Dean's car sat in the street, a parking ticket already under the wiper. He had been in such a hurry, plugging the meter had been the last thing on his mind. Grumbling, he snatched the ticket and crumpled it into his fist while opening the driver's side door. A black Cadillac Escalade with shiny rims and thin tires honked as it whizzed past. Dean flipped the driver off before climbing inside the Jeep. He slammed his car door shut extra hard and threw the balled up ticket onto the passenger side floor mat. Silence enveloped him as he set the pastry box on the seat next to him and tried collecting his thoughts.
He pulled the folded notice from an inside coat pocket and studied the signature at the bottom. Rage pumped through his veins and he swore out loud, hitting the steering wheel with a closed fist. He dug his cell from his slacks and pulled up Megan's number as traffic sped past. He glanced to the seat next to him, gazing through the pastry box's clear plastic top where a rainbow of frosting swirled about inside. His chest rose as he took a deep breath and hit the call button. Megan's phone began to ring, signaling his arteries to pump faster.
She answered with a sultry voice on the second ring. "Hey you."
Her excited tone sent a cold shiver running down his spine. "How'd it go at the doctor's?"
"It went good. Sibyl went with me and then we stopped at Saz's for lunch, which my stomach is protesting, but other than that everything is fine."
"That's great news," he said, fighting to control his ire. "So how did your dad react when you told him I had to be in court?"
She exhaled a long breath. "One thing you have to understand about my father is he always thinks the sky is falling, but once he found out Sybil was taking me he was fine."
Dean snorted into the phone as a UPS truck loudly motored past. "Listen, I just wanted to apologize and, if you're not busy, I'd like to swing by with some cupcakes for you and your family."
Megan paused. "That is so sweet, Dean, but you don't have to do that."
His eyes narrowed. "It'd be my pleasure."
"Well, I'd love to see you."
"Sounds good." His checked his watch and hesitated before speaking again. "Your dad home from work yet?" He couldn't tell if her delayed response was making him hot or the fact that the windows were up.
"He just got home a little while ago," she said slowly. "Why?"
"Just want to apologize and...say hello."
And odd laugh slithered from her lips. "Well, I'm sure he'll appreciate the gesture."
"I bet he will," Dean mumbled crossly.
"I said, where do you live?"
Megan's house was a two story Colonial with white pillars flanking the arched front door. Brightly colored flowers bordered the winding front walkway, separating it from a meticulously trimmed yard. Despite the lack of rain over the last few weeks, the grass was plush and green and Dean could only imagine what their water bill looked like. With heavy legs, Dean stepped up onto the spacious front porch and looked back at his car parked in the street. He adjusted his sports jacket and reached for the doorbell, imagining an impressive response but hearing nothing when he pushed it.
He tried to smile, wondering if the doorbell even worked. Dean swatted at a lazy bumble bee patrolling the potted flowers dotting the porch. The way his luck was going he wouldn't be surprised if the thing stung him. Instead, it flew off and disappeared into a red fuchsia, hurriedly collecting its fill of nectar and pollen.
The door startled him when it opened. Megan greeted him with a warm smile and a big hug. "This is such a nice surprise," she whispered in his ear, pulling back and peering into his eyes. "Thank you for doing this." She caught him off guard with a quick peck on the lips that was too casual for comfort.
"You must be Dean!"
Dean's eyes darted over Megan's shoulder. A pleasantly plump woman stood in the doorframe with an affectionate smile stretching from ear to ear.
"I'm Nancy," she said, offering her hand.
He shook her warm hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you," he said, extending the pastry box. "These are for you."
Her face got round. "Oh, this one is a keeper, Megan!" she said with a laugh, examining the dazzling colors inside. "Thank you, Dean. Come on inside."
Megan took Dean's hand and led him into the house like they had been dating for years. The smell of new construction and seafood smacked him in the face as he stepped into a foyer with a large chandelier hanging from the vaulted ceiling above.
"Wow, you weren't kidding, Meg. He is a tall one!"
