Creed, p.22
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       Creed, p.22

           Kristen Ashley
 

  He further didn’t like it because she hadn’t changed. She drank too much, didn’t mind making a mess but did mind cleaning up after herself.

  He also didn’t like it because when she got back, she could be nasty. She didn’t get that there was only one Brand Creed. She didn’t get, after years and years and years, that she needed to learn to live with his loss and move on. She just continued to feel the pain and take it out on everyone around her.

  Last, she was in and out of work, currently out and Creed worked at the local tire factory. He was union, he told me, so the pay wasn’t bad (I didn’t get this, totally, but I did believe him). But no one wanted to work hard, come home and watch their Momma drink their paycheck while she made a mess and gave him stick (I did get this, totally).

  Creed told me his Dad actually didn’t leave the house to his Mom when he died and when Creed turned eighteen, he owned it. So he could tell her to leave, kick her out.

  But Creed wasn’t that way.

  He was Brand Creed’s son through and through. He didn’t have it in him to be mean, not even to a Momma who never was any good to him or for him or, really, anybody.

  “No, Sylvie, it’s not okay,” he answered.

  I scrunched up my nose.

  He grinned.

  I stopped scrunching my nose and grinned back.

  Then I pressed closer. “I wish I could do something,” I said quietly and I did. Really, really badly.

  “You can’t, baby,” he said quietly back. “My lot in life.”

  “Not forever,” I told him and his eyes held mine before they drifted beyond me.

  “Seems like it’ll be.”

  “No way,” I told him firmly and his gaze came back so I went on. “When I turn eighteen, we’re out of here. We’re going to get in your truck and go. Drive until we hit a place we both like and then stop and build a life without your Mom. Without my Dad. We’re going to buy a house and have babies and no one will know us. No one will know I’m Sylvia Bissenette, A Bissenette of The Bissenette’s and no one will know you have anything to do with Winona Creed. We’ll just be Creed and Sylvie. Just you and just me.”

  Creed’s head tipped to the side slightly and his eyes were soft but lit with a bright light when he asked gently, “You want babies?”

  “Two. A girl and a boy,” I replied immediately.

  “Got it planned,” he muttered, his eyes still soft but bright, his lips curled up at the edges.

  “Yep.” I grinned.

  “Names?”

  “Kara, the girl. Brand, the boy.”

  His lip curl faded and the soft went out of his eyes but the bright went brighter.

  “Brand?” he whispered.

  “For your Daddy,” I whispered back.

  He stared at me, that bright in his eyes shining through me, shining deep and feeling sweet, like it wasn’t autumn and there wasn’t a nip in the air but it was summer and the sun was shining, warming me through.

  “Make it tough,” he muttered.

  “What?” I asked.

  “You make it tough not to kiss you,” he explained and my belly curled.

  I liked that too.

  I bit my lip.

  Creed grinned at me and teased, “So, the hope is, you’re namin’ your boy Brand, you intend for me to be the Daddy.”

  That was such a stupid question, I released my lip, narrowed my eyes at him and slapped his arm.

  He burst out laughing, lifted up off his elbows and his arms curled around me. He fell back twisting so he was now lying mostly on my side.

  I liked lying on him.

  I liked this a whole lot better.

  Therefore, I lost my exasperation, lifted a hand and slid the hair away that had fallen over his forehead. The minute I dropped my hand, the hair fell right back and I couldn’t help but smile.

  “You know what love is?”

  Creed asked that and my eyes shot from the hair on his forehead to his.

  “I…” I swallowed again then, holding his eyes, I whispered, “Yes. I do. I know what love is, Creed.”

  I felt his big hand curl warm on the side of my face before I felt the pad of his thumb sweep across my lips again. He watched it move as he replied, “I do too, baby.” His eyes came to mine. “I absolutely do.”

  I sighed.

  Creed bent his head to touch his mouth to mine before, unfortunately, he pulled away.

  But when he did, my heart leaped when he whispered, “Kara and Brand. I like that.”

