Page 5

 Kristen Ashley

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She was pretty clueless, her being surprised by Dan’s defection was proof of this fact, but she was a fun drunk, loved her kids and her husband and she always took care of my cat when I went to Vegas or hit a beach. She made me a huge tin of Christmas cookies and brought it over with eggnog every year for Christmas. She also made me a massive birthday cake and brought it over with a premium bottle of bourbon or tequila.
Further, she was open and friendly. She told me she only ever wanted the simple life. A husband, a home, kids. She knew Adam was Down’s before he was born and she didn’t care. Didn’t give it a second thought. Before Dan left, she was happy as a clam. Adam’s special needs didn’t seem to touch their lives. He was high functioning but he still needed more care and attention. She never complained.
“Pure joy,” she told me on a smile. “Wake up to it, go to bed with it and it comes from Adam. How lucky can I get?”
She meant that shit. That was Charlene.
And that was probably why, last year on the fifteenth anniversary of it happening, when she brought over birthday cake and bourbon, I got sauced with her and laid it out.
All of it.
Everything about me.
Then I let it out, bawling like an idiot for the first time in years, clutching onto her like I could fuse onto her healthy, happy family cheerfulness.
I could count my friends on two hands.
But I could count those I was tight with on two fingers.
Knight and Charlene.
The only two people who knew everything about me.
So when Dan took off on Charlene, I stepped in. Every morning I came over and while Charlene got ready for work, I got the kids breakfast, got them dressed and helped Charlene get them in the car so she could get them to their different schools and daycare. If I was around in the evenings, I lent a hand then hung to give her some company. I’d also corralled Rhash’s woman Vivica and Knight’s woman Anya into helping her out a couple of times, looking after the kids so I could take Charlene out to get her hammered and forget her husband was a dickhead and that life could be fun.
Dan had not contacted her, not once in six weeks. My guess, he was wind. She’d never hear from him again. I’d offered to track his ass down so, at the very least, she could divorce it and hang a massive child support payment around his rat bastard neck but she refused.
She was certain he’d see the error of his ways and come back, tail between his legs.
I was certain he was banging as much tail as he could find in an effort to turn his thoughts from the fact he was a total f**king douchebag and he’d never come home to a lifetime of shit he was not man enough to deal with. Not to mention guilt over the fact that he’d given up and f**ked over a decent, kind, good woman who loved him. Charlene wouldn’t serve up that guilt. But he’d feel it. And he’d do all in his power to avoid it.
Thus I’d already done a few searches and made a few calls. If he turned up, I’d be all over his ass whether Charlene said yes or not.
She showered and got ready for work. I fed the kids, cleaned them up and got them dressed. This was not an easy task but I was not a Mom who needed to be at work on time at the same time worrying about how I was going to pay bills so I had nothing on my mind but them and making it fun, which I did.
When Charlene was ready, we corralled them and got them out to her sedan.
“Work?” she asked me why I was late as she was strapping Theo in his car seat.
“Yeah,” I answered, strapping Adam into his.
Her eyes found mine over the roof of the car and I saw her brows go up. “Bad?”
“Not good,” I told her.
She pressed her lips together. She knew my history, she knew my work. She didn’t agree with it but she was a good friend, she kept her mouth shut. Or, at least, she didn’t lecture me too often, just enough for me to get her and for her not to be that annoying.
I leaned in and blew a raspberry on Adam’s neck.
He giggled and shoved at me, shouting, “Sylvie! Toads are slimy! Raspberries too!”
I grinned at him and looked into the backseat to check that Leslie was secure. Then I tossed a smile at Adam who smiled back so huge I was sure I could see all his teeth.
Yeah. Pure joy. The world would be a poorer place without Adam in it.
Or, at least, mine would.
I leaned in, touched my forehead to his, pulled back and slammed the door.
I rounded the hood of her car on my way home when Charlene said what she always said.
“Thanks, honey.”
My eyes caught hers as I passed her.
“You, me, them until the me in that equation isn’t needed anymore. Know it.”
I watched her pull in a breath to control the tears.
I rolled my eyes and muttered, “Such a girl,” and kept walking.
“You are too, you know!” she shouted at my back as I sauntered across her yard toward my house.
I lifted a hand and flicked out two fingers.
“And by the way, you keep walking through my yard, you’re gonna wear my grass down to dirt!” she kept shouting.
“Such a girl!” I shouted back, not bothering to turn. “Bitch, bitch, bitch.”
“Whatever,” she yelled and I grinned.
I hit my front door, pulled out my keys and watched as they drove away, both Leslie and Adam waving at me through their windows.
I waved back and let myself in, so focused on Charlene and her kids, so exhausted from zero sleep, mind so consumed by what Knight shared in the meeting that I missed something I normally would never miss.
The black Expedition parked right across the street from my house.
I locked the door behind me and walked directly to my bedroom. When I hit the door, Gun, who was curled in a ball pressed at the bottom edge of my pillow, looked up at me.
I was wrong earlier. I could count those I was tight with on three fingers.
Knight, Charlene and my cat, Gunsmoke.
She was white with a round head, kind of flat-ish ears and her fur was unbelievably thick. She looked like a big fat cat but she wasn’t. She just had a shit ton of short, thick fur. It also had a shimmer of gray at the very ends with vague gray rings on her tail. She was talkative. She was loving. She was superior. And she liked me and only me.
Not true, she adored Adam.
But she couldn’t bear Leslie and especially Theo. She might let them in when they weren’t so loud and manically active. Now it was just me and Adam, who was also full of exuberance and energy but not around Gun. He was quiet and gentle with Gun and she showed her appreciation.
She watched me walk in, sit my ass on the side of the bed and pull off my boots and socks. She then scooted away when I got up, turned toward the bed, fell forward and did a face plant in it.