And we’re talking, about nothing and everything—the ins and outs of ranching, her father’s construction business, and how we think things are going at the firm without us. Sofia tells me about the first time her parents let her ride the subway alone in Chicago, and I tell her about riding these trails after school with Jenny.
I laugh as I remember. “When we were young, we’d try to find the perfect tree for climbin’. Then, when we were older, we tried to find the perfect tree for screwin’ against.”
Sofia chuckles, and then she turns somber. We sway with Blackjack’s soft steps, and she asks me, “You really love her, don’t you?”
Without pausing, I answer, “Yeah, I do.”
She’s quiet for a few moments, watching the ground. Then she asks, “Have you thought about what you’ll do if you can’t talk her out of getting married?”
I shake my head. “Failure’s not an option—I don’t do plan B’s.”
Sofia turns to look at my face. And there’s something swimming in those hazel eyes I can’t read. “Stanton . . . you mean a lot to me. And I . . . lately . . . it feels . . .”
I brush her hair back. “You mean a lot to me too, Soph.”
“You know . . . if you do talk Jenny out of marrying JD, there’s a high probability that she’ll want you two to be exclusive. And if that were the case . . . I wouldn’t want things to be awkward or strained between us. I don’t want to lose . . . your friendship.”
I lean forward and kiss her forehead. And I promise her, “You’re not going to lose me—I’d never let that happen.”
• • •
Later in the afternoon, after we get back from riding, I try to call Jenny. But it goes straight to voice mail. I text her, once, twice, three times—but hours later, there’s no answer. So I call again after dinner. Voice mail.
It’s dark when I get out of the truck in front of Jenny’s house, knock on the door, and ask for her.
“She won’t come down, Stanton,” Wayne tells me, stepping outside, chewing on the straw in his mouth. “Says she’s still mad.”
“I’m not leavin’ until I see her. I’ll sleep right fuckin’ here on the porch steps.”
“One between the eyes will get ye leavin’!” Nana shouts from inside the front parlor. “Get me the shells, Wayne!”
A few minutes after Wayne goes in to try again, Jenny comes stomping down the stairs—hair down, wrapped in a lavender terry-cloth robe, and spitting mad.
“I’ve been taking care of JD all day and I have work in the mornin’! I don’t want to get into this with you right now, Stanton.”
“Then you should’ve picked up the goddamn phone when I called earlier. We need to talk.”
Arms crossed and scowling, she leans forward and declares, “I’ve done all the talkin’ I’m gonna do with you.”
My jaw clenches and I take a step closer to her. She takes one back. “Tell me somethin’, Jenn—are you really that angry with me?” My eyes drift over her face, her clenched hands, her tiny waist cinched with her robe’s belt. Then they settle on her eyes and I ask in a low voice, “Or are you scared to be alone with me? Afraid to listen to me? Cause you know this is a mistake. Because you still love me.”
Her mouth clamps closed and her chin rises. “Go home and spend some time with your daughter. You need to have her in school by eight tomorrow morning.”
Her nonanswer is all the answer I need.
“I know what time school starts.”
“Then good night, Stanton.” She hurries to the door, into the house, like she can’t get away fast enough.
I spin the keys around my finger. “Sweet dreams, Jenny.”
• • •
Twenty minutes later I’m climbing the stairs to the bedrooms, trying to think of something new . . . unexpected . . . that’ll bring Jenn to her senses.
As I start to open the door to Carter’s old room I hear voices behind the closed door of mine—giggles and girly chatter. Grinning, I open that door and there, sitting on my bed decked out in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, are my baby girl, my sister, and my . . . Sofia.
“Hey, Daddy!” Presley greets me with a toothy smile. She holds up her hands, bright blue, polka-dotted fingernails facing out. “Miss Sofia gave us mani-pedis!”
Mary shows me her fingers and toes—red with orange flowers—as she moves to the overstuffed chair in the corner, making room for me on the bed.