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Tallahassee, Florida

“Bianca? Honey. I’m sorry, but the answer is ‘no’,” her mother said, doing her best not to let the irritation show.

“Dad would let me go!” her 12-year old daughter threw back in her mother’s face in a very snotty tone of voice.

Colby Delaney was 35, and after getting married just a month after turning 21 and staying with her ex-husband for 10 long years, she’d been single and on her own for the last four. She’d been pregnant when her then-boyfriend, Cole Delaney, offered to ‘do the right thing’ and marry her. Confused and feeling completely alone, she said ‘yes’.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort on her part that they’d ended up getting divorced. It was more Cole’s need to be with other women. He, too, had been just 20 years old when Colby got pregnant, and he’d only been with one other girl before her. Colby had never been with anyone else, and as curious as she often was, in her mind, the words ’til death do us part’ meant something. They obviously meant something else to her ex-husband.

Over the last several months Colby strongly suspected that Cole was doing drugs. If it was ‘only’ marijuana, she’d still be concerned because of Bianca, but her gut told her this was much more serious. She had no proof, and Colby wasn’t going to spend the small amount of free time she had following her ex-husband around looking for it. Still, she couldn’t help being more than a little concerned every time he came by to take their daughter for the weekend.

She did her best to never, ever criticize him in front of Bianca, but she’d ‘let ‘er rip’ behind closed doors with him several times in the last year. The reason was simple. As serious as his revolving door of women was, and Colby’s suspicions of drug use, the one thing she knew he was doing was letting their 12-year old daughter go places with a friend her age that neither of them had any business going.

Colby hadn’t been a model child herself, but even she would have never thought of going to a party where alcohol was available until she was 16. That didn’t make her some paragon of virtue, and she had, after all, ‘gotten knocked up’ because a very cute, very dangerous-looking boy had proved to be too much of a temptation to resist. Even so, she’d never resented a single day of being a mother; even like this one where Bianca was doing her best to guilt her mom into letting her go out with just one other friend and no adult supervision.

“Honey? You know the rules. Sara can come over here or you can go to her house, the place where her parents will also be, but you cannot go out by yourself or…”

“I won’t be going by myself!” her daughter nearly yelled before Colby could finish talking.

“Or with a friend your age.”

“But why not?” her daughter demanded to know.

Colby hated using ‘because I said so’ as a reason, so she tried again to explain, hoping that this time she might get through.

“There are too many things that can happen that you’re not ready for, okay?” her mother gently said. “You just have to trust me on…”

“I’m not a child!” her 12-year old child insisted.

Firmly but still politely, Colby told her daughter that wasn’t going to happen.

“Fine! Then when Dad comes to pick me up, I’ll just ask him, and he’ll let me go, because HE loves me!” Bianca shot back.

It was Cole’s weekend to have their daughter, and as much as Colby wished she could keep him out of Bianca’s life, he had a legal right to see her. Colby had no proof that he’d let their daughter go to a party with high-schoolers the previous weekend, but she was almost certain it had happened.

So when he came to pick up Bianca the following evening, Colby let her go out to his car then shut the door.

“Cole?” she began.

“Save it,” he told her, cutting her off at the knees. “I don’t need another lecture from you on how to be a good parent. Got it?”

Colby took a deep breath to help her remain calm then said, “Evidently you do because good parents do NOT let 12-year old girls go to ‘keggers’. Ever!”

“Jesus Christ, Colby! Lighten the fuck up already,” he snarled. “It’s not like we didn’t drink when we were kids.”

“Listen to yourself, Cole. You just equated what we did at 16 or 17 with something a 12-year old might do. You can’t possibly believe that’s okay!”

“Bianca didn’t even drink, for Christ’s sake! So get off my case!” he told her, the anger rising inside him.

“Let me put it this way then. If that, or anything like it, ever happens again, I will get the police involved and I will sue for sole custody. I’m not threatening you, Cole. I’m making a promise,” she said as calmly as she could.

Her ex-husband just shook his head and said, “Don’t ever threaten me, you bi…”

Bianca opened the door to ask what was taking so long and her father’s facial expression changed completely.

“Oh, hey there! Your mother and I were just talking, sweetie pie. I’ll be right out, okay?”

