Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have one of its favorite authors back to talk about one of its highly recommended series and stories Crocus, the second story in the Bonfires series from Amy Lane. Welcome, Amy.
Larx’s phone, sitting on the table next to him, buzzed, and he was damned grateful.
Hello, Principal—are you being a good boy and getting your work done?
Larx groaned. Sort of. Olivia showed up on the doorstep this morning. Oh hell. He didn’t even want to ask Aaron about using his house.
Is she visiting for the weekend?
The phone rang. “Are you kidding me?”
“Sorry, Aaron.” He sighed and sipped his tepid coffee, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s going on. She came in talking a mile a minute, tripped over the dog—”
“Is Dozer okay?”
Larx had to laugh. “Your dog is fine, Aaron.”
“He’s your dog,” Aaron protested weakly. Yes, the puppy had been a gift for Larx when his oldest cat passed away, but Aaron—big, solid, strong—had apparently been waiting for Dozer for most of his life.
Larx wasn’t going to argue that the dog was definitely Aaron’s, but it was true. Dozer—a mixed breed somewhere between a Labrador retriever and a German shepherd—was fine with Larx, answered to him just as well as he did Aaron, appreciated the hell out of the full food bowl, gave plenty of sloppy, happy kisses, and pranced about on spindly legs and feet the size of dinner plates.
But when Aaron came home, Larx watched the dog melt, roll to his back, offer up his tummy in supplication, and beg for pets.
Larx couldn’t object or be jealous—he felt the same way. Except Larx wanted Aaron to pet more than his belly.
“That dog’s your soul mate from another life,” Larx said now, scratching Dozer behind the ears. “Yes, you are. Yes, you are. But you can’t have him. He’s mine.”
“Wow. Just wow.”
Larx chuckled, because the distraction had been welcome, but now… now grown-up things. “She’s asleep on the couch,” he said softly. “Aaron… she’s not sounding….” He took a big breath. His ex-wife had suffered from depression after a miscarriage, and he remembered coming home from work bringing dinner once so she didn’t have to cook or clean up because she’d been so sad. She’d yelled at him—didn’t he think she was capable of cleaning her own kitchen? Then she’d burst into tears for an hour, while Larx had fed the girls and tried to calm her down.
It had been like standing on the deck of a ship in a storm—and Larx had that same feeling now, with his daughter, when his children had always been the source of peace in his heart.
“Pregnancy?” Aaron asked hesitantly. They were so new. Larx hadn’t spoken about Alicia more than a handful of times. Nobody talked about depression or mental illness.
Nobody knew what to say.
“Yeah.” Larx didn’t want to talk about it right now. He just couldn’t.
“Baby….” Aaron’s voice dropped, and considering Larx had gotten him at work, where he had to be all tough and manly and shit, that meant he was worried.
“Later,” Larx said gruffly. “Just not, you know….”
“When the whole world can hear. I get it.” Aaron blew out a breath and then took the subject down a surprising path. “Larx, do you have a student named Candace Furman?”
Larx stared at the paperwork in his hand, shuffling back to where he was right before Olivia had knocked.
“Yeah. Not one of mine, but… huh.” He reached over to his laptop and accessed the school’s portal site. “Hm….”
“That’s informative. Want to tell me what you’re looking at?”
“It’s sort of privileged, Deputy. Want to tell me why you need to know?”
Aaron’s grunt told him he was being annoying, but Larx couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to just divulge information on a kid if it wasn’t necessary. It went against everything he’d ever stood for as a rebellious adolescent.
“I just got…. It was weird. We got a domestic call to her house—her parents answer, and it’s all great. ‘No, Officer, we have no idea why somebody would call in screaming or a fight in the snow.’ We take a look inside, house is okay—but really clean.”
“Like somebody just swept up all the pieces of all the things?” Larx hazarded.
“Yeah. Either that or just… unhealthily antiseptic. And Candace and her sister—”
“Shelley,” Larx supplied since he had the file open on his computer.
“Yeah. Anyway—the girls are fine. ‘Yessir. Nossir. It’s all okay, sir.’ But they’ve both got these… like, girl masks on?”
“Makeup?” Larx said, trying to picture it.
“No… like… face goop. Like… whatwazit? Mrs. Doubtfire stuck her face in the cake ’cause she didn’t have her makeup on?”
It took Larx a minute to process all that. “A facial,” he said, blinking hard because the movie was that old, and the antitrans messaging had been so strong that Larx forgot he too had been part of America who’d laughed their asses off at a man in a dress with flammable boobs.
“Yeah. That. And that shit could be hiding anything, right? Their eyes were red, but then, for all I know the facial goop did that. So I’m not sure if they’re hiding shiners or if their neighbors just got hold of some bad weed—”
“Did you knock on their door?” Larx asked. Between him and Aaron, they really did know most of the town. “Who’s their neighbor?”
“Couple of brothers,” Aaron said thoughtfully. “Just moved at Christmas. Youngest one goes to Colton High—”
“Jaime Benitez,” Larx said promptly. “Junior.” He pressed the right link and there was the master schedule. “He and Candace are in some classes together.”
