Legacy and Lovers
Book 11 in the Untouchable Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
When did we become the adults? When did we become the ones who had to make the hard calls? One by one, we’ve all left our teenage years behind. College brought new challenges even as Bound Hearts brought us more.
Whether we’re making music, love, war, games, or trouble, we’ve found a good balance. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Together, we know we can do anything.
We’ve learned that even being apart doesn’t mean we aren’t together.
Life has a habit of throwing curveballs. School, careers, new hobbies, friends in need, and family demands are hitting us from every angle. We’re going to need each other more than ever.
Archie, Coop, Ian, Jake, and I are a team. We’re constantly figuring it out and sometimes, we fight. We also make up.
And we’ll have each other’s backs, today, tomorrow, and into the future.
Legacy and Lovers
Book 11 in the Untouchable Series
Legacy and Lovers
It was a beautiful day to take the subway out to Queens. Well, it had started out a beautiful day. The rain rolled in like it had just been waiting for me to appreciate the cooler temperatures. Granted, we were only two weeks into the new semester and it was barely past Labor Day, but it had been positively chilly. With the sun shining, the temps would have been perfect.
The rain definitely made it dreary. Blegh. Then again, it had taken me three trains to get out to Flushing, where Coop was volunteering this week. They’d been short staffed, so he offered to work his weekly hours out here rather than in Manhattan at the Middle School Community Center, where he worked with grades six through eight kids. Something he adored.
Before walking down the steps, I pulled out the compact umbrella Jeremy had given me the first autumn we were in New York, two years prior. That seemed so long ago and like yesterday. Weird. I opened it when I stepped outside. The rain came down steadily, but at least it wasn’t in sheets.
Could have been better, I was in sandals. But I ignored the water hitting my feet as I checked the directions on my phone. Two blocks. Yeah, that was doable. There were messages from Ian and Jake. They were heading to the gym, but they’d be home before dinner. Did I want to do movies tonight?
I liked that idea. So, I fired back a text that said sure and I’d let them know if Coop and I were going to be late. Archie didn’t say anything, but it was a group text, which meant he and Coop could get caught up when they checked.
At Jake’s dinner question, I sent back a shrug emoji. I was good with pretty much all food groups. He just responded with a thumbs up and a kiss. Ian was typing something but the phone rang before he finished. Hank’s name flashed on the screen and I shoved the phone in my pocket before tapping the Bluetooth earpiece.
I was practically a professional, look at me with all the toys. “Hey Dad,” I said as I answered and he huffed out a laugh.
“That is never not going to make me smile, Frankie,” Hank told me and I grinned wider. Part of the reason I did it. It wasn’t always easy to think of him as Dad. But my dad? Yeah, that was actually becoming very familiar.
“Good. What’s up?”
“You sound like you’re on the move.”
“Cause I’m walking. But I have a few minutes before I get there.” I wasn’t exactly racing. Course, my toes were getting cold.
“I just called to check in. First couple of weeks of a new semester is always an adjustment.”
“Spoken with all the experience of a professor.”
“Exactly,” he said with a chuckle, a knock echoed over the phone. “One sec.” While he didn’t mute the phone, it sounded like he lowered it. “Hey there, no,” he said to someone I couldn’t hear as more than a mumble. “Office hours are nine to twelve on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Two to Four on Mondays and Wednesdays.”
It was a Friday.
“Not a problem, send me an email and if I have time, I’ll look at it over the weekend. Right then.” The door closed and he was back on the phone. “Sorry about that. Like I said, first couple of weeks take some adjusting.”
“Aww, and you were just the big bad professor telling that kid they had to follow the rules. Where’s the rebel in you?”
His laughter just made me grin wider. “The rebel has a mortgage, four kids, one of which is in college. No time for shenanigans.”
“The way I hear it, shenanigans are the best.”
“But the way you do it?”
“Yeah, yeah. You forget, I’m almost a bona fide rock star.”