“Fine! Just hurry up, okay?” his daughter replied before slamming Betturkey the door.

“This behavior just recently started, Cole. And it started when you let her go to a place she had no business going to. You opened Pandora’s Box and now I’m paying the price for your unwillingness to tell our daughter ‘no’. So I’m pleading with you to start being a parent and stop trying to be her BFF. Please?”

“Pandora’s Box? Oh, that’s rich! There you go gettin’ all high and mighty now that you got yourself a…college education!” he spat.

Colby was on the verge of having put herself through school by taking online courses at night after working all day.

“Cole. Please?” she asked again as nicely as she could.

“You know what your problem is?” he said. “You need to get laid.”

This time it was Colby who shook her head.

“Just do the right thing, Cole. Please?”

Her ex didn’t bother replying. He just snorted then turned around and left.

Colby walked to the front of the house and looked outside, and sitting in the front seat of his car was a woman who looked like she might be 19. She was smoking…in the car…and that’s when Colby grabbed her phone and got as much on video as she could. Nothing she saw was illegal or grounds to reduce Cole’s visitations, but it was a start.

As the car drove away, Cole’s final words really hit home as Colby tried to remember the last time she’d gotten la…made love…with a man.

But between working full-time, going to school, and raising a daughter, she didn’t have time for such things. She could count on one hand the number of dates she’d had in the last year, and none of them had resulted in a second date let alone anything even close to lovemaking.

As badly as she wanted to find someone to love her, there simply wasn’t any time. But with just two weeks left until her last set of finals, Colby could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Please, dear Lord, don’t let that light be a freight train,” she said to herself as Cole’s tires squealed, sending a shiver through the now-frightened young mother.

As she got ready for bed around midnight, she looked at herself in the mirror, and thought she still looked okay for a woman of 35 who’d been under so much stress for so long. And if getting flirted with was any indication of her desirability, she had to be at least reasonably attractive as men regularly did so or even outright hit on her at work.

Then again, the quality of patrons at the local IHOP wasn’t necessarily reflective of the kind of men she was interested in, but it did feel good to know she was at least still considered attractive enough for that to happen.

Her shoulder-length hair was a very dark brown, bordering on black, and her blue eyes and beautiful smile still attracted a lot of attention. She did her best to take care of her figure, and although she wasn’t the size 4 she’d been before getting pregnant, she still wore a size 8 very comfortably.

Her tummy was nearly flat, her C-cup boobs were still holding their own, and although her legs weren’t what they once were, they were still shapely and didn’t have a trace of cellulite, something she dreaded like a disease; one whose infection turned legs into a disgusting kind of ‘cottage cheese’.

Colby shivered at the thought of having to wear pants or floor-length dresses to hide something like that, then sighed heavily as she wondered if she ever would meet anyone even close to the kind of man she often dreamed about.

She didn’t have any kind of checklist, nor did she expect perfection. Any man who was at least attractive enough (to her) who was otherwise kind, gentle, and hardworking—and who would willingly take on a soon-to-be-teenage daughter—would be more than adequate. It wasn’t that she was looking to settle for ‘adequate’, it was more an awareness that she wasn’t 25 anymore, so finding someone close to her age with even those reasonable ‘qualifications’ was likely going to prove to be a real challenge.

As she brushed out her hair, she soon forgot about her social woes and began thinking and then worrying about her daughter. It took her nearly an hour to fall asleep, and she had to be up at 6am in order to get to IHOP by seven. Saturdays were her best tip days, and that was especially true during the morning when retired senior citizens who tipped well went to breakfast.


Saturday Morning just across town.

“What can I make you for breakfast, sweetheart?” his mother asked cheerfully.

“I’m good, Mom. I’m gonna finish this cup of coffee then go for a run.”

“With nothing else on your stomach?” she asked with great concern.

He tried not to laugh as he explained yet again how he never ate before a run, and that eating first made him queasy.

“I’ll be fine, Mom. I promise,” he told her.

Drew Gillis was 24 and had just finished Air Force flight school and was now a basically qualified F-22 Raptor pilot. He was home on 30 days leave pending Betturkey Giriş his first assignment to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and spending some time relaxing with his parents back home in Tallahassee, Florida.

