Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
by J.W. Heart
Sexual Disclaimer: Alright, we have a work of alternative fiction. Meaning that eventually
two women will find love together and that will include a rather graphic description of intimacy. If you are underage .....you only get to be young once, twice if you're lucky, please come back when you're older. Now if this sort of thing is illegal where you live. Well.......since you're reading this then you already know.....It's time to move.
Language/Violence: No violence, however, it does contain a mention of physical and sexual abuse. As for language be warned.......cussing ahead.
Thanks To: My beautiful lady. Who is my heart , soul and inspiration. Without her encouragement and love there would be nothing to share with the rest of the world. And a special thanks to all those who wrote in requesting(demanding) a sequal. It meant a great deal to me that so many of you took the time to read and respond.
This is the sequal to Summer of Need. Reading the first part might help to enlighten you to this one.
All comments, questions, and concerns for my mental health can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone would have told me a week ago that today, I would be on my way back home, I would have punched them squarely in the face. I hadn't been back there since that day. Driving away from the Evening Star, away from Her, away from the pain, I promised myself I would never again set foot in that town. Well that idea was shot to hell. A letter from Maggie derailed my carefully laid plan of becoming a bitter, cynical recluse.
Things have changed though. I'm not the same wide-eyed innocent. Ok stop laughing, for all intent and purpose, I was innocent that summer. A few years in an emotional prison will fix that. So just when life started looking like it might not suck eternally, Maggie had to write and say she really needed me. Now here I am cruising down familiar roads, with all those memories becoming clearer with each passing mile.
I suppose I should clarify a few things about life since Her. Hey I could say her name if I were so inclined.....but I'm not ,so deal. Ok so maybe I did manage the bitter part of my plan. All right where was I? Oh yeah the past 4 years.....
I ran my truck into the ground. I don't know where I ended up really. All I know is ....I was broke , the truck was broke and there was flashing neon in the distance. So that's where I headed. Now I'm not one to drink really. At least I wasn't then. But at that moment it didn't sound like a bad idea. Of course.......at that point driving off a bridge didn't sound like a bad idea either.
You know, bar tabs are a bad thing. But the drink now pay later plan works when you're broke. And so I did..........drink I mean. A lot! At least I think it was a lot, I don't really remember that either. I know that the table kept creeping closer to my face until eventually.....it was dark.
Like all good things.......the darkness had to end as well, much to my misery. I laid there, trying to figure out what animal had crawled into my mouth and died. My stomach was trying to climb back up my throat. There was a heavy metal band playing in my head. And it wasn't a good song.
I was contemplating my imminent death, thinking things couldn't possibly get worse. A very loud bang to the side of what I was assuming was my truck echoed through my head. I pried open my bloodshot eyes, temporarily blinded by the sunlight beating down on my already sweaty face. When I was finally able to focus my vision was filled with the first sight of the person who is now my best friend. Looking over the side of my truck was a woman. Dark brown eyes, a wicked grin and a cowboy hat tipped back on her head.
"Hey there sunshine."
Oh God.....and she was cheerful too.
"You look like hammered shit."
"Who are you?" Figured it was a good thing to ask since she didn't seem to be going away. She surprised me by jumping into the bed of my truck, which of course rocked and made my stomach rebel. All in all it was very unpleasant.
"I'm the one who managed to drag your ass out of the bar last night. By the way you owe me twenty bucks for your bar tab". She looked at me with those dark eyes, studying me. It was very disturbing. "Don't have twenty bucks do you?"
"I don't have twenty cents. How did I get in my truck?"
She laughed .........and it hurt my poor booze soaked brain.
"Well, I stopped in here looking for a little .....entertainment". She said wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. I got the point. "Watched the bar for about an hour, the only thing of interest in there was you and your fascination with the table. I wondered how long it would take you to pass out. When you did they were talking about having you tossed into the county lock up. Well I didn't figure that you wanted to go there so I spoke up and told them I knew you and paid the tab. This was the only truck in the lot that wasn't from this state, besides mine of course. So I tossed you in the back and ......here we are".
"Thanks........I think". I still wasn't sure who she was so I wanted to be a bit cautious. Besides I wasn't certain that it was the booze or the tossing of my body into the truck that had given me what I was sure was a concussion.
"Name's Cam. Guess I'll be on my way. I suggest you head out as well, before the bar owner comes back and sees you're still parked here. They hate that you know".
"Can't .....truck's broke". Oh it was coming back to me now.
"Well that figures. Jesus woman you get drunk without any money. Look like you haven't slept nor changed your clothes in days and you have no wheels. What the fuck were you thinking?"
"Well that's obvious". She sighed and reached for my hand. "Come on sunshine, let's get you cleaned up and I'll give you a lift. Where you headed?"
"Away". I didn't know what else to say. I couldn't go back.
"Well you're in luck. I'm headed that way myself". Cam pulled me to my feet and that was that.
