Russell Steele had run out to the dollar store to grab a gift bag to put the books in before heading out to his sister’s house. He knocked on the door, smiling a moment later when his younger sister pulled it open. “Nikki.”
“Russell.” She cocked her head to the side. “What’s in the bag?” Russell held it out to her, opening it enough that she could look inside. “Russell.”
“I know, I know. You like rewarding her for good grades and stuff. That’s fine. You can keep rewarding her for that. But can’t I reward her for being willing to read in the first place?” he asked.
Nikki sighed, but she nodded. “Go ahead, you nerd. She’s in the living room.
Russell’s smile broadened. “Thank you.”
Russell kicked off his shoes on the rug by the dor and made his way to the living room. His neice, Abby, sat on the floor, a textbook open in front of her and an open notebook off to the side. “Hey, Abby.”
She lifted her head. “Uncle Russell!” She jumped to her feet and rushed him, throwing her arms around him. Russell smiled, happily returning to the hug. Very little in this world would ever beat out a hug from his neice. She pulled away from him, eyes falling on the gift bag in his hand. “What’s that?”
“That is for you.”
“For me being proud of you for being such a good reader. A lot of kids today don’t wanna read at all, but you do, and that makes me real darn happy,” Russell said.
She met his eyes. “Really?”
“Mmhmm.” He held out the bag, giving it a good shake. She took it from him and sat down on the floor. Russell sat down beside her. He flipped back the cover of the textbook. History. Tragically, he’d be no help there. He was terrible with dates and the names of dead white guys.
“Did you get me the whole series?” Abby asked in a whisper.
“I did,” Russell whispered back.
“Oh, my God. Uncle Russell!” She threw her arms around him again. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, sweetheart.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “You keep reading books, and I’ll get you whatever ones you want. In controlled quantities, of course. Your mom would kill me otherwise.”
Abby snorted. “Yeah, probably.” She pulled out one of the books, tracing the embossed title with her fingers. “Who checked you out?”
“A man. His name’s Theodore.”
“Was he cute?”
Russell rolled his eyes. He was used to this conversation. He’d only heard it a million times since he told his family that his interests weren’t limited to women. “He was very cute.”
“Are you gonna take him to coffee?”
He snorted. “No, sweetheart, I don’t think so.”
“Because if I took every cute guy out for coffee, I wouldn’t have enough money to buy you books.”
For a moment, a thoughtful expression took over her face. “That’s okay, I’ll just reread these for a while.”
Russell laughed, gently shoving her shoulder. “You’re a pain in the ass, Abby.”
“You love me.”
“Yeah, there’s that. You’re still a pain in the ass.”
“No swearing around her, Russell!” Nikki called from the kitchen.
“Sorry, Nik!” He turned back to Abby. “Besides, I need a bit more than, ‘Remember me? I bought that series for my niece? Well, I like your face. Coffee?’ That’s just creepy.”
Abby laughed. “Then don’t be so creepy, you weirdo.”
“I’m not great at that.”
“Whatever. Your whole job is talking to people without being creepy.”
“Technically, that’s not a requirement,” Russell said.
Abby shook her head, a little smile on her face. “Thanks for the books, Uncle Russell.”
“You’re very welcome, sweetheart.” He reached out and smoothed a hand over her hair rather that tossling it like he wanted to. She wasn’t quite young enough for that anymore. She didn’t get annoyed at him easily, but in his experience, messing up her hair was one of her few annoyances.
He avoided it whenever he could, to say the least.
“Can I set you up with my History teacher?” Abby asked.
Russell snorted. “No, you may not.”
“He’s cute, I swear!”
Russell laughed. “My God, sweetheart. I appreciate the offer, okay? But I’m not lonely enough that I need my niece setting me up, I promise.”
“You don’t date a lot since you came out,” Abby said. “I worry about you.”
He smiled. “I’m fine, baby. I’ve had a couple dates here and there. I mostly just prefer going dancing on the weekends right now. Mixing dating in with work just isn’t something I need right now. Gotta wait till this case is over.” There was no case right now, not for him, anyway. But Abby didn’t need to know that.
“Do you have a partner at the station yet?” she asked.
