The distance between Savannah, GA and Washington, DC is less than six hundred miles, but it might as well be the distance from the Earth to the Moon when it comes to the people who live in those cities. In Savannah, an ordinary family is making friends and falling in love, but they’re about to find their lives disrupted when they come into contact with some of the most ruthless and unsavory people who just so happen to call DC home.
Tad Jackson fled from his mother and his bigoted grandfather to live with his father Jack, who happens to be gay and who shares a house called the ranch with his lover, Tom Weber. Tad finds the home he needs, as well as the love and support, to become a confident and kind young man. Rush Dalton is the scion of a wealthy, socially prominent Atlanta family. However, he too has fled, from their emotional coldness and unreasonable expectations. Once he arrives at Pulaski and Jasper University in Savannah, Georgia, he’s chosen for an internship at Jackson’s construction company. That’s where he meets Tad. Tad knows that he's bisexual and wants Rush; Rush knows that he wants Tad. Now all Tad has to do is convince Rush that he really does belong in this family—and in Tad's bed.
Could You Be the One:
Billy Bob Bolt, known as Ragg Mopp at the Jackson Construction Company where he works, has the usual baggage: his family not only thinks he’s lost his way to Jesus, but they aren't happy with January Stephens, his brand new girlfriend, who's had too many boyfriends for their liking. What would really cause their heads to explode is the fact that the family he's staying with are gay. Mopp has become friendly with everyone at the ranch, including Tom Weber's friend, Josh Cooper, who’s also gay and who he likes very much. Trouble crops up when Mopp's girlfriend suspects him of cheating on her with the latest addition to the family, a young woman and her son who have a troubled past. When Jan gives him the ultimatum: marry her or they’re through, Mopp starts to wonder if he was wrong in thinking she was his one.
Best Laid Plans:
Everyone is making plans in Savannah. Rush Dalton and Tad Jackson plan to live happily ever after, while January Stephens plans to ease the hurt of a declined marriage proposal with alcohol. Josh Cooper's plan is to conceal his feelings for Mopp. And Mopp? He simply plans to get his life back on track—if not with his girlfriend, then in holding tight to Josh's friendship. Meanwhile, Eric Jameson arrives from DC with plans of his own. He intends to elicit information from Jan in an effort to come into contact with Babe, the woman who’s taken refuge with her son at the big house called the ranch. Babe plans to stay away from anyone who might try to take her little boy away from her and return him to the mysterious Dr. Pandora Gautier. Deuce Pettigrew’s only plan is to keep the man he treasures safe and in one piece. But the thing about plans is—sometimes they just don’t work out the way you expect them to.
- 1 To Be Read list
- 2 Read lists
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Alpha Character, Big Character / Little Character, Find Love and Come Out, Friends to Lovers, Hurt / Comfort, May/December, Age Difference, Coming Out / Closeted, Death of Parent, Out for You
Word Count: 104000
Setting: Savannah, GA, Washington, DC
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
Chapter 1 – Enter Tad
IT WAS GETTING late. The streetlights had come on, and the rush hour traffic was thinning.
Thaddeus “Tad” Jackson II hurried down the street, his younger sister trotting along beside him, trying to keep up. He winced as the suitcase she was carrying banged into his knee.
“I’m scared, Tad.” Her grip on his hand tightened.
“There’s no need to be.” He was the big brother, and he couldn’t let her see how nervous he was. “Everything will be fine, I promise.”
“Does your face hurt?”READ MORE
“It’s not too bad.” It was throbbing so hard he wanted to find somewhere to curl up and die, but he couldn’t tell her that. He brought them to a standstill just outside a white picket fence. “Here we are.” At the end of the walk was their father’s house, a boxy little bungalow with boxy little rooms that Daddy said was fine for a bachelor. Momma didn’t think so, though. The house they’d had when they’d all lived together had been roomy and airy, two stories and an attic, and he sometimes thought Momma regretted having to leave that house more than leaving Daddy.
“Suppose Daddy doesn’t want us?” Becca’s nails were digging into the back of his hand.
Tad swallowed. “He has to want us, Becca. We’re his kids.”