His dad was legally his step-father, but Drew had never once referred to him as anything but his dad. His biological father had been abusive and an alcoholic, and when Drew was in the first grade, his father moved out leaving the boy heartbroken and inconsolable.

Too young to understand, Drew Barnes’s (his name at the time) ability to focus had been severely impacted, and as a result, he’d been held back a year. But the following year his mother met then married Martin Gillis, the man Drew not only called Dad but who’d willingly adopted him and turned his life around by giving the young boy more love and attention that first year than he’d received in his previous eight.

It wasn’t until Drew was around 18 and looking through an old family album that he realized how much more attractive his mother was than his dad. Drew had been a very smart kid and finished high school with a 3.81GPA and a still-resectable 3.67 at the University of Florida where he was an ROTC student all four years. But it didn’t take being a genius to know that his mom had been the actual genius.

She’d seen in Martin Gillis something much more valuable than his looks. He wasn’t ‘un’ attractive, but his mother, Sybil, was a very beautiful woman, and Drew had been the lucky inheritor of her genetic gift. Even now, all these years later, Sybil still loved her husband dearly, and Drew had also been the recipient of all that came with that in terms of being raised in a loving, stable home.

As he sat there paging through the album, he realized he must have at least been subconsciously aware of that as he thought about how the prettiest girls in school had rarely ever caught his eye. Well, unless there was something else about them that he liked, and Drew liked girls who were studious, smart, and able to carry on a conversation. His friends ribbed him about it a lot, but he took it all in stride and often answered as though he were Popeye.

“Hey, I yam what I yam, alright?” he’d say before trying to do the Popeye laugh.

Whether or that was the reason why, Drew would gladly trade looks for brains (up to a point) any day. He had nothing against the ‘hotties’, but if they were hot and empty-headed, there was no way they’d ever turn his head, and that had held true all the way through college where he’d gone out with girls who were shocked when he asked them. And in a few cases, they’d been even more surprised when he’d said ‘yes’ as they jokingly suggested they should go out sometime.

With flight school now behind him, he wasn’t necessarily looking for a life partner yet, but he was in a place where, should he meet the female equivalent of someone like his dad, he wouldn’t pass her up simply because he was too young. One of the many things his dad had taught him was that love came around how and when it came, and while choice was involved, it often seemed like a kind of mystery with a will of its own that did its thing without regard to anything else.

It was then that his dad walked in and poured himself a cup of coffee and asked Drew if his mom was giving him a hard time about running on an empty stomach again.

Drew watched his mother’s reaction and only smiled.

“I see no reason to stand here and be insulted by the men I love,” she said as though she were pouting. And yet she kissed one of those men before leaving the kitchen.

“You excited about getting to your first squadron?” his dad asked as he took a sip of coffee.

“Yeah. I’m really looking forward to it. It just seems like there’s still so much left to learn, you know? You spend all that time mastering the basics only to find out you have more to learn than learned the entire time you were in flight school.”

“Well, even flight school is a kind of basic training, right? And basic training only…”

Marty leaned over and said, “Wait for it…trains people to a…basic…level of proficiency.”

“Okay, Dad. Way to state the obvious,” Drew said with a laugh.

“All I know is I’d have given my right n…”

He stopped, smiled, then said, “My right arm to fly.”

“Yeah, but you did four years in the Army and spent most of that time in Ranger regiments. I’d say that’s nothing to scoff at.”

“Oh, definitely. I’m very proud of my service, Drew,” his dad replied. “And yours, by the way. I’d just have loved to be able to go to college and then maybe OCS…sorry. That’s OTS to you…and then flight school. Back then, there was no such thing as an F-22 or F-35, but we still had F-14s, F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s, and oh how I’d have loved to be a Top Gun!”

“Well, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a great dad like me who’s worked so hard to make sure his son could go to college.”

Martin’s parents had been very poor, and he’d used the Army to qualify for the GI Bill then put himself through college while working part-time, as well. Since then, he’d done very well, and thought it was a privilege to help his son get a college degree.

“I appreciate that, son, but you did all the hard work. You got through high school, college, ROTC, and flight school. All I did was write checks.”

