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First pages

Part I: Drake

“Good night, moon. Good night, stars. Good night old, broke-down cars…fuck you, Quebec.”

Nothing against my northern neighbors. It was my lapse in judgment—maybe hers? Who knows?

The atmosphere is opaque with the songs of countless crickets and toads—other unlovable things of the nightly hour. I loved her. She was a nightly creature, but I loved her. Loved.

There’s something off about tonight. Some strange element to the evening that keeps reeling me back to her.

A coyote’s cry impales the serenity, eerie with a lowly quality…yet soothing as I listen from my front porch with a cold beer in hand. Seconds later, the night is teaming with the calls of what must be dozens of coyotes. Their ravenous quest is officially underway. I shouldn’t admire them. My clientele expects me to despise coyotes for the havoc they wreak on local livestock. Cruel and heartless, disease-ridden devils. Or perhaps, cunning and resourceful…and devoted parents.

Either way, they’re welcomed to feast heavily on the plethora of jackrabbits in the open fields around our home.

Our home. Eva, Oklahoma. I don’t reside in an actual town, or even the remnants or makings of a town. Eva’s the scattered components of a community. Country homes speckle county roads for miles and miles. Flat plains as far as the eye can see. Between these homes, dappled along long stretches of highways, are foul-smelling pig farms. Sets of industrial barns can be seen all about the area. The barns come in groups of five and host Olympic-swimming-pool-sized vats of swine sewage next to them. Each farm is but a few miles from the next, so the area is perfumed with pig shit on any given day. I don’t care, I’m used to it, and the pigs are what initially brought us here.

The only scent on the air tonight is an oncoming rain. Or…perhaps the sky will only tease at the idea of downpour as it frequently does—leaving the area parched and praying. Some go so far as to post plywood signs begging passersby to pray along with them. Pray for rain. I’m parched too. Certainly, drinking with the barn cat doesn’t count as drinking alone?

I’m warm, feeling philosophical, and wishing I had someone to converse with. Not that waking my five-year-old daughter to keep me company on a Saturday night would ever be an option, but I’m lonely, so the thought momentarily crosses my mind.

Standing, stretching, my journey indoors for beer is abruptly halted as my gaze settles on the cat. His honey-glazed eyes are two perfect capital O’s. Back arched, he stares into the dark as if it’s conspiring to swallow him whole. He’s thicker now—each hair of his worn coat is erect as he growls and grumbles a warning to some invisible intruder.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” My question is ignored. The pale light above frames my shadow on the worn wood below, stock-still, other than my head as I glance repeatedly from my pet to an Oklahoma infinity—spotted with stars and humming with nightlife.

Be it alcohol or ignorance, I’m descending the porch steps. “You coming?” I look back to see the gray flash of a scurrying cat as he disappears around the side of the wraparound porch. Thoughts of lurking barn owls perched in oak trees, or even an ambitious coyote, have me kicking at the ground and trotting confidently toward the barn.

I’m surrounded by vastness. The night’s symphony has paused at my disruption as if I’ve just burst through the door of choir practice.

It happens sometimes while walking to the car in a dim-lit parking lot. Or while working outside in the evening and the shadows hide just enough to evoke more than imagination. Perhaps it’s a self-preservation mechanism that every human is blessed with. My feet tingle, as if they’re wet. Each little hair on the back of my neck stands to attention. My gaze remains affixed to the openness before me but everything in my being tells me to turn and run—get the fuck out of here…Now!

The night can keep whatever it’s hiding. I walk briskly to the porch. The atmosphere is comfortably warm, yet the event leaves my forearms dotted with goosebumps.

Like a child playing tag, I scramble up the steps of the porch as if it’s my safety, and peer out once more. “Chill out, dude. Field mice and jackrabbits,” I mutter.

Nerves settled, I grab a beer from the fridge and return to my chair, convinced I’m being silly and possibly dramatic.

I have a stack of ‘to-be-read’ books on my nightstand. A good book could go nicely with chilled beer.

The hum of a distant rig engine is overcome by some vehicle. Headlights appear, and I smirk as a blue Accord comes into view, sending dust up and into the low dim of the porch lights as it comes to a stop and the engine dies.

