Bent (The Everyday Heroes World) by April Canavan



“I swear to all that is holy, if you don’t get your ass back up here, I’m gonna lose my shit.” The words came out before I could stop them, and the frozen look of terror on my nephew’s face said it all.

“Aunt Avery!” Rett screeched the way only a five year old could, and still get away with it. “You’re not ‘posed to say bad words to me. Daddy doesn’t like it.”

“Deacon can kiss my ass,” I muttered under my breath.

My brother didn’t know shit when it came to raising his son, which was why more often than not, he dropped him off with me for quality ‘auntie time.’ I’m the one who taught Rett how to ride his bike, swim, and now I was teaching him how to paddle board. Deacon wasn’t a bad dad, by any means. He was just busy, running a business and keeping a handle on his club. Besides, it takes a village to raise a healthy and safe child. Especially after Deac’s wife died in childbirth.

I grabbed the back of Rett’s life jacket before he could float away and pulled him back onto the board with me. In the process, I almost slipped off the board myself. Somehow, I managed to keep hold of the paddle that we definitely needed to get back to shore.

“Wow,” he gasped. “I thought for sure you’d fall over too.”

“This,” I huffed. “Is why you don’t get a paddle of your own, Everett James. At least, not until you figure out how to stay on the board with me.”

“My name is Rett.” He insisted with a grimace. “And Dad says paddle boards are for pussies,” he announced proudly, and really loud, right in my face.

“I got nothing to say to that.” I started maneuvering us back to shore. “But I’d like to see your father climb up on here and not fall off with you jumping around like a hyper monkey full of sugar.”

Paddle boards took a lot of effort. My stomach and feet were already starting to throb, and we hadn’t even made it back to shore yet.

“Oh,” I added belatedly. “You’re not supposed to curse, either. Sittin’ here and yelling at me for it. Then you turn around and say something worse.”

Rett looked up at me from where he was sitting between my feet, rubbing his wet head all over my legs like a dog would, and smiled a nearly toothless grin.

“You love me.” He leaned back against my legs and I winced against the cold. With a deep sigh that could have come straight from his dad, Rett closed his eyes. “Take me home, Aunt Avery. I’m hungry and my party won’t wait forever.”

“Yeah, yeah ... Hold on, Rett. I’m gonna try to get there faster.”

Except, as soon as we left the cove we’d been sitting in for most of the morning while we practiced, a gust of wind blew across the pond and straight into my face.

“Scoot up,” I snapped after five minutes of paddling just to keep from going backwards. “I’m gonna kayak us home.”

Rett giggled, but scooted up enough that I could sit behind him and wield my paddle like the weapon it was going to become.

Switching sides every few strokes wasn’t easy. “I wish this thing had a paddle on both sides.” Despite that, I made it work. Otherwise, we’d be sitting out there until someone decided to try and rescue us. Knowing my family, it wouldn’t happen, either.

When we finally made it out of the cove, I was covered in sweat and ready to give Everett back to his dad. Once I did that, there was definitely a beer somewhere with my name on it. Or a shot. Or both. Yeah, as I paddled us back to the dock, both sounded like an amazing idea.

“Told you the party didn’t wait.” Rett pouted as we saw people milling about and heard music blaring from the shore. There was nothing I could do about it, though.

“Seriously, man.” I grunted as I used the little bit of energy I had left to get us back and tied off to the dock. “You can’t even say thank you for getting us back without tipping over?”

“No.” Rett stared at me with the same hard eyes that his father had. “I can’t. I’m cold.” He held up a finger, counting my offenses. “I’m hungry. And I’m late to my party.”

“I guess I’ll give your birthday present away, then.” I shrugged as I helped him back on the dock and then climbed up myself. “If you’re mad at me for being an awesome aunt who takes you on paddle board rides on your birthday, you must not want the present I got you.”