Thank you Sunflower Fran for your mad editing skills as well as your support and encouragement. It means so much to me!

ACITD

Chapter Sixteen

Three's Company

After the shock wears off from seeing Charlie waxing down the bar as if he owns the joint we head over to the kitchen and sit at the small oak table and chat. Charlie pours me a cup of what is possibly, the best coffee I've ever had.

This is great," I tell him, taking another swig of my coffee. "What's different about it?"

"Me." He laughs. "I'm from Washington State and we know our coffee, kid. Ever hear of a little place called Starbucks?"

I roll my eyes at him and chuckle. "Yeah well, don't go bragging about Starbucks around here. You're in the land of Massachusetts now, and our King is Dunkin Donuts."

"Duly noted," he smirks. "Anyway, that's what I used to make this pot; you had a bag of it in the pantry" he admits. "I used the old-fashioned percolator I found in the cupboard; the silver one with the glass top. My mother used to have one of those; put egg shells in with the grounds to make the coffee smooth." He takes an appreciative sip and smacks his lips.

The dark brew clings to his moustache and he swipes it off with a practiced hand and a white napkin. The napkin brings Bella's tattered nightgown to mind, and the fact that he was using it as a rag to polish the bar.

I find myself blushing into my mug.

"What's that look for?" he asks with a raised brow.

"Um, nothing," I say with a nervous chuckle. I realize that I am going have to stop… well, thinking, around this man. He doesn't miss a beat.

"Hey, how'd you get here this morning anyway; you left your truck out front," I remind him. "And more importantly, how did you get inside? I know I locked the door and secured the alarm when I got back last night."

At this, Charlie smiles broadly and says, "Eh … I called Barnstable's finest, told them who I was, and asked for a courtesy ride. They were extremely obliging, especially when I flashed them my badge," he says with a chuckle. "I would have banged on the door, but I figured you two needed some sleep. I just used my training and dismantled the alarm, picked the lock, and walked on in. Hope you don't mind," he says in a manner that tells me he probably wouldn't give two good-shits if I did.

I sit upright in my seat and mull over his confession, trying to decide if I do mind that he essentially broke into my bar this morning.

I conclude that while he may have toed the line, he hasn't exactly crossed it.

Yet.

Still, if Charlie thinks I am a pushover, then I'll never earn his respect.

"Sir, I realize that you are Bella's father, but the next time you want to enter the bar after hours, I would appreciate it if you called and asked me to let you inside. I know you have my cell. Later on, if things work out, I'll give you your own key. Okay?

I sit back in my seat and watch his eyes narrow. I brace for his anger, but it doesn't come. He looks at me shrewdly for a second with pursed lips and then unexpectedly, throws his head back and laughs.

"Good for you kid, you passed my first test."

"Test?" I ask, as I look at him in confusion.

"Yes, my test to see if you were going to kiss my ass and give me a pass on breaking and entering. I'm happy to discover you've got some balls, son," he says in open admiration.

I feel a sense of something close to pride cross over me, but I check myself. Charlie Swan is going to push all of my buttons before his time on the Cape is over; I can feel it in my bones.

"So, where's Hienzie?" I ask, looking around.

"He's sleeping in the garage. I had his kennel in the truck, so I carried it back there, broke in, and set him up. You need to get a better security system for the garage, kid; it was ridiculously easy to get in there; all I had to do was open a window and hoist myself inside. You have a lot of stuff in there that's worth something to thieves; looks like your Pop had a lot of fancy tools and equipment, not to mention the Willys. What year is that anyway, a forty-five?"

"Forty-four," I tell him. So, he broke in the garage too. Jesus. I start to chastise him again, and open my mouth to say something, but then abruptly change my mind; sometimes it's better just to let things go. Besides, he already informed me I passed his little 'test.'

Picking your battles?" he asks, astutely.

"Something like that," I tell him honestly.

He nods his head approvingly. "Good deal, I'm like that myself; have to be in my line of work. No more breaking in, I promise." He extends his hand over the table and I shake it with a grip just this side of being too hard. Charlie grins approvingly with a twitch of his moustache and a slight shake of his head. I gotta admit a little self-satisfied smirk creeps over my own lips as I take another sip.

