“Don’t know if we’ll be able to make it.”
He grins knowingly. “Jenny and JD will be there.” He grasps my shoulder. “Change is difficult, brother, especially for someone as goal oriented as you. I would like to volunteer my services to ease the transition.” He links his fingers together. “To bond our families into one, you hear what I’m sayin’?”
I sigh over his New Age, touchy-feely, bullshit outlook on life. But . . . if Jenny will be there, it may give me the chance to talk to her. To get her alone. To romance her—bring back her feelings, memories, of all the good times we shared. This could be useful.
“Yeah, I hear you, Carter.”
He nods. “Good. I’m gonna go see Momma.” He kisses both Sofia’s cheeks. “It was sublime meetin’ you in person. I look forward to entertainin’ you on Tuesday.”
And then he strolls off.
“He was high, right?” Sofia asks, grinning.
“It’s hard to tell with Carter . . . but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t.”
• • •
A few hours go by, filled with cold beers and good conversations. Sofia and I go undefeated in a horseshoe tournament. The crowd thins out; people start to head home to get ready for the week ahead. A handful of us sit in folding chairs around a fire as the sky goes pink and gray with the sunset. Jenny’s there, sitting beside Ass Face. Sofia’s next to me and Presley sits on my lap. I smooth her hair down, kiss the top of her head, and enjoy holding her like this. Because in the space of a moment she’ll be too old for lap sitting, and instead of being her hero, I’ll be her ultimate source of embarrassment.
Mary sits cross-legged on the grass with her guitar. “Sing a song, Stanton?”
I shake my head. “Nah, not now.”
“Aw, come on,” Mary pushes. “It’s been ages. We can do ‘Stealin’ Cinderella’—I love that song.”
Sofia’s legs are curled under her, her head resting on her hand. “I didn’t know you sang.”
“Stanton has a lovely voice,” my momma volunteers. “He used to sing in church every Sunday.”
Sofia smirks. “You were a real live choirboy? How did I not know this?”
“I was seven,” I tell her dryly.
But then Presley takes all the argument out of me. “Come on, Daddy. I like listenin’ to you sing.”
Simple as that.
I nod to Mary and she starts plucking at the guitar. It’s a mellow, almost sad melody. A song about fathers and daughters, moving on while staying exactly the same.
“She was playin’ Cinderella, ridin’ her first bike . . .”
I run my hand through Presley’s hair again, but as the song continues the lyrics take on bigger, more relevant meaning. I feel the heat of Sofia’s gaze, watching me—this different part of me she’s never seen—with fascination. I see JD’s eyes all over Jenny, almost willing her to turn her head. But she’s not looking at him. Across the campfire, through the smoke and licking flames, she’s keeping her blue eyes straight on me. And while I sing about precious memories—old loves and new—I stare right back at her.
“In her eyes I’m Prince Charming, but to him I’m just some fella, ridin’ in stealin’ Cinderella.”
• • •
I’m a picker—one of those guys who combs over the leftovers just before everyone’s about to head home. At the food table, by the light of the fire, I see that JD is also one of those guys. I put the last chicken leg on my plate, and JD goes for the last of the beef tips. I coat the chicken with my homemade barbecue sauce and he asks, “That’s your sauce?”
“I heard it was pretty good.”
I offer him the spoon. “You heard right.”
He douses his own plate, then licks his fingers and shovels the bite-size beef into his mouth. He gives me the thumbs-up while he chews.
“My brother mentioned a party on Tuesday. Think you’ll be goin’, or will you be too busy?”
I’m really hoping he has something else to do—then I’ll get Jenny all to myself. I mentally rub my hands together—eager for the prospect.
He nods. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Pretty mush cleared my schedbudle por de wheek.”
My brow furrows as his words get harder and harder to understand. Then I peer closer . . . because something just doesn’t look right.
“Ib my pace pubby, Thanton? It peels pubby.”