To a twenty year old Callie Quinn, Micah Harkness is a god. He instantly replaces her brother as her idol. Cool under pressure, smooth, and with a swagger that sets her pulse racing, he's James Bond, Indiana Jones, and every other hero she's ever had all rolled into one spectacular package.
When he offers to help her with her hand-to-hand, it's like she's died and gone to heaven. She pesters him with questions about assignments and his time with the military. He answers each one patiently and never treats her like the buzzing annoyance she knows she can be.
She's at the office when he comes in, bullet hole in his shoulder and face mottled with bruises, for a debriefing. Her brother lets her sit in on it. Rather than turn her off the idea of joining the family business, it cements her decision. And elevates Micah's pedestal even higher.
Micah is her hero, she tells Jonas one night after too many sake bombs and not enough egg rolls. She swears that nothing in the universe is ever going to tarnish his image.
Ten heartbreaking years later, she wishes she'd listened when Jonas told her that even gods falter sometimes.
Before You Came
Jonas loved Callie the second he laid eyes on the wriggling bundle of pink flesh. He'd sat stiff as a board when his father passed the baby into his hands, and had been hypnotized by ageless blue eyes. Solemn and responsible even at twelve, he'd let her wrap a tiny hand around his thumb and swore to always be there for her.
He stayed true to his word. Even when he couldn't be around thanks to college, a stint in the military, and the family business, he'd made sure Callie remembered he was still her rock. She must have gotten the message. His number was the first one she dialed when she got home from school and found their parents murdered in the kitchen.
He doesn't want her in the field. He'd like nothing more than to hide her away in one of QuinTech's secret bunkers. She's got the Quinn stubbornness, though, and he'd rather have her working for him than his competitors. At least he'll be able to regulate which assignments she goes on and who watches her back.
That protectiveness is what sets his gut to churning when she smiles that smile at Micah Harkness one Tuesday afternoon.
The truth Callie realizes on a Monday morning is this: Micah loves his baby daughter desperately, but is not cut out for full-time fatherhood. He hasn't said anything to anyone, he never would offer up such information voluntarily, but taking care of Jenna alone after his fiancée's suicide is killing him. He's lost twenty pounds in the six months since the funeral and the bags under his eyes need luggage tags.
She knows it's not just the late night feedings, diaper changes, and housework. She sees the way his eyes linger on the assignment log, the way his feet jiggle during meetings, and the tap-tap of his pen whenever he has to hear someone get assigned a job he thinks should be his. He's a nomad, a mercenary. He's not Mr. Mom.
She's been waiting her whole life for full-time field work. Chomping at the bit and driving her brother absolutely nuts. She's passed all the proficiency tests. So why, two days after receiving the green-light from Jonas, does she sit down across from a bone-tired Micah and make a proposition?
It's easy, really. Micah loves his daughter, but he loves being in the field more, and Callie loves Micah.
Callie Quinn, smart, sassy, strong Callie, is the type of woman Micah wants his daughter to be. She's compassionate with an infectious smile that's brighter than the sun. He can't understand why on earth Jonas wants to darken his sister's soul by involving her in the dirty world of intelligence.
When Jonas asks Micah to help evaluate Callie's field readiness, Micah's tempted to fail the girl. It'll keep her out of the field long enough for her to change her mind. In the end, though, he has no choice but to pass her. She's better than most he's seen and damned determined.
He has to admit that he's jealous, too. She'll get to go on the assignments that should be his while he's stuck at home with an unhappy, motherless baby. Too bad she's become the only role model he wants for Jenna. If he wasn't so afraid of ruining his friendship with Callie, or of Jonas' fist, he'd offer her the world in exchange for being Jenna's step-mother.
When Callie's the one to lay out a plan that not only keeps her out of the field but gives Jenna the mother she deserves, all Micah can think is, "Fantastic."
The Turn of the Earth
Callie's always been very time-conscious. In elementary school, she would keep track of her activities on a large desk calendar. She'd set goals back then, too. Ride the bike without training wheels by next birthday. Learn the multiplication table before Christmas. As she'd gotten older the habit continued. Graduate high school before seventeen. Get degree then start with Jonas by twenty-first birthday.
