Today's Reading

I picked up the pace and pushed through the double doors, finally catching up with Caitlin outside the high school auditorium. She didn't look back at me, running down the aisle instead to join a handful of kids roughly her age clustered in front of the stage, getting forms from a guy with a clipboard. The auditorium was filled with clumps of kids embracing like long-lost relatives who hadn't seen each other in years, even though they'd probably sat next to each other in class the day before. There were adults around too, sprinkled here and there, but I couldn't tell if they were chaperones or participants. Then one of the adults turned around and his black T-shirt said HUZZAH! across the front in huge white letters, and I had my answer.

I took a long sip of coffee and sank into a chair in the back row. My job as taxi service was done. I checked the time on my phone. One hour until I needed to be back to pick her up, which wasn't enough time to go home. Willow Creek was a small town, but April lived on one end of it and the high school was on the outskirts at the other. I pulled up my list-making app. I'd picked up refills of April's meds the previous day, and this Renaissance faire tryout was the only other thing on my list. Was there anything else I needed to get done while I was on this side of town?

"Are you here to volunteer?"

One of the adults I'd spotted before—cute, blond, shortish, and roundish—had splintered off and now hovered at the end of the row where I was sitting. Before I could answer she took a form off her clipboard and pushed it into my hands.

"Here. You can go ahead and fill this out."

"What? Me?" I stared at the form as though it were printed in Cyrillic. "Oh. No. I'm just here to drop off my niece." I nodded toward the group of kids at the front.

"Which one's your..." She looked down the aisle. "Oh, Caitlin, right? You must be Emily."

My eyes widened. "Yeah. Good call. I keep forgetting how small this town is." I'd come here from Boston, and had grown up outside of Indianapolis. Small towns weren't my thing.

She laughed and waved it off. "You'll get used to it, trust me. I'm Stacey, by the way. And I'm afraid you kind of have to volunteer." She indicated the form still in my hand. "It's a requirement if a younger student wants to be part of the Faire cast. Anyone under sixteen needs a parent or guardian in the cast with them. I think April was planning to volunteer with her, but..." Her sentence trailed off, and she punctuated it with an awkward shrug.

"Yeah." I looked down at the form. "You can't call it volunteering, then, can you? Sounds more like strong-arming." But I looked over at Cait, already chatting with her friends, holding her own form like it was a golden ticket. I read through the form. Six weeks of Saturday rehearsals starting in June, then six more weekends from mid-July through the end of August. I was already playing chauffeur for Caitlin all spring and summer anyway...

Before I could say anything else, the double doors behind me opened with a bang. I whirled in my seat to see a man striding through like he was walking into an old-west saloon. He was...delicious. No other way to describe him. Tall, blond, muscled, with a great head of hair and a tight T-shirt. Gaston crossed with Captain America, with a generic yet mesmerizing handsomeness.

"Mitch!" Stacey greeted him like an old friend. Which he undoubtedly was. These people probably all went to this high school together back in the day. "Mitch, come over here and tell Emily that she wants to do Faire."

He scoffed as though the question were the stupidest one he'd ever heard. "Of course she wants to do Faire! Why else would she be here?"

I pointed down the aisle to Cait. "I'm really just the taxi." Mitch peered at my niece, then turned back to me. "Oh, you're Emily. The aunt, right? Your sister's the one who was in the crash? How's she doing?"

I blinked. Goddamn small towns. "Good. She'" My sister hated gossip in all forms, so I made sure not to contribute any information that could get around.

"Good. Yeah, glad to hear it." He looked solemn for a moment or two, then brushed it aside, jovial smile back on his face. "Anyway. You should hang around, join the insanity. I mean, it's lots of work, but it's fun. You'll love it." With that, he was gone, sauntering his way down the aisle, fist-bumping kids as he went.

I watched him walk away for a second, because, damn, could he fill out a pair of jeans, both front and back. Then what he said registered with me. "I'll love it?" I turned back to Stacey the volunteer. "He doesn't know me. How does he know what I'll love?"

"If it helps..." She leaned forward conspiratorially, and I couldn't help but respond with a lean of my own. "He carries a pretty big sword during Faire. And wears a kilt."

"Sold." I dug in my purse for a pen. What was giving up my weekends for the entire summer when it meant I could look at an ass like that?

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