“I forget nothing,” he said as if suddenly doing a bad Monty Python impression. “You are also a bona fide student.” His accent dropped and there was a squeak of a chair. “So, give it to me straight, kiddo. How are you doing?”
The rain seemed to be lightening up thankfully, and I had half a block to go. “I’m good,” I said. “Really good. I like my classes. It’s a heavy load, but I’m okay with it. A couple of the classes are independent study, so other than checking in with my advisor and the teachers, I don’t have to add more physical in class time. That leaves me with time to do the rest.”
“Still interning with Standish?”
“Sorta? I mean, Eddie has been pretty great about keeping the position open with no time requirements, but it’s more like we get together at the offices every couple of weeks, we have lunch, then I spend about half the day shadowing him while he gives me an overview of the business.”
“You’re enjoying it.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, I am. It’s weird. I never really knew him before—mostly because I didn’t want to—and now?” I shrugged. Hank would get it. He and Eddie had been building a friendship of their own over the last year and a half.
Year and a half.
It kind of sucker punched me. Almost eighteen months since Maddy died. All the air whooshed out of me.
“Dad, I’m here, so I have to let you go.” Thankfully, my voice didn’t waiver. “I’ll call on Sunday?”
“Sounds good, love you.”
“Love you.” He hung up which saved me the trouble of doing it. I could see the community center’s front doors but I slowed and stepped out of the middle of the sidewalk. It had actually been fairly light foot traffic from the subway to here, but there were more people around and it was getting closer to four, so people would be heading home from work and school.
I needed a moment. Just one.
Breathe. It was easier said than done sometimes, but it was an important reminder. Stop. Take a breath. It was okay to feel the grief and the pain, even the surprise that it had been so long. The first anniversary had been on my past birthday. The two year anniversary was my next. Thanks for that Maddy. Still… it was okay to feel the way I felt. I was okay.
The world didn’t stop turning and I didn’t fall apart. Ever since that breakdown in Los Angeles, I had worked really hard to not bottle it all up again. It wasn’t always easy. But when it got too difficult, I could and did ask for help.
Another breath, then the tight fist in my chest began to uncurl. A quick glance around said, no one was staring at me and I hadn’t had some kind of freakout on the street. Go me! I pressed on through the still drizzling rain. I made it just in time for the door to open and I caught it and stepped back to let out a pair of kids and their father.
Well, I guess he was their dad. They nodded their thanks. Snapping the umbrella closed, I shook it off then went inside. A receptionist looked up from the desk, but she was talking on the phone and held up a finger.
I nodded as she continued her conversation and walked over to look at the cork board. There were all kinds of local announcements, including one about a band playing in a local park, some advertised needing a roommate while others offered handyman services and more. There were even some offering babysitting, tutoring, and a drama class.
Ian used to teach music to kids. He hadn’t had as much time this year. Maybe I should ask him if it was something he wanted to get back into doing.
“Thank you for waiting,” the woman said and I turned to find her looking at me expectantly. “How can I help you?”
“I’m here to pick up Coop Brennen,” I told her. “If he’s not done yet, I can wait.”
She smiled. “I’ll call back and let him know you’re here. They should be wrapping up for the day if they haven’t already.”
I stepped back and left her to work as I went back to skimming the board. A beep in my ear, accompanied by my phone vibrating in my pocket, had me tugging it out to read. Archie sent a message. Not to the group chat. Just to me.
Archie: Gonna be late, babe. Trying to figure this cooling issue out. I’ve already burnt up two engines.
I made a face.
Me: Want me to bring you something? You need to eat. And sleep.
The workshop was in Brooklyn, it would mean more trains, or I could just call for a car. Whatever he needed. I almost didn’t add the last part because I didn’t want to smother him. But he’d fallen asleep at the workshop twice the week before.
I got it. He needed space and he was working through things. I understood that. But I also needed him to take care of himself or let me do it.
Archie: I’ll order pizza, promise. Also, setting an alarm. I’ll be home tonight. Also promise.
Okay, so I was definitely smothering him. Dammit.