Ok that wasn't all but it's the start. I did finally get around to introducing myself. Found out she was a wildcatter. You know........worked on the oil rigs. Maybe this would be a good time to tell you more about my buddy Cam.
Cameron Todd was from a family of 7. All boys except herself guess she had no choice but to be a lesbian. It was almost self-defense. Cam grew up on an oilrig. All her brothers worked in the business in one way or another. Now as I've said in the past, I am not a small woman. I stand almost six feet and I know I'm fit. I had nothing on Cam. She is a good two inches taller and had more muscles then I would ever hope to have.
Cam is that perfect butch all good femmes hope to meet and takes home to momma. Or just take home. And in the first couple years of our friendship that's exactly what happened. There wasn't a town we stopped in, a bar we visited when Cam didn't have some sort of company.... If you know what I mean. Which earned her the nickname.......dawg. I know.......I gave it to her.
Dawg took me in. Saved me if you will. She taught me to work the rigs just like she did. She was my best friend and she never asked for anything.....ever. I asked her once why she took on someone she didn't even know like that. She just smiled ....said. "Sometimes you gotta take a risk to get the big pay off". I wasn't sure what that meant but it made me feel good.
By now you've probably figured out that I never did go back to school. It didn't seem important anymore. Dawg tried to get me to go back once. When I told her to shove the idea up her ass sideways .......she dropped the subject.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that I was a perfect saint these last four year. I know you were wondering. I worked hard, made good money and played equally as hard. There have been women over the last couple years. Ok lots of women. A few even wanted more than just a couple nights of decent sex. But I couldn't give it to them. My heart was still back at the Evening Star , laying shattered in the dust. I'm still working on the bitter thing ok.....give me a break.
Dawg was a different story though. She still had her heart and she actually wanted to find someone to love. And no it wasn't me. I know what you were thinking but Dawg and I are just friends. They say that you can find love is the most unexpected places. Hell I'm living proof of that. But I know Dawg wasn't expecting to find her match where she did.
We had hired on to a new company drilling off the coast of Australia. We changed jobs a lot in that couple years and the last one we left well......lets say the boss didn't take to well to Dawg hanging him over the rail , by his ankles. He was a slimy little shit anyway. Ok so we were on a new rig and as had become our custom we had to check out the nearby drinking establishments. Don't make that face, two years with Dawg had taught me to hold my liquor. To say that the nearest town was a dump would have been an insult to dumps worldwide. This place should have been condemned but Dawg and I were fearless. Thus we ventured forth in search of booze.........and women.
We were sitting in this hovel they called the Flying Dingo. I don't know why don't ask me. But Dawg thought........dingo .....dog.....and there we were. She said it was a sign. I thought she had finally cracked. But I digress. The beer was cold and the people were friendly, I know I was shocked too. We had been sitting there while the waitress flirted with both of us, drinking and being loud. When this woman stepped through the door. And I kid you not; she had a whip attached to her belt. Now my first thought was the whip. I know.....we've established that I'm not well.
Dawg didn't see the whip. I don't think Dawg got past her face. Which is saying something because this woman could make the dead rise again. She had long golden brown hair hanging in a riot of curls down her back. Stood about 5'7, built like a brick.........well you get the idea. Now it took me a minute to pull myself together and I thought she might due for an evening of entertainment. That is till I looked at Dawg. I'd seen that look before. That's the same look I had on my face when I first saw Her. I knew then........Dawg was gone.
Gone isn't exactly the right word for what happened to my buddy Cam. She was love struck. Which wouldn't have been a bad thing if the object of her affection had given her the time of day. But she didn't. Seems that whatever all those other women saw in Cam, this one wasn't as impressed. But did that detour my friend.......no. For the next 3 months Dawg dragged me back to that bar. I swear she talked to every living soul in that place gathering as much information as she could about this woman. Who's name turned out to be Sydney. Don't laugh Syd's parents weren't right in the head.
Anyway, like I said it went on like that for three months. I watched my friend suffer. She would get this dreamy look on her face whenever she saw Sydney and God if the woman spoke to her she would get this dumb ass, goofy grin. I kept thinking .......if that's what I looked like when I was around, Her, someone should have just shot me to put me out of my misery.
I was at the end of my rope with Cam. She was doing stupid things on the rig because her mind was elsewhere. I couldn't take it anymore this woman needed to either come around or tell Cam to get lost because this was going to end up killing her. Or me. Out of frustration I devised a plan. It was simple really. Syd just needed to get to know my buddy away from the bar.
So the next time we were all in town together I asked Cam to go to our room and pick up my wallet. She wasn't pleased but she agreed it was my turn to pay for drinks and Dawg didn't turn down free drinks. Then I ran into the bar and asked Syd if she would help me. I told her Dawg was real sick and I didn't know what to do. I have an honest face.....she believed me. Besides as much as she tried to deny it ....she liked Dawg. Ok so you see where this is leading. I locked them in our room together. Slept in the bar, the owner of the Flying Dingo was apparently as weary of seeing those two not get together as I was.
