Rebellious – Kristy Marie

“I brought beer, tissues, and a can of whoop-ass. Which do you want first?” My neighbor arches a brow but makes no move to push open the door and allow me in. I never wanted neighbors—especially ones that lived on my property. Sure, we have a hundred plus acres, but that doesn’t mean my wife, Anniston, should extend our good fortune and allow her business partner and his wife to take up residence on our land. First, it was Sunday dinners. Next came joint vacations, and now… kidnapping. “I think we start with the whoop-ass and follow it up with the tissues.” I promised Anniston I wouldn’t break any bones. A bloody nose… well, that’s still an option. I nod to the six-pack in my hand. “I brought beer because, unlike you, I’m a decent neighbor and thought it would be tacky to kick your ass and drink your beer.” Cade, my neighbor and my wife’s business partner, stands imposing against the slim opening in the front door. Dog tags hang against his t-shirt, making him seem a lot more Marine-like than someone should be at three in the morning. “How considerate of you, Von Bremen. I would expect nothing less from such a fine citizen like yourself.


” I thought it was considerate too. Honestly, when I found my daughter’s room empty, I had no reservations about grabbing a baseball bat and breaking every window of my neighbor’s home until I located my little girl. But my wife, the rational one, convinced me I should negotiate with the kidnappers by humanizing our daughter and all that bullshit. So, I reassessed and decided the best way to do that was to remind our neighbor that even though he is mammoth-sized, he’ll still bleed like a mortal when I take a bat to his face. Fine, Anniston threatened me and made me leave the bat on the porch. If Cade doesn’t let me in with the thoughtful gifts in hand, I will go back for Plan A. “You know, Jameson,” I say, shoving the six-pack in his hands, moving him back a step. “I’m getting awfully sick of finding my daughter’s bed empty in the middle of the night. Frankly, it’s not very neighborly. It’s one thing to borrow sugar, but it’s another to borrow one’s child.” I exhale into the night air. “I’m sorry your kid has a hard time falling asleep, but buy him a damn nightlight.” I level him with a flat look. “I told you Aspen does not glow around your son, no matter what her mama says.” Cade barks out a laugh which deepens the lines at his eyes.

“You look like shit.” I tip my chin in the general direction of his face. “Is that why you blew off our evening run?” He narrows his eyes, silently crossing his arms over his chest. That’s okay, I don’t need him to answer. I know this dipshit better than he knows himself. Shoving past him, I mumble, “Looks like we’re starting with the tissues.” It’s a shame. A good battle of sarcasm with Jameson always puts me in a good mood, even at ass o’clock. I like to give Jameson a hard time about the lack of sleep, but being up in the middle of the night isn’t that big of a deal. He and I always took the night shift when our kids were infants. Between us, we had three boys one week apart. I had Fenn, and Jameson had the twins, Drew and Bennett—Bennett being the favored one with my daughter. It didn’t matter that she was merely two years older than Bennett or had a baby brother the same age. She quickly deemed herself guardian of all things Bennett and the queen of our demon boys—the gum that holds the four of them together. Aspen’s also the reason I set my alarm to check her room at three in the morning.

Thanks to her, I have no problem sleeping lightly and getting a jump start on my morning workouts. The door shuts, and I feel Cade’s mountain-man steps lumbering behind me as I proceed down the hall to Bennett’s room, where I’m sure my daughter awaits. “They’re asleep,” he whispers. “Well, I would hope so,” I clip. “Otherwise, I would reconsider allowing my kids to come over. All I need is for Anniston’s angel and Fenn influenced by your two demons.” I turn back in time to see Cade roll his eyes in the dim-lit hall. “You mean precious Fenn, your son, the one escorted off school property for setting fire to the wheat field behind the playground?” I chuckle. He’s right, Fenn’s a demon too. “If I remember it correctly, Drew had the lighter.” Cade sighs. “Those two are our punishment for all the awful things we did as kids.” I scoff. “Speak for yourself, Jameson. I did no such things to deserve that little monster.

I’m pretty sure he’s Anniston’s karma.” Grinning, I ease open Bennett’s door, and spot two bodies snuggled on the bed. One smaller form is under the comforter, and the other is without an inch of blanket. “She’s just like her mother,” I chide, shaking my head at the sight of my nine-year-old daughter locked in the arms of my best friend’s seven-year-old son. “I thought I told you to fix this, Jameson.” Cade pushes me farther into the bedroom and closes the door behind us. “How am I supposed to fix this?” He waves at the two most stubborn kids I’ve ever encountered. “She comes in through his window.” “Nail it shut.” “I have. Bennett removes the nails.” See? His kids are the problem. “You’re such a softy, Jameson. You should be ashamed. Let me demonstrate how to show these little turds who’s boss.