“Ashlyn?”

Exiting her vehicle, she offers a sly smile. “Hello, man who never answers his calls…or texts.”

Never? So definitive. It’s Saturday. Phone’s on the nightstand.”

Ashlyn makes her way up the steps. Her straight brown hair comes just past her shoulders and complements her dark brown eyes and freckled nose. She’s typically make-up free and dressed casually. She’s genuine, kind, and present, everything Renee was not.

“You got another one of those?” Her tone’s off. Her day must have been a colorful one.

Motioning her in my direction, I watch her cautiously peer through the screen door.

“Coty’s upstairs, sleeping,” I say softly, tugging at the hem of her shorts.

She sits on my leg, kissing my cheek. “You really don’t have your phone?”

“Huh?”

Her hands gently prod at my front pockets before resting on my belly.

“It’s on my nightstand.”

“For four hours? If you don’t want me coming around—”

She relaxes as I pull her into me, kissing her soft cheek…neck. “Stop that. I promise I left it on my nightstand for movie night with Coty. We watched Trolls again. I wouldn’t lie to you, Ash.”

“’K.”

“You still want that beer?”

“I wanna sit here a second. You’re comfortable.”

A scent of vanilla and roses enters my nostrils as loose strands of her hair tickle my neck. Much like the tension in the skies above us, something churns here…something uneasy and initially unidentifiable. Will it pass or pour down? “You’re all I’d ever want coming around. Believe that, okay?”

“Okay.” She smirks, rolling her eyes. “I’ll take that beer now.”

In the kitchen, she remains guarded. I’m realizing the storm is inevitable. Some storms bring new life, others wash out foundations.

“You’re tense. Relax.” My hands on either shoulder, I playfully pull her to me. “What is it?”

The hardwoods creak below us. The two-story country home is well preserved, yet nearly one hundred years old.

Her hesitation conjures immense concern. “Ashlyn, what is it? Talk to me.”

Light dances in the darks of her eyes as she smiles beautifully. Her smile’s lying; it’s sad.

“I don’t know where your head’s at, Drake.”

Instantly, my hands are touching about my face, knocking my ballcap to the floor as I examine my messy-haired head. “It’s here. It’s right here.”

“Dumbass,” she replies playfully.

“What’s that? What do you mean?” Goofy antics aren’t going to get me past this one. I rest against the countertop behind me, hopeful there’s kiss at the end of this.

“In a year from now I’d kind of like to have an idea of where I might be, ya know? And I can’t do that, and it’s because of you. And that, well, it pisses me off.” She’s not smiling now. Her words and tone aren’t the harshest she’s used with me, but they have me searching my brain for methods of resolution.

“Ash…Ashlyn. I’m trying. It’s been a big adjustment and I’m trying.”

“I’m not asking for a proposal, Drake. But goddammit, she’s been gone for two years and we’ve been doing…this for nearly a year.”

She—Renee, my ex-wife. There’s no framed memories. Her things have been boxed and stored. Only a few pictures remain in Coty’s room and the rest are tucked away in dark places.

Exhaling forcefully, I find the conversation shocking, yet I’m not shocked. I knew this was coming eventually. “I get it, Ash.”

“No, Drake, you don’t. Take me on a date. Invite me into your room. Stay the night with me after you have sex with me.”

My laughter has her eyes widening. “A date? Where, Ashlyn, would this date occur? Pizza in Elkhart? Maybe do some fishing at the Grasslands? Where would I take you on a fancy date?”

“You really are delusional. All I need is a decent bottle of wine, some cheap eats, and a blanket under the stars. We’ve got a piece of Heaven just outside.”

“Huh? I wouldn’t call the panhandle of Oklahoma, Heaven.”

“Yeah? Well, maybe you’re seeing things wrong. I think I have been too.”

Her hand reaches for her keys as my words come leaping from my mouth. “Shit. Wait, no. Don’t. I’m sorry, I’m stupid. Don’t do this. Don’t break up with me like this.”

She chuckles as her arms cross defensively. “Break up with you? Fuck you, dude. I had no clue we were even dating. Let your next tag-a-long know. Might make her feel extra special.”

