Brother's Best Friend, page 1
Brother’s Best Friend
Natasha L. Black
Copyright © 2019 by Natasha L. Black
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Faking It (Sample)
A Note from the Author
Also By Natasha L. Black
About the Author and Mailing List
I need her by my side…
The only problem?
She’s my best friend’s little sister.
I became a Dad overnight....
And now my niece is my world.
It isn’t easy. In fact, it's lonely.
Gone are the days of bachelor nights.
I only want what's best for my niece and I.
And that's Layla.
Beautiful. Innocent. Wholesome.
And wildly forbidden.
I crave her soft skin.
Full lips. And curvaceous hips.
But does she want me like I want her?
And is she ready to become a mother overnight?
“Alright, guys. Take your seats. Today, we’re going to be making our own animated flip-book.”
The kids groaned as they made their way to their seats. All I did was smile. At the beginning of my career three years ago, I would’ve taken their groans personally. But now, three years into teaching art to elementary students, I didn’t take anything personally.
Elementary school was hard enough. We weren’t the hardest teachers to find, but we were the hardest teachers to keep. It was easy to dream about working with innocent kids all day. But elementary school kids were some of the most brutally honest people I’d ever met. They had no issues criticizing, teasing, and crying at the drop of a hat in order to get their way. And while most people argued that middle school were the hardest three years of any child’s life, I begged to differ. Elementary school came with shifts and social settings and stimuli that were completely foreign to them.
These were some of the toughest years for any child.
That was one of the reasons why I made it my concentration while getting my Education degree. I felt like elementary school kids needed teachers that were able to buckle down and stay in their atmosphere for more than a couple of years. Object permanence developed during those years, so students were painfully aware of teachers that came and left quickly. At that age, they needed stability away from home. They needed other adults they could trust, create foundations with, and lean on since their parents weren’t around during the school day.
So, I did whatever I could to make myself that person.
“I know, I know. Flipbooks aren’t as cool as the comic books your parents read you at night. But if you’re good for me in class today and do as I ask, I’ve got a special surprise for you guys,” I said.
The kids perked up, and they quickly took their seats. Surprises always got them in their seats. Every once in a while, we’d have a good streak where three or four days in a row, they wouldn’t give me any trouble. But this week had been rough. It was the middle of the semester, and assessments were stressing them out. The holidays loomed around the corner, and the kids kept trying to talk about their plans. It was hard gaining their attention. So, I reverted to the old “surprise box.”
“What’s the surprise, Miss Harper?”
I smiled. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”
They groaned again, and I held up my finger, which promptly ceased the groans. I started passing out supplies they’d need for their flipbook, then started jotting down the instructions on the whiteboard. Some of my students learned by reading things on the board, and some of them learned by me showing them. So, I implemented both tactics in my classroom to get the best of both worlds.
Suddenly, my phone pinged at my desk.
“Ooooo, Miss Harper has her phooooone oooooon.”
The students giggled as I shook my head. I finished scribbling the words onto the whiteboard as nicely as I could. Then, I walked them through the instructions. I showed them my flipbook. I showed them where to draw the images and why. I passed my booklet around so they could take a look at it to see how I decorated it. As they ogled over my handiwork, I sat down at my desk and pulled my phone out of my drawer. My hands trembled as I saw my brother’s text message. Last night had been a doozy. His best friend’s sister had gone to the hospital after being found unconscious on the floor of her bedroom. Her sweet little daughter had called 911 while trying to shake her awake, and we all feared the worst.
Lance: Come to my house after work. Susie died.
My world came to a careening halt. My first thought was that of Millie, Susie’s five-year-old girl. Tears rushed to my eyes as my fingers typed across the keyboard, and I didn’t care that my students heard. I didn’t care that they were staring at me and whispering among themselves, trying to figure out what was wrong while the only adult in the room attempted to gather herself.
Me: I’ll be there.
I sniffled as I turned my phone on silent, and as I looked up, all eyes were on me. The students’ heads were cocked, staring at me as if I’d grown a third eyeball, waiting for me to teach them. I felt frozen in my spot. I felt empty. Weak. I’d known Susie for years. I’d tried to help her for years. Postpartum depression was a nasty devil, and some women never recuperated.
Some women like Susie turned to other sources of relief, not understanding they’d leave their children behind.
“Miss Harper? What’s wrong?”
