It was seven in the evening when I disengaged a cart from the row and began my route through the store. I can’t remember a single trip that didn’t result in running into at least one person I knew. Unlike Lee, who wanted to shop in peace and hated the fact I was always engaging with people, I looked forward to these little social trips. Even when I was on a mission for something quick like meat and cheese, ice cream, or bread and milk, I still found joy in interacting with people.
I’m not implying that I was popular, that I had a fan following, because I didn’t, not really anyway. I did, however, have a public job. Some might even say I was a public figure. I had more followers on social media than most people in town, not enough to be verified, but for a small town, it was a big number. Granted, most of those followers were much, much younger.
That’s because I worked with teenagers. I was the director of a Youth Evolution Outreach, YEVO. Our main mission was to help kids from low income, homeless, and broken homes. It wasn’t exclusive though, so over the years we had attracted kids from every walk of life. In a high school of six hundred, I had over one hundred kids at club every week. That was insane considering different kids came on different weeks because of other obligations like home life, sports, homework, work, etc. At one point, there were over three hundred and fifty kids that had attended at some point during the school year.
Over fifty percent of the school. No pressure.
I was a thirty-two-year-old guy that spent the majority of his life with teenagers and I would never have changed a thing. I was in their world, doing the things they loved. I earn the right to speak truth into their lives. Teens get a bad rap for being dumbasses but when you get past all the bullshit, like I had the privilege of doing, you get to see that they’re pretty awesome people. Awesome people that make some questionable life choices. Not all that different from their adult counterparts.
It was the parents that drove me nuts. They think their kid should be number one, even if their kids were an annoying little shit head (because yes, I’m human and think some teens are annoying as shit). They also thought they should have full access to my life. I didn’t disagree. I spent time with kids and I wanted parents to trust me. I had no problem living a transparent life. I had a private life but not a secret life.
The difference between the two was simple. A private life was knowing I didn’t have to share everything while knowing I had nothing to hide. If my private life got exposed, I had nothing to be ashamed of. A secret life was just that, a secret. It was doing things behind closed doors that you’d be ashamed of, such as an affair, addiction, inappropriate relationship with minors, etc. I had none of those.
Every week I shared bits of my life. If anyone had questions all they had to do was ask. I always felt like people kept too many secrets and I loved the look on someone's face when they realized they weren’t alone. That the shame or embarrassment they thought was unique to only them was actually common to those around them, it’s just that no one talked about it.
So, between the kids I worked with, the parents I dealt with, the adults that worked with me, and the community that supported me; my social network was wide.
I wandered down the produce aisle trying not to buy too much. I ate healthily but also had a terrible habit of buying too much produce and then tossing it out. I picked up a melon and sniffed the side then thumped it. I always wondered how you would tell if it’s ready. After repeating this on a few different fruits, I finally set one in the cart.
I looked up to see William and smiled brightly. He was the dad of two kids in YEVO, a monthly donor, and more importantly, a volunteer leader.
“William!” I greeted him, giving him a strong handshake. “I didn’t get a chance to the other day, but I wanted to thank you for helping out at the fundraiser last weekend. It was busier than I anticipated and I couldn’t have done it without you. So thanks,” I squeezed his hand once more before letting go.
He waved me off.
“Nothing to it. I’m always willing to help out. Plus, no one expects you to do everything.”
“Well, thanks anyway. You da man.”
We both laughed and talked about upcoming YEVO events including the last two clubs of the year (we go off the school year calendar) and summer camp. Spring was always a busy work season for me but after camp, the summer was calm until we geared up for fall.
“I saw you speak yesterday. You killed it like always. It was fun watching the kids react to your words. You have a gift.”
I didn’t like being complimented. I never wanted to come off as prideful and sometimes that’s how I felt when I was constantly praised. I didn’t feel prideful, I felt like others thought I was prideful. But Williams' words were genuine and he had a way of making me feel good without fear of judgment.
“Thank you. I was a bit nervous. It’s not easy talking to a large group of kids about things like abstinence, self-respect, and healthy relationships without fear that they’re rolling their eyes and laughing at you.”
“No, I understand, but you gave them a lot to think about. Most of them will continue to do what they’ve always done, but you planted seeds in their life, ones that might not grow today or tomorrow, but they’ll remember things you said and at some point, those words will take root.”
And that statement was something I lived by.
A few minutes later I was back to grocery shopping and by the time I was ready to check out, I’d run into three more people. Two of which I hadn’t seen in ages.
I was smiling as I pushed the cart through the parking lot toward my truck. It had been a long week and the weekend wasn’t one for rest. I had enough self-awareness to know the introvert in me was drained and in desperate need of re-charging.
When I got home I put the groceries away and started looking up potential vacations online. I tried to go somewhere twice a year. Somewhere I hadn’t been. One of the trips was with my husband, Leland. The second trip I usually went solo or with a friend. I know it sounds weird to vacation without your spouse but Lee was a successful lawyer who had a hard time taking off work.
He enjoyed vacations, but not like I did. And as much as I loved the guy, traveling with him was not always fun. He’s a type A personality and it drove him nuts when things weren’t planned out to the minute. I was a fly by the seat of my pants traveler who preferred to have a rough itinerary while letting life lead the way. He got to the airport three hours early while I was fine arriving at the gate after boarding commenced.
I found a nice balance. My ‘Leland’ vacation was usually a rest and relaxation centered event that starred a beautiful sandy beach and a full-service hotel. While my ‘Nash’ vacation was all about shared hostels and sketchy food, things that made Lee wonder if I was looking for a death wish.
I was browsing my way through Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia when my phone rang. I looked at the phone and smiled, then swiped to answer the video chat.
“Hey you,” I said with a giant grin.
“Miss me?” Lee asked.
“Not even a little,” I held up a carton of ice cream and he laughed. Every time I bought ice cream he ate it all before I had a chance to get my hands on it.
“You’re not gonna wait for me? You’ve always been so selfish,” he whined and pouted.
