Condolences

Rachel Woe
25 mins read
Published about 2 months ago

place the sugar-coated butterscotch drop onto my tongue and lick the residual white powder from my fingers. As I swirl it from cheek to cheek, the saccharine bauble dissolves and my saliva takes on the flavors of heavy cream and hard liquor. If it weren’t for the watchful eyes of family, I would skip the butter and opt for plain scotch. 

Straddling the arm of the beige couch, I filch candy and people watch. Most of the guests are either family or friends-of-family, their sympathetic faces all blending together amidst black dresses, shirts, coats, shoes, and pants. I stare at my own black footwear. 

High heels click-clack across the hardwood. Aunt Liza has spotted me.

“Lauren, don’t sit there. You’ll break my couch.” 

“Sorry.” I drop onto the cushion.

“Have you seen your father?”

“No, not since we got back from the service.”

“Typical.” She glances at the half-empty bowl of butterscotch drops. “Did you eat all that candy?”

“Nope.”

“Good. You look like you’ve already succumbed to the Freshman Fifteen and the semester’s not even over.”

“Thanks.”

She sighs. “If you see your father, tell him the lawyers need to speak with him.”

“Now? The man’s been in the ground less than an hour.”

“Just tell him to find me.” She turns and strides toward a group of elderly men who fold her fake-tanned fingers between their gray palms, so sorry for her loss—our loss, I suppose. 

I barely knew my grandfather. When Mom called last week and asked me to come home for the funeral service, I almost refused.

“Your family needs you,” she’d said. 

Right.

I glance around the sterile, monochromatic living room. The few framed pictures mounted on the taupe walls are either black-and-white or sepia cityscapes. Dusty photographs of my grandparents and their children line the white mantelpiece in mismatched frames, as though they’d been collected from other areas of the house and strewn together to infuse the space with a semblance of filial tenderness. 

The doorbell sends my Aunt Liza scurrying into the hall. I nab another candy and accidentally drop a few specks of powdered sugar onto my dress. 

“Shit.” I swipe them away.

“Thank you so much for coming!” Aunt Liza’s shrill welcome resounds from the foyer. She escorts the new arrivals into the living room.

“Of course. Your father was a good man and a reliable business partner, once upon a time.” The older gentleman looks familiar; the deep grooves in his face a testament to his years. He is trailed by an elderly woman, a middle-aged couple, and a man about my age with a pointed face crowned by thick, light brown curls.

I know those curls.

“Lauren.” My aunt waves me over.

I stand and saunter over to them, my hands clasped behind me. 

“You remember Mr. Fowler, from the paper company.”

“Good to see you again, sir.” I nod.

“Yes, Miss Harrington,” he says. “Though, I wish it were under better circumstances.”

My aunt gestures to the young man. “And you must remember Oakley.”

I give him a quick once-over and smile curtly. “Yes. How are you?”

Oakley extends his hand. “I’ve been well. I’m sorry for your loss, Lauren.”

We shake. 

“Thanks. If you’ll excuse me, I need to find my father.” I turn and stride into the kitchen.

Oakley. Ugh. I scowl at the beverage spread along the stone countertop: Generic cola, orange soda, cranberry juice cocktail, fruit punch, an ice bucket and those red plastic cups most often associated with frat parties. I pour myself a cup of orange soda and then make my way to the backyard.

The leafless trees point their naked arms towards the gray November sky. It’s too cold to be wearing a knee-length dress outside but I bear the chill, preferring it to the cultish scene inside: all of us wearing similar uniforms and the same dismal expressions. 

I walk over to the wooden swing set my aunt and uncle installed for their kids before the divorce, coming down on the balls of my feet to keep my heels from sinking into the ground. I settle onto the small plank and sip my crappy soda.

The wooden beam above my head groans as I push myself forward and back. I close my eyes, hypnotized by the rhythmic swaying. Faint conversation drifts from the house. I concentrate on the whoosh of cold wind through the chattering branches. 

“It’s been a while.”

My eyes snap open and I turn to find Oakley leaning against one of the structure’s support beams. 

