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The school is just around the corner from where I live, so I’m able to come home to Mom every day. This isn’t always what I’d prefer, but for the moment it works. I’m nineteen; there are times I’ve wanted my own space more than air, so lately I’ve been working on trying to change it. Especially now Mom’s newly married. It’s taken her eleven years to find him, but now she has I’m finally seeing a smile that’s not pretend.
I don’t think she loves him like she loved Dad, but she definitely adores him.
Jack Hutchens is a handsome, rugged, burly man. She’s been dating him for more than a year, and they tied the knot only last week. I like Jack; he’s a good, loving man. He’s handsome as all hell, too—tall, dark, and rugged. He has three sons, all of whom I’ve not met because they live in California with their mom. And apparently they don’t visit their dad.
I figure I’ll meet them eventually. I don’t mind when that happens. I don’t need replacement siblings. I don’t want a new family. I want my mom to be happy, but that’s where it ends. I don’t need a new dad. I don’t need new brothers and I don’t need to substitute something that will never go back to the way it was. However, for my mom I’ll do just about anything, so if this makes her happy, I’ll deal.
“Ari! Hurry! I want to talk to you.”
I sigh and throw my legs out of bed. I plod down the hall, one of my socks hanging off my foot. I round the corner into the lounge and see Mom and Jack standing in the kitchen. She’s scurrying about, grabbing her keys and muttering about something. Jack is leaning against the counter, grinning, arms crossed over his broad chest.
“Morning honey,” he says when I enter the kitchen.
I flash him a tired smile. “Hey Jack, how’s it going?”
“Good. You ready for school?”
I scrunch up my nose. “No. I wish I could just start summer vacation early.”
He grins, showing two perfect dimples. My dad had dimples too, but that’s the only thing he and Jack have in common. Dad was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and had a smile that melted my heart. My sister, Milly, looked exactly like him. I take after Mom, which is hard sometimes because we have no piece of them left. She always called Milly and I chalk and cheese. She was so fair and I’m so dark. My hair is black, my eyes emerald green, my skin a light olive.
“You’re goin’ to do fine,” Jack says, pushing off the desk. “Did your momma tell you my boys are moving down?”
My brows shoot up. “They are?”
“Yeah. Blade got a mechanic job here, and Brody and Lee decided to follow. Had enough of it over there.”
I can’t help but smile. The boys have the strangest names. Blade is short for Bladen, and he’s twenty-four and the oldest of the three boys. Brody is short for Broderick, and he’s twenty-two. Lee is short for Ripley and he’s turning eighteen this year. I’ve never met any of them, but I have spoken to Ripley over Facebook. Go figure. I chat to my step-brother on Facebook, yet we’ve never met.
“I’m happy for you, Jack.” I smile warmly. “I know you’ve missed them.”
Jack’s smile becomes full throttle, and that makes me happy. “They’re finally fed up with California. It’ll be good to have them home.”
Mom rushes back in, tying her hair as she goes.
“So will Ripley go to school here?”
Jack nods. “Yeah, he isn’t happy about changing high schools but he wants to live with me for a while and their mother has a new flame, so she’s happy to let them go.”
I nod. “Fair enough.”
“Honey,” Mom says, stopping in front of me. “I want to ask you something and would have liked to sit and chat about it, but I just don’t have time.”
I narrow my eyes, and then slide my bottom up onto the counter. “What’s going on?”
She smiles, her cheeks pink, her face happy and glowing.
“Jesus, Mom, are you pregnant?”
Jack snorts his coffee and starts coughing, and Mom laughs, shaking her head and waving her arms around. “Gosh no! I’m far too old for that.”
I frown. “Then what?”
“It’s nothing major, calm down.” She laughs softly, and turns to Jake. “Tell her?”
Jake grins. “Got a lake house, big, beautiful, and empty. Had it for about ten years. Going up for part of the summer—the boys agreed to come. It’s massive, loads of bedrooms, heaps of privacy. I thought it’d be a good idea for us all to get to know one another. What do you think?”
A lake house for part of the summer with three men I don’t know . . . God. I’m not sure that’s the best idea I’ve ever heard. Don’t get me wrong, I want to meet them, but being secluded somewhere like that if we don’t all get along could be disastrous.
“It sounds . . .” I look at their happy faces. “Ah . . .”
“Don’t be worried,” Mom pipes up. “The boys will love you and you can bring Melanie if you like.”
I stare at them. Gosh, they look so excited. I don’t have anything planned for the summer and I know Melanie will jump at the chance. “It sounds great.” I smile.
Jack grins and reaches out, squeezing my shoulder. “It’ll be a good way for us to bond. The boys will love you. They always wanted a sister.”
I laugh nervously.
Mom comes over and kisses my cheek. “It’ll be great!”