Russell was more than thankful for the topic change. “Not yet. We had a new detective lined up, but he flaked. Guess we’ll just have to keep waiting for now.”
“Don’t you hate working by yourself?”
“Oh, I don’t mind it. I’ve never worked with anyone better than Emilia and Andrew. So I think it’s kind of a crapshoot to try pairing me with anyone, anyway. When I really need help, I take it to those two. One of them normally ends up heading out with me for interviews if I need it, anyway.” Russell shrugged. “It’s not too bad. They’re my best friends, after all.”
“That’s good, at least.”
“Very good,” he agreed. He let out a sigh. “Well, I should get home. I hope you enjoy the books. Book guy said they were good, and you would love them.”
“Thanks, Uncle Russell.” She reached up and squeezed his hand as he stood up. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, sweetheart. See you soon.”
Russell, beer in his hand, made his way to the pool table in the bar. A man stood there, racking the balls for a new game. Russell caught the gun holstered at his hip first, the tactical belt second, and the broad, muscled shoulders third.
Russell took pride in noticing them third. Emilia always hated when he checked out her husband, but he couldn’t help it. Andrew Buchanan was a damn good-looking man. Though, since he came out to more than just Emilia and Andrew, Russell was more open about being able to check out people other than the men he worked with. His attraction to Andrew’s shoulders had thankfully dissipated since then. Russell stopped beside him and clapped him on the back. “Hey.”
Andrew flashed a smile. “Hey. Saved the pool table for us.”
“Awesome. Where’s Emey?”
“Friend of hers is in the hospital, and her family won’t be here for a couple more hours. They had to fly in from California. So Em’s staying with her for now, making sure she doesn’t get too scared.”
“What happened to her?” Russell asked.
“Kitchen fire. Em says she has third-degree burns all over her arms and neck,” Andrew said.
“Jesus.” Russell shook his head. “Can’t even imagine.”
“I know. It’s terrible. I told Em you’d understand her canceling on karaoke, but she wanted me to let you know that she’ll sing four songs with you next week instead of two,” Andrew said.
Russell snorted. “Perfect.” He took a sip of his beer. “Mm, had a lunch date today.”
“Right. How’d that go?”
“I left my phone on the table when I got up to go to the bathroom. He snooped, found out my interests don’t just lie in only men, and he told me there was no possible way this could ever happen again.” Russell chuckled, shaking his head. “I swear, man. Some of these fucking people, they preach solidarity and support, but when they’re actually given the chance to stand for what they speak of, they’d rather throw you to the wolves.”
“I’m sorry, Russ. Fuck him. You’re better than that guy, anyway,” Andrew said. He held up his beer. “To finding another person who respects you for loving whoever the hell you want.”
Russell smiled, tapping his beer against Andrew’s. “To that,” he agreed, taking another sip. “You know, I never thanked you guys for showing so much support when I came out to you, when you helped me work up the nerve to come out to my family.”
“Oh, please, we knew. You should never have to thank us for treating you like a human being.” Andrew squeezed Russell’s shoulder, holding out a pool cue with his free hand. Russell grabbed it from him. “You’re family, Russ. And Em and me, since we aren’t pieces of shit, love you for who you are. Besides, Emey’s somewhere on the asexual spectrum. You know that. And I’d be the worst fuckin’ person in the world if I hated you for being LGBTQ when I love her so damn much.”
Russell’s smiled widened. “Someday, I want what you two have.”
“You’ll get there. Just gotta find yourself someone who doesn’t bitch and complain when you have to go into work at three in the morning because someone’s been murdered.”
“Oddly enough, easier said than done.”
Andrew chuckled. “Yeah, that’s why I scored myself a fellow cop. They understand if you have to leave really early in the morning. And with Em, it doesn’t really matter one bit, since we’re partners at the station. We go together most of the time.” He smiled at Russell. “The couple that investigates crime together, stays together.”
Russell snorted. “I’ll make sure to keep that in mind.” He nodded toward the pool table. “C’mon, let’s at least get one round in before you get us both totally shit faced.”
Andrew laughed. “Sure thing, Steel.”
Enjoying the story? Consider dropping a comment or a like down below!!
Updates every Wednesday!
Love what I do and want to help support me? You can ‘buy me a coffee’ on Ko-fi!