A month later we stopped working the rigs. See Sydney owned a sheep station out there. Hence the whip. I didn't find that out till later. My skills with horses came in handy at the station even though I knew nothing about sheep. And leaving the rigs was worth it just to see Dawg learn to ride.
Oh I resisted at first when they asked me to move out there with them and work. But not for long. I loved ranching and I missed home . So it wasn't a big loss, well the money was a big loss. You make some damn good money working the rigs and Dawg and I had quite a little savings.
The next two years of my life were spent on the station. Working with my friends and getting over some of the pain of the past. I had even written to Maggie giving her my address. That was Syd's idea. She has a way of making you do things even when you don't want to. Then I got that damn letter. Again it was Syd who made me see it was time to go home.
"Damn it Trace! This woman is like your mother. You told me that yourself. And she needs you now".
"I can't Syd". I was whining ...I knew that.
"Why? Because Shannon might be there? So what Trace. You need to get over it and move on. Maybe going back and seeing her is just what you need to do. Get it out of your system. Four years is to damn long to hide away". Syd stood over me with her hands on her hips. She's scary when she wants to be. And that whip is always there as a reminder of just how scary. My backside stings just thinking about it.
"It still hurts.....I'm not ready". I was desperate and grabbing at straws really. I already knew I was going back.
"I know it hurts Trace but you owe yourself a chance to heal and go on. You need to make your peace honey".
There it was. I did need to make peace with the past, with Shannon. So after four years of running away...I was heading back.
You know something about small, nowhere towns, they never change. Doesn't matter how long you're gone. The boys still hang around the hardware. The one stoplight still doesn't work. The only grocery is and has always been the A&P. And the diner is still the busiest place in town. I took all that in while I was pulling through town. Parking my new truck, a gift to myself for my bravery, outside the diner.
When I walked in I had expected to be greeted by Maggie. That was not the case. I guess some things do change, because this place was busier then I had ever seen. I had to take a seat at the counter. When Maggie wrote to tell me she needed help, she didn't really say what kind of help. I just hoped she didn't want me to cook or wait tables. I don't think I would make a good waitress and I, for sure, can't cook.
It took a few minutes of watching Maggie rush around for me to catch her eye. When she saw me I thought she was going to pass out. She shoved a tray full of food at a passing customer, who was shocked to say the least. Then she launched her large frame across the diner headed right for me. For a second I considered running for my life. But I braced myself and sure enough, she grabbed me up in a huge bear hug, crushing the life out of me.
"Maggie....." I gasped.
She stepped back from me not letting go. I saw then what my disappearing had done to the woman who had practically raised me. Never once in all my years had I ever seen Maggie cry. The tears streaming down her face touched me deeper then I thought possible. I did the only thing you can do when faced with a crying woman. I wrapped my arms around her and let her cry it out. Truth be told, I had shed a few tears of my own.
When she finally gathered herself she stepped away.
"Damn girl.........you look great".
I guess all the hard work on the rigs and at the station had put a bit more muscle on my body. And the Australian sun will give you an unbelievable tan.
"Thanks Mags. You look good yourself...tired though". She did look a bit haggard.
"Oh you don't know the half of it. Sit down Trace there's a lot we need to talk about". Finally I was going to get to the reason she had urgently summoned me home.
The next half-hour was spent with her filling me in on things that had happened after I took off. I sat waiting patiently. I figured she'd get to a point eventually. I waited.........and waited. And still she didn't mention Her. And to my surprise or maybe not, but that's what I wanted to hear about. I was about to ask for myself when she said her name. I zeroed in on the conversation then.
"Shannon had to take care of a pressing family matter". I think that's what I heard. I remembered everything about Shannon. The only family she had was a sister, whom she hadn't seen in years.
"I just can't take care of the ranch and her business with all I've got going on here. I need you to take over at the ranch until she gets back".
"That's why you demanded I come back here? Where the hell is her husband?" I snarled. Yea the bitter thing was working well for me now.
"Tom's gone. He died about three months after you left".
"Oh". What else could I say? I wasn't sure how I felt about that information.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish I say". Maggie spat. I have to say ....I was shock at her vehemence. And confused. When I left she and Shannon weren't exactly good friends. But somehow over the last four years they had apparently gotten close enough that Shannon left Maggie in charge of the Evening Star.
"So Shannon took off to do whatever and left you to take care of things and now you want me to take over". I was still confused and now for some reason, I felt betrayed. Maggie wasn't supposed to befriend the woman who broke my heart.
"There are a lot of things you don't know Trace. Don't go judging until you have the whole story". She sighed.
"Then tell me the story Maggie. Make me understand why she broke my heart". I know I was over reacting. I couldn't help it. The whole thing had me off balance.