“But Daddy is Grandpa Eleazar’s kid, and Grandpa doesn’t want him.” Becca was right—Grandpa had no use for homosexuals, and if his son was one, that meant he had no use for him.
“It’ll be okay.” It had to be.
“Suppose he isn’t home? Suppose he’s at… at Mr. Tom’s house?”
All the way there Tad had worried that their father might be at his… his friend’s house. They were never allowed to mention Mr. Tom. Not only was he gay, but he was Jewish as well, and Momma said he was leading Daddy straight to hell.
Tad’s knees had gone weak when he and Becca had rounded the corner and saw the truck in the driveway, and he realized he’d worried for nothing.
“The lights are on, silly.” He gave a weak laugh. “He’s home. C’mon.” He opened the gate and led her up the sidewalk, and then they climbed the shallow steps to the veranda.
He dried his suddenly sweaty palm on his denim-covered thigh, then jabbed the doorbell. The chimes were the sweet tones of “Dixie,” and he offered his sister a smile.
“Daddy’s favorite song.”
She just looked scared. “Tad, do I look all right?”
He set down his suitcase and smoothed her hair, which was even fairer than his. “You look great, Becca.” He ran a hand through his own blond hair and hoped his sister wouldn’t pick up on his nervousness.
The door swung open, and they stared at the man who answered the door. He stood about five foot eight. He had pale blond hair and blue eyes.
He wasn’t their father.
“Mr. Tom.” At fifteen, Tad was already as tall as this man.
Tad saw Mr. Tom’s gaze go to the suitcases, and he was afraid the man who his Grandpa Eleazar called a son of Satan was going to shut the door in their faces.
Mr. Tom narrowed his eyes as he studied Tad’s face, and he raised a hand as if to touch Tad’s cheek, but then let it drop. “Don’t just stand there. Come in. Jack.”
“Yeah, Tom? Who is it? It’s too late for the Girl Scouts to be selling cookies.”
“It’s better than cookies.”
Tad blew out a silent sigh of relief. Jack Jackson and Tom Weber had been best friends since they were in high school. And in spite of what Grandpa Eleazar said, he’d been sure his daddy wouldn’t like someone who was a bad man.
Well, he’d been pretty sure.
Besides, he’d heard Momma tell Daddy one time in a really funny voice that Mr. Tom brought out the best in him. “It’s just a crying shame that man is a fag.”
Momma hadn’t noticed that Daddy’s face turned red, but Tad had.
He’d been really young then, and hadn’t known what a “fag” was. Afterward he’d asked his father. Daddy had sighed, brushed back his hair, and said, “That’s a not nice word for men who fall in love with other men and want to marry them. And I really don’t want to hear you using it.”
“Thaddeus David Jackson!” Momma never used Daddy’s full name unless he’d done something she didn’t approve of, and it seemed she really disapproved of Daddy explaining what a fag was—her face had turned even redder than Daddy’s. “What are you telling my son? Tadboy, you go keep an eye on your sister until I call you for dinner.”
Tad had gone out on to the veranda, where Becca had been leafing through a picture book version of Black Beauty, wondering what was so awful about two people loving each other.
Of course he’d eventually learned it wasn’t that they loved each other but that they were the same sex. And that was just sad.
He pushed those thoughts out of his mind. Mr. Tom was grinning at Daddy. “We have visitors, Jack.”
“Please let us stay with you!” Becca burst into tears and threw herself into their father’s arms. “Please, Daddy! Please!”
“Hey, hey. What’s this all about? Tad? How did you both get here?”
“We walked. We… we couldn’t stay there anymore.” Tad met his father’s eyes, the same deep blue as his own, and when he frowned, Tad felt the butterflies in his stomach turn into vultures.
“What happened to your face, son?” His father held out his other arm and pulled him into his embrace.
Tad buried his face against his father’s shoulder. He smelled of Life Buoy, the soap he’d always showered with, and for the first time, Tad felt safe.
“Grandpa Eleazar got mad at Tad when he back-talked him.”
“You talked back to your grandpa, Thaddeus?”