An impulsive conversation with Micah Harkness, however, threw her entire plans and sense of timing straight out the window. If she were to find any of the old lists she'd made weeks before meeting Micah, she knows that there isn't anything she could check off. It feels odd to not to have any goals left to make. She's stuck working as an analyst with Jonas, and there's little room for advancement. She can't abandon Jenna for her job. Callie loves the toddler as if she was her own.
Finding a book on child development gives her a renewed sense of timing, of how to measure the turn of the earth. One afternoon while Jenna's napping and Micah's on assignment, Callie sits down with a calendar and wire-bound notebook. Use utensils by sixteen months. Start potty-training by nineteen months.
"How long are you going to be my baby girl?"
"Forever." A high-pitched, girlish giggle. "Silly Daddy."
Callie pushes away from the doorframe and quietly retreats. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop on father and daughter, but they're absolutely adorable when Micah isn't trying to be Super Dad and Jenna isn't testing the limits of his patience. She grabs the cordless phone and slips out onto the patio.
She remembers making a similar promise long ago. She'd been thirteen, heavily sedated, and in a stark, white hospital room. She'd promised Jonas forever because he'd needed to hear it as desperately as she'd needed to say it. They'd clung to each other because they were the only ones left.
Time hasn't changed things. She's still the only family he has left. Despite having a husband and step-daughter, Callie needs Jonas as much now as she did back then. Yet, she had brushed him aside to play house with Micah and Jenna.
Her fingers tremble as she hits the speed-dial. Jonas picks up on the first ring.
"Joe, I still mean it, you know."
"The hell are you talking about, Cal?"
"Forever. Me and you. The Unstoppable Quinns."
"I know, sweets. Me, too."
Jonas doesn't visit his sister often. Oh, he takes her to dinner, a movie, or has her over to his house, but he avoids going inside her house whenever possible. It's not that he doesn't love Callie, he absolutely adores her, but he doesn't agree with the choices she's made.
Callie's so much smarter than he'll ever be. Even if she wasn't his sister, he'd have recruited her for his private intelligence and security, mercenary if he's going to be blunt about it, agency. She's a chameleon with the gift for reading people and squirming out of tight spots. She could have been the best of the very best. She could have toppled regimes with nothing more than a bright smile and the crook of her finger.
And she gave it all up for bake sales, soccer practice, and domesticity. For a child who doesn't share a drop of her blood and a man who has never looked at her with anything more than friendship in his eyes. It hurts to see so much wasted potential.
"I'm still saving the world," she tells him after he's drunkenly confessed his sins. "I've just changed my definition of the world. That's all."
Micah doesn't call from the flight home after an assignment. He wants to surprise his wife and daughter. Throughout the debriefing, he keeps an image in his head: Jenna's surprised smile and Callie's welcoming eyes. There's a pep in his step when he pushes open the door and greets his girls.
Except, the house is empty. Frantic, he dials Callie's cell. His grip on the phone leaves his knuckles white as his mind races through the possibilities.
"Where are you?"
Callie pauses and, in direct contrast to her warm greeting, responds with a voice icy as Antarctica. "South Padre. Jenna and I always spend a month here in the summer."
"You really should have called, Micah. We just left this morning." Another pause and the faint drumming of fingernails on a table. "You're welcome to join us, of course."
It's not the same. This isn't how he imagined it at all. "Callie – ."
"Cal! Come swimming with me!"
"I'll call you later, Micah. Jenna's waiting."
Micah's left in an empty kitchen with the dial tone buzzing in his ear and the shattered remains of his idealized reunion at his feet. He never again comes home without calling first.
Callie impatiently glances down at her watch. She can see Jenna's fair head bobbing up and down. The girl is no doubt looking for her no-show father.
She knows she shouldn't really blame Micah. He doesn't have a traditional, nine-to-five job. The realistic part of Callie knows he can't ask terrorists to put their plans on hold so he can attend his little girl's school presentation. The mama bear part that hurts whenever Jenna hurts isn't quite so logical.
Jenna's worked so hard on this presentation. She's spent hours practicing her speech in front of the mirror. It'll just crush her if Micah isn't here to hear it.