Aaron grunted. “Well, the older brother had been lighting up pretty hard—but it doesn’t seem like Jaime’s the type to indulge.”
“You didn’t bust them?” Larx asked curiously. He’d done his share of weed in college—but Aaron had been off fighting and bleeding for his country when Larx was in college. This was something they’d never talked about.
“Hell,” Aaron muttered. “Unless they’re growing to distribute, it’s mostly legal. Not for minors, of course, but both boys were functional, polite, and their eyes were clear. Roberto—who’s twenty-one, by the way—actually produced a prescription for anxiety without being asked. I could have made a stink about it, but I couldn’t see the point.”
“I love you so hard,” Larx breathed. “Seriously. I can’t think of a sexual favor good enough for you. I’ll have to make something up.”
Larx couldn’t articulate it. It wasn’t that he’d smoke it now unless it was prescribed, and he didn’t want his kids—or his students—indulging without cause. But something about knowing Aaron, for all his law-and-order propensities, didn’t push rules just for the sake of there being rules made Larx even prouder of him.
“Just you’re a good guy. Jaime Benitez is getting good grades. He’s part of the local service clubs, including one where he tutors eighth graders in trouble. Nice boy.”
“In your class?” Aaron wanted to know.
“Senior year, like Kirby. Christiana is sort of—”
“Special,” Aaron said fondly. “Yeah. I know.”
Well, Larx’s youngest was the girl with the flower—her brightness and sparkle was coupled with a quiet good sense. Irresistible. She was also razor-sharp, which was why she was taking Larx’s class in her junior year.
“So what about Candace?” Aaron prompted.
Larx sighed. “She’s… well, she was a straight-A student, but no involvement in anything.”
Aaron might well be surprised. It was a small school in a small town. Activity involvement wasn’t mandatory, but if a kid wanted any sort of social life, being part of a club or a sport was pretty much the only thing going on after school.
“No—that’s odd. And that’s probably why I can’t place her. Her sister’s in grade school, so I wouldn’t know her. But Candace is just… not involved.”
“Was,” Aaron prompted, and Larx rested his chin on his fist and looked woefully at his paperwork. Ye gods, the pile wasn’t getting any smaller.
“Yeah. Was getting straight As. Is no longer. Is veering off into C and D territory. And I have in front of me, waiting for a signature, her very first referral for behavior.”
He stared at it, wondering how the pieces fit.
“What’d she do?” Aaron asked patiently.
“Well, it says she got to class late and then ran out a few minutes after the bell rang. It was her first-period class, and when she came back—looking pale—the teacher asked if she was okay. Apparently she laughed hysterically and told the teacher to fuck off.”
Larx sighed. “Yeah. That’s why I’m up to my eyeballs in paperwork, Aaron—so I can look for kids like this and ask them what happened. I’m on it.”
“That’s my boy,” Aaron praised softly. “Good. Keep me in the loop, okay? I don’t know if the girls were being abused, and frankly I didn’t have enough evidence to so much as make them wash their faces. I don’t know the story behind the boys living together without parents, and I don’t know why one of them would be anxious enough to get a prescription for a ton of weed. These are things I would like to know before I go venturing in there with CPS and the DEA to make sure everything is kosher, you understand?”
“Got it, Deputy.” Larx looked at both kids’ files again and wondered at the puzzle. “Aaron, I’m serious. You’re a good man. These kids—there’s pieces missing here. Yanking them away from their homes, dragging them into the fray—I’m not sure if that’s the best thing here.”
Larx was starting to know Aaron’s grunts—this one was the respectful disagreement grunt. “Some stuff needs to see light, Mr. Larkin,” he chided gently. “If something’s festering in that girl’s life, it’s our job to make sure she’s okay.”
“Roger that.” Larx tilted his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Have you eaten?” Aaron asked.
“Uh….” He’d gotten a sandwich for Olivia, but he’d put off getting his own.
“Eat, Principal. Work on your paperwork. And maybe take a nap on the couch before I get there. Save up your strength.” He gave a chuckle that was absolutely filthy. “You’re going to need it.”
Larx whined. “But… but Olivia—”
“If hearing us have sex gives her reason to move out, more’s the better,” Aaron intoned darkly.
Oh shit. “She… uh… she sort of hinted… never mind.”
“My house. Yes. We’ll move her tomorrow.”
Larx groaned and rested his forehead on the paperwork on the table. “God. You’re the perfect man. Where’s the rub? Where’s the flaw? There’s got to be something here that makes me want to smack you—where is it?”
Oh yeah. That conversation they weren’t having because of all the conversations they were.
“Understood.” Larx sighed. “I’ll see you when you get home.”
Larx smiled, reassured. “Sure. Take care of what’s mine.”
“Thanks for the info.”
Aaron signed off, and Larx’s text pinged thirty seconds later.
Love you too.
Yup. Too good to be true.
Larx’s worry about his daughter—and about Aaron’s input into the situation—doubled down in his chest.
Please, Olivia—please. Don’t make me choose between you two. Please.