” I shove the tissues at him and stride over to the full-size bed and ease the blankets off Aspen. She yanks them back up and burrows deeper into Bennett’s side. I sigh; I know that aggressive yank. She won’t come unless I drag her kicking and screaming. Frankly, I’m not in the mood, and I promised Breck I’d come over and pull the stick out of Jameson’s ass. He had a bout of PTSD earlier, something he struggles with daily. He shut down and refused to talk to me or his wife. Now, thanks to Aspen, he has to talk to me. I straighten and walk to where Cade leans against the wall. “Give me one of those beers.” “It’s three in the morning.” I hope my eat-shit expression is visible in the dim light. “Well, if I had known your delicate ass needed a latte at this hour, I would have brought you a venti pumpkin-spice-I-don’t-give-a-fuck.” Really? What are we? Women? As usual, Cade ignores my sarcasm, a hint of a smirk playing on his lips when he returns, “I’ll make us some coffee, asshole.” I follow him out to the kitchen, his snippy retort bringing a stupid smile to my face.

Why? If I annoyed Jameson, he isn’t as destroyed as Breck claimed. Earlier, when I came over to drag Jameson out for our afternoon run, Breck met me at the door with red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. “He’s gone,” she had cried into my shirt. Now, I might not enjoy having neighbors all the time, but I’ve grown fond of Breck and, sometimes, her husband. So I held her shaking body until my wife came and took over. I was going to look for the bastard when a small voice, much like his father’s, interrupted my mission. “I did it,” Bennett had told me in that much too serious voice. “You did what?” “Made him leave.” His body trembled. “I didn’t know.” “Know what?” He straightened. “I want to come with you.” My throat worked as I stared down at this little boy who seemed much older than he was. “Tell you what, Ben. You stay here and take care of your mama, and I’ll bring your father back.

” Did he do what I asked? No. Instead, he walked out to my car and got in. I knew I couldn’t look for his father right then. Not while he was with me. Cade’s leaving was huge. He hadn’t disappeared in years. Whatever happened was catastrophic, and I wasn’t sure what I would find. I couldn’t risk traumatizing Bennett by actually finding his father in a state he’d never forget. So, we drove around, circling the small city of Madison, grabbing a burger when it came time for dinner. Eventually, I convinced Bennett we should go back and check on the girls. When we returned home, his father’s truck was there. Long story short, I haven’t had my run at this fucker who scared the shit out of his wife and kids. “You can put in your own cream and sugar,” he says, setting the cup of coffee on the kitchen table. I eye him with a look of disdain and yank the chair away from the table and sit. “Want to tell me what happened today?” He takes a sip of his own coffee, hissing through his teeth.

“Not really.” “Good thing I don’t care.” I add in three spoonfuls of sugar, watching his disapproval. “Don’t start. I need sugar. Your bullshit today has used up all my energy.” Not true. I just really love sugar. “Speak, Jameson, or I’ll stay here all day, getting on your nerves with the tick of every tortured second.” He exhales, running a hand through his hair. I’m not in the mood for his stalling. “Why did your son think he caused you to leave?” Bennett told me why in the car, but I want Cade to say it and, of course, fill in the blanks. Bennett might seem mature for his age, but he doesn’t know his father like I do. “Thank you for staying with him,” he whispers, deflecting the question. “Sure.

Bennett’s a moody kid, so it felt like just another Saturday with his father. Now, what was in the letters that set you off?” Bennett told me he had gotten the mail, gave it to his father, and then watched him peel out of the driveway twenty minutes later. Cade clears his throat, tracing the wood grain on the table with his finger. “I would have never opened it had I known.” I sigh and scoot down in my chair and kick Cade’s. “Who sent you a letter, Jameson?” His head drops, and he sucks in a breath. “They want to present me with a Bronze Star.” The pain seeps through each syllable, making it hard for him to take a breath. “Fuck, dude.” I blow out a breath. “I can’t accept it.” I figured. “So don’t.” He nods like that was obvious. “Then what’s the problem?” His jaw works, and he swipes angrily at his eyes.

“Breck received a letter too.” Oh. “Brannon is receiving a Purple Heart.” He bangs his fist on the table. “She won’t accept it for him unless I accept mine.” Private Bennett Brannon, Breck’s brother, is the fallen uncle they named their son after. Cade bangs his fist on the table again. “Why won’t Breck just let me be?” “Because, unlike you, she’s not a pussy.” Cade’s eyes lock onto mine, fury radiating from his very core. He wants to hit me, I can tell. “Cade, let me tell you what no one else will. You owe it to those families to stand on that fucking stage and take your medal. You owe it to your wife, your kids, and to your fucking self. Will it be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do? Maybe. But your sons and your wife deserve to see you stand up and accept an honor for your service—whether or not you think it heroic—alongside their fallen uncle who was your Marine brother and your wife’s only brother.

Honor your team. Honor him. Let Breck honor him.” “She can. I just can’t be there.” His body has relaxed a fraction since I started talking. “I can’t accept an honor I don’t deserve.” I sigh and chug the remaining coffee in the cup. “The problem is, Cade, you’re the only one who feels you don’t deserve it.” “None of you were there,” he snaps. “You have no idea who I was back then.” “Maybe not,” I agree, sitting up straighter. “But I know you. For the past eleven years, I’ve watched you sacrifice your needs for others: your wife—my wife—and our children. I’ve seen you at your worst—when my wife pulled your homeless, malnourished, hypothermic ass off County Line Rd.

I’ve witnessed you mature into a tax-paying adult who swelled up to the size of a buffalo.” I shake my head. “I’ve seen you whine and deny that you fell in love with Private Brannon’s sister.” “I didn’t whine.” “Oh, you whined, big boy. You hopped on that whiny-bitch train and rode that thing all over this fine city, making everyone in its path miserable as fuck.” “You’re a dick.” “That I am. And that’s how I know the man who was a Major in the Marines, charged with leading a team—” “—A team I let die!” His words are sharp and laced with a kind of pain I’ve never experienced, but that doesn’t stop me from being the friend he needs right now. “A team you owe!” I shout, standing from the table. “The Cade I know wouldn’t let those families not see him honor his team.” Leaning down, I fist his shirt and haul him up and out of his chair. “This is about honoring those Marines, not you. You owe them that honor.” His jaw clenches, and he yanks his shirt from my hand, dropping back into his chair without a word.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, Jameson. But you deserve that medal. You died that day too.” Cade blows out a breath and buries his head in his hands. The silence in the kitchen seems contradictory to the chaos between us. “Look, Cade. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I can take a week off. I’ll even hold your dog tags back when you puke on the side of the road a few dozen times on the trip there.” That finally gets a laugh out of him. “You’re an asshole.” “Does that mean you’ll dress pretty for the girls and let them take your picture?” He tenses but then sighs. “You’ll say something shitty right before I go on?” I smirk. “Always.” He shakes his head and finally smiles. “I hate you.

” I grab his coffee and drink the rest of it, slamming it down on the table. “I’m taking Aspen home. When I get back, you better have changed clothes. You owe me a run for all this girl chat.” Cade holds his hand out for me to shake. I eye it for a moment before I clasp it and nod. No matter how shitastic of a neighbor he is, he’s my brother, and for that, I plan to kick his ass later for bringing up all these awkward feelings. “I’ll be back in thirty. I will punch you in the face if you’re asleep when I return.” Turning around, Cade chuckles. “Then you’ll need the tissues.” Haha. He thinks just because he’s the size of a bulldozer, no one can hurt him. Well, he’s probably right. “I’m getting my kid.

Get fucking dressed. I’ve almost met my quota for dealing with you today.” Without another word, only a simple chin tip, Cade disappears down the hall. I exhale, rolling my neck from side to side, relieving the tension. Cade has always been intense, but he can be unpredictable when his past bubbles up. Usually, his wife, or my wife—the doctor— can handle it, but sometimes it takes me and a heavy dose of brutal honesty to shake him out of it. If he doesn’t want the medal, fine. But he can’t run from his demons, leaving his family behind like he did today. He needs to face it. He needs to do this for closure on the past he can’t change. Creeping down the hall, suddenly exhausted, I crack open Bennett’s door. Before I know it, I’m shoved through the door with two arms wrapping around my stomach. “Thank you.” Breck’s words are teary sobs that have me groaning and turning around so I can console her. “Cade’s going to be fine,” I assure her.

“I don’t know what he’d do if anything happened to you.” What? I push Breck back and hold her by the shoulders. “Have you been drinking?” She chuckles, but I’m serious. “Seriously, B. Did you get some sort of premonition or something? Should I be praying?” I try for a light tone, but unlike Cade, Breck doesn’t respond to humor in tense conversations. “He worries about you,” she finally admits. “He worries about all of you.” She buries her face in my shirt, and I let her. “Do you know he checks your doors at night? That he waits at the tree line for Aspen, following behind her until she’s safely in Bennett’s room?” That fucker. This entire time Jameson could have intercepted Aspen and shoved her back through the window. If he were a decent neighbor, he would have nailed it shut from the outside. “He thinks he’s some kind of superhero,” I joke. “I’m serious, Theo. If something ever happened between you two, I don’t know if I would get him back.” See what I mean? Fucking neighbors.