His dad laughed, but Drew didn’t.

“Without those checks I’d have had to work almost full-time, and I don’t know if I could have hacked it.”

“Ah, come on. You’d have found a way,” his dad told him, knowing how proud his son was of him, too.

“Regardless, I’m very grateful, Dad, and now I’m gonna go hit the bricks,” Drew announced as he finished his coffee.

Then he leaned a little closer and said, “As soon as I see a man about a horse.”

His dad laughed then said, “Don’t forget to use that spray your mom puts in there, because while you may not believe this, your shit really does stink!”

Drew then laughed even louder just as his mom came walking back in.

“I heard that, Martin Gillis,” she told him.

“Well, it’s true,” he said in his defense.

“Don’t believe a word your father tells you, honey,” his mom said with a smile.

When her husband gave her the eye, she smiled at him and said, “Even if he is occasionally correct.”

As Drew went to ‘take care of business’ he once again thought about how lucky he’d been. There was no doubt in his mind he’d won the lottery, and now his early, chaotic past was nothing but a blur he rarely ever thought about. To some degree, his dad was right. He had worked hard, but without the two people in the kitchen, none of it would have been possible.

Drew didn’t bother turning around to check, he knew his mom was sitting on his dad’s lap, and there was a very good chance they were canoodling as usual.

Just before he turned the corner to go down the hallway, he heard his mom say, “Martin! Stop that!” with a laugh.

“That is exactly what I want,” he said to himself with a smile of recognition just before opening the bathroom door and locking it behind him.

During dinner that evening, Drew’s dad asked him if he had any big plans his first night back seeing how it was the weekend.

“Plans. Ha! Now that’s funny!” he said, knowing exactly how his dad would finish the thought.

“I don’t care WHO you are!” came the expected reply.

His mom dutifully laughed, and Drew just smiled and shook his head.

“If you’re staying in, I should probably warn you the neighbor boy’s been having parties when he’s parents are out of town for awhile now.”

“Timmy? Little Timmy is hosting parties?”

“He’s not so little anymore, Drew,” his mother said. “He’s 18 and a senior in high school.”

“No kidding. I don’t know why that surprises me so much,” Drew replied.

“Probably because you’ve been away at college and flight school while ‘little Timmy’ grew up,” she said.

“Do his parents know or maybe just not care?” Drew asked.

“To tell you the truth, we’re not really sure. Your mother and I think there’s ‘big trouble in little China town’ next door.”

Drew laughed at the reference to the old Kurt Russell movie then shook his head.

“Not everyone’s as lucky as I am, right?” he told his parents with a smile.

His mom reached over for her husband’s hand and said, “We’re all very fortunate, aren’t we?”

Later that evening Drew was upstairs in his childhood bedroom reading a hardcover book. He’d always loved to read, but even in college he’d been forced to read things that were required for class, and flight school had been very demanding. So reading for pleasure was a simple joy he really missed, and while he was home, he planned to take advantage of the opportunity to read several books on his long list while reviewing unclassified, online tech manuals he could access at home.

But a few minutes after ten o’clock, the unmistakable sound of a bass subwoofer began thumping. At first, Drew just laughed and thought back to his time in high school and college.

He’d gone to parties but rarely drank, and even then it was never more than two beers. With one exception. He’d gotten blind drunk once and ended up on his knees ‘praying to the Porcelain God’. When he awoke the next morning on his face in his own vomit, that had been the end of his binge drinking days.

At 11pm, the volume increased, and Drew was wondering why his dad hadn’t called the police. He was still awake, so he went downstairs to discuss it with him.

“I just don’t want to be ‘one of those people,” his dad told him. “They usually wind down a little after midnight, so I think we can tough it out for another hour or two. But if bothers you, you can give the police a call.”

“Nah. I think I’ll just go crash the party and see if I can talk to Little…to Tim…one on one.”

“Good luck,” his dad said with a chuckle. “He’s not a bad kid, he just needs some mentoring.”

There were high school kids sitting out on the porch smoking and…smoking…and all of them had red cups full of beer in hand. Drew was going to knock, but the door was open, and there was too much noise to be heard, so he pulled on the screen door and walked inside.

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