601 Twilight Ln. – Kat Baxter

Oaktree! Hey man, how the fuck are you? It’s been too long. The unit isn’t the same without you, but I understand why you didn’t re-enlist. Rogers is still a dick and Jackson is still playing that damn guitar every chance he gets. I’d love to catch up, but the truth is, I need a favor. My baby sister has moved away from our parents’ home and is living in Cherry Falls. She got a job at our cousin’s tractor and feed store. Anyways, I’m just worried about her being in a new place. I know Cherry Falls isn’t anything like Syn City—where we grew up—but it would mean a lot if you’d check in on her now and again. Hope the police force is treating you good. Write when you can. Jacob FROM: AustinOaktree@mailme.com TO: Jacob_Blackmore99@uamail.gov SUBJECT: RE: My sister and a favor Say no more and consider it done. You know I owe you my life so anything you need—ever—and I’ll do it. Austin The following afternoon, when my shift is done, I go to make good on my promise to my buddy.


I get out of my patrol car and make my way to the doors of Rosie’s Tractor and Feed. It actually sits right behind my Mama’s diner, so I knew just what my army buddy was talking about. Rosie’s is kind of a landmark in Cherry Falls. Even though “feed” is right there in the name, they sell everything from basic hardware, to high end light fixtures, to locally sourced pickled veggies. There’s a yellow “Chicken X-ing” sign in the parking lot. Sure enough, as soon as I climb out of the cruiser, I see a gorgeous silver laced Wyandotte amble past like she owns the damn place. I chuckle as I follow her to door, she periodically stops to peck at the ground as we go. God, it’s good to be home. I greet a few people coming out of the store, people I’ve known my entire life, it seems like. The random feed crumbs scattered on the floor crunch beneath my soles. The food store is a Quonset hut roughly the size and shape of a small airplane hangar, with wide open doors on either end that allow the free-range chickens and fresh breezes to pass through. All the feed and the heavier farm equipment are at the back of the building. The cash register is at the front, along with the housewares. As soon as I enter, I start looking for Jacob’s younger sister. I’ve seen a few grainy pictures of her on his phone, but not much more.

Even though Jacob and I grew up not too far from each other, we didn’t meet until we went to basic training. We became good friends when we were put into the same unit. He talked about his younger sister quite a bit, but I’ve never met her. Today, I’m just going to introduce myself and give her my card, let her know that if she ever needs anything she can call on me. It doesn’t feel like enough to pay a man back for saving my ass, but it’s the only thing he’s ever asked me for. I see an employee and go up to him. He looks to be about seventeen judging by the gangliness of his arms and legs. I hit that stage when I was fourteen and then grew like a beast, as my mother likes to remind me. I’m a big guy. On more than one occasion I’ve been mistaken for a professional football player. “Can you tell me if Selina Blackmore is working today?” I ask him. His name tag says his name is Pez, which I find hard to believe, but whatever. Kids today, you know? He eyes me up and down and then gives me a shit-eating grin. “She in trouble?” I give the kid a squinty glare and his smile fades. “Is she here?” I ask, ignoring his question.

He tosses a thumb over his shoulder. “In plumbing and irrigation.” “Thank you.” I nod to the boy and walk in the direction he pointed. I don’t know exactly what I’m expecting to find, what I’m expecting Jacob’s sister to look like, but the curvaceous bombshell wiggling her ass in the aisle lined with PVC and pipefittings isn’t it. She’s clearly listening to some music so I tap her on the shoulder, which makes her shriek and jump. She spins around to face me and it’s like the entire world switches to slow motion. Big brown eyes, heavily lined and accented with make-up widen. Her sharp brows arch and her impossibly full mouth opens. She pulls earbuds out and pockets them, then pops a hip out and sets her fists on her waist. “What the ever loving hell, Boy Scout? You scared the crap out of me.” My dick twitches in my uniform pants and this is so not the time, for so many reasons. Fuck. I clear my throat. “Are you Selina?” Those dark eyes of hers move down my body and I can feel her gaze like a lover’s touch, despite the fact that her gaze holds only cool disdain.