He was adorable, and after more than a decade, he still kept me on my toes. He had really dark blonde hair that he kept in a stylish cut. He was busy being a lawyer. Or at least I thought so. I thought the softness around his waist was incredibly sexy and I let him know it all the time...much to his annoyance.
“Oh stop, I’ll save you some,” taking a giant bite and slowly savoring it while he watched.
“You’re so cruel.”
“What?” I said innocently.
Before he could say anything, he yawned. This three hour time difference is killing me. I can barely keep my eyes open.”
He was right. His blue eyes looked super tired.
“Go to bed then. You need all the beauty rest you can get,” I smirked.
“Jerk,” he laughed then perked up. “Question for you, what bed should I sleep in?”
Lee flipped the video around and panned between two identical queen beds.
“Hmm, tough call,” I tapped my finger on my lips as I attempted to really think it through. “Let me see the first bed again.”
He moved the camera to the closest bed.
“And now the second one.”
He panned it over.
“Again,” I said.
He moved it back and forth several times. The beds were nothing special. All white with four pillows on each.
“The first bed, the one by the wall,” I said, announcing my final answer.
“And why is that?” he quizzed.
“Because the other bed is by the heater/air-conditioner and you can never sleep comfortably next to that thing. You’re going to bitch and bitch about your lack of sleep. Hot cold, hot cold,” I mocked.
“Ahh, you know me so well,” he cooed.
“Damn straight,” I smiled. “Anyway, I gotta go. I’m looking up trips to Thailand.”
Lee groaned as he undressed and walked toward the bathroom. He set the phone down on the counter I watched as he got his toothbrush ready.
“Thailand? You’re definitely going to die there.”
“I’ll make sure my will is updated before I leave,” I teased.
“Oh good. I can’t wait to live comfortably off the money you’ve made from your non-profit salary,” he teased back.
It was true. I made peanuts. We both knew my job wasn’t about income, that’s what Lee was for. My job was so much more.
“It’ll all be yours. You can quit work for three days on what I have stashed away.”
He spits out the remaining toothpaste then set his toothbrush off to the side then smiles at me.
“Every retiree’s dream. Three carefree days.”
We said our goodbyes as he climbed into bed. He was only gone for three days but I still told him to hurry home. Usually, his conferences were a lot closer to home but this was about federal law changes and was on the other side of the country in DC. I would’ve died of boredom but he loved that stuff. He was all about learning new, boring things. One of the many ways we were hardwired differently.
And one of the many reasons I loved the guy to death.
When we finally ended the call I went back to searching google. I hadn’t made any big decisions yet but I was definitely leaning in that direction. I knew the cultural experience would be amazing.
While looking at vacations, I got several texts from kids. State competition for track started the next day in Eugene. I had a bunch of kids competing and a bunch more wanting to ride with me to show our support. We needed to leave town by eight in the morning. That meant I had to leave the house even earlier so I had time to pick everyone up.
I confirmed times, ate dinner, showered, and settled into bed with my book. I stayed up too late, reading, before finally falling asleep alone.
The next morning I left the house and began the trek to gather my littles. Thirty minutes later all eight seats in my twenty year old suburban were full of tired teens begging to stop for coffee before beginning the two and half hour drive to the University of Oregon, where the State competition for Track and Field was held.
Ordering everyone’s drinks was always a big production. They never let me turn the music down, not that it mattered since the music playing inside the small drive-thru was ten times louder. Everyone shouted their orders at me, then changed their minds and began shouting a new order. All the while, the guy taking our order was hanging out of the window without a care in the world. If the company was going to insist that their barely legal employees hang carelessly out the window while schmoozing with customers, then they should insist on safety harnesses. That should say a lot since according to Lee, I lived a life of danger.
When the window boy was safely back inside and everyone in my car had a caffeinated beverage in their hand, I pulled away.
“Cushman has a pink straw!” Madison yelled from the back. She was wedged between David and the other Madison.
The car erupted into an explosion of OOoo’s. I looked down and sure enough, there was a pink straw in my drink. In the brains of adolescents, a pink straw meant the person working thought you were hot. I knew it was nothing more than a random draw. Like winning the lottery, except in my case, it was a creepy and mildly uncomfortable form of flattery since window boy may or may not have been eighteen yet.
Before I had a chance to remind them that I was thirty-two and window boy was...not even close to my age, my phone rang. I waved my hand to quiet everyone down as I answered the call.
“Hey Lee!” the kids screamed before I had a chance to greet my blushing bride.
“Hey everyone!” he responded with a laugh.
This wasn’t the first time he was bombarded by my kids. They were just as much a part of his life as they were mine.
“Guess what?” Madison yelled with a bit too much excitement, “Nash got a pink straw!”
I looked at her through the rearview mirror and rolled my eyes. She only smiled brighter.
“Ahh, a pink straw…”
He had no clue.
“It means the barista thinks he’s hot,” Sarah clarified.
“Well, that makes sense,” Lee chuckled. “He’s pretty irresistible if I say so.”
The girls squealed at his compliment.
“Don’t encourage them,” I said in a slightly sarcastic singsong voice.
“Where’s the fun in that?” he laughed again. “Anyway, I have to get going. What time will you be back home?”
“I’m not sure what time the events are. Probably not until late, which will be super late for you.”
“That’s what I figured. Shoot me a text tonight and if I’m still awake, I’ll call you?”
“Perfect. Make sure you learn lots of stuff today,” I teased, “and I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Love you, baby.”
“Love you, too. Come home.”
“Bye everyone,” Lee sang to the rest of the car.
“Bye Lee,” they sang back, making me laugh.
“Bye Nash,” he said to me, once more.
I immediately had to fend off comments from the girls in the car. They always thought we were so cute. I didn’t know if we were actually cute together or if it was because we were gay, but there was always a commotion after interacting with Lee.
If listening to a song to its completion is important to you, don’t spend time with teenagers. There’s something about a finite time frame, like a two-hour car ride, that makes them want to cram in as many songs as possible. The only way to do this was by listening to a song for a minute or so and then moving on. By the time we arrived on campus, I wanted to throw every single loving iPod out the window.
