Bringing Home the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon



“Excited to see Aunt Charlie?” he asked Lyon.

Charlie had been “Aunt Charlie” since she walked into the hospital room the day Lyon was born. Rae had held up the blue blanket Lyon was wrapped in after she’d sworn her way through eighteen hours of labor, and Charlie, with tears in her eyes, had taken him into her arms and said, “Hi, Lionel Downey, I’m your aunt Charlie.”

She’d been a fixture in Lyon’s life always.

Since Rae had passed, she’d become more of a fixture. Charlie was a dear friend. A constant, a solid person he and his son could count on. A light in a dark place.

Whenever she visited them, she dragged out photo albums, sometimes bringing new photos of her own to add to the pages, and sat Lyon down to tell him stories of his mother.

Charlie insisted on never letting him forget her. While he agreed this was best for his son, Evan did better when he wasn’t confronted with Rae’s smiling face as he walked down the hallway. Or her still one, a vision that woke him in a sweat more often than he cared to admit.

For that reason, he’d left the photos in the albums, had tucked the picture frames of the two of them away. But there was no escaping the spot of carpet in the hallway where she’d collapsed, or the other side of the bed, its emptiness as real a presence as Rae had been when she was alive.

Moving to Evergreen Cove would not only get them away from the house choked with her memory, but would bring Lyon closer to the things that meant most to him.

Charlie was one of those things.

“I can’t wait!” Lyon said, a very real light shining in his eyes.

Kids were so resilient. Especially his kid. Through the process of packing and moving, Lyon had been both apprehensive and excited. Evan saw the sadness in his eyes when he talked about not seeing his friends at school anymore, but Malcolm and Jesse, the two boys who were his best buds, visited the Cove in the summer. Lyon had been appeased with the promise of hanging out with them.

Plus, the new house offered the attractive package of swimming in the lake, a new house with a bigger bedroom, and Charlie nearby. Evan hoped that might make up for some of what they’d all lost.

Not everything, because God knew he couldn’t replace Rae, nor would he try.

But he’d sure as hell take whatever reprieve he could get.


* * *


The pain in the voice at the other end of the phone sliced through Charlotte Harris like a shard of glass. Three seconds ago, when she’d seen her best friend’s name pop up on her phone, she’d answered with a chipper, “hi!”

Her greeting was met with a beat of silence, followed by a deep, male response. One hollow, broken syllable; the nickname he’d given her a year ago.

“Ace.”

Her heart dropped to her stomach, her extremities going instantly cold in spite of the warm nighttime air. There was something registering in his tone that sent fear spilling into her bloodstream.

“Evan?”

A beat of silence, then, “Yeah.”

She stood from the chair she’d been lounging in and paced to the three steps leading from her porch down to the inky, still surface of the lake. In the background, a pyramid of pine trees climbed the hill in the distance.

“What is it?” This from her boyfriend, Russell, who stood from the porch swing behind her.

She held out a finger to tell him to wait a minute.

“What happened?” she asked into the phone. Something. She and Evan were friends, but not call-each-other friends. If he was calling her now, it had to be because there was a problem. With Lyon, or—

“Rae.” His voice cracked, a painful sob shattering the airwaves and sending an adrenaline rush through her bloodstream. He drew in an uneven breath. “Jesus, Ace.”

Unable to hold herself up any longer, she sank onto a step and issued the understatement of the year. “You’re scaring me.”

“She’s gone, Ace.” His voice went hollow, into a dead tone she never wanted to hear again as long as she lived.

“Gone…” False hope she’d recognize later as denial leaped against her chest, borne of desperation to find a reason other than the obvious for this almost-midnight call.

Maybe Rae went shopping. Maybe she and Evan had a fight and Rae went to her parents’ house. Maybe—

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