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  • Without Me(Men of Inked #7)(56) by Chelle Bliss
  • “So, family is important to you?” Bob asked as he rubbed his chin and studied me.

    “Yes, very.”

    “Good answer. Max said she met you at a bar after you played a concert. Are you one of those crazy rock stars?”

    “No. I just like to sing with my band on the weekends. It’s more of a hobby.” I toyed with the beer can. “My real passion is tattooing.”

    “Do you do drugs? I’ve heard those rock stars do a lot of drugs,” Earl said.

    “Yeah. And they have girls falling all over them,” Bob added.

    “That’s not true,” I lied. I wasn’t into drugs, but the girls, they were real. “And no, I don’t do drugs.”

    “I watched that Behind the Music on VH1 and I know how musicians are,” Earl added as he ran his hands over his plaid pants.

    Even though Earl was being difficult, I liked the man. He was funny and said the craziest shit.

    “I can assure you that I haven’t hit that status.”

    “If I were younger, I’d be a musician. They get all the women,” Bob said as he tossed his beer can into a trashcan a few feet away. “Denzel, why don’t you be a musician?”

    Denzel blanched. “Uncle, you know I want nothing to do with music. I love my work, plus I have Brenda. I don’t need other women.” He grabbed two beers from the cooler and threw one toward Bob, who caught it.

    “Son, it’s always good to have options.” Bob cracked open his beer, took a long sip, and sighed. “This is the life.”

    “I’m a one-woman man, uncle,” Denzel said before he chugged the rest of his beer.

    “I like the girl,” Earl said. “But she has a flat ass. I don’t trust any woman that doesn’t have an ass to hold.”

    Denzel started to spit out his beer. “You must be shitting me.”

    Earl shook his head. “That’s why I picked my Clara. Her ass was so round.” He held out his hands, pretending to be grabbing an ass and squeezing. “I knew I was in love.”

    “What the hell does that have to do with trust?” Denzel snapped at his uncle as he gawked at him squeezing the air.

    “It’s like that song. I like big butts and I cannot lie.”

    “You make no fuckin’ sense, old man.” Denzel laughed, throwing an empty beer can toward his uncle, and it landed in his lap.

    I couldn’t help but laugh. This was one of the oddest conversations I’d heard in a while.

    “I may make no sense, but I still like them round and juicy.”

    “There are other important things on a woman, Earl,” Bob interrupted.

    “Like what?” Earl said as he flicked the can to the ground.

    “Tits,” Bob answered with a smile.

    “Jesus,” Denzel muttered.

    Just as I felt comfortable, I heard, “Dinner!”

    As I climbed from my chair, I saw Max standing near the back door with her hand above her eyes to block the sun. She looked stunning as her skirt blew in the warm breeze.

    With each step, butterflies filled my stomach. If they were anything like the Gallo family, the real questions wouldn’t begin until we were at the dinner table.

    “Everything go okay?” Max asked as I walked up to her.

    “It went fine, love.” I brushed my fingers along her cheek and gave her a small kiss.

    “Earl behave?” she asked on my lips.

    “He’s a funny man.”

    “Earl may seem like he’s crazy, but he’s sharp as a tack.”

    “Noted.” I held her hand as I gave her one more kiss.

    “Enough of that now. Food’s going to get cold,” Bob said as he walked by us.

    “Ever have chitlins?” Denzel asked as he bumped my shoulder.

    I looked at Max with panic in my eyes. I knew exactly what chitlins were and I couldn’t stomach them. If I had to eat them, I’d vomit right at the dinner table.

    “I can’t eat those, Max.” I could already feel my stomach turning over in my body.

    “Don’t listen to him, baby. Mama didn’t make chitlins.”

    “Phew.” I placed my forehead on hers. “I thought we were going to have a problem.”

    “Come on. You think your ma is bad when you take too long, you haven’t seen that side of Ruth.” She pulled on my hand to get my ass in gear.

    We made our way through the family room to a dining room that had a card table set up at the end of the long wooden table. The table was covered with food. Unlike Ma, who would make a couple of dishes each week but in mass quantities, Ruth had prepared a feast. Ham, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, collard greens, cornbread, and more were waiting to be devoured.

    When Ruth walked in, everyone grew silent. I thought we were about to dig in, but then Max bowed her head.

    “Heavenly Father, thank you for this amazing feast,” she began.

    My family never said a prayer. It was eat or be hungry. No one waited for a prayer to dig in.

    “Thank you for bringing Anthony to be with us today. Lord, look over each of us and bless this family.”

    “Amen,” Earl called out.

    The rest of the family echoed his statement. I thought the prayer would have been longer, but I was happy it wasn’t. My stomach was about to start speaking.

    My plate was overflowing by the time I took a scoop of each food that had been prepared. I ate slowly, savoring the flavors. Just like the Gallos, the Washington family busted each other’s balls, but they left me alone. No one asked me questions or put me on the spot. Maybe it was the way I was enjoying my food that told them to leave me alone.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire