Authors: J. D. Freed
I had basketball growing up and it taught me a lot about work ethics and challenging myself to reach the next level. It also taught me to take chances and opportunities to hone my skills and make some mistakes. I learned the hard way many times in my engineering projects that it is more efficient and less expensive to do it right the first time than to have to redraft in the middle of a build. I took a lot of pride in ownership in my designs. It gave me something to focus on when Cody left the nest and spread his wings in pursuit of his dreams on stage.
Actually, I don't think his dream is really to be on stage. He likes to play his music and the challenge of creating soulful threads to harmonize and bring the lyrics to life. Cody has always taken his music seriously. He doesn't drink too much because of Dad, and he has never been a fan of drug use. I have seen him smoke on occasion, but I would be lying if I said he didn't have any Achilles' heels. Women are his "drug of choice" and he is constantly pushing for me to get out there and not feel like I have to "date" everything I bring home. This is where we sorely differ in genetic makeup.
Cody has always been passionate about his music and he has endured severe beatings from my Dad--correction, Bill--because of it. It would usually happen after being discovered in about every "secret" place he set up to try to hide his talents from Bill's disapproving eyes and ears. However if Cody dyed his hair a bold color or painted his fingernails, Bill would lose it. He would ridicule him for acting like "a faggot" or a "pussy."
Molly Dawson was Jenna's best friend and Cody's music teacher. Coach Dawson would cover for Cody, who was 12, and let my Dad think Cody was hanging out at the gym playing basketball and attending practice with me. However, he was really in the music room working with Molly. Cody was the team manager so he could travel with the team to games. Cody got away with the lie until Bill came to gym to find us one afternoon after school to tell us that we needed to come home. I knew my mom had not been feeling well for a few weeks and she had gone to the doctor that day. I was almost 16. Bill found Cody in Mrs. Dawson's room, and Cody paid the price later that evening, after Bill had gotten warmed up on a fifth of Black Velvet. I wasn't there to protect him because I had stayed out all night with Nicole after hearing the news about Mom. It was almost an impulse for Bill to tear Cody down. He seemed to take out all his frustrations on him as we grew up. He was always putting Cody down and looked forward to enjoying inflicting lasting verbal abrasions in Cody's mind if he ever made a mistake or just experienced a pitfall. He barely paid any attention to Cody unless it was negative. He was always cordial to him in front of Mom but once she got sick and Bill spent more time with the bottle, hell on earth began to form.
My dad only came to watch sporadically when he was able to get off the barstool long enough to actually make it to the games. He was thrown out of quite a few after we found out about Mom's illness. She was diagnosed with ALS. Coach Dawson asked him to stop coming to watch if he was going to be drinking beforehand. Needless to say, that choice proved easy for him to make. After that discussion he was only present for the last home game my senior year. My mom, in her weakening state, made him hold her other arm while I was on the other side so she could walk out with me to center court. It was important to her because that game was my last high school game I would ever play and the last one she might ever have the chance to watch. They were also honoring me with the announcement about my scholarship at U of M. I cried when I saw her crying and I think most of occupants in the gymnasium followed suit. When she hugged me in front of everyone, I had to hold her up against my chest because she couldn't hold even her own slight weight. She told me, "I love you so much, Babe. I am so proud of you. Go get your dreams, big guy, you've earned it!" I had a triple double that game and we won by 20 points, about the same margin they had beat us by the first time we played them earlier that season. Let's just say I had quite a bit of fight in me that night and as weak as she was, the strength I pulled from her is what set the tone for that game--the drive to make her proud of the kind of young man she had worked so hard to raise. I promised myself and her to carry that same theme throughout the rest of my life with every move I made.
I had always tried to compensate for the lack of positive reinforcement from Bill where Cody was concerned. I always made sure to encourage Cody and try to replace every bad memory Bill had put in his head with good ones.