"Hey, I bought a dozen donuts to go along with the coffee." He gets up and crosses over to the counter closer to the back door, and returns with the familiar pink and white box.

"I didn't know what kind you liked, so I had the girl give me an assortment." He pulls out a powdery donut and takes a huge bite; the red goo oozes out and clings to his moustache, giving it a slightly disgusting and macabre appearance.

"Mm, jelly; my favorite," he declares delightedly. The powder dusts the dark hairs underneath his nose, and I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing outright. I start to run my finger over my lip to give him a clue, but change my mind. Bella will be up soon enough, and I can't wait to see her reaction to the latest development in the What Lies Beneath saga of Charlie's stache.

"You gonna have one?" he asks as he pushes the box towards me.

I start to tell him that I rarely eat sweets because of my family's history with heart disease, but I don't. Instead, I pluck out a maple frosted and finish it in three large bites. Fuck it; I'll burn it off tonight and watch what I eat tomorrow. Charlie, in stereotypical cop fashion, plucks another one from the box and munches on it happily. This time it's thankfully, ooze free.

I wipe my mouth with a napkin and ball it up in my fist. My stomach is doing a weird dance composed of flips and turns, and I can't for the life of me tell if it's from sheer happiness or abject guilt.

"Did you know it takes six months for the stomach to digest a donut?" He asks me through a mouthful of chocolate glaze."

I look at him and smile. "That's why I don't eat these things very often," I sigh. I love sweets and fried foods, but …"

"You have to be careful because you might wind up like your old man?" he guesses accurately. I see what looks to be understanding behind his expression, and he reaches over and sort of pats my hand awkwardly.

"We won't do this again for another six months then, okay? Besides, I've got to watch my figure or no one else will. Gotta get myself back into the game-I'm single again," he chuckles, cocking back in his chair.

I laugh outright. Charlie Swan is nothing like I thought he would be, that's for sure. I also consider his statement about having donuts again in six months.

Hmm.

"So," Charlie says, after a few silent minutes of donut induced rapture, "Getting back to the Willys- you said it was your buddy's, right? Did he give it to you? Because it's a classic," he says in approval.

"Um, no, he didn't give it to me per se, I mean he did, but …" I trail off awkwardly not sure I feel like getting into the Tyler conversation with him this morning. I mean, Charlie seems like a fairly decent guy, who is surprisingly accepting of a lot of things considering his age and his occupation, but still …

"Passed away and left it to you?" he guesses. I look up at him when he asks, and he gives me questioning gaze, that's tinged with something that looks a lot like sympathy. I'm reminded sharply at just how much he and his daughter have both lost.

'Like knows like, Eddie'

"He did," I admit, feeling a little overwhelmed at how astute Charlie is. He's also very chatty, which takes me by surprise. I remember him telling me how quiet he normally is and Bella had pretty much said the same thing to me only a few days ago.

"What happened? Was he sick or something?" he asks, and then amends his question, "If you don't mind me asking?"

I peek up at his face and see his curious eyes, the one that remind me so much of his daughters. There's no judgment in them, just honest curiosity. I sit back with my mug and sigh. The man did tell me he wanted to get to know me, and since Tyler was a prominent part of my life for ten years I decide to be frank with him.

"Tyler was involved with a married man. The affair turned sour, and he killed himself." Christ, talk about succinct.

Charlie holds my gaze for a second, and then rises, walks over to the coffee maker, and pours himself another cup. He holds up the pot in my direction with a brow lift and I nod my head in agreement. After he pours our coffees, he sits back down, purses his lips and folds his hands in front of him.

"I had a buddy like that once; a sailor I knew when I was in the Navy. He was a great kid, always the life of the party; everybody liked him." Charlie smiles in remembrance then frowns. He takes a sip of his coffee and shakes his head as if to ward off an unpleasant thought.