I drew in a deep breath. “Would you guys like to make a flip-book today? Or would you like to listen to some stories?”
The students looked around at one another before putting their supplies down.
“What kind of stories?” one girl asked.
I stood from my desk. “We do a lot of creating in this classroom. Painting. Studying. Learning. But there’s a secret to stories that not many artists talk about.”
“What’s the secret?”
“The secret is that every artist takes their stories and uses them as inspiration. They tuck their stories away until they need them for their projects and then use those stories to draw and paint.”
“And make flip-books?”
I smiled. “Yes. And make flip-books.”
“So, you want to tell us stories?”
I walked to the front of the classroom. “I want us to each tell a story about ourselves. And tomorrow, we’re going to make a flipbook based on the story we tell the class. How does that sound?”
I had twelve kids that needed my attention before classes changed and then I got another twelve t
“Do you guys want me to go first?” I asked.
The kids nodded, and I pulled up my stool. I sat down, relieved I had some time to sink into something that wasn’t the floor. Because I wanted to melt away. Poor Millie. Poor Cole.
Poor, poor Susie.
“The story I’m going to tell you today is about the girl who inspired me to become an art teacher,” I said.
“What’s her name?” a student asked.
“Her name was Susie Yarrow. And she was the only person in my corner all throughout school who told me I needed to pursue my love of art, no matter where it took me.”
I told them the story of how Susie found me crying one time on campus. She’d come to visit me, just shortly before her daughter’s first birthday party. I was supposed to come by and help her set up for the party. But instead, I was holed up in my dorm room, crying over something a professor told me: “If you want to teach, teach something the kids will take with them, not something they’ll discard once they graduate.” The statement hurt. It drove me into a well of depression that followed me for weeks. But when I finally let Susie into my dorm room, she looked me straight in my eyes and told me something that still stuck with me to this day.
“Anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t follow your dreams is jealous because they didn’t follow theirs,” I said.
My students smiled, and it made me smile. I reached my hand out to the boy next to me, and he straightened up in his chair. Around and around the room we went, telling stories and laughing with one another. Some kids talked about their parents. Some kids talked about their grandparents. A couple of kids talked about their pets and home, and one of my students even talked about his younger brother. I watched these unsure, homesick elementary schoolers set aside their insecurities and their fears and their biases and their emotions, and I watched them open up to one another as we revealed beautiful memories that sometimes housed painful secrets.
“I’m so proud of you guys today,” I said breathlessly.
We all wiped at our eyes, and I passed around tissues. I looked at the clock, noticing we still had fifteen minutes before our class changes. So, I decided to give them a break.
“Now, who’s ready for the surprise box?” I asked.
The students shot their hands in the air, and I smiled as I walked to my desk. I pulled the treat box out from my lowest drawer, then walked it around the room. The kids stuck their hands in and pulled out everything from small bags of candy to keychains to put on their backpack zippers. I watched them trade and barter. I saw a couple of the kids already making sketches on their flipbooks for tomorrow. I put the box back in my desk and sat down, giving them the space they needed to breathe and decompress from the heavy topic, to talk amongst themselves and enjoy their prizes and just be children for a little bit.
And exactly fifteen minutes later, their teacher stuck her head in the classroom, beckoning for them.
“Bye, Miss Harper!”
“Thanks for the chocolate!”
“This keychain is awesome. Look, it lights up!”
“We need to put our name on our books, right?”
“Yes! Put your name on your books before you leave!” I exclaimed.
Classes rotated and another class of twelve students came in. And we did the same thing. I passed out supplies for their flipbooks, we told stories, then they got the treat box. I did that five separate times for five art classes, filled to the brim with twelve students apiece. And as my day wound down into my free working period, the treat box had been emptied. I made a note in my phone to pick up more things from the dollar store.
My planning period happened to be at the end of the day. Not the most convenient some days, but I would typically prep my lessons for the next day, or if we were in the middle of a project like we were currently, I would be able to pack up and leave early. I took advantage of that today and locked my art room door promptly at 1:45.
I headed straight for my car, not bothering to stop by the front office. They wouldn’t care. They never cared about what the art and music teacher did throughout the day. It was one of the few times I was thankful for the fact that the main faculty didn’t give a shit about their arts program. No one cared about me coming or going, which meant I had no issues slipping out during my planning period if I needed to.
I headed straight for my car and raced across town. I set my sights on my brother’s house and didn’t stop until I’d pulled into his driveway. I took side streets to avoid traffic lights and rolled my way through stop signs; anything to get me there quicker.
I had a feeling Cole was there and in need of comfort.
I pulled up behind my brother’s SUV. Cole’s massive truck was parked beside Lance’s more sensible vehicle, and it made me giggle. Cole had always been obsessed with pickup trucks. The bigger, the better. I sat there for a minute, gathering myself, stuffing my emotions away in order to better prepare myself for the onslaught I was sure to face once inside Lance’s house.
But nothing could have prepared me for the look in Cole’s eyes.
“Lance. I’m here,” I said as I walked into the house.
“Living room,” he called out.
I walked down the hallway before taking a sharp left. The second I stepped foot into the living room, there was Cole, sitting there with his hands mindlessly between his legs, tears rushing down his cheeks. He didn’t look up. He didn’t say a word. He simply sat there, staring at the carpet, unmoving and unwavering.
I looked over at Lance, and he shook his head.
“Cole, if there’s any way I can help—if there’s anything I can do—please, let me know. I know how much Susie meant to you. How much she meant to all of us,” I said.
But the words seemed to hollow.
His eyes slowly rose to mine, and my heart shattered. I took off, dropping down onto the couch next to him and wrapping my arms around his neck. He leaned into me, tucking his face into the crook of my neck. As he let out a shuddered sigh, I felt the wetness of his tears fall against my skin.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Cole,” I whispered.
He hugged me tight; so tight I couldn’t breathe. I held him as close as I could get him, then squeezed my eyes shut. Now wasn’t the time for me to cry. This was Cole’s time to grieve. I’d get plenty of that time to myself, later. Right now, he needed our comfort and our unwavering support.
“Why couldn’t she just—just stop?” Cole whispered.
I shook my head. “Addiction isn’t that simple, Cole. There’s a reason why they call it a disease, because it takes so long to remedy.”
“Oh, God. She’s dead, Layla.”
As he held me tighter, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. I couldn’t stop my heart from aching. I couldn’t stop my soul from breaking.
Susie was gone.
Which left all of us silently wondering what in the world would happen with her daughter.
Half a bottle of rum after a death would make any man weak. Once Layla wrapped her arms around me, I fell against her. I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I was tired. Worn down. Confused and angry. I didn’t have the control I did last night. After staying up all night, pacing around the hospital and finally watching my sister pass away, I didn’t have any more strength. Alcohol only tossed fuel onto the fire, making my tears burn as they fell from my eyes.
I was sad, yes. But more than that, I was angry. Pissed off to the max. Not at Susie, though. Never at my sister. How the fuck could our mother do this to us? She was the root of all these issues. The shitty things she’d done to us. The lack of respect and care she took with us. Yeah, sure, Susie’s postpartum depression probably played a hand in all of it coming to a head. But it had started much sooner than that.
It started with our fucking
“I’ve got you. It’s okay,” Layla said softly.
“I’m gonna go get him some water,” Lance said.
I felt Layla nod against my cheek. I kept clinging to her. Holding her close. Feeling her heart beating against my chest. She was alive. Lance was alive. My niece was alive. I just needed that reminder that my life hadn’t completely crashed down around me. Drinking in anger was never a good choice. But drinking while sad? It always unraveled me. My heart didn’t know how to feel. My soul didn’t know whether to burn or turn dark. I felt myself shaking against her -- my best friend’s sister -- as she continued trying to soothe me softly in my ear.
“I’m so sorry. I’m here if you need me. We’re all here. And we’ll do whatever we can. Okay?”
My mind spiraled with so many things. Last night had been such a blur. Mom had called me and told me to get to the hospital because Susie had “done something stupid again.” My first question was about Millie. When my mother told me she’d picked my niece up, my gut reaction was to go over there and get her. I didn’t want my mother to have any influence on that little girl. She’d had enough influence on us. But even I heard the dread in Mom’s flippant response.
So, I rushed to the hospital instead of heading to her house.
Right now, the only thing keeping me from marching into that house and taking Millie was the rum Lance poured down my fucking throat. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t intentional. The last thing I needed was to cause more family drama. Yet, at the same time, this was my mother we were talking about. Millie was barely five years old, and she’d lost her mother. I knew she’d be looking for guidance. Help. Someone to answer her questions.
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