Where I Belong (Alabama Summer) (9 page)

“Why are you so sure that it won’t work? I can be friends
with Ben.” I mimic his appearance and lean back in my own chair. “We can
totally be friends. It’ll work.”

“It’s not going to work, and I’ll tell you why.”

“Okay, smart guy. Why?” Don’t ever tell a woman that we
can’t do something, because we’ll die trying to do that thing that you’re so
sure we can’t do. I think the female race is stubborn as a whole. Maybe it’s a
design flaw, but whatever. I’m here to prove a point.

“Because—” He sits forward, pulling my half eaten sandwich
in front of him before he picks it up. “—I don’t know about you, but I don’t
usually eye fuck my friends.”

“Who’s eye fucking?” I half yell. Thank God we are the only
two people currently in the sandwich shop. But it doesn’t save me from getting
a stern look from the owner behind the counter. “I was
not
eye fucking,”
I harshly whisper.

“And I’m
not
about to eat the rest of your sandwich.”
He grins condescendingly before taking a huge bite of my sub.

I roll my eyes, the eyes that were so not eye fucking
anyone, before I respond. “What’s your opinion on him anyway? Do you think he’s
a good guy?”

He nods and swallows his bite. “Yeah, when he’s not
threatening to beat the shit out of me.” We both laugh and I take a sip of my
water. “He’s really good with his kid. Even when Nolan was a baby, he just knew
what to do with him. And he wasn’t even nervous about it. I’d be scared
shitless if someone threw a baby at me.”

I giggle and watch him pop the last bit of my sandwich into
his mouth. I could tell just from being around them once that Ben was amazing
with Nolan. They were so sweet together and Ben seemed like the type of dad
that would do anything for his kid, which is exactly how it should be. “Well I
think anyone would be scared if babies were flying at them,” I counter, getting
rewarded with a sneer and another crumbled up napkin tossed at my head. We both
stand up and push our chairs in. “Thanks for lunch. It was memorable, even
without the finger fucking.” He winks, unable to form any words with a full
mouth. “You’re a really good friend, Reed.”

He grimaces and swallows his massive bite uncomfortably.
“Friend zoned like a boss.” I buckle over at his statement, laughing so hard my
eyes filled with tears. “No worries. You’re not my type anyway. I prefer really
dumb girls with low self-esteem and Daddy issues.”

I shove him in the direction of the entrance. “Oh that’s
nice. Daddy issues? Really?”

“Hell yes.” He holds the door for me and we both walk to our
vehicles. “Girls with Daddy issues are always looking for a
new
Daddy.”
He throws his head back, cracking up at himself and the disgusted look I’m
currently giving him. “See ya later, Mia.”

I shake my head disapprovingly. Men.

Chapter Nine

Ben

Fucking Reed Tennyson.

I didn’t know what he was playing at, but I was sure as hell
going to find out. And I couldn’t waste any time doing it either. Not when he
was taking my girl out to lunch and shit. I was not okay with that. I didn’t
know what his intentions were. If he just wanted a friendship from Mia, fine.
Anything more than that? Fuck no. She was mine, and apparently, he might need a
reminder.

I know where Reed lives so I stop by his house later on
after work. We never really hang out that much but I used to pick Tessa up from
his house all the time before she could drive. His truck is parked in the
driveway which is a good thing. I really don’t feel like driving all over the
place looking for him, but I will if I have to. This shit needs to be cleared
up tonight. After parking behind him, I knock on his front door and see his
head peer out the small window next to it. I hear a soft “fuck” before he
swings the door open and greets me with raised eyebrows.

He studies my uniform, keeping his hand on the doorknob.
“Are you here to arrest me for taking Mia out to lunch yesterday? Because if I
have a choice, I’d much rather have you lock me up than beat the shit out of
me.”

I lean against the railing, ignoring the smart ass undertone
that all of his words seem to be laced with. “What the hell do you want with
Mia?”

He chuckles then and I straighten up, causing him to wipe
the smile off his face. I really don’t want to hit him but he isn’t making the
decision easy on me. I’ll deal with the ramifications later. “Nothing. I mean,
she’s a cool chick and I like hanging out with her, but just as friends. Maybe
if you hadn’t marked your territory I would’ve tried something, but I’m not
stupid. I don’t think she’s interested in me like that anyway.”

“She’s not a fucking fire hydrant for me to piss on, dick. Don’t
refer to her as territory.” I step closer to him, remembering what he said
yesterday in the sandwich shop after Mia insisted the two of them weren’t on a
date. “And if I ever hear you joking around about touching Mia again, it’ll
take a lot more than Luke to stop me from tearing you apart.”

He runs his hands down his face before letting out an
exhaustive sigh. Turning around, he starts back into his house. “Where the hell
are you going?” I ask, stepping forward and grabbing the door. This
conversation isn’t over until I fucking end it. I follow him inside, stopping
at the end of the hallway that dumps out into the kitchen. He emerges from the
fridge with two beers.