I sigh and squeeze Breck to my chest. “Nothing is going to happen between us. Trust me, I’ve tried to get rid of your husband more than once.” Breck punches my arm and chuckles sadly. “I used to think it was me who brought him out of the darkness, but it was you.” I shake my head. “No. Don’t give me credit I don’t deserve.” She looks up, meeting my gaze. “Whether or not you believe it, your friendship healed parts of Cade’s soul that I could never mend.” “I think you’re tired, B.” “And I think you’re a good man, Theo Von Bremen.” I squeeze her to my chest. I don’t want to look her in the eye. I’m not a touchy-feely guy.

I’ve gotten better since I’ve had my own children, but I’m still known as the resident asshole. “Help me pry my kid out of your son’s bed,” I beg. Pausing, I think about what I just said. “If I need to say that in ten years, we’ll have a problem.” Breck laughs and pulls away. “I’ll get her shoes.” I head to the bed, tugging down the blankets. “No, Daddy!” Little feet kick my hands away. As tired as I am, I smile at this tiny version of myself. Leaning in, I slip my hands under her body; cute or not, her ass is coming home. “Come on, Angel. You can see Bennett in the morning.” “No!” She scoots closer to Bennett and locks her arms around his. “He needs me.” Heaven help me.

“I’m going to kill your husband,” I say to Breck, who hovers at the foot of the bed, enjoying my struggle. She sits down on the edge, scooting closer to Aspen and Bennett, rubbing her palm over their arms. “Can I take over?” she asks Aspen. Aspen clutches Bennett tighter. I wonder how upset Anniston would be if I just put a lock on Aspen’s door? It’s basically like a big kid baby gate. “No, Daddy! I don’t want to leave!” Bennett finally rouses from Aspen’s theatrics and levels me with a flat look. That look doesn’t faze me, kid. Ask your father. I give no fucks. He holds my gaze for a moment, finally dropping our stare down, and sighs heavily, annoyed. Cade should be proud; he’s like an old man already. “I’m fine, Asp. Go with your dad.” Asp. His nickname for her is a punch straight to the gut.

My little angel, the little girl I taught to throw a ball and beat her brother’s ass on the PlayStation, is someone’s Asp. My eyes narrow to slits, but then my daughter returns with, “No, thanks,” like she has some say in the matter. “Aspen,” I snap. Really? It’s been one exhausting night. Dealing with Jameson was difficult enough. His PTSD cripples everyone when it hits him. The last thing I want is to argue with a nine-year-old about sleeping arrangements. “Please, Aspen,” Breck interrupts, sliding under the covers next to Bennett. Aspen shakes her head. “No, he needs me to sleep.” He needs a fucking teddy bear is what he needs, not my daughter. “I know, sweetheart, but just tonight, let me sleep with Bennett? I promise, I’ll protect him until you get back.” I roll my eyes at my neighbor, who has more patience than I do. We shouldn’t have to negotiate with our children; yet, here we are, Breck begging to lie with Bennett and me impatiently waiting for Aspen to agree to come home. Aspen lifts her head and eyes Breck like she’s assessing if Breck can really care for her own child better than she can.

She gets that defiant attitude from her mother. “In three hours, you’ll be back together,” Breck adds, hoping a countdown will seal the deal. Aspen turns and looks at Bennett, who is now sitting up looking like someone took a shit on his LEGO bricks. At first, I think it’s because I’m forcing Aspen away, but then he barks, “Go, Aspen!” I take an instinctive step forward before Breck’s calm voice stops me. “Aspen, your daddy looks tired. I think he might need you to take him home. I promise, I’ll take care of grumpy Bennett.” She rumples Bennett’s hair, and it only serves to deepen his frown. Grumpy Bennett better get some rest because if he barks at my little girl again, I’m going to bark back. I nod to Breck and grab Aspen while she’s stunned at Bennett’s reaction. Hoisting her over my shoulder, I grab a blanket, draping it over her back. “Tell Bennett goodnight,” I say, as we walk toward the door. When she doesn’t speak, I look back and see Bennett has rolled to the edge of the bed, his back to us. Breck and I share a confused look. “Bennett?” Breck asks.

“Aspen is leaving. Do you want to tell her goodnight?” He doesn’t move, and Breck adds, “I think he fell asleep, sweetheart.” “He’s not asleep,” the little girl on my shoulder whispers. I don’t have another heart-to-heart in me tonight. Aspen and Bennett will be fine in the morning. “Bye, B,” I mutter. “Don’t let Jameson fall asleep. He owes me a run.” Breck nods, and I hurry out the door until I’m pulled to a stop, my chest fracturing into tiny pieces when Aspen cries, “Goodbye, Bennett.”

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Updated: 28 May 2021 — 15:12

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