I've been teasing about my newest story for some time now. And what the hell, here's the first chapter for you!
by June Gray
I never meant for
it to happen, to fall in love with a man who wasn’t mine.
I was just
reading on my bed one Sunday morning, completely lost in a different world,
when my mom came into my room and said, “I want you to meet someone, Joss.”
I looked up from
my book so fast, I almost got whiplash. “Who?”
“And who is this
mysterious Jake Mitchell?” I set the open book on my chest, my interest fully
piqued. My mom was a serial dater, so busy with work travel that she didn’t
have time for anything more than dinner or drinks. And she certainly never had
time to bring them home.
She bit her lower
lip, a move that made her look younger than her forty-one years. “Just someone
I’ve been seeing.”
seeing someone? And you want me to meet him?”
“Don’t sound so
“Well, I am,” I
said, scrambling off the bed and following her down the hall. “This is the
first guy you’ve brought home since that Joe Incident.”
Nine months after
the divorce with my dad was finalized, my mom had gone on a date with a man
named Joe. The date had gone well so Mom invited him over to our house in
Pembroke Pines, Florida, for a nightcap. I had had the unfortunate luck to walk
in on them making out in the kitchen and, apparently still secretly hoping my parents
would get back together, had freaked the hell out. As a result, Mom no longer
brought men home and only ever mentioned them in passing, never even giving
them a name.
I didn’t know
what I was expecting when I turned that corner; maybe someone with a Jersey
accent who looked suspiciously like Bob Hoskins in Mario Brothers. Or maybe a
debonair, silver-haired fox in a suit. But this Jake Mitchell took me
completely by surprise. He was really a looker, with his short brown hair,
square jaw, and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Nor was he wearing red overalls
or a pin-striped suit. No, he was just casually put together in his dark jeans
and blue button-up shirt. And he was tall, fit, and… quite a bit younger than
“Hi. You must be Jocelyn,”
he said, getting up from the couch and offering his hand.
I shook it,
trying to hide my surprise at the roughness of his palm. “Nice to meet you.”
He flashed me a
smile that lit up his face and crinkled the corners of his eyes. “You are the
spitting image of your mom.”
“Thank you. I
hear that a lot.” Ever since I could remember I’d been told that I looked just
like my mother. Tall and lithe, with natural honey-blonde hair and bright green
eyes, Amanda Blake was the kind of effortless beauty that garnered jealousy
from women and attention from men. When out together, people always assumed we
were sisters rather than a woman and her twenty-year old daughter.
I glanced at Mom but
her gaze was fixed firmly on her new man. I couldn’t really blame her; this guy
was seriously handsome in an easygoing kind of way.
gravitated back in his direction. “Where did you two meet?”
“Blind date,” he
said in his deep, slightly coarse voice, his warm gaze directed at my mother.
“Our mutual friend set us up, we hit it off, and now here we are.”
“And you’ve been
together how long?”
My eyebrows shot
Mom noticed the
look on my face and burst out laughing. “Well, don’t look so shocked. I am capable of a relationship.” She
walked over to Jake and slipped her arm around his waist. “I just had to find
the right man first.”
I grinned as I
contemplated the pairing. Her pale skin and blonde hair was a nice contrast to
his tan skin and dark features. They looked so good together I felt almost
envious. Someday, I told myself, I’ll find a guy like that.
“Well, I need to
get going.” Jake tucked some hair behind Mom’s ear then pressed a soft kiss on
her lips. “I’ll be back tonight.”
She beamed up at
him—I swear I’ve never seen her look this happy—then she uttered the words that
sealed the deal, proving once and for all she was dead serious about this Jake
guy: “I’m cooking steak and vegetables.”
“But you don’t
cook!” I blurted out.
My mom laughed.
“I will for the right man.”
pressing a kiss to her temple before heading to the door. “Nice to meet you, Jocelyn.”
After he left, I
stared at Mom in bewilderment. To her credit, she managed to keep a straight
face for a whole three seconds before the joy exploded all over her face.
“He’s a keeper, I
take it?” I asked, her smile infecting me as well.
“I think so.”
“But how old is
he? Like, twenty seven?”
She bit her lips
cradle-robber!” I teased, pinching her side. “He’s only ten years older than
my mom actually giggled—and ruffled
my hair. “Honey, sometimes age is only a number, not a state of mind.” She
wrapped an arm around my shoulder and leaned her head on mine. “Besides, Jake
makes me feel young again.”
“Are you happy?” I
asked, but one look at her gave me the answer. Her entire face glowed, her eyes
bright and cheeks flushed.
She let out a
sigh and squeezed me. “I am, Joss.”
I hugged her.
Goodness knew, after an ugly divorce and struggling as a single parent for
seven years, she deserved a little bit of happiness. “I’m happy for you, Mom.”
Jake came back
for dinner that night bearing a bouquet of roses for my mother and a smaller
bouquet of daisies for me.
“You didn’t have
to get me anything,” I said, lifting the flowers up to my nose anyway. I mean,
daisies weren’t really all that fragrant, but it seemed like the thing to do. “Thanks.
Now, can you educate the guys at my school on how to treat a woman?”
“I don’t think
they’d listen to an old geezer like me,” he said with a good-natured chuckle.
I flashed him a
mischievous smile over the flowers. “I wouldn’t call you old. Geezer maybe, but
He chuckled, and
it was then I noticed the corners of his eyes crinkle when he’s happy.
We went out to
the back patio to start setting up for dinner. Mom and I rarely dined outside
as we found South Florida weather to be too humid for comfort, but I guess
tonight was a special exception, frizzy hair be damned.