“Not really,” I say.

He nods at the empty swing. “Mind if I sit?”

“Do what you want,” I shrug. “It’s not my swing set.”

The structure creaks as Oakley lowers himself onto the swing beside me. I stare at my feet. 

“I’m sorry about your grandfather,” he says.

“You already said that.”

“I know.” He pauses. “Were you close? I mean, I know you used to come into work with your dad, but I don’t remember seeing you with your grandfather very much.”

“No. I hardly knew him. I was one of eight grandchildren and he never liked kids to begin with, so.” I shrug.

Oakley nods. He looks like a giant on the low-slung swing, his thighs at acute angles to his abdomen. “God, it’s been, what, six years since our grandfathers worked together?”

“Something like that.”

A few moments of silence pass between us. We watch the house.

“You look good, Lauren.” His voice is low.

“I look pretty much the same as I did in August.”

“You looked good then, too.”

“Are you seriously hitting on me at my grandfather’s wake?”

“Maybe. Is it working?”

“Nope.”

“Then, no, I’m not. That would unspeakably be rude.”

I roll my eyes. 

“Is it working now?” he whispers.

“You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m just hurt that you haven’t accepted my friend request.”

“I hate social media.”

“Or responded to any of my texts.”

“I hate…texts.”

“Is there anything you don’t hate?”

“Not right now, no.” I sip my soda.

He smiles. “How’s college trea—” 

“Look, Oakley.” I push myself out of the swing and stand before him. “You can cut the small talk, all right? I appreciate the feigned interest in my personal life but my threshold for bullshit is a bit lower than usual today.”

“What feigned interest?” His brow is knitted. “I’m genuinely curious.”

“No, you’re not. Quite frankly, you have no reason to be. You barely know me.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true.”

“What happened last summer was a mistake.”

“If I remember correctly, you initiated things.” He grins.

“That’s not the point. You seem to have forgotten the fact that you were a complete asshole to me when we were kids.”

“Can a kid really be an asshole?”

“You were. You made my life fucking miserable.”

Oakley sighs, running a hand through his tousled curls. “I was going through some stuff.” 

“What kid isn’t? And that’s not even the real issue. You can’t just show up at my grandfather’s wake and act like we’re friends.”

“Well, we’re not exactly strangers, Lauren.” He cocks an eyebrow.

“Fucking me doesn’t make you my friend, Oakley.”

“Maybe it should. At the very least, it should carry more weight than anything I did when I was still wetting the bed.”

“You know what? I don’t have time for this. My parents are probably looking for me.” I turn to go.

“Hey, wait a second.” The swing set creaks and a hand clamps onto my shoulder. 

I shrug him off. “We’re done, Oakley.”

My heels sink into the soft earth as I stomp back toward the house. Inside, I toss the empty cup and wander into the den, which is pleasantly unpopulated by grievers. I slump down into an old leather chair and scowl at the intricate patterns on the rug. 

Soft footsteps echo from the hall, followed by a gentle rapping on the door frame. My mother peers into the room, dark circles showing through the hastily applied concealer beneath her eyes.  “Hey, honey.”

“Hi.”

“You doin’ okay?”

“Just peachy. How’s Dad?”

“You know how he is.”

“Yeah.”

“I think it’ll hit him in a week or two when he realizes he can’t call your grandfather for tax advice.”

“Aunt Liza says the lawyers want to talk to him.”

“Of course they do.” She rubs her temple. “Vultures.”

“The lawyers or Aunt Liza?” I smirk.

“Both.”

I rest my head in my hand and lean heavily upon the chair’s armrest. “When can we leave?”

“Not for a while. We’re still waiting for Josh and Caroline to get back from their dad’s. Their flight was delayed.”

“Lucky little shits.”

“Language.”

“Sorry.”

 “I don’t think anyone’s in the basement. You can hang out down there for a bit if you need to.”

“Surrounded by Josh’s toy race cars and Caroline’s creepy dolls? No, thanks.” I rub my dry eyes.

“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to act like you give a damn.”

“Language.”

“I’m serious, Lauren. Your grandfather is dead. That should mean something to you.”

