The shrill ring of a tiny bell was the first thing he heard. It wasn’t a rare occurrence to have the neighborhood kids fly passed his house, the sidewalk just so happened to be wide enough for them to race each other. The tiny bell rang again, drawing closer. He didn’t usually hear the bells when he was ensconced in his basement, but the pleasant springtime heat had lured him outside to finally repair his front porch.
Reaching for his coffee mug, he grimaced as he swallowed the last of the cold brew. He eyed the stained deck. It still had a good hour or two to go before he could apply the lacquer. Leaving him with enough time to start a new pot of coffee and get some work done on the boat.
The tiny bell went off right behind him, he turned to see who would race passed his driveway first. Judging by the sound of the bell and the slow pace at which it approached, it was one of the smaller kids in the neighborhood.
He could just make out the top of the My Little Pony helmet, going surprisingly faster than he had thought. The little helmet disappeared behind the shrubs he still had to trim, before reappearing once again.
It happened before he could react.
The tiny bell went off in distress as it was slammed against the tree. The metal frame hitting the sidewalk with an ungodly sound, followed by an awkward yelp from the horn attached to the handlebars.
He was down the driveway and kneeling in the cherry blossoms before the unfortunate crash could sink in.
The little blonde stared at him, brown eyes large and panicked. Helping her free her feet from where they were caught between the peddles, he brushed the cherry blossoms off her clothes.
The helmet was first to go, dropped unceremoniously on the concrete. She inspected her knees, trying to see if the dry scrapes were going to bleed on not. She rubbed her knees to relieve some of the ache. Snapping her head up she smiled at him, bringing out her dimples. Brushing her sweaty and knotted hair out of her face, she nodded confidently.
“I’m okay.” The little girl smiled again.
Jethro leaned back, relieved that he didn’t have to rush her to the hospital. He scanned the streets, trying to see where her parents were. She couldn’t be older than five, far too young to be on the streets by herself. Picking up her bike, he eyed the bent handlebars, wondering if she really was okay.
“Where’s your mother?” He’d never seen the little girl before. He knew that a few new faces had moved in recently, but he didn’t make an effort to know them. At least not since…
The little girl spun around instantly, dropping her head as her mother rushed towards her.
Jethro stood back, watching as the worried mother ran down the sidewalk, her sandals smacking against the pavement. He recognized the blinding panic on the woman’s face. Something he’d experienced every time Kelly had rushed to him crying over something.
“I’m okay, Mommy.” The little blonde crashed into her mother’s knees, hugging her as best she could.
For a moment his breath caught in his throat as he met the mother’s gaze. There was no denying the little girl belonged to her, from the large expressive brown eyes, to the shoulder length blonde hair. He realized that perhaps he wasn’t supposed to stare, but the single male in him couldn’t deny she was beautiful.
“Sorry about your tree.” The smile she gave him dazzled him for a moment. “Gibbs, right?”
“Yeah.” Of course she knew his name. The neighbors liked to talk.
“Jack Sloane. We haven’t met, we live three houses down, but neighbors always know everything.” There was a sense of sarcasm in her voice that he found beguiling, drawing a smile from him. “I’m sure you know Faith. She likes making an entrance.”
Jethro smiled at the little girl, noticing the blush. “We’ve met.”
Running a hand through her daughter’s hair, Jack eyed the pink bicycle that had been smashed into the tree. “We’re gonna have to ask your grandfather if he can fix it.” There wasn’t an ounce of guilt on the little girl’s face, instead she nodded.
“Was the flamingos.” Faith informed her mother, hands on her hips as she eyed the wreckage.
Jethro shook his head, biting back the smile at the young girl’s imitation of her mother. Brushing the dirt from his own clothes, he cleared his throat. “I can fix it.” He offered, already picking up the bike.
“Oh, no, we wouldn’t want to impose.” Jack stepped forward, reaching to take the bike off his hands.
Jethro shook his head. He didn’t want Faith’s fun to be spoiled because she had the misfortune of hitting it against the tree. The question of where the little girl’s father was had been his first response, but he’d hushed that part of his brain.
He motioned for them to follow him up the footpath to the front porch where his toolbox was.
Jack held Faith’s hand in hers, studying the stranger curiously. They hadn’t been in DC all that long, probably a week. The old lady next to them had wasted no time in introducing herself or pointing out who everyone was in their street. Gibbs, as everyone referred to him, had been the only one to keep to himself. She’d heard via the rumor mill what he did for a living and that he hardly interacted with anyone.
She smiled as Faith took a seat next to him, watching with curious brown eyes as he readjusted the handlebars on her bike. Very few people had the ability or patience to handle little Faith Sloane. She was a ball of energy that couldn’t be contained and had no filter.
“There we go. Why don’t you try it out?” Jethro prompted the little one, holding the bicycle steady as she climbed on it. She grabbed the handlebars and nodded.
“It’s better now. Thank you.” Faith slid off the bike again.
Jack held out the scratched helmet to her daughter, helping her with the clip. “Wait, baby.” Jack clucked as Faith jumped around excitedly. Satisfied that the helmet was in place, she let her get on the bicycle again. Turning to Gibbs she gave him a friendly smile. “Thank you, she would have driven me insane to have it fixed.”
Gibbs chuckled, he knew how much energy small kids had at that age. “Least I could do.”
Walking them to the end of the driveway, he turned towards Jack. He couldn’t help but admire the way the sunlight played with her hair. He’d noticed earlier the lack of a wedding band, had made a connection with the grandfather being called to fix the bicycle.
The bell rang again as the bike was placed on the sidewalk, it’s owner scouting around the cherry blossoms that had fallen. Grabbing a few, Faith skipped to her mother, offering her a handful of somewhat squashed flowers. Picking the prettiest one, she offered it to the stranger. “Thank you, Mister Gibbz.”
Taking the flower, he nodded, finding the way she pronounced his name rather cute.
Jack helped Faith back on her bike, giving a firm command to wait before she took off again. Tucking a few strands of hair behind her ear, she eyed the man across from her curiously. “Can I offer you dinner, Mister Gibbs?”
He seemed unreadable for a moment, eyes guarded and his face as hard as stone. He was a tough study and she was looking forward to the challenge. He was regarded as a bit of a mythical legend among the neighbors, and the curiosity in her just couldn’t help itself.
“At least as a peace offering for the hammering your tree took.”
Jethro smiled. Eyeing the tree where it stood, sporting more scars than himself from countless bicycle accidents.
“Sure.” He found himself smiling at the woman again. “It’s just Gibbs.”
Jack smiled, making sure Faith was still in her line of sight she started down the sidewalk. “See you at seven, Just Gibbs.”