Miranda Learns to Play
James and Miranda move back to the small town where James grew up.
James immediately regrets the decision when they run into an old bully from high school.
But Paul's a changed man. He's also married to James' old girlfriend April.
Miranda watches James untangle some of the knots from his past and ties a few herself.
“What’s the matter?” Miranda asked, wrapping an
arm around James’ waist and looking up at him with
sparkling blue eyes.
James tried to work through the heavy feeling that
had settled on him. He couldn’t quite dig deep
enough to find the root of it. “I don’t know.
Something about moving home, I guess,” he said,
glancing down at her, eyes lingering on the
pleasant curve of her hip.
“Not having second thoughts, are you?” she asked.
James shook his head. “Nah. Or…well, maybe.”
Her smile wilted. “Really? I thought you were all
in on this?”
James had thought so, too. It had made so much
sense. Miranda’s writing income was finally enough
for them to cut the cord and leave the city.
They’d dreamed of that for years. Handing in his
resignation at Carter Logistics had been one of
the happiest days of his life. What, then, was
this creepy feeling gnawing at him now that they
were finally here? “Feels weird to be home, I
guess,” James said.
Miranda gave him a squeeze. “Want to talk about
He did. It always felt better when they talked
through whatever was on his mind. This? This was a
little more difficult. “I don’t know,” he said,
shaking his head.
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “Really?” she asked.
James sighed and ran a palm along the back of his
neck. He’d thought the past was behind him. Water
under the bridge. He was a grown man now, for
god’s sake's. Not the dorky kid he’d been growing
up in this tiny village. “I think I forgot just
how small this place was. Everybody knows
everybody else. Everyone’s up in each other’s
Miranda turned to face him, concern spreading
across her expression. “I think I know what you
mean,” she said.
James turned his head to meet her gaze. “You do?”
She nodded. “Uh-huh. I used to feel like that
going home. It’s a strange…kind of hollow
feeling.” Her eyes focused on some point in the
distance as she reminisced. “Things used to mean
so much when you were younger. Carried so much
more weight, right? Then you get back and think
you’ve done all this living and growing, that
you’ve got yourself figured out and then pow! Just
like that you’re this kid again. Remembering
things you used to be scared of. Things you used
to just hate. People who…” She left the sentence
The feeling solidified inside James. From what
she’d said. Because that had been the thing that
started all this. All this worry had started with
a person. Did she know? Had she sensed it? She
couldn’t know. The secret was his and he’d never
shared it with anyone.
But here it seemed to linger. Down on Main street
by the pool hall Andy and Tom had taken him to
after he’d found out. From her damned sister, of
“People who knew you,” Miranda went on, “people
who saw you go through those terrible, awkward
years. People who it seemed were testing you.
People who sometimes saw you fail?”
The sentiment was like being handed a bag of
bricks. Weighed him down even more. Made him so
damn heavy he thought he was going to sink right
through the porch steps.
He hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t expected his
demons to be wandering like ghosts through the
streets. He thought he’d exorcised them and now
there they were again, grinning at him, lurking
behind every corner he’d turned as a teenager.
His old friends. Making him miserable again.
“You a writer or something?” James asked,
grinning, trying to shatter the tension that had
built inside himself at what Miranda had said.
“I dabble,” she said, smiling back at him.
James’ heart melted a little. That was his
Miranda. Always knew what he needed.
The truck that roared up and screeched to a halt
at the curb startled them both.
James shot the driver an angry glare, though he
couldn’t see who it was through the tinted window.
When the window rolled down, he caught his breath.
“Jimmy? Jim Sayles? Get the fuck out of here!”
James winced at hearing the voice from within. He
managed to twist it into a grimace, hoping no one
had noticed the reaction. Especially not the guy
in the car. “Hold on a sec,” he muttered, and
walked down the three steps to the small path that
led to the street. “Paul Pulaski,” he said,
rubbing the stubble on his chin before leaning
against the car door and reaching in to shake
“Fuck that!” Paul shouted. Throwing the door open
he nearly sent James onto his ass. He stepped out
of the car, same beefcake he’d always been just
with a little more padding now. He took two giant
steps and threw his arms around James in a big
bear of a hug. “Ho-ly shit!” he said, stepping
back and staring at James in disbelief. “What the
fuck are you doing here?”
James managed a weak smile but his guts were
churning. The whole bloody mess he thought he’d
left behind when he’d moved away came screaming
back at him. Why the hell did Pulaski have to be
the first person to recognize him? “We, uh…we live
here now. Just bought the place,” he said, jerking
a thumb over his shoulder.
Pulaski shook his head and looked up at the house.