“The man barely spoke to me.”

“He loved you.”

“Bullshit.”

“Lauren!”

“What? It’s true. And don’t be surprised when you hear the same thing at Dad’s wake. Apathy runs in this family like blue eyes and Chrohn’s disease—especially among the Y chromosome carrying members.”

She shakes her head. “How convenient.”

“What?”

“It’s easy to hold grudges against dead men. That chip on your shoulder gets a lot heavier when the live ones start asking for forgiveness.”

“Oh, yeah? Does Dad get down on his knees every morning and beg for your forgiveness?”

She crosses her arms. “So bitter.”

“Bitterness is another Harrington family trait.”

“Then don’t be surprised when your kids inherit it.”

We glare at one another. My mother sighs and turns from the doorway, her footsteps receding into the hall. I stare out the bay window, the cloying flavors of butterscotch and orange soda lingering on my tongue. 

I rise to my feet and stomp down the hall and into the kitchen, nabbing an open bottle of white wine before making a beeline for the basement. Closing the door behind me, I pad down the carpeted staircase, surprised to find the lights on. I halt on the last step.

Oakley smiles at me from his spot on the floor beside Josh’s miniature racecar track. “Hey.”

I purse my lips, conflicted. “Hi.”

He releases a toy car from the tallest point on the track. It fails to complete the following loop, rolling back up the slope a few times before settling at the crux. “What’ve you got there?”

I glance down at the bottle. “Pinot Gris. 2007.”

“Not bad. Feel like sharing?”

Not really. 

“Fine.”

I kick my shoes off and pad across the plush beige carpet.  Oakley watches me, biting his lips together. He looks nervous. Settling onto the floor with my back against the gray couch, I take a swig of wine. It bites my throat. “Cheap shit.”

He chuckles, accepting the bottle. “Should’ve grabbed the Merlot my parents brought.”

“I prefer white.”

He sips and winces. “It’ll do.”

We pass the bottle back and forth. I glare at the pile of baby dolls beside the big screen TV, some sporting frizzy, chopped hairdos and others with no hair at all. Stacked bins filled with toy blocks and fashion dolls, including a few disembodied heads, line the entertainment center next to the collection of G and PG rated DVDs. 

“It’s like my childhood threw up down here,” I say.

“Yeah.” Oakley laughs. “I’ve been having a little too much fun playing with these.”

I pick up a red car with the number 45 scrawled across it in yellow. “I was never really into toy cars. I liked to build shit.” 

“Such as?”

“Houses, mostly. I would spend hours building these really elaborate homes for little plastic people but when the time came to actually play with them, I’d lose interest.”

He nods. “I was the opposite. Even my toy cars had families, but their houses looked like shit.”

A memory tugs at me. I scowl. “Do you remember how you used to smash the little structures I made while visiting my dad at the paper company? There was that one time when I thought I’d found the perfect hiding spot beneath his desk. I went to use the bathroom and when I came back, you’d stomped it to pieces.”

He blinks a few times, his eyes fixed on the racetrack. “Yeah. I remember.”

“I cried for almost an hour but my dad didn’t say or do anything because you were the boss’s kid.”

Oakley doesn’t move. 

“Then, when I was twelve and you were, what, thirteen? Yeah, that sounds right. I remember you stole one of my digital pet key chains and dropped it into the toilet. When I confronted you about it, you screamed at me. You said some mean, awful shit.”

“Right.” 

“Why’d you do it? It seemed like I couldn’t build a fucking outhouse without you making it your mission to destroy it.”

“It wasn’t just you. I broke almost every toy I owned.” He swallows. “My dad was kind of a dick. My earliest memory is of him yelling in my mom’s face one night when she forgot to pick up something at the store for some stupid party they were throwing. Every night he would launch into her for one reason or other. Eventually, he started doing the same to me.”

“Oh.” My stomach twists into a tight knot. I take a sip of wine.

“I remember this one time when he found a drawing in my backpack. It was a family portrait but I’d made him out to look like a big red bull with horns and smoke billowing from his nose. He got really angry. He didn’t hit me but he came close. I started wetting the bed soon after.”