“Here. I sure as hell need one of these and maybe if you
have one you won’t be so inclined to murder me on my porch.” He places my beer
on the counter and leans against the fridge, taking a swig of his. “Actually,
if you are going to kill me, do it outside so I at least have witnesses. And
avoid messing up my face too much. I’m sure my mom would prefer an open
casket.”

“I’m not going to kill you. I might make it so you can’t
walk for a few days, but you’ll still be breathing. And you can’t blame me for
wanting to find out what the hell your motives are with my girl.” I walk over
to the counter and grab my beer, keeping my eyes on him as I take a drink.

“Look, man, I’m not moving in on Mia. I swear. But I would
like to keep being friends with her and I don’t fucking think I should have to
ask your permission to do that.”

I grin and take another sip of my beer. I have a good amount
of muscle on Reed, so the fact that he has the balls to talk to me like I can’t
wipe the floor with him earns my respect. “No, you don’t have to ask my
permission. I’m fine with you being friends with Mia. I just wanted to make
sure that you weren’t trying to be anything else with her. I’m fucking crazy
over that girl.”

He arches his eyebrow at me. “Really? I had no idea.” We
both laugh and he pushes off from the fridge and moves across from me. “You’re
fucking crazy over a girl you’re trying to be friends with? That makes a hell
of a lot of sense,” he states sarcastically.

I grimace. “I’m doing what’s necessary. The torture I’m
going to endure by
not acting on my feelings will be worth it if she
lets me in.” He looks at me with a perplexed gaze, like I’ve just explained
myself to him in another language. I take another sip of my beer and frown.
“When you meet a girl that gets to you the way Mia gets to me, you’ll
understand. Friends genuinely like each other and I need her to like me. She’ll
never love me if she doesn’t like me first.”

He places his beer down with a shake of his head. “I had a
girl get to me like that and she completely fucked me over. I don’t see how any
of it is worth it. That’s why I’m just with girls for one night. They can’t rip
your heart out if you don’t let them anywhere near it.” He tosses his beer
bottle into the trashcan. “I hope it works out for you though. I think you have
a pretty good shot with her from what I’ve observed.”

“Why do you think that? Did she say something to you?” If
Reed and Mia are friends, she could’ve shared things with him like she does my
sister. And I am suddenly all for their friendship if it helps my cause. He
regards me with a smile like he knows things. Things I desperately want to
know. I place my beer down and leer at him. “You’re not going to tell me shit,
are you?”

He smiles again, more cunning this time. “I don’t have much
to tell. But a fucking blind person would’ve seen the way you two acted around
each other yesterday. I could’ve burned the place down and I doubt either one
of you would’ve noticed. You flustered her so bad she could barely speak, and
she definitely wasn’t paying attention to a damn thing I was saying once you
stepped in the shop. I could’ve asked her to carry my children and she probably
would’ve agreed without knowing it.” He shakes his hair out of his eyes and
registers my annoyed expression. “Not that I would’ve asked her that. I’m sure
you’ve claimed that uterus.”

I wave him off dismissively, holding the neck of my beer
bottle with my free hand. “I’m glad I make it difficult for her to form a
sentence, but I don’t need to convince her body that we should be together.
I’ve proved that point already.” He grabs another beer, offering me one but I
decline it. “I just need her to see me as the guy I am now and not the shithead
I used to be. And being friends and showing her that I’m not just in this for
pussy seems like the best option for me.”

“Unless she keeps your ass permanently in the friend zone.
This whole plan could blow up in your face if you aren’t careful.” He walks
around the counter and sits down on the couch, turning on the TV.

I haven’t thought about the possibility of that happening.
But I highly doubt Mia can ignore the chemistry we have and only see me as a friend.
The spark between us is fucking palpable. The air seems to crackle when we’re
in the same room. There is an energy to it, a dynamic that you can practically
see rippling between us. Drawing us together like charged particles. There’s no
denying it. And once she only sees me as the man I am now and not the boy I
used to be, I’ll make it my life’s purpose to never again let her feel the type
of pain I once caused her.

“Hey, man, I’m gonna head out and go see my kid. Thanks for
the beer.” Reed acknowledges me with a nod before I walk out of his house. I
feel better now that I know for sure that he isn’t trying to get with Mia. And
I don’t have a problem with him being friends with her. He’s a decent guy. He’s
always been good to my sister. But if he ever steps out of line with my girl, I
won’t hesitate to put him back in it.

 **

I park out front at Angie’s apartment complex and take the
stairs quickly to her floor. I want to tell Nolan that he’ll be spending time
with Mia on Saturday night. I know he’ll look forward to it as much as I am
once I break the news to him. I knock on the door, hearing his gruff voice
singing aloud somewhere in the apartment. The door opens and Angie stands there
looking less than pleased to see me.

“Great. Now I’ll never get him to go to sleep.” She steps
aside and motions for me to walk in. “He’s been fighting me for the past hour
and my nerves are shot.” I can hear Nolan’s voice coming from down the hallway
where the bedrooms are. He sounds very animated, but that’s pretty standard for
him.

