10.17.14, Unedited, First Draft Excerpt from “Tuck and Roll”
Copyright SE 2014
Laughter rolled down the aisle and Meghan glanced up from writing assignments on the whiteboard.
“Excuse me -” Taking up a clipboard from her desk, she located a name on the class roster and addressed the source directly. “Is there a problem, Tucker?”
Blue eyes met and twinkled back at her. “Just Tuck. As in… tuck ‘n roll.”
“Tuck and roll?”
“Yes ma’am. Tuck McCain, Mustang MVP, most touchdowns in the entire district three seasons running.” There was no mistaking the devilish look in his eye as he took stock of the woman standing in front of him. “And there’s no problem, Mrs. Beleu.”
Low in her belly, an answering lick of fire tried to flicker to life, but she smothered it before it could catch. Having taken her teaching certification only three years after graduation, high school was still a fresh memory, and she could remember all too well what a guy like this was capable of. Tuck McCain by any other name, in any other school, was still a pussy magnet – but she was the teacher now.
“It’s Ms. Beleu - and there must be some sort of issue, Tuck, because you’re disturbing my class. It’s not a good way to start out the year, don’t you agree?”
A smirk flashed across his mouth and settled there, but he sat up straighter in his seat. “Yes ma’am, you’re right. I apologize.”
“Good. Now –”
It was well past seven, the dusky quiet bleeding through the classroom windows before she was finally able to pack up and leave for the day. The grunts of pain and exhaustion came across from the open field as the football boys got a head start on the season. She grinned, noting the handful of girls sitting to the side, gossiping no doubt. Some things would never change – like the Tuck McCain’s of the world.
Meghan smirked and returned a sassy wave to the handsome quarterback who somehow managed to gather enough breath to shout a flirty invitation to have dinner or at the very least his children. He’d get extra laps from the coach for that one.
“Good night, Mr. McCain.”
Her house was dark when she pulled into the driveway. Strange, but she thought she’d left foyer light on. She shook her head – senility was setting in early. The keys stuck in the lock, as usual, and she had to muscle her way inside.
“Tucker… Joseph… I want to speak to you both before you leave, please.” Meghan lifted a couple of papers in the air. The boys couldn’t have been more opposite if they tried. Joseph was conflicted and angry most of the time, whereas Tuck was just lazy. Both had failed the test. They ambled forward and she sat back to look at them.
“I would like to set up a time to work with you both before the next test.” Tuck started to open his mouth, probably to say something smartass, and she glared him into silence. “You’re both smart and capable of much more than this. Whatever is happening outside of these classrooms, whatever charming game you’re trying to run within them… eventually you’re going to graduate and be shoved out those front doors to deal with your life. I want you to be prepared. I want you to have a future. So we’re going to work on it… yes?”
Joseph rolled his eyes and nodded, bailing for the door.
Tucker just grinned, though. “You’re really good at that, you know? You’re a great teacher. I feel ready to conquer the world. Why don’t we start now? I can buy you dinner and you can teach me what I missed on that test.”
She smirked. “Please tell me you didn’t fail a test just so you could run that sad little line by me.”
Tuck laughed. “Sad little line? What the hell? That was genius. It’s not my fault you’re so much smarter than any of the other girls I’ve met. Too smart for me, that’s for sure. Still… I really could use the help and the grill is just down the street.”
Meghan laughed, too. She couldn’t help it. This guy wasn’t easy to intimidate. “’A’ for effort, but no. If your parents would like me to tutor you, they can contact me for my rates and available hours. Otherwise, you will just have to meet me in the school library between classes… speaking of which, don’t you have another class starting soon?”
Goddammit! Why had she bought the damn thing? Cute little bungalow her ass. The gingerbread molding hadn’t done anything but distract from the obvious, which is that a hundred year old house was bound to have shitty wiring.
Meghan rubbed her hands down her face and sucked back the tears trying to make their way up to the surface. It wasn’t the end of the world. She had insurance. She would just need to find a place to stay for a while, just until the back wall was rebuilt.
“Holy shit, who decided to make s’mores?”