Archie: I love you too.
The kiss emoji made me smile. I sent one back.
“Miss?” The woman at the desk called me and I glanced back at her. “Mr. Brennen just called up. He said it would be ten more minutes.”
She nodded and I settled into a chair to wait. More to get out of the way of the parents coming in. They would talk to the lady at the desk, she called someone, and a few minutes later a kid would come out with their backpack. Their expressions often turned warm and smiling as they greeted their parent, or a grandparent as it was in one case.
It was kind of sweet. God, they looked so young. Coop was working with mostly middle schoolers. In Texas, that had been fifth and sixth grade for us. Seventh and eighth had been junior high. So what age was it here?
When did fifth grade look so far away?
About a dozen kids were picked up before a familiar sandy blond head appeared in the open doorway. He wasn’t looking out here, but talking to someone inside before he smiled at them, waved, and then headed out. I stood up as he crossed the room in three easy strides, grinning.
“Beautiful, you are a sight for sore eyes.” The simple joy in his voice lifted the tired some, but there was no mistaking the tired. Even with his smile, there was a tension around his eyes. When he dipped his head, I gave into the impulse and just wrapped my arms around him. The brush of his lips to mine was gentle, there and gone again before he squeezed me tight.
Yeah, he was tired and very happy to see me.
“You really didn’t have to come all this way to take three trains back with me.”
“Yes, I did,” I told him as I leaned back. More parents were coming in, so I clasped Coop’s hand and he tugged me to him again as we headed to the door. My feet were still damp, but I’d kind of forgotten all about that. It had started raining again, so I reopened the umbrella and Coop let out a laugh.
Like me, he had on a backpack, so he just took the umbrella and wrapped an arm around my shoulders as we began the walk to the subway. When he swung his foot out a little to walk goofily, I matched him without even thinking about it. He chuckled and when we approached a puddle, we both jumped it.
More than one person hurrying past gave us a brief look, but that was another fun thing about New York. You wanted to be a little crazy, most people didn’t notice.
“I’m glad you came,” Coop admitted when we got to the steps leading down and I grinned up at him.
“I know.” I’d missed him too. He’d been out here all week long which meant leaving earlier, coming home later and he had one evening class this semester. No way around it, not with the work he’d been doing. So, Tuesdays and Thursdays he got home really late.
Once on the train and squished together in a seat, he bumped my shoulder. “Okay, why did you come all the way out here to ride home with me?”
“Can’t I just have missed you?”
“You could,” he said. “I mean, I missed you. But seriously, what’s up? You doing okay? I know I’ve been kind of absent this week. Everything is still good with your classes…” Actual worry crept into his voice and I squeezed his hand. Just the act of holding it had already made me feel a thousand percent better.
“I’m fine,” I promised. “Really. Classes are great. I spent the day with Eddie yesterday after my morning classes. That was fine. I just—missed you, so I decided to come out and ride home with you because it gives me a whole extra hour. And—it’s kind of cool to see you at work. You’re so serious.”
He snorted softly but some of the tension eased out of him.
“So, my turn,” I continued. “What’s up with you? You good?” I wasn’t going to point out how tightly he’d hugged me or the fact that he was gripping my hand with equal force.
“I’m good,” he said. At my raised eyebrows, he crossed his heart with his free hand. “Promise, Beautiful. I am. Not going to lie, this week was a little packed. They needed me more hours here than when I’m at the Laymont Center and you add the commute and new classes…”
“And you’re tired. You didn’t come to bed last night.” Coop had more or less moved into my room after Rachel moved in with us the summer before last, but even after she moved back out this June, he hadn’t really gone back to his room. So, the guys all made accommodations for that. When Jake and I went to bed, there was no Coop, and when I woke up, also no Coop.
He winced. “Crap, sorry, I hoped you wouldn’t notice.”
“Right. Clearly, I’m not observant enough to realize when you’re not there so that’s an excellent idea to hope that.” I wasn’t annoyed, but the idea I wouldn’t notice his absence grated just a little. So, a little scold never hurt anyone.