Shit, it’s been too long since I’ve been with a woman. I really should have gotten laid as soon as I got back state side. I move a few steps closer and see her name tag which confirms she’s Selina. She’s short, at least a foot shorter than me and her dark brown hair is pulled up into two buns – kinda like Princess Leia only on top of her head instead of on the sides. There’s a few brown whisps that have come free and are framing her pretty face. Her full cheeks and round face make her look like she’s sweet as pie, but that mouth and those eyes tell another story. This woman is all sass and vinegar—and fuck me—but it is working for me. Big time. Despite that, I try to focus on my mission. “I’m a friend of your brother’s, Jacob.” “I know who my brother is,” she says, with an eye roll. “We served in the Army together.” “Good for you. Can I get back to work now or did you need something?” I smile at her because I just can’t help myself. “He asked me to check in on you.

I hear you’re new to town.” Another eye roll. “Look, I grew up in Syn City. I know how to take care of myself.” “Never suggested you didn’t. But I promised your brother I’d look in on you.” “Well, you’ve done it now.” She makes a shooing motion with her hands. “Be gone with you.” I toss back my head and laugh. “Sweet girl, you are just full of fire, aren’t you?” “You have no idea.” I pull my card out of one of my front pockets and hold it out to her. “If it’s all the same to you, I made a promise to your brother.” I shake the card a few times until she finally snatches it from my hand. “I’m Austin.

Call any time if you need anything.” “Not likely,” she snaps. “I’ll be seeing you around, sweet girl.” “Stop calling me that.” I wink and then I turn and walk away. CHAPTER 2 Selina I focus on restocking the easy lock fittings, waiting until I know he’s no longer behind me before shaking my hands out to dispel the tension radiating through my body. Holy hotness! That man was both huge & beautiful. Short cropped blond hair, blue eyes framed with long thick lashes and just enough scruff to make him look not completely wholesome. But I know the type. Those too good to be true guys. The ones that are so handsome they look like models or movie stars. The ones that have honey coated tongues that make you believe their stupid lies until you fall in love with them and then they throw you under the bus if you don’t give them everything they want. Men that pretty are used to getting the world handed to them. They’re too damn spoiled. I no longer have the time or patience to deal with that shit.

Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt. I hate men that make me nervous and self-conscious. I hate even more that there are men out there that have the power to make me feel so self-conscious when I should be old enough to know better! I shake out my hands again and go back to stocking the drip irrigation supplies. And now I’m pissed at my stupid brother. What the hell is wrong with him that he’d ask a complete stranger to check in on me? And a cop, no less. I’m sure that’s the last I’ll see of Hot Cop though because I gave him a full dose of my bitchiness. My mother would have chastised me with some dated metaphor about bees and honey. My dad would have pointed out that bees make honey, so trying to attract them with honey is absurd. And then my dad would have a good laugh. At least, that’s how it would have gone down before and my father would have been amused. Well, at least he would have been at some point. Before the light drained from his eyes while he started fighting a string of shitty health crises that started with reactive joint pain and ended up with active tuberculosis. Six months ago, I thought TB was the kind of thing people only got in third world countries. Turns out it’s making a comeback in the U.S.

—especially in places with lots of tourists and lots of smoking. Since my dad’s job at one of the casinos provided lots of both, but shitty insurance, he’s stuck at home for at least a year, taking very expensive medications that insurance barely put a dent in (and that was before he lost his job). Neither of my parents wanted me at home, where my own risk of getting TB from dad was increased. So they farmed me out to my cousin Rosie. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the TB-free place to live and the job at the Tractor and Feed. I’m grateful I have a place to live and work while I’m finishing up some of my on-line courses. I really am. And, Rosie is even letting me use her barn to work on my welding and building skills so that when I can move back home and finish up my degree at the local tech school I won’t be too far behind. But what I don’t have time for is to have some boy scout army buddy of Jacob’s babysit me. Yes, my brother is over there protecting our country, blah, blah, blah. But I’m the one over here fighting the war at home. A war that consists of saving every penny to pay off my parents’ growing credit card debt and relentless amounts of paper work trying to get the insurance or Medicare or someone to help with the tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of antibiotics that are keeping my father alive and my mom from getting it too. I don’t miss living in Syn City, but I do miss my parents, even my hard-to-please-easyto-disappoint mom. As crazy as it sounds, I miss being able to do more. Putting the boy scout out of my head, I decide to just forget this encounter ever happened and just get back to the important things in life.