“I… I couldn’t stand it, Daddy. He was saying such horrible things about you, and I—”
“That’s Grandpa, Tad.” Daddy sighed and shook his head. “What did your momma have to say about him hitting you?”
When they’d all lived together—before Momma had said Daddy needed to find Jesus and when he hadn’t, decided she didn’t want him around anymore—it had been a rule in their house that only they could hit either him or his sister. Even then it was nothing more than a swat on their backsides, because usually it only took a stern look from their daddy to make them behave.
Tad’s face twisted. “Momma just got that look on her face and said she was going to her room to pray for me….” In spite of the fact that he was fifteen, Tad held on to his father as tight as he could.
“Son of a bitch!” his father growled. “It’s all right, son. It’s all right. Tom, would you mind….”
“I’ll leave you to get this sorted out and make some hot chocolate.”
Tad saw the look they shared, and he realized there was more to their friendship than years of knowing each other.
“Are… are you going to make us go back there?” Becca sniffled, and their father dug in his pocket for a handkerchief. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, peanut. I’m going to call your momma to let her know you’re spending the night here. In the morning I’ll have a talk with her and your grandpa.”
Tad sagged in relief.
“Now let’s go get you two settled in.” Their father took Becca’s suitcase, and Tad took his own.
This was a small house, originally two bedrooms, but Momma had pitched a hissy fit at the thought that he and Becca might share a room, even with bunk beds. Since Daddy was in construction and knew how to do stuff like that, he’d torn down one wall and put up another, and he’d made the bigger bedroom—his bedroom—into two separate ones.
Tad could hear the murmur of low voices from the other room and hoped Becca didn’t tell Daddy too much. He was starting to not like Grandpa Eleazar very much, but the man was Daddy’s daddy, and Tad didn’t want to make trouble between them. He hurried with his unpacking and put his lucky seashell on the nightstand next to the twin bed. It was a small knobbed whelk, Georgia’s state seashell, which he’d had since the last time they’d gone to the beach as a family.
It had been a beautiful day, sunny, with a balmy breeze, and a few white clouds dotting the sky. Momma stayed on the beach, laying out the lunch of sandwiches she’d brought on a blanket. Daddy had gone into the ocean with Tad and Becca. He’d tossed them into the waves, and they’d howled and screamed with laughter. That was when the waves washed up the shell, and Tad had taken possession of it.
Finally, they’d gone back to where Momma was knitting a baby blanket for one of the young women in Grandpa Eleazar’s parish who was pregnant without a husband, although none of the kids was supposed to know anything about that. After they’d finished lunch, it had been time to pack up and go home, and on the drive they’d sung silly songs. He could tell Momma didn’t like them, and she’d have put a stop to it, but Daddy had said, “They’re harmless, Reba. Let them sing.”
Tad looked at the shell ruefully and gave it a little push. I guess it really wasn’t very lucky. A few months later Daddy had moved out.
Well, there was no point thinking about that over and over. He tried to look casual as he entered his sister’s bedroom.
Becca was busy putting the few clothes she’d hurriedly packed into the dresser Daddy had made especially for her. There was a matching one in Tad’s room.
“I’m done unpacking, Daddy.”
“All right, Becca. Why don’t we go see if the hot chocolate is ready?”
They walked into the living room to find Mr. Tom already there.
“Here we go,” he said, holding up a tray and smiling at them. “Swiss Miss all around.”
“WHAT DO YOU think will happen, Mr. Tom?” Tad and Mr. Tom had brought the empty mugs to the kitchen, passing his father’s bedroom.
Daddy had gone to make that phone call, and though the door was closed, Tad could hear his voice was raised in something almost like fury.
He shivered, glad Becca couldn’t hear. His sister was still in the living room watching a documentary on Animal Planet. He’d have watched the music videos on MTV. One of the reasons they liked coming to their father’s house was that he had cable TV, which Grandpa Eleazar called the work of the devil and refused to have in his house.
“Your dad will handle it.”
“Do you think he’ll let us live here? We’d have to change school districts, but....” He flushed and looked away from the older man. “I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t stop to think that maybe you wouldn’t want us here.”
“Why wouldn’t I? And what would I have to say about whether you live here or not?”
