Overtime for Love

By: Synithia Williams

CHAPTER 1

Bless the soul of the person who invented air-conditioning.

Angela Bouler sighed in ecstasy when she opened the door to the North Region Activity Center and cool air kissed her skin. Heat and humidity had combined to make summer in Jacksonville, Florida, beat Hell on the hot and uncomfortable scale. She leaned back against the open door and turned to her only nephew, who was coming up behind her. Oblivious to the heat, and enthralled by his cell phone, Cory walked slower than a two-legged tortoise.

“Come on, Cory. Whatever is on that thing will still be there once we’re inside the air-conditioned building.” Her attempt at an upbeat tone wilted.

After scrambling to get off work early so she could pick up Cory from her neighbor and get him to the activity center in time to sign up for a month-long basketball camp, in the middle of a heat wave straight from the pits of Hell, she didn’t feel too bad about not being perky. She’d left the blazer she’d worn to her day job as a court-appointed advocate for foster children in the car, but even without the extra layer, her blouse stuck to her back and tendrils of hair escaped the ponytail she’d swept her thick shoulder-length hair into and clung to her neck.

Cory slipped his phone into the pocket of his basketball shorts and picked up his speed to match that of a three-legged tortoise. “I’m hungry,” he grumbled.

“You’re always hungry.”

“I’m growing. I’m almost a man now,” he said with a cocky, know-it-all smile perfected by teenagers everywhere.

Angela rolled her eyes but didn’t suppress her grin. “Whatever, man. Pay me back for the box of Hot Pockets you ate in one day.”

“I said almost a man. I’m broke.” Cory grinned and looked so much like her brother Angela’s heart hurt. He was as tall as she was, but would probably grow several more inches. Despite his slow pace, his skin, the color of dark honey, held a red flush from the heat.

Angela ruffled his purposefully messy high-top fade, then gently pushed him farther into the cool building. Cory tried not to laugh and brushed her hand away. Ever since her brother’s girlfriend, Heather, had dropped off Cory at Angela’s door a month ago, saying nothing more than “I can’t take him to New York—he’ll ruin my chance at a stage career,” Cory had done nothing but eat, eat and then eat more, all while growing half an inch every fifteen minutes. Her fifteen-hundred-square-foot apartment felt like five hundred and if she didn’t hide her good ice cream in an old bag of frozen peas she’d have nothing to eat. Though she suspected Cory’s never-ending appetite would eventually lead him to explore the frozen veggies and discover her hiding place.

She closed the door and directed Cory toward the main desk. “Come on. Let’s get you signed up. This will be fun!” She managed legit excitement with the last statement.

The grin on Cory’s face melted away. Another thing she was learning about thirteen-year-old boys—they went from happy to sullen in a split second. “This is charity.”

“A favor isn’t charity. One of the boys originally registered for camp dropped out and my boss was nice enough to let me sign you up. There are plenty of other kids we work with who would love to be in your place. Do you want me to tell my boss to give the registration to another kid?”

Her office got five registrations to the activity center’s coveted camp with the Jacksonville Gators professional basketball team. Angela hadn’t asked for Cory to get the newly opened spot, but couldn’t turn it down when her boss approached her at the last minute. Cory deserved some joy. Her brother, Darryl, was serving time for embezzling funds at his job—the idiot—and his mom had up and left for New York. Angela refused to be another person who let him down. She would do whatever she could to make Cory feel wanted. Even though she had no idea what she was doing. Kids hadn’t been in her short-or long-term plans.

Cory stuffed his hands into his pockets and shook his head. “No.”

“Then zip it and let’s get you registered.” Angela rubbed his back and smiled.

She understood his aversion to accepting things. Help from others usually came with a price. Something she’d learned after her parents died and her aunt considered the money Angela’s parents left for Angela and her brother’s college educations to be her “reward” for taking in the kids. After that lesson, Angela chose to rely on herself to get what she wanted out of life. She’d taken a job as a bartender at a gentlemen’s club to pay for her undergraduate degree and continued serving drinks part-time after landing the position as an advocate to help cover the costs of graduate school. She paid her own way and was proud of that, but a coveted spot in a basketball camp with professionals was an exception to her don’t-accept-help rule.

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