I’m going to murder them...with love, but I’m still going to murder them! I texted Lee as I got out of the truck.
You’re so cute, Nash. I gotta go. Corporate tax laws don’t learn themselves. Talk soon xoxo
Fine. Go learn stuff. I’m going to sing a song from beginning to end while watching kids run, jump, and throw things
You live a great life
I do, don’t I?
I smiled. There were moments when the kids drove me mad but at the end of the day, I had a good life and a great job. I slipped my phone in my back pocket as we weaved our way through the parking lot, paid our admittance fee, and found our way to the Lincoln High guest section. Some of the kids scattered to go meet up with other friends while David and Christian followed me to the bleachers. I said hi to kids and parents while we found our own spot to settle.
“I’m surprised you're not with Madison,” I said to David, who looked a little gloomy. It was a well-known fact that David had a giant crush on Madison and was never far from where she was.
“She is meeting up with someone and I wasn’t invited.”
I nodded knowingly and stared across the field. I liked David. Teenage boys could be frustrating but David had his shit together. He was what I considered well-balanced. He went to the occasional party and did dumb shit with his friends on the weekends but mostly, he was really respectable. He treated girls how they should be treated, he respected those around him, he didn’t give in to peer pressure, he was a junior youth leader at his church, but was humble as anyone I’d ever met.
Madison, on the other hand, well...as much as I liked her, she wasn’t of the respectable variety. She always had one or two guys on the hook and moved from one relationship to the next before it ended. She never seemed to consider anyone aside from herself, so it never phased her when she hurt others while in pursuit of her own happiness.
David knew all this but the heart wants what the heart wants. I prayed every day that he’d move on to someone more his speed before he did something he regretted. David and I had already talked about the subject to death so there was no need for me to say anything at that moment. We all knew what was going on and we all knew that it wouldn’t change anything, so we watched the field events instead.
“Kayde is a beast,” Christian shook his head in awe and David and I nodded in agreement.
Kayde Knott was a total beast. In a small town like Lincoln, he stood out. He was a born athlete, the kind that makes varsity their freshman year without trying out. It wasn’t just sports that he was good at, it was literally anything he did. He could learn an instrument without trying, fix a motor, build a house, fly a plane, or solve the world's unsolved math problems. Objectively, and in a totally non-perverted way, he was also extremely handsome. He wasn’t the kind of greek god you read about in the stories, but he was real life perfection. As a senior he was five-ten or so, no doubt he’d grow some more in college. He was muscular and ruggedly handsome with dirty blond hair that he wore shaggy like a skater.
Kayde came from a long line of perfection. The Knott family were all genetically modified badasses. My straight crush was Kayde’s dad, Ryan. Lee’s was his uncle Logan. There were three of them; Ryan, Penn, and Logan.
Ryan was the oldest, roughly mid-forties and a total silver fox hottie. He owned a thriving concrete business. He married his high school sweetheart after they got pregnant with their first son, Kevin. After Keven they had Kayde, then they had Ellie. Kevin was just as athletic and went to college on a full ride scholarship. Ellie was a sophomore and already proving that she could match her brothers. She was a powerhouse. Tall and muscular just like the rest of her family.
Penn was forty-ish and nowhere near greying like his older brother. I didn’t see him around as much as his brothers. He had a wife, Camilla, his high school sweetheart and drop dead gorgeous. For whatever reason, they’d never had kids. Like everyone in his family, he owned a successful business. Underwater welding or something crazy like that. It was one of those jobs you hear about but never actually know anyone who does it.
Logan was the baby of the family at thirty-eight. His wife Abby was beautiful. Short, petite, total fake boobs but a great smile and sweet as pie. They also married out of high school when Abby got pregnant. Unlike the happy marriage between Ryan and Jane, Logan and Abby had lots of divorce rumors over the years. I don’t know how true they were since nothing ever happened, but it’s possible they’d had a rocky go. Lots of people thought Abby was a gold digger, that the only reason they hadn’t divorced was that she refused to let go of the hefty income from Logan’s construction business. I never believed it though, greed only takes a marriage so far, and I was sure there was more between them than just money. While people were busy saying cruel things about them, I applauded them for making it work. They also did their part in extending their gene pool with one boy and one girl; Kody and Kayla. Kody was a Sophomore and Kyla was in eighth grade and you guessed right...they were both born for greatness.
“He’s killing it out there,” Christian said as the senior dominated the field.
Kayde had just thrown the javelin and everyone was anxiously waiting to find out if he broke a record, that’s how incredible the throw was. The distance was put up, 205-08 making the crowd go wild. Kayde had just beat the previous record by almost an inch. It was total insanity. His smile was so big and genuine you could help but smile along. He was practically radiating excitement on the field.
He wasn’t the only one, his entire village exploded at the top of our section. I turned around to see Ryan fist pumping the sky in excitement. I had to give it to them, it didn’t matter how many times their family killed it, every new victory was met with the same genuine excitement. There never seemed to be an expectation of winning, only pure surprise and excitement every time someone did well. They were always proud as could be.
I wish more kids had the support system that the Knott kids had. That all kids had a village like theirs. Their village was big, consisting of the Knott brothers, their parents, two of the wives families, and the Lewis family (who weren’t blood-related but that didn’t seem to matter). They went to everything with each other and supported every event there was. It never mattered how far away, they were there. All of them.
When the excitement died down everyone focused on the field again. We focused on Mason, Christian’s best friend. He was a quiet Hispanic distance runner who was crazy talented, yet managed to fly completely under the social radar. He was the best distance runner Lincoln had seen since, well, since I was in high school, and he was pretty close to exceeding my skill.
We cheered at his strong start and I was impressed by his pace. He was a natural. He was making great time as he neared the end of the three thousand meter race. He had no need to kick it, but he did, smoking the runner-up by several yards.
We stood and cheered as he approached us, red-faced and sweaty.
“You did good out there!” I congratulated him with a pat on the shoulder.
“I PR’d but I didn’t beat you,” he frowned in a teasing manner.