"We knew he was probably gay, but back then we didn't have a 'Don't ask don't' tell policy and he got outted by some asshole. His family was old world, and the grandfather apparently had a stroke when he found out his grandson was a homosexual. He was devastated over that, and he knew he was most likely going to be dishonorably discharged. Anyway, after he came back from the funeral, he hung himself on the ship. I'm the one who found him hanging in the Head. It was the damn hardest thing I ever witnessed firsthand. And in my line of work I have seen a lot of gruesome shit, believe me. It was the first time I ever saw anyone who'd taken their own life. I was just a kid myself; couldn't have been more than nineteen years-old at the time. It was a fucking horror show."

I furrow my brows a little thinking about the similarities in our lives and start to tell him a bit more about the night the Coast Guard found Tyler aboard the Herreshoff, but change my mind. I don't honestly feel like getting into a heavy conversation with him at nine o'clock in the morning.

"So, what time do you open this joint anyway? Are you nights only, or are you open for lunch?" Charlie asks, changing the subject.

"Well, when Pop was alive it was more of a late afternoon till midnight schedule. We didn't serve food back then though. But after he died and Mrs. Cope came out to help me, we started adding the typical bar fare along with her nightly specials. The kitchen was too small for a major operation, but she managed pretty well. Anyway, we just had the kitchen renovated this summer; in fact, she hasn't even had a chance to use it yet."

"Hmm, so where is this Mrs. Cope; she on vacation or …?"

I tell him about Harold and his stroke and how Mrs. Cope has been practically living at the hospital ever since. Charlie listens carefully and nods his head occasionally when I describe Mrs. C; her Scottish accent, quirky ways, and her straightforward manner.

"She sounds like quite a character," he chuckles. "I hope to meet her, one day."

"Well Harold's being transferred to a rehab, so that'll free some of her time up since he's going to be busy getting his therapies and all, but I still don't think we'll see too much of her for a few weeks."

"Well, if you need me to pitch in and help out in the kitchen, I'll be glad to do it. I was a cook in the Navy," he informs me.

I think about it for a second; Mrs. Cope won't be too happy with me if I let someone else muck about in her new kitchen. I tell him thanks, and that I'll keep that in mind.

"So, Charlie, what are you planning to do about the camper?"

"The fellow who carried me over here this morning told me about a place not too far from here. Said it was clean and had a little pond too, not that I give a rats ass about ambiance, but being able to fish occasionally would be nice. The guy said he knows you; think he said his name was Pete?"

I roll my eyes … only in Seaconch.

"Yeah, I know Pete. He's a good guy. I went to high school with him; he's a native. I think his Aunt and Uncle own that campground, so if he says it's decent, it is."

"That's what I figured. Anyway, if you or Bella can spare an hour or two before you open and help me get my shit together, I'd like to head on over. I take it my girl's still asleep, huh?"

"Um, yeah … I guess so, I'm not sure." If I tell him yes, then he'll know how I know she's still asleep, and I don't think I'm ready for that yet.

"Knowing her, she's probably up there sawing logs; always was a deep sleeper; snores like a three hundred pounds man working off his bender. And some nights she talks so loud in her sleep that I even grabbed my gun a few times and headed to her bedroom thinking some punk had climbed in through her window for a little slap and tickle. No one was ever there though."

I laugh remembering her snores and ramblings last night and nod my head in agreement.

He gives me a smirk as if to say, "Gottcha!"

Christ, I sure fell into that one. Luckily for me, a sleepy looking Bella enters the kitchen and saves me from explaining myself.

"Nice pajamas," Charlie snorts.

I cast my eyes over her and blush; she's wearing a pair of my blue and white, stripped boxers and one of my old baseball shirts that says, Seaconch High Warriors. But in true Bella fashion she only shrugs and mumbles a sleepy, "Thanks."

"Good morning," she says, yawning. "Is that coffee I smell?" She walks over to the table and I notice she is limping. It's not much; just a slight uneven step to her gait, but it's enough to remind me she sustained a broken leg in the accident. Guilt washes over me anew when I think of the rough way I handled her last night.

I get up quickly, go over to the counter, and pour her a cup. I remember her telling me she likes to have hers hot, creamy and sweet. When she confessed that to me a few nights ago I had perverted thoughts of her being just like her coffee; hot, creamy and sweet. My face grows warm thinking about last night, and how true those thoughts turned out to be. I chase them away and add the creamer that Mrs. Cope keeps in the fridge to Bella's coffee.