Maneuvering past me for the door, it’s as if I’m only now seeing how absolutely perfect she is. Perfect for me, and how perfect we are together. But I just sat her aside and beckoned her at my convenience while I sorted my shit. There’s no room for dignity in situations like these. Her mind is made up, and it’s going to take more than mediocracy to convince her.

“Ashlyn, don’t go!” The crack in my voice halts her. She turns, sporting an irritated look. “Please. You’re right. I’m sorry. I thought we were okay…and were like, headed in the right direction.” Neither eloquent nor poised, my proclamation sounds as pathetic as I must look. “You have no idea how much you mean to me.”

“No…I don’t.” The tears in her eyes ensure she’s not only hurt, but she’s been hurting a while. Yes, fuck Quebec. Fuck Renee for returning there and abandoning her family, and fuck me for allowing the totality of the circumstances to hurt this beautiful person in front of me.

Just as she turns to leave, I forgo chipping at my walls and completely annihilate them. “Stay the night with me…in my room. In my bed. Talk this out with me. Pl…please. I don’t wanna lose you. I can’t…I can’t lose you, Ashlyn.”

My heart’s not racing, it’s pulverizing itself on my sternum from the inside as Ashlyn turns to me. And then, a thing of beauty. A smile. Small, but the makings of a truce are rarely blatant.

“Your bed? You’re not messing with me?” She steps to me.

“My bed.” My throat’s tight and aches as if a fist is inside, squeezing my trachea.

“Things would have to change, Drake.” Her tone is softer, yet her stone-cold composure ensures me the bullet hasn’t been officially dodged.

“Tell me, Ash. I’ll do it. I mean it.”

And then she’s chuckling, biting her index finger as her keys dangle from her hand.

“What? What is it?” My frantic question has her giggling harder.

“You. You’re a hot mess right now. I had no idea.”

“What? No idea what, Ashlyn?”

“I had no idea you’d give a shit if I walked out of that door forever.”

“What?” Shaking my head, I walk to her. “Are you insane?”

“No…I’m not. But I nearly drove myself insane thinking the worst when you didn’t tell me otherwise. You can’t go through life not telling the people you love and care about how you feel. Not all of them are going to give you the luxury of a warning.”

Swallowing hard, I merely shrug in defeat. “Okay.”

“Come here.” Her small hands work their way around my waist, pulling me into her. Her embrace is always soothing and welcoming, but tonight it’s something different. Tonight, it comes with a reprieve and a genuine lesson learned.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’d never want to hurt you, Ash.”

“Shhh.” She sways with me silently in the dim-lit kitchen to music, playing only in her mind. Her cheek lies flat to my chest as we cradle one another. Catching our reflection in the window, my gaze falls upon my own second chance—in the making. Don’t mess this up, dude.

The bedroom is anything but special. Just off the living room on the main floor, it houses my bed, dresser, and a few memories I’d like to give back. For whatever reason, of all the places, this has always felt like Renee’s. Even after papers were signed and the daily phone calls with Coty dwindled to weekly…biweekly, and sometimes monthly, it’s as if I’m betraying her. No more. This is my room. In it, I will do what I wish and invite whomever I please.

“And if Coty comes down here tonight?” She’s clearly feeling the situation out…feeling me out.

“There’s a lock.”

“She can only knock so long before—”

“She never comes down here at night, Ash. And even so…tomorrow starts a different day.”

“Oh?” Her bra slides from her arms and to the floor.

From the bed, I nod. “I’m telling Coty tomorrow. And then…and then I’d like to plan something…like a mutual meeting place—”

“You’re being serious right now?”

“Yeah. Is that okay?”

The uncontrollable grin etching across her face assures me it is. “A bit one-eighty-ish, but totally cool.”

“I meant it, Ash.”

“I know that now.”

The last shred of remaining guilt seems to have impacted my ability to undress at lightning quick speed at any mention of potential fornication. She glances at my underwear; her smirk of disapproval assures me she has other ideas. Within seconds I’ve wriggled free of my boxers. Twirling them on my index finger, I send them sailing toward her.