  I felt my eyes get soft before I whispered back, “Good.”

  Chapter Seventeen

  It Always Would Be

  Present day…

  I was one of those people who, when I was wrong, I’d admit I was wrong.

  Right then, floating on an inner tube on the lazy river at Wet ‘n’ Wild in Phoenix, Arizona after having a squirt gun fight with Creed, Brand and Kara, which was after we went down copious water slides including one the kids called “the toilet bowl” which had this kickass swirly thing going on which was after we had lunch which was after we horsed around in the wave pool… I was loving Phoenix.

  I was getting a tan.

  I had my man back.

  And he was right, he had great kids.

  But, meeting Kara and Brand, the surprises kept coming.

  First was the fact that I expected them to look exactly like Creed. In my mind, badass genes would beat out pretty much everything.

  They didn’t look exactly like Creed. Apparently, badass genes knew enough to bow to traits that would create a superior being.

  In other words, his kids were gorgeous.

  Kara had thick, gleaming, long, straight brunette hair and a twelve year old girl’s slim, tall, almost boyish body. She had perfect, dark arched brows and the features of her face, which were still girlish but would clearly mature into great beauty, bore absolutely no resemblance to Creed’s. They might be Chelle’s, they might just be Kara’s and from Brand’s looks, I couldn’t tell.

  Brand also had thick dark hair and, although ten years old, he was tall and had his father’s exact build. His features didn’t resemble his father or his sister so they, too, were either from his mother or all Brand.

  Luckily for them, both kids inherited Creed’s unusual bright blue eyes and, with their dark hair and tanned skin which said they weren’t adverse to the heat like I was, their eyes were startlingly beautiful. Even more so than Creed’s which, until I saw them, I would have said was impossible.

  Another surprise was Creed’s brand of parenting.

  Neither of us grew up with good role models and when Creed wanted to spring me on his children with very little warning, I thought he was the cool, laidback Dad. Maybe, I had to admit, too cool and laidback.

  He was not.

  I’d forgotten that Creed’s Dad died when Creed was ten so there was plenty of time for the first Brand Creed to make his mark on his son. Although I’d never met Creed’s Dad, it was clear to see his father had done just that.

  Creed wasn’t exactly strict but he definitely wasn’t Weekend Daddy who spoiled his kids when he had them and let shit slide. I noted this when he didn’t give in when Kara strode into the park and immediately wanted to go shopping in the gift shop. He also didn’t give in when Brand wanted to order enough food at lunch to feed an Army. Creed wasn’t a jerk about it, his refusals were quiet and gentle. They were also firm and his kids minded him immediately, clearly because they were the norm.

  Further, they packed their own bags and carried them to the car and they did this without Creed telling them to. They were polite and when Kara forgot to say thank you to the waitress for bringing our drinks, Creed gave her a subdued but meaningful Dad Look which prompted a quick remedy to her lapse in courtesy. And when a squabble seemed to be beginning to break out in the backseat on our way to the park, all he had to say was a quiet, low, “Stop… now,” and the burgeoning squabble ended immediately. The mood in the backseat didn’t turn jovial but they
stopped bickering.

  Creed, whose language was as foul as mine, also didn’t cuss around his kids. Also, although he held my hand on more than one occasion, obviously (and thankfully) his message was plain that public displays of affection were to be kept at an appropriate minimum.

  I didn’t expect Creed to be a bad Dad. He made it clear he loved his children and they were a huge, important part of his life and any Dad who felt that way couldn’t be all bad.

  I also didn’t expect him to be a Dad, showing love and care at the same time guiding with a firm hand.

  I had to say, I liked it.

  But truthfully, I thought Creed was thinking positively, even hopefully (but not rationally) about what he expected their reaction would be to me.

  I was wrong about this, too.

  From the instant I met him at Creed’s house, Brand was exactly as Creed described him. Open and friendly but also talkative. Very talkative. The kid had a lot to say but fortunately it was interesting and a lot of the time damned funny.

  Kara was the same except, from the very little I knew of her, not rabid about it. It seemed genuine albeit watchful.

