Juggling a job while helping to care for three siblings is no easy task, but Brady is determined to keep his family on track. Of course, he deserves something for himself, too … right? Enter Evren, a dashing knitware designer and blogger who sets Brady’s heart aflutter, but there’s a catch. Isn’t there always?!
“Brady! Morgan has more chicken nuggets.” Madison swung her feet back and forth on the battered blue chair she’d long ago claimed as her spot at dinner.
“And you don’t! Nyah!” Morgan completed her taunt with waggling fingers in her ears and tongue out.
“Madison. Morgan.” I slapped the bowl with the prepackaged salad down on the table. “You have the same amount. Madison, maybe tomorrow I’ll make you do the counting.”
“Why does Madison get to count? I want to count!” Morgan’s hair escaped the half-hearted ponytail Renee had done that morning. Where Renee and I had Mom’s blue eyes and brown hair, the twins had Greg’s deep espresso eyes and kinky hair that defied all our attempts to keep it neat. Not that the ketchup mustaches were exactly helping the neatness factor.
Lord deliver me. “We’ll take turns, okay? Everyone can count at dinner. But we all get the same amount. Please don’t argue about it.”
“I wish we had like a zillion chicken nuggets.” Jonas’s dark eyes were wide with longing, too.
“No fair!” Madison screeched, despite not having touched a piece herself.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. In another universe, in another life, I was out with Ev right now, showing him my favorite brew pub, settling in for a nice talk, leaning in closer, laughing, working on this silly prejudice he had about bisexuals. . . .
But instead I was in reality, in a cramped 1970s apartment that hadn’t been renovated since it was built and was notable only in the fact that it was off Alberta, walking distance to the kids’ school and walking or skateboarding distance to the People’s Cup. And they’d given us a lease, unlike Mom and Greg’s place, which had refused to let me take over the rental after they passed. I tried not to think too much about the sunny rental house off Killingsworth with the huge herb garden Mom loved and the basketball hoop where Greg and I would play twenty-one.
Like Ev and Mira’s apartment, this place had a narrow galley kitchen ending in a small eating area, but where Mira’s was all white wood and homey cheer, ours was dark, with inadequate lighting and mismatched cabinetry. I did, however, do my best to put a hot meal on the table every night and get the kids to sit down with me and eat as a family on the nights when I didn’t work late. Mom had always been huge on dinner together; even as Renee and I got older and busier, she’d made sure we sat down with the family, and I wanted to try to give that to the kids.
“You took my broccoli!” Morgan whined.
“Guys. Just eat.” Try being the operative word.
I usually tried to model good behavior for the kids at the table and not check my phone, but they were sorely testing my patience, so I snuck a peek under the table when it vibrated. There was a new message.
You were right. The bison bacon burger is divine. It would be more delicious with a bit of conversation, though. And how is your dining?—Ev
I smiled and hit a quick reply.
Chicken nuggets with bickering siblings. Wouldn’t mind conversation beyond SpongeBob either.
Later, while I was doing the dishes, another text came in.
Now I am home with my new beer purchases. Which is your favorite ale?
Hold on. Gotta read the next chapter in Harry Potter three to the kids. Back in bit, I texted.
Oh, I love that series. Do you do voices?
Of course. Gotta do it right, I sent back.
I wish a command performance, then.
Yup. We were totally flirting. And I loved it. I read the chapter to the girls and Jonas. The girls shared the larger bedroom with Renee, while I shared the smaller one with Jonas. It wasn’t ideal, but the social worker had nixed the idea of anyone sleeping in the living room, even though a lot of nights, I ended up passed out on the couch anyway. If I won the barista contest, however, we could maybe get a three-bedroom apartment, so Renee could get her own room, or maybe even get a rental house so I could have privacy as well. That was the dream.
“Can we read more?” Madison asked sleepily.
“Tomorrow. I hope,” I said, kissing her head and guiding Jonas over to our room.
It was always a toss-up whether we actually got the story time in, but I always felt a bit less like a fuck-up when I put them to bed the way Mom had always tried to. After they were in bed and the kitchen was clean, I sorted laundry from the loads Renee had run at the coin-op in the basement of the buildings. I kept looking at my phone. Oh, screw it. I picked it up and hit Call.
“Brady! I was just thinking about calling. But I didn’t want to wake the little ones.” Ev’s voice sounded sleepy and relaxed.
A warm buzz shot through me like I’d had two of his beers.
“They’re asleep now. And my phone’s always on vibrate. Just, you know, for future reference.”
“I will indeed file that away.” I could almost hear him smiling over the phone. “And I’m enjoying a nice beer and some Pawn Stars—a pleasant break from Mira’s dramas.”
“Oh man, I love that show. That and Storage Wars.” I flipped on the TV, lowered the volume. “Hey, it’s the one with the sword.”