I stare at my hands, wrapped around the bottle in my lap. “That’s awful.”

Oakley shrugs. “My parents went to couple’s counseling and things got better. I stopped wetting the bed and breaking shit but by that time, you’d moved away.”

I hand him the wine. “I didn’t know.”

“Few people did.” He drinks. His eyes meet mine as he returns the bottle to my hands. “I’m sorry, Lauren.”

“No, I’m sorry. It was thoughtless of me to even bring it up.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

I think back to the night we spent together last August, to my “going way” dinner at the Italian restaurant, and how my cheeks had burned with rage and mortification at the realization that the cute guy sauntering up to our table was Oakley, my childhood tormenter. 

“Why did you talk to me that night?” I ask.

“You mean at the restaurant?”

“Yeah.”

He sighs. “I watched you for a while. I wasn’t even sure it was you at first but you have the same hair color; the same full cheeks.”

“Thanks.” I snort. 

“Hey, stop. They’re adorable.” He smiles. “I know it may be hard to believe but underneath all the anger and lashing out, I really liked you. It wasn’t right by any means, but I always admired your resilience, how you could keep building cool things even after I’d ruined them—knowing I would ruin them.”

“I had no idea.” I sip the wine and pass the bottle. 

“I didn’t intend on sticking around that night. I’d just finished eating with my family when I came over to talk to you and then your friends asked if I wanted to hang out.”

“Yep.” I roll my eyes. “They were determined to get me laid before I left for college.”

He eyes me warily. “You’re not saying—”

“What?”

“That wasn’t like, your first time, right?”

“Oh, God, no.” I wave my hand. “But it had been a while.”

“Okay, phew.” He laughs.

“Don’t sound so broken up about it there, Oaks.”

“No, no! I—” He stutters, weaving both hands into his light brown curls. “I just—”

“I’m giving you shit. Calm down.”

He shakes his head. “You were nothing like I expected.”

“Oh? What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know. But whatever those expectations were, you’ve surpassed them.”

“Then they must’ve been set pretty low because I’m kind of an asshole.”

“Yeah, but I like that about you. You don’t take shit from anyone.” 

“Except my family.”

“That comes with the territory.”

I nod. Oakley hands me the bottle and our fingers touch. Heat rushes to my face. 

“You’re still quick to blush, though. That hasn’t changed.”

“Shut up.” I smirk.

“I’ll admit to being a bit taken aback by your brashness.”

“You mean when I grabbed your junk on the ride home?”

“Yeah, that.” He grins. 

The wine warms my belly and softens my mood. I’m coaxed back to that night in the backseat of Oakley’s car: our breath fogging the windows; his long, sinewy fingers sliding down the front of my shorts to stroke my clit; the smell of sweat and sex permeating the cramped space as we crashed into one another.

My pussy tightens. I swallow. He swallows.

Oakley sets the almost empty wine bottle on the floor and comes to sit beside me. He stares at my mouth, his breathing heavier than before. I reach back and grip the edge of the couch, lifting myself onto the overstuffed cushion. He follows. 

I lick my lips. “Hey.”

“Hey.” 

I lean forward and touch my forehead to his. Our eyes close as we linger in this brief period of sweetness, before lips and tongues and genitals collide. I lay my palm on his knee and slide it towards his groin. Oakley’s breath hitches.

Our lips graze one another and fuse. He’s cautious. His mouth brushes mine as though each kiss were a question, but as my palm settles over his swollen groin, a low rumble escapes his throat. Oakley’s mouth is now insistent. His lips part to slip between mine, coaxing my tongue to come out and make friends. 

I squeeze Oakley’s cock through his black dress pants. He groans. With my free hand, I tug my skirt up above my thighs and grasp his palm, lowering it to my underwear. His fingers touch the damp black fabric. He hums. I spread my legs wider, crossing my knee over his, letting him massage my pussy through the thin material. 

My clit aches. Pushing his palm against me, I bite his lower lip. “I need your fingers.” 

Oakley slips his hand down past the waistband. I moan around our writhing tongues as he slides his finger along my slit, teasing me. I massage his cock as he slips between my pussy lips, settling his fingertips over my sensitive nub. He strokes slowly, with agonizing control. 

I find his belt buckle and start tugging. Oakley helps me loosen it, unbuttoning his slacks as I yank the zipper down over his erection. I slip my hand into his pants, remarking at how hot and firm he is through the skimpy fabric of his boxers. Locating the fly, I reach inside and take his cock into my hand, liberating it.

Oakley’s mouth devours mine as I run my hand along him, gripping his tightly stretched foreskin and drawing it back and forth upon his shaft. I break from our kiss to glance down at his erection, smearing the droplet of pre-cum onto the head. Gently pulling the foreskin down, I focus on the exposed head and frenulum as more clear liquid oozes from the tip. Oakley’s mouth recaptures mine. He circles my clit harder, faster, and I can feel the muscles in my pussy clenching as the pressure builds. His cock pulsates in my hand. I tighten my grip. 

The ceiling creaks and footsteps thud overhead. We freeze, listening. Oakley kisses my cheek trailing delicate pecks along my jaw and down my neck. He slides his hand out of my panties and cups my breast, thrusting it upward and kissing the resulting mound of flesh. I whimper. He wraps an arm around my waist, easing me onto the couch lengthwise and positioning himself over me. I continue to stroke him, pre-cum dripping onto my skirt. Oakley tugs the crotch of my panties aside and resumes stroking my clit as his teeth claim a small swatch of my neck.

My clit throbs. I’m so close to coming it hurts. “Do you have a condom?”

He pauses. “Shit.”

I turn, shoving him off of me. 

He tumbles onto the carpet beside the couch with a confused expression and his cock jutting out of his black pants. I climb off the sofa and reach beneath my skirt, sliding my panties down my legs and tossing them to the side. 

Oakley watches me, arms splayed at his sides; his cock twitching. 

“I’m going to sit on your face,” I say.

He beams. I kneel astride his head, facing his torso with my dress bunched above my waist. Oakley grips my thighs, positioning me over his mouth. I settle my weight onto his chest and grasp the base of his cock as he swirls his tongue over my clit.

“Fuck!” I squeal. My mouth hangs open as he laps at my pussy, drawing a finger around the opening.

Regaining my focus, I gently tug the foreskin back and take the head of his cock into my mouth. Oakley groans, his hips thrusting of their own volition. I slide further down, taking as much of him as I can manage. His skin tastes briny and there’s a slight musk emanating from his groin; a faint, masculine smell that makes my pussy throb.

Oakley’s tongue ripples over my clit, sending jolts of pleasure coursing throughout my pelvis. I bob my head up and down his length, stroking his shaft with my hand in time with my movements. He thrusts two fingers inside me and I arch my back, crying out, momentarily distracted. I feel his cock pulse in my hand.

“Why didn’t you go down on me in August?” I ask.

“Not enough room in the car.”

“Well, if you had, I might’ve accepted your friend reque—ah!” 

Oakley’s tongue flutters across my clit. I squirm at the feather-light touch.

“Okay, I can’t do this.” I pant.

“Huh?”

“Multitasking. It’s not my thing.”

“That’s okay. Relax. Let me make you come.”

I slump onto his torso with his cock beside my face. Oakley’s tongue undulates over my clitoris as his slick fingers thrust in and out of my pussy. I close my eyes and breathe in his scent, petting his erection with my hand every few seconds. 

“You know,” I say, “sometimes it’s nice to just hold or look at a man’s cock with no pressure to make it do anything.”

Oakley laughs softly. He withdraws his fingers and slides his tongue up to the entrance of my pussy. I gasp as he snakes it inside, teasing and exploring. I squeeze his cock absently, gliding the tip of my tongue across his urethra. He moans, the sound reverberating throughout my groin.

“Oh my god,” I say. “Do that again.”

He groans, drawing it out over a few seconds.

“Do it to my clit.”