"I can't Trace. It's Shannon's story to tell".
I snorted indignantly. I highly doubted Shannon would ever tell me the story and God only knew if it would be the truth if she did. Maggie must have seen my walls go up.
"Don't you dare Trace O'Dell. You don't know what's happened here. You took off before anything could be resolved. You left us all here to pick up the pieces. Some of us had to sit here and watch what happened to that girl after you left. And yes I took her under my wing. Best thing I've ever done next to taking care of your sorry little ass." She stood over me, making me feel like a properly chastised child. " I need your help. If you can't see your way clear to help Shannon fine. But the way I see it, you owe me."
She was right.....I did owe her. And that's the only reason I would stay..
"Ok Maggie..........what do you need me to do?"
"That's my girl. I knew you would help Trace you always were a good sort".
"For you Maggie ........only for you". She had to know that this wasn't for Shannon.
"Whatever you say Trace. Stay here while I get ....... Well just stay here". And she took off to the back. Now what the hell was that about.
I sat there for another twenty minutes trying to figure out exactly when I had become soft in the head. I should have known coming back here would lead me right back out to the Evening Star. I didn't count on Maggie handing me over to the wolves though. I was lost in my misery when she came back and didn't pay attention. I should have.......I would have run.
I felt it before I saw it. There was someone bouncing into the seat across from me. I pulled my head off the table and staring back at me ........were Shannon's eyes. Ok they weren't attached to Shannon herself. But rather.....to a small human with blonde hair and dimples. But they were the same eyes. I knew in an instant who this child belonged to. Shannon couldn't have denied her if she wanted to. It was mini me, truly freaky.
I know I must have looked stupid sitting there with my mouth hanging open. But hell.....as if it weren't shock enough to know that Maggie was Shannon's friend and savior. Now I had to find out she had a kid. My stomach hit bottom. I know I groaned. It all became clear as to what Maggie really wanted me to do. She wasn't sending me out to take care of the ranch........
"I want you to take this little angel home and watch over her".
I looked at Maggie like she had grown another head.
"I .......I...hell no!"
"Watch your mouth! You said you would help and this is where I need you". I was stuck. I was truly stuck because she just left. Took off leaving me with a tiny version of Shannon staring at me.
"Hi" It finally said.
"Are you a friend of Mommy's? Aunt Mag said you was".
"Ummm...". What do you say to little humans? I had never been around kids. And I really didn't think telling her that I thought her Mother should take a long walk off a very short pier would be the right response.
I was saved from my discomfort by Maggie's return. But only momentarily as she ushered both the kid and I out of the diner. Explaining to me the things I should know about the care and feeding of said kid. I caught only a fraction of what she said. I tried to watch as she put this odd looking seat into my truck and strapped the little person into it. Then she shoved me into my side and told me to go.
So for the first time in four years I was bouncing down that dusty road going back to the Evening Star. Not alone though, as I looked over at Shannon's kid. My head was still spinning with that one. There was no way in hell this was going to work. I knew nothing about kids and .........hell I cant even cook. Hope the kid likes frozen dinners.
I watch the little blonde head bouncing around as she looked out the window. Bet she was as lost as I was here. Tossed aside and left with someone she didn't know. Suddenly I felt a bit more kinship with the little tyke. I figured since we seemed to be stuck together for the time being I should at least give her a name.
"I'm Trace". There that wasn't hard.
The little green eyes turned to me and she had this surprised look on her face.
"What?" I asked.
"Th...that's my name. I'm Jaden Trace Chilson but everyone calls me JT."
All right I was stunned. My brain froze. What the hell did I miss in those years I was gone. And why had Shannon named her daughter after me?
I was still trying to recover from my shock when we pulled up to the house. It looked different now. A new coat of paint and new shutters. I saw the old swing was still there and had to close my eyes against the rush of emotion. Oh this was not going to be easy. I got out of the truck and headed to the house. Took me a minute to notice I was missing something.
I went back and opened the door looking at the little blonde sitting there.
"Well were home aren't you getting out?"
"I can't get out silly". Then she pointed to the contraption that held her into the seat.
"Oh". Well duh Trace. Nope this wasn't going to be easy on either of us I decided.
Took me five minutes to figure out how to unleash the child. I would have felt bad but the little beast just laughed at my failings.
"You don't gots kids huh?" She said still laughing at me as we finally made it into the house.
"It's ok I'll show you what to do".
It's a good thing one of us has a clue. Because I'm at a total loss here.
"How old are you anyway?" Seemed a reasonable question.
"I'm three". She said holding up three little fingers smiling.
Oldest damn three-year-old I've ever seen. Smart little kid, and against my wishes, I found myself liking the little tot a bit.
"Trace? I'm gonna go play k?" She said looking up at me with those beautiful eyes. Damn...she would have to inherit those. Ok so she wants to go play ...kids play right? Ok so no big deal.
