Playing for Keeps (Neighbor from Hell 1) - Page 58

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The last time they snuck food at a party, Cole innocently denied eating the double chocolate birthday cake. Haley would have probably bought the story if Elizabeth and Joshua hadn't been covered from head to toe in chocolate frosting. Then again he wouldn't have been caught if the kids hadn't rated his ass out.

He handed the large plate to Cole. "Pick a better spot this time," Jason warned his son.

Cole nodded. "Can we have some-"

"Jason Bradford!" his mother said, drawing their attention towards the house. They all swallowed noticeably when they spotted Haley standing next to his mother with her arms crossed over her chest and her cute little brows arched.

"Please tell me you're not already sneaking food," his little grasshopper said on a tired sigh.

"No, of course not--run kids! Run!" Jason yelled even as Cole took off towards the woods with his brother and sister hot on his heels.

His mother let out a long suffering sigh as she walked over to the table and picked up the small box of baby wipes and three juice boxes from one of the large coolers and headed for the woods.

Jason gave Haley the grin that still got him out of parking tickets and unlimited free samples at the grocery store. Haley simply stared at him, pushing her glasses back up her nose with one finger.

"I love you?" Jason said, trying not to laugh as Haley tried to look stern and failed miserably.

"They're my cupcakes, you greedy bastards!" they heard his father yell from the kitchen.

Haley's lips twitched as she said, "Between you, the kids, and your father, I don't think there will be enough food for everyone."

"But they were starving, my little grasshopper. The poor things were barely able to move from hunger," he said, trying to look and sound innocent as he shifted closer to the grill so that she wouldn't see the plate of chicken bones he forgot to hide.

"Those poor things conned Mitch out the two plates of peanut butter cup bars that Mary made, twenty minutes ago," Haley informed him, chuckling.

"They what?" he yelled, causing everyone around them to jump. He ignored them as he turned a glare in the direction his children headed off to. The sense of betrayal hit hard. Not only had they conned the soft hearted Mitch out of delicious baked goods that were meant for him, but they failed to give him his customary cut of the action, fifty percent.

"Yup," Haley said, walking past him to grab a cold soda from the cooler. She rolled her eyes when she spotted the chicken bones and perched her cute little ass on the end of the picnic table. "As soon as he walked in and put the baby down they hit him with 'I love you, Uncle Mitch' and hugs and he was a goner."

Jason's glare shifted to his best friend who was lounging in a chair with his wife, Mary, Haley's best friend, on his lap while their baby played in the sandbox close by as their two oldest children ran around with the other kids playing tag.

Ten years ago Mitch would have simply taunted and teased the kids with the baked goods until someone hit him upside the head and made him share, but that all changed when Haley asked the bastard to do her a favor. Back then Mary was a struggling single parent of a newborn and was barely getting by on less than an hour of sleep a night.

As a favor to Haley, after much manipulation on Haley's part, Mitch reluctantly volunteered to run some food, formula and diapers over to Mary's small apartment. Mary had opened the door with messy hair, dried spit up on her clothes, looking exhausted and holding a screaming baby girl and Mitch fell hard.

Almost overnight the old Mitch was gone and the new soft hearted family oriented man appeared. He started spending all his free time helping Mary, making sure she got enough rest, and taking care of little Tabitha much to everyone's shock. Everyone knew that Mary had fallen equally as hard for him, but she held back, too afraid to end up hurt again. It took some time but Mitch eventually wore her down and within a year they were married and expecting their second child.

"Did no one try and stop him?" Jason demanded, turning his attention back on his little grasshopper, who was helping Brad's son, Aaron make up a plate of food.

Haley chuckled softly as she sent the little boy on his way. "Everyone was too busy laughing."

"Those were my peanut butter cup bars, woman!"

"But," Haley said with an innocent little pout, "the poor things were starving."

"You're mocking me, aren't you?" he asked, lips twitching as Haley walked into his arms. He put an arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

"Yes, yes I am," Haley said, sounding proud as she snuggled closer.

He held her for a few minutes, simply enjoying having his little grasshopper in his arms before he asked the question he hated asking, "Did they show up?"

"No," she mumbled against his chest.

Jason leaned back and cupped her face in his hands. "I'm really sorry, my little grasshopper," he said softly, pressing a kiss to her forehead. He hadn't really expected them to show up to celebrate their ten year anniversary, but he had hoped for Haley's sake.

No matter how many years passed he still couldn't rid himself of the guilt he felt every time her family disappointed her. After they announced their elopement her family had gone a bit hysterical. They'd screamed, ranted, and begged Haley not to throw her life away on a loser like him. They hadn't cared that he'd been in the room at the time.

Finally Grandma had put an end to the bullshit and started swinging that cane of hers. Ten minutes later while Mr. Blaine was rubbing a sore knee he wrote a check in Jason's name for a hundred thousand dollars and all he had to do was walk away from Haley. Turning down that money had been the easiest decision he'd ever made. He just wished Haley and the kids weren't the ones to suffer as a result.

They completely cut Haley off and refused to have anything to do with the kids. He knew it hurt Haley, but she never let it show. Thankfully he had enough family to more than make up for the loss.

"It's okay," Haley said, forcing a smile.

"The hell it is!"

They both looked down and smiled as Grandma glared up at them from her new electric wheelchair. With a flick of her hand she gestured for Jason to load her up. With a smile he did just that.

Having Haley's grandmother move in with them five years ago when Chris retired and they finished building this house had probably made up for her family's neglect. Haley and the kids loved having her with them and Grandma loved having her own in-law apartment and the freedom to harass them any time she felt the need arise.

"I don't know why you keep inviting them, Haley," Grandma said, gesturing for Jason to add another hot dog. "They don't deserve you."

Tags: R.L. Mathewson Neighbor from Hell Young Adult