Just Joe (Smirk Series Book 2)
THIS WAS A GIANT MISTAKE. Having Betsy live here seemed like a fantastic idea but now that she’s here in my space, I know it was a bad, bad idea. First of all, she and Jack are chatting like they’ve known each other for years, she’s been in his room for the past hour arguing over Marvel versus DC and who has the better female heroes. After we finally got to her room and she gushed over the ocean theme, she unpacked with Jack for company. He hasn’t left her side since. I’m in my own room with my dumb aggressive bed who seems to have gotten further with Betsy in one moment than I have in weeks.
Whoa, is that how I’m thinking about her now? I thought we were friends, I mean I flirt with her as much as anyone but I had her firmly in the friends column. Seeing her in my space, relaxed and when she teased me right before Jack walked in. Her job as a burlesque dancer made me see her a little differently too. I’m glad she has a creative side. I find her fascinating and I want to know everything about her. Which is why I’m annoyed she is hanging with Jack.
I creep to his room, hoping to eavesdrop a little. Maybe she’s confessing her lust for me.
“You’re lucky to have a parent who supports your talents,” Betsy says to Jack and it’s weird to hear someone call me a parent. It’s not the first time but it’s still strange. I’ve tried to be a brother to Jack more than anything else. Maybe that was a mistake, but it was the only way I knew how to be. Fortunately for me, he is an easygoing kid. Sure, he acted out here and there, but it was never unmanageable.
* * *
When he was nine, he ran away from home and that was probably my lowest moment. I woke up in the morning as usual and started making us breakfast. Once I had the coffee going, I noticed the note. He wrote that he didn’t want to be a burden to me and he was going to go live in the woods with the fairies. Panic seared through me but I knew exactly where he would be. I rushed out of the house and down the block to the end of our street. Behind our neighbor’s house was a small copse of trees and Jack loved to sit back there and draw. I found him there with a box of Ritz crackers, two bags of Doritos and a family size pack of Oreos. He had his sleeping bag out and he was leaning against a tree drawing with his colored pencils.
“You been here all night?” I asked, startling him.
“Yep, I set my alarm for three o’clock and then headed here. It’s a good spot, I think I can make a rustic shelter over there and then forage for food when I run out of this stuff.” He gestured to the pile of junk food.
“What about me? What am I going to do without you? I’ll be so lonely in our house by myself. Plus, you took all the good food.”
“I heard you say to Uncle Frank that I was the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. I don’t want you to have a hard time so I’ll live here and you will have an easier time.” He hung his head and broke my heart.
“Just because I said it was hard to be your parent, doesn’t mean anything. You are the best thing in my life and I was just frustrated about forgetting your permission slip for that field trip you almost missed. I can’t do any of this without you. Please come back, I’m making pb waffles,” I added knowing that would get him.
“Well, since you don’t make them right, I’ll come back. It’s okay about the field trip, Hayley’s mom forgot too.” I helped him with his snacks and sleeping bag and we headed home. I never forgot another slip, and he never ‘ran away’ again. It wasn’t always perfect, that’s for damn sure, but I’ll do anything for him and I’d like to think he feels the same, even though he gives me a load of shit daily.
* * *
“I am lucky to have Joe, even though he picks his nose and eats it, has incontinence issues, and there’s the chronic halitosis. We are brothers, so I’m able to look past his disgusting habits and love him anyway,” I hear Joe say and I will be killing him in his sleep later.
“Oh man, tell me about it, does he even own a toothbrush? Tell me more about the incontinence. Is it a number one or number two problem?” Betsy asks and yeah, this is not going on any longer.
I take the few steps to Jack’s room and clear my throat. “Hey, how’s it going in here? You nerds working on that video game?”
“No, we were talking about you, darling brother,” Jack says smiling, and I look to Betsy and she is barely containing her laughter. Fuck, they knew I was in the hall. I feel relief but now it’s on.
“Oh yeah, did you tell Betsy about the time I had to pick you up from school in 4th grade because you had the flu and shit your pants?” I ask.
“No, but I was just about to tell her about that time you shit your pants at Alicia’s,” he says, giving me an evil smile. Everyone loves that fucking story.
Betsy slides down the side of the bed and ends up in the fetal position laughing her beautiful ass off. “No more shit stories, I can’t take it,” she says holding her hand out to us.
I grab it and haul her up. She has tears in her eyes and is glowing with happiness. It’s quite the sight and it makes my new feelings sit up and take notice. I am fucked.
“Thanks, you guys, for making me feel so welcome by not censoring your insults. I have to get ready for work,” Betsy says and now I’m thinking about her in her pretty lingerie.
“Work?” Jack asks. “It’s like 8 pm, I thought you were a programmer?”
“I am, but I have a night job too. I’ll let your brother fill you in,” she says, patting his cheek, then leaving.
Jack turns to me and I shrug. “She’s a stripper,” I say loud enough so I know she’ll hear me.
“I’m not a fucking stripper, Joe, I’m an artist!” she shouts from the hallway.
“I can’t wait to see your art,” I mumble and Jack raises his eyebrow at me.
“You like her?” he asks. I sigh and he pats me on the back. “Brother of mine, you are fucked.”
* * *
Jack and I are watching baseball when Betsy comes downstairs to head to work. She is wearing a pretty conservative wrap dress but it’s a pretty green and it makes her tattoos pop.
“You look nice, Betsy.” Jack smiles at her and waves. “Have fun at work.”
She smiles back and turns her shoulder to us and peels her dress down a tiny bit. “I always have fun at my job,” she says and pulls her dress back up. “Don’t wait up for me.” She holds up the key I gave her earlier. “Any other thing I need to get back in here, alarm code?”
“Nope, how you getting to work?” I ask, standing ready to give her a ride.
“Sit down, I called a Lyft and it will be here in five minutes,” she says. “You’ve already offered your home to me, you definitely don’t need to offer me rides.”
“Best friends, remember?” I gesture between us and she rolls her eyes. “Fine, see you in the morning.”
“Maybe,” she says and saunters out. I watch her go and when I turn back to the game, I notice Jack watching her too.
“Bro,” I say, smacking his chest. “Just no, she’s our friend.”
“You keep saying that and yet you watched her leave too,” he says and I hate that he knows me so well. “Get your shit together and figure out what you want from her. The way you look at her seems more than friendly.”
“I’m just going to see what happens, but yeah, today something changed and I’m definitely seeing her in a new light.”
“Did you just find out today that she dances?” he chides.
“Yes, but it was before that. She is so easy going and free. Having her here in our space has changed my feelings. Just seeing her in my room was a wake-up call.”
“Well, if you have feelings for her you might want to stop calling her your friend, the more she hears it the more she’ll believe that’s all you want to be,” he says and he’s making sense.
“Ugh, you are probably right,” I admit. “I’ll just start calling her my girlfriend like it’s an out loud vision board and if I wish it into existence it will happen.”
He shakes his head and shoves my shoulder. “Dude, how do you ever get any woman ever?”
“Excessive charm and these guns, son,” I say obnoxiously flexing.
“You’re hopeless,” he says.
“And you’re forever stuck with me.”