Over the next month I quickly find myself in a comfortable routine with Iris. We spend every night wrapped in each other’s arms, professing our deepest love to one another after intense bouts of lovemaking while making plans for our future together.
Most nights I read to her. She seems to really enjoy that, and it pleases me immensely just knowing we share a love of so many things.
In the evenings, we practice singing. Sometimes I join in and we do duets so she can get comfortable singing with a partner. It’s in those moments that I have to combat jealous thoughts from running amok in my head. The idea of a man singing love songs to her drives me insane. Telling her I love her is my job, not some random dickwad’s who gets on stage with her.
The daytime is the worst for me. Working out with basic push-ups and running can only last so long. I’ve fixed every broken window in the park, with the exception of that asshole Jeremy’s place. That asshole loves to stare me down every chance he gets, so I’ll be damned if I go out of my way to help him.
I’ve gotten so used to having Iris around that I find myself lonely when she goes to work most of the day. I like having her here with me, but I would never discourage her from going. I completely understand her need to prove her independence and take care of the trailer park that’s been in her family for generations.
I’ve offered to help her, and I’ve made it clear many times that when the time comes, if she’s short, I will give her the rest. I don’t want to see her lose this place. It would break her heart, and I’m finding myself quickly becoming attached to the residents here myself, especially Adele. She’s the one person around this park who I know will give it to me straight, and always threatens me with violence if I hurt Iris in any way, making me adore her even more for being so protective.
I adjust myself on the couch as I go back to working on the song that’s been worming its way into my brain for most of the day. I stare at the words on the notebook paper and begin to sing them. “Love’s like a tragedy. Look what it’s done to you and me . . .”
Soon after I begin jotting more ideas down, the slam of a car door out front causes my heart to race. I shove myself off the couch and make my way outside to greet Iris just as I’ve been doing daily.
Her coat is pulled tightly around her as the January chill cuts through with a gust of wind. It’s nearly five thirty and already it’s dark. Thankfully the outdoor lights keep the lots lit up pretty well, but wintertime in Ohio is always the most depressing time of year.
Iris scowls at me as I stand on the front porch of my trailer as she approaches. “Where’s your coat? It’s freezing out here.”
I laugh and continue to shiver in my short-sleeve shirt as she folds herself into my waiting arms. “I was anxious, and besides, I knew your love would warm me up.”
She laughs and rolls her eyes. “You’re crazy.”
I open my mouth to answer when a shout from the trailer across the way catches my attention. “Hey, pretty boy! Don’t think I’ve forgot about you.”
I glance over to find Jeremy standing with a couple other guys around a trash barrel with a burning fire in it. A smug smile fills his face as he sets his eyes on me and takes a long pull from his beer.
I knew that asshole wouldn’t let things go after I laid my hands on him the first time. He’s the type of guy who looks for trouble and welcomes it. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for him to taunt me openly instead of just giving me dirty looks like he has been. Having guys with him who he thinks will have his back probably has a lot to do with it. I shake my head, unwilling to entertain him any further.
I throw my arm protectively around Iris’s shoulders and turn to lead her inside. “Come on.”
“That’s it. Run inside like the little bitch you are.” His taunts continue and the two men with him laugh. “Save some of that sweet pussy for me. I’ve been waiting for months now to tap that!”
I clench my fists and grit my teeth, and I can’t stop myself from turning in Jeremy’s direction. This fucker needs to be taught a lesson in manners. You don’t speak to a woman like that. Ever.
I lunge forward but Iris shoves her hand into my chest, halting me. “Let it go. He’s an asshole.”
“I can’t,” I growl. “I can’t just let him talk about you like that and get away with it.”
“Yes, you can,” she whispers harshly. “Forget him. We don’t need to draw any attention to you right now.”
My chest heaves as anger still pulses through me. I flick my gaze from Iris to Jeremy and to Iris’s face and then shove my fingers into my hair and sigh. This is taking every inch of willpower I have to not hop off this porch and shove my fist in his smug face.
“Please,” she says. “He’s not worth it.”
Her eyes plead with me to think about things rationally—to let it go. She’s right. I don’t need my plans to get fucked now that we’ve got our lives together mapped out. As soon as the taxes are taken care of in a few weeks, I’ll head to California and she’ll head for New York, getting shit done so we can be together permanently.
I nod, knowing she’s right. I throw my arm back around her, leading her inside.
“See you later, Iris!” Jeremy shouts before all the men laugh together, causing me to clench my jaw as I slam the door shut.
I lean back against the door and shut my eyes, attempting to calm myself down to keep from rushing back out there and tearing Jeremy limb from limb.
Iris leans into me and then wraps her arms around my waist. “You did the right thing. Those guys are bad news.”
“Fuck those guys. They don’t scare me,” I blurt out, not wanting Iris to think I’m weak. “I already beat Jeremy’s ass once, and I’d do it again with ease.”
“I don’t doubt that you’d beat him in a fair fight, but three on one . . . they won’t fight fair.”
She’s right, but the tension in the air is so thick that I can practically feel it on my skin. Jeremy’s messing with me, and it’s only a matter of time before this all comes to a head, because I won’t let him do that again and get away with it. It’s not in my nature to remain calm for long in situations like I was just in.
Iris leans back and grabs my hand, pulling me toward the couch. When I flop down on it, she crawls behind me and massages my shoulders. I close my eyes as her magical fingers dig into the tense muscles around my neck, trying to get me to relax.
I sigh. “Shouldn’t I be the one massaging you? You’re the one who worked all day.”
She continues to work on me. “I think you need it more than I do right now. I’m hoping this will take your mind off the jerks across the street.”
“You’re right. The distraction is nice.” I lean back into her. “Tell me something good about your day.”
“Well . . .” she trails off. “I made nearly two hundred dollars in tips today.”
“That’s great news!” I tell her, excited. “How close are you now to reaching your goal of twenty thousand?”
“If everyone pays their rent on time next week, I’ll have nearly twelve thousand dollars.”
I turn around and kiss her lips. “I’m so proud of you. We’ll figure out the rest when the time comes.”
She shakes her head, causing her brown hair to fall over her shoulders into her face as she stares down at me. “I want to earn this on my own. I don’t want to be your charity case.”
I stare into her green eyes. “You know it wouldn’t be like that. I would give you anything I have if you need it.”
She runs her fingers across my jawline. “And I love you for that, but if I take money from you, it’ll be a loan. I’ll pay you back every dime.”
“Iris—” I begin to argue but she cuts me off with a pointed look. “Fine. A loan it is, but there will be no interest and there are no time limits on paying it back.”
Iris smiles and kisses my lips. “Now that I’ll agree to.”
We spend the rest of the night negotiating the terms of our looming arrangement and planning more of our future, and I do my best to pretend that I’ve forgotten Jeremy, even though what he said about Iris still causes my blood to boil every time I allow my mind to think about it.