“What can I say?” I shrugged my shoulder and shot him a cocky look, “it’s hard to beat greatness.”
“Humble as ever,” he laughed. “I still have a chance to beat your record next year.”
His determination made me laugh.
“Hey, everyone needs something to fuel their fire, never give up man.”
“Ten bucks says Cushman could come closer to beating his high school record now, as an old man, than you could,” David challenged Mason, making us laugh.
“I doubt that,” I said. “I’m thirty-two now. I made that record fifteen years ago. That’s half my life ago. But hey, I appreciate the compliment.”
“What are you talking about?” David looked at me like I was crazy. “You’re a badass who’s always running marathons and shit, you could totally kick Mason's ass.”
I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at the praise. It was the kind of attention I hated. Plus, I wanted to highlight the kids, not myself
“I feel a challenge coming on,” Christian rubbed his hands together, evilly.
The idea of a race between the two of us had Mason sitting up a little straighter. I couldn’t tell how he felt about it. Was he excited, nervous, not interested? His expression didn’t give much away.
“A race?! That sounds interesting. I’d support that,” Christian added then turned to Mason. “Wanna race Cushman? See who's the better man, once and for all?”
Mason thought about it for a moment before slowly shaking his head.
“Yeah. There’s nothing to lose. If Cushman wins, it’s because he’s a record holder and a marathon pro if I win—bragging rights for life,” he said with a bright smile and a cocky head nod.
“I’m not going to race if that’s your attitude. You have to have something to lose or it’s not worth fighting for. Come up with a good reason why I should race you, then we’ll talk,” I told him.
Mason deflated a little but I think he understood what I was saying. The concept was good. A race between the two of us could be the motivation he needed to push himself. There was no one at school good enough to push him.
I could be his carrot.
We continued to watch the athletes compete. Mason left to support his teammates. The other kids that rode with me came and went as they pleased, including David and Christian. I mingled with the other spectators. A lot of them were kids I knew or parents I was friends with.
Eventually, the kids came back from whatever they were doing because they were hungry. There was only a small concession stand open and the food didn’t look all that appealing so they asked if I could drive them to Subway. We decided to get our food to go. That way we could continue to watch the events.
As soon as we re-entered the campus, the teens took off toward the bleachers, leaving me to walk back alone. I was passing the line of porta-potties when one of the doors opened and Ryan stepped out. As soon as he saw me his face lit up with one of his signature smiles.
“Nash! I’m so glad you came today. The kids always love it when you come around.”
“Are you kidding me? I love watching this stuff. They work so hard to get here and there’s nothing better than watching the pride and happiness on their faces when they do well.”
I knew I was smiling brightly, I always did when it came to the kids.
“Speaking of—” I added, “Kayde killed it.”
Ryan beamed like the proud father he was.
“It was amazing, wasn’t it? He’s something else. I’m so proud of that kid,” he said with longing in his eyes.
“He’s a hell of a kid. There’s lots to be proud of.”
There was a brief pause while we walked towards the bleachers. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable, it just...was. When we reached the bottom of the stairs he turned and faced me.
“We’re going to celebrate before we go home. You should come. Kayde would love to see you there.”
I smiled at the gesture but I never took them personally. They always invited everyone. I could’ve been a random Joe he just met and he’d still have invited me because it was the kind thing to do. I almost never took him up on his invitations. There were too many people who went for the wrong reasons and I had no intention of being one of those people. The ones who only went because it was a Knott event.
“Maybe,” I offered. “I have a car full of kids that I need to get home. We’ll probably do something really quick so we can hit the road.”
He looked a little frustrated at my excuse.
“I’m serious, you should come.”
Before I could respond, Penn, his younger brother, came bounding down the stairs until he was standing with us. This was my cue to leave. One Knott brother was plenty, two is overwhelming. Plus, they had better things to do than hang with me.
I quickly ducked away and jogged up the steps until I found my seat. I had no plans on attending their celebratory dinner. Even if I wanted to, it’s always slightly weird. They’re all so close, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like an outsider. As confident and well known as I was, they had a way of making me feel like the un-cool loner kid. I ate my lunch and watched the rest of the events while simultaneously socializing with everyone around me.
At some point, a few of the kids managed to convince me to make the most ridiculous Instagram video. It was a weird filter that distorted my face and changed my voice. They made me sing and dance to “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai. I have to admit that the video was so ridiculous I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched it replay. The video continued to loop as it got passed around. I didn’t mind making a fool of myself if it made the kids happy, and boy were the kids having a good time at my expense. Even the parents couldn’t get enough of the video. Before I knew what was happening the video was being posted on multiple social media platforms for the world to see. There were probably over a hundred videos of me online by that point, even more, if you count the ones I had no idea were being filmed.
Just another day in the life of a YEVO Director.
It was almost eight in the evening when we made it to the truck after all the events wrapped up. Some of the kids who competed and various spectators had left earlier but we stuck it through to the end.
“The million dollar questions. Where’s dinner?” I asked as everyone loaded up, the smaller of the kids being forced to sit in the third row with barely any leg room.
Food always seemed to be the most important part of any trip. It was usually the only concrete thing we planned out in advance.
“Red Pepper Pizza!” Half the truck shouted at once. It was a crowd favorite. I’d been there once and it was hands down the best pizza I ever had.
“Red Pepper Pizza it is,” I confirmed as I started the truck. I checked the mirror to make sure everyone was buckled and ready to go, then pulled out of our parking spot and navigated our way to dinner.
Cayden pulled up the online menu on his phone so we could plan our order in advance. We knew the place would be packed since it was a popular spot.
The truck was barely parked when the doors opened and Cayden, David, Christian, and both Madisons bolted out, running inside the restaurant to get a spot in line, leaving Sarah and Autumn to stumble over the back seats before racing after their friends.
We were right. The restaurant was packed when I walked in. They’d managed to find a free table. I joined David and Sarah who were stepping up the register.
“Hold this,” I handed David the ticket with our number on it, “I’m gonna run to the bathroom real fast.”
