Here you go—Part 2 of Starting From Family! I’ll post the final installment later this week. If you haven’t read Starting From The Top, you’ll definitely want to do that first and save this for later. Johnny and Sean’s story is a true standalone. You don’t have to read the other books in the series to follow this one. But you may want to meet the whole band in the Starting From Series!
*By the way, the audiobook is live AND Whispersynched! Woohoo!
Happy Reading! Lane xo
In spite of the brutal afternoon traffic, I made it home from the desert in record time, weaving around slower moving vehicles like I was practicing for a run in the Indy 500. Hey, my people needed me. Not that there was much I could do. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I’d dealt with my share of flu bugs over the years.
But Johnny hadn’t.
I pulled my BMW in the garage next to the Range Rover and hurried inside.
Lullah raced down the short hall off the kitchen to greet me. She let out a plaintive whimper as she plopped herself in the laundry room doorway where we kept her food. She didn’t bark, but the message was clear.
“Someone’s hungry, eh? I’ll be right back, Lu. Let me check on Pen and Johnny first.”
I scratched her ears and moved into the oddly quiet great room, setting my briefcase on a barstool before heading into the living area where a muted SpongeBob cartoon played on the flatscreen. I peered over the sectional and stopped in my tracks. Johnny and Penny were both asleep. And damn, my heart suddenly felt a bit too big for my chest.
Call me crazy, but my daughter drooling on my lover’s shoulder with a crayon in her hand and coloring book propped between them filled empty spaces inside me. Apparently, I had nothing to worry about.
I loosened my tie, noting the bottle of Gatorade, the glass of water, and a piece of uneaten toast on the coffee table next to an iPad, a stack of coloring books, art supplies, and a paperback copy of A Wrinkle in Time. Entertainment, fluids, and a snack covered, I mused as I skirted the sofa and accidentally kicked a red pail. I picked it up, chuckling lightly at the attached Post-it note that read, “Just in case.”
“You’re home,” Johnny whispered.
I sat beside him and kissed his lips, his nose, and both cheeks. “How are you? It looks like have everything control.”
“Daddy. Hi.” Penny smiled groggily then scrambled to sit up before launching herself at me.
I pulled her onto my lap and kissed her forehead. Penny had grown an inch or more over the past year, but she was still a pipsqueak. And thankfully, she didn’t think cuddles were uncool. Yet.
“Hi there. I heard you aren’t feeling so great.”
Penny nodded solemnly, twisting a lock of hair around her finger. “My stomach was funky. But I feel better now.”
“Funky? Is that a medical term?” I teased.
“Johnny said it was funked up. Right, Johnny?”
He made a comical face and shrugged. “Yeah, something like that.”
Penny giggled then leaned over to greet the dog when she set her snout on my knee and whimpered. “Oh, Lullah! Lullah, girl, come. Did you miss me?”
I straightened the collar on her Wonder Woman pajama top. “I’m sure Lullah was worried about you, but I also think she’s hungry. I’ll feed her now and—”
“Fu-funk-y farts.” Johnny winced as he hopped off the sofa. He set the coloring book on top of the others and picked up a stray crayon wedged between the cushions, accidentally leaving a small mark on the fabric. He stared at the unintentional sofa art with his mouth open. “Geez, I’m sorry. I’ll clean it after I feed the dog. I can’t believe I forgot. I’m sorry, Lullah.”
“Johnny, relax. I’ll do it.”
“No, it’s my chore. I’ll do it,” Penny announced, wriggling off my lap. “I really feel better. I promise I won’t yack.”
“Yack?” I laughed.
“That’s what Johnny called it,” she confirmed with a grin. “He said—”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m a riot.” Johnny tugged his black tee and swiped his fingers through his hair before pointing at the sofa. “You’re on sick leave, Pen. Park your tuchus and chill. Speaking of Park…Parker is eating dinner with his friends. He’ll be home by eight. I have no idea what time it is, but that might soon. And you’re probably hungry and Lullah’s fu— starving. Let me feed her and then I’ll feed you and clean up this mess and…Yeah, it’s all good. All good. You’re good, I’m good, the house is still standing. I got this.”
I arched my brow and watched him hurry into the adjoining room with Lullah at his heels.
“He’s okay, Daddy. He’s just worried,” she said sagely.