Oakley slides his tongue out of me and fixes his mouth over my clitoris. He hums and my entire lower body quakes. I embed my face into his thigh crease and cry out, the sound muffled by his clothing. He continues to hum and lick and suck and squeeze. My knees threaten to give out and, for a second, I am genuinely concerned about suffocating him with my pussy. 

He holds firmly to my hips, his tongue unrelenting. I cling to the fabric of his jacket as the throbbing behind my clit deepens and swells. Clenching my jaw, I press myself against his mouth as the orgasm takes me. My eyes clamp shut and every muscle in my body tightens and releases in quick succession. 

Gasping for breath, I shudder as Oakley kisses my clitoris. 

“Wow,” I say.

“I take it you enjoyed that.”

My fingers ache as I release his jacket. I rise onto my forearms and grasp the base of his cock, taking him as far back into my throat as I can manage and then slowly dragging my lips and tongue over his length. 

“Oh, fuck.” His fingertips bite into my hips.

I salivate over him, spreading it evenly along the shaft. His foreskin peels back easily and I take a few moments to focus on the hot pink head, swirling my tongue over the salty tip and underneath the ridge.

Oakley’s breath is hot on my pussy. “I want to watch.”

Releasing his cock, I roll onto my side and crawl between his legs. Stroking his cock with one hand, I lift and fondle his balls with the other, lapping my tongue over them in long strokes.

Oakley moans. “Oh my God, Lauren.”

I glance up. He’s watching me with half-lidded eyes, his lips glossy from eating me out. I run my tongue along his cock from base to tip. Focusing on the frenulum, I kiss him, alternating between soft pecks and long, lavish strokes. His head lolls back as I gently slap the head of his cock against my flattened tongue.

“I forgot what a nice cock you have,” I say.

He chortles. “Thanks.”

“It’s a real shame neither of us brought rubbers.”

“Next time one of our relatives dies, we’ll know to come prepared.”

I laugh. He grins, his chest heaving. Without warm-up or warning, I devour his cock, bobbing my head and cradling his balls. Oakley cries out, clapping a hand over his mouth and then biting his forefinger. I concentrate on breathing through my nose. 

Oakley reaches down and lays a hand on my palm, which is resting on his abdomen. I maintain my rhythm, grateful for the soft carpet beneath us. His cock pulses. He’s close. 

With the head grazing the back of my throat, I let out a low hum. Oakley squeezes my palm and arches up from the floor, gasping.

“What do you want me to do?” He wheezes.

I squeeze his hand and he groans, collapsing onto the floor as his cock spasms and spurts. Still humming, I wait until he’s finished before I swallow, letting him slip from my mouth. I wipe my lips on the back of my hand. Oakley breathes deeply, still staring at the ceiling, dazed. 

Smoothing my dress back over my thighs, I come to sit beside him. Oakley tucks his cock back into his pants with languid fingers before rolling over and resting his head in my lap. I pet his unruly curls and stroke his jaw. Glancing around the room, I am only mildly unnerved by the notion that the creepy dolls were watching us. 

Oakley closes his eyes and wraps his arms around my crossed legs. 

“As nice as it would be to take a nap, we should probably go back upstairs,” I say.

He whines, tightening his grip. “A nap sounds better.”

“It does.” My stomach gurgles. “But there’s food upstairs and I’m hungry.”

“But how will I endure the scrutiny of your entire family with the knowledge that I just shot my wad into the back of your throat?”

“With the same poise and maturity needed for me to thank your parents for coming after I came all over their son’s face.”

He opens his eyes and smiles.

“Come here,” I say. 

Oakley rises onto his knees. I take his face into my hands and plant kisses on his cheeks. He pulls me toward him, burying his hands in my hair.

“Fine,” he says. “Let’s go.” 

We stretch and climb to our feet. Oakley grabs my underwear from the floor and offers them to me. 

I chuckle. “You want ‘em?”

“Can I?” He grins.

“Sure, knock yourself out.”

He crumples them into a coarse ball and tucks them into his pocket. We listen for conversation and footsteps at the basement door. When the coast sounds clear, we venture out, sighing with relief at our good fortune. As I’m about to step into the hall, Oakley grasps my arm and pulls me back for a final kiss. 

