Just one of the guys, p.10
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       Just One of the Guys, p.10

           Kristan Higgins
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Page 10

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Trevor’s parents divorced later that same year, as is common with couples who lose a child, I later learned. Things weren’t great to begin with, apparently, but after Michelle died, Mr. Meade moved to California, and Mrs. Meade stopped being much of a mother anymore. I gathered from many an eavesdropped conversation between my parents that Mrs. Meade was drinking a lot, and worse, that she was not nice when she drank. Mom called her up, talked in what we called her Father Donnelly voice, the gentle, compassionate one reserved for teachers and clergy members. Trevor started coming to our house more and more, where he was fed and fussed over and made to laugh almost against his will. Before long, he was sleeping in the bottom bunk in Mark’s room on weekends, shooting pool with Jack and Lucky in the basement, helping Mom wash the dishes after dinner.

  After that first year, he became a lot of fun, a king of practical jokes which often involved wildlife and my bedroom. He complimented Mom’s cooking (something none of us ever did) and shadowed Dad in the garage. Once or twice, he helped me with my math homework when a brother wasn’t available, and occasionally he would play basketball with me. If he ever noticed that I worshipped him, he was kind enough not to comment. Instead, he treated me like, well, like one of the guys, including me when my own brothers might have ignored me. When I, a mere high school sophomore, came downstairs in a poofy floor-length gown for the senior prom of a boy in Jurgenskill, Matt and Mark howled that I looked like Lucky in drag. Trevor told me I looked pretty.

  How could I not love him?

  During his senior year of high school, Trevor’s mom moved to Idaho to live with her sister. Trevor spent the year with us, carefully perfect as the not-quite son, never sulking like a true O’Neill, never insulting or overly loud, calling my parents Mike and Mom, doing chores without being asked, almost as if he was afraid he’d be kicked out if he was anything less than wonderful.

  It was my father he loved the most, I think. Matt and Mark were his best friends, Jack and Lucky the older brothers he never had. I was a substitute, perhaps, for the little sister who would never grow older than ten. Mom’s heart ached for him, and she doted on him and spoiled him in a way that she never spoiled us, because after all, we already knew we were loved. But our dad…Our dad became the father Trevor desperately needed. Dad taught him to drive, gave him the lecture on safe sex, and let him hang out at the firehouse on weekends, putting him to work polishing the trucks and cooking for the guys. My father was who Trevor wanted to be.

  These thoughts all come back to me as I walk into Emo’s one night later that week. At the booth in the corner, sit Dad and Trevor, deep in a conversation of considerable gravity, it seems, judging by their expressions. A few other members of the gang are there as well, but clearly Dad is addressing Trevor, barely sparing a glance for Jake or Paul.

  In some ways, Trevor is just as much my father’s son as the biological O’Neill boys. Trevor has a sense of respect for my dad that’s missing from his own biological children, as if with shared DNA comes the entitlement to ignore and mock one’s parent. Trev folds his arms just the way Dad does, drinks the same type of beer, uses Dad’s mysterious word “jamoke” to connote a person’s idiocy. Now that Dad lives on his own, Trevor often hangs out at Dad’s or invites him over for dinner.

  “Hi, Chas!” a few of the other members of C Platoon call as they catch sight of me.

  I walk over to the booth, which is situated right under a photo of the tragic Lou Gehrig, pride of the Yankees. “Hey, guys!”

  “What are you doing here, pretty girl?” Santo asks.

  “Dinner,” I tell him, smiling. Dropping in at Emo’s for dinner is becoming something of a sacred tradition for me. I hate to cook. Cooking is wasted on one person, and Matt works so much overtime these days that, even if I could manage to create something tasty…well, no point in even following that train of thought. I’m my mother’s girl when it comes to the kitchen.

  “My girl! Just the person I wanted to talk to,” Dad says. An empty shot glass and a pint of Guinness sit in front of him, and he already seems a little tipsy. “Don’t anyone talk about Chastity’s little incident at the toy store, okay, boys?” he orders.

  “Gee, thanks, Dad. You’re a master of subtlety. ”

  “Have a seat, Chastity,” Trevor says, getting up to grab a chair. I genuflect briefly in front of St. Lou and join the table.

  C Platoon consists of my dad, the captain, and Paul, Santo, Jake and Trevor. Also Joey “Hoser” McGryffe, but he’s been out with a knee injury, and today Matt is covering for him.

  “How about a Bud and some wings, Stu?” I call to the bartender. He nods agreeably.

  “Have you spoken to your mother?” Dad demands.

  “Sure,” I say.

  “Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea, her dating,” he continues. Jake, an ass-kisser, nods emphatically. “Are you really going to do that singles crap with her, Chastity?” Dad continues. “Go cruising for seedy men you barely know?”

  I sigh audibly and with great exaggeration. My father has called me no fewer than eleven times to discuss this matter. Stu brings me my beer. “Thanks, Stu, old buddy. Dad, I’m just keeping her company, okay? Trying to make sure she stays safe,” I say, hoping he’ll remain silent on my own single state. “I’ll keep an eye on her, don’t worry. ”

  “Good girl, good girl,” Dad nods. “Listen, Porkchop, why don’t you do this? You get the name of any scumbag interested in your mother, and you give it to me. I’ll take care of the rest. ”

  I glance at Trevor, who makes a subtle “cut him off” sign to Stu. “I don’t think so, Dad. ”

  “Why? You want your mother attacked by some pervert?” Matt snorts.

  “I don’t think Betty would go for some pervert,” Trevor murmurs.

  “Shut up, you. She’s not going for anyone,” Dad snaps.

  “Excuse us, we’re gonna shoot some pool,” Santo says, rising along with Paul. “Jake? Want to play?”