  And it was clear they both adored their Dad though this was not a surprise.

  The only thing that made me pause was Kara’s adoration of her father was what could be described as rabid. It shone from her eyes, was reflected in her features. She loved him and she clearly missed him being away and not away as in, a job in Denver but away as in, not seeing him every day. She was not a spoiled Daddy’s Little Princess but there was something there that was off, just not right and part of that was that it seemed Creed didn’t see it. Or perhaps he was acting normal in the hopes that would help her work through it.

  Regardless, I couldn’t ask about it, not with her around and when Creed was around, Kara was. Whereas Brand was independent, did his own thing, quickly found other kids his age he could befriend and go off and do things with, Kara stuck to her Dad like glue.

  Thus me, being in the lazy river, giving Kara time with Creed without me being there.

  I tipped my shade-covered eyes up to the sun and figured it was heading to late afternoon. I didn’t know exactly but I reckoned I’d been on the lazy river for a good long while. During lunch, Creed had pulled a fast one, suggesting he make his dandan noodles for the four of us for dinner when we got home. I was supposed to go to the hotel after the water park but Creed made his “suggestion” in such a way I couldn’t protest. It was sly at the same time it was sweet since he didn’t want me to leave him and he wanted me to spend more time with his kids.

  That said, I figured a day at Wet ‘n’ Wild with me around was enough for one weekend.

  Creed obviously disagreed.

  Clearly, Creed’s dandan noodles were a treat and the kids would put up with anything, even their dad’s “new” girlfriend eating noodles with them seeing as they agreed enthusiastically. I didn’t know what dandan noodles entailed but I did know it entailed a trip to the grocery store. So I also figured my time was up in the lazy river and I should haul my ass out and find Creed and his kids.

  As I floated around a bend, I’d discover I wouldn’t have to find him since he was standing where you entered and exited the gently flowing water. His arms were crossed on his chest. His hair was wet but curling around his neck as it dried. And his blue boardshorts with white stitching and blue flip-flops were the only things hiding his beautiful, tall, broad-shouldered, sculpted, tanned, badass body.

  Incidentally, they were doing a poor job of it since the waistband of the shorts fit snug and low along his flat, defined abs and waist and his cut hipbones leading into the shorts would make pretty much anyone who had a vagina wonder what they led to. Luckily, it was only me and my vagina who would know the details.

  Taking in all that was him, I felt shivers in four places that were so strong, they defied even the Phoenix heat.

  His shaded eyes caught mine, his face behind his sunglasses was impassive and I watched as his hand came up, his finger pointing at me then it turned and he crooked it. Once.

  More shivers and my nipples got hard.

  I stared at him as I drifted toward him thinking two things.

  First, no man since Richard Scott would ever get away with crooking his finger at me and Richard only got away with it because he was a dick who beat me repeatedly. Since him, I’d break a crooked finger before I obeyed such a bossy, arrogant, wordless command.

  Not Creed. Oh no. It made me near desperate to jump him.

  The second thing was, top to toe, all of him and the all there was of him that every female from sixteen to sixty in the vicinity was staring at and wanted for their own, was all mine.

  Not only that, it always was and always would be.

  At that, I didn’t feel a shiver. I felt a warmth that wasn’t coming from the Phoenix sun but my own personal one, directed straight at me from behind Creed’s shades.

  I was closing in, preparing to exit my inner tube when Kara in her cute, girl’s bikini sidled up to her Dad’s side. The warmth I felt increased when Creed’s shades unlocked from mine, he looked down at his girl, his mouth curved into a gentle smile and his arm naturally slid around her shoulders.

  Yeah, he was a good Dad. He loved his girl. He loved his kids.

  I got out of the water, his shades came back to me and my lungs hollowed out when I saw the gentle grin still playing at his mouth, his rugged, scarred face was relaxed and contentment was stamped on his features.

  He also loved me.

  And he was happy.

  Tucker Creed hadn’t had a day like today, not ever, not in his life, not even way back when, when it was just him and me.