She giggles as I grab her, pulling her on the bed and rolling with her.

There’s nothing chore-like about anything I do with her. I enjoy it. I crave it. I never craved Renee…ever. Renee was a chore. I’m assuming I was a chore for her, too. She’d rather read her hardcover romance novels by the dozens until four in the morning than do anything romantic with me. But that’s neither here nor there.

Here is now, and damn, does she taste good. How could I not crave this? I could linger here for literally hours if she’d let me. Each time her legs shake in ecstasy it has me longing for more of her, more of this. I’m realizing I need this too. As if sex with Ashlyn in this room solidifies my new life…a brand-new life. I’m officially reclaiming my territory.

“I can’t.” She gasps, pulling me up from between her legs.

I emerge victoriously, crawling upward as I attempt to maneuver myself into position.

“Wait.” Sliding down, she gently cups my balls.

“You don’t…you don’t have to.” Not that I mind. And then I’m the one in ecstasy in her mouth. Head back, glancing toward the ceiling briefly, I scold myself, knowing I could have been doing this routinely in my own bed for months now. Again, lesson learned.

“Ready?” I look down, she looks up.

The sheets and pillows make their way to the floor, leaving only our bodies rolling about as we play-fight for domination. Just as we’re in motion…perfect pace…perfect sensation and we’re one in the moment…

“Daddy?” Her tiny voice halts me mid-thrust.

I look to Ashlyn as our goals are rapidly modified. No longer chasing the big bang, we decouple—pupils bouncing about the disheveled mess we’ve created for something to pop out and make sense. Escape, hide…what?

“Coming.”

The thin white sheet does little to hide my hard-on. Reaching for my jeans, I zip them up carefully and creep to the door…letting myself out and closing it behind me.

“Hey, Coty.”

Eyes barely pried, stuffed Poppy-Troll in arm, my sleepyhead takes my hand and tugs me in the direction of the staircase.

Upstairs, our hands still clasped, she yawns petitely. “Tell…tell me again. Say it again, Daddy.” Her eyelids flutter as I bring the comforter to her chin.

In a tiny bedroom of a 1920-ish two-story farmhouse, I once again lay my gaze upon the most beautiful scene in the history of histories…my peaceful, healthy, happy daughter, is somewhere between dreams and reality.

“Now’s the time to close your eyes, chase your dreams like fireflies. Perhaps tonight, you’ll sail the seas, or play patty cake with chimpanzees. A pirate? A princess or even maybe, the caretaker of dragon babies. Some are silly, some are sad. Dreams are dreams, good or bad. But rest assured, some come true. Come morning light I’ll still have you.” She’s out before I even finish our secret saying.

Her light brown hair looks as though she styled it with a mixer just before bed.

Ashlyn’s presence from the hallway was made aware well before. The creaky floors of our home make it impossible to move about unnoticed, even for agile long-distance runners.

In the hall, Ashlyn quietly leads the way down the stairs to the living room and to the kitchen.

“Dragon babies. I love that part.” She opens the refrigerator and grabs a beer.

“Yeah…they’re not born huge. Don’t you watch Shrek?”

“Did you write that little poem?” She grins, biting her bottom lip.

“I did. I write a lot of things.”

“So mysterious. Dr. Drake Graves. Veterinarian and masterful poet…and excellent father.”

Beaming, I slide her beer from her hand for a sip, reaching under her t-shirt with my free hand. “And a…a wild tiger in the bedroom?”

Her hand slaps over her mouth to saddle her laughter. “A tiger?”

I’m laughing too at this point. “Yeah, a wild one. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”

Her arms around my waist, head to my chest, she squeezes me. “Let’s go.”

“Where.”

Our gazes are locked as she leads toward the bedroom. “We’re not done.”


Two.

 

Sunday mornings are never much more than comfortable attire and casual cleaning.