When Jenna's teacher steps in front of the microphone and Micah still hasn't shown, Callie's heart sinks. Jenna's already had her heart broken by Micah too many times to count. Jonas, the uncle Jenna adores but makes a poor Daddy substitute, pats Callie's hand sympathetically.
Jenna's the first one up to speak. Her eyes dart nervously around the auditorium. Her smile widens just as a warm, familiar body slides into the seat beside Callie. "Today, I'm going to tell you about my hero. His name is Micah Harkness, and he's my daddy."
Micah settles into the chaise lounge beside Jonas. He pops the top of his beer and sighs in contentment. It's a beautiful late-spring afternoon, and there's nothing pressing to worry about.
A high-pitched squeal from the vicinity of his pool catches Micah's attention. He watches with affectionate eyes as Callie tosses a giggling, nine-year-old Jenna into the warm water. He can still remember a time when his daughter was terrified of water.
"They grow so fast."
Jonas grunts in agreement. He's watching the same scene as Micah, but his thoughts aren't on Jenna. He sees Callie and flashes back to the solemn, grief-stricken thirteen-year-old he'd suddenly been responsible for. For years, he'd wondered if she'd ever laugh again. Sometimes, when Micah's done something particularly thickheaded, he sees glimpses of that girl.
"I just want to wrap her up in cotton to protect her from the world," Micah continues.
"Yeah, I know how that goes."
"I think I'd kill anyone who hurt her or broke her heart."
Jonas chuckles to himself. He's felt that way a hundred times. If only Micah knew how many he'd come close to having an accident in the field. "Oh yes. I know that feeling well."
"Daddy? I need help with my homework."
Micah's stomach turns to stone. Couldn't she have waited until her step-mother returned? He's not the homework type. He feels a bit foolish as beads of sweat form on his brow. He's faced down squads of men with guns and stared death in the face countless times, but the thought of helping his ten-year-old daughter with homework scares him witless.
She's his precious baby girl, though, and he'd walk through fire for her. If she needs help with homework, then it's homework help she'll get. A glance at the topic of her assignment floods him with relief. It's one of those projects. The hands-on type. He can live with those. Especially when it involves making things blow up. That's right up his alley.
The three hours they spend making the volcano are the best three hours he's ever spent. The delight on his daughter's face and the laughter that still rings in his ears more than make up for the hell he knows he'll get when his wife comes home to the mess covering every inch of the kitchen.
Thin, pale arms wind around his waist. "I love you, Daddy."
Definitely worth it.
Callie purses her lips when the bartender sets a drink in front of her. "I didn't order this."
"From the gentleman over there." The bartender discreetly points at the man in question.
Marcia and Beth, two of Callie's best friends, giggle like schoolgirls once the bartender's out of earshot. Beth nudges Callie in the ribs. "He's cute, Cal."
Callie's eyes flick over the man. He is cute in a pretty-boy sort of way. Probably some big-shot corporate executive used to having women fall at his feet. "I'm married, remember?"
"Oh please," Marcia snorts indelicately. "We've invaded your house, sweetie. You don't even share a bedroom with Mister Tall, Dark, and Always Gone."
Before Callie can respond, Pretty Boy's at her side. He reaches for Callie's hand. "The band's started up. May I have this dance?"
Callie lets him lead her to the dance floor and sways with him to the smooth jazz number. His smile is friendly and the unadulterated admiration in his eyes is flattering. When he offers to take her home, she hesitates for just a second before declining.
Home, alone and angry and just a little drunk, she isn't sure who she hates more: herself or Micah.
Little Black Number
"I don't know why you wouldn't let me buy that skirt." Jenna tosses long hair over her shoulder, blue eyes glaring icily at her step-mother.
"It was a very short leather mini-skirt, precious." Callie bites back a grin when Jenna rolls her eyes. Had she ever given her brother this much trouble?
"Missy Carlson has one just like it."
Callie stops abruptly in the middle of the mall courtyard. She ignores the people who push past her as she stares at Jenna with mock-understanding. "Well, why didn't you say you were competing for the Miss Tramp of Rolling Hills High? Let's get that skirt. I think I've got a pair of red stilettos and a corset at home you could borrow."
