:: It was, of course, scorching when Brian and Destiny arrived, the heat seeping its way into Brian's skin and immediately irritating him. He’d almost forgotten how stupidly hot it was in Arizona.
As excited as Brian was to see his family, he was happy as hell he didn’t live there anymore. He had his issues with Miami, but he’d outgrown Phoenix and that realization settled on him the second he’d stepped off of the plane. Sure, it was familiar, but it was the same. Nothing ever moved. Nothing ever changed. For him, the city was stagnant. Like the heat that was now filling the cheap factory rental he was currently navigating down I-10.
He frowned, kicking himself for not renting something a little more high-end. The Ford Fusion he’d ended up with sounded like a damn go-cart. He reached to turn the air up higher and Destiny immediately reached and cracked the window.
“Baby, I just turned up the air,” he said, shooting a look at her. She was in the passenger seat, fiddling with her phone.
“Yeah, but you know I like the combination.”
She didn’t look up when she said it and he rolled his eyes and shook his head, deciding not to argue with her. He turned the cheap air vent so that it was directly blasting on him, idly listening to the overly animated radio DJ spout out useless information about whatever pseudo-celebrity fight had gone down last night at some nightclub in Atlanta.
He looked over at Destiny again, his eyes automatically lingering on her chest for a beat, because she was wearing a black sundress that subtly showed off her curves. Her hair was in loose curls hanging over her shoulders. She didn’t wear it down often but when she did he caught himself running his fingers through it frequently. It seemed to soothe her as much as it did him. Brian reached and pushed his fingers through her hair now, the thick, silky strands caressing his fingertips, before letting his hand fall to her knee. He rubbed it with his thumb and she looked up from her phone long enough to smile at him. As usual, he felt her smile like a slight ping in his chest and he grinned back.
Fifteen minutes later they were pulling into his aunt and uncle’s old neighborhood. Destiny’s mom wouldn’t be home until later that evening, so she’d wanted to come with him. He tapped his thumb on the plastic steering wheel as he made the familiar left turn onto Clara and Alfred’s street. It looked exactly the same. The lawns were impeccably manicured, though some of the houses were obviously worn, hardened by weather and time. It was as if the residents took pride in what they had the money to take care of—their lawns.
His aunt and uncle bought their three-bedroom ranch house back in the early eighties, long before Brian was born and the housing market crashed. The neighborhood was old—full of elderly people who had held onto their homes and weren’t eager to relinquish them, despite the steadily creeping gentrification of the area. Brian had noticed a few younger families sprouting up here and there before he’d moved.
He paused at a four-way stop, noting the house where Mrs. Evans had lived had been completely renovated. He remembered her place clearly because he’d helped Alfred stain her back deck and repaint her house his first semester of college.
Destiny laughed loudly, her fingers rapidly pushing the buttons on her phone. She giggled again and he tossed her a questioning glance.
“Jason just said Eric Clapton is overrated,” she offered, with a grin, her eyes still on her phone. “He called him a bottle of Tylenol.”
She burst into laughter again.
“What?” he asked wrinkling his brow, shooting her a look as he accelerated. That shit wasn’t even funny.
“Because he’s not really that innovative, but he’s good enough to be the standard,” she explained.
“That doesn’t make sense,” he returned. “Clapton is an okay player with great technical skills. I don’t get what that has to do with Tylenol.”
She laughed again and finally dropped her phone into her purse.
“I guess you had to be there. We were talking about it the other day at lunch.”
He turned to look at her. “You went to lunch with him?”
She raised her head, meeting his eyes, her brow slightly pinched at his tone. “Yeah, he was in the area and we both were heading to this listening session anyway, so we stopped and had lunch and then just rolled to the studio together.”
He took his hand off of her leg and scratched his chin, still holding the wheel with his other hand. “Ya’ll do that often?” he asked evenly, his eyes on the road.
Destiny shrugged, eyeing him. “I mean, no. We’ve been to lunch a few times since I’ve been at Volume, but not often.”
“You’ve only been working there for a month and you've been to lunch with him a few times? I’d say that’s often.”
Brian glanced at her, watching as she furrowed her brow, fidgeting in her seat. He released a breath and turned his attention back to the road, trying with effort to swallow his real response to that news, which was that Jason needed to back the fuck off. He didn’t appreciate them having inside jokes and going to lunch together because he was “in the area.” He knew what that shit was about, even if Destiny was acting like she didn’t.
He felt Destiny’s eyes on him but he didn’t look at her, he just twisted his lips, glancing in the review as he switched lanes. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked pissed—even behind the aviator shades he was wearing and two-days worth of stubble it was apparent, so he quickly cleared his expression. He needed to be cool. Jealousy wasn’t his thing. Never had been. He learned early that people were going to do what they were going to do, no matter how worked up you allowed yourself to get. Being jealous was a waste of energy. His control, his calm had been his saving grace in too many situations for him to lose it now over some punk ass dude sweating his girl.
He glanced at Destiny again. She met his eyes, chewing on her lip, probably waiting on him to say something. But he was finished talking and thinking about Jason. Finally, she sighed and looked out of the passenger window.
A few minutes later he slowed the car as they pulled up to Alfred and Clara’s brown and beige house. Theirs had the freshest paint job on the block because when he wasn’t fixing cars, Alfred was the neighborhood painter. He spotted his uncle’s dark blue F-150 in the driveway, a gift Alfred bought for himself a couple of years ago. Brian automatically grinned, remembering what Alfred had said when he’d bought it.
“A good truck is like a good woman, boy.” His cigarette-scarred voice scratched over his words. “Take care of her and she’ll purr like a kitten. Treat her bad, she’ll break down and end up costing you a shitload of money.”
Alfred was always spouting out euphemisms that weren’t profound enough to be life-altering but weren’t simple enough to be totally ignored.
He parked on the street because Alfred hated for his driveway to be blocked and cut the ignition, feeling a mixture of emotions. He was glad to be home but he had an unsettling vibe that he hadn’t been able to shake since they boarded their flight early that morning. The heat was slowly spreading through the car with the air conditioner no longer on but he made no move to get out.
“It’s always weird coming back here after you’ve been gone for a while,” Destiny said as she studied him, her voice breaking through his thoughts, filling the small confines of the car. “Like it’s home but it isn’t.”
She abruptly leaned over and kissed him, then pressed her forehead to his.
“I love you, Brian,” she said softly, instinctively knowing what he needed to hear, before he’d even realized it.
“I love you too, baby,” he said quietly.
He brushed his nose against hers and exhaled then pushed his door open, stepping out of the tinker-car into the heat.
More Than Always, Coming Winter 2015 (Book 2 of the the Love Always series)
Better Than Okay, Available Now (Book 1 of the Love Always series)