“I know. You had quite an afternoon, didn’t you?”
Penny sighed. “I don’t know what happened. I was okay at lunch, but I started feeling worse and worse. I got sick again after we got home, but I made it to the bathroom that time. No big deal. Johnny was super worried though. He looked up the flu on the internet and asked Tegan to buy us Gatorade and chicken noodle soup. I haven’t eaten anything yet. I’m still not hungry, but I don’t feel bad.”
“Sounds like Johnny took very good care of you.”
She fixed me with a serious look. “Very good care. I should help him with Lullah and—”
“No, Johnny’s right. You need rest.” I kissed her forehead again and motioned for her to lie on the sofa. “I’m glad you’re feeling better and you don’t seem to have a fever anymore, but I’ll get the thermometer to be sure. I’m going to check on Johnny and change my clothes. Holler if you need one of us, Penny-pie.”
“Okay, but can I watch a different show?”
I spread a blanket over her legs and handed her the remote. “Go for it.”
I found Johnny in the laundry room with Lullah. He was singing to the dog in a low voice…something that sounded like an original tune. He had a habit of making up off-the-cuff silly songs to make the kids laugh. He’d strummed his guitar like a madman and strike rock star poses while singing, “Homework sucks, oh yeah!” They loved it.
They loved him.
Parker and Penny were charmed by Johnny’s good-natured attitude and upbeat personality. He could take seemingly any negative and spin it into a positive. And unless I was mistaken, he was using the same tactic to apologize to the dog for forgetting to feed her.
“…it’s gonna be a two treat night, oh yeah!”
Johnny jumped, spinning around with a scowl on his handsome face. “Geez, no sneaking.”
“I come in peace.” I held my hands up in surrender then opened my arms. “You look like you could use a hug.”
He closed his eyes briefly and sighed as he wrapped himself around me, resting his head on my shoulder. God, it was good to be home.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he mumbled against my shirt.
“Me too. I’m sorry you had a rough day.”
“Hmph. I thought I was doing pretty good at this stand-in parent thing, but I suck.”
I held him a little tighter. “You don’t suck. You’re amazing.”
“Yeah, right,” he huffed sarcastically, pulling out of my embrace. “The good news for you is that I suck in other ways too…good ways, if you know what I mean. Hopefully, that’s enough reason to keep me around.”
That last line was barely audible, but I heard it and no, I didn’t like it at all.
“Hey, what’s going in your head?” I set my fingers under his chin. “Look at me, Johnny.”
He did…and it was impossible to miss the anguish in his beautiful brown eyes. “I’m sorry about all this. I really am.”
“There’s no reason to apologize, baby. It’s just life. Sometimes it comes at you wrapped like a Christmas present and other times, it’s a shit storm.”
“I know that, but I caused the shit storm. That’s the difference.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Cool it.” I cradled his face in my hands and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Come upstairs. I think we need to talk.”
“Talk?” Johnny rasped. He crossed his arms and shook his head. “I don’t want to talk.”
“Sounds ominous. Like you’re gonna fire me or something.”
I rolled my eyes and smacked his ass. “Upstairs…now.”
I moved ahead of him, pausing to check on Penny again before making my way to the master suite.
I’d unbuttoned my oxford shirt, removed my shoes, unbuckled my belt, and was about to unzip my suit pants when Johnny finally waltzed in and sat on the corner of the bench in front of the bed.
“Let’s get this over with, Sean. I don’t do well with uncertainty. I’m sure you’re worried about my ability to care for the kids and the house when you’re away…well, I guess I don’t blame you. I’m a disaster, but I can do better. I can set alarms to remind myself when they should eat and sleep. And I’ll look up doable recipes so I don’t feed them crap and—”
I let it grow even though I knew it made him nervous. Maybe that seemed unkind, but I needed his full attention. I needed him to listen to me and hear every word I said.
“Say something already. Or are you trying to give me a fuckin’ heart attack?” he groused, hanging his head unhappily.
“And you need to put some fuckin’ clothes on. I can’t concentrate with you looking like that.”
I pursed my lips to hide my smile. “Is that a compliment?”
“Yeah, whatever. Just…what did you want to tell me?”
I sat beside him on the bench and mirrored his posture—legs spread wide, elbows on my knees. Then I glanced sideways and smiled.
“I love you.”
To be continued…