The Wright Brother © K.A. Linde 2017
I rolled my shoulders twice and yawned. I hated being at the office this early. It was mind-numbing, but at least I got to see Mitch. He didn’t have class for another hour, and I figured we could use that time to get some coffee…or just occupy his office. I could think of a few things that I preferred to working.
My feet carried me straight down the hallway of the history building at the University of Texas, Austin. I was anxious for that uninterrupted hour alone with my boyfriend. It might be a bit taboo that he was also my professor and the advisor for my PhD, but it worked for me.
I reached his office and opened the door. “Mitch, I thought we could—” I stopped mid sentence and stared at what was before me.
Mitch was seated in the chair behind his desk—the very desk I had been fantasizing about. And a tiny blonde undergrad was sitting in his lap. Her skirt was hiked up; I could tell even from my vantage point.
My stomach dropped out of my body. This could not be happening. I could not be this naive.
“What the fuck is going on here?” I demanded.
The girl hopped up and straightened out her skirt. “Nothing,” she squeaked.
“I was just helping her with some last-minute…assignments,” Mitch said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, my voice low and menacing. My eyes snapped to the girl. “You should leave. Now.”
“Emery,” Mitch said consolingly.
“Now!” I yelled.
The girl grabbed her purse and rushed out of the room. I slammed the door shut behind her and glared down at the man I’d thought I loved for the last three years. But looking at him sitting there, adjusting himself, all I saw was a pathetic excuse for a man.
“God, this is embarrassing,” I snapped. “I’m leaving. I’m leaving you, I’m leaving the program, and I’m leaving the university. I’m fucking done.”
“You can’t leave the program, Emery,” he said, not acknowledging what else I had said.
“I can, and I will.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said, pushing back his messed up hair. “You only have a year left.”
I shrugged. “Don’t give a damn right now. You fucking cheated on me, Mitch.”
“Come now, Emery. Do you really believe that?”
“Um…hello? I just walked in on you with Angela! She’s an undergrad!”
“You don’t know what you saw.”
I snorted. “That’s rich, coming from you. I’m well aware of what I saw. I doubt it was the first time, too. How many others are there?”
He stood and tried to reach for me, but I pulled away.
“We can make this work, Emery.”
“God, do you think I’m an idiot?”
“Oh, Em,” he said, straightening his black suit coat. “Don’t act so childish.”
I fumed at those repulsive words. “I am not acting childish by accusing the man I loved of sleeping with someone else. I’m standing up for what I think is right, and your bullshit routine is far from that. Are you sleeping with other students?”
“Honey, come on.”
“You are, aren’t you?” I shook my head and retreated. “Wow, I am an idiot. Not only do I really not want to be in academia, but I also really don’t want to be with you.”
“Emery,” he called as I marched toward the door. “It’s been three years. You can’t do this.”
I whipped around. “Tell me you’re not fucking anyone else and that I’m the only girl for you.”
He ran a shaky hand back through his long blond hair. He thought he was the cool professor, the one everyone could talk to about not just their research problems, but also their life problems. He’d reeled me in that way, and like a fool, I’d been blinded by the nice suits, fancy dinners, and finally finding a man on the same level as me. Turned out…he was a rat.
When he didn’t respond, I scoffed at him. “That’s what I thought.”
Walking out of his office was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. He deserved to lose his job for what he had done all these years, but I didn’t have it in me to go there yet. I walked into the history department and filled out the appropriate paperwork to withdraw from the program. Maybe, one day, I would want to go back and finish my PhD, but today, I knew that I had come to the end of the line. One too many panic attacks, my first ever prescription for Xanax, and a dissertation topic that seemed perpetually out of reach had done me in.
I drove my Subaru Forester back to my one-bedroom studio, cursing Austin traffic the whole way. How was it possible for there to be bumper-to-bumper traffic at all times?
Three years’ worth of neglect had taken over my apartment, and my head ached from just imagining what to do with it all. At that moment, my life was completely open before me. No obligations. No job. No future.
I rolled my eyes at my own ridiculous thoughts and began to stuff half of my closet into the two suitcases I had. An hour later, I tucked my MacBook into my leather bag, remembered to grab my phone and computer charger, and kissed Austin good-bye. I’d eventually have to come back for the rest of my shit, but for now, all I was going to do was kick up the Christmas tunes and drive the six hours home to Lubbock.
