I’m buying dinner so I demand an emotional confession.”

“Most guys just expect me to put out. They also end up disappointed.”

“No deep, dark secrets?”

“Maybe a few. Okay, you know Payton, the kid with the massive tantrums? I have to rotate two of my teachers in that room. I’ve told all the parents it’s due to a licensing requirement, but it’s really because it’s so stressful dealing with him all day that no one can take it full time. I do my rotation in that room when I have to sub. I’ll move the teacher out of that room into the room with an absentee staff and I’ll take over. His behaviors are super exhausting. We love him to bits, and he’s a great kid, but it’s a lot. So I fake-splained a staffing decision to keep from hurting his parents’ feelings. There, that’s a confession.”


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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