  And this made him happy.

  So dandan noodles it was and I wasn’t even going to give him any stick for pulling a fast one.

  I moved to him and Kara, smiling back, trying to ignore the wet but still hot pool deck burning the bottoms of my feet, wondering where I left my flip-flops as I came to a halt in front of them.

  His deep, smooth voice with its hint of rough came right at me.

  “Time to go home.”

  Home.

  I’d never had that, not ever, not in my life, not even way back when, when it was just Creed and me.

  My smile got bigger.

  * * * * *

  “And they were all, ‘It’s too hot,’ and I was all, ‘Wusses, it’s not too hot. There’s a breeze. This is a walk in the park to me. I could run in this heat. I could sleep in this heat.’”

  Brand and I were sitting at Creed’s island with Brand talking a mile a minute while Kara and Creed were making what they told me was called a “pizzookie”. The pizzookie, as described, was a phenomenon whose existence I was shocked I’d not only never heard of before but also had never partaken of, copiously. Apparently, you took store bought cookie dough, sprayed a cake tin, scrunched a bunch of dough in the bottom, baked it until it was just cooked but mostly gooey, plopped a shitload of ice cream on top and ate it out of the pan. If you were feeling saucy, Kara further explained, you could do this with brownie dough.

  See?

  A phenomenon. Delicious and genius. If it was as good as it sounded, I could make and consume one every night.

  I couldn’t wait.

  Dandan noodles were a hit. Eating them, I found that I’d had them before at restaurants but I would never consider making them at home. Then again, Creed had always been good in the kitchen. He’d learned to cook out of necessity because his Mom didn’t and he’d always had a knack for it.

  I’d learned to cook at the crack of Richard’s whip and thus I avoided it. I could cook and do it well; I just hated doing it because time spent in the kitchen reminded me of Richard. And that was never good.

  Grocery shopping with the Creeds before the noodles was a stitch. This was partly because Brand was riding a water park high and sweeping us along with his wave, being a total goof and cracking jokes that were so bad, they were hysterical.

  Bu
t it was Creed who had us doubled over in an aisle when he inexplicably started roaring with laughter so uncontrolled he couldn’t even speak. He just pointed at a display of DVDs in the center of the aisle that had a label that said “Family Friendly Movies” but were a variety of documentaries on natural disasters and serial killers. Obviously, we all saw the humor and joined in. It took us ten minutes to pull our shit together and move on considering the fact both Brand and Kara kept making suggestions about family friendly movies that should be added such as an in-depth perusal into the Third Reich (Kara’s idea and she even used the words “in-depth perusal”) and the Spanish Inquisition (Brand’s idea).

  When we got back to the house, I found it was cool being in Creed’s house with his kids. Even being there only weekends, they were comfortable and there was a kickass family vibe that not only was awesome to see Creed had but was awesome to feel.

  I wasn’t a part of it, it was way too early, but both kids included me and it felt more than a little nice.

  Once we dumped our stuff, got in showers and changed, the division of labor fell naturally. Kara helped her Dad in the kitchen in a way so practiced I knew it was the norm while Brand entertained me.

  We’d had the noodles and were onto dessert and Brand was regaling me with stories of how his cousins (Chelle had a brother and a sister, both with kids) who came from Maine for vacation that summer couldn’t get on in the heat. Something Brand thought made them wusses and something, as a native Phoenician, he was proud he could do, no sweat (literally).

  “Son, they’re not wusses,” Creed broke in as Kara pulled the pizzookie out of the oven and Creed tossed a hot pad across the kitchen to land on the island in front of Brand and me. “They’re just not used to it,” he finished.

  “Yeah, but they complained about it, like… a lot. Like… all the time. That says wuss,” Brand disagreed.

  “Can’t argue with that,” Creed muttered and I silently concurred.

  Kara put the pizzookie on the hot pad, Creed opened the freezer to get out the ice cream and I stared at the pizzookie, mentally making it my first priority to hit King Soopers and buy cookie dough and ice cream when I got home.

 
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