“So what’s your
major?” he asked, following me with the plate of raw steaks.
I bent down to
turn on the gas and start the grill. “Undeclared.”
Mom joined us a
few moments later with the vegetables. “If it was possible to major in reading,
Joss would have a PhD by now.”
“What kind of books
do you like to read?” Jake asked. “Twilight? Hunger Games?”
“Those were entertaining, but I go through phases. Lately I’ve been reading biographies.”
One dark eyebrow
“Right now I’m
reading about Margaret Thatcher.”
“Really.” He held
out his hand, asking for the spatula. “May I?”
I handed it over
and stepped aside. “Uh, sure.” I watched as he set the steaks on the grill, his
entire demeanor one of self-assurance. It wasn’t his finest moment, to be sure.
“I think grilling
is in every man’s DNA, don’t you agree?” he asked, glancing at me.
I almost snorted.
“I read an article recently about caveman instincts that still linger today,” I
said in a forced nonchalant manner. “How even the most progressive men still
display latent alpha male tendencies, especially around females who are more
than capable of taking care of themselves.”
He stilled, studying
me for the longest time. I waited for him to back down, to apologize for taking
over, but he surprised me by lifting an eyebrow. “I guess we’re not as evolved
as we think. Our instincts still dictate our actions.” He held up the spatula,
amusement in his eyes. “Now, how do you like your steak?”
Regular dinner at
the Blake house usually consisted of me eating ramen noodles or mac and cheese
in my room while mom worked. But we had a longstanding date every Sunday, when we’d
go to a restaurant and spend hours catching up over dinner. I always looked
forward to that time together, talking about our week, chatting away like
girlfriends, and ordering way more dessert than we could ever eat. It wasn’t a
traditional kind of family setup, but it was our way and we made it work.
So to have all
three of us sitting together that Sunday, using the wrought iron dining set
that we’d only used a handful of times, was unusual and slightly awkward.
“Jocelyn, we have
something to tell you,” Mom said during the meal.
My ears perked
up. She rarely ever called me by my whole name. Unless… “Is everything okay?”
Jake reached for
my mom’s hand across the table and nodded for her to continue.
My heart started
to thump hard in my chest. “Are you getting married?”
“No,” he said
with a nervous laugh. “Nothing that monumental.”
“I’ve asked Jake
to move in with us,” Mom said.
laugh escaped from my mouth. “And that’s not monumental?”
began. “I know it’s a bit of a surprise, but—”
“A bit! I just
met him today,” I said, trying to keep my voice a few octaves below hysterics.
“You just met him three months ago.”
The news worked
like acid; the longer it seeped in, the more it burned. Here they were, holding
hands at the table, addressing me like parents explaining something complicated
to a child.
I turned to my mom
with hurt in my eyes. Used to be it was the two of us against the world. Now I
was the outsider, and my opinion was no longer needed when it came to
something,” Mom said.
I took a long sip
of water, swallowing down the angry words that were threatening to spew out. I
stood up, the iron chair scraping loudly against the brick patio. “I need to do
my homework,” I said and left.
I heard them come
in the house a half hour later, talking in hushed, muted tones. And not too
long after, someone knocked on my door.
“Can I come in?”
asked a deep voice that was definitely not my mother’s.
I wiped at my
cheeks with the sheet and sat up. “Fine.”
The door cracked
open and Jake’s concerned face peered in. He entered cautiously, casting a long
look around. “Nice room.”
“I haven’t had a
chance to clean it up,” I said, wishing I’d at least taken the time to put my
dirty clothes in the hamper instead of throwing them in the corner of the room.
He walked over to
the books piled in front of the overfilled, sagging bookshelf. I’d long ago run
out of room for my books and had taken to stacking them on the floor. I was at
seven teetering towers and counting.
He pulled out a
book from the bookshelf and held it out. “Everyone says their favorite book is
To Kill a Mockingbird, but I don’t know.”
“What? You didn’t
like it?” I asked, momentarily setting aside my resentment to talk books.
“I did. It’s a
good story, just not my favorite,” he said with a shrug. “In fact, I can’t
really choose one favorite.”
“You like to read
He slid the book
back in place and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I believe voracious is the word,” he replied. “So
what’s your favorite?”
“If we base
favorite on how many times I’ve read it, I’d say Jane Eyre.”
“Ah, the classic
young girl falling for the older man.”
I smiled, thinking
that maybe Jake had some redeeming qualities after all. At the very least, he
knew a little about the classics. “So are you going to do it, then? Are you
moving in with us?”
He sat on the end
of my bed, oceans of blanket between us. “That depends.”
We locked eyes
across the bed, his gaze so direct that I found myself first to look away. “Do
you want to move in?”
“Do you love my
He didn’t even blink.
“Yes. I know three months doesn’t seem all that long, but this feels right.”
I picked at a
loose thread on my blanket, at a loss for what to say.
“Jocelyn, I just
want you to know, I have no plans of acting like the Big Man of the house,” he
said. “I’m just here to share a life with the woman I really care about. And
maybe with her daughter, if she’ll let me.”
I studied his
face, looking for telltale signs of insincerity. “All right, you can move in,”
I said when I saw none. “But don’t think you can leave hair all over the
bathroom sink or anything.”
His eyes crinkled
at the corners. “No problem.”
“You can’t hang a
singing fish or anything with antlers on the wall either.”
twitched. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“And you have to
keep your books sequestered.”
He laughed, deep
and rich. “Of course. Can’t have our books fraternizing.”
“It would be
Once again, our eyes locked across the room, but this time there were no
expectations or disappointments between us, only the first sprouts of a growing