“You’re one to talk,” Devon says. “Up until today, we thought you would die alone.”
“Time to go,” I reply sarcastically.
We all stand up and get all of our empty bottles and paper plates thrown away before I walk my brothers to the door. Before we head outside, they each give Avery a hug and tell her how nice it was to meet her.
She stays inside while I walk them to their truck. Devon says, “Shit, I forgot my wallet. I need to run back inside.”
When Tanner and I are alone, he says, “So, I hear you went to see Mom.”
I nod. “Avery convinced me it might not be the worst idea in the world.”
“I know you have your issues with her. Hell, we all do, but yours are by far the worst. So, I know why you haven’t come around much, but we miss you, man.”
“You know where I am, Tanner. Just because I have issues with our mother doesn’t mean I’m not here for you guys if you need me.” I say the words, but I realize that I may not always be around for my brothers as much as I should. In an attempt to alienate our mother, I’ve done the same to them.
Realizing this, I say, “I promise to make more of an effort to come around more—whether Momma is there or not.”
He gives me a big smile. Tanner was always quite a bit younger than me growing up, so we were never all that close. I always cared about him, but I was always so deep in my own shit that I didn’t really have a lot of time for him. And then I turned 18 and immediately left for the Navy, which meant I was around even less.
He says, “Avery seems really great.”
“She is. Way better than I deserve; that’s for damn sure.”
He points his finger at me. “Don’t fuck it up.”
“You better believe I’m trying like hell not to.”
At that moment, Devon comes back outside and heads toward us. We all say our goodbyes—a couple of weird one-armed hugs and some shit-talking — and then they are gone.
When I walk back inside, Avery is finishing cleaning up the kitchen.
“Angel, just leave it. I’ll do it in the morning.”
“It’s alright. I’m almost done.”
As she’s wiping the counters, I walk behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and kissing her neck. “I’m sorry my brothers just showed up like that.”
She laughs. “It was fun.”
“I just never meant to put you on the spot.”
She puts her rag down and turns around to look at me. “Duke, I never had siblings. I’ve never known what that relationship was like. I never had people who would just show up randomly to see what’s up, but I wish that I did. It would have been nice to have siblings to do that. Heck, it would have been nice if my mom did that. You will never hear me complain about your family stopping by because I can appreciate how special it is.”
My forehead leans forward, pressing against hers. “You really are perfect. Do you know that?”
She smiles. “Eh, I have my moments.”
I lean down and give her a quick kiss before she says, “My only regret is that I wish I would have gotten to shower before they got here because I feel gross.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Want to go upstairs with me and take a shower?”
“If I ever answernoto that question, please have my head examined.”
Five minutes later, we are both naked and getting ready to step in under the warm water. I let Avery get in first before I follow behind her.
I watch her tilt her head back under the spray of the water, and I take the opportunity to run my fingers through it. When it’s wet, I turn her around so she faces away from me. I squirt some of her good-smelling shampoo into my hand and begin to lather it into her hair. I take my time massaging her scalp—and trying to ignore the sensual noises that she’s making. I’m trying to be sweet to her after everything she’s done for me tonight.