Like working overtime and as many extra shifts as I can to help pay for my dad’s medical treatment. Three days later, after a long shift, I walk into Auntie Oakley’s Roadside Diner for a quick hot meal and a piece of pie. This week has kicked my ass and I’ve been thinking about this pie all day. I nod at Liza, the owner, and make my way to a booth and slide onto the bench seat. I’m perusing the plastic laminated menu when I feel the entire booth shift as someone sits across from me. I drop the menu and fuck me. There he is again. Damn, boy scout. This time he’s in plainclothes, wearing a tight black t-shirt. “Hey, Selina,” he says with a cocky grin. I give him the squint eye. “Do I know you?” Then I snap my fingers like I’m trying to remember an unimportant detail. “Wait … is it Houston? Boston? Something like that?” He chuckles. “Austin.” “I don’t recall inviting you to sit with me.

” “Only because you didn’t see me when you walked in.” He grins and I swear I spontaneously ovulate. How is he this attractive? It’s annoying. Stupid handsome smile and those lines that fan out from the corners of his eyes that tell me he’s got an easy and ready smile. He’s a friendly and happy guy, they say. Well, fuck that! I’m grumpy and I like it. “Hmm.” I make a noncommittal noise that I hope will scare him away, and pick up the menu again to block out his stupid pretty face. “Hi Selina, I thought that was you.” The familiar voice makes me smile. I drop my menu to find the owner of the diner standing at our table. “Ms. Liza,” I say. “How are you?” “I’m good, darling. But I didn’t know you knew my son.

” “Oh, I don—” My words are cut off when Austin stands and one-arm hugs the older woman and smacks a kiss on her cheek. “Hey Mama,” he says. He slides back into the booth and gives me a wink. Infuriating man! And now I find out he’s the son of one of my most favorite people that I’ve met since moving to Cherry Falls. Liza looks at me with that sweet, genuine smile of hers and I realize that their eyes are similar. I fight the urge to roll my eyes while I curse my luck. “What are you having tonight, darling?” she asks me. I hold the menu out to her. “Grilled cheese on rye and fries. Extra pickles on the side, please.” She nods, then looks at her son. “Your usual?” “Yes ma’am.” She knocks on the table, then walks away. “Is that for real?” I ask. “What?” “That charming, good boy, manners thing you’ve got going on?” His grin broadens.

“You think I’m charming, sweet girl?” “I think you’re annoying.” “Nah, I think you enjoy my company.” “And you’re clearly delusional.” He laughs and the sound is so appealing that I lose track of the straw from my drink and nearly stick it right up my nose. Zero cool is my motto. The truth is, the good ol’ manners are a little charming, but I could have over looked them. I know all too well that manners and actions are not the same thing. His quick wit is another matter entirely. His ability to smile through my barbs and turn it into banter completely disarms me. Or rather, it would disarm me if I let it. Which I will not. I have more than enough on my plate without being distracted by a charming boy scout, thank you very much. Thankfully his mother saves me when she sets our food down in front of us. The smell of my perfectly-grilled-with-too-much-butter-sandwich makes my mouth water. Should I eat a salad or at least something remotely healthy? Yes, probably.

But my ass is already big so what’s one more serving of fries gonna hurt? I pop a fry in my mouth, then eye the burger on Austin’s plate. At least he didn’t order a salad. Liza steps away from the table without saying anything and suddenly this feels very intimate. Sharing a meal with someone is supposed to mean something. Isn’t it? But this isn’t a date. Not that the big, beautiful man across from me would be interested in someone like me anyways. You know what? It doesn’t have to mean anything. He sat down at my table. So whatever. “So what’s with the extra pickles?” he asks, nodding to my plate. I shrug. “I like sour things.” “Fair enough.” We eat in silence for a while and it’s not nearly as awkward as I would have guessed it would be. And when we’re done, I try to pay, but he’s already taken care of the bill.

He walks me to my car and it’s all feeling very date-like again. Once I’m in the driver’s seat and buckled, he knocks his knuckles on the roof of my car. “Night, Selina. I’ll be seeing you.” I don’t respond and I spend the entire rest of the night ignoring all the annoyingly cliched butterflies in my stomach.

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Updated: 15 July 2021 — 18:51

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