“Put me down! Dad! Put me down!”
Harley pushed her hands against the arms holding her off the ground, eyebrows pinched together as Godric and Dan’s laughter joined the fray. She kicked her legs, stomach churning as the world whirled spun around her. When she came to an abrupt halt, she gasped for breath. Clenching her eyes shut, she bit out, “As good as it is to see you, I do not want to be spun about like a malfunctioning helicopter.”
Her feet touched the ground. One shoe was missing and she braced her foot against her father’s jean-clad leg. The wave of nausea flooding her senses was unwelcome in its arrival, but it wasn’t all that unexpected.
She always hated being spun about, even when she was a kid.
Harley kept one hand on her father’s arm, her eyes clenched shut as the world continued to spin. Something acidic swelled in the back of her throat, threatening to rise into her mouth. She swallowed it back, bare foot now flat on the ground. She exhaled as a sense of relief came to her.
She turned to the scowling officer, a slow smile creeping across her face as she said, “I never thought I’d see you in a police uniform, Uncle Don. Makes you look a bit older.”
“Hardy har,” Don clamped a hand on her shoulder, face grim despite the sparks of light in his eyes. “It’s good to see you, Harley. Glad you decided to come down.”
“And who’s this bear of a man?” Her father stepped past her, making his way towards a grinning Godric. The ginger-haired man stepped forward without missing a beat, catching her father’s hand in his with such ease that it seemed like they held magnets in their hands.
They clasped forearms, hitting shoulder to shoulder, as Godric said, “Name’s Godric Redeaux. You must be Mortimer. I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”
“Nothing good, I’m sure.”
“Nonsense. I know you make one hell of a steak.”
Harley looked over at her uncle who, much to her amusement, was standing there with his veins bulging along his face and his neck. Her gaze shifted to her father, to her boyfriend and then back to her uncle. She shifted a tad closer, voice a whisper as she asked, “What did my father do this time?”
“The question is what he didn’t do,” Don ran a hand through his short hair, a gesture Harley recalled him doing often from her childhood. Her gaze shifted back to the men at the base of the stairs as she dragged her phone out of her pocket, eyes narrowing as she eyed the static-filled screen. She showed her cellphone to her uncle, voice even as she said, “Is this normal, out here?”
Don took the phone from her just as her father’s attention shifted from Godric to them. As her uncle opened his mouth to speak, her father spat to the side and said, “It’s those damn black-bellied bastards! They’re messing with the phones, Harley. The internet, too. Nothing’s working, not like it should.”
“Don’t fill her head with nonsense, Mo,” Don swung his arm out to the side when her father went to grab it, eyes narrowing as he held it away from his brother. Don’s turned to her, tossing her the phone as he said, “A few of the generates blew earlier in the week. A couple towers dropped, to make it worse. That was Wednesday. We’re working on getting them online again.”
Harley’s gaze shifted to her phone. “That doesn’t explain the static, though. The lines going down would mean there’s no signal, but I’m getting that…sometimes.”
Don shrugged. “You’re not the first to say as much.”
Her uncle settled a hand on his hip, a slight smile appearing on his face as he added, “I’m telling you what I was told, word passed from the top of the chain to the bottom.”
“So you’ll faithfully recite whatever you’re told to say?”
Don paused for a moment before laughing. “You got me there, Harley. Honestly, though, it’s nothing to worry about. The power will be back before you know it.”
Her father escorted them inside, not bothering to bid his brother farewell as he made his way down the cul-de-sac. Harley watched him stalk away, a smile spreading fully across her lips.
Inside the crumbling home, Harley was forced to stop. She had thought the outside was bad, but it was tame compared to the horror waiting inside the building. Godric was slack-jawed, eyes wide as he surveyed the foyer-like entryway that made up the front of the house. Harley didn’t blame him. The place looked like it’d been hit by an earthquake.
Godric caught her by the elbow, his voice dropping as he said, “Is this for real?”
“Yeah,” Harley stepped into the open space beyond, an open space that faced both a stairwell and a long hallway. She knew the kitchen to the left, through the dining room. The front room was to the right. Down the hall was an assortment of rooms, though what they were being used for now was beyond her. “I’d say ‘welcome to my childhood home,’ but there’s nothing welcoming about it. Do you still want to stay?”
“We did say we’d be here for a while,” Godric rubbed his hands down his face, exhaling sharply. Harley stroked his back, fingers trailing lightly down his spine to the top of his jeans as he inhaled deeply. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, his voice light as he murmured, “Careful, Harley. We don’t want to scare your father. Not yet, anyway.”
Harley snorted. “Yeah, let’s avoid putting him in an early grave. For your sake as well as mine.”
Godric smiled in response. Her father turned to look at them, voice calm as he said, “Why don’t you two take a seat in the front room? Harley, I’ll carry your bags to your room. I’ll be right back.”
Her father vanished up the stairs. Harley took Godric by the hand, leading into the living room. She stepped over old newspapers and beer cans, the corners of her lips twisting into a frown. One of the windows was boarded up. Harley eyed the torn curtain framing it as it fluttered and twisted.
“Why the fuck is there a hole in the floor?”
Harley turned to see Godric grabbing onto the back of the couch, teetering on his feet. She made her way across the room, slowing as she came to see the broken floorboards and an inky veil of darkness stared back at them. The faintest whisper of static rose from the black depths, whispering incoherently.
Harley paused at Godric’s side, her arm brushing his. His arm wound around her waist, forefinger inching beneath the top of her harem pants. Heat ignited where he touched, too-far north from where she wanted it. His mouth brushed her ear, voice low as he said, “I wonder if any of the other rooms will be a bit dangerous getting in and out of.”
The sound of the stairs creaking drew her attention and she turned, chest-to-chest with Godric as she peered around his arm. His hand swept over her backside, lightly kneading the flesh as she called out, “Dad, why the hell is there a hole in the floor?”
As her father stepped into the room, his attention focused on them. His lips pressed into a tight line as Godric turned, the fiery-haired man gesturing to the floor as he said, “That’s a death trap in the making, Mortimer.”
“Oh, that? Don’t mind it. It’s not too much of an issue.”
“Don’t try and wrap your head around it, Godric,” Harley patted him on the arm, leaning into his side as her father made his way across the room. His arm wound around her waist, large hand spread out over her stomach, as she yawned. She guided him deeper into the house, towards the kitchen, as she said, “This place has always been a hazard to the living. It wasn’t as bad when I was a kid, but it was still rough around the edges.”
“Rough around the edges?” Harley glanced up at Godric, smiling as she watched him shake his head. He peered down at her, gaze soft and warm as he said, “I might think this place needs to be bulldozed but I think I can like it, if you grew up here. I think I feel a bit of your spirit in this place.”
“Yeah,” Godric paused in an open doorway, hand running along the worn paneling. She watched as his fingers traced over some etchings, the sweeping designs graceful. He jerked his head towards those markings as he said, “Right here, actually. There is a sense of something magical about these marking. Did you see and chase faeries around here, when you were little?”
Crimson stained Harley’s cheeks. Looking away, she guided them both into the kitchen. Godric plopped himself at the table as Harley rifled through the cupboards, her stomach rumbling. She found a book of crackers, grinning happily as she made her way to the table.
She sat next to him, their thighs pressed together. She tore into the thin, plastic wrapping and popped the first cracker into her mouth. Godric’s hand settled on her knee as he said, “As long as there are crackers and cheese, you’ll be the happiest woman alive.”
“Don’t forget the ice cream,” Harley murmured as his hand grazed the inside of her knee, fingers trailing dangerously up her thigh. She shifted in her seat, chewing slowly on the Ritz cracker as his hand ventured north. “I’m in heaven when there’s cream, Godric. The richer it is, the better.”
She turned into him and brushed open-mouthed kisses along his jaw, delightful heat flooding her veins. “I’m glad you’re here, Godric.”
“If I wasn’t here, you’d be on a plane to the other side of the world,” She felt his grin against her lips, his laughter a gentle kiss. Harley groaned in protest when he leaned away, her eyes dark as she peered up into his face. He grinned. “Getting frisky in the kitchen isn’t the smartest idea, Harley. Your dad could walk in or did you conveniently forget we’re in his house and not at home?”
“More like I chose to ignore the fact,” Harley grabbed another cracker, biting into it with a thoughtful hum. She shifted in her seat, rocking along the curve of her hips, as she said, “We haven’t had sex in weeks, you know?”
“And here I thought men were supposed to be the horny ones,” Godric swiped her cracker from her hand, laughing when she lunged for it. He held it away from them and Harley couldn’t reach it no matter how she stretched. Chests pressed together, she looked at him and then at the cracker as he said, “Though I’m not complaining. I’ll never complain, not about that.”
“You won’t be getting anything if you don’t give me back my goddamn cracker!” She pressed down on his shoulder, pushing herself higher. She caught the tip of her snack between her fingers, grinning as he laughed against her chest. Behind them, someone cleared their throat. Harley looked over her shoulder to see her father’s scowling face. She grinned. “I’m always the one providing. This man would be dead if I didn’t feed him.”
“Get me some juice, darling,” Godric drawled, the words coming off dark and seductive. Or trying to, Harley mused as she rose to her feet. She bit back the laughter threatening to spill out as she went to the refrigerator. Opening it, she said, “No use, God. Beer, though. Wouldn’t that be delightful?”
“I don’t care if you’re her boyfriend,” Harley turned as her father’s voice cut through the playful banter to see Mortimer rise to his full height. Godric stood opposite, his shoulders relaxed and his chin up. Harley’s gaze jumped between the two of them as her father said, “As long as you are in my house, you will not be sharing a bed with my daughter. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Redeaux?”
“Crystal, sir,” Godric inclined his head in acceptance, a light smile spreading across his face as he said, “This is your home and Harley and I are not married. I take it that I’ll be on the couch for our stay, then.”
“Damn right, boy.”
Mortimer came to her side and found a can of A&W. He tossed that to Godric as he said, “That’s the only cream either of you will be getting. Now get up. I’ll show you around the house. I can’t leave my baby girl alone with a boy. If I do, I’ll be a grandfather within minutes.”
Harley watched the two of them vanish from the kitchen, a wide grin spreading across her face. Godric waved ‘goodbye’ as he left and then stuffed his hands into his back pockets, idly asking questions until she couldn’t hear anything other than the soft whispers of the creaking architecture.
She pulled out her cellphone and eyed the flickering screen. Harley pressed on the volume key, turning it up until she heard the crackling hiss of static. After that, she turned it off and tossed it aside. A broken phone had no purpose. She opened her soda and knocked it back.