Free to Love - Kennedy Ryan

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This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover Design:

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Kadarius Seegars

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Reach Kennedy

kennedyryanwrites.com

Free to Love

“I’m divorcing my fiancé.”

My best friend Kiera meets this grim assertion with the “teeth-sucking, shaking-my head” playful scorn it deserves.

“Shawna, I’m pretty sure you can’t divorce someone you haven’t married yet,” she says, folding long legs beneath her on the couch in our living room. “But may I ask why Markus is getting kicked to the curb?”

“For one, he’s allowed his mother to add like twenty people to the guest list.”

Comfortably attired in shorts and T-shirt, I flop onto the couch beside her, cover my eyes with one arm and release a weary sigh. Dramatic, I know, but the situation almost merits histrionics. With our wedding only a few weeks away, Markus’s family keeps showing out, as relatives often do when nuptials are involved. Instead of trying to make this as easy as possible for the prospective bride and groom, these folks keep adding to an already bloated guest list, changing their steak to seafood, swapping their meat for vegan and requesting special seating arrangements left and right, with complete disregard for the seating chart that by now resembles a metabolic map.

“If I have to hear one more time that Markus’s Uncle Jasper can’t stand Aunt Jessa Mae.” I lift my arm to peer at Kiera. “His wife, by the way, and must be seated on the opposite side of the room, I’ll pull my hair out.”

“Ten of ten recommend,” Keira says with a grin, running a hand over her smooth brown pate, bald as a newborn’s. “Hair is one less thing to worry about. It’s very liberating.”

“Everybody can’t pull that look off so beautifully, and if I ever shave my head, it probably won’t be this close to my wedding.”

“You’ve got a great veil if the bald goes bad.”

We exchange a look and a grin. I haul myself up and over to lay my head in her lap. She knows the drill and pushes the hair away from my face, massaging my temples. We’ve been together since college freshman year, and if there’s anyone who knows how to soothe my savage beast, it’s Kiera.

“I should marry you instead.” I smile up at her dreamily. “We could run away together.”

“If you liked pussy as much as you like dick, I’d take you up on it.” She wags her tongue at me and laughs, tugging one of my blonde dreadlocks. “But since you don’t, that honeymoon would be hella awkward.”

“If Markus don’t act right, it’s not off the table.” I close my eyes, but open one to squint at her and wag my tongue back. “By the way, I’m a quick learner.”

“If we haven’t hooked up by now, after all these years, honey, it ain’t happening.”

I manage a laugh, no more than a grunt and a huff of air through my nose. My bones are tired. My plasma aches. My cells refuse to regenerate.

“Them kids wore you out in summer school?” she asks, knowing fingers seeking and finding the knots of tension along my neck.

“Yeah, but it was worth it.” My lips soften into a smile. “Shyla looked me right in the eye and said my name today. I almost shed thug tears right there in front of the whole class. She barely said a word at the beginning of the year, and her vocabulary just keeps growing. She’s an amazing kid. They all are.”

“You guys are angels,” Kiera says. “Special needs teachers. So much patience.”

“When you have to fight that hard for every word, it means even more when you get them. If I wasn’t doing this for a living, I’d find a way to volunteer. I’m getting paid to do something I used to for free when I was a kid.”

A lunch buddies program in high school paired “typical” students up with kids on the spectrum who were sometimes in self-contained classrooms. This