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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
“You enjoyin’ what you’re eating, Anthony?” Ruth asked as I polished off the mac and cheese first.
The cheese was gooey and warm. It was the best mac and cheese I’d ever had in my life. I wanted more, but I didn’t want to seem like a pig.
“It’s amazing, Ruth. Best ever, in fact.”
“You know what to say to tug at a girl’s heartstrings,” she said as she smiled. “Now I know why my Max loves you.”
“Mama,” Max said, and held up her hand.
“Actually, she thinks I’m a jerk most of the time.” I wiped my mouth, hiding the amusement.
“I second that.” Malia laughed as she slopped a heaping spoonful of macaroni and cheese on her plate.
“Max isn’t happy unless she’s complaining,” Denzel teased before he was smacked in the head. “What the hell was that for?”
Ruth glared at him. “Be nice, Denzel.”
“Denzel Washington. Seriously? Are you named after the actor?”
“That man is sin,” Ruth said as she took a deep breath. “I loved him on St. Elsewhere, and I knew when I had a boy I’d name him after him.”
“Thanks, Ma. I get a lot of shit for it too.”
“Watch your mouth, Denzel. You know you love it.”
“I do get good reservations when I call a restaurant and give them my name. I’m better looking than he is too.” He tipped his beer toward me and smiled.
Denzel reminded me of myself. The way he mouthed off during dinner and was met with a hand to the back of the head—I’d been there more times than I cared to remember.
By the time we finished eating, I thought I’d need to be rolled out of the Washington house. I wanted to sprawl out on the couch and fall into a food coma.
“Thank you for dinner, Ruth,” I said as I rubbed my stomach. “It was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. Just don’t tell my mother I said that.”
“My mama always told me the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach,” Ruth replied.
“Your daughter hasn’t learned that yet.” I winked at Max.
“My girl is so beautiful she doesn’t need to use food.”
“I agree,” I said as I pulled Max’s hand to my mouth and kissed her soft skin. She smelled like cornbread and butter.
Denzel pushed back from the table and stretched. “I’m ready for a nap,” he announced. “Anthony, want to come outside?”
I glimpsed at Max and received a brief nod of approval. “Just yell for me if you want help with the dishes, Max.” I swept my hand behind her neck and kissed her.
“You go talk with Denzel.” She smiled on my lips. “You two need to make friends.”
“Okay.” I placed my napkin on the table and followed Denzel outside.
He tossed me a beer as I approached the picnic table in the backyard. “I wanted to explain what I meant earlier.”
“Good. I was a little confused,” I admitted as I cracked the top open and sat down.
“Ataxia is complicated.” He took a giant gulp of beer before he set the can on the table. “There are only a couple of forms that are actually testable. If you have a possibility of having one of those forms, then your test results will be accurate. The problem lies in the types that do not fall in that spectrum. My results were negative, but maybe my dad had one of the untestable types. If that’s the case, I can still develop it later in life even with the negative test.”
“I get that.” I moved the can between my palms, rubbing it back and forth. “What were you saying about Max?”
“If she tests positive, then that means my dad had a type that could be tested. It means she is positive and that I’ll always be negative because it’s a testable type and I didn’t have it. Shit, does that make sense?”
“It does. I’m praying to God it’s negative, Denzel.” I took a sip, welcoming the ice-cold feeling of the beer sliding down my throat.
“Remember, even if she’s negative, she could develop it later in life.” He gave me a weak smile.
“But it’s better than a positive result right away.”
“Hey,” I said. “I wanted to apologize for the night I met you.”
He waved his hands. “It’s forgotten.”
“No,” I said as I shook my head. “I want to apologize. I wasn’t trying to be an asshole. I really liked your sister from the moment I saw her, man.”
“I know that now. I thought she needed rescuing that night, but I think she had the situation under control. You have a sister, right?” He placed his elbows on the table and clasped his hands together.
“So you understand. I’d protect my sister with my life.”
“We’re cool, then.”
I blew out a breath, feeling better about the whole situation. The last thing I needed was a pissed-off brother to deal with for years.
“As long as you keep my sister happy, we’ll have no problems.”
“I’m trying, Denzel. I’m trying.”
We drank our beer as the sun began to set. For the first time that day, I felt calm. I liked her family, even Earl. When dinner was over and the kitchen was cleaned, we sat in the backyard and talked.
By the end of the night, I felt like I’d known them forever. It doesn’t matter what color people are, family is family, and I could feel the love they had for each other. The Washingtons were good people. They’d welcomed me into their home and made me feel comfortable. Well, maybe not Earl right away.