Tucker McCain. Shit. She didn’t have the energy to deal with him right now. “Our appointment isn’t until after two, Tuck. I’m a little busy right now.”
“I had a few minutes and thought I’d come hang out with my favorite person.” He grinned. “What’s with the smokey smell in here, or is that just the heat between the two of us burning up the air?”
Stupid, self-centered little boy. She sighed. “Actually, I had a small house fire, if you must know, and I’m a little busy, like I said –”
“Holy shit. Are you serious? What happened? Should you even be at work?” He plopped down on the desk in front of her and stared, his eyes genuinely concerned now. Apparently, Tuck did have a serious side, it just took your life falling down around your ears to find it.
She shook her head. “There’s nothing I can do at home. The insurance agent will go look and give me a call.”
“You don’t have to let them inside or anything?”
A giggle worked its way up her throat. “Uh, no. They can just go in the back… ‘cause, you know, the entire wall is gone.”
“I thought you said a small house fire?”
Heh. Yeah. She shook it off and shrugged. “Oh well, right? I will just find a place to stay for a while, until the repairs are made. No biggie. I was hoping to remodel the kitchen anyway. Bonus: now I get a new sunroom and bedroom. Maybe I’ll upgrade to a master suite.”
“What about your stuff? Aren’t you afraid people will walk in and steal what’s left of your stuff?” He looked like he wanted to punch someone’s face in just at the thought. It was kind of sweet.
“Honestly, it was a small house. The only thing left is the bathroom and living room, and all of that was pretty much destroyed by the water. I’m just glad it didn’t spread to the neighbors. They have two little girls. It could have been much worse.”
Tuck stood and crossed his arms. “Well shit… where will you go?”
Shrugging seemed to work well. It was casual, giving the impression that she was under control and wouldn’t burst into tears at any given moment. “Dunno. A hotel for now. I’m sure one of the other teachers has a room I can rent.”
“Well hey, listen, we have a room –”
“No.” She stopped him before he could even go there. “Thank you, really, but that would be completely inappropriate.”
He held up a hand. “Okay, chill. I was just being nice.”
She sighed and smiled. “I’m sorry. I know. Thank you, but I can’t.”
“Well, at least let me help you today. We’ll just go by and pack up anything you think you can salvage, grab some quick dinner, and get you settled so I know you’re okay.”
“I’m not hitting on you, I swear.” He covered his heart with his hand, a solemn vow stance, and stared her down. “I just want to get you settled tonight, wherever you want to go. Then, I’ll leave it alone.”
Was there anyone in the world who could resist a sincere Tucker McCain? Meghan wasn’t sure, but she knew she couldn’t. “Okay, alright, but after dinner I’m checking into a hotel.”
“Fine. Deal.” He smiled. “Wanna play hooky and start now?”
Yes. God, yes, she did. “Sure. I’ll just let them know I’m taking the rest of the day off.”
“You are completely missing the point of playing hooky.”
It made her laugh, which felt amazing, like she could breathe again. “Well, when you’re an adult, this is about as close as it gets if you want to have a job to return to.”
“Tucker McCain. I distinctly remember telling you I was going to a hotel.”
He smirked. “Yes, but you distinctly didn’t say what you wanted for dinner. Besides, we ran a little late and my brother will be home soon. I have to make dinner for the two of us, so you might as well join us.”
“You live with your brother?”
“Yeah, he came home from college to take care of things after Mom died a couple years ago. We make due.” He shrugged, belying the hitch in his voice when he talked about his mother.
No mention of dad…Tucker was an orphan? That explained a lot. She wondered about the brother he’d been left with. Tuck seemed fairly well adjusted, despite the lazy charm factor. But maybe there was something Meghan wasn’t seeing? Either way, this was bound to be interesting.
“Well, I guess I can help with dinner then.”
The house wasn’t new, but it was comfortable and oddly clean. Maybe they had a cleaning lady who came in, because she couldn’t imagine two young guys keeping house like this. Even the knick-knacks were dusted.
Meghan smiled, bumping her shoulder against his. “Nice house. It’s really comfy in here, pretty.”