Another grimace. “Fair point, bad choice of phrasing. I was hoping you’d just think I woke up before you and now that I think about that—I get why that’s a terrible plan. I’d never leave a bed with you in it.” He grinned.
It was funny because it was true.
“Exactly. So, promise me everything is all right and I’ll get off your ass about it.”
“You don’t have to ever get off my ass,” Coop said, his voice dipping a little. “In fact, I rather prefer having you chastise me when I’ve been bad and smack me around when I deserve it. I know you do it because you love me.”
“I do love you.”
“And you’re changing the subject. A lot. If you don’t want to talk about it, you can just say that, you know.” Three years of regular therapy seemed to be working out for me at this point. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay and if you weren’t, then to do what I could to help.”
He dipped his chin and his smile softened a little before it faded away. “I promise, Beautiful. I’m okay. It’s really just me being tired.”
“And Trina’s been blowing up my phone this week.”
Ahh. She was gonna be seventeen on her next birthday. She was a junior in high school. That was a lot.
She was also dating, but so far no sex and I was under sister swears to not say a word. Though the one time she had thought about it over the summer, she’d called me. Called me while she was at a party because the boy she’d been dating then had wandering hands.
It took no time to get her in an Uber and out of there. She’d let the guy drive her and then she was second guessing herself for taking off, but when she said, “I was just uncomfortable with the whole thing. There was a lot of alcohol and he was being really, really affectionate…”
“Trina,” I interrupted her. “You made the right choice for you. Nothing else matters. You said it yourself, you were uncomfortable.”
“Don’t tell Coop…please? You know he’ll just want to beat him up and really, that’s done. I don’t think he and I are gonna be going out anymore.”
I didn’t like lying to Coop. But, if he didn’t ask me directly, then I wouldn’t tell him. “Unless,” I’d said very clearly. “I think he needs to know. If and when that happens, I will tell him. Understood?”
“You’re the best Frankie.”
“Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, she’s Trina.” He shook his head. “She’s just freaking out cause Mom went on a date.”
Carly had a date? My eyes widened. “Really?”
He frowned. “Okay, don’t get all excited. You did that about Trina and I still think her dating before thirty is a bad idea.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’s your excuse for your mom?” Cause she was definitely over thirty.
“She’s my mom, it’s excuse enough.” He sounded positively grumpy and it just filled in all the missing pieces. His distraction this week, the tired, and even the overcompensating with school and volunteering out here.
“Well, would you like me to call her for some girl talk and see what I can find out about the potential walking dead man who wants to date your mom?”
He considered me for a moment then nodded. “I would like that very much. I need to know what I’m working with and if I need to fly back, and if Jake needs to go with me.”
I did not roll my eyes. “Coop?”
“Don’t say it.”
“Fine, I won’t beat the guy up.” But I could see his crossed fingers and I didn’t miss the “yet” he mouthed. I chuckled and leaned my head on his shoulder. It would be fine.
“I’ll talk to her.”
“Thank you, Beautiful.”
“Someone should be happy for her. I think it’s great.”
He made a noncommittal grunting noise and it literally took everything I had not to giggle. Surly Coop was adorable.
“You didn’t have a problem with Alicia dating.”
He snorted. “She’s dating Klara, and Jake’s dad. You know, the guy she used to be married to.”
“So, you wouldn’t mind if your mom dated your dad again?” Talk about baiting a bear.
“Okay, so this guy has one point in his favor.” Grudging admission or not, it was a point. I squeezed his hand and smiled. Coop kissed the top of my head.
“Yes, I do.” The smile was back in his voice. “Thank you, Beautiful.”
I grinned, then my stomach grumbled. Loudly.
It sounded like an alien on the hunt. I had to bite my lip to keep my laughter contained.
“The train needs to go faster, before we all start looking like steaks.”
I snort-laughed and Coop started laughing. Then the giggles struck. We made it home, but we were soaking wet from splashing in the puddles and laughing all the way.