Looking out the window above the kitchen sink, I set my gaze upon an empty nest—nestled within the clutches of the small, dead apple tree. The robins are gone now. Left behind is all that remains of two ambitious creatures, dedicated to their species’ cause. Some might see nothing more than a lice-infested mess of feathers, droppings, and twigs. I see a monument to their success. This home, this house. This is my success, or the makings of that success, rather. When we patriated the area, I was craving more than a new scene. My parents were as established as the trees decorating the yard of their colonial home. I want that from this. Decades from now this land will be dappled with friends and family on special occasions. A place to scatter loose or deep thoughts, and maybe even family’s ashes. For now, it’s only the beginning. Back to robins.

I’ll chop the dead tree down soon. It’s only upright because of the birds and their home. So simple, yet so effective. She’ll guess it, though, so I set my sight upon something else.

“I spy, with my little eye…something…something small.”

From the couch in the living room, she giggles. “How small, Daddy?”

“Oh…as small as a frog.”

“Is it a frog?” There’s escalating excitement in her voice as she patters to the kitchen. “Do you see a frog?”

“No. And no cheating. Your rules. Back to the living room.”

“Is it…is it…give me a clue.”

Her tiny doll, tucked among the dandelions, was recently thought to be a casualty. Coty had spent hours searching for the figurine the week prior. “It’s wearing a blue dress.”

Again, her feet are slapping on the hardwood. “Huh? Frogs don’t…Sabrina!”

“You guessed it.”

“Where?” Jumping up and down enthusiastically, her excitement is uncontrollable.

“Were you visiting the birds last week?” With this information, Coty races out the kitchen door. I watch as she happily reclaims her three-dollar treasure before bolting back inside.

“Daddy! She’s totally okay!” Her grin is infectious as she presents a mildly sun-bleached Sabrina.

“Delightful. Now go wash that syrup from your face.”

Happy singing resounds from the living room and fades. I’m once again left with my thoughts. Ashlyn left only two hours before. We’d had a long night…but a damn good one. Reminiscing on the good parts, my nostalgia is shattered suddenly.

“Ooohhh, Daddy.” Little words carry from the living room.

“Yes…Coty.”

“I spy, with my little eye, something big.”

“I don’t want to play—”

“It’s my turn, though.”

I sigh, drying my hands as I walk to the coffee pot. “Bigger than…a coffee cup?”

“Lots bigger.” Her voice is muffled, as if her face is pressed to the large window behind the couch. The window I just cleaned.

“Is it bigger than Biggles?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but it doesn’t count if it is Biggles. Is it Biggles?”

“No, Daddy. Silly.”

“I give up. Did you wash your face?”

Doll in hand, she returns—she’s apparently made something of an effort to clean the syrup from her face, but it’s ineffective.

“Coty, you’re just going to have to take a—”

“I spy a scarecrow,” she says slyly.

Silly head. She may have an excellent memory, but we removed that raggedy scarecrow from the field months ago when the winter winds took the remainder of its plaid shirt. It was here when we bought the place and I haven’t any crops to protect from thieving crows.

“Hmmm. No, ma’am. I think maybe you’re mistaken, brat.”

“Am not. And I’m not a brat.”

“Coty,” my tone much sterner, “what have we said about being dishonest?” I lift her to me, making direct eye contact as I take her in my arms.

“I would never lie to you, Daddy. I seen—”

“Saw.”

“I saw a scarecrow in the field.” Her tone and expression assure me she’s convinced of what she’s proclaiming.

“Really?” And then my brain produces the only rational explanation…Jakabie Mathews. I carry her to the window to look upon nothing but our old barn, an open field, scattered clouds and a sleeping Biggles, the haggard barn cat. I then glance upon my daughter’s look of bewilderment.

“Daddy…he was out there. I promise.”

“I believe you, sweetie.”

“Where could he have gone?” She continues peering through the glass from my arms.

“Maybe your scarecrow was actually Jakabie?”

You think? Can I go see? Can we play?”

We head in the direction of the main floor bathroom. The clawfoot tub is huge and perfect for childhood antics. “Nah, Coty. Today I’m going to introduce you to a very special friend of mine.”

And instantly she’s shrieking with delight. “Oh Daddy! A horse? Or, let me guess, a pig?”

Chuckling as I set her down in the bathroom, I shake my head. “No, Coty. I’m not taking you to work with me. This friend is human…a person.”

