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In small towns, privacy is a foreign concept. For example, Avery and I once bought a new washer from someone and I realized I had arrested him for drunk driving and that Evie had also dated him. While some people romanticize small town charm and knowing your neighbors, it actually gets annoying.
Worse, the dating pool is so small, you will very likely be asked out by a co-worker or neighbor, making any daily interaction with that person substantially awkward.
So, everyone knows everyone. If you get laid off at work, cheated on, or even divorced, you will be the topic of conversation for the next several weeks. A cop arresting her own husband, testifying against him and then divorcing him -- it's still talked about. And since Jackson's parole hearing was coming up in a few weeks, I was getting looks again.
"You're avoiding me."
"It's a small town," I said, headed for the diner. You know you live in a small town when every business begins with The: the store, the bookshop, the courthouse, the bank. "Not a lot of places for me to hide."
Calhoun, Jackson's defense attorney, stepped ahead of me and held the door open. I thanked him and stepped inside. "I wanted to talk to you about Jack."
"What about him?" I took a seat at the counter and ordered a coffee for myself and Don's usual. The quicker I could get out of here, the better.
"I'm representing Jack at his parole hearing."
I nodded. "I kind of figured."
"I just want to make sure when Jackson gets out that he'll have a support system."
I opened and closed my mouth several times. "They stopped talking long before Jackson went away. It's more than... emotional distance. If I could help repair their relationship, I would."
And that's all we said. "Well, I'm glad I'm finally no longer the topic of rumor in this town. Thanks for taking some of the heat off me." He grinned and took his coffee to go.
I rolled my eyes at him.
I looked over my shoulder at a group of teenagers sitting at a table by the window. They each had a milkshake and in the middle of the table was a basket overflowing with curly fries. Every now and then one of them would grab a handful of those fries and stuff them into his or her mouth.
"Hey, save some for the rest of us!" I heard one kid say and slap the thief on the hands, knocking several fries back into the basket.
The second half of their group huddled close together and whispered in each other's ears.
"I really want to kiss you and I think I might." It wasn't what folk expected. Hell, it wasn't what either of us had expected when we'd ventured down this path, but it worked. It worked for us.
The people who mattered the most knew. My uncle Alex had wanted to thump Jackson when he heard the rumors, even more when Jackson hadn't denied the whispers.
Jackson scooped some of the whipped cream from my milkshake and sucked it off his fingers. A hint of a smile tugged at his lips for just a moment. He looked down at me, brushed his thigh against mine.
I stared longingly at the cake we ordered (well, what was left of it, anyway), beautifully decorated in shades of pink with strawberries on top. "You'll be the first one to try it, of course!" Gwen, the diner owner and master chef, beamed at us, excited by the thought of us trying her creations at some point.
Jack's gaze fell on the last piece that remained on the plate— a little too small, but with a bright red strawberry on top, just begging to be snatched. "Here," and without hesitation, he picked it up with his fork, before turning it to me. "For the lovely princess. Go ahead."
"Here you go, darling." I looked at Gwen. Her hair was light gray now, but she still wore it tied back, a few loose strands here and there.
"Thanks." I took the bag of food and my coffee and headed for the door. I stopped by the table of teenagers and took a handful of curly fries. "Sharing is caring, children."
When I get home, I throw my bag on the floor and head to the bedroom. I start to take my clothes off, unbutton my hoodie and toss it on the bed when I notice Evie asleep on the bed.
I left the hoodie on the edge of the bed and went to find Avery. He was stretched out on the couch, one arm tucked behind his head and a book in his other hand. I went over and crawled on top of him. He lifted his arm from the back of his head and switched the book to that hand while and wrapped his now free arm around my waist.
"So, I noticed Evie on our bed."
"Mhm. Her landlady locked her out. She said you said it'd be okay if she crashed with us for a while," he continued, his fingers delicately tracing circles along my hip. "I knew she never discussed it with you, but..."
"Oh, we can't kick her out."
"Old Weaver really is a bitch, anyway," I shuddered at the thought of having to be indebted to the old crone.
"I heard a rumor she eats children."
I snorted. I leaned my head against his chest and a soft, content hum escaped my lips as I simply listened to the rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest. "Read to me?"