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Ezra grunted. “The power company estimates the power being back on tomorrow morning.” He looked at me, letting his eyes trail lazily down my body. “Are you busy? Do you want to get some dinner with me?”

I felt butterflies take flight in my belly.

“I…can’t,” I whispered. “I made arrangements to have dinner with my folks tonight because I still don’t have power. You’re more than welcome to go with me.”

He blinked. Then he grinned. “I wouldn’t mind. We don’t have power, either.”

It was my turn to blink then.

“You…wouldn’t mind?” I asked, flabbergasted. “Are you sure? My family is pretty crazy.”

Crazy didn’t even begin to cover it.

Ezra chuckled. “Have you met mine?”

I didn’t reply. “You know where they live?”

He nodded.

“You can meet me there at six. I have to go home and change first, or my mother will bitch and complain that I’m trying to ruin my work clothes as if she was still the one paying for them—which she’s not,” I hurried to add.

“How about we both go change, and I pick you up at your place at five forty-five?” he offered.

I licked my suddenly dry lips. “I’d like that.”

It was only when I was halfway home that I realized he’d never asked where I lived.

I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Ezra was intense. Him knowing where to find me almost sent me into a panic attack.

Not because I didn’t want him to find me…but because I did.

Chapter 9

I’m not trying to be difficult. It just comes naturally.

-Text from Raleigh to Ezra

Ezra

Raleigh and I arrived at five minutes to six, and the look on her parents’ faces was enough to make me want to laugh.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I offered my hand to Mr. Crusie, followed shortly by Ms. Crusie.

Apparently, they knew exactly who I was, even though I didn’t know them—at least not as well as they knew me.

I’d, of course, seen them around town. Other than a ‘hello, how are you,’ I really hadn’t had much interaction with either of them.

“Mother,” Raleigh hissed. “Seriously, stop staring at him like you want to munch on his Cheerios.”

“Whose Cheerios are we wanting to munch on?” A man about ten years older than me pulled the door open. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Croft!” Ms. Crusie snarled, slapping Croft, who I assumed was Raleigh’s brother, on the stomach.

He ‘ooofed’ as he doubled over and sent his mother a glare. “What was that for?”

“You know exactly what that was for, Croft Crusie,” she snapped. “Go inside before I kick your ass.”

I bit my lip to keep my laugh inside.

Raleigh didn’t have the same compunction. She bent over, holding her stomach and started to wheeze as she attempted to say between guffaws, “She’ll kick your ass. Watch out, Croft. Momma’s gonna kick yo’ ass!”

“That ass kicking doesn’t stop with boys, darlin’,” Ms. Crusie explained darkly. “Keep sayin’ ass and find out where it gets you.”

Raleigh stood straight, wiping away tears, a full smile still taking up the majority of her face.

Her eyes were on her mom, but mine were on her.

She was beautiful. How had I missed this for so long?

I felt like a dumbass. A really big, clueless dumbass that didn’t know what was right in front of his face until it hit him square in the jaw.

“Let’s go inside,” Mr. Crusie suggested. “And you can call me Gates. This is Merida.”

I nodded and followed them all inside, blinking momentarily at the décor.

“Umm,” I hesitated. “Well, I’m guessing you like chickens?”

Gates murmured, “Merida loves chickens. There’s a difference.”

“Oh, hush.” Merida sighed. “It’s not a bad thing to love chickens. And it’s certainly not a bad thing to want more.”

“You have over fifty…and we’re in the city. Trust me when I say that we’re gonna get busted one day for havin’ them, and when we do, you’re gonna have to get rid of them.”

Merida shook her head. “We’d move before I allowed that to happen.”

I had no doubt in my mind that she would if push came to shove.

“What kinds of chickens?” I asked. “My sister wants a Polish. The ones with the crazy hair.”

I put my hand up over my head, mimicking the way that the feathers were on the top of a Polish’s head.

Merida laughed, and Raleigh looked at me like I’d just broken through some imaginary wall I hadn’t known was erected.

She wanted me to like her parents…and she was happy that they liked me back.

Well, her mom did anyway. Her father and Croft were still up for debate.

“Honey.” Merida took her daughter’s hand. “Help me serve up dinner. Boys, y’all go get the drinks that you want from the garage and then meet at the table. Got it? Good.”

She left before any of us nodded our consent, and we were all left staring at each other, a little dumbfounded at her sudden departure.


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