  “Not really,” Jake says, but Paul grabs him by the collar and drags him up.

  Stu delivers my wings and slips my dad a glass of seltzer water.

  “Listen, Dad,” I say, trying to keep my voice friendly. “I’ll watch out for Mom, but I’m not spying on her. Sorry. Matt, get your hand away from my plate or draw back a bloody stump. ”

  “You will be sorry, when you have some lecherous creep for a stepfather. ” Dad takes a sip of his water and sulks.

  “I’m not getting a stepfather,” I say with great patience, taking a bite of chicken. “She’s just trying to get you to retire. Pulling the jealousy card. ”

  “Retire!” My father snorts as if I’d just suggested he smother kittens. “Why would I retire?”

  I roll my eyes and slap Matt’s hand as he tries to steal another chicken wing. I can’t help noticing that Trevor changed before coming here, unlike the rest of his platoon. He’s wearing a white T-shirt that makes his eyes look even darker. Molten chocolate, God help me. His hair is tousled—needs a trim, probably—and my hand is twitching to smooth it. The sleeves of his T-shirt stop right on the curve of his brawny biceps. Beautiful arms. Damn. I force my eyes away to the dimples of Lou Gehrig. Trevor and I were together once. Didn’t work out. End of story. No point in tormenting myself.

  “Chastity!” Jake calls from the pool table, rescuing me. “Come over here! I need you, babe. ” He grins wickedly at me, and I smile back gratefully. Not that Jake means anything by it…anything with a pulse and two breasts, that’s his motto. I take my beer, leaving Matt the last chicken wing, and join him. “Atta girl,” Jake says. “Now, you can see what a mess I’ve gotten into. Can you sink that little baby over there?”

  “Of course I can,” I answer, sucking some sauce off the side of my thumb. “Stand back and learn, boys. Five ball, center pocket. ” I take the cue, bend over and shoot. There’s a satisfying smack as the cue ball hits the or
ange five ball, which bounces off the rail and glides to the center pocket.

  “Well done,” Jake murmurs from behind me.

  “Don’t you be looking at my daughter’s ass!” dear old Dad bellows from twenty feet away. “Jake! You wanna lose some teeth?”

  “Sorry, Cap! Force of habit. ” Jake grimaces. “No offense, Chastity. ”

  “None taken, Jake,” I say, batting my eyelashes.

  Trevor joins the four of us by the table to watch. “You guys may as well pay up now,” he tells Santo and Paul with a grin.

  “Six ball in the corner pocket. ” I lean, bridge, shoot, sink. Paul grimaces and takes out his wallet.

  “I don’t want my daughter to end up with some jamoke firefighter!” Dad continues.

  “Don’t worry, Dad. I won’t,” I say. “Two in the center. ” Clack, spin, thunk.

  Trevor winks at me. “Here she goes. ”

  I squint at my next victim. “Six ball in the back corner. ”

  “You’ll never make that shot,” Paul says.

  “Ten bucks says she can,” Trevor says right back.

  “Done. ” Paul folds his arm smugly. It is, granted, a tough shot. Mr. Six Ball will have to bank just shy of the eight ball, which is only a couple of centimeters from the pocket, then cross the entire length of the table to the left rear pocket. I’ll need to give the cue ball a good bit of English, but I’m not concerned. I’ve been playing pool with my brothers since I was five. I set up, study my angles, take the shot and, because I’m so incredibly cool, turn away for a sip of my beer before the six ball reaches its destination. It sinks into the pocket with a most satisfying thunk.

  “Shit!” Paul exclaims, and I blow my dad a kiss. He’s not looking, staring at the table glumly.

  “Thanks, Chas,” Trevor calls, taking Paul’s ten dollar bill.

  “Eight ball, side pocket. ” I lean over once more and win the game. “And I think we’re done, here, Jake. ”

  The guys applaud, and I grin.

  “Thank you, gorgeous. I mean, thanks, Chastity. ” Jake grins and accepts the five dollars from Paul.

  “I earned that, don’t you think?” I ask. Jake raises an eyebrow, hands me the five and gives me a lecherous look. Suddenly I feel kind of beautiful. I mean, after all, here I am, surrounded by men, some of whom are nonrelatives and single. Being one of the guys has occasional benefits.

  “Don’t you marry a firefighter,” Dad growls as I return to the table. “Bunch a’ jamokes, if you ask me. You’d just end up all bitter and dried up and angry, like your mother. ”

  “There’s a happy thought,” I murmur. Not that a firefighter would dare ask out the O’Neill girl, mind you. I kiss my dad’s bristly cheek, grab my jacket and head for home. Trevor will make sure Dad gets home okay. They only live half a block from each other.

  CHAPTER SIX

  THE NEXT NIGHT AFTER WORK, I take Buttercup on her nightly drag. I suck in a few breaths of the clean mountain air, and admire the neighbors’ gardens, which are bursting with daffodils and grape hyacinth. Buttercup stops to sniff a flower, then attempts to collapse upon it. “Come on, Butterbaby,” I say, tugging at the leash. She flops, just missing the flower, and gives me a mournful look, sighing deeply. A squirrel, correctly assessing her energy level, darts right over her front paw. Buttercup doesn’t move, just flops on her side, moaning. “Come on, Buttercup!” I end up hauling her to her feet and practically carry her home as she moans and wags. I think she kind of likes this form of transportation. “You’re pathetic,” I say laughing. She wags her tail agreeably.

  Ten minutes later, I’m showered, changed and on my way out again. Buttercup gives one mournful howl, sounding very much like a werewolf or the hound of the Baskervilles, then doubtlessly flops down for a snooze.
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