He shrugged and leaned down to scoop up a sock, tossing it into the bin. “We haven’t changed much from before. Just try and keep it like she would have wanted.”
Interesting. The boy who was all charm and confidence at school had melted away with each step through this home. Left behind was a quiet, self-contained young man. Still, the smile seemed to come easily enough, and he flashed it now. “What would you like for dinner, beautiful?”
“Oh man. I thought we’d been making progress,” she laughed.
“Who says I wasn’t?” Tuck chuckled, winking at her. “Alright, madam, I can offer you three high-class culinary choices: spaghetti, steak, or hot pockets. What’s your pleasure?”
“Oh gee… I guess I’m going to go with Spaghetti.”
“Good choice.” Tuck turned, pulling a cardboard box from the freezer. Ripping it open, he slid the frozen tray into the oven and spun the dial. The cardboard got tossed into the trashcan, jump-shot style, before he turned back to Meghan. She closed her mouth just in time. “So, what should we do while we wait?”
His leer was the last straw. She busted out laughing. She couldn’t help it. “I thought you said you had to cook dinner?”
“I do. I am.” He cocked an eyebrow.
She shook her head. “That is not cooking. That is defrosting, Tucker. Do you live on that stuff?”
He laughed. “What’s the big deal? It’s approved for human consumption by the FDA.”
“Oh, God, Tuck! That is not a solid argument. You’re going to turn all that quarterback hotness into… into… flesh sludge.” Meghan laughed all the harder.
“I never thought the words flesh sludge could be sexy, but coming from between your lips I can’t help myself.” He wiggled his eyebrows, sidling closer.
“Eeew, gross –” Meghan shoved his shoulder, sending him crashing into the back door just as it opened behind him.
“Shit. Sorry, bro.” Tuck laughed, catching himself and pulling the door open to let his brother pass.
The resemblance was uncanny. A few years of scruff and a few pounds of muscle were the only thing that separated the two, and she couldn’t help but think that if this was Tucker’s future, maybe she should reconsider his constant offers. Damn.
“Meghan, this is Gavin. Gav, this is Ms. Meghan Beleu, the girl I was telling you about.” Tucker beamed.
The smile that had been spreading on Gavin McCain’s face faltered. “Wait, what? Your teacher?”
Tucker nodded and Meghan blushed as Gavin’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m not sure this is appropriate, Ms. Beleu. I understand Tucker’s infatuation. Hell, who wouldn’t go out of their mind to have a teacher like you in high school, but I would think you would know that there are boundaries?” Gavin quirked an eyebrow.
Meghan could have gladly ripped her fingers off while prying up the floor boards just to crawl underneath them in that moment. Her brain faltered, an explanation hovering just out of reach, until Tuck leapt to her defense.
“Hey, easy up, bro.” He was quiet, but firm. “She’s just here for dinner. Then, I’m taking her to a motel.”
Gavin’s eyebrows quirked with a look that translated loosely to: Not. In. A. Million. Years.
“No.” Meghan waved hear hands, as if wiping that look off his face. “No. Just me. I’m staying in a motel while my house is being repaired. Tuck is just feeding me, because I don’t have a kitchen, and… and I don’t know. This is weird. Tucker, he’s right and I’m leaving. I’ll just call a cab.”
Tuck moved to stop her, but it was Gavin who pulled her back into the kitchen, a hand at her elbow. His eyes captured hers, swept over her face, before settling on her mouth. She had the almost uncontrollable urge to press her lips together, to relieve the unexpected tingle there. It was the kind of look Tuck had tried, but always made her giggle. Gavin didn’t make her giggle. Hell, she wasn’t even sure he’d done it intentionally. Still, something about the situation must have amused him. His mouth pinched up in the corner. “Sorry, my mistake… You’re here, and dinner’s almost ready. Shame to run off hungry.”
Meghan found his eyes on hers again, and his smile extended to them, crinkling at the corners. She blinked. “Are you sure? I really didn’t mean-”
“Meg. It’s fine.”
She sighed and nodded in return. “Thanks.”