Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(6)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(6)
Author: Roan Parrish

   His heart began to pound at the idea of his sweet baby being squished or thrown by a careless hand.

   “Maybe it’s not a good idea,” he said, reconsidering.

   “I won’t,” Gus said solemnly. “I promise.”

   Wes took a moment to plan precisely how he would swoop in and rescue Bettie at the first sign of trouble.

   “Gosh, um,” Adam said weakly from the corner. “I’ll just...”

   He began to edge toward the front door, shoulder blades glued to the wall. That was the typical response.

   Wes went into the kitchen where he’d last seen Bettie. She was on the windowsill, looking regal in repose.

   “Hi, baby,” he said softly, running a finger down her back. “You okay?”

   Bettie crawled onto his hand, her body a velvet weight in his palm.

   In the other room, Adam was almost to the front door. Even though Wes thought tarantulas were amazing and beautiful creatures, he did understand the fear of them was significant, and he didn’t want to upset Adam. He seemed like a sweet man. A caring, kind man. Even if he had pushed his way into Wes’ house.

   So instead of holding his hand palm-up so Adam couldn’t help but see Bettie crawl, Wes angled his body between Adam and his lightly cupped hand.

   “Oh, god,” Adam wheezed. “I’m so sorry, I just...ugh.”

   “Oh, Daddy,” Gus said absently. Then, “Ooh, she’s so cool.”

   The sound of a slamming door echoed through the house.

   “Put your hand down on the table,” Wes said.

   Gus put her hand down, palm-up, and Wes deposited Bettie a few inches away.

   Bettie crept close, then felt Gus’ finger with her front legs. Gus’ eyes got wide.

   “How old is she?”

   “I’m not exactly sure. I’ve had her for about ten years. Females can live to be thirty or so, though.”

   “Why’s her name Bettie?”

   “Why is your name Gus?”

   “It’s short for August.”

   “It’s short for Elizabeth,” he retorted, which wasn’t true.

   “But why?”

   Wes stared and Gus stared right back. But she still didn’t move her hand, which Bettie was crawling onto.

   Wes scrubbed a hand over his shorn hair. He didn’t care to untangle the serpentine path his brain had taken to associate the tarantula with Bettie Page, especially since an eight-year-old would surely have no idea who she was.

   “She just,” he said slowly. “She looked like a Bettie.”

   Gus nodded, accepting that answer.

   For a while she observed Bettie closely, not seeming to see anything else.

   “My mom named me August,” she said finally, stroking Bettie with a gentle finger. “Cuz I was born in August.”

   “Your mom doesn’t live with you guys?” Wes heard himself ask.

   He made it a habit not to initiate conversations, but the kid was already in his house, and he found himself oddly curious about Gus and Adam Mills.

   Gus shook her head.

   “I never lived with her. Daddy took me right after I was born. My mom is Daddy’s sister, but we’re not friends. She lives in Cheyenne, but I don’t see her. I’m friends with River, though. River’s Daddy’s other sibling. Daddy says River’s a literal angel. They watch me after school now that we don’t live at home anymore.”

   Wes smiled at literal angel.

   “Where’s home?”

   “Where we used to live in Colorado. With Daddy and Papa.”

   She frowned and got quiet.

   Wes didn’t know what made him ask the next question. As a rule, he didn’t ask personal questions of strangers. People tended to take them as an invitation to ask questions of their own.

   “Your dad’s gay?”

   Gus’ eyes shot to his, her expression utterly fierce, though the hand holding Bettie remained completely still.

   “Yeah. You gotta problem with that?”

   If looks could maim, he’d’ve been on the floor right now. Wes admired her protectiveness.

   “No. No.”

   In fact, his heart was beating faster for quite the opposite reason.

   “You better not be mean to my daddy,” Gus said, still vivisecting him with her stare.

   And Wes found himself in the strange position of wishing he had someone as fierce as this tiny eight-year-old to have his back.

   “I won’t,” Wes said. “I promise.”

   That seemed to placate Gus.

   “Speaking of which, you should probably go make sure he’s okay.”

   She sighed.

   “Yeah. Poor Daddy. He was so scared.”

   She grinned at him conspiratorially. Wes was surprised to find himself smiling back at her.

   “He really was.”

   Very slowly and carefully, Gus stood up and deposited Bettie in Wes’ outstretched hand.

   “Thanks for letting me hold her,” Gus said, and headed for the front door.

   With her hand on the knob, she turned back to look at him.

   “Can I come back sometime? Hold her again?”

   Wes saw the hope in her eyes and even though it went against every instinct of privacy and self-preservation he’d cultivated in the four years since leaving LA for Garnet Run, Wyoming, he said, “Yeah, okay.”



Chapter Four


   It was absolutely essential that Adam distract Gus from her burgeoning obsession with Wes Mobray, and, by extension, her obsession with—Adam gulped at the thought—tarantulas. And honoring her Christmas wish was just the way to do it.

   “Hey, Charlie,” Adam asked his new boss. “Do we have more Christmas lights?”

   “More than the ones on display?” he asked patiently, gesturing to the charmingly lumberjack-esque holiday display at the front of the store. It was only the beginning of November, but people were already decorating.

   Matheson’s Hardware had been around for as long as Adam could remember, but he’d never set foot inside it until River got him an interview with owner Charlie Matheson last week.

   Charlie was a big bear of a guy who was helpful and kind to every customer and then turned around and was equally helpful and kind to everyone else. It was pretty endearing. Especially when that extended to giving Adam a job even though what he knew about hardware could fit on the head of a nail. A penny nail. (See, he learned that lingo on his first day at work.)

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