Excerpt from Power Play
Copyright © 2018
A hand clamped down on my shoulder, and I stiffened. It was Dad.
“Talk to Madigan.” He spoke for only me to hear. “Now that I know there’s an issue, I can see it clear as day. It’s tense and shit.”
“Seriously,” I hissed under my breath. “Are you bored? Why are you meddling?”
He scowled. “Mom meddles. I give a shit.”
“Come on, boys,” Mom said. “Let’s eat.”
I stared at Dad for a beat longer, a match I’d never win, before I averted my gaze and closed the fridge door. To make matters worse, I’d end up sitting next to Madigan. Mom and Lyn always sat next to each other when it was just us, and Dad sat at the head of the table.
I sat down across from my sister, leaving Mad and Mom on either side of Dad.
“I’m gonna watch you eat,” Lyn whispered and bit into a roll.
“That’s creepy,” I whispered back.
“Nuh-uh.” She shook her head. “It’s fun. You eat more food than anyone in the world.”
I snorted a quiet chuckle and filled my plate with rice, vegetables, and pot roast.
Mom took a sip of her wine. “So this is a pleasant surprise, Madigan. It’s not often you show up for dinner anymore.”
“It’s because he doesn’t like us,” I said around a mouthful of vegetables. “He avoids the people he doesn’t like.” Man, it was satisfying to say that. Whoever said passive-aggressiveness wasn’t a good way to deal with heartbreak?
“What the hell?” Madigan let out a chuckle, but his humor was skin-deep. His eyes showed confusion.
“I called you over ’cause you’re never around anymore,” Dad said flatly. “That’s all there is to it. I know you still adore me.”
Mom found him funny, as did Mad. I said nothing and continued shoveling food into my face.
For a while, the “grown-ups” talked about work and life. Madigan talked about the tattoo shop he owned with Jameson, his best friend. Mom talked about the facility she ran for men, women, and children escaping abuse. Dad talked about music and everything that was wrong in the industry these days.
In the meantime, I ate and did my best to focus solely on that. Not on Mad’s voice, not on his movements, not on his laughter. Except, I failed, and my brain was flooded with memories of better times. Like when he’d visited me in Pittsburgh one weekend without telling me first. Just a surprise on a whim. We’d gone to dinner and a comedy show. Or the times he took me to games before we left Detroit. Or when he pressed his forehead to mine and talked me through my panic attacks.
“You’ve got this, sweetheart. Count with me, okay? One…two—that’s perfect, in through your nose. I’m so proud of you.”
The last mouthful of food was nearly impossible to swallow, and I stared unseeingly at my plate as the pressure on my chest grew.
Snap out of it, you useless idiot.
The sound of the doorbell wrenched me out of my state, and I hauled in a ragged breath.
“I’ll get it!” Lyn shouted and bounced off her chair.
“Are we expecting anyone else?” Mom asked, confused.
Dad shook his head, wiped his mouth on a napkin, and followed Lyn to the hallway. “Hold up, baby girl.”
Mom, for some reason, had to set another plate. Most people would dread salespeople. She assumed it was a dinner guest.
“Abel.” Madigan’s hand covered mine, and I blanched. That looked so fucking weird that I couldn’t stop staring. “Is something wrong? You seem anxious.”
He brushed his thumb over my skin. It left tingles and caused a drawn-out shiver, something that was pleasurable as fuck, but the contact was too strange to process.
“I’m fine.” I withdrew my hand and held it in my lap.
“Adeline!” Dad hollered from the hallway. “Someone just called me gorgeous. I’m leaving you.”
What the fuck? I looked at Mom, who snorted and asked who Dad was leaving her for, and then I frowned toward the hallway.
“No, the correct response is ‘I promise to call you gorgeous more often,’” Dad muttered. When he appeared in the doorway, the relief that hit me almost bowled me over. It was Gray. Holy fuck, Gray was here. It felt like I could finally breathe. “Take a seat, kid,” he told my buddy. “You can probably eat.”
“Hi, honey.” Mom smiled at Gray. “Are you sure you wanna be stuck with him?”
“Not even a little,” he replied with wide eyes. “Remind me never to address him as gorgeous again.” At Dad’s scowl, Gray added, “I’m sorry, you’re just a bit too high maintenance for me, Mr. H.”
“I’m easy as fuck,” Dad argued.
“Daddy, you cuss so much.” Lyn sauntered back to her seat too. “Uncle Casey has a swear jar at home. There are lots of dollars.”
That was a discussion Mom was more than happy to get into, so I tuned out and focused on Gray. He sat down in the empty seat next to me, giving me a breather from the man on my other side.
“What’re you doing here?” I asked quietly.
Gray squeezed my hand under the table. “You seemed like you needed me to run interference.” Having no clue how he’d come to that conclusion, I only stared while he filled his plate. “You sent me a text,” he said. “I put two and two together and figured a certain someone was coming for dinner.” He set down the bowl of gravy and retrieved his phone.
All I’d texted him before leaving my room was…something about dinner. I didn’t really remember.
“Here.” He showed me the text, and my eyebrows went up.
Mdgan fr diner and I cant.
“Wow.” I tugged at my ear, embarrassed.
“I assumed you weren’t drunk,” he said, pocketing his phone, “so that left anxiety.”
“What are you two whispering about, boys?” Mom asked teasingly. “A date, maybe? I’d love to bring happy news when I have lunch with Chloe tomorrow.”
I rolled my eyes. Our moms thought we were more than friends, and it wasn’t hilarious anymore.
Dad narrowed his eyes and pointed his fork at us. “If you two are dating, no more sleepovers with the door closed.”
“Jesus Christ.” I scrubbed a hand over my face.
“Sorry to disappoint, Mrs. H, but we have the same taste in men,” Gray said.
“What taste would that be?” It was Madigan, of all people, who asked.
There was no way I was getting into that with him.
Gray had no such qualms. “Older, bossier, definitely not a hockey player.”
“Older?” Dad scowled, then faced me. “Son, you’re not coming home with some old sugar daddy. In fact, give Gray a go. He called me gorgeous.”
“Jesus Christ,” I repeated. “Dinner was great, Mom. Thanks. We’re gonna go to my room.”
“I’m eating, man,” Gray protested. I gave him a look and felt my jaw tensing. “On second thought, I’m still full from my dinner with the family.”
We dumped our dishes in the sink and started leaving the kitchen.
“Abel, can I watch a movie with you?” Lyn asked.
“Tomorrow, okay?” I glanced back at her.
“She makes a great chaperone,” Dad noted.
“They don’t need a chaperone.” Mom glared at him. “They’re adults. Leave them be.”
Lyn snickered and grabbed her glass of milk. “Abel has penises on his computer.”
“Oh my God, don’t go through my shit!” I widened my eyes, mortification flooding me. My sister’s comment started mayhem in the kitchen between my parents; there was a lecture from Mom on privacy, bitching from Dad, and I couldn’t face Madigan to see his reaction. Instead, I pushed a laughing Gray out into the hallway and toward the stairs.
“Do you wanna watch penises together?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Just kill me.” I took a calming breath and let it out slowly.
Next, I heard Madigan’s voice. “Abel, wait up.”
No, seriously, just kill me.
I paused on the stairs and exchanged a look with Gray. I didn’t know what to do here. My anxiety was getting worse, but I’d never been able to resist that motherfucker.
“I’ll be in your room,” Gray said quietly.
Okay, then. My friend was deserting me. Steeling myself to be alone with Madigan, I waited on the stairs and stuck my hands down into my pockets.