Jenna's cheeks redden. Does Callie have to talk so loud? "God, you're so mean!"
"Yep." Callie tosses an arm across Jenna's shoulders and tries not to be upset when the arm gets shrugged off. "I'm the evil step-mother all those Disney movies warned you about."
"I hate you."
Ten minutes later, Callie's warm blood coating her hands, Jenna wants nothing more than to take those words back.
Five years later, she still can't look at a miniskirt without crying.
All Jenna knows is that one minute she and Callie are arguing about miniskirts and the next she's being shoved under a silver BMW while Callie slinks off like a jungle cat in jeans and a pink hoodie. Jenna calls her Uncle Joe, though she can't tell him more than, "Just get here NOW!" She stays curled in her hiding spot until Uncle Joe bends down and offers his hand.
She ignores the steely-eyed agents scouring the area and the approaching sirens. She's got to find Callie. It was such a stupid fight and her chest burns with the need to tell Callie that she didn't mean a single, hateful word.
Twenty feet from the BMW, Jenna spots the strap of Callie's purse. Flecks of drying blood stain the leather. Jenna tentatively rounds the bumper of a black Hummer and falls to her knees.
Dark ribbons of blood form gruesome highlights in Callie's blonde hair. With trembling fingers, Jenna feels along Callie's neck for a pulse. Finding none, she cradles Callie's head in her lap. Hot tears trickle down her cheeks and splash onto Callie's forehead.
"She won't wake up, Uncle Joe. M-m-my Mom. You have to help my Mommy."
Almost as soon as the neurologist has finished his report, Jonas Quinn's brain kicks in to high gear. The overprotective big-brother part of him is still aching over seeing his baby sister so frail and lifeless both back in the parking lot and here in the hospital. Thinking like the hard-ass owner of one of the world's leading soldier-for-hire agencies is easier.
He's lost, hopefully only temporarily, a senior analyst. As Callie doesn't remember anything from the past fourteen years, he'll have to reassign all her current projects. She can't take on any new projects because politics and regimes have changed since her last clear memory. She's still absolutely brilliant, though, and he'd be a fool to not find a place for her.
He's lost a field merc, too. Micah won't go anywhere until the threat against his daughter's been contained. Not that Jonas blames him any for that. His sister was the one shot, after all. The assignments Jonas has scheduled for Micah will have to be reassigned.
Head aching at the thought of all the extra work this shooter's suddenly given him, Jonas wouldn't mind be locked in a small room with him for an hour or two.
A Promise Kept
Irony, Micah learns, is deciding that you want to make a go of your marriage only to have your wife forget ever saying, 'I do.' It's busting your butt in the worst hellholes in the world to keep your family safe back home only to have them attacked in a mall parking lot.
Standing at the window in Jonas' office, Micah watches Callie, who still has the line from his ring on her finger though she doesn't remembers wearing it, talk animatedly with another agent. He hasn't seen her smile that way, the smile that starts at the lips and ends with twinkling eyes, in years. She looks lighter, brighter, and fourteen years younger. The same fourteen years she lost, that she's been married to him.
Callie promised to protect his daughter with her life. She took a bullet meant for Jenna and nearly left her brains splattered on the pavement. She kept her promise and the price was her memory.
On the flight home, Micah made a mental vow to finally give Callie everything she deserves. It's time he keeps his promise, too. He turns to Jonas with dark, pain-filled eyes.
"Don't tell her. She's better off like this."
Jenna listens to her father and Uncle Jonas talk about traumatic brain injuries, temporary amnesia, and swelling, but all she hears is "forgot." As in Callie's forgotten ever being her mother. This is her fault, isn't it? It's punishment for all the times she argued with Callie and told her that she wasn't her real mother.
"W-w-will her memory come back?" Jenna squeezes her father's hand though her eyes are on her uncle. She knows that her father will lie to her if he thinks it will protect her, but Uncle Joe isn't like that. He understands that the truth hurts, but it's better than lies.
"No one knows, kiddo. Could come back tomorrow, next week, or never. We just need to be patient and give Callie time."
Jenna nods. She can do that. Though she really wants to barge into Callie's room with a photo album to remind Callie of their summer vacations at South Padre Island or the time Callie chaperoned the school trip to San Antonio, she'll wait.