The weird thing about Lubbock was, most people had no idea where it was, and when you told them that it was actually not full of tumbleweeds or overrun by the desert, they’d seem surprised. As if that was all there was in west Texas. It was a city of three hundred thousand people, for Christ’s sake!
The four years I had been in Norman at the University of Oklahoma, I’d gotten so good at responding to strangers’ questions about where I was from that I still hadn’t broken the habit of telling people I was from Texas, even when I’d moved back to Texas.
It would inevitably be followed up with a, “Where?”
And then I would have to explain, “Lubbock. It’s west Texas. Stuff actually exists there. Texas Tech and Buddy Holly.”
People would nod, but I didn’t think anyone really believed me since they hadn’t been to west Texas.
My sister, Kimber, was waiting for me outside when I pulled up to her brand-spanking-new house. She placed a hand on her swollen prego belly, and her four-year-old daughter, Lilyanne, ran around her ankles.
I put my car in park and jumped out in a hurry to scoop up my little niece. “Hey, Lily Bug,” I said, twirling her in a circle before swinging her onto my hip.
“Lilies aren’t bugs, Auntie Em. Lilies are flowers!”
“That, they are, smarty-pants.”
“Hey, Em,” Kimber said, pulling me in for a hug.
“Rough day?” she asked.
“You could say that.”
I dropped Lilyanne back onto her feet and opened the trunk. Kimber hoisted the smaller suitcase out of the trunk, and I wheeled the larger one into her ginormous house.
“Em! Do you want to see my new dress? It has dinosaurs on it. Dinosaurs say rawr!” Lilyanne said.
“Not now, Lily. We have to get Emery into the guest room. Can you show her where to go?” Kimber asked.
Lilyanne’s eyes lit up, and she raced for the stairs at lightning speed. “Come on, Auntie Em. I know the way.”
Kimber sighed, exhausted. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too. She’s a handful. But it’s good to have her. How else would I be able to find my way around here?” I joked as we made our way up the stairs after Lilyanne. “Seriously, are we in Beauty and the Beast? Is there a west wing I should avoid?” I gasped.
Kimber snorted and rolled her eyes. “It’s not that big.”
“Never too big for a library with ladders, of course.”
“Of course. We might have one of those.”
“I knew it! Please tell me all the dirty romance novels we read in high school are proudly on display now.”
Kimber dropped my suitcase in the guest bedroom, which was approximately the same size as my loft back in Austin. “Noah would kill me,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Most of those books are on my iPad now anyway. I’ve converted to e-books.”
“Fancy,” I said, fluttering my fingers at her. “I could use an iPad. Just throwing that out there in case Noah needs gift ideas for Christmas.”
Kimber laughed. “God, I’ve missed you.”
I grinned devilishly. Noah worked at the Texas Tech Medical Center. He worked long, long hours and made Scrooge McDuck–level dollar bills. He and Kimber were high school sweethearts and possibly the disgustingly cutest couple I’d ever encountered.
“Come on, Lilyanne,” Kimber called. “We have cookies in the oven.”
“Cookies?” I asked, my eyes lighting up. “Mom’s recipe?”
“Of course. Are you going to go see her?” Kimber asked, as if she didn’t care. But I saw her glance nervously in my direction.
It wasn’t that I didn’t get along with my mother. It was more like…we were the exact same person. So, when we were together, our stubborn heads butted, and everyone ran for the hills. But there weren’t hills in Lubbock.
“Did you even let her know you were coming into town?”
Kimber picked Lilyanne up and dropped her down into a seat by the sprinkles. The timer dinged for the cookies, and Kimber pulled them out of the oven. Fluffy golden brown Christmas cookies, just the way we liked them.
I shot Kimber a sheepish look. “No, but…”
“Gah, Emery! She’s going to kill me if you stay here without telling her you’re in town. I do not want to deal with that while I’m pregnant.”
“I’m going to tell her!” I said, reaching for a cookie.
Kimber slapped my fingers with the spatula. “Those are too hot. Wait for them to cool.”
“You don’t want a boo-boo,” Lilyanne said.
I sucked my finger into my mouth and made a face at my sister. “Fine.”
Kimber dropped the subject, and we spent the rest of the afternoon making cookies. Lilyanne and I got to cut out the shapes with Kimber’s cookie cutters, and then she placed them on the tray and into the oven. Once they cooled, we iced and added Christmas sprinkles on top of them.
By the time Noah was home, earlier than usual for him, we were covered in flour with sugary-sweet hangovers.