“Yes. I’m waiting for the part where they find out it’s a fake.” Ev chuckled. “I’ve no idea why I like this show, but I do. And yes, I like Storage Wars, too. Anything with auctions or antiques.”
“Ditto.” I loved that we both liked the same crappy TV. “Mira get home safe?”
“Yes, thank you. She was a bit tired, but not too bad. I made her go straight to bed. She came back with pretty nails, though, and it was lovely to see her smiling.”
“You’re a good nephew,” I said as I balled up socks. “Is anyone else helping with her care?”
Not that I knew a ton, but the few Turkish people I’d met all had large, involved extended families. Ev paused for a long time. “No. It is just us. It’s been that way since I was fourteen.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” I knew firsthand what a lousy expression that was, but I couldn’t think of what else to say. “Did your folks die, too?”
“Not exactly.” There was a scritching sound, like Ev was rubbing his jaw. “We immigrated to the United States when I was twelve. But even in America, the Turkish community can be a bit . . . conservative. Our family especially, as my parents are devout and very rigid about things like homosexuality.”
“Ah.” The picture became a lot clearer.
“I was found kissing a school friend. And when I refused to apologize for my actions and wouldn’t accept . . . efforts to change my mind, I was sent to Mira.”
“I’m glad you had her, then. She’s not conservative like the rest of the family?”
Ev snorted. “Hardly. She was already the black sheep. She immigrated two decades before my parents. Did you know she had a lady friend for many, many years? It would have been before you were working at People’s Cup. She died about eight years ago. Lovely, lovely woman, my Hala Tanya.”
“So they sent you to them?” On the TV, the coworkers were bickering over who had slacked off, but my heart was heavy for Ev’s younger self.
“Yes. My father wanted to turn me out altogether, but my mother pleaded for the Aunt Mira option.”
“Oh my God. That’s awful.”
“Eh. It was what it was. How about you? Did your mother know of your . . . preferences before her passing?”
“You can say bisexual, Ev. And yes, she did. I dated a guy in high school for a while. Wasn’t a big deal to her. I got a safe-sex lecture and that was pretty much it. She was more occupied with twin toddlers and Jonas. Me kissing boys was the least of her worries.”
“And how old are your siblings now?”
“Renee is eighteen, almost nineteen. The twin girls are seven and Jonas is ten. Technically, I could leave him alone some, but he’s got severe ADHD and impulsivity issues.” Renee and I argued about that a lot. She wanted to try leaving the kids alone more, or at least Jonas, but I wasn’t about to let that happen. He might be ten, but he had the rationality of a much younger kid.
“I understand,” Ev said solemnly. “You take good care of them. And they know about you being bisexual, too?”
“Well, it’s never come up much. I haven’t dated at all in the two years since Mom died, but they know that boys can like both boys and girls, and I don’t think it would come as a shock if I dated a guy.”
I had never been one for fishing, but my stepfather had taken me out on the Columbia once. Talking to Ev felt a bit like fishing with Greg. Casting out a bit of line, hoping it didn’t spook Ev.
“Too busy for dating?” Ev neatly sidestepped the bisexual thing.
“I empathize. Right now, it feels like all I can focus on is Hala Mira and making her well. And before that was craziness with design deadlines. Let me think . . . nine months maybe? A year?”
“That’s a heck of a dry spell for a guy like you. And you were in New York right? I’d think finding dates would be easy.”
“Ah. You flatter me.” Ev’s voice was easy and relaxed, and I could listen to him all night. I had a serious hard-on just for his voice, especially when it got all languid like that. “And I’m picky . . . very picky. And apparently not the best when I do choose.”
“I’m picky, too,” I admitted. “Tell me about your wish list.”
Please let scruffy guys with beards and earrings be on it.
“You? Picky?” Ev sounded more surprised than the boss on the show when they discovered a genuine treasure amid all the crap.
“What? You think all bisexuals are automatically manwhores? No, I’ve got plenty of requirements for both genders. I’m not attracted to everything that moves.” God. Why did I constantly feel like a PSA for bisexual marginalization? Ev wasn’t the first to assume that bisexual meant I’d screw anything with legs.
“My mistake.” Ev seemed genuinely apologetic. “Tell me about these . . . requirements.”
“Posture, for one. It’s all in how people carry themselves. Confident posture is essential. Tall is even better.” Ev was three or four inches taller than me, which I loved. I liked women who were taller, too. “A take-charge attitude to go along with that gets me going.”
“So tall, bossy people with straight spines?” Ev chuckled. “You seem so . . . take charge, as you say yourself. You’re very . . . together.”
I figured that might be his delicate way of asking if I was a top. “I have to be organized. Even when my mom was alive, her husband worked long hours on the graveyard shift, and she always needed my help with the younger kids. And now I have to stay on top of things, help keep us afloat. But when I’m with someone . . . I like letting go of details. I like someone who can take over and make it so I don’t have to think.”
There. If he could be delicate, so could I.