“Well, Daddy’s always liked you. Momma would get pissed… sorry,” he apologized when Mr. Tom raised his eyebrows. “Momma didn’t like it when Daddy talked about you. She said it was your fault that he was gonna go to hell. You’re… you’re Daddy’s boyfriend.” Tad’s cheeks felt so hot he was sure a piece of paper could be set on fire just from touching them.
Mr. Tom looked thoughtful. “I guess you could call me that, although partner is closer to it.”
“So it would matter to Daddy if you didn’t want us to stay here.”
“Thaddeus, your father likes me… Oh?”
Tad was shaking his head. “Daddy loves you.” He was surprised to see Mr. Tom blush.
“He… he does?”
“Hasn’t he told you? He told me and Becca once when… when he was explaining why he couldn’t see us....”
“Your father isn’t supposed to not see you because of me.” Mr. Tom bit off a swearword that would have resulted in Tad being unable to sit for a week if he’d dared say anything like it. “I knew this wasn’t going to work.”
“No, please, Mr. Tom. You don’t understand. Daddy told us it would only be for a little while, until he got things settled, and it was. But then Momma…”
And now Mr. Tom looked very sad. “I’m sorry, Thaddeus. I never wanted to come between your father and you and your sister. You’re his children, and he loves you more than anything.”
“Including Rocky Road ice cream?” It was a small voice from the doorway. Becca stood there, and Tad didn’t have to ask how much she’d overheard. She’d gotten very good at ghosting around the house, avoiding attention. Unlike their cousins, who never seemed to do anything wrong, he and Becca couldn’t do anything right, and Grandpa Eleazar had taken pleasure in finding fault in everything they did, although tonight had been the first time he’d ever struck him.
“Including Rocky Road, Rebecca.” Mr. Tom smiled at her, and he took in her posture and attitude. “C’mon in. How was the hot chocolate?”
“It was very good,” she said politely.
She dimpled. “I like it with cinnamon.”
“I’ll remember that.”
And Tad had a feeling that Mr. Tom would remember something as trivial as how his boyfriend’s… his partner’s little girl liked her hot chocolate.
There were footsteps in the hall, and then his father walked in. Tad’s eyes grew wide as he realized how angry Daddy was. He made himself as small as he could.
“Do you… are you gonna take us home, Daddy?” Oh God, he didn’t want to take his sister back there.
“You are home, son.”
“Jack, I’d better go.”
“Can you wait a second, Tom? I’d… I want to talk to you.” He turned to Tad and Becca. “It’s late. Why don’t you two get ready for bed? I’ll come in to say good night in a little bit.”
“What’s gonna happen, Daddy?”
“I’ll go see your momma tomorrow, and I’ll get this whole thing sorted out then, I promise you.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Becca kissed his cheek. She smiled uncertainly at Mr. Tom, and as if understanding her quandary, he held out his hand to shake hers, and then did the same to Tad.
“Good night, Rebecca, Thaddeus.”
“Good night, Mr. Tom.”
“Close the door please, son?”
“Yes, Daddy.” But Tad didn’t close the door the whole way. He left it open enough so he was able to overhear the conversation.
“Jack… She didn’t expect to kiss me good night, did she? I didn’t make her feel bad, did I? Jesus, I’m so bad with kids….”
That surprised Tad. Didn’t adults always know what to do?
“It’s all right. I’ll explain it to her, and you can let her kiss you good morning.”
“I want you to stay the night.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Jack.” Mr. Tom sounded uneasy, and Tad wondered if it was because he liked Daddy better without him and his sister hanging around.
“Oh yes, buddy. You promised to stick around for better or for worse. You’re not weaseling out of the worse part now.”
Tad caught his breath, a burning in the back of his throat, and he blinked to keep tears from falling.
“I know you don’t mean about your kids staying here.”
“Asshole. Of course not. Those two are the best part of me and their momma.”
Tad let out the breath he’d been holding. He was just dumb. Why had he thought Daddy would toss him and Becca out like so much trash?
“I’ve never stayed here when they’ve been here. Are you ready for them to actually face the fact that I sleep in your bedroom?”