"Um......yea sure kid".
"Cool.......call me for dinner". She said as she ran up the stairs.
Dinner? Oh boy.......
I've worked on oilrigs in the middle of the ocean. Seen some storms that would make grown men weep with fear. Been in bar fights that ended with a trip to the hospital. None of that scared me as much as the small blonde bundle of energy that just ran up the steps. I flopped down on the couch. I had no idea what to do here. So.....I did the only thing that made any sense....I called Dawg.
"You can stop laughing any time Dawg". The witch found my situation funny and I had spent the last 15 minutes listening to her chuckle. It was getting annoying.
"Ok Wait. Now....you went back there just to find out that Shannon has a kid. And........" More laughing.
"Let me talk to your wife" I snarled. Sick wench anyway. I did not see the humor here.
"Trace.....why is Cam rolling on the floor?".
"She's a psycho Syd I tried to warn you". I gave Sydney a brief explanation of my situation. And to my dismay....she laughed too. They were both on my list now. Lucky for me Syd has some control and she recovered herself. She wasn't a lot of help but when I hung up the phone I at least felt like I might make it through the night. I had a plan. Feed the kid.....give it a bath.......put it to bed. It can't be that hard right?
Ok so maybe fruit loops isn't really dinner but we covered the, I cant cook thing alright. Let it go. The bath thing.......who knew. I ran the bath just like Syd told me too. Did you know little kids don't like hot water? I was informed of this after the fact. Ok so that was easy enough.......add cold water. Then I got to wondering.....should I leave her to do this alone? Is three a good age to start letting them discover their independence? Oh what the hell. She's a smart kid. So I left her on her own.
Umm.....for all those out there who don't have kids. Never leave a child under the age of at least 10, alone in the bathroom. I was gone 10 minutes. When I got back ...well.....I would bet the Titanic took on less water when it sank then what was covering the bathroom floor. I waded in hoping that under all those bubbles was a small human. As it would happen .....she was there. Of course I found that out when she jumped up and splashed more water over the tub and all over me. It dawned on me then that while leaving her alone might have led to this mess she really was to little to be unattended. I vowed never to do that again. Lesson learned.
Two more things I learned about bathing pint size people that first night. One.....they are slippery when wet and soapy. Two ....you have to dry them really well because putting pajamas on a small, wiggly, wet body is a Herculean feat.
With the bath ordeal over we retired to the living room to watch some television. Truthfully I had no idea what time a little kid needed to be put to bed. Seeing as it was only 7:30 and she didn't look tired we would stay up and see what happened.
Long about eight, the phone rang.
"Who is this?" I knew the voice. It was her. I should have expected she would call right? I was still stunned. After all this time she sounded just the same. Her voice still sent chills down my spine.
"Did you want to talk to JT?" I asked in what I hoped was a steady tone.
"I want to know who the fuck you are and where is Maggie? Why are you there with my daughter?" I could hear the panic in her voice. I'm guessing our friend Maggie didn't tell her that she had contacted me. I wanted to rage at her, I wanted to let out all the anger I felt ...all the pain. But hearing her almost sob into the phone, the fear in her voice. I just couldn't do that to her. This was different. This was a mother's concern for her child. I could respect that.
"Take it easy Shannon".
"Trace?....Oh My God. Trace what are you doing there. Where's Maggie? Is everything ok? Where is JT?" Well at least she remembers my voice. But she was still freaking out. Needed to fix that.
"She's right here, Maggie's fine and I'm guessing she didn't tell you she wrote and begged me to help her out here. Of course she never said how she wanted me to help. Guess I'm your official babysitter for the time being".
"Trace I....". I cut her off. I couldn't handle hearing her voice anymore. It made me ache.
"Here talk to JT". I handed the phone to the little one and leaned back hoping that I could control the onslaught of emotions just talking to her had brought on.
As luck would have it my new little friend isn't up on phone etiquette, she hung up before I was forced to speak to her Mother again. I'm really starting to like this kid. Anyway, after being traumatized by the phone call the rest of the evening went pretty well. The kid dropped off long about 11. Hey don't look at me......I know nothing about kids. Besides who goes to bed at 9, really. I must say that the following morning taught me a lesson about bedtimes though. A cranky three year old is worse than a PMSing woman .......hands down. By noon we were both ready for a nap.
My peaceful little rest was brought an abrupt end when all 40 pounds of demon child decided to pounce on my stomach. Laughing mind you.
"I'm hungry". She said leaning close to my face looking into my half open eyes as I gasped for breath.
It shouldn't have been hungry I just fed the thing this morning. How many times a day do kids really have to eat anyway? Ok I know they need food and I'm not a total moron but I really didn't want to get up and cook. And I didn't figure another bowl of cereal wasn't going to cut it for dinner. So my mind went over the options. In the refrigerator we had milk, and some stuff I'm sure was food but would require my knowing how to use a stove. There was the diner but I'm not talking to Maggie right now. Or finally we could go get pizza. You guessed it..........pizza it was.
I should have paid closer attention when Maggie strapped the kid into the car seat thing. I think you need an aerospace engineering degree to operate one of these things. I gave up after fighting with it for 20 minutes. You know.......there are many uses for duct tape.
So we headed out to get dinner. My little blonde buddy was secured in her seat and I made sure none of the tape touched her skin. Even I know that hurts when you pull it off. Actually dinner was fun. We ate food I didn't have to cook. Drank root beer, which prompted a burping contest. The kid's good. And we played video games. My kind of night. We were out later than I had expected and when we pulled into the drive the little tyke was already asleep.
Subconsciously I think I was really trying to avoid the evening phone call. I wasn't that lucky. I got the tiny human tucked into bed, and had settled down to pass out. Kids can be very tiring you know. I just started to drift off and........
"Trace where the hell have you been?" Oh hell.......
"Town...pizza .....dinner". I wasn't really with it yet.
"It's past 10 ". Now what the hell that had to do with anything was beyond me. Duh.....I can tell time.
"Uh huh ....but we needed to stay and finish the beer and JT was working on getting the waitresses phone number". Ok I knew I was pushing her but damn....I had to have a little joy in my life.
"Trace! What the hell are you doing with my kid. Oh my God".
I couldn't help it tormenting her this way seemed to be my best shot at revenge at the moment. Besides if she really thought I was that irresponsible she deserved it. I may be an over grown child myself but I'm not stupid.
"Relax Shannon.....I told her she couldn't date till she was 12. And she only had two shots of bourbon. ...kid can't hold her liquor. We'll have to work on that."
I waited for the explosion. It didn't come. Instead she started chuckling. Hearing her laugh went right through my heart. I had forgotten what that sound did to me. And to my surprise....I started laughing along with her.
"Oh Trace........I needed that. Thank you. So other than corrupting my three year old daughter how are things going?"
I swallowed hard. Her voice washed over my soul. I hate myself for still having this reaction to her. I couldn't control it even if I had wanted to I don't think I would have anyway. That piece of me that's been missing all this time just found its way back home. But I was still hurt and I wasn't going to give in that easy.
"Things are fine. You cant talk to the kid right now unless you want me to wake her up in which case you can be the one to deal with her in the morning". I had learned that lesson.
"She is a bit umm.....temperamental without enough sleep". She chuckled.
"Yea laugh it up blondie. And I thought you were bad in the morning". The memories of Shannon's sleepy face in the morning hit me hard........right square in the chest. I had always loved that sleep-tousled look she had in the morning. So much so it usually led us right back to bed. Oh great.....now another familiar ache. I so don't need this.
We both went silent for a minute lost in our thoughts.
"Trace.....". She finally choked out.
I had a choice to make here. I could cut her off. I knew she was going to want to talk about that time. I wasn't ready. Not yet. Yes I wanted to know what happened. But not yet.
"Don't Shannon ....not yet. Just.....talk about something else". I begged her. "Why are you .......wherever you are?"
I could tell she really wanted to talk about this but she respected my wishes. For the next half-hour she explained her absence. Her sister had gotten ill and she was their taking care of her. I thought it was odd because last I knew she didn't even talk to her sister. But hey ...families are strange things. I did ask why she didn't take the munchkin with her though.
"My sister doesn't know about JT. And if she did well.......it would cause problems. She has a lot of power and doesn't agree at all with my........life choices. Believe me Trace....leaving JT was the second hardest thing I've ever had to do".
Now we know my mouth takes off before I can engage my brain at times ....
"What was the first?" I held my breath waiting for an answer that took a long time coming.
"Letting you go".
Shannon's quiet admission left me more than a bit confused. Letting me go was a far cry from what happened. The damn woman broke my heart. That's what happened.......right? Well yes my heart was broken but .....she did it on purpose....didn't she? I didn't know anything anymore. Maggie's words haunted me. Shannon's emotion filled voice made me doubt everything I thought I knew.
I pushed it all away, there were other things more important than the past at the moment. Like getting a sleepy little human dressed and ready for the day. JT is really quite a kid. I never thought I'd have these kinds of feelings for a kid.......any kid. But the little scamp was like her mother....she got to you before you knew what was happening. Maybe I just have a thing for small blondes.
Today's big adventure was to go out riding the fences. I wanted to check out the ranch. Since I had left, Shannon's operation had grown and she had hired people to take care of most of the day to day stuff. But I still thought I should look things over.
"Hey little bit want to go for a ride today?"
"Do I gots to be taped in the seat?" She looked at me warily.
"Ride on the horses kid". I snorted, thinking that maybe I should take the tape just in case.
"I can't ride a horse Trace I'm to little". She looked so disappointed. I hate that look, makes me do stupid things.
"Hmm...Guess you'll have to learn. Or...you can ride with me".
"I can?" Her little face lit up.
"Sure........we can make some sandwiches and ride out to the river".
She flew out of her chair and launched herself into my arms. Now I've never really held a small child. But...I could get used to it.
We packed ourselves a good lunch and within an hour we were riding along the fence line. Her little body settled in front of me. We laughed and talked the whole time. She really is a smart kid. Or maybe I just relate to the very young. In any case I was actually enjoying myself. Around noon we stopped by the river for lunch.
We lay there on the bank eating and talking about what we were going to do the rest of the day. Both agreeing that we had to find a way to feed ourselves. I may not know how to use the stove but I am the queen of the microwave dinner. And JT loved the idea of TV dinners. I'm guessing Shannon didn't let her have much packaged and processed food. Oh well.....she's not here. I figured while we were in town we should stop in and see Maggie. She had to be wondering about us by now. Of course if she was really worried she could have called.
Somehow we ended up lying on the grass looking up at the passing clouds. Her little golden head lying on my stomach.
"Are you mad at Aunt Maggie?"
"Not really. She just surprised me is all". That was a gross understatement.
" 'Cuz of me?"
"Well you were a surprise".
"Aunt Maggie said you left a long, long time ago. Why'd you leave Trace?" She turned looking up at me with those achingly familiar eyes.
"Bad things happened little one". What the hell do you say to that? Your Mother broke my heart. She's a bit young to get that one.
"Does it still make you sad?"
"Sometimes". I had to swallow back the tears.
Little arms came around me, hugging me tight. "Don't be sad Trace".
We packed up our little picnic and made our way back to the house. Making a quick list of the things we needed. Like cereal and milk. You know....the staples. We jumped into the truck. JT smart little squirt that she is, managed to figure out the car seat thing this time. Kind of like child proof caps.....takes a kid to get them off.
The trip to the A&P was a riot. Well I thought so anyway. We played racecar drivers down the aisles. I'm sure the other customers were not as amused but then........who really gives a damn. I let JT push the cart. She got to pick out her own dinners too. Funny that something so small could make her so happy. By the time we left I figured we had enough food to carry us through for about a week.
We walked into the diner and Little Bit ran up jumping into Maggie's waiting arms.
"Well you're still alive I see".
"Trace taked good care of me Maggie". I grinned at Maggie's shocked look. Ha take that you old busy body.
She just smiled at me. " I knew she would sugar".
We ate a great home cooked meal. And topped it off with ice cream. Hey you can't go wrong with ice cream. Maggie only smacked me in the head once. Ok here's the thing. Since I was a kid I have always blown bubbles in my chocolate milk. It's a tradition. Well my new shadow thought it was cool and so she copied me. It was a completion then. We were minding our own business having a good time and .......SMACK.
"Stop that you're teaching her bad habits".
"Yes ma'am". Maggie seemed placated and left us be. When she was out of sight.......we started all over again.
Once dinner was finished Maggie took me aside and the inquisition began. I had to relate all the things that had happened the last two days. Like I was some sort of child.
"Trace, Shannon put JT in daycare half of the day. You may want to think about doing that. It'll give you some time to yourself".
Truthfully, I wasn't really keen on that idea. The idea of leaving JT with people I didn't know for some reason didn't set real well with me.
"I'll talk to the kid about it Mags" I promised.
"Trace you don't ask a three year old that kind of stuff". Well that was dumb. Why not? She should have some say as to where she wanted to be. I just shook my head and the kid and I left for home.
That night after Shannon's nightly call I tucked the little one into bed. I thought it would be a good idea to bring up the whole daycare thing.
"Hey kid Mags says you usually go to some daycare thing. Did you umm...want to do that?" If I had known what the reaction would have been. I'd have slapped Maggie.
Her little green eyes filled up with tears. Little kids don't cry like normal people ya know. They get these real big alligator tears. It's heartbreaking.
"Don't you like being with me Trace?" Her slender little shoulders were shaking as she tried really hard not to just break down and sob. I felt about an inch tall.
I gathered the little body into my arms holding her against my chest. "Hey now....it was just a question. I like having you around".
"Don't make me go Trace. I'll be good I promise". She pleaded.
"You've been great JT and you don't have to do anything you don't want to sweetheart". I said, rocking her. Fuck you Maggie. The kid has already been dumped on a stranger once. I'll be damned if I do that to her again. I held her until she fell asleep, stroking that soft blonde hair, remembering her Mother liked that as well. It always made Shannon relax and fall asleep I see the apple really didn't fall far from the tree.
During the next couple days Little Bit, JT's new nickname, and I established a routine. We got up , got dressed had breakfast, cleaned the house. Neither of us fond of that last task. I won't even go into the laundry horror. Suffice it to say ....not all clothes can be washed together. Oh well, what's a few pink towels. Who was going to see them anyway.
We went for rides and I even let her hold the reigns. She's got potential. She helped me fix a few loose boards. Carrying nails is a big deal to a three-year-old. Even the nightly phone calls were getting easier. Shannon would talk with JT and then speak to me.
It still hurt to hear her voice. Not as bad but the ache was always there. We talked about the kid mostly. But she did fill me in on her own life to a point. I still wasn't ready to hear the whole story and she didn't offer to tell it. I told her about my life as well. Well pieces of it anyway. All in all we had clipped conversations with long pauses. Very uncomfortable. Both feeling the need to say more but never getting there.
By the end of the week I was really getting the hang of this kid thing. Well....I was doing better how about that. Give me a break.
We had come down stairs both looking for some breakfast when a knock at the door brought us both out of our morning stupor. The kid being more energetic ran to answer. I was standing over the coffeepot patiently awaiting the elixir of life. A scream from the other room brought me out of my trance in a hurry. A child's scream can send a wave of terror through you like nothing you will ever experience. I tore out of the kitchen, my heart lodge in my throat expecting to see the kid lying in a pool of blood.
Skidding to a stop in front of said child who was staring at the front door like she had seen the boogieman.
"What!" I said rather loudly. Ok she freaked me out....fear will do that to you.
"There's a bear out there Trace". She yelled back. Guess she was freaked herself.
"A bear?" Now a lot of things can wander up to houses out here but a bear. I don't think so. I reached for the door and she wrapped her little arms around my leg.
"Don't let it in. It'll get you".
"It's alright little bit". I tried to calm her. "Bears don't knock JT". Reasoning with a small child is useless.........just thought you should know that. She wasn't letting go of my leg for love nor money.
I opened the door and.....Screamed myself. JT just grabbed on tighter.
"That's not a bear kid.........it's a Dawg". I grinned at my friend who stood there with a very bewildered expression.
"Jesus Christ Trace!" Dawg shouted. Guess all the screaming got her too. Only she got smacked in the head.
"Don't swear in front of the baby". Syd's admonishment came from behind.
By this time I had picked up my little cling-on. She had her head buried in my shoulder peeking out shyly at my two friends.
Syd stepped forward around wrapped us both up in a huge hug. God I needed that. And JT seemed to relax a bit. But when Dawg reach out to hug me JT stiffened and pointed her tiny finger.
"NO!" She commanded. Syd cracked up. Dawg looked dejected and JT had taken a possessive demeanor. It really was funny.
Took ten minutes to convince the kid that Dawg was really ok. My friend really does intimidate people. I guess to a very small child she would look like a bear standing there in the shadows. Syd was still laughing...she's a sick bitch.
We got things calmed down and retired to the kitchen for breakfast and my long awaited coffee. Not to mention a few explanations as to why they were there to begin with. JT wouldn't let go though. So Syd pushed me into a chair and went about fixing breakfast. Who was I to argue?
"Trace where is the food?" Syd asked bent over searching the contents of the refrigerator.
"Freezer". JT directed.
She turned and stared at me. You know that look that says "if I open this there better not be pizza and frozen dinners up here." Groan....I was screwed.
She just shook her head and pulled out the cereal. Which is what we were going to have anyway.
We sat there and demolished the last of the cereal and milk, while my friends explained why they had come. That they came all this way just to help me out made me tear up. I've been doing that a lot lately. Truth be told I was thrilled that they were there. While I did have things under control with JT I was still feeling a bit shaken about the whole situation.
JT just got real quiet and when we were done eating she asked to be excused. Now I'm not normally in tune with people. But I knew something was bothering the kid. I watched her walk out the door with her head hung down, hands shoved in her pockets.
I excused myself as well and went in search of my little friend. I found her sitting on the steps, staring out across the pasture. God she looked just like her Mother sitting there like that. That first time I ever talked to her. I mean really talked to her.
"Hey Little Bit". I sat down next to her.
She shrugged her little shoulders. "Nothin".
"Come on now". I pulled her onto my lap. "What's going on in that pretty blonde head?"
"I'm not pretty Trace".
"Nope you're right........you're beautiful. Just like your Momma". I whispered.
"I miss Momma". She sighed.
"She'll be home soon little one. Until then.......you've got me". I said giving her my patented grin.
"No I don't gots you. You gots new friends now."
Ah ha.....now we get to it. I picked her up, turning her so she could see me.
"Now you listen here my little one. I do have friends here now. But they aren't you. Come on JT do you think Syd looks like she blows bubbles in her chocolate milk. Does Dawg look like she ....well never mind that, Dawg would do just about anything. Point is JT they didn't come here for me. They came here for us".
"Uh huh.....you and me .......us". I smiled at her.
She wrapped her little arms around me holding me as tight as she could. "I love you Trace".
I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat. Catching sight of Dawg standing behind the screen seeing the tears in those brown eyes.
"I love you too little bit".
And I really did.
Continued in part 2
alt fic | xena
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