"Don't worry, sweetheart. We'll be okay." Micah affectionately ruffles his daughter's hair.
"I know, Dad." Jenna smiles back, proving that she can lie just as well as her father.
When Micah doesn't come home in time for their first wedding anniversary, Callie laughs off her foolishness and eats by herself. For the next three anniversaries, she takes Jenna out for ice cream. The fifth anniversary, Callie buys a bottle of champagne and toasts the empty dinner plate beside her.
Jonas takes her out for the sixth anniversary. On the seventh, he gets smart and keeps her away from the tequila. He hires a babysitter for the eighth, and flies Callie to California so that sunshine and merlot can lift her spirits. For her ninth anniversary, Callie stays up all night with a sick Jenna and a pot of coffee.
Jonas purposely arranges Micah's assignments so that Micah is home for the tenth anniversary. When his sister shows up on his doorstep, heartbroken and crying, it takes all of Jonas' restraint to keep from killing the other man.
Callie learns her lesson, though. She doesn't mark their anniversary on her calendar. When the day rolls around, she indulges in retail therapy and leaves her phone off.
Micah buys roses, jewelry, and a card for their fourteenth anniversary. He'd give them to Callie, but for once she's the one who forgets.
"I need lunch money."
Micah glances up from his computer screen, brow furrowed. This is the first Jenna's spoken to him since the dinner debacle the night before. How was he supposed to know she was experimenting with vegetarianism?
"You don't take a tofu sandwich or something?"
Jenna rolls her eyes, purses her lips, and tilts her chin up in the air. Has her father always been this clueless and she never saw it or is it a recent development? "No. There's a salad bar at school. Also, we're out of bread."
"Oh." Micah has vague memories of bachelor life: late-night grocery runs and a running tab with the pizza joint. He has no idea what kind of food to buy for a fifteen-year-old quasi-vegetarian.
Another eye roll and a huff of impatience. "I'll make a list when I get home from school. You are going to remember to pick me up today, aren't you?"
"Good." Jenna kisses her father's cheek. "Sorry, Daddy. I just don't like being…"
"Forgotten." Micah finishes knowingly. This isn't just about his ineptitude as a father. It's about Callie. They're both adrift, uncertain, and it makes them snippy. "I won't forget you, kiddo."
Most parents would be furious at having their teenage daughter challenge their rules. Micah had been angry when she'd questioned the curfew. His temper cooled when, rather than sulking and whining, she rattled off a logical argument. It's not going to change his mind one bit, but she's got a good head and isn't afraid to fight for what she wants.
Jenna's a wonderful daughter, better than he deserves. She stays out of trouble, has excellent grades, and a clear view of what she wants out of life. Listening to her now, passionately yet sensibly campaigning for a raise in her allowance, fills him with pride.
Until he realizes that, aside from donating the DNA, he's done nothing to bring about the beautiful, inside and out, girl in front of him. He can see Callie's influence in the cock of Jenna's hip and the intelligence in her eyes.
"You remind me of your mom."
Jenna falters mid-sentence. Hostility clouds her eyes. "I wouldn't know. She died and you never talk about her."
Micah's heart stutters until he realizes Jenna's misunderstanding. "No. Callie."
Jenna's eyes soften. "Then I'll take that as a compliment."
Micah grins. It's exactly how he meant it.
It starts with a fall in the shower and a bump on the head. Callie laughs it off, takes aspirin for the pain, and rides to the office with Jonas. She can't ignore how secretive he and Micah Harkness have been lately or the niggling in the back of her head like she's forgotten something.
The morning is spent on boring fiscal reports in her bland office. Around noon, head still aching, she pops two pills then turns out the lights. A quick nap is all she needs to make the pain stop. She dreams of a parking lot, bullets and blood, a screaming girl, and fear and sorrow.
Callie wakes disoriented. She stumbles into a familiar hallway. She must have fallen asleep in an empty office. Hers is two doors down. She flicks on the lights, surprised at the amount of dust on her monitor and desk.
A quick glance at her phone, the wall calendar's still on November, has her dashing down the hallway. She's going to miss Jenna's spring choir concert! She gets to the auditorium on time, finds Micah, and slips into the seat beside him.