He enters the living room first and claims a seat on the sofa. I follow a few seconds later, casually striding over to sit beside him.

“Smooth,” he whispers.

“Fuck you.”

“My Nana’s on her last leg. I give her six months, tops.”

I punch his arm, reining in a smile.

“Ow.” He massages his bicep.

I glance at the side table: two butterscotch drops remain in the candy bowl. I pick it up and offer one to Oakley. He accepts, popping it into his mouth and then muttering a quiet, “Fuck” as he notes the sprinkling of powdered sugar on his lapel. 

I take the last candy, savoring the union of cream, sugar, alcohol and Oakley. 

The front door creaks open in the hallway and the signature din of Aunt Liza’s voice is accompanied by an even higher one. 

“Mommy, the plane took forever!” Caroline clomps into the living room, rubbing her eyes.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. Here, wait don’t track dirt into the house.”

My mother and Josh are the last to enter, lugging the kids’ child-sized suitcases. I flash my mom a quick apologetic smile. She nods. 

“Lauren!” Caroline shrieks and bounces over to me.

“Hey, Carebear.” I feign nonchalance. “How was your trip?”

“Bad! We sat on the runway for hours.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I pat her back. 

“Who’s this?” She eyes Oakley with suspicion. 

“This is Oakley. He’s an…old friend.”

Aunt Liza clomps over to us, winded. “My God, with the incompetency of the airline industry, I’m surprised they can even get those things off the runway.”

“I’m hungry.” Josh, a couple years older than Caroline, stands off to the side staring blankly at his handheld gaming device. 

“There’s food in the kitchen. Use paper plates. I don’t want a mountain of dishes when this is all over.” Aunt Liza turns to us. “Where have you two been?”

“Uh—” I stutter. “Mourning. In the den.”

“This whole time? I haven’t seen you for almost an hour.”

“We went outside,” says Oakley. “You have a lovely swing set.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. We installed it last year but Caroline’s the only one who really uses it.”

“Well, it definitely brought us back.” Oakley clasps my hand in full view of my family. I tense.

“Aww, you two.” My aunt gushes. “Now wouldn’t that be the sweetest thing: childhood friends reuniting after all these years!”

I glare at Oakley in my peripheral vision. He smiles. “It really would.”

“Mommy,” says Caroline. “Can Lauren babysit for us?”

“That’s a fantastic idea, honey. Lauren, are you available?”

“Well, I’m only here until the end of the week, but—” 

“Oh, that’s perfect! I have a meeting Thursday night. And Oakley, as lovely as it is to see you, I’m afraid it’s no boys allowed.”

He chuckles, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “I understand.”

I want to kill him. I want to shove butterscotch drops down his throat until he suffocates.

“Well, since you’re family, Lauren, I’ll make sure to disable the Nanny Cam.”

“The Nanny what?” I ask.

“The Nanny Cam in the basement.” She covers her mouth in a vain attempt to sound secretive. “Caroline never plays with her baby dolls, so I installed one of those little surveillance cameras into one of them to make sure the local babysitters aren’t falling asleep or watching inappropriate television while the children are awake. It’s motion-sensitive—very efficient. Come to think of it, I think the darn thing is still active. Anyway, you’d be amazed to hear what some people try and get away with.”

Oakley’s entire arm tenses around my shoulder like a vice. I force my mouth to smile. 

“Yes, I’m sure we would be.” 


Also by Rachel:

En Route
Haunted Hearts: A Ghost Story
House Rules

Little Red
Make It Right

Unconventional Methods

Unfinished Business
Wading In

RW
Written by
Rachel Woe

Rachel Woe is a forbidden love junkie who probably watched too many inappropriate movies as a teenager. A longtime lover of risqué fiction, she used to smuggle Story of O and The Sleeping Beauty trilogy to school, folded inside brown-bag book covers. On the rare occasion when she’s neither reading nor writing, you can find her camped out at the back of the cinema or on the hunt for a perfect Irish eggs Benny.