Born To Be Badger Excerpt
Shay slowly raised his gaze. Taking in Tock’s red Nike hightops, bright blue knee-high sweat socks, long blue shorts, and cutoff blue-and-red Detroit Pistons jersey.
“Pistons?” he asked. “You’re from Detroit, too?”
“No. Only Mads. This is just to irritate her. She still worships at the throne of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. And this is a signed Isiah Thomas jersey.” Tock tossed the blue-and-red basketball she had in her hands up in the air rather than dribbling it. He appreciated that.
“You cut a signed Isiah Thomas Jersey in half?”
She shrugged. “I don’t care about Isiah Thomas. Mads does.” She jutted her chin toward him. “So what’s going on with you?” she asked. “You look positively . . . Irish.”
He shook his head. “I walked in that house and . . . it just reminded me of my dad. Everyone hanging out. Having fun. Waiting for dinner to be ready. It hasn’t felt like that with my family since he died. It just . . . the feeling . . . it took me by surprise.”
“Yeah. I call that the Gift of Charlie.”
“The Gift of Charlie?”
She sat down beside him on the outdoor love seat, but turned to the side so she could look directly at him. “No matter what’s going on, no matter where we are, Charlie has this amazing ability to make it all feel like home. Even when she’s yelling at Max and ordering the rest of us around, it still feels like a family thing. All this,” she said, jabbing her thumb toward the house, “is because she wanted to make sure I ate some carbs before I passed out.”
“You feel like you’re going to pass out?”
“No. Not even a little. I feel great, thankfully, which is good because it’s taken her all day to make this sauce. But Charlie likes to feed people and I’m not about to turn down her spaghetti.”
“It does smell good.”
They went silent after that, and Shay tried to think of something to say to keep the conversation going. He didn’t want Tock to think he was silent because he didn’t want to talk to her. He just didn’t have anything interesting to impart. He was really bad at small talk. He left that to Finn, who was really good at it. Keane didn’t like small talk either, but he did love to complain. He could complain for hours, and some people didn’t mind listening. But Shay . . . he only spoke when he had something to say. One of the things he loved about his daughter was that they could sit for hours, drawing or reading or watching TV, and never had to say a word to each other. They just enjoyed each other’s company. Dani’s mother, though, tended to call it “plotting cats ready to pounce.” But they weren’t plotting anything.
He glanced at Tock. She was staring off, not really appearing to focus on anything specific. He tried to come up with something that could start a conversation. The weather? No. Shifters didn’t care about weather. The rivalry between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas? Nah. It seemed her current ensemble had more to do with pissing off Mads rather than honoring Thomas. The state of the country?
God, he was pathetic.
Tock suddenly pointed at the carrier.
“What’s that?” she asked.
The dogs! Of course!
“Puppies. My dog had puppies. Thought Charlie could give me some advice.”
She frowned a little. “Advice about what?”
“The puppies. I don’t know how to take care of them.”
“Then why did you let her have them?” she questioned, pointing at Princess.
“Let her?” Shay asked.
“If you didn’t want her to have puppies, why didn’t you have her spayed?”
“Seemed wrong to spay her, but not the males.”
Tock’s head twitched to the side. “Wait . . . why wouldn’t you neuter the males?”
“Take their balls? That seems cruel.”
Now she leaned forward, pointing her finger at him. “Are you telling me you didn’t get your dogs fixed because you didn’t want to cut off the males’ balls?”
“I love my balls. Why would I do to them what I wouldn’t do to myself?”
“Are you fucking kidding—”
Tock’s words abruptly ended when Charlie walked out of the house and onto the porch.
Shay started to ask Charlie to weigh in on the question of dog balls—because that seemed like something people would do to keep a conversation going—but Tock was suddenly in his lap. He just didn’t know why. If he’d been a few inches shorter, she’d have completely blocked him from Charlie’s view.
The thing was, Charlie didn’t even stop. With keys in hand, she rushed away from the house and down the street to an SUV.
“What are you doing?” he asked the top of Tock’s head.
A few seconds later, Charlie was back. Now she had a big box of kitchen trash bags in her hand. Before she made it into the house, though, she stopped and pointed at him and Tock.
“What’s going on here?” Charlie asked, almost smiling.
“Nothing,” Tock replied.
“I have no idea,” Shay admitted.
Charlie laughed. “Well, whatever is going on, you two make a cute couple.”
Once Charlie was back in the house, Tock glanced over her shoulder at him.
“‘Thank you’? Really?”
“What? I was just—”
Charlie came back out on the porch.
“Did I just hear a puppy?” she asked.
Tock threw her arm up so that it covered his face before she replied, “Shay wanted you to meet the newest members of his family.”
He pushed her arm down and asked, “Family . . . ? Ow!”
This time, he pushed her elbow out of his chest, but Tock kept talking.
“Because who doesn’t love puppies?” Tock asked.
“I do love puppies,” Charlie whispered, but whispering didn’t matter at this house.
“You are not getting any more dogs, Charlie MacKilligan!” one of the bears yelled from inside the house.
“I’ll be right back,” Charlie said with a forced smile before walking back into the house.
“What’s going on?” Shay asked Tock while Charlie and one of the bears yelled at each other about dogs, the “sanctity” of their bed, and how “we’re not having this argument again!”
“If you tell Charlie you didn’t get your pets spayed because bros back up bros when it comes to balls, she’s going to take your balls and rip them off your body.”
“That seems a little extreme.”