Ben Jelen isn’t sure where his life is going. On the surface everything looks fine. He has a successful business, he’s raising his niece into a strong person, and he has a boyfriend most guys only dream of—sexy and rich. But nothing feels right. The only things that really keep Ben’s attention anymore are his classic Road Runner, his niece, and Michael—his Meeko. Ben took him under his wing forever ago, and their love of old cars and fast driving has forged a strong bond. Ben’s days don’t feel right if he doesn’t get to see Meeko at least once. But something seems drastically wrong in Meeko’s life, and Ben hopes he can put the pieces together to help him before it’s too late.
Love It Like You Stole It
Ki Brightly © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“It’ll be a month, Bennet.”
I clutched the small silver bolt so hard it cut into my palm. The pain wasn’t enough to distract me. Rick’s bottom lip jutted out. It always did when he was on a roll. He crossed his heavy arms, eyes shadowed by his ball cap. With a sigh, I ignored my big brother, cutting my attention to the object of our current bitchfest. Vandi, his daughter, lounged nearby with tiny pots of fingernail polish out on the dusty, paperwork-covered desk.
“I’ll be good, Uncle Ben,” she chirped, her bow mouth turned up into a wide smile. She almost wasn’t a little girl anymore. It wasn’t long ago that I’d sit with her and do the painting. The sun cutting into the garage through the open bay door lit up her gold curls making them shine brightly. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she dabbed a little brush covered in pink paint at her thumb. In her white summer dress, she couldn’t have looked more out of place.
I bent back over the motor of the beat-up, blue Ford Taurus and stared at it without seeing much of anything.
“It’s damned good money. They need mechanics for when the machinery goes down. If her mother hadn’t—”
“Rick,” I warned. Vandi’s head snapped up at the mention of her mom. I had no intention of mopping up tears today. He leaned a hip against the front quarter panel of the car and rested an elbow there, sending me a winning grin. It was the same bullshit one I used when trying to get my own way. “I’ve known you your whole life. That shit don’t fly.”
He chuckled, but his smile didn’t waver as he leaned in close, pushing his cap back with a thumb. I caught a whiff of the cologne I used and sighed. He’d raided my dresser again. Looking at him was like looking in a mirror—his brown eyes and long face with its blunted nose were just like mine, except mine was cocked a little to the left. He wiggled his eyebrows, and I blew out a hard breath.
“Those oil rigs are dangerous, and ask next time you steal my stuff.” I poked him on the shoulder with my ratchet as he shrugged, not at all bashful about his thievery.
“It’s a month on, three weeks off. And with the bonuses, I could be pulling in over a hundred grand next year. We can get the garage set up right, get more clients in…I won’t do it forever.”
I frowned and rubbed at my chest. He winced and scowled right back, like maybe he understood why I was upset. The idea of Rick being away for more than a few days made me nauseous. We’d always been a little too close, and it only got worse after Mom died. I sneaked a look at Vandi to see what she was thinking about all this, but she didn’t seem to be listening.
“I’m not sure it’s worth it,” I muttered. Shit. Money. We sure could use more of it.
A low humming started up from Vandi—a familiar song from the radio. “Check it out!” She flashed her pink fingernails at us. Rick turned and nodded at her.
“Real pretty, baby doll,” he said fast, not quite covering up the irritation in his tone. Her smile vanished.
I smacked his arm, but he was back to cajoling me with his half grin. I smacked him upside the head, sending his ball cap flying, but he ignored it and patted my cheek.
“I want this garage to get off the ground,” he said, “and so far, we’ve only been getting in about five or six people a week because we don’t have a lift. I had to send Mrs. Hopper to fucking Firestone because we didn’t have the right size tires.” He waved his hand toward the empty space stretching out behind us that practically begged to be filled with equipment. “We don’t have half the shit we need…”
“What if you’re out there in the middle of the ocean and there’s a hurricane or a blowout or—”
“Get back here you four-eyed fuck!” someone shrieked from outside. The low voice cracked on the swear word.
“What the hell…” I turned to look over my shoulder, and the bolt from the oil filter slipped from my fingers. With a ting, it disappeared into the abyss of hoses in the engine. “Shit.”
I slammed my ratchet down on the motor casing, and the air compressor at the rear of the work area chose that moment to kick on, filling the old cement-block garage with its chugging clatter. I strained my ears, but the voices outside were drowned out. “Turn that off, Rick.”
Nodding, he headed back to flip the switch. Vandi craned her neck forward to look out the wide door.
“He thinks he’s too good to talk to us. Mickey Mouse won’t open his mouth.” The bully’s voice dipped deeper on that last word, and an instinct for trouble sent me striding out the door into the gravel parking lot, past the few sad vehicles waiting for their turn in the repair shop.
Across the small side street, three teen boys surrounded another one on the sidewalk. He was hunched in on himself with his arms crossed protectively over his gut, his stance practically screaming, “Hammer me.” One of the boys—short, with a mean twist to his lips and a cheap buzz cut on his carrottop—smacked the glasses off his prey. Sparkling in the late afternoon sun, the lenses sailed in an arc and landed in the street.
“Should we do something?” Rick’s long shadow loomed near mine, arms crossed.
“Come on, hit ’em back,” I muttered, clenching my fists. “Protect yourself.”
Instead, the kid just rubbed at the bridge of his nose with one hand. He was coltish and stretched thin, like he’d grown too fast. But he was tall, and if he would throw a punch, he’d have reach. He didn’t move to defend himself or say a word, though, simply stared at his feet. I glanced at Rick, but when I looked back, the tall boy was shaking his head. Sunlight caught and glimmered on blue highlights in his black hair. The short asshole shoved him hard while the other guys circled, grunting out guttural encouragement that puffed up Mr. Attitude.
Outrage propelled me toward them at a fast clip.
“Ooooh, fuck,” Rick said on a chuckle.
I hadn’t planned on anything more than bitching out the bullies—until the short kid threw a hard jab. The tall one gasped and staggered back a step at the blow, but one of the kids in the circle shoved him upright so he could take more abuse. Wincing, the tall kid shook his head so hard he seemed to make himself dizzy. He staggered to the side but righted himself at the last second.
“You’re no better’n me—us.” The short kid hopped up and down imitating a wet chicken, darting his gaze around the circle. “You’re no better than us!” He screamed out a war whoop as he lunged forward to land the next punch. The tall kid took it on his left cheek and—pow!—crumpled to his knees.
“You little shits! Knock it off!” I ran toward them, hands pinwheeling, but had to slow down as a car shot by, going way too fast on the narrow street, separating me from the teenagers. Crunch. I winced and sighed as I jogged past the flattened glasses. No coming back from that.
The kids stilled as I approached—became panicked, malicious little statues. But when I stepped onto the sidewalk, fists balled up at my sides, my shadow fell across them, and the obnoxious brats scattered, helter-skelter—like I might actually chase them down and dish out a taste of their own medicine.
“You better run, you little pricks. Stay off my block!” I yelled after them. “I’m badder than you’ll ever be!”
Ki grew up in small-town nowhere pretending meteor showers were invading aliens, wild flowers were magic potions, and secret agents hid around every corner. (Ki probably read more than was healthy.) They had one amazing best friend, one endlessly-out-of-grasp “true love,” and a personal vendetta against normalcy.
College was a catapult out of that sleepy little hamlet into a slightly larger, more entertaining city—Erie, Pennsylvania.
In their adopted hometown they enjoy the sandy beaches, frigid winters, and a wonderful fancy water addiction. Ki shares life with two sweet Muses, their Sugar Plum, and two children. Every day with these wonderful people is full of adventure.