"I hope this is okay," I say handing it to her sheepishly. She takes it from me with an appreciative grin and tells me it's perfect. But her grin slowly fades when she glances at my face.

"Is everything okay?" she asks me, and I nod my head quickly and sit back down. She then turns to Charlie and asks, "How did you get here, Dad, I thought we were going to come get you this morning?"

I take my cup and put it in the sink as Charlie tells her haltingly about his breaking and entering the bar earlier this morning. Huh … I stifle a grin when I hear the hesitation in his voice; not so cocky with Bella, are you buddy?

"You did what?" she asks, sounding pissed. "Dad, that's terrible; do not ever do that again. You of all people should know better; what if Teddy had a gun and thought you were an intruder? I wouldn't have thought twice about using it if I were him."

"Yeah, but that's because I taught you to think like that, Bells. Besides, I know Massachusetts has stiff gun laws, so I assumed Edward wasn't packing heat. Beside he and I have already had this conversation and I apologized to him, so can we go ahead and drop it?" he asks.

I notice he has the good grace to look chastised. Note to self: If I need back-up with this man get Bella immediately to intervene; he is putty in her hands.

Charlie gets up and puts his mug in the sink. He announces he's going out back to check on Hienzie. He drops a quick kiss on Bella's head before he exits and mutters a muffled apology that ends with, "Missed you Bells." She shakes her head laughing into her cup. "I missed you too, Dad." She glances over at me as she stands.

"What's wrong, Teddy?" she asks, wrapping her arms around my back. "Did my dad upset you? I know he had a lot of nerve breaking into the bar, and he hasn't heard the last of it from me. Anyway, knowing Charlie, he was probably just testing his limits with you to get a reaction. Don't worry; he'll never do it again after I get through with him. I promise." She kisses my neck and runs her fingers through my hair.

I turn around and kiss her on the tip of her nose. "No, it's not that … Charlie's fine; I set him straight about coming in after hours without asking, don't worry."

"Then what is it?" She whispers searching my face for answers.

"It's just …" I hesitate.

"What?"

"Well, when I came downstairs, your dad was polishing the bar with a scrap of your nightie."

She looks at me puzzled, quirks an eyebrow and bursts out laughing. "Oh my God … Teddy … that's hysterical! Are you kidding?" She laughs. "That's priceless." Her laughter stops abruptly when she sees me pinching the bridge of my nose.

"Hey, what is it? You're not embarrassed, are you? Because I assure you, Charlie might be a cop, but he's clueless about women's undergarments; I use my casts offs as rags all the time at home."

"No, it isn't that, Bella. It's just … seeing him standing there cleaning up our, well, encounter, and then watching you limp in this morning … I was too damn rough with you last night. I shouldn't have taken you like that … I could have seriously hurt you. I'm sorry-"

"Edward, stop; I'm fine."

"Don't say you're fine, Bella. Christ, is that a bruise I see on your shoulder?" I walk over to her and pull the strap down on her tank. Sure enough a small bruise the size of a quarter (or a bottle cap, I think to myself, ruefully) has formed. I bend over and kiss it softly. She takes my chin and pulls my mouth to hers hard, forcing me to open and kiss her back properly. When I gently pull away from her, she grabs my chin again and forces me to look in her eyes.

"Don't do this, Edward. Don't spoil what we shared last night," she pleads.

I start to murmur that I've already ruined it, but she interrupts me by huffing loudly.

"No, I mean it. I don't want to be treated like a piece of glass; I'm not that fragile, I promise. Last night was … last night was incredible. I mean, that's how it was for me. I know you've had sex before; you've probably taken lots of women like that, maybe even on the bar, but for me … it was amazing," she repeats. I look at her face and watch her chin dimple, which I already know is the precursor to her tears.

I am one of the stupidest asses God ever blew breath into. If I have not made that already clear then I am sure this illustrates the point perfectly.

I gather her in my arms and stroke her hair back.