“Even with women?” Ev coughed.
“Yes, Ev, even with women.” I could really blow his mind and talk about pegging and fem-domme porn, but I restrained myself. “I like . . . handing over the reins, regardless of gender.”
“I’m sorry. That’s more a cultural thing on my part. Turkish men . . . they do not usually like their women . . . take charge.”
“I like take-charge Turkish men. A lot,” I said cheekily. We’d definitely moved into the flirty part of this conversation and I was going to enjoy it. Which was where I’d gone wrong with Audrey, letting her pull me into the stockroom and all, but I wasn’t mentioning that to Ev.
“Ah.” Ev paused a long moment.
“Is that weird?” I finally asked.
“No, not weird . . . just unexpected.”
“A good unexpected?”
“Perhaps.” His voice said it was indeed welcome news but he wasn’t going to give me the satisfaction of a full answer.
“So tell me your list. What does it for you?” Folding done, I lay back against the couch to let his voice wash over me.
“Hmm. I do not like needy. So as you say, confident is good. No drama.”
Seeing as how my life tended to be one clusterfuck of drama, that pretty much ruled me out. “What else?”
Something in my tone must have given my disappointment away.
“I do not mean no problems. I mean . . . no false problems. No mountains out of molehills because someone is ten minutes late or the dinner is a little past done. I like . . . low-maintenance looks, too. Natural.”
“You? You’re pretty much a walking menswear ad. You dig scruffy, though?” I was seriously fishing now.
“I do not need someone who can’t be . . . rumpled,” Ev said.
Rumple me. Please. I disguised a whimper as a little go-ahead noise.
“But it is not so much about looks with me. People are pleasing in many configurations. It’s about . . . compatibility.” The way he said the word took my mind straight past liking the same TV shows and into the bedroom.
“Oh? Tell me more?” I got comfortable against the cushions. Simply enjoying this banter and Ev’s deep, musical voice was turning me on more than a little.
“It’s personal,” Ev hedged.
“I live for personal. Besides, we’re friends right? I’ll happily overshare whatever you want next.”
“Don’t make me start guessing. You need someone with a scarf fetish? Wool allergies need not apply?”
His laugh this time was deep and true. “Allergies can be accommodated. And it’s not so much that I have . . . special tastes as what I don’t like.”
“Ah. You don’t bottom? Don’t take this the wrong way, Ev, but I’m pretty sure both New York and Portland are filled with guys dying for you to top them.” Take me, for instance.
“I do not. Or top. Much.”
Now there was an interesting wrinkle. I sat up, hands on my knees. “So no bi guys, no drama, and no anal? That’s quite the list, Ev.”
“Like I said, I’m . . . hard to please.”
“Just talking hypothetically here . . . but no anal isn’t a deal breaker with me.” I was stretching it a bit. I loved to get fucked—loved the head trip almost as much as the act itself—but it wasn’t like Ev and I were talking a long-term thing. We were flirting. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time, and Ev’s dislike of anal wasn’t reason to stop the fun.
“It’s not?” Ev sounded surprised, and I could hear him shifting around, too.
“Yes. I know. It’s hard to imagine, but being bisexual doesn’t mean penetration’s required with me. I love bottoming, sure, but there’s plenty of ways to fuck and get fucked. As long as I get that whole notthinking thing, I’m not choosy.”
“You know, Ev, we’ve really got to broaden your perspective on bi people.”
“Perhaps you are right.”
I fist pumped the air. Now that was real progress. “Is the not liking anal a cultural thing, too? Like you think it’s morally wrong?”
“I thought it was about to be your turn to overshare next?”
“Sure. You get the next two questions. But answer mine?”
“No. It’s not a cultural thing per se—obviously the religion I grew up with condemns it, but it’s more . . . I don’t like it. Messy. Involved. Uncomfortable . . .”
Ev needed to never have kids and all the varieties of mess they brought into one’s life if he thought anal sex was a distasteful amount of yuck. But to each their own and all that. “I get it. Fair enough. What do you like?”
“Nuh-uh. I get a question now. Have you been with more men or more women?”
I didn’t have to think hard. “Three girls, four guys. Told you; I’m not exactly a slut.”
“And if you could only have one . . .”
Why did people always want to ask this question? I groaned. “I’d choose the one I was in love with and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I’m not picking an ice cream flavor. Not that it’s going to happen any time soon, but I’d pick a partner. Not a gender.”
“And why won’t it be happening?” Ev swallowed. Heck, even his sipping beer was a sexy sound.
“The kids. My whole focus has to be on them right now. I don’t have time for anything more, and I’m not going to have a parade of people in and out or do a lot of quick hookups.”
“Yes. I hear you. My priority is Mira. And it appears we share a dislike of hooking up.”
Oh, I’d hook up with Ev in a heartbeat, but I wasn’t telling him that. I’d break an awful lot of my rules for him.