He nods pensively.
“Remind her of your history—all the years you have together.” A drop of sarcasm drips into my voice. “And most importantly, show her what an amazing guy you are.”
Stanton smirks. “That last part won’t be hard at all.”
I flick the brim of his hat with more enthusiasm than I’m feeling. “Go get her, cowboy.”
He turns, but pauses in the doorway. “Thanks, Sofia. For everythin’.”
And then he’s going down the stairs. With a big breath, I sit on his bed and get to work, all the while imagining what it would’ve been like if he had stayed.
I pull up the drive, climb out of my truck, and lean back against it, arms folded, taking it all in.
Jenny’s parents’ place is like the land that time forgot—it never really changes. The white paint on the house is forever peeling in the exact same spots. The big oak tree on the side still hangs the same swing I used to push her on—and still has that one perfect branch that reaches just close enough to Jenn’s window to climb through.
Her family—like mine—has worked these acres for generations. But where cattle ranching is slightly more lucrative and dependable, crop farmers like the Monroes have a tougher time. You can harvest a thousand acres of corn, but if all you’re getting is pennies a pound, there won’t be much to show for it.
“Jenny!” Nana calls from her perch on the porch. “That boy is here again.”
Nana was never exactly my biggest fan. She always eyed me with a certain suspicion—and annoyance. The way you’d watch a fly buzzing around your food, knowing exactly what his intentions are, just waiting for him to land.
So you can smack his guts out with a newspaper.
After Jenny got pregnant—after we didn’t get married—all bets were off. Nana became downright hostile. But the shotgun that’s lying across her lap as she rocks back and forth in her wicker chair—that’s not for me.
Well . . . it’s not just for me.
Nana’s husband died when Jenn was still in diapers. Thrown from a pissed-off horse, old Henry just happened to land the wrong way at the wrong time. Nana’s kept Henry’s shotgun with her ever since—she even sleeps with it. Should the day come that robbers, hooligans, or Yankees drop from the sky, Nana’s determined to take out as many of them as she can. It’s not loaded, and every member of Jenny’s family does their damnedest to keep it that way.
Some say Nana has dementia, but I don’t believe that for a second—her mind’s as sharp as her forked tongue. I think instead of walking softly and carrying a big stick, Nana just feels better stomping loudly and carrying a goddamn shotgun.
Jenny pokes her head out the screen door—hair tied up in a messy bun, still wearing pink hospital scrubs from the night shift she just got off working. She stares at me for several moments before the worry on her face slips into a small smile.
Friendly—a little guilty—but not surprised.
Now that we’ve both had a few days to cool off from our telephone conversation, she knew I’d come. I hold up the six-pack of Budweiser, raising my brows in question.
She nods, then jerks her head toward the inside of the house. “Let me just go get changed.”
This is our tradition. Since we were sixteen years old, whenever I’d come home, when we wanted to be alone or if there was something big we had to talk about—it was a six-pack of Bud and a ride to the river.
A blanket on the bank is our therapy couch. Hasn’t failed us yet, and I have no intention of letting it fail us now.
After Jenny disappears from the doorway, I climb slowly up the porch steps—the way you’d approach a hibernating, crotchety old bear. You’re fairly certain it’s safe, but it’s best to be ready to bolt just in case it has one good swipe of its claws left.
I tip my hat to Nana in greeting. “Ma’am.”
Her eyes thin to razor-sharp slits. “I don’t like you, boy.”
Her crooked finger juts out at me. “You’re a Satan. Slitherin’ in to trick Eve out of Paradise.”
“My great-grandbaby is the best thing you ever done.”
One side of my mouth pulls up in a smirk. “Can’t say I disagree with you about that.”
“Shoulda shot you years ago,” she grumbles.
I take the seat beside her, bracing my hands on my spread knees—like I’m giving her statement its due consideration. “I don’t know . . . if you shot me, there’d be nobody left to bring you your favorite drink.”