"It was incredible, Bella. Jesus, it was unbelievable. I've never had that kind of sex with anyone before. I assure you that I haven't ever had sex on top of the bar before, only with you. And it was so sexy … In fact, it was so fucking hot that I don't know how I'll ever be able to stand behind it again without thinking about it. And when I do I'm sure I'll get so hard that I'll probably knock the damn glasses over with my dick because it'll constantly be in the way. I probably need to order a few cases of barware as a precaution."

"Really?" She mumbles into my neck. "You don't regret it then?"

"Really," I assure her. "Best night of my life, except for the night I first heard you. And the night we first touched. And the night I first heard you speak. And the night I saw you. And the first time I kissed you."

"That was in the morning," she reminds me gently. But I sweep away her remark and tell her that's just semantics and keep on listing.

"And the night we made love for the first time. And the night-"

"That's a lot of best nights, Teddy." She laughs, wiping her eyes.

I pull her back into my arms and kiss her forehead tenderly. "All of my best days and nights have been with you." I know it's corny, but it is the damn, honest truth.

"I love you, Bella." I tell her looking into her eyes. "I just don't ever want to hurt you. You're everything to me."

She hugs me close, strokes my hair and says, "I feel the same way; you're everything to me too. Just promise me that you won't treat me too carefully, okay?"

I nod my head, and she pulls my face down for what I assume is a kiss. However, her lips travel to my ear, and she presses her mouth against it whispering, "And just so you know, I'm not limping because of my leg." She runs her tongue along the outer shell of my ear and chuckles softly. I feel myself begin to harden and pull back nervously. All I need is her father to walk in the damn door and see me saluting his daughter.

"Besides, if you ever do touch me too roughly I'll tell you. I know you're a lot stronger than me, and you're a big guy, but my father is a cop; I've had training."

"Training? What, you mean like self-defense or something?"

"She's had the same martial arts all the guys in my department have, Edward." Charlie pipes up as he comes back inside with Hienzie at his heels. "Why? You two already got trouble in paradise?" he asks as he looks between us.

"Nope, no trouble at all," she says reaching up on her toes and proving it to him by giving me a kiss that lasts a little longer than it should, considering her father is in the room.

"Oh Jesus, My eyes-my eyes!" he shouts dramatically, shielding his eyes from view. "If this is how it's gonna be then give me some warning so I can go out back and clean my gun or something."

"Sorry, Charlie," I grin sheepishly.

"You know, when I was a kid that was the slogan for a tuna fish commercial. Sorry Charlie, my ass."

He gives us both a glare but softens it with a small wink and asks us how long it'll be before we're ready to roll. Bella tells him she wants to take a quick shower, and though I'm tempted to tell him I need one myself, I refrain. Charlie is more even-tempered than I might have expected, but he is still a cop, and yes, Bella's father. I tell him I have to go over the inventory in the bar and get my order together before we open this afternoon.

"Mind if I join you?" he asks. "No time like the present to learn what goes on behind the inner sanctum," he jokes.

I nod my head, and he follows me into the bar. He grabs a stool and sits across the counter expectantly, with his hands folded in front of him. I stifle a chuckle; he looks like a school boy, awaiting his first lesson. I half expect him to pull out an apple, for crying-out- loud.

"So Charlie, have you ever worked a bar before?"

"Nope, I always wanted to, but never did. I waited on tables at the diner as a kid and worked as a cook in the Navy. But aside from popping the tab on a can of Rainer for my buddies, I don't know much about mixing drinks," he admits.

"I'm a quick learner though. Besides, how hard can it be to pull a beer or mix a whisky and soda?"

I roll my eyes and grin; Charlie Swan is in for a rude awakening.

**ACITD**

One hour and ten mishaps later, I determine that Charlie Swan doesn't know shit about tending bar. The man may know his way around a precinct, but when it comes to knowing the difference between a wine glass and a flute, he is completely clueless.

He starts his training by knocking over a bottle of Chivas, and ten minutes later spills an expensive cognac all over the counter. When he empties the dishwasher, he drops two steins and one cordial, which miraculously survive because they land on the rubber mat. But a few minutes later he trips on the rubber mat inside the bar and the glasses he's carrying fly out of his hands and crash into the open ice chest. So now, that fucker has to be emptied and cleaned thoroughly before we open.

