"It’s just me, Mom.” Jolie dropped her backpack by the door as she entered the apartment, sighing as she took in the mess. Jessie Lynn was laid up, or maybe laid down was a better description. All she’d done since she came home from the hospital was lay around on the couch or in bed, watching TV, and flipping through gossip magazines.
“She seems to get around just fine when I’m not home,” Jolie grumbled, picking up a shirt and a bra that had been tossed over the back of the couch.
“Jolie, can you get me a Coke, baby? I’m dying of thirst,” Jessie called from her room.
Jolie went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. There wasn’t much in it, and there were no sodas. Jolie had bought a six pack yesterday. Two had gone the first night. Two were on the dining room table and two more were adding rings to the already stained coffee table. Jolie went to the sink and filled a glass with water.
The blinds in Jessie’s room were down, the window half closed over a box fan that blew warm air into the stuffy room. In a few weeks, when the valley’s temperatures hit triple digits, there would be no question of going without air conditioning, but in the upper eighties, the dry heat was livable, and the issue of how they were going to survive while Jessie Lynn was laid up, had not been resolved.
“Thanks.” Jessie Lynn grabbed the glass and took a sip. “Blah. What’s this? Water?”
“Yea,” Jolie confirmed the obvious.
“And tap water at that. What are you trying to do, poison me? You know I don’t drink that shit. It tastes like a swimming pool.”
“There isn’t anything else, Mom. You drank all the sodas and we can’t afford bottled water anymore. You don’t have a job, remember?”
“My disability money is going to kick in any day now,” Jessie said as if her own determination was all it would take to make it happen.
“Well, when it does, we can buy more groceries, but a temporary disability check is not going to pay for a six pack a day soda habit to replace the beer you’re not drinking.”
“Don’t be mean, Jo. I’m bored and I’m in pain. What else is there for me to do here all alone all day? Anyway, stop worrying, we’ll be fine. Brett said he’d help out.”
That stopped Jolie. “You can’t ask Brett for money, Mom,” she objected.
“Why not? He’s got plenty, and he wants to help us out.”
“There’s plenty wrong with it, and you know why,” Jolie argued. “Isn’t it bad enough that you got him involved in all this in the first place, fighting with Rick?”
“Rick will no longer be a problem,” Jessie declared.
“Until he posts bail or gets out on parole. Rick is a vengeful moron. Brett could find himself in the middle of all kinds of problems that he didn’t ask for. And you know that owing someone for that kind of help opens doors that aren’t easily shut. We talked about this. It puts us in Brett’s debt and makes you feel like you have to say yes when you should say no.” It was just the kind of poor judgment that had marked the beginning of more than one of Jessie Lynn’s romantic entanglements, ending in her and Jolie making a late night getaway across the nearest state line. Some people learned from their mistakes. Jessie Lynn was a practice makes perfect girl with a penchant for self-delusion.
The door bell rang.
“Speak of the delicious devil,” Jessie Lynn re-arranged her hippie girl skirt so that it covered her injured leg. “That will be Brett now.”
“Hello? Jessie?” Brett opened the door a crack and stuck his head in.
“Come on in, darling. Jolie and I are back here,” Jessie chimed, musically.
Jolie should have realized that Brett was expected. Jessie Lynn had dressed for the occasion, putting on a tight, low-cut tank top. The crinkly material of the long skirt was so light and thin, that when she bent her good leg, it showed off its shapeliness. Conveniently, it was also easy to get up, get down, or get off. Jessie had full war paint makeup on her face, and her nails on both the good arm and the broken one had been freshly pinked and shellacked. She was ready for the hunt, and she was the bait.
“I almost feel sorry for him,” Jolie muttered.
“There’s my sweet man,” Jessie held out her arms and puckered her lipsticked lips for a kiss.
“You’re looking better,” Brett complimented Jessie as he came in, handing her a bouquet of flowers. Jolie added up what a dozen roses cost, wishing Brett had been more practical and brought them dinner.
“How sweet. You’re such a gentleman.” Jessie dutifully stuck her nose in the bouquet. Brett nodded to Jolie.
“How do you feel?” he asked Jessie, glancing at her injured leg.
“Better, now that you’re here.” Jessie flirted.
Brett didn’t seem to notice. He rolled the brim of his cowboy hat, turning the hat slowly in his hands. Something was on his mind.
“So, I’ve had a full day,” he announced. “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
Jessie’s eyes flashed. “I don’t want any bad news, anymore, ever. You can keep that to yourself, but you can tell me the good news.”
“I talked to my friend Chase today. He has a place out in Tecopa, and he’s agreed to let you stay there until you can get on your feet, free of charge, of course.” He looked at them, expectantly.
“Tecopa? Where is Tecopa?” Jolie asked, googling it on her phone.
“And why would we want to live there, Brett?” Jessie questioned him, taken aback. “We have an apartment.”
“But you can’t keep it. You know that, Jess. If you’re not working, you can’t afford this place. It’s too expensive.”
“I’ll get disability,” Jessie insisted, puckering up for a pout.
Brett shook his head. “I had my lawyer check. You’re not going to be out of work long enough to save the apartment. Disability won’t kick in until after eight weeks, and your doctor said he could release you in a month or so.”
“That was just an estimate.” Jessie crossed her arms over her chest, increasing her cleavage. Brett gave her a moment to calm down.
“Look, you need to think realistically, Jess. Next week is the end of the month, and your rent’s going to be due.”
“I know, but you said that you were going to help,” Jessie whined.
“I am helping. Having this house in Tecopa means you’ll be okay. You can stay as long as you need to get well, and you won’t end up homeless. And because Chase is letting you stay for nothing, I can take care of the utility expenses, and get you set up with groceries.” He looked at Jolie. “This will make whatever you have saved stretch further, and when you’re well and can work again, you can get a new job, come back and start again.”
“Tecopa, California?” Jolie asked Brett. “That’s ninety miles away. Isn’t that like out where Charles Manson and weirdos lived?” Jolie wanted to shout How can you do this to me? but she knew that adults made decisions all the time without considering what it would do to kids’ lives. She understood that Brett was trying to help, but who was he to make these kind of decisions for them? He was just some casual do-gooder, trying to make himself feel better after banging her mom for free for a few months. Remy was still in danger. She had friends here. Tru’s wedding was in a week. After all the months and months of hating Las Vegas, why did this have to happen, when things were finally turning around?
“I can’t leave now, Mom. You know I can’t,” Jolie protested. “What about school?”
“There’s a high school in Shoshone. It’s small but...” Brett let the sentence fall off without finishing it. “And there’s a library with internet access, so taking classes online would be another option.”
“And what about you, Brett?” Jessie Lynn asked quietly. “When will I see you if I’m all the way out in Tecopa?”
“Well, that’s the bad news, Jess. My business here is done, so I’m headed back up north at the first of the month.”
Jessie looked stunned. This was not how she’d thