★★★ NEW RELEASE ★★★
LUCA by Brenda Rothert is now live!
“Hold still, Uncle Luca.”
My niece Emerson gives me her best glare, but she’s five and cute, so it makes me smile.
“I’m trying,” I tell her, checking out the dark purple polish she’s trying to brush onto my nails.
It’s not my inability to hold still that has more nail polish on my skin than my nails; it’s her technique. My “MANicure”, as my two nieces like to call it, started with my ten-year-old niece Cora and was then passed off to Emerson.
“I found yogurt!” Cora says as she breezes into my bathroom. “It’s got strawberries in the bottom, but that’s okay. This face mask will make you smell good, Uncle Luca.”
I try not to roll my eyes. It’ll be better than the last face mask they whipped up in the kitchen, which had butter in it and was a bitch to scrub off in the shower.
“I have to leave for practice in twenty-five minutes,” I remind the girls. “And I still need a shower. So you have ten more minutes to beautify me.”
“Will you paint my nails, too?” Cora asks me.
I was shit at painting nails when I first became the legal guardian of my two nieces and one nephew a little over a year ago. With practice, though, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it.
“How long ‘til Gram and Gramps will be here?” Emerson asks, still painting my thumb nail even though she’s looking at me.
“About four hours ‘til their flight lands, then maybe an hour for them to get to the house.”
Her toothless grin of excitement makes me ignore the nail polish I can feel on my knuckle.
“Emerson!” Cora yells. “You ruined it! That looks awful.”
Cora picks up the bottle of purple nail polish and Emerson’s happy expression drops away.
“Give it to me,” Cora huffs, holding out her hand for the handle to the polish. “I never should have let you do it.”
“Hey, now.” I give Cora a sharp look. “She was doing her best.”
Cora’s eyes flood with tears. Emerson edges closer to me, because she knows what happens when Cora gets upset.
“He won’t let us do spa days if you mess it up!” Cora cries, glaring at her younger sister. “You ruined everything!”
“You didn’t ruin anything,” I tell Emerson. “And Cora, I never said we wouldn’t do this again. We can do a big spa day after my road trip, okay?”
Cora wipes her eyes and nods, still crying. It kills me to see her like this. As the oldest, she carries more of the weight from the deaths of her parents than her siblings. We’ve been in counseling for more than a year now, transitioning through the death of their mother, my sister-in-law Danielle, to the kids’ new life with me as their guardian. The clinical terms for what Cora struggles with—anxiety and controlling tendencies—are easier for me to handle than her breakdowns.
The tension leaves the room and Emerson starts my massage, which is pretty much just her karate chopping my shoulders, while Cora slathers strawberry yogurt onto my face.
“Is your shoulder better?” Cora asks me.
“Yep, it’s all good.”
“Think my mashage helped?” Emerson asks from behind me.
She can’t pronounce some words, and I kinda hope that’ll last longer, because it gets me every time.
“It definitely helped,” I tell her.
I tweaked my shoulder at practice yesterday, and Cora noticed me wince when I was taking out the trash last night. She worries about every sinus cold and bruise I get. I can’t blame the kid. Her dad, my brother Matt, died serving in Iraq and her mom passed away from cancer a year later.
“Hey, let’s get your nails painted, Cora,” I say after glancing at my watch. “I’ve only got five minutes til I have to hit the shower.” I turn to Emerson. “Can you go get the nail polish remover, peanut?”
“Okay.” She races from the room, brown curls flying behind her.
Brenda Rothert is an Illinois native who was a print journalist for nine years. She made the jump from fact to fiction in 2013 and never looked back. From new adult to steamy contemporary romance, Brenda creates fresh characters in every story she tells. She’s a lover of Diet Coke, chocolate, lazy weekends and happily ever afters.
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