I look over at the clock and let out a short huff; there aren't enough hours left in a day to teach Charlie Swan how to pour a beer from the tap, let alone mix a Cosmopolitan.

"Hey, what are you guys up to; I thought we were going to get you set up at the campground, Dad?" Bella asks in exasperation. I look up from the ice chest and try to smother a groan back; it's a damn mess.

"Are you guys ready to go?"

I look down at the stained T-shirt I'm wearing, and decide to grab a quick shower before we head out. Bella looks so pretty; she has on a tank the color of periwinkle's and a pair of cotton shorts that have these faded pink and blue flowers on them. Her legs look so amazingly long in them. I find myself growing hard thinking about what color her panties are. Christ in a meadow of daisies and clover; I've got to get these thoughts under control this summer otherwise Charlie is going to notice and start giving me grief. I glance back down at the ice chest, and an idea begins to form in my mind.

"Yeah, I'm going to grab a quick shower and change. Bella, do you want to show me that loose shelf you were telling me about in your apartment?" I ask her nonchalantly.

She looks at me quizzically for a second and then grins. "Yeah, I wanted to put my hoodies and stuff up there, but I'm afraid it won't hold."

Charlie narrows his eyes and tells her that he'll be glad to fix it while I get ready.

"Actually Charlie, I was wondering if you'd do me a favor and go around the corner to Mulligan's Saloon and see if I can borrow their ice magnet. I meant to replace mine last month but never got around to it."

"Ice magnet?" he asks, puzzled.

"Yeah … it's a device we use to retrieve the broken glass out of the chest. It beats having to empty it every time someone has an accident," I explain to him as I start walking with Bella up the stairs.

"Okay … I'll head on over. Er, which direction is this place?"

I give him directions and head upstairs with Bella on my heels. As soon as I open the door to my place, I burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" she asks, smiling.

"Your father; he's a hot ticket, Bella. You should have seen him trying to find his way around the bar. It was hilarious; he thought it was going to be a piece of cake working the bar. I think he's in for a rude awakening tonight. You should have seen him juggling the glasses; he slipped on the rug and one went crashing into the chest; there are shards of glass everywhere."

"I'm sorry, Teddy. Do you want me to tell him not to work here this summer? I mean, I know you said you were cool with it and all, but if he's going to be a burden then I'll …"

"No," I laugh, leaning in to kiss her. Our tongues briefly tangle as I press her against the wall to show her how much I want her. She grabs my hips and winds one leg around my thigh letting me know she wants up. I scoop her up obligingly and rock into her until we both groan.

"Does my shelf really need tightening?" She asks, breathless.

"Not that I know of," I moan into her mouth.

"How much time do you think we have?" she asks desperately, her hands reaching under the band of my shorts

"That depends on whether Mulligan's sends him to The 49th Hole, and the 49th Hold sends him to The Crowe's Nest," I chuckle, capturing her nipple between my teeth gently.

"What?" she giggles as my tongue licks her nipple into a rigid, pink point.

"Inside joke between barkeeps on the Cape," I chuckle, setting her down and wondering if there really is enough time for a quickie before Charlie reappears.

"Hmm," she mutters as she rolls off the bed and kneels in front of me. I sit up and look at her, wondering where this is going. When she leans over my legs and pushes down my cargo shorts, I get a pretty clear idea. Her face is full of smiles; her cheeks rosy from her shower, and her hair, which falls over her face as she takes me in her mouth, smells like flowers and sunshine.

"Bella, you really don't have to do … oh, fuck!" I moan out loud when she grazes her teeth lightly from the base to the tip.

"Shh," she whispers as she continues to suck, lick and nibble on me. I do as she says and shut the hell up. I haven't experienced anything like this in years, and I need a refresher. I gather her hair away from her face as she brings me to orgasm. Trust me- it doesn't take long, especially when she starts squeezing my balls gently with one hand. I do try to let her know that Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt so she can take shelter, but she ignores my warning and swallows all that I have to give her.

I collapse back on the bed panting as if I'd just run the Boston Marathon. I look up at her face, and she is grinning from ear to ear looking as though she is the victor and not me.