Up at the house and up to where Miranda was still
standing on the porch. His jaw fell.
James’ gut hardened to stone. Watching Pulaski
staring at his gorgeous, curvy wife brought it all
back. Every sliver of pain he’d felt that first
time came slicing down through him. And just like
that time long ago it cut right down between his
legs and settled there. He had to flex the muscles
in his ass to keep from getting an erection.
“Is that…Jimbo is that your wife, man?” Pulaski
said, dropping his voice so Miranda couldn’t hear.
James swallowed hard. Jimbo. He hated that
nickname. He hated Pulaski for pulling it out and
slapping him in the face with it again. He even
hated the name Jim. Jim was a boy’s name. He was
James now. Fucking James who didn’t have to eat
any shit from any…
“Buddy ‘scuse me while I go and introduce myself.”
And before James could react Pulaski was stepping
around him, stomping up the path, hand
outstretched, grinning his idiot grin at Miranda.
James turned. A shiver rippled through him. What
have I done? The realization cracked inside him
like an egg. It exposed the tender, fleshy part of
his worry. The part that had been obscured until
then, wriggling inside him letting him know it was
It wasn’t his past he was worried about. That
wasn’t it at all. It was dragging Miranda here.
Making her a part of it. He’d worked so hard to
keep everything that had happened in Copper Creek
buried in the deepest part of himself. Now there
was a very real, very present danger that it all
might come crawling back out. All of that ugliness
he tried to keep secret. Would Miranda see it? It
would kill him if she did.
As she smiled at Pulaski, took his hand and had
hers pumped a few times by that big meaty paw,
James stumbled up the path with one thing on his
mind. Damage control. “Uh, Paul this is Miranda.
My wife.” The last word was growled.
“Paul Pulaski,” he said, staring into her dazzling
James caught the look. The leer as Pulaski’s eyes
darted down Miranda’s supple body. Appraising her,
making a little mental picture for later. The
A steely resolve formed inside James as a vision
of his past life, the memory of how he’d been hurt
all coalesced into determination. There was no way
he was going to let that happen again. No way.
“It’s a real fucking pleasure to meet you,
Miranda,” Pulaski said.
His hand lingered on hers far too long for James’
liking. He glanced at Miranda and his chest
constricted. Sweet, smiling Miranda, standing
there the picture of innocence, having not a
single idea what was running through Pulaski the
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. “Are you
two…did you know each other from before?” she
The question felt like someone tightening his
stomach with a wrench. Why on earth had he brought
her here? And how on earth had he expected to keep
anything a secret in this tiny place? It wouldn’t
be long before she was out there. Down at the
convenience store, or up at the little bar by the
highway making friends. Talking to people. His
people. People that knew everything.
“Jimbo and I go waaaaay back,” Pulaski said,
turning to James and punching him in the arm like
they’d been on the football team together or
He really did wince this time but managed to
resist the urge to rub his arm. Out of the corner
of his eye he saw the sympathetic smile Miranda
flashed at his pain.
Paul Pulaski. Stirring up shit again. Just like
“Hey listen I gotta’ run,” Pulaski said.
James didn’t expect him to put a hand on his back
and lead him back down the path toward the car. He
clapped him on the back a few times and leaned in
for a conspiratorial whisper. “Holy shit, man, you
did alright. Way out of your league but I’m happy
for you. I really am.”
James found the words, and the tone used to
deliver them, oddly touching. Still intent on
hating the guy that had made his life hell all
those years ago, he smirked. “Thanks. Means a lot
coming from you.” The last jab was out before he
knew it. To his surprise, Pulaski’s shoulders
“Aw fuck, man,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve
gotta’…we’ve got some catching up to do. What are
you doing tonight?”
James balked, his eyes opening wide and his jaw
going slack. Really? This wasn’t really happening,
was it? “What…what do you mean?” he stammered.
Pulaski looked at him like a dog who’d been
beaten. “You remember the place up the street?
Joe’s old bar?”
“Uh, sure,” James said.
“It’s all fancy up there now. They sell antiques
and shit. But the beers still cold. I’d invite you
over to my place but…” Pulaski glanced side to
side. “Meet me at eight. Okay?”
James started to shake his head. “I don’t…we’ve
got a lot of…”
Pulaski scowled and poked a finger into James’
chest. “Hey. I’m buying you a cold one, buddy. Be
there or be square.” He cracked a grin. “It’ll be
just like old times.” Then he stomped around the
hood of his truck, slammed the door after getting
in, honked the horn three times and peeled away.
Just like old times.
What the fuck was Pulaski talking about? Certainly
not the shitty old times James remembered.He
clenched a fist. Just like old times, indeed. Not
if he could help it.