I chuckle. “He’s ninety-two.”
“He looks good for ninety-two,” Sofia says, nodding.
Pastor Thompson has been my preacher my whole life—for the entire lives of almost every person in this church. He knows our names, our birthdays, been there to comfort on those terrible, heartbreaking days and led us to rejoice on the amazing ones.
And for the first time in a long time, the thought of my being known so well by so many doesn’t annoy me. It feels . . . nice, knowing I’ll never have to explain myself. To tell where I’m from, where I’ve been, where I’m going—it’s just not necessary.
I’m one of theirs. They all already know.
Which is why when the preacher gets to his sermon, he looks around the church—and the old bastard winks right at me—then he opens up his Bible and tells the story of the Prodigal Son.
• • •
Outside the church, I spot Jenny and the dark-haired man across the grass. With a better view, I’m able to see he’s a few inches shorter than me, thinner, but still in shape. He’s average looking with a straight nose, heavy brow, puffy girly lips. And he’s got that cleft in his chin like John Travolta.
A heinie chin.
From this moment on, I’ll forever think of him as Ass Face.
“That him?” Sofia whispers, her eyes trained in the same direction as mine.
“That’s him,” I growl. Like a dog that spots his favorite bone in the jaws of another canine.
“Wow,” she exclaims quietly. “He’s gorgeous! He could model for Calvin Klein or Armani.”
Frowning, I turn to her. “Why would you tell me that?”
She looks back, grinning. “You want me to lie?”
“Yes. I do.”
She gives Ass Face another once-over. Then covers her eyes. “My god, he’s hideous! I can’t bear to look at him. Move over, Quasimodo, Jimmy Dean is in the house.”
I sigh. “Sofia?”
“Yes, Stanton?” she says sweetly.
I lean in, so my lips are just a hairbreadth from her ear.
As the happy couple heads our way I turn to face them, asking Sofia out of the side of my mouth, “How should I play this? Scare him with threats, or just go straight to the ass-kicking?”
Please, let her opt for the ass-kicking.
“You should be polite. Charming—show her you’re the bigger man.”
I nudge her with my elbow. “Bigger is better—and his fuckin’ nickname was Sausage Link, so it looks like I’ve got the monopoly on bigger.”
That gets a small chuckle out of her. “You should make friends with him, as fast as you can. Go drinking or hunting—kill something together. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
Not for the first time, I congratulate myself on the wisdom of bringing Sofia with me. Having a direct line of contact with a woman’s brain is the best kind of resource. Without her here, I would’ve just clocked the son of a bitch—which apparently would’ve pissed Jenny off instead of impressing her. Might’ve sent her racing to Vegas to fucking elope with Ass Face.
I quickly glance Sofia’s way and I mean every word when I tell her, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She gives me a funny look, brows drawn together.
But then they arrive in front of us.
I stand opposite Jenny, looking sideways at Sausage Link. He holds out his hand to me. “It’s been a long time, Stanton. Good to see you.”
I read his eyes, his expression, not sure if he’s being for real. But all I see staring back at me is a friendly smile and unguarded dark brown eyes.
And I realize something: Jenny didn’t fucking tell him. Didn’t talk to him about our visit at the river yesterday, or how I found out about his existence in her life at all.
I shake his hand. Hard. “JD.”
He winces, and the caveman inside me grins with rotting teeth.
Then he puts his arm around Jenn. “We’re glad you could make it home for the wedding—wouldn’t be the same without you.”
My eyes meet Jenny’s nervous gaze and I smirk; chuckle just a little.
“You can fuckin’ say that again—it definitely will not be the same.”
I introduce Sofia, and Jenny’s smile thins. They mentally circle each other, like women—and cats—do, wondering if they’ll be needing their claws anytime soon.
“We’re grillin’ at the Monroes’ this afternoon. Y’all are comin’, right?” JD asks.