His eyebrows knitted as he took the ticket.
“Our order is gonna be twenty minutes, how long do you plan on taking?”
“Just get the sodas and sit your butt down,” I said, waving him off before heading to the men's room.
As I rounded the corner I was stopped by a line of men waiting to relieve themselves. I knew I should have gone before we left campus. Ten minutes later I washed my hands and hurried back to the table only to find it void of any familiar faces. Confused, I looked around trying to figure out what was going on.
I glanced around trying to find the voice. I finally spotted Cayden at the far end of the restaurant. He waved me over then disappeared through a door. I had no idea what was going on but followed him anyway.
If I was less of a man I would have stumbled when I walked into the strange room. It was full of people; all of whom I knew, none of whom I’d expected to eat with.
“Look who made it,” Ryan shouted. “Welcome!”
I smiled and gave a slight wave at everyone then walked over to congratulate Kayde, Ellie, and Lexi, who had all done amazing.
“Impressive work today, Kayde.”
He blushed slightly at the compliment. I chucked at his reaction and squeezed his shoulder, then moved along, acknowledging Ellie and Lexi on their performances.
“Where’s Lee?” Tia Lewis, a member of the village, asked.
“He’s at a conference in DC. Learning things so boring if I think about them for too long my brain will go numb and I’ll die.”
Tia laughed, “I bet he’s having the time of his life, though.”
“Of course,” I smiled. “He’s like a kid in a candy store. He can hardly contain his excitement.”
“And that’s why we pay him the big bucks!” Lenny, Tia’s husband, chimed in.
Lenny and Tia were best friends with the Knotts. They always partied together, vacationed together, and lived life together. They owned the garbage company, which sounds ridiculous, but they were probably the wealthiest family in town. It helped that everyone had to use their services. Like the Knotts, they were humble and kind. I was actually decent friends with them. Lenny had been my track coach in middle school and he even followed me to high school. Over the years we’d remained close and his son, Jay, was one of the kids I mentored.
“And we appreciate your business.”
“Anything for Cushman!” he shouted back as I walked toward the end where an empty chair was.
I gave him a thumbs up. Everyone knew I made crap for money and their way of compensating for my peanuts was to hire Lee. I guess they figured if Lee was making money then I’d continue working with their kids—they weren’t wrong.
There was always this weird divide in situations like this, where there were kids and adults. I never quite knew where I belonged. On one hand, I was an adult and should hang with the adults. On the other hand, I loved the kids and genuinely enjoyed hanging out with them. In fact, most of the time they were more fun than their older counterparts.
I usually didn’t give it too much thought but there were times, like now, when I was laughing hysterically with the teens, that I’d catch a glance from some of the adults and wonder what they thought. I wondered if they were annoyed that I rarely joined them.
That was also part of the problem. Parents seemed to always exclude their kids, then get upset that they didn’t know anything about them. I knew more about most kids than their parents did. I also knew more about most of the parents than they realized.
It was the car rides. Put kids in a car, turn on some music, and sit back while they tell you every detail of their life.
I knew lots about the Lewis family from both Jay and Lexi. Like the fact, the kids each had a twin mattress on either side of their parents’ bed until they were thirteen. I knew a lot about most families, yet almost nothing about the Knotts, besides what was general knowledge.
Instead of dwelling, I decided to enjoy the company beside me, not giving another thought to what the others might be thinking. They could worry about themselves and I’d worry about me.
My group finished first and I insisted we head home despite resistance from everyone in the room. Never one to give in to peer pressure, we packed up our leftovers and drove home.
It was almost midnight by the time I got home. I sent a text to Lee but I didn’t expect anything back. It was almost three in the morning where he was. No doubt he’d be fast asleep.
I was looking forward to another day of watching kids compete at State. The days might be long but life is short.
I also couldn’t wait for Lee to get home. I really missed him when he was gone.
I practically flew off the couch when Lee opened the door. I’d barely been home from taking kids home but that short time felt like forever as I waited for Lee. He got this look in his eyes when he saw me, one that told me he only had eyes for me.
People spend their whole lives looking for a love like I had with Lee.
He barely put his suitcase down when I barreled into him, pulling his legs around my waist and attacking his lips with mine. Lee wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me back.
“Hello to you, too,” he laughed.
“You’re not allowed to leave ever again,” I scolded as I carried him to the bedroom.
“I wasn’t even gone a full three days,” Lee continued to laugh at me. “Besides, you’re always gone. Summer; for camps, assignments (working at the camp for a month), and so many weekend camps I can’t keep count anymore. That doesn’t include the marathons you travel for or your solo vacations.”
I tossed him on the bed and began to strip him of his clothes while he did the same to me.
“We’re not talking about me.”
Lee tried to glare at me but as soon as my hand stroked his shaft, his eyes rolled back instead. “One of us has to work,” he moaned.
“How dare you,” I quickly flipped him around, pulling his hips up so his ass was in the air. “I work just as hard, if not harder than you do,” I playfully growled at my husband.
“Show me how hard you work,” he dared me, gazing at me from over his shoulder.
I grabbed the bottle from the nightstand and ran fingers between his supple cheeks as I applied gel to his delectable ass. I smirked when he shivered under my touch and started pushing back against me. I slowly pressed one finger into him followed a short time later by two, and then three. Finally, I kneed his legs apart and slid my erection between his flesh.
Not wanting to waste another moment after three long days apart, I slowly pressed myself into him.
I woke the next morning with Lee spooned against my back. I ground against him in hopes he’d wake up and fuck me. It had been a while. I knew his preference was to get fucked but we never went this long without switching it up. I felt him slowly harden against me and smiled.
“You proved your point, you’re a hard worker,” he mumbled, his voice rough from sleep, or lack thereof.
I chuckled at his reference, knowing that I had really worked his ass the night before.
“Yeah, but now it’s your turn to work hard,” I told him as I ground against him again, hoping he’d get my point.
He did and, before I knew what was happening, I was laying on my back with him hovering over me.