I pulled Noah in for a big hug. “Missed you.”
“You, too, Em. I heard you were having some trouble.”
My nose wrinkled. “Yeah. Thanks for letting me stay while I figure things out.”
“You’re always welcome here. It’ll be good to have you around for Kimber, too. She’s home a lot with this one, and I know she’s ready to get back to work.”
My sister owned a kick-ass bakery right off of campus called Death by Chocolate that made the best cookies, cupcakes, and doughnuts in town. But, with the new baby on the way, she’d taken a step back and turned more to management, so she could work from home. But her true passion was baking, and I knew she’d love to get back into the thick of things as soon as she could.
When it was Lilyanne’s bedtime, I finally left their house and went to meet my best friend out for a drink.
When I pulled up to Flips, I was shaking from the bitter December cold that had sprung up out of nowhere. I rummaged through my backseat, extracted a black leather jacket, and then dashed across the parking lot.
I handed the bouncer my ID and then pushed through the hipster crowd to the back of the bar. As expected, I found Heidi leaning over a pool table and making eyes at a guy who thought he was going to make some easy money on a game against a chick. His friends stood around with smirks on their face, as they drank Bud Light. Lubbock was big enough that there were still enough idiots for Heidi to hustle, but the regulars steered clear.
“Em!” Heidi called, jumping up and down at my appearance.
“Hey, babe,” I said with a wink.
“Guys, I’m going to have to finish this game early. My bestie is here.”
The guy’s brow furrowed in confusion. She leaned down and knocked the rest of her balls into the holes, hardly paying any attention. He and his friends’ jaws dropped, and I just laughed. I’d seen it happen one too many times.
Heidi’s dad had owned a pool hall when she was a kid, and her skills were legit. I was pretty sure pool was the start of her love affair with geometry. She’d gotten into civil engineering at Tech, and she now worked at Wright Construction, the largest construction company in the nation. I thought it was a waste of her talent, but she liked to be the only female in a male-dominated industry.
“You hustled us!” the guy yelled.
She fluttered her long eyelashes at him and grinned. “Pay up!”
He tossed a couple of twenties on the pool table and stormed away like a sore loser. Heidi counted them out and then stuffed them into the back pocket of her destroyed jeans.
“Emery, baby,” Heidi said, flinging her arms around my neck. “I have missed your face.”
“Missed you, too. You buying?”
She laughed, removed one of the guy’s twenties from her pocket, and threw it on the table. “Peter, shots for me and Emery!”
Peter nodded his head at me. “Hey, prom queen.”
“That was Kimber. Not me!”
“Oh, right,” he said, as if vaguely remembering that had happened to my sister and not me. “You dated that Wright brother though, right?”
I breathed out heavily through my nose. Nine and a half years since Landon Wright had broken up with me on graduation day, and I was still recognized as the girl who’d dated a Wright brother. Awesome.
“Yeah,” I grumbled, “a long time ago.”
“Speaking of the Wright brothers,” Heidi said, pushing a shot of tequila and lime toward me and adding salt to the space between her thumb and finger.
“Sutton Wright is getting married on Saturday.”
“She is?” I asked in surprise. “Isn’t she still at Tech?”
Heidi shrugged. “She found the one. It’s kind of a rush job. They only got engaged on Halloween.”
“Shotgun?” I asked.
The entire Wright family was riddled with scandal. With billions of dollars to throw around and no moral code, it was easy for anyone to get in trouble. But the five Wright siblings took it to a new level.
“No idea really, but I’d guess so. Either way, who cares? I am not missing a chance for an open bar and a swank party.”
“Have fun with that,” I said dryly.
“I’m taking you with me, bitch,” Heidi said.
She raised her shot glass to me, and I warily eyed her before raising mine to meet hers.
After I downed the tequila and sucked on the lime, I finally responded, “You know I have a rule about Wright siblings, right?”
“I know you’ve been jaded against the lot of them after Landon, yes.”
“Oh no, you know it’s not just Landon.”
“Yeah, so they’re all a bag of dicks. Who cares? Let’s go get drunk on their dime and make fun of them.” Heidi seductively placed her hand on my thigh and raised her eyebrows up and down. “I’ll put out.”
I snorted and smacked her arm. “You’re such a whore.”
“You love me. I’ll get you a new dress. We’ll have fun.”
I shrugged. What could it hurt? “Fine. Why not?”
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