Dean blushed as Nancy looked him up and down.
"How tall are you, Dean?"
"A looker, too," Nancy grinned, closing the door. "I hope you can stay for dinner. It's just about ready."
Dean smiled politely as she whisked the cupcakes into the kitchen and left him alone with Megan. His eyes climbed a grand staircase spiraling up to the second floor. "Nice place."
Megan tugged on his hand. "Come on," she said, towing him into an open kitchen with an angled breakfast bar. "You want a beer?"
"So what kind of law do you practice, Dean?" Nancy asked, saucing up a steaming casserole dish of jumbo shrimp and pasta with a garlic sauce that made his stomach queasy.
"Corporate," he replied, tilting from his heels to his toes. "Mostly limited liability."
"Ooh," Nancy cooed impressively, setting some dirty mixing bowls into a large sink, her short brunette curls bouncing with the motion. "That is wonderful."
"Here ya go," Megan said, handing him a cold bottle of Heineken and ushering him to a chair at the breakfast bar.
Dean sat down and took a long drink like he was dying of thirst, Evy's gaunt face flickering through his mind. Her green eyes had lost their sparkle and it pissed him off. He glanced into the large living room behind him where no one was watching a Brewers game on the giant flat screen.
"So are you from Milwaukee, Dean?"
He turned back to Nancy and forced a smile. "Born and raised."
"Whereabouts do your parents live?" she asked, spraying off the bowls in the sink.
"Not far from Bayshore mall."
"Glendale, huh? That's a fantastic area. I just love that outdoor mall!"
Megan's hand quietly slid across the breakfast bar and took his.
Nancy stopped spraying the dishes and wiped her hands on a dishtowel. "Well, it is so nice to finally meet you. I hope to meet your parents real soon as well."
Dean winced with her wish. She actually thought he was in this for the long haul and, in a weird way, he felt sorry for her. She seemed like a nice lady and he didn't look forward to disappointing her.
Nancy took a sip of white wine and swallowed. "Are they excited?" she asked, setting the glass down next to a six burner range.
His eyes thinned.
"About the baby?" she said, nodding to Megan.
Dean's face flushed. A bead of sweat trickled down his back and got lost in his button down. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to reply.
"There he is!"
Dean's pulse kicked into overdrive with the booming voice. He twisted in the chair, everything spinning in a blurry haze, and found Clay's million dollar smile hovering just behind him.
"Glad you stopped by, Dean," he said, slapping him on the back.
Dean got to his feet and glared at Clay for a few uneasy seconds. Clay's smile slowly faltered and Dean punched him in the jaw with a hard right hook. Clay's head jerked violently to the side. He staggered backwards, stunned by the blow.
Nancy screamed and dropped the casserole dish to the floor. It shattered into pieces, covering the custom tile work with tonight's dinner. Megan bolted from her chair as an olive colored wall with white trim broke Clay's fall. He shook his head and clutched his wounded jaw, gawking at Dean through dazed blue eyes that quickly turned cold as ice. "What the hell," he sneered, advancing on Dean with closed fists.
Dean cocked his fist and sprang forward just as Megan jumped in between them.
"Stop!" she shrieked, planting a hand into their chests and glaring up at Dean.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" Clay barked, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth.
"This is what's wrong with me!" Dean spit back, shoving the notice from Sugars in Clay's face.
"What is this all about?" Nancy asked, horrorstricken by the violent outburst in her own home.
Clay glanced at the document but didn't take it, so Megan snatched it instead, skimming it from top to bottom. She looked up at Dean, her brow creasing. "What is this?"
"That is the notice he gave my girlfriend's restaurant today, notifying them of the revocation of their liquor license!"
Nancy's face wrinkled. "Girlfriend?"
Megan turned to her father with an icy glare of her own. "Is this true?"
Clay ran a hand through his disheveled locks, exhaling a salty breath. "That's what happens when people serve minors in my district."
"They didn't serve any minors, you asshole!"
Dean turned to Megan. "He had their license revoked because I didn't take you to the doctor this morning." He snatched the paper from her hands and waved it in Clay's crumpled face. "And for your information, Clay," he said, lowering his voice, "this will never stand up in a court of law because their security footage tells a completely different story than the dates on this notice."
Clay stood like a statue, droplets of blood dripping onto his orange Polo shirt.
Nancy covered her mouth with one hand. "Oh Clay, you didn't."
Megan looked up into her father's stormy eyes. "Is this true, Daddy?"
"No, it's not true! I thought you were his girlfriend."
Dean laughed and stuffed the paper into his coat pocket. "He's lying! He saw her picture in my office yesterday, even asked about her. He probably had me tailed to her apartment."
Nancy tried wiping the blood from Clay's chin with a dishtowel, but he pushed her away and spoke in a low growl. "That is not true."
"Isn't it?" Dean snapped, pushing past Megan and slamming Clay up against the wall. A picture of Megan and Nancy - all smiles in front of the Eiffel Tower - fell to the floor and splintered into pieces that mingled with the broken casserole dish. "You're such a liar! No wonder you're a politician." Megan tried wrestling him off her father but Dean pushed harder, pinning Clay to the wall. "I bet a lot of people would be interested in your tactics."
Clay stopped resisting and clenched his teeth together. "You are sorely mistaken and have no proof."
Megan finally shoved Dean back. "That is enough, Dean!"
"I should call the police right now!" Clay barked.
"Go ahead," Dean fired, spraying Clay's face with spittle. "I'm sure this will make for an interesting article when I convince people of the truth, which, by the way, is what I do for a living."
Clay honed his gaze, taking ragged breaths. "No one will believe you over me. You're nothing in this town."
"Clay!" Nancy shrieked with wide eyes.
The hint of a grin tugged at one corner of Dean's mouth. "We'll see about that, Mayor." He stormed out of the kitchen without looking back and burst through the front door. The fresh air felt good against his skin. Out of respect for Nancy, he resisted the urge to kick over a massive flower pot, brimming with purple azaleas.
Clay followed him outside. "Dean, I'm sorry!" he yelled from the porch.
Dean stopped at the bottom of the double-drive without turning around.
"Daddy, please!" Megan cried from the front door.
"Go back inside, Megan!" Clay ordered, turning back to Dean. "I swear to you, Dean, I had no idea it was your girlfriend's place. The police run these underage stings, not me. I just enforce the consequences."
Dean stared at his Jeep in the street, his muscles tightening with anger. Clay Crawford was lying and Dean knew it. He opened his mouth to tell him to go to hell but continued for his car instead.
"I can get it reversed!"
Dean stopped again, his pulse racing. Slowly, he turned to face Clay, beads of sweat rolling from his temples.
"Daddy!" Megan pleaded, her mother looking over her shoulder.
"Get back inside that goddamn house and shut the door!"
Megan slammed the front door loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. Clay returned his attention to Dean and sighed. "This isn't the kind of start I wanted, Dean, not with a baby coming."
Dean laughed in his face. "You mean the baby we don't even know is mine?" he shouted, pointing to the house where Megan and her mom were peeking out a living room window, their brows folded in horror.
Clay dropped his head and massaged his wounded jaw. He looked back up with glassy eyes. "Dean, I promise you, I had nothing to do with this, but I will take care of it first thing in the morning."
Dean studied him in silence. "If you don't, I'll be back for more."
Clay held his hands up. "I apologize for the confusion and hope you won't take this out on Megan. She has nothing to do with any of this and needs you by her side now more than ever."
Dean grunted and turned for his Jeep, grumbling under his breath.
Clay waited until Dean was down the street before digging his cell phone from a front pocket. He poked at the screen and put it to his ear, wiping blood from his chin while squinting down the street.
The ringing stopped when someone answered, but no one said hello.
Clay inhaled a deep breath of the evening's warm air, gently grinding his teeth. "We need to talk."