He’s only a friend.
Those words had haunted him from the moment Jessie James had heard them muttered from the one girl, above all others, that he thought had his back.
Sixteen years later, he still feels those words like a brand on his soul.
Lucky for him he has a son to take care of, a full-time job that demands every single second of the day, and not a single moment to spare for the likes of a woman that won’t stand up for him when he needs her the most.
He’s only a friend.
The words had slipped out of Ellen’s mouth, and before she could recall them or better yet, explain, Jesse is gone from her life for good, taking her heart with him.
She tries to find her way out of the pit of despair, but not one single person, no matter how much she tries, can fill the void that he left in his wake. Time heals all wounds. Or at least that is how the saying goes. It’s a crock of crap, though.
Sixteen years pass when Jessie and Ellen see each other again without the influence of the town and bad memories surrounding them, and it’s as if not a single day has passed.
Ellen knows the instant that her eyes see her old love that she’s still just as much in love with him today as she was all those years ago.
The problem is that Jesse wants nothing to do with her. Or at least that’s what he keeps telling himself.
“Why the hell are you out here and not in your fucking room doing that?” I asked my sixteen-year-old son, Linc.
Linc looked up from his homework, and shrugged.
The problem with Linc doing his homework out here meant that he had the TV blaring, his phone on some stupid Vine video, and his pencil tapping a million miles an hour while he hummed to some random song that only he could hear.
He was also nearly naked. Had been for the majority of his life.
He ignored me as if I hadn’t said a word.
“Seriously,” I said to him. “What makes you think it’s okay to sit here in your underwear with the fuckin’ front window wide ass open? There are people in this neighborhood that I’d rather not egg our shit. Not to mention you don’t pay the fuckin’ electric bill and it’s cold as fuck out.”
“They’d have to be able to walk close to our cars, and since most of them are old geezers, I don’t see that happening.” He countered. “What’s got up your ass?”
I grunted, walking to the kitchen to grab a beer. It’d been a long fucking day, and I had to go back to work and do it all over again tomorrow.
I was a welder for a pipeline, and my job was exhaustingly hard work that I fucking loved. I made a whack, and payed for my bills, but to do that I had to work long hours. Nearly eighty hours a week.
“Someone called for you today. A woman.”
“What was her name?” I asked, scanning the contents of the refrigerator for something to eat. “Did you eat all the leftover pizza?”
Linc and I had pizza a lot. Anything that was fast, and came out of a box, was our go-to menu item seeing as neither one of us really knew how to cook. Lunchables. Macaroni. Hamburger Helper when we were feeling adventurous.
“Ellen?” Linc guessed. “I wrote it down on the pad next to the phone.
The name ‘Ellen’ wasn’t common, but it was still impossible for a girl from my past—almost fourteen years ago to be exact—to come back and haunt me some two thousand odd miles away from where I first met her.
“What did she want?” I asked. “And you never answered me on the pizza.”
“That was gone last night about three in the morning.” Linc chuckled unrepentantly. “And I wrote it all down on the note.”
I closed the fridge and moved across the small space to the counter next to the landline that I wasn’t sure why we still had, and stared at the pad of paper with two words on it.
“Can I go?”
I looked up to find Linc, the boy that was spitting image of me.
Six feet one, and likely to grow even more since the pediatrician said he’d likely reach my height if not more. Jet black hair with a slight wave to it, exactly like mine.
Hell, he even had a beard, exactly like me. Though, his was much more trimmed and kempt due to the school he was attending informing him if it wasn’t done just so, he’d have to shave it or leave the school.
We’d had to fight for the beard, so if he wanted to keep it, he’d damn well follow their rules or I’d make him shave it off myself.
His body mass was the only thing he didn’t have yet that resembled me. He was much skinnier, and definitely on the verge of getting some bulk, just like I had been at seventeen. But he didn’t have it yet. He was still in that in between stage that showed the promise of what he might one day be.
Me, I was six foot four, two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle, and had a six pack that was derived from days and days of hard work and sweat on the pipeline. I had a beard that was on the verge of being too bushy, but I’d literally lost all desire to impress anyone a long fucking time ago.
I was me. I wasn’t going to change, even though some would like me to.
“I’ll have to ask if it’s kid friendly…” I laughed when my son gave me a face that clearly said what he thought about me saying ‘kid friendly.’
My kid wasn’t a kid. He couldn’t be when he was raised by me.
I’d done my best, but I’d been more like a brother than a parent. We were seventeen years apart in age, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I did the whole parenting thing correctly.
He had to grow up faster than most. By the age of ten, I was leaving him at home for extended periods of time because I’d been switched to a different shift that equaled me not getting home from work until a little after nine o’clock.
By the age of twelve, he was spending almost the entire night alone every other day because my shifts were switched again.
By fifteen, we didn’t even pass each other for the entire day at times.
Now, at sixteen, I had a better paying position. One that equaled me working days, though they were long and just as tiring—if not more tiring—as my previous job. Being peoples’ boss was the pits. Dealing with peoples’ bullshit was even worse.
“You took me to the last one.”
I grinned. “That’s right. I did.”
“I can’t believe you’re prospecting. I’m so fuckin’ excited.”
I just shook my head.
My kid rolled his eyes at me and got up, walking toward me with a paper in his hand. “Read this and make sure it looks good.”
I grabbed the paper and read it, my heart tightening slightly when I read the words on the paper.
“You think I’m a superhero?” I asked quietly, my eyes flicking up to my son’s where he was leaning against the wall.
Linc looked at me, really looked at me, and nodded.
“Yeah, dad. I think you’re a fucking superhero.” He grated out. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now, now would I? My paper was on someone who inspires me to be a better person. That’s you, bitch.”
I grabbed my man-child into a headlock and brought him in close to me, then pressed a kiss to the top of his head before taking him down to the ground and tickling him like I used to do when he was six.
“Get out of here, kid. Let me read. You get your shit picked up outside or it’ll get stolen.”
My kid left, luckily putting pants on before he walked outside to pick up his football gear, leaving me to read a paper that was enough to bring a grown man to tears.