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OFF DUTY by Sawyer Bennett (1)

 

Chapter 1

 

Tim

 

“What’s on your agenda today?” Denise asks me as I look out her kitchen window to the backyard.

Turning to face my sister, I see her holding out a cup of coffee toward me. I accept it gratefully with a smile. “Thought I’d take Sam over to the Audobon Zoo… spend the day there.”

“He’ll love it,” she says, leaning her hip against the counter and sipping at her own coffee. “I thought we’d go out for dinner tonight. I should be home around six.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I say with a smile, turning my head back toward the window to watch Sam running around the backyard with Denise’s golden retriever, Scout. Even though the window is closed, I can hear his excited, five-year-old giggle as Scout whines at him to throw the ball in his hand.

Denise comes up to stand beside me, gazing out the window. “That boy needs a dog.”

“Easy for you to say… living here in the ‘burbs of New Orleans,” I tell her with a wry grin. “They don’t work so well in an apartment in Brooklyn.”

“Maybe a little dog,” she muses. “One of those ones you can put in your backpack or something.”

“Don’t you even dare suggest that in front of Sam,” I warn, bumping her shoulder with my own. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Laughing, Denise pours the rest of her coffee down the drain and sets the cup in the sink. She leans over and gives me a kiss on my cheek. “I’ve got your back, little brother.”

My arm wraps around her waist and I pull her in close, giving her a kiss back on her temple. “It’s good to be here, Denise. Thanks for having us.”

“My pleasure, babe,” she says as she pulls away and grabs her purse from the kitchen table. “You and Sam are welcome to visit me anytime… you know that, right?”

“That I do,” I say as I turn away from the window and head toward her sliding glass door, which leads onto the back patio. Opening it up, I call out, “Sam… come on in and get some breakfast.”

As is typical of a boy in the midst of playing with a rambunctious dog, he promptly ignores me. I watch for a few moments as he throws the ball and Scout bounds after it. Sam bends over, slaps his hands on his thighs, and calls, “Come on, boy. Bring me the ball.”

Smiling to myself, I put on my sterner parent voice and call out again, “Sam… inside… now.”

His head swivels my way, and it never fails to amaze me how my child can look more beautiful—more angelic—with every passing moment. He inherited his mocha-colored skin from me but got his mom’s hazel green eyes, a combination that I bet will have all the girls chasing him when he gets older.

Sam throws the ball one more time and then starts trotting toward me. He gives me a grin as he steps onto the patio, showing the large gap where one of his baby teeth fell out just a week ago on the top. The one beside it is loose, and he takes great pleasure in showing me how he can wiggle it back and forth. As a firefighter for the New York Fire Department, I’ve seen some nasty shit in my work, but for some reason, loose teeth wig me out completely.

“Aunt Denise,” Sam says as he pushes past me and barrels into the kitchen. “Can we take Scout home with us after our vacation?”

Denise shoots me a look that says, I told you so, but then leans over to rub the top of Sam’s head. “Sorry, baby. But I’d be too lonely without Scout. He has to stay here with me.”

Sam’s mouth turns downward in extreme disappointment, only to turn right back up into a grin. His eyes light up brightly with an idea, and he turns to me. “Dad… we should get a dog like Scout when we go back home. Can we? Huh, can we get a dog?”

Denise starts laughing as she heads toward the front door. Calling over her shoulder, she says, “See you tonight at six. You two have fun today.”

I reach into the cabinet and pull out a bowl, which I place on the table. “Sit,” I tell Sam as I point to the chair.

“So, can we, Dad?” he asks again as he plops down. I busy myself with getting out the cereal and milk, using that as my excuse to ignore him.

Sam doesn’t seem to catch on that I’m trying to avoid this conversation, and he continues chattering as I pour him a bowl of Fruit Loops. “A dog would be so cool. I want one just like Scout, except we couldn’t name it Scout. Maybe I’d call him Ranger… or Pete… or maybe even Sweet Foxy Brown.”

I roll my eyes, because out of the mouths of babes and all that. “No dog, buddy. You know we don’t have room in my apartment, and besides… who would take care of it when you were staying with your mom?”

“I’d take the dog with me to Mom’s when it was my time to stay with her,” he says, completely nonplussed.

“Yeah… if you think I’m dead set against a dog, just wait until you try to ask your mom for one. I can tell you, without a doubt, that she’ll say no.”

“She’ll say yes,” he says confidently, and then shovels a huge scoop of cereal in his mouth.

While he’s chewing, I take the opportunity to lean in, kiss him on the head, and say, “Sorry, little man. It’s just not something we can do right now. Not with you splitting time between me and Mom’s, and I only have an apartment.”

Sam’s mouth chews fervently, trying to get the food swallowed so he can argue with me. I take the opportunity to escape. “Finish your cereal, and then get dressed. I’m going to go take a quick shower.”

His brows slanting angrily inward, Sam swallows his cereal and glares at me. Giving a sigh, I head back toward the guest bedroom of Denise’s house where Sam and I are sharing a bed. This is the second year in a row that we’ve come to New Orleans for our summer vacation, taking advantage of the free room with my sister and the variety of attractions available in NOLA. Denise has been in New Orleans for the last six years, having followed a man down here, who turned out to be of the asshole variety. He left to go back to New York, but my big sis loved it down here and decided to make this her new home.

Denise is all the family I have left, our parents having died in a train derailment a few years ago when they were actually traveling from our home city of Brooklyn down to New Orleans to visit Denise. Since then, it’s just seems the right thing to do to come down and visit so we can have some quality time together.

Just as I start to reach into my suitcase for some clean clothes, my cell phone buzzes with a text. I slip it out of my pocket and tap the Text icon.

How is vacation? Things are boring here without you.

I smile. Nothing like a text from my best buddy and co-worker, Flynn Caldwell. We’ve been through thick and thin together since starting together at the NYFD, and he’s about the closest thing I have to a brother. Doesn’t matter that his skin is white and mine’s black. We’re still super tight.

I’m sure Rowan is keeping you plenty occupied, I text back.

Yeah… setting fire between the sheets, he immediately replies.

I snicker, because that’s true enough. Flynn and Rowan can barely keep their hands off each other. I start to text back a witty, if not crude, reply when I hear Sam shrieking from the backyard.

“D-a-a-a-d-d-y!”

Fear and adrenaline surge through me as I recognize pain and terror in Sam’s voice. The phone drops from my hand and I bolt out of the bedroom, catching my shoulder on the doorjamb. Tearing down the hall, I fly into the kitchen, scramble around the table, and fling the sliding glass door open.

Sam is running across the yard toward me, clutching one hand to his chest. Tears are pouring down his face. Scout trots behind him, looking worried as only golden retrievers can.

I sprint toward him, dropping to my knees in the grass and opening my arms up. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Sucking in a deep breath, which stutters through his tears, he wails, “I was chasing after Scout, and I tripped and fell. My hand hurts real bad.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” I say soothingly, my heart starting to calm now that I can see he’s basically okay. “Let me take a look.”

Carefully, I pull his hand away from his chest. His small whimper of pain slices through me deep. Immediately, I see the top of his right hand is swelling badly, and I suspect he might have a fracture.

With one hand, I cup him around the back of his head and pull him in. Giving him a kiss on his forehead, I tell him, “It’s going to be okay, Sammy. Looks like you may have broken something inside your hand, and I’m going to have to take you to the hospital.”

“It hurts,” Sammy says with a sniffle.

Standing up from the ground, I commiserate as I take him by the shoulder and lead him back toward the house. “I know, buddy. But they’ll make it feel all better at the hospital. I promise.”

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