“Oh.” She stares curiously.

“A girl or…woman person,” I say with a certain amount of hesitation.

Two seconds of awkward silence pass. “A girlfriend?”

My face heats as if I’m inches from a campfire. “Um, well, uh…yes, Coty.”

She shrugs casually before undressing. “Okay. Can we go to Dairy Kream today? I want a cherry vanilla Coke.”

Relief is instant. “Whatever you want, baby-dork.”

“That’s right, Daddy-dork.”

***

Dairy Kream isn’t a rip off of any large fast-food joint. The establishment is nothing more than a blue cinderblock of a building, tucked away among churches, near the elementary school in the little town of Elkhart. Elkhart is about a twenty-minute drive from my house and nestled next to the community of Eva.

The menu on the Dairy Kream should read, ‘Comfort-Food’ near the top. It was basically my mainstay when Renee left. Little Bit and I would load up and head in to town at least three times a week for burgers, tots, chili dogs…the good stuff.

Initially I believed Elkhart to be nothing more or less than any other tiny town I’d visited. There aren’t many options for those passing through. Drivers needing to relieve themselves after nine in the evening would be better served elsewhere.

The people are pleasant enough, but again, nothing initially struck me as outstanding. Pieces of the town appear untouched by time, yet in a good way. The brick buildings and streets have unique character and each time I drive down Main Street I find myself allured by some enchanting small-town store front display coaxing me inside.

Not long after Renee left I learned how boring I was. I had no life. I found myself frequenting small town auctions at the City Hall on Saturdays and Coty and I would sit in the stands during home games to support the local junior high and high school teams.

It wasn’t until I was absorbed and welcomed into the crowd I was sitting among that I realized I didn’t want to simply pass through. I was home. This is my home.

Coty and I had a lengthy discussion regarding what might be appropriate discussion and what was entirely off limits during our date with Ashlyn. Coty's choice of a mutual meeting place is no surprise as it is inclusive of a playground and more than likely other small children, given that it is a weekend.

Cunningham Park sits in the heart of Elkhart and is surrounded by a waist-high stone and cement fence. Charming, and boasting established trees and two log cabins for the Scouts, it’s the perfect common area, regardless of the heat outdoors. There’s plenty for Coty to do. Rather than swing, play on slides, or monkey bars, she elects to sit at the pavilion, post meals with Ashlyn and me. The two seem to be hitting it off as if they’re long lost friends.

Ashlyn has never failed to impress me, but listening to her converse freely with Coty on topics such as LOL Dolls and Purple Pretzel Daycare, I see it’s clear that Ashlyn has done her homework.

“Also, Ashlyn, today I thought I spided a scarecrow…but no. It was silly Jakabie playing in the field. I couldn’t go play though because I had to meet you.” Coty sips her drink. “That’s okay though, because now we’re friends.”

“Yes. We. Are.” Ashlyn looks to me. “Jakabie? He was in the field?”

“He’s harmless. He’s a great kid.”

“I know, but did you call his parents? He shouldn’t be in the field alone.”

I shrug. “Maybe you’re right. He goes running and exploring all the time, but his mother is usually outside gardening.”

Producing my phone, I call the Mathews’ residence. I’d treated a heifer with mastitis the week prior and the only way to contact them is the landline, as if they are stuck in 1985.

“Hello?” a deep, happy voice answers.

“Robert?”

“No. No sir, this isn’t Robert.”

“Jakabie?”

“Yes sir.”

“Glad to hear you made it home. This is Drake.”

“Oh. Oh yeah. Hi.”

“Jakabie, if you’d like, I think we’re going to make some homemade ice cream this evening. You’re more than welcome to join us.”

“Yes. I would. That sounds like the best idea.”

“Okay then. You clear it up with your folks. I’ll give you a ring when we get home to work out the details.”

“Okay, sir. I will. Thank you, sir.”

The drive home is as open as the views and lands around us. Coty asks rapid-fire questions and they’re answered diligently, as if Ashlyn had been provided a copy of the interrogation prior to the date. She’s seriously perfect.

