Blackmail Requires Genius
“Finley!” As soon as I step through the door, something propels itself at me.
“Hey, Reese!” I slide my arms around her, situating the little girl on my hip. “How’s it going?”
“Mommy and I are making cookies!” Reese says, her high voice enthusiastic.
“Really?” I reply, just as excited. “What kind?”
“Chocolate chip!” Reese’s bright blue eyes sparkle and she squirms until I set her down. Her small hand latches to mine and she tugs me to the kitchen.
Mom stands at the oven, scooping spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the pan. Her brown hair, pulled into a loose ponytail, slopes down her neck, catching the day’s last rays of sun through the large window and skylight.
“Hi, honey,” she greets, her smile as warm as fresh-from-the-dryer clothing. “How was school?”
Well, I caught school hottie Liam macking with the history teacher and got it all on video. Then I blackmailed them both to do my bidding.
“Normal.” I shrug and dip a finger into the cookie-dough bowl. Mom eyes it but says nothing.
“I learned how to say I love you in sign language!” Reese announces, bringing the attention back to her.
She attends preschool five days a week at the local private school and makes three friends a day, according to her.
I gasp dramatically and sit at the kitchen table, swinging the four-year-old onto my lap. “How do you do it?”
“Like this.” The tip of her pink tongue is visible as she uses one hand to arrange the fingers of the other. Eventually, she seems satisfied with the result and proudly shows me her accomplishment. It looks like the typical ‘rocker’ hand gesture, except the thumb is pointed out as well.
“Nice job, peanut butter cup!” I praise, tipping her onto her back on my lap and tickling her sides. She giggles uncontrollably, high-pitched sounds with gasps between each.
“Finley!” she shrieks, her chest heaving when I finally stop the simple torture. “You just useded up your one tickling for the day!”
“What?” I pout. “I can only tickle you once per day?”
“That was the rule!” Reese says primly. “You can tickle me again tomorrow!” She half-sings the last word, her lips not fully able to form the ‘R’s in ‘tomorrow’.
“Is that a promise?” I ask, moving my face closer to hers. I’m told Reese and I look alike, with our matching brown hair and narrow, almost delicate, facial features we both inherited from Mom. Only our eyes give a hint that we share half of a typical sibling’s DNA.
“It’s a promise!” Reese says exuberantly, her entire body lifting up in her enthusiasm. She suddenly gasps. “Oh no! I forgot Annie was taking a nap! I’ve got to go!” Her small legs scurry down the hall and to her bedroom, where her favorite stuffed animal must be awakening.
I laugh at her eagerness and relax in the chair, my tense muscles unfurling. Mom catches the movement.
“You’re in a good mood,” she says, sticking a finger full of cookie dough in her mouth as she takes a tray out of the oven.
I consider the statement for a moment and a smile breaks across my face. “Yeah, I am.”
I run into Liam right at he’s exiting the boys’ restroom. In retrospect, that’s a bit of an awkward stumbling ground. However, I take what I can get and quickly pull him into an empty classroom.
“Here’s your finalized copy.” I say, handing him the crisp contract I printed out last night. “And please sign here.” He eyes the small mountain of papers but dutifully signs with the pen I give him. “Now we’re official.” I say, satisfied.
“You mean,” Liam is taken aback, “we’re dating?”
“No, no.” I wave aside his qualms. “We’re officially in stage one.”
“Stage one,” the jock repeats. His silver eyes hold my own, causing weird flipping reactions in my stomach.
“Yes,” I perch my bottom on a desktop, one of my long legs swinging. Liam mirrors my pose, though his feet are solidly on the ground. “We have to make sure it looks like you’re falling for me and not the other way around. This won’t work if it looks like the nerd is falling for the football star.”
Liam opens his mouth but seems to think better of it. Instead, he simply nods, his lips pressed into a firm red line. “How do we do that?”
I voice the idea I concocted last night, “By working together on Mr. Morrison’s project.”
It takes a second for Liam to absorb the magnificent plan. “Is that allowed?”
Obviously, he doesn’t know genius when he sees it.
I shrug. “It’s Mr. Morrison. He never said it wasn’t allowed, and that will be a good enough argument for him.”
“So we’ll write a song together?” Liam is still attempting to get the gist of my diabolic scheme.
“Yes. The students will watch as football star and nerd pair together to create a beautiful song about love and loss. All the while unbeknownst to them secretly falling for each other.”
Liam eyes me strangely and I quickly clear my throat, trying to rid my voice of the dreamy tone it adopted.
“Sounds…thought out.” Liam says at last.
A small bubble of satisfaction settles itself in my chest. “It is.”
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