“Our bedroom, babe. And I think it’s time. From what the kids told me… I don’t like it, Tom. I couldn’t understand why Reba insisted on moving in with my folks.”
“Reba is tighter than anyone I know.”
“God knows you were willing to continue paying the mortgage, but she still wants you to give her that much money every month. I wouldn’t have begrudged it, Jack. They’re great kids. They’re your kids—”
Hearing that made Tad realize how much having Mr. Tom like them meant to him.
“I’m glad you think so. I do, but then I’m their daddy.”
“—but you know as well as I do she’s giving it to your father’s church.”
“Tom, she didn’t even realize they were gone.” There was a heavy sigh that Tad had no problem hearing.
Mr. Tom said a bad word, and Tad stuffed his hand in his mouth so he wouldn’t reveal his presence with a giggle.
“Jack, I really should have….” His voice became muffled, and Tad wondered if his father and Mr. Tom were kissing.
This was the first time he’d been around when they’d done something like that, and it didn’t really bother him because he’d seen the way Mr. Tom had looked at his daddy when he thought Tad wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t remember Momma looking at Daddy that way, although maybe she had before he and his sister were born.
Mr. Tom was talking again. “I should have taken you away from her the first day we met.”
“Then I wouldn’t have two of the greatest kids in the world.”
“This is true. All right, but I definitely should have stepped in and kicked that bitch Julie to the curb.”
Miz Julie was Daddy’s third wife. Before her was Miz Truvie, but she’d only been married to Daddy for a few months before she ran off with her girlfriend. Tad and Becca could scarcely remember Miz Truvie. Maybe she had been a lesbian—for the longest time he’d thought everyone was saying she was Lebanese, and Tad could never figure out what that had to do with anything—but she’d been nice to him and his sister.
When the gossip started making the rounds, Grandpa Eleazar had shaken his head and told Daddy he didn’t have a lick of sense when it came to women, and he never should have let Momma divorce him.
The ink had hardly been dry on the second set of divorce papers when Daddy had come by to tell Grandpa Eleazar and Grandma Hannah that he was getting married again and invited them to the wedding. Tad and Becca had gone, but no one else had. Grandpa Eleazar had said Daddy must be one of those men who needed to be married, but now he was taking it to the extreme.
Miz Julie… Tad shivered. He supposed people would think she was pretty and maybe in a way that was true, but she would smile at him and Becca, and the smile never reached her eyes. She hadn’t liked it when he and Becca came to spend a weekend or a few weeks in the summer, always complaining they made too much noise or too much work. All she wanted to do was lie on the couch, watch soap operas, and eat chocolates. Or go shopping for clothes. Daddy’d had to build a closet just for her clothes and shoes.
And then when they got home, Momma would ask lots of questions about what Miz Julie wore, how she kept the house, and how she and Daddy got along. She’d smiled when he’d mentioned that Daddy often had to make them dinner after he came home from work because Miz Julie said she had a headache.
He and Becca had been secretly glad when Daddy told them he and Miz Julie weren’t going to be together anymore. Afterward, he’d learned that Mr. Tom had taken Daddy out to get drunk, only when he’d come home, he hadn’t acted drunk, even though Tad could smell liquor on his breath. Tad would have sworn he’d seemed almost… relieved.
He brought his attention back to what Daddy was saying.
“Reba was going on about some of Tad’s friends. She thinks they may be—God forbid the word gay pass her lips. She called them light in the loafers—and she’s afraid that between them and me, Tad will go that route.”
Tad frowned. He did think some actors were pretty hot-looking. Did that mean he was gay, like his momma was worrying? But he’d also found himself getting an erection when the girls in his class would bend over to tie their sneakers or reach up so the bare skin of their midriff was exposed, so maybe it just meant he approved of the way those actors took care of their bodies.
Mr. Tom took good care of his body too. There was a Stairmaster set up in a corner of the small living room, and he knew Daddy had given that to Mr. Tom for Christmas last year. “So you can stay longer, babe,” Daddy had whispered.
“What do you want me to do?” Mr. Tom asked. “I’ve got classes tomorrow, but I should be able to find someone to cover for me. And there’s not much in the house.”
“Can you talk to Miss Abby?” That was Mr. Tom’s momma. “Tax season is over, so she might not be busy. Maybe she wouldn’t mind coming over tomorrow to stay with them until we get home, maybe doing some grocery shopping with them?”
“Good idea. You won’t be able to hold Mom back. She’ll love it.”
“Great. I’m keeping them both home from school until I see what’s what. But either way, I think I’m gonna need to buy a bigger house. This place is little more than a dollhouse, and even if the kids don’t stay here permanently, they’ll need more room. I… uh… I need a bigger room for us.”
“Please tell me you’re still giving some thought to moving in with me?”
“But Jack, if you have the kids living with you….”
“All right, I’m giving it some thought.”
“And you’ll take over the bookkeeping side of the business for me? You’ll have your own office.”
“Don’t push your luck, Jackson.”
But Daddy gave a happy laugh. “I’ll just go make sure Becca and Tad are settled in and say good night.” His father’s voice seemed louder, as if he was approaching the door, and Tad bolted for the bedroom that was his.
Thankfully, he noted that his sister had turned down his bed and laid out his pajamas for him. She was the best sister. He’d have to do something special for her.
He peeled off his clothes, shimmied into his pajamas, and slid into bed just as Daddy pushed his door open.
Phew. “’Night, Daddy.”
Daddy came to him, leaned over, and kissed his forehead. “Good night, son. Things will be better in the morning.”
Tad was pretty sure they would be, but it was nice of Daddy to reassure him.
DADDY WAS GETTING ready to leave for work when Tad walked into the kitchen the next morning.
“’Morning, Daddy. Where’s Mr. Tom?”
“He’s still sleeping.” The corner of Daddy’s mouth tipped in a grin. “He’s not what you might call a morning person.”
“Okay. I’ll make sure me and Becca keep it down.”
Daddy looked sad, and Tad wondered if he knew they’d learned that when Miz Julie had been their stepmother.
“Where is your sister?”
“She’s still asleep.” Should he tell him that she hadn’t been sleeping well lately? Things were getting tense at Grandpa Eleazar’s house, especially since Becca had started getting a bosom. She might be only twelve, but she was going to be tall and blonde like Daddy, and he’d heard their momma fret about it and had seen their Grandpa Eleazar frown when he looked at her.
“Her clothes are too snug, Rebecca. Put her in a larger size.”
And Momma had said, “Yes, Poppa Eleazar.”
Becca had learned not to object. She simply carried a change of clothes in her backpack.
“We’ll let her sleep, then. Mr. Tom called his momma last night, and she’ll be over later to take you and your sister grocery shopping with her.”
“That will be great.” Tad pretended he hadn’t heard that the night before. “Miss Abby is a nice lady.”
“She is. You won’t give her or Mr. Tom any problems, will you?”
“No, Daddy.” He went to the cabinet and reached for a glass. Momma hated when he drank from the carton, and even Becca made a face when he did that.
“Do you… er… do you like Mr. Tom?”
“He’s always been nice to us. The thing is, do you like him, Daddy? It seems to me that’s what’s important.”
“I love him, Tad. How does that make you feel?”
“I told him you did.”
“What? When was that?”
“Last night when you were talking to Momma. He thought you’d chosen him over us, and he got real upset.”
Daddy looked concerned. “Tad, you and your sister mean more to me than anything in the world, and I would never choose anyone over the two of you. But…”
“I understand. It’s two different things. Like apples and oranges.” Tad had been hoping to use that saying for some time, and he was pleased he was able to. “Mr. Tom is your… your partner, but we’re your kids.”
“How’d you get so smart?”
“Good genes?” Tad grinned at him, liking that he’d made him laugh.
Daddy grew serious. “I’m going to see your momma. I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but.… How would you and Becca feel about living with me permanently?”
Inside Tad was jumping in the air, pumping his fist, and shouting, “Yes!” He opened the fridge, took out the orange juice, and poured himself a glass.
“We’d like it, Daddy. If… if Momma says okay, will she let you bring our stuff home?”