Reprieve comes in the form of Taylor Swift as Coty quells the cross-examination and demands the radio is amped up while she sings and dances along from her booster-seat.

As Ashlyn takes my hand, I realize this could be it. This could be my life…my forever life. I’m an idiot for not acting more quickly, but all good things need time to cultivate. This is cultivation.

Rather than homemade ice-cream, we opt for a game of tag in the front yard before finding Biggles basking near the barn. He is brought to the porch involuntarily to be brushed and petted relentlessly. Thankfully, the old fella seems to be a good sport about it.

Small talk leads to frequent hugs, and soon enough, Ashlyn is Coty’s “best friend,” and she’s even sitting in her lap. The evening is fast approaching…as is the end of what has been an incredible revelation of a weekend.

From the porch, the three of us bid the day goodbye as the summer sun kisses the sky goodnight, leaving it blushing a brilliant orange, pink, and pale blue in the distance.

“Let’s get you to bed, Coty.”

“Please…please no.” She yawns sleepily from my arms.

“Tomorrow starts a brand new day, baby-girl.”

At Coty’s insistence, Ashlyn is invited upstairs to partake in our nightly tuck-in ritual. There’s nothing intrusive here…there’s nothing awkwardly rushed or mildly disingenuous about the interactions. On the contrary, it’s as if some blossom of a relationship has been aching to bloom…and I have been keeping it from budding or taking root. It’s sprouting beautifully before me now.

“Daddy…I don’t wanna go to Ms. Gonzalez’s tomorrow. Can I go to work with you?” She squeezes her Poppy doll—snug from her comforter.

“No, Coty. I’ve got a full day tomorrow.”

Coty offers no resistance, only a diverted gaze and a serious look of disappointment. And then I’m gently nudged from behind.

“Let me stay here with her tomorrow.” I’m surprised Ashlyn’s excited whisper isn’t overheard.

“You don’t work?”

“No…not until Tuesday.” She grins excitedly. This is something she genuinely wants to do.

“Okay, but that means you’re staying the night again.” I smirk, my index finger dips into her bellybutton beneath her thin t-shirt.

“Deal.”

After several seconds of jumping on the bed and announcing a hastily prepared, impromptu agenda for the following day, Coty is calmed and corralled and once again tucked in. The news of her and Ashlyn’s day together will undoubtedly have her awake with excitement for a bit longer.

“Say it! Say it, Daddy!”

I sigh, smiling, knowing Ashlyn has heard our silly poem prior to tonight…but knowing I must recite it directly in front of her has me bashful for some reason. It’s all for the sake of Coty, I guess. “Now’s the time to close your eyes, chase your dreams like fireflies. Perhaps tonight—

My words are abruptly interrupted by thunderous knocking on the front door. I instantly imagine whomever is on the other side to have some catastrophic emergency requiring immediate veterinarian assistance. It’s happened before, multiple times…yet never quite this late.

“I’ll see who it is.” As I rise from my daughter’s bed, she appears more irritated than concerned. Her nose crinkles as though she’s smelled something bad.

“Daddy…you’ll come back and read me a story?”

“Not tonight, Coty.”

“You’ll finish our saying?”

“Yes…Coty, later.”

Down the stairs and across the living room, I’m growing irritated as the knocking has continued without rest—a steady hammering, shaking pictures on the walls near the front door. I open it to see a wild-eyed Jakabie.

He merely grins and walks past me as I stare in disbelief.

Ruffled and glancing about, the eighteen-year-old meanders into the kitchen.

“Jakabie,” I follow him. “Hey bud, what are you doing?”

Happily seating himself at the small kitchen bistro, he looks to me. “I…well. I waited for you to call or come by. You never even called me, sir. You just left me sitting there. You never came for me and you didn’t call. So I just came. I’ll take vanilla, please.” His gleeful grin has me squirming in guilt.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Bradon Nave is a USA-Today Bestselling and award-winning NA/YA author. He was born and raised in Oklahoma. Bradon currently lives in Piedmont, Oklahoma, with his wife and two young children. He loves running, being with friends, and writing. Connect with Bradon on Twitter, Facebook, or visit his website www.bradonnave.com


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