Watching Jenna, she doesn't see the astonishment in Micah's eyes.
Chase the Storm
Callie shivers when the wind kicks up. She can smell rain in the air. If she and Micah stay in the yard any longer, they're going to be drenched. She doesn't want to go inside, though. Going inside means returning to the real world; dirty dishes, Jenna's English homework, and back to Jonas' house.
This is the most time she's spent alone with Micah since her memory returned. Not that she remembers those months of amnesia. She'd like to slip back into what passes for normalcy, but none of them are on sure footing. Jenna's clingy and constantly holds her breath as if waiting to be forgotten again.
Micah's different, too. He's grown more confident when it comes to dealing with Jenna. Callie would try to bow out of their marriage, but something in the way those dark eyes watch her and the way he's constantly touching her keeps her from taking that step. It's as if he's attempting to be a husband. Things are changing. It leaves Callie itchy with anticipation.
"I should get going."
Micah reaches over, wraps long fingers around her wrist. "Stay, Cal."
White teeth gleam in the darkness. "It's nothing we can't handle."
Precious & Expendable (2 prompts so total is 400 words)
"Until Jonas can tell us whether or not this was a kidnapping attempt or not, you and I are going to spend the next couple of weeks away. I'll let you choose, kiddo."
"I want to stay here with Mom." Jenna's eyes flash angrily. She just got Callie back! How can her father ask her to give her up so soon? "Are you seriously going to make me choose between you and Mom?"
"No choice," a raspy voice interrupts before Micah can respond. "Go with your dad, presh."
Jenna carefully perches on the edge of Callie's bed. She curls her hand around her step-mother's. "You're awake! Do you need anything? How's your head? Should I call the nurse?"
"Breathe, kiddo." Callie smiles weakly. She's more embarrassed than anything. Back in the hospital after one little bump on the head courtesy of a home intruder. Micah must think she really is helpless.
Jenna darts forward to kiss Callie's pale forehead. "You're not really going to make me go with Dad, are you?"
"You know how precious you are to me, don't you Jenn-Lynn?"
Jenna shrugs her shoulders uncomfortably. That's just a nickname, isn't it? Looking back on how she'd treated Callie the past couple of years, she feels pretty un-precious.
Callie squeezes Jenna's fingers. "You are the most important thing in the world to me. If anything were to happen to you, it would kill me. Faster than a bullet through the heart, precious."
Micah clears a lump from his throat and places a warm hand on Callie's shoulder. He still hasn't recovered from seeing Callie crumpled on the floor with a masked man standing over her and his gun in Jenna's shaking hand. He and Jenna have already had a long discussion about weapons.
"That's twice now, Cal." He's angry at her for being so quick to put her life in jeopardy and angry at himself for ever making her think she's expendable.
Callie frowns. "Forgive the girl with the concussion, but what are you talking about?"
"I know you love, Jenna. You're the best mother a kid could ask for. You keep both of us in line." Micah's hand reflexively clenches around her shoulder. "That means you can't just jump in front of flying bullets, damn it."
"What Dad's trying to say," Jenna interrupts smoothly, "is that all that precious stuff you were saying earlier? It goes both ways."
Jenna grins at her father. She's intimately acquainted with that tone of voice and is glad it's not directed at her for once. "You're in trouble," she sing-songs happily.
Callie, face flushed and eyes dark with anger, appears in the doorway. She flashes Jenna a tight smile. "Scram, precious."
Jenna scrambles to her feet. She pats her dad on the head on her way out of the room.
"Don't you 'honey' me, Micah." Callie wags her finger. She opens her other hand so something sparkly dangles from her fingertips. "What's this?"
Micah tilts his head to the side. Is this one of those trick questions where the answer's wrong no matter what he says? "Bracelet?"
"And just how did this very pretty diamond and platinum bracelet find its way into my desk drawer?"
Micah tugs Callie into his arms and hooks his chin over her shoulder. "Can't I spoil the wife I was a complete ass to for fourteen years?"
"I let you buy me the earrings. I told you to stop after the ring. I told you that I really meant it after the necklace. I'm going to tattoo it on your forehead this time!"
In The Mood
"Pizza? That place down the road makes the best super-veggie."
"We had pizza two nights ago, Jenn. Save the pizza-every-night routine for when you're in college. Trust me, it gets old fast."
"What about shrimp? We've got some in the freezer and it wouldn't take Dad long to fire up the grill. I'm willing to loosen my dietary morals for one night."
"Oooh. Let's skip dinner and go straight to dessert. How about those deluxe hot-fudge sundaes at Murray's?"
"Ugh, Mom, did you not hear me complaining earlier about how my bikini isn't fitting right? And shut up. You keep up that Carly Simon stuff, I'm shoving you in the pool."
"You're a very violent child, Jennifer Lynn. I blame your father."
"Blame whomever you want. It's not getting me fed."
"Burgers are out, I suppose. You nearly got us banned from Big John's Burger Shack last time. Shame, too. I love their mushroom Swiss burgers."
"All that rare red meat? You're lucky all I did was puke on the waiter's shoes, Mom."
"Time to admit we're in a rut."
"What about you, Dad?"
"Hmm? What's that, sweetheart?"
"What are you in the mood for?"
"Another day just like this."
It isn't until Pete's actually arrived that Micah regrets inviting him to the island. He knows the other man needs to unwind after over a year in Afghanistan, but Micah's rapidly running out of patience.
"Sorry, man. This is your last beer." Pete twists off the cap and drops it to the ground. Micah immediately scoops it up. It's a weekday so the pool area isn't crowded, but Micah's learned to respect the home owner's association's rules. Sitting through two extremely boring board meetings will do that to a person.
"That's okay." It's not, but Micah can drink soda until he can make a run to the corner store.
"Oh, man. She's a little on the small side, but that girl's hot."
Micah's eyes follow Pete's. He chokes on a mouthful of soda and hits Pete. "That's my daughter!"
"Sorry, man." Pete doesn't sound apologetic. "You shouldn't let her run around in that bathing suit."
Whatever Micah wants to say is cut off when Pete practically shouts, in rather crude detail, his appreciation for the 'smokin' hot babe' that catches his attention next. This time, Micah doesn't hold back when he elbows Pete in the gut.
"Pete, that's my wife!"
Callie's legs give out just as she reaches the edge of the bathtub. She blows out a shaky breath and bends so that her head is between her knees. The blood rushing to her face does little for her headache, though it does help with the dizziness.
"Mom?" Jenna knocks sharply on the door. She turns the handle but the door is locked. "Are you okay, Mom? Should I get Dad?"
Callie opens her mouth to respond, to tell Jenna that she's just fine, but all that comes out is a small squeak. The hurried pounding of bare feet on hardwood is followed shortly by heavier footfalls. Great. Micah won't let a little thing like a door keep him out.
"Jenn says you've been in there a while. She's really worried. I'm coming in, sweetheart."
Callie hears Micah pick the lock, but can't move. She looks up when the door swings open and offers up a watery smile.
Micah starts towards his wife, but something on the vanity catches his eye. The three white sticks lined up are familiar. So are the pink plus signs.
Jenna hovers uncertainly in the doorway, vase of pink roses in hand. "Happy Mothers' Day?"
"It's one of those tests shrinks give, isn't it? Where the picture you see tells them if you're a psycho or not, right?" Blake Schmitt, Jenna's oldest friend, holds the small picture up to the light to try and get a better look.
"Nah," Jenna grabs the picture from Blake's hand and sets it back on the table. "I don't think so, at least. Maybe Mom was trying to print a picture and ran out of ink. I can see a few shapes. It might be a person."
"Dude, your mom's got weird taste in artwork."
Jenna slugs Blake's shoulder. "No she doesn't. And don't call me 'dude.'"
"I think I heard her car pull up. We can always just ask her." Blake's always liked his best friend's step-mother. Callie doesn't mind that he spends more time at their house than his. "I bet it's one of those 3-D pictures where the image comes out if you stare at it long enough."
"You are such a dork." Jenna holds the picture up for Callie as soon as the older woman steps inside the kitchen. "Hey, Mom. Tell Blake this isn't one of those psych test things."
"That's your little sister."