He leaned down and kissed me. It started out soft and innocent but quickly progressed to something with a bit more heat and desire. He was pressing himself against me, rubbing our bodies together. There was something about the softness of his skin that always got me going. I couldn’t wait any longer. I felt around for the lube that was left from last night and pressed it against his chest.
He chuckled with amusement but didn’t hesitate. He wanted this as much as I did. He was between my legs, stroking my cock with a fist full of lube. I didn’t need any assistance keeping a hardon but damn if it didn’t make me hornier. All I could think about was him shafting my ass. It had been months and I was dying for the attention.
I closed my eyes and arched my back, basking in the feeling of his soft skin against my hard flesh. All too soon he stopped and straddled me as he shimmied forward. I watched as his erection bobbed in the air. God knows I was ready to swallow him down. It had only been hours since he’d been in my mouth but I couldn’t get enough.
I thought I was going to suck him off before he fucked my ass good. Instead, he gave me a hand job before impaling himself and fucking his own ass with my cock. My disappointment only lasted a moment. It’s hard to stay mad when there’s a hot blond bouncing up and down on your lap.
It was sex, I wasn’t going to complain.
Plus, he looked good, sweaty and in the throes of passion. I gripped his waist and squeezed the soft layer of his body that I couldn’t get enough of as I tried to thrust, but he stopped me.
“Hey,” he chastised. “I’m the one working here. You just lay there and enjoy.”
With hooded eyes, I watched him bite his lip as he worked his ass up and down my shaft, slowly bringing me closer and closer to orgasm. The way he alternated between slow grinding and slutty bouncing had my toes tingling.
“Keep going. I’m—”
I gripped the sheets as Lee rode out my orgasm. I barely saw his hand pumping his own cock until he finally leaked all over himself before falling forward. Without pulling off me, Lee nuzzled into my neck. His breathing was far more labored than my own. Since he did all the work, I ran my fingers up and down his back.
“I was kinda hoping I’d get to do that to you,” I whispered, referring to riding his cock instead of him riding mine.
“I know. I couldn’t help myself. You’re just so tempting and I couldn’t control myself,” Lee lifted his hips, releasing my now soft cock from his tight little ass. “I’ll fuck you next time,” he promised as he laid next to me and snuggled into my side.
It’s not that I didn’t believe him. It’s just that there was always some excuse followed by the next time. It’s not like it was a big deal or anything. It was annoying, sure, but nothing to fuss about.
Lee suddenly perked up.
“Oh hey, are you free tomorrow?” he asked, full of hope. “We’re having a lunch interview with two potential lawyers and I doubt Chambers will hire anyone until you’ve met them.”
I smiled at his sarcasm and his lip curled in the most irresistible way, making me laugh. For one, he was just too much to handle some times, but also, the law firm needing me to vet out the hiring process always made me laugh.
It all started seven years ago or so. Over the course of a year, they’d had a string of terrible hires. I happened to be at the office a few times and met a few of the hopefuls. I told Lee my initial impressions; two I thought were no good and one I really liked. As it turned out, they’d hired the two fools and dismissed the one I liked. Lee had mentioned something in passing so Chambers, as a joke, invited me to be on the next panel.
I don’t know if it was from working or if I had a natural knack, but I always got a feeling when I met people. I just knew when they were genuine, fake, sleazy, liars, or manipulators.
It didn’t take Chambers long to see my knack. He stopped doing official hiring panels and started doing lunches so I could interact with applicants without them feeling so much pressure. Since I didn’t work for the firm, they weren’t nearly as intimidated by me as they were of them. That meant I had a better chance to feel them out.
The benefit for me was two-fold. One, Lee didn’t work with so many dipshits and was usually in a better mood. Two, I loved food and lunch was always at a really nice restaurant.
“It’s Monday,” I groaned.
Monday was club day. One of the busiest days of the week for me. I spent the day prepping for an evening filled with fifty to one hundred kids.
“I know,” he looked apologetic. “I told them that much but it was the only day that works for everyone. Is there no way you can make it work? It will be weeks before everyone can align their schedules again,” Lee laid his chin on my chest and pouted.
“Becks,” he smiled mischievously. He knew he had me.
I groaned and rolled off the bed. I pulled on my boxers and a pair of athletic shorts then looked at him, again.
“Anything!” he exclaimed.
“Come play basketball at the Community Center with me.”
“Oh c’mon,” he whined, flopping back on the bed like a pouty child. You’d think I asked him to sell his mom.
“Monday’s don’t come cheap.”
He got out of bed with a frown but slowly got dressed. We didn’t live far so we jogged there. There were three mini basketball courts outside and they were all taken. Luckily, they were all high schoolers and we were quickly invited to join a game. Lee lasted thirty minutes before he surrendered and joined a few of the kids who were sitting on the bench.
I played for two more hours until everyone was tired. I was drenched in sweat but felt great. There was something about exerting myself that left me feeling awesome, endorphins or something. Lee wasn’t as passionate about being active, but he did it for me and I loved him for it.
We spent the rest of the day at home doing boring things that are required by the laws of adulthood; grocery shopping, laundry, budgeting, cleaning, etc. That evening we both worked on our computers; Lee working on a case and me prepping for club.
It wasn’t exciting but I loved the routine we had. It was real. There wasn’t anything I loved more in life than that. I didn’t need shiny things or illusions of happiness. What Lee and I had was a happy, authentic life.
I woke up earlier than normal since lunch was going to cut several hours from my day. I ran six miles. I had always run, but this time I was training. I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t worried. I was confident I’d make a qualifying time. That didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. The Seattle Marathon was fast approaching and I hadn’t progressed as far into my training as I would’ve liked. Work was busy. If I didn’t qualify, I wasn’t sure when or where the next race would be that could determine my eligibility for Boston.
When I got back from my run, Lee was leaving for work. I kissed him goodbye and went straight to work. I contacted all of my volunteer leaders and went over the game plan for club. I prepped games and confirmed the dinner menu, which was so graciously cooked by our ‘kitchen fairies’. God bless the old ladies that find joy in cooking for a hundred kids.
