Already had a background check done—came back clean.
“That’s right—San Diego.”
I receive Marshall’s pass and hurl the ball at JD’s face. He catches better than he did in high school. Damn it.
“Must be hard movin’ back here, after being away so long. Leavin’ your job, friends . . . maybe an old girlfriend?”
JD grins, and it’s annoyingly genuine. “My friends come to visit every now and then—get a taste of small-town livin’, you know? No serious girlfriend to speak of. And with the way things were with my daddy at the time . . . wasn’t hard at all. Sunshine still felt like home.”
I glance at my own father across the grass, where’s he’s having a beer with Wayne Monroe, his arm wrapped securely around my mother’s waist.
“I’m sorry about your daddy, JD. Truly.”
He holds on to the ball, his brown eyes earnest. “Thank you. I’m glad I came back and had that time with him. In the end, he could see things developing between me and Jenny, and he told me everything happens for a reason. She’s my reason. She made all that sadness worth somethin’.”
I want to be pissed. Jenny was my fucking reason, before this little shit even knew her name. But he’s just so damn sincere.
Going after him would feel like kicking a little brown tail-wagging puppy, and only an asshole would do that.
He tosses the ball to Marshall, then turns to me. “Can we talk for a minute, Stanton?”
“I thought that’s what we were doin’.”
“I mean privately.”
This should be interesting. “Sure.”
Marshall goes to find someone else to play with while JD and I walk side by side across the yard.
Along the way I see Presley and a few of her cousins getting rowdy, throwing grass and screeching like banshees. I bring my fingers to my lips and whistle harshly.
They immediately freeze; Presley in particular looks disheartened at the reprimand. I think it’s important for children to have a healthy fear of their parents. Especially their fathers. I was scared shitless of my father and he barely ever laid a hand on me. He didn’t need to—just knowing he might was enough.
I give my daughter a wink to soften the blow. “If y’all are gonna act like animals, I’ll put you in the barn.”
Presley smiles and they go back to playing, but calmer.
JD and I stand near the oak tree, set away from the rest of the gathering. “You have somethin’ you want to say?” I ask him.
He straightens up and looks me in the eye. “I know the wedding happenin’ so fast took you off guard. I’ve learned the hard way that life is short—that’s why I didn’t want to wait. And I know that you and Jenny are close, you have a bond. I trust Jenny, and I’d never give her a hard time about her friendship with you. As for Presley . . .”
I automatically stiffen. If he says any wrong little thing, I will punt this puppy into next fucking week.
“. . . she’s a great girl and I care about her. But you’re her daddy. I don’t want to undermine that, or replace you. I couldn’t if I tried. All I want to be is a friend to her.” He pauses, takes a breath, and goes on. “I know even after Jenny and I are married there’s a part of you that’ll still think of them as your girls. So I want you to know, all I plan to do for the rest of my life is make them happy.”
He holds out his hand to me. “And I think it would make them happy if you and I could be friends. What do you say?”
I can’t decide if Jimmy Dean is an idiot or a maniacal fucking genius. All I know for sure is I was really looking forward to hating him. And he . . . pretty much just made that impossible.
• • •
After I shake his hand, JD and I head back over to where Sofia and Jenny seem to be getting along. Sofia’s dark hair shines in the sunlight as she tips her head back and laughs, her mouth wide and uninhibited. And I grin just watching her.
We only make it halfway across when there’s a disturbance from the far end of the yard. A ruckus. They’re fairly common too. Give alcohol to a bunch of people who’ve lived among one another for practically their whole lives—something’s bound to be said that someone doesn’t like.
This time it’s coming from Ruby and her boyfriend.
“Just get out!”
He grabs her by the biceps, his fingers digging in. “Who do you think you’re talkin’ to, dumb bitch?”