"So, I take it that was okay?" she smiles joining me on the bed. She cuddles up next to me, and I grab her face and kiss it all over, then bury my own in her neck.

"Okay? Okay? Are you kidding me? That was unbelievable, Bella," I laugh into her chest. "Wait … was that a new experience for you too?" She blushes at my question and nods.

"I-well, I mean I tried a few times with … well, you know. But he always pushed me away."

"Okay," I say sitting us both up. "Bella, I gotta tell you, no guy is going to refuse a blow job from a gorgeous woman, no matter how religious he is. I'm telling you- your old boyfriend must be gay."

"Nah, he isn't gay. He really is just that religious. Plus, I think he knew that I wasn't the one he was meant to be with for the rest of his life. I get the feeling that when the right one comes along he will too."

Her pun makes us both laugh, and we kiss each other softly till our desire starts to build again. I reach for the zipper on her shorts and begin to ease them down, when-"

"Hey Edward …. I'm back! Are you two ready to go or what? How the hell long does it take for you to put a screw in it, for Cripes sake?!" We burst into giggles over his ironic rant.

"Rain check?" I mummer, still chuckling. We sigh and gather up our clothes. She calls down to Charlie and tells him we'll be with him in a minute. She dashes into the bathroom to brush her teeth and run a comb through her hair, and gives me a minty kiss as I step into the shower. I soap up quickly, rinse and hop right back out.

When I come back downstairs, Charlie is sitting at the bar with Hienzie by his side.

"Where's Bella?" I ask.

He reaches over, grabs a swizzle stick, and then pops it in his mouth. "Eh, she's feeding Ole Myrtle. I think she already has a little something going with that coon cat of yours. Bella saw them canoodling together in the kitchen. I look at him in surprise, and he reassures me that Myrtle has been fixed, so she isn't going to get knocked-up anytime soon. I laugh relieved, although since Jenks is also neutered we don't have anything to worry about there anyway.

"Hey, before I forget, I got that ice magnet from the fellow down the street." He presses an object into my outstretched hand that vibrates, shakes, and practically brings me to my knees.

"Fuck!" I yell out more in shock than in pain.

Charlie dissolves into a series of giggles and guffaws. "Hah … ice magnet my Aunt Fanny. Guess you figured I was born yesterday, huh, kid? Good thing Souza's market was open, and that they sell novelties. That old lady sure is a character. She laughed her ass off when I told her what I was buying it for, and even harder when I told her who I was planning to use it on."

I glare up at him, but his dark eyes twinkle with humor, and what looks a lot to me like affection. I can't help but grin as a feeling of warmth and nostalgia sweeps over me. I glance over at the picture of Pop, and he almost looks as if he's winking at me. Pop was a prankster from way back. I still remember how he would randomly put a whoopee cushion on the bar stools to get a reaction from his customers. Thoughts about future pranks and retaliation fill my mind, and when I see Charlie's moustache twitch, I know that he's thinking the same thing:

Game on.

The feeling of warmth returns, as memories of Pop once again surface when Charlie leans over and rubs his knuckles hard over the top of my head. This simple gesture makes my throat go tight; it's been years since I felt a fatherly touch, let alone a nuggie. He helps me to my feet, and Bella joins us with her hands on her hips asking us if we're "done playing."

I look between them and nod my head.

When we step outside into sunshine and blue skies skies, Bella calls out that she's "Going to drive and it sucks to be you."

"Shotgun!" we both call out, but I say it first.

Charlie looks at me and shrugs as he concedes defeat and climbs in the bed of his truck with Hienzie in his lap. I step inside the cab and buckle myself up, feeling better than I have in, well, forever— all happy, sated and content.

And for the first time in ten years I realize that I don't hate summer anymore; it's my favorite season of all, and I never want this one to end.

***ACITD***

Three's Company Cocktail

We Id anyone who appears to be younger than 40

Please drink responsibly

Edward A Masen

Proprietor

The Swan Dive

Threes Company Cocktail

Ingredients you need0.333 0.333 Marnier0.333 How to make a Three's Company

Layer

Type of drink

Shot or Slammer

Recommended glass

Shot Glass