“I’ll put him to bed. I want to talk to him anyway.”

She closes the front door and moves past me toward the
couch. “Don’t keep him up with another story. I’ve already read to him four
times and if he doesn’t get to bed soon, he’ll be cranky as hell in the
morning.” She begins flipping through a magazine, seemingly done with lecturing
me which is a good thing because I’m fucking done listening to it. If anyone
needs parenting advice between the two of us, it sure as hell isn’t me.

I walk down the hallway and stop at Nolan’s door, leaning
against the doorframe. He is trying to balance his stuffed dragon on the end of
his bed, holding his sword in his free hand. I watch with a smile as he gets
his favorite sleeping buddy to stand up on the wooden footboard before he
strikes it down with a mighty swing.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed, buddy?” His eyes light up
and he scrambles off the bed, running toward me. I scoop him up and plant
kisses all over his face.

“Daddy! You’wre hewre!”

“Shhh,” I say against his hair, carrying him over to the
bed. He crawls under the covers and I lie on my side next to him, tucking him
in. “Mommy said you were supposed to go to bed a while ago.”

He tugs at the buttons on my uniform. “I’m not tiewerd,” his
voice breaks into a yawn and I try to hide my laugh. “Can you wead me a
storwy?” He looks completely exhausted and I know I’ll never get more than a
few pages into it before he passes out. He continues playing with the buttons
on my shirt, his sleepy eyes falling closed every couple seconds.

“Not tonight.” I lean off the bed and grab his stuffed
dragon, handing it to him. He pulls it tightly against him, popping one ear of
the dragon into his mouth like he always does. He falls asleep that way every
night and always wakes up if the dragon falls off the bed in the middle of the
night and he no longer has it in his grasp. I run my finger down his nose and
he focuses on my face, repeating the gesture.

“Guess who’s going to hang out with us on Saturday night?”

His mouth unlatches from the ear. “Who?”

I smile. “Princess Mia.”

His dimpled grin lights his whole face up and he immediately
gets to his knees. “Pwincess Mia! Yayyayayayayay!” He bounces on the bed and I
hush him again, tucking him back in. “I wike Pwincess Mia, Daddy,” he says in a
softer voice before tucking the dragon’s ear back into his mouth.

I bend down and kiss him on his forehead. “Me too, buddy.”
He closes his eyes and begins humming against his dragon. I settle down on my
side, watching his body relax completely and hearing the low sound he is making
get softer and softer. When I know he is asleep, I sneak out of his room,
leaving the door cracked open. Angie is still on the couch looking at her
magazine but throws it onto the coffee table when I enter the room.

“You know, stopping over here during the week and putting
him to bed only confuses him.”

I’m walking toward the front door but stop and turn after
her statement. “What the hell are you talking about?”

She stands, hitting me with her most irritated expression. I
brace myself for whatever bullshit argument she is about to start. It would be
nice to go one time seeing Angie and not have it out with her, but she seems
determined to bitch me out about something every chance she gets.

“He’s going to start expecting it. He already wants us to be
a family and when you come over here and put him to bed it’s just going to make
him think that we are one.” She steps closer to me, dropping her gaze to her
feet. I know this tactic. She does it when she wants me to feel bad about
something. It never works and I’m surprised she keeps using it. She looks up at
me with only her eyes, keeping her head down. “He’ll probably wake up and
wonder if you’re still here and then when you’re not, it’ll just upset him.”

“You’re wasting your time trying to make me feel guilty. If
I wanna come over here and say goodnight to my son on nights that technically
aren’t mine, I’ll do it. He knows that the three of us aren’t a family. He has me
and he has you but he’ll never have us together.”

Her head snaps up, the wounded façade disappearing. “God,
you’re such an asshole. What the fuck was I thinking hooking up with you in the
first place?”

I continue my walk toward the door. “Neither one of us was
thinking,” I counter. Because I wasn’t thinking that night. If I had been
sober, I wouldn’t have slept with Angie. After talking with her for a minute I
would’ve seen what type of person she was. A self-centered, conniving brat. She
seemed to get joy out of my misery and I wouldn’t have lasted more than a
minute in her presence if I wasn’t drunk. I grab the door handle and look
behind me where she has fallen back onto the couch, pouting like a kid who has
just been reprimanded. “I’d never take it back.” Her eyes meet mine briefly
before she drops them to the floor, nodding to convey her understanding of what
I mean. I hate Angie but I love the gift she gave me. Nolan makes me a better
man. It pains me to imagine not having him, and I’ll always feel indebted to
her for not going through with the abortion.

“I’ll pick him up after work on Friday,” I say. She
acknowledges me with another nod but her gaze never leaves the spot on the
floor she is boring a hole into. I close her apartment door behind me and make
my way out to my truck.

It’ll always be like this with Angie. Even giving her what
she wants, us, won’t change the person she truly is. She’s a bitch by nature
and I’m tied to her for the rest of my life. But I don’t care how she treats
me. She can spew all her poison at me and I’ll fucking take it. She gave me my
son. And he’s the only thing that matters.

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