Luke & Naya’s FREE Introduction
She stared at the house, clutching her books against her chest as if she could defend herself from what was inside. While her friends came home to a mother and father who loved each other, the walls containing the Jefferson household were significantly different. She didn’t want to go in, didn’t want to hear the incessant yelling or experience the miserable alternative; the freezing silence.
But there was no alternative. She’d stayed at the library studying for too long. It was time for dinner and her mother would be worried if Naya didn’t go inside.
An idea occurred to her and, with hope and several prayers, she hurried around the bushes planted at the side of the house, peering through the dingy garage window. With a sigh of relief, she relaxed. Her father wasn’t home. That meant he would probably work late tonight. No fights between her parents and, even worse, no cold silences.
It was going to be okay.
Stepping into through the front door, she looked around, trying to ensure that her deduction was correct. When her mother stepped out of the kitchen, a bright smile on her face, Naya knew that tonight was going to be okay.
“Your father is working late tonight,” her mother said with a breezy wave of her hand.
“How was the library? Did you get a lot done?”
Naya smiled and her shoulders relaxed even more. “Yeah,” she said as she dumped her book bag by the stairs. “I have a French test tomorrow that I feel pretty good about.”
“C’est bien!” her mother replied, laughing as she handed the plates to Naya, indicating she should set the table.
Naya and her mother had a delicious meal as they both practiced their French, chuckling when neither of them knew the correct word for something so they just laughed and made up a new word.
It was the type of meal Naya fantasized about, relaxing and fun.
Her father stayed out until after Naya was in her room, getting ready for bed. When he walked in to kiss her goodnight, he looked tired. “You okay?” she asked, reaching up to give him a hug.
“I’m fine, sweetie. Just a long day.” He sat beside her on the bed and asked about her classes. He teased her about her chemistry class, which she hated, and she laughed when he spouted something Star Wars related. That was their “thing”, she thought as she snuggled down in her bed that night. When her mother went away to visit her sister for a weekend, Naya and her Dad would spend the whole day watching Star Wars movies, eating popcorn and making something extravagant for dinner.
Why was it that the two of them were so much fun when they weren’t around each other, but put them in the same room and they turned…evil! The snapping, sniping and cold-hearted attitudes were so different from what she experienced when she was around them separately.
As Naya stared out at the moonlit backyard from her bed, she vowed that she would never get married. Marriage turned people cold and angry. She never wanted to be like that! Life was just too much fun to deal with someone like that!
“Does Mom know?” Logan asked as he leaned against the rough bark of one of the trees holding up their newly completed tree house.
Luke looked at his twin as if his brother had lost his mind. “Does Mom know that we are using her good, white sheets for a movie backdrop? Are you nuts?”
Logan laughed, realizing the stupidity of his question. “Okay, good point. She doesn’t know.”
“Exactly,” Luke confirmed, taking the dollar from the neighborhood kid who wanted to join the fun. The tree house was sturdier than they’d anticipated and Luke had been planning this event for the past week, spreading the news about the movie night through word of mouth and hand written flyers. He’d even gotten the word out in school, advertised inconspicuously around the hallways, playgrounds and some of the classrooms. Tonight was the event and kids from the neighborhood and school were literally running over to the tree house, handing him a dollar just to get up into the area where the movie would be played.
“Here comes the popcorn.”
Luke laughed when Teague rounded the corner with an enormous garbage bag filled with popcorn. There would be enough for everyone to have several handfuls!
“Where did you get that?” Luke asked, impressed.
Teague shrugged. “Mom bought four jars of popcorn for some reason. And then the air popper appeared on the countertop. So Zeke and I just started popping it up and,” he lifted the bag, “here it is!”
Luke’s eyes narrowed, instantly suspicious. “Mom left the popcorn out on the countertop?”
Zeke was staring up at the bottom of the structure. “Anyone know how those extra bolts got in there?” he asked, pointing to one of the supports that held the two sides of the tree house together.
Luke, Logan and Teague looked up. Zeke scratched his head, confused. “Did I put them in?” Zeke asked. “You guys were handing me stuff and telling me where to put it. I might have done that.”
Luke scratched his ear. He’d been in charge of buying supplies, but he didn’t remember buying any bolts and screws that big. Nails, yeah. He’d bought tons of nails. But those big bolts?
He looked at his older brother. Zeke had been in charge of financing and budgeting. Had he bought the screws and bolts that time he’d gone into town with their Dad?
“Do you think…?” Teague started to say, but the four of them stared at each other, obviously thinking the same thing. There was a long moment of silence as they contemplated the possibility that their parents knew about their project. Was it possible? All of them looked around, noticing small things that hadn’t been there before, supports or bolts, an extra pole at the corner…could his father…?
“Nah!” Zeke said, shaking his head at the possibility that their parents knew anything about their latest tree house. “After Mom flipped out over my broken arm,” Teague said, “she’d never allow us to build another one.”
Luke chuckled in agreement, shaking his head. “I’ve never seen mom freak out like that before.”
Logan smiled and pushed his glasses higher. “Yeah, she flipped when she saw Teague’s arm.”
Several more kids rounded the corner, handing Luke money, then climbing up the ladder.
The four stood on the ground, each of them wondering…the popcorn, the bolts, the additional supports that they’d found nailed into the tree that one day….
“Do you think?”
The four boys stared, similar green eyes wide as they worried about the possibility.
But then they thought about all of the precautions they’d taken. “Nah!” all four of them said at once. Laughing, they climbed the ladder themselves, settling in to watch the movie on the sheets they’d stolen from their parent’s bed earlier this morning.
Quinn sighed as she paced her bedroom, Bryce watching her from a corner chair.
“They stole the sheets, Bryce!” she grumbled.
“I know, dear,” he said, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
“The good ones!”
She paced again, back and forth. “You put the extra bolts in?”
“Yes, dear,” he confirmed, his eyes moving up and down her figure, contemplating what they could do to pass the time while their boys hosted a movie night in their new tree house.
“You fixed those wobbling ladder parts?” she asked.
Bryce sighed as he stood up. “Yes. I fixed the ladder. I stabilized the hand rails. I put extra supports underneath the platform so that it could support twice the number of kids that are out there enjoying the movie.” He chuckled when she dropped her head onto his chest. “And you ‘snuck’ the popcorn into the house and put it right there where the boys could find it.”
Quinn looked up sheepishly. “You knew what I was doing?”
He laughed, loving her for her generous spirit. “Of course I knew.”
She sighed again, wrapping her arms around his waist. “How long before they earn enough to pay off the tree house supplies?”
Bryce laughed. “Oh, honey. Those boys haven’t gone into debt to build this thing.”
She looked up at him. “So why are they charging money for this movie night?”
Bryce considered just letting her live in ignorance for a little while longer. But then changed his mind. What was the fun in that?
“I believe I saw plans for the next stage of the tree house,” he told her.
Quinn’ mouth fell open in horror. “No!” she gasped.
Bryce hugged her close, kissing her neck because he knew that would distract her.
“Yes,” he whispered in her ear. But he was no longer talking about the tree house.