Excerpt: Delivery with a Smile

Jack was having a shitty day. Granted, it was hardly the worst day of his life; no matter how bad his days got, they did not compare to the parts of his past he avoided thinking about. Still, a bad day was a bad day, and his particularly sucked.

He’d forced so many smiles that day his face was beginning to hurt. All he wanted was for people to understand one basic thing: if a package was to get delivered correctly, it really helped if the address was correct.

None of that mattered at the moment, though, because his next stop on the Home Delivery Route From Hell was always the best part of his week. Mrs. Sweet, who was like the mother he’d never had. Like the sort of mother he’d always thought was made up. He wasn’t supposed to hang around or go inside the homes, but he really just did not care. Parking his van at the end of the block, the only place he could find suitable space, he went to the back to find her packages and scanned them out. Just two boxes this go ’round—a large one marked fragile, and a smaller one that was twice as heavy as the big one.

He was always vaguely curious about what everyone bought, especially the ones that freaked out when the package didn’t arrive by what they considered on time. But he never asked or prodded, because he knew better from the ones who were more than happy to tell him what they’d ordered. He’d even had a few ask him to try out the new delivery. He couldn’t say he’d never been tempted, but he preferred not to borrow trouble.

Mrs. Sweet was far too nice a lady for him to ruin it all with TMI. Settling the boxes comfortably in his arms, he walked down the sidewalk to her house, then up the walk. He was surprised when she didn’t open the door to greet him and bustle him inside, but sometimes she got busy in the kitchen and forgot the time and he was running late. Stupid Mr. Watts and his douche bag dog.

Juggling the packages so he could brace them against the brick wall of the enclosed stoop, he twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, then slowly stepped inside. Voices struck him, muffled, so it seemed like Mrs. Sweet had guests. That was too bad, he liked his illicit breaks sitting in her kitchen, enjoying gingersnaps and milk, hearing all about and admiring pictures of her ‘dear boy’, the only son she had whose name he’d never actually caught. But he was handsome, and apparently wealthy, gay, and available.

He didn’t know how she’d soused out he was gay, or why she kept chatting about a son that never seemed to materialize, but it was hardly a chore to admire his pictures and hear all about his life of traveling the world. What the guy did, Jack had not the slightest clue, but he didn’t mind harmless daydreaming about a hot jet-setter who could take him to exotic places.

The reality would be nothing like that of course, Jack was far too aware of how real life worked to believe that—but there was no harm in daydreaming.

Shaking off the thoughts, he finally reached the kitchen where Mrs. Sweet always had him take the boxes. He’d find her, get the signature her packages always required, then duck out. He’d have gingersnaps and pictures next week.

As he reached the kitchen, however, the voices got louder—and he saw they were in the sun room just off it. He could see Mrs. Sweet, looking upset, and two men who looked pissed and who were definitely about to go from talking loudly to shouting.

Shit. He’d get the signature and bolt and hopefully not get involved in the mess. That was the smart course of action. He hated messes. He also hated assholes who upset harmless old ladies, but hell if knew what to do about it that wouldn’t make the situation worse. Get the signatures, see what happened, he guessed. Stifling a sigh, summoning up a friendly smile, he set the boxes down and pulled out his scanner, then walked toward the sun room—and drew up short as the shorter of the two guys abruptly whipped around leveled a gun at him. “So you did call for back up, Sweet. I knew you were a fucking liar.”

“He’s just my delivery boy!” Mrs. Sweet said. “He has nothing to do with this! Let him go. Oh, I knew I forgot to do something, I should have locked the front door.” She covered her face with her hand.

“Too late for that,” the man replied. Jack froze up, everything going slow motion as he tried to turn, the other guy moved, and the asshole fired. The sound of the gun was deafening—

God, he hadn’t missed getting shot. Jack dropped his scanner and scrambled to get out of the way, clinging to his bleeding arm. By some fucking miracle it was just a scratch, if one that liked to bleed all over, but didn’t they all?

The asshole with the gun made to fire again, and Jack dove behind the island in the middle of the kitchen, jumping out of his skin as a porcelain jar on the kitchen shattered and debris struck him in the face and chest before he could duck. He heard another shot, a little quieter than the first so the other guy had a suppressor, for all the good it would do.

Everything went quiet, and then Mrs. Sweet called out, “Jackie, sweetie, are you okay?”

“Fine,” Jack called back. “All clear?”

Another silence fell, and he could all but feel their surprise. Fuck. What was he going to do now? He was a delivery man for crying out loud. He’d worked hard to be this ordinary. He’d gotten so fucking good at it his police sergeant boyfriend had dumped him for being too boring. Served him right for dating a cop, seriously.

“All clear,” a deep, smooth voice called out.

Jack grunted, and used his good arm to grab the island and pull himself up. He moved around it slowly, hating the world and everything in it. The man who’d been shooting at him was on the floor in a pool of his own blood. It looked like something out of a really bad movie, or the real life he’d put behind him.

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