Cody's music became like a compulsion or an addiction he couldn't get a fix for once Mom got sick. It wasn't an addiction--not the gift he has--it was Cody's calling, just like it was Mom's before she gave it all up to marry that son of bitch and gave up on her dreams. I try not to think too much about it but really…when she found out she was pregnant with me.
She has been gone for 12 years now. She suffered the debilitating effects of ALS for three years before succumbing. That was a "life-changer" and the course for Cody, who was 15, and for me, age 19, took a drastic U-turn.
Tyler answers my question without any hesitation as he states, "Hadley owns the entire complex; she has since she was 22."
He says that statement with reverence in his voice--or is that pride? There is more to understand about his feelings for Hadley. Could a stripper really afford this place? I mean, I know they make good money, especially with moves and a body like hers. I have contributed to their cause a few times in life, always with Cody who garners more than plenty of attention and could have set up a college fund program for girls in their profession.
I hold my breath and ask my next hopefully nonchalant question. "Does she live here too?"
Tyler begins to answer my question, and the front door opens up and we both turn to see who occupies the entry… it's her. FUCK. She is not as beautiful as she was in my dream. She is even more so in the flesh, up close. After my dream I had to jerk off to the visual of her body wrapping down that pole when I woke up this morning. Nice, Tralen.
Why don't you disrespect the woman a little more? It isn't bad enough you invaded her home; now you're admitting to pleasuring yourself over her memory. What is with me? It has been a while since I'd had sex outside our exchange in the hallway. OH NO, don't go there now…DOWN, BOY! The charge is building; I can smell her from over here. She starts to walk toward us with that megawatt smile. HOLY FUCK. She takes my breath away and now that familiar smell is making my lower brain start doing some thinking on his own. She smells of honey blossoms and spice and is attacking my senses. The swell of her breasts--oh those tits…
Her shirt reads, "Keep Calm and Dream On"… My lip twitches at the accuracy of that message. She is out of my league but I am willing be a switch hitter.
I meant to hold her gaze and, like a perfectly normal gentleman, take her hand, shake it and then introduce myself. Nope, the normally composed and controlled Tralen just swooped his eyes involuntarily down that delectable little body covered nicely in faded jeans, a tight t-shirt and worn cowboy boots. On the way back up they lingered on her chest just a little longer than I should have, and I see the megawatt smile die on her face.
Did she recognize me from the reception? I barely saw her face up close, and it was really dark except the yard light outside and sporadic hall lights from the bathroom door.
I leave Mace with Loosey the playful puppy as Pugs giggles and watches on. I head up the steps and come through the unit to the smell of fresh paint and that vaguely familiar smell of woodsy spices. It is the same smell I could have sworn I remember crossing my senses during my interlude with Joss yesterday evening.
I look across the open concept living kitchen and dining area as I see Tyler and… DAMN. The prospective tenant, I assume? All hard tan, more than yummy… he's huge and gorgeous. He has got to be close to 6'5"; he has got Tyler by about three inches and at least 50 pounds of nummy! He has a cap on and he is stacked… in all the right places. I am baffled at the brightness that shines off his light green eyes as I plaster on a stupid smile and extend my hand while I walk toward them.
His pale-emerald-mossy-colored eyes linger on my chest as he gives me the once-over.
My heart drops and I feel my smile start to slide off my lips. Oh, one of them… typical male. I know how to handle Mr. Creed. I have to admit that I was just as guilty in admiring his "package", I tell myself as I shake his hand and meet his eyes.
He looks down at our joined hands and sees the watch. I unconsciously grab my wrist and twist the face of the watch back around to the top with my other hand.
Tyler lets out a whistle as he snatches up my hand out of Tralen's warm embrace and the rough skin of his grip that he had still on my fingers. Everything about him suffocates me. I think I might pass out. That smell it is kind of familiar…and that smile…might as well strike a match right between my thighs. I have the overwhelming urge to rub them together. Oh. My. God… I'm wet; I can feel it.
Real professional, Hadley,
I say to myself as I try to slow the thrum of my pulse that increased just from his proximity to me.
Finally I register Tyler's observation of my expensive bejeweled watch and I stammer out, "Oh this--I got it yesterday as gift from work. It's a token of appreciation for my years of service and for my new promotion."
I tear my gaze from the prospective tenant and I glance down again at my wrist.
Not a surprise; I am sure she gets showered with a lot of gifts in her "profession". I wonder if this complex was given to her, too, by some John that frequents the club she works and wanted to have a place to go if he needs her attention in a more "private" setting, perhaps?Maybe away from the prying eyes of his wife? My blood starts boil and the tick in my jaw won't stop. Why does the thought of anyone else's hands on her body or giving her gifts make me want to throw my fists through these newly-painted walls? It is not like I have any claims to her yet.
What? YET??? What the fuck is wrong with me? I can't date a stripper, and I sure as hell am not going to continue to fuck one. I regain control with my brain back above my shoulders one more time and I search her eyes for more answers or questions I should be asking about the place.
Just then Tyler bursts into our conversation. "Nice! You totally earned that and so much more. I am so proud of you." He reaches for her and holds her in a tight, warm hug. I know her breasts are pressed up against his chest and his fingers are running over that spot on her back I know a scripted tattoo is planted. I want to step up and pull her from his embrace and tell her no one is ever going to hold her again like that…. unless it's me. My fists are clenched… Jesus. What the fuck is up, man? Chill out.
They obviously care about one another a lot; it is pretty obvious. He even seems okay with her being a stripper and getting showered with expensive gifts. Could he really be okay dating a stripper that gets that kind of attention? No fucking way!
When I glance back to Tralen, he almost looks pissed off at my explanation of the watch as a gift from work. Maybe along with being an eye-groping man whore who openly ogles women, he also has rage issues or an inferiority complex to strong-natured, successful women? Great. Just what I need as a tenant. Maybe he doesn't like the place.
Now, how to break the news to Mace that I don't think he is the right fit for us? My eyes retreat a little in embarrassment from the declaration in Tyler's praise.
Just before my mind is immediately sucked down into the gutter like a bug in a flood, I see the fists clenching in my guest's hands and my eyes almost widen in shock at the size of the bulge in the front of his pants.
Tyler goes on to explain, "Tralen is willing to build and foot the bill for a new fenced backyard so the puppy has room to run the entire distance of the complex, if you do not require a deposit and first month's rent up front. He likes the place and would like to move in immediately."
I swing my questioning glance back to Tralen to see what his expression at that statement is. He just grins and nods, "If that is agreeable to you, of course, Ma'am."
Did he just call me "ma'am"?
Maybe he took one look and found me lacking. Ma'am?Really? How old is he? I will have to review his application and references. He got past the property management company scan so he isn't a criminal, or I wouldn't have gotten the message response from the ad sent to me.
I sigh inwardly, regretting that he didn't say "Babe" or "Sweet Thing", as I half expected from his type.
Huh? Where did that come from? Why would I want him to say that to me? I mean, I can't really hold it against him for checking me out. It is not like I don't realize that I was doing the exact same thing to him, hopefully unnoticed by Tralen or Tyler.
I show no emotion. I know I don't. I have perfected this look since age nine, when AJ would beat her and then look at me to search my face for some kind of reaction. She told me to stand still and try to be quiet. I should only speak back to him directly when asked a question. When I spoke to him, I was supposed to do it immediately after being asked a question. She gave me earphones to listen to when he would get home. She always warned me about the consequences of playing too loud. I was under strict orders: "No giggling or laughing out loud while he's home."
Fuck me; little girls are supposed to giggle.
Nope, my mom gave me a CD player and headphones instead. She would lock me in my room with them when he would come home drunk. She promised me extra ice cream if I promised to put them on and just quietly practice the moves she had taught me. She was a showgirl in Vegas before she had me and had subsequently met "A-Hole AJ."
Just then, like on cue, Mace bursts in, the puppy right on her heels. Pugs is coming up, following them through the door. Mace calls out, "Bett's sister Dorris is here to pick her up."