Chasing daybreak, p.15
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       Chasing Daybreak, p.15

           Ranae Glass
 

  ***

  The doorbell rang at exactly seven. Phoebe had changed into a Mom-approved yellow blouse and tan slacks. Silently, we took up our usual positions in the hallway. Phoebe at the door, Sarah in front of me, and Mom at my back. It was the Stone family gauntlet. The only thing missing was Dad at the end.

  Phoebe greeted Duke with a quick peck on the cheek and led him in to be introduced to the firing squad, AKA Mom.

  Duke was easily a half a foot taller than all of us, except for Sarah. Which meant he wasn’t super tall for a man. He was muscular in the way that was more physical labor and less time in the gym. When we sat down for dinner, he pulled out Phoebe’s chair, earning him a sly smile from Mother. But it wasn’t long before the polite banter wore off and Mom went into full-blown inquisition mode.

  “So, Duke, do you plan to continue your job as a firefighter after you get married?”

  Sarah paled. Phoebe coughed and kicked me under the table. I grunted as she glared at me. Hey, what was I supposed to do about it?

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Don’t you think it’s a bit dangerous?”

  “No more so than most careers, ma’am,” he answered, far more politely than I would have.

  “That’s true,” I interjected. “Just yesterday, I was in this dark basement with these two vampires and—”

  Mom cut me off with, “That’s nice, dear,” before turning back to her prey. “And what about your family, Duke?

  He looked to Phoebe, who turned to me. I shrugged.

  “What about them?” He swallowed a bite of bread.

  “Well, are they all well? What I mean is—are there any unfortunate genetic conditions in your family medical history?”

  At that, I laughed so hard that red wine shot out my nose. Luckily, I had my napkin over my face. This was actually a standard Mom question. For her, boyfriends were nothing more or less than potential breeding stock.

  I remembered the first time she’d met Shane and asked him the same thing. He’d responded that the only unfortunate genetic conditions were his Uncle Peter, who was a sword swallower in the traveling circus and his Aunt Bernie, the bearded lady. Mom’s eye had twitched, but Dad had laughed his ass off and promptly told Mom to leave the boy alone.

  Duke wasn’t going to get so lucky. He sort of sat there with his mouth open, a bite of food falling off his raised fork.

  “Mom, that’s enough.” I turned to Duke. “You’ll have to excuse her. Her brain-to-mouth filter is in the shop.”

  Mom folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t apologize for me. It’s a legitimate question. Especially these days.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Phoebe finally piped up.

  “I’m just being cautious.”

  “Ma, enough,” I said sternly.

  She shot me a look that clearly said, “We’ll talk about this later,” but she didn’t push the subject.

  Bless her heart, Sarah decided to break the tension. “So, what made you decide to become a firefighter?” she asked pleasantly.

  “Well…” Duke smiled, and a dimple appeared to the left of his mouth. “I was living in New York, and I’d just started law school. One night, some of my friends and I went to this club inside this old warehouse. Somehow, a fire broke out. I got out all right, but one of my friends was trapped inside. The firemen got there and got everybody out, but it was too late for my buddy. That’s when I decided to change paths. I wanted to do something important, something that would really help people.”

  By the end of his tale, Mom was looking at Duke like he’d personally hung the moon. With a beaming smile, she offered him another slice of bread.

  I rolled my eyes. Before I could think of something to say, my phone rang.

  “Is that the theme song from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Sarah asked seriously.

  I nodded. “Yeah. You know how it is. If I can’t laugh about my ex-fiancé being turned into a bloodsucker, then who can?”

  I shot my mother an apologetic look and flipped open the phone, sliding my chair back from the table.

  “Hey. This is your escape call.”

  I could tell from the tone of Shane’s voice that something was wrong.

  “What’s the matter?” I asked, still in earshot of Mom, who was now glaring at me.

  “I’m just… tired,” he said as if trying to decide if that were the right word.

  I raised my voice just an octave and continued my “conversation.”

  “Are you sure this can’t wait ‘til tomorrow?” I pulled the phone away from my head and mouthed, I’m Sorry, to my mother. “Yeah, I’ll be there in ten…” I trailed off, surprised by a knock at the door.

  “If that’s you, Shane, I’m gonna…” I whispered sharply, making my way to the front of the house, holding the phone at my side as I pulled the door open.

  My sister Heather stepped inside. She wore a flowing, blue sundress and matching headscarf. She was layered with so much jewelry and bangles she looked like a gypsy.

  “Hey, sis! Did ya miss me?”

  I put the phone back to my head. “Um, Shane, I’m gonna have to call you back.”
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