“Hear, ye! Hear, ye!” Cage bangs his fist on the breakfast table, startling everyone in the room. “The Erickson Family Meeting is now starting. Are all members present?”
Gunnar groans, rolling his eyes. “Dude, it’s too early for all this formality. You can see we’re all here.”
I raise my coffee mug to silently announce my presence, but also in agreement with Gunnar.
Cage has always let the fact he’s the second oldest go to his head. Now that three out of five of us are in Green Valley, he’s assumed the role as oldest in Viggo’s absence. Fortunately, Gunnar and I are used to it and we’re both pretty easygoing, so we usually roll with it, except for when he calls these family meetings at absurd hours, like seven in the morning.
“Where’s Frankie?” Cage asks, glancing around the table.
About that time, Frankie steps into the room and gives us all a wave. “I’m here. I just wasn’t sure if I was supposed to attend or not.” Even though she and Gunnar have been together for a while now, she still seems fairly reserved around us.
I get it. After learning about her backstory with her estranged father and all she’s been through since learning the truth about her past, it’s easy to understand where her reservations come from. However, she has started to come out of her shell a bit in the last month or so, which is good. She’s going to need to learn how to hold her own if she’s going to survive the Ericksons. At some point, all of us will be together and we’re a lot to handle.
“Of course you’re supposed to be here,” Tempest says, smiling at Frankie as she serves her up one of her famous muffins she brought over from Donner Bakery. “You’re family.”
“Told you,” Gunnar says as he pulls his girlfriend onto his lap. “You’re one of us, so you have to put up with these bullshit meetings too.”
Cage started having these weekly meetings last month before Christmas. And he intentionally scheduled them on Wednesdays at seven in the morning so Frankie could come before she leaves to volunteer in Maryville at the women’s shelter and Tempest can be here after she finishes her shift at Donner Bakery.
Even though we’re missing Ozzi and Viggo, our family here in Green Valley is growing.
“Watch it,” Cage warns Gunnar, shoving his head and almost making him spill his smoothie. If that had happened, the fight would probably be on.
“Fucker,” Gunnar mumbles under his breath, bringing his smoothie up to his mouth to cover his smartass remark. Frankie rolls her eyes as he pulls her closer, using her for more of a decoy.
Cage’s hand goes for one of the muffins on the plate in front of him, but Tempest grabs his wrist.
“Don’t even think of using my muffins as weapons, Leif Cage Erickson.”
He looks at her incredulously, acting affronted by her admonishing. “Damn, woman. I was going to eat it, not throw it,” he argues. Tempest doesn’t look convinced and I’m calling bullshit too.
This little display is just one example of how perfect Tempest is for my big brother. I love how she’s not afraid to call him out.
Looking around the table, my heart warms at seeing my brothers so happy and in love, but I can’t help the sting I feel at their displays of affection. I had that once—happiness, love, someone I wanted to spend forever with.
But not anymore.
“So, what’s on our agenda this morning?” I ask, clearing my throat. I’m ready to get this show on the road and I’d like to have something else to think about other than how fucked up my love life is… was.
“You got some hot date we don’t know about or something?” Cage asks.
“The only date Vali has is checking out today’s local gossip column in the paper,” Gunnar says, giving me a shit-eating grin. “Any time his name is mentioned, he cuts the article out and adds it to his spank bank.”
“Spank bank? You mean, like, porn?” Tempest turns to me, looking intrigued.
Pointing to Gunnar, I say, “You, shut the fuck up.” When I look back at Tempest, my tone is a bit softer. “No, I don’t have porn here. That’s what computers are for, anyway. Now, can we move on from my masturbatory details, please? I’m bored.”
When you’re in a small town like Green Valley, Tennessee, you have to find unique ways to keep yourself entertained. So, excuse the fuck out of me if I’ve found a new interest in the local gossip column. But they’re not part of my spank bank.
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