Coming soon. Unedited. Subject to change. Enjoy! 😉
Joseph Wright had never been a lovey-dovey guy, not with me or my brothers. He saved the mushy stuff for our mother – turned into a smooth-talking teddy bear when he interacted with her. For us boys though, it was always toughen up, less emotion, work harder, sweat more, better grades – normal shit, honestly. Looking back, I could see that he was careful not to talk down to us, not to be too harsh, leading by example. He was raising men, not assholes, he said at least once a week, always directed at me.
He swore up and down, backwards and forward that he’d been me, exactly, growing up. That my “candor” as my mother referred to it, had come to me honest, passed down from him. That the sheer potency – his word choice – of my mother, once they met, had polished away the sharpest of the edges on his personality, made him a little easier, a little more smooth.
“I can’t wait for you to meet your sandpaper, little boy,” my mother, Priscilla, had dryly muttered to me one day, long past the time I was actually a little boy. I was home on leave, and she insisted I take one of her friend’s daughter out.
I suffered through the date, with a girl whose jaw was stronger than mine and couldn’t keep her clammy-ass hands to herself. I was nice…ish. I was polite to this girl. I drop her off, walk her to her door… and she snatches me by the collar, trying to get a kiss.
I got the whole fuck outta there, and I don’t know what she told her mom, but her mom called my mom, and Priscilla Wright called me into her sewing room and just kind of looked at me, with that quiet disappointment that stung a helluva lot more than anything my father ever said.
But, back to my point.
My father wasn’t some talkative, sentimental guy. We often communicated in little more than a series of grunts that we each inexplicably understood.
When he stopped me, I was expecting to be admonished because I was wearing a mechanic’s shirt, instead of the wack-ass white polo with the royal blue J&P AUTO SALES logo embroidered on. He was always on me about presenting myself like a salesman, even at my blunt insistence that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But… it paid the bills and kept me out of my savings while I attended school, and he was generous enough to give me flexible hours.
What I had not expected was to look into my father’s eyes and see genuine concern over my lack of communication today.
“Sorry Pops,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder. “School on my mind. You good?”
“Are you good?” he countered back, not releasing me from his penetrating stare. “Ever since you’ve been back, you’ve been—”
“Fine. I’m fine, Pops. Okay?”
“You don’t seem fine. I’m worried about you, son.”
“Worried about who?”
I groaned at the sound of the voice behind us, and blew out a sigh.
Here we fucking go…
“Why’re you worried about Jay, Pops? What’s going on? Jay, you good? You need me to look at—”
“Nah,” I insisted, turning to face my older brother, Joseph Jr. “I don’t need you to look anything, Dr. Wright.”
Joseph gave me a dry smile. “Ha ha. Funny. Are you sure—”
“Yes. Can I get out to the service center now?” I asked, addressing both men with the question.
They exchanged a look, and Joseph Jr. gave Joseph Sr. a slight head nod that I guess they thought I couldn’t see.
“Yeah, son. Go ahead,” my father agreed, and I didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the out, leaving them to discuss my demeanor. There was nothing to discuss though. I wasn’t different, they were.
I’d only been home for two months, since right before the semester started, and had noticed it more and more in the time I’d been back. My family tiptoed around me in a way they hadn’t before, always watching me, asking me how I was, like they expected any little thing to set me off into a panic attack.
I knew what they were worried about. PTSD, flashbacks, nightmares of kids with bombs strapped to their backs. All the shit American movie magic shoved down our throats as the reality of what deployment looked like, when the truth wasn’t nearly as depressing or tragic, but somehow, simultaneously worse. I didn’t know how to explain it, but the point was that none of that was happening with me. I was good.
I just needed my well-meaning family to realize that, and lay off, damn.
As soon as I stepped into the part of the dealership that housed the service center, I breathed in a deep sigh. The cloying smells of engine grease, brake dust, rubber, gasoline, and motor oil would send most people into a gagging, coughing fit, but it smelled like home back here to me.
The little BSU princess from earlier would probably die of shock.
A twinge of annoyance settled into my shoulders, remembering the way she’d recoiled at the sight of my mechanic shirt. I wore it to class with some regularity, because it saved me time from going all the way home on the days I worked at the dealership. My clothes were clean, because my mama raised me right. No, I wasn’t on campus dressed to impress like the pretty boys she probably preferred, but that was the thing – I wasn’t a boy. I was twenty-eight years old, just trying to take advantage of the military’s generosity and get my damned degree so I could get the fuck out of there. I was surrounded by teenagers, and kids so barely into their twenties that they may as well be teenagers too.
But not the princess.
No, as annoyed as I’d been by that little accidental exchange in the classroom door, I couldn’t deny that unexpected softness of her body against mine had felt good. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her – she was always in the lecture hall on Fridays, sitting at the table next to Professor Bryant, looking good as hell.
Pretty medium-brown skin, big brown eyes, and a sexy ass mouth. She had her hair done in thick, jet-black braids that hung past her waist, grazing the soft curves of her hips. The obvious hint that she was older lied in the fact that she was a grad assistant. She had to have at least graduated with a bachelor’s degree to be in the position she was, which meant at least twenty-one, twenty-two, but I suspected even older than that. Something in her vibe – easy, breezy, bougie as hell – spoke to a level of confidence the younger women didn’t seem to have.
Not to mention, I’d heard the little smartass remark she hurled at my back after we bumped into each other. Even though I hadn’t responded, only a self-assured woman fired back like that, despite the fact that she was clearly the one at fault.
So… maybe that’s not completely accurate.
Maybe she was too busy looking at her phone to watch where she was going.
Maybe I was too busy looking at her ass, too distracted by the sliver of brown skin between the top of her jeans and the hem of her shirt – she had those little dimples, the thumb placement guides, you know? – to watch where I was going.
So maybe it was both of our fault.
But the princess didn’t have to act like I was covered in grease and grime either, so there was that. She wasn’t into men who got their hands dirty, and I wasn’t into stuck up women.