Daddy looked really happy, and it took Tad a second to figure out why. He thought of Daddy’s house as home.
“Yes, Tad. You’ll have all your stuff.” Daddy looked at the clock. “Shoot. I have to get going. Your momma’s gonna… Will you be okay, son?”
“I’ll be fine, Daddy. I’ll make some breakfast.”
“There’s not much in the house, but there should be some instant oatmeal in the pantry.”
“I have the coffee on for Mr. Tom.” He went to Tad and hugged him. “I’ll see you later.”
The door closed, and Tad went to the pantry to find the oatmeal.
THE WATER was on the stove, starting to boil, and a bowl was on the table, two packets of oatmeal emptied into it. He heard shuffling behind him.
“Can I pour your coffee, Mr. Tom?” He’d already taken a big coffee mug from the cabinet.
Tad turned, and his mouth dropped open. Mr. Tom was yawning widely.
“Oh. Thaddeus. ’Morning. Just let me have some Coke. Gotta have Coke to wake up,” he mumbled, running a hand through his hair.
“Uh… Mr. Tom?”
“Yeah?” He opened the fridge and reached for a can of cola.
“Becca isn’t up yet, but don’t you think it might be a good idea to put on a bathrobe, maybe, or your shorts?” Tad could feel his cheeks heating up.
“Huh?” Mr. Tom’s eyes peeled open, and he stared down at himself. He was naked. “Oh. My. God. Oh, shit. Oh….” Wide awake now, he yanked a dishtowel off its rack and held it in front of his groin. “Sorry, Thaddeus.” He started to back away, heard Becca coming down the other hall, and whirled and bolted, neglecting to cover his backside.
He was out of sight by the time Becca walked into the kitchen.
“What’s so funny, Tad?”
She gave him the look that said “Brothers are weird” and he laughed harder.
“Do you want some oatmeal?”
“Sit down.” He poured the boiling water over the oatmeal and handed her a spoon.
“But this was yours.”
“That’s okay. There’s enough.”
“He’s already left. He’s gonna talk to Momma. Becca, Daddy wants us to live here.”
“Oh, Tad, do you think Momma will let us go?”
“Sure. I think. I hope.”
Momma didn’t seem to have much use for him since he’d taken to hanging around with Jonah and Noah, and she didn’t seem happy with the fact that Becca was growing up.
“We’ll know when Daddy comes home. Mr.—” He bit his lip, trying to bottle up the laughter. “—Mr. Tom is here.”
Mr. Tom came back into the kitchen. He was wearing sweatpants and a Pulaski and Jasper U baseball T-shirt with its Minute Man logo.
“’Morning, kids. Sorry about that, Thaddeus.” He looked sheepish. “I’m not a morning person.”
“That’s okay, Mr. Tom.”
“Y’know, if you two are going to be around….”
Becca looked interested.
“… around more, I mean, maybe you can just call me Tom.”
“Oh, no! Daddy wouldn’t like it.”
“Well, I don’t like being called Mr. Tom. I sound like I’m your Thanksgiving dinner.”
Tad and Becca both laughed.
Mr. Tom flinched. “Good God, no! That makes me sound like a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe! And before you suggest it, UT is out also. People will think I’m half a urinary tract infection!”
UT—standing for Uncle Tom. Tad laughed harder.
“May I think about what to call you?” Becca asked.
“Of course. You can think about it for a while too, if you like, Thaddeus.”
“Oh, no. I know what I’m going to call you.”
“You do? Am I going to be sorry?”
“I don’t think so.”
“All right. Tell me.”
Mr. Tom seemed to chew that over for a bit, and then he nodded. “That sounds pretty good. What does it stand for though?”
Becca looked curious. “For Daddy?”
“Yeah. What do you think?”
“I like it.”
Mr. Tom blushed at first, but then he laughed. “You know something? I like it too.”
And Tad had a feeling that this was going to work out okay.COLLAPSE
Best Laid Plans is part of the Mann of My Dreams universe, even though it isn't Mann per se. The characters intertwine, and events that occur in Best Laid Plans will have an affect on what goes on in Just the Thought Of You, which is why I placed it between those two books.