By the time lunch rolled around I had accomplished a lot.
I pulled into the parking lot at the same time as Lee and his gang of suit-wearing sharks. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my commoner clothes.
“You could have tried a little,” Lee said softly as he leaned into me. He was referring to my lack of formal wear.
“I haven’t dressed up for these lunches in years,” I laughed. “It’s why they feel comfortable around me. I’m not threatening at all.”
He dropped it. He knew I was right.
The lobby was what you’d expect from a restaurant of Becks caliper. It was modern yet elegant without being pretentious. I watched the two women who were vying for the job. Both were classically good looking. One was more outgoing than the other. After observing for a few minutes, I introduced myself.
Lunch was perfect. I sat near both Lydia and Kathy but mostly watched as others led the time. Occasionally, I’d chit chat with them. The food came and I almost forgot why I was there. It was out of this world delicious. Like always.
“So?” Chambers asked after everyone had left.
“What do you think?” I asked, turning the tables on him.
This was a game with us. Chambers desperately wanted to get it right. He wanted to pick the right person.
His eyes darted nervously.
“Kathy?” It was more of a question than an answer.
Chambers rolled his eyes. “Because I just know you’re going to pick her.”
“That’s a terrible answer,” I laughed. “It means nothing if you don’t know why I’d pick her. Or why you should pick her.”
“Whatever. Don’t waste my billable hours. Tell me who I’m hiring,” his voice was firm but he was smiling.
“They’d both make great additions,” I told him. “There’s nothing wrong with either one.”
“But,” I mocked with a smile. Knowing I had to name one as the winner. “Kathy.”
Chambers' eyes lit up. He started flailing his arms in the air and dancing like a lunatic.
“I knew it!” He shouted, pointing at me like I had doubted him or something. “I was right!”
“You were right,” I confirmed, then laughed when he smiled even brighter.
Eric Chambers owned the law firm. He was in his late fifties and thrice divorced. He was handsome for a silver fox and funny as all hell. He had this terrifying persona but he was always relaxed with me and I enjoyed being around him. Lee hated it although he never said anything. I also think Lee was kind of terrified of Chambers. He may have been jealous, who knows? Chambers was also a big supporter of YEVO. As a non-profit, a big portion of my job was raising support. Chambers was a big supporter.
“Why Kathy?” he asked as he calmed down from his childish behavior.
“She’s sharp. She listens and pays attention. While Lydia was gaining attention, Kathy was gaining knowledge. She’ll keep you on your toes. Plus, I get a really good vibe from her. She’s good people,” I explained. “But Lydia was great, too. If you had room for two, they’d be a great duo,” I added.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, reaching out for a handshake. “Thanks for coming, you know how much I appreciate it. Now go, I know it’s Monday.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I walked over to where Lee was talking to a couple of associates and kissed him goodbye before rushing back to the truck and taking off.
Mondays were always crazy. Dinner is ready by six-thirty and club starts at seven-twenty-nine. There were a lot of kids who had parents who didn’t pay much attention to them. That meant I was a part-time chauffeur. I arrived at the clubhouse with a full load. We ate, listened to music, and had a good time. Then club started and we played games, breaking the social walls down. It was a highlight of my life to see kids...be kids. To see them having fun. There was something about our time together that brought out a certain innocence. They didn’t feel so much pressure to impress and they got to be themselves. At the end of the night, I’d give the club talk. I’d share a story from my life and give them encouragement, let them know they weren’t alone. Some of the kids got picked up after, the rest we took home. Club finished around eight-thirty but I never got home before ten.
Tonight was no exception, I came rolling in at ten-thirty with nothing left to give. Lee was already lying in bed typing away on his laptop but he paused and closed the laptop when I arrived.
“How was club?” he asked.
“Long,” I sighed, “but so good. Almost one-hundred-twenty kids.”
“No shit.” He was impressed.
I stripped my clothes and crawled into bed.
“I’m meeting with Paul tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it, he’s been such an ass lately.”
Paul was the Yevo Committee Chair. His dad pretty much founded the Lincoln chapter back in the eighties and almost single-handedly financed it through the good times and the bad. When I first came on as Director, Paul and I got along great. Lately, not so much. He’d been riding my ass about everything. Every time I try to come up with ideas or solutions, he’d shoot them down. I felt like I was banging my head into a wall.
“What’s going on?” Lee frowned.
“I don’t know, honestly. He seems irritated with me lately. I’ve confronted him a few times. He denies any issue. He’s driving me mad. The worst part is, he’s not even in charge! I’m on staff. I work for Yevo. He’s on the committee, his job is to support me, not work against me.”
I could feel the frustration build. I disliked how things had changed between him and I. Lee reached over and caressed my arm.
“Don’t let him get to you. You’re doing amazing things. Maybe he’s jealous, I don’t know.” he shrugged.
“It’s just frustrating,” I groaned as I snuggled deeper into bed.
Lee put his computer on the floor, turned off the lamp, and snuggled against me.
“I know. I’m sure it’s just a phase”, he soothed. “You guys will be back to normal soon.
I hoped so.
I asked Lee about his day. He always told me more than he legally should. He might’ve been bound by confidentiality but I was his husband. We always joked that he’d sworn an oath to me, first.
“Well,” he started, I could tell he was excited about his day in the office. “The Knott’s came in today. Joyce Hallerman—”
“They did work for Joyce?!”
We all knew Joyce Hallerman, she was a lunatic. A sue happy lunatic. No one ever did work for her, or anything for that matter, because she’d find a reason to sue you over it.
I turned on my side and stared at Lee, dumbfounded. The Knott’s were smart. Doing work for Joyce was not.
“What happened?” I asked, hanging on every word.
“They were at her place a few months back doing a pretty extensive renovation. Logan did most of the renovation but Ryan did all the foundation work and poured a new patio and, of course, Penn did all the septic.”
“Since when did Penn start doing septic? I thought he did underwater welding or something crazy like that?”
Lee laughed and I smiled. He was beautiful.
“He did or...does?” He sounded unsure but quickly shrugged it off. “I think he still does it a bit, but a few years back he bought T&W Septic,” he looked at me in confusion, “I thought we talked about this?”
“No,” I rolled my eyes, “I would’ve remembered.”
“The fact T&W changed to PK Septic didn’t tip you off?”
Now that I thought about it, I did remember the name change, though I had no idea that PK was Penn Knott.
“Sure, I guess you could put two and two together,” I joked.
“Anyway, Joyce is claiming they destroyed everything. Her house, her yard—everything.”
“Isn’t that the nature of the business? You have to tear it down to build it up.”
Lee nodded and laughed at the irony of it.
“When they decided to take her on, we wrote up a pretty tight contract, specifically with her in mind. Judging by the look on her face during mediation today, she hadn't read the contract. She wants to push forward. If she does, it won’t be in her favor.”
I leaned in and kissed his lips. I loved his hardcore lawyer side. It was such a stark difference from his gentle home side.
“So, I’m guessing Logan was there?” I wiggled my brows, teasingly.
Where Ryan was my straight fantasy, Logan was Lee’s and he was terrible at hiding his crush. He practically drooled from the mouth whenever he saw him, hung on the guys every word, and followed him around hopelessly when they were in the same room.
The best part of it all was the fact that Logan had no clue. Maybe he’d just acclimated to that kind of attention. Lee wasn’t the only one who lusted after the guy.
“Boy was he. You should’ve seen him,” Lee’s eyes got all dreamy. “He must’ve come in straight from a job. All dirty, grimy, and sexy as all hell—”
“Down boy,” I teased, kissing him and covering him with my slightly larger frame. I could only assume it wasn’t me that had made him so hard. “Should I be worried?” I asked, feigning worry. Which I wasn’t, not in the slightest.
“If Logan came up to me and was like, ‘Hey Lee, wanna fuck?’ my pants would be off before he could even blink.”
“You’re such a slut,” I laughed.
Lee was smiling at me. I couldn’t help but think about how much I loved him. He was timid, yet playful. Overly serious and anal about so many things, yet I found it endearing. His best attribute was his ability to balance me out. Our best attribute was that we balanced each other.
“Just for Logan—and you,” he added after a brief pause, making me growl for being runner up.
Except I wasn’t. We might joke about Ryan and Logan, but that’s all it was, a joke. When it came to Lee and me, it was only the two of us. Logan might make Lee a tongue-tied idiot, but that’s all it’d ever be.
The next day I woke up and put on my running attire. I looked at myself in the mirror as I pulled the black, long-sleeved running shirt onto my body. I couldn’t help but smile. I always wore the same thing; black. The kids dubbed me the ninja runner and often playfully made fun of the fact that I basically wore a spandex suit. A glorified superhero. I draped headphones around my neck then grabbed a headband from the bowl—pulling it over my head and then pushing it back in an effort to control my hair. I’d been so busy that I hadn’t had a hair cut in a while. My platinum blonde hair was more shaggy than usual. It was also super straight and bounced in my face when I ran, which is why I always wore a headband. I know I looked like a fool with my straight hair sticking out in every direction.
I pulled the door closed behind me as I stepped out into the cool, crisp morning. We lived in a quiet subdivision on the north side of town. The houses were new, not giant but respectable in size and appearance. In a county that had a high level of low poverty kids, our neighborhood was considered upscale and was highly sought after.
I walked by the nice homes with large, manicured yards and nice cars parked outside. We had great neighbors including two local police officers, Sheriff Carlson, the youth pastor from our church, and Paul, my YEVO Committee Chairman. When I neared the end of the street I put in my earbuds and started running west.
Highway 101 ran along the Oregon coastline, right through the heart of Lincoln. It was the only way in or out. Lincoln wasn’t a cute, quaint coastal town like you see in the movies, but it wasn’t trash either. Downtown was a tourist trap that was decorated with small businesses that catered to the guests; eateries, ice cream parlors, and candy shops. It was an area that not a lot of locals visit because parking sucked and they sold mostly souvenirs and overpriced merchandise.
I barely heard a car horn over the playlist that was beating in my ears. I looked up to see my friend Steve drive by. We didn’t hang in the same circles but we went to school together and that was good enough for both of us. He smiled and waved before passing by.
Running on the highway is like trying to grocery shop, there were always people passing by. I’d already waved at a dozen people when two of Ryan’s work trucks passed by. I didn’t recognize the occupants of the first truck but the second truck were two dads of kids in YEVO. I saw a couple of Logan’s trucks pass by followed by one of Penn’s. For some reason that made me laugh. Until that moment, I hadn’t seen any of Penn’s trucks. I had a feeling I’d be seeing them all over now that I was aware of them.
I picked up my pace. My heart was racing and my legs were aching from the exertion but I felt great. Plus, I was smiling. It wasn’t even eight in the morning and I’d already seen all three Knott brothers. I was casually thinking about their family and how close they were. I loved my own family but we weren’t overly close, for a lot of reasons. I wasn’t a jealous person but I craved the community that the Knotts shared. I knew a lot of people and had a lot of friends, but no one came to cheer when I ran marathons. No one came to my speaking engagements or any of the countless things I did for the kids or the community. There were a lot of people who supported what I did, but not a lot of people who supported me.
I was lost in my thoughts when I saw a truck veering off the road and right toward me. Instinctively, I leaped for safety, rolling once or twice before landing on my feet. My chest was heaving from adrenaline as I glanced back at the truck only to see Ryan laughing back.
He’d done it on purpose and I had overreacted. He wasn’t nearly as close as I thought. In my defense, I reacted out of fear for my life.
Before I could flip him off, he was driving past. I turned as he drove by until he was nothing but tail lights. He must’ve seen me watching him in the rearview mirror because his arm shot out the window and he raised his fingers in a casual wave. I conceded to his charm and waved in return.
I was too big, both in age and size, to feel that giddy about a fantasy crush trying to run me over.
The rest of the run was uneventful, not that anything could top almost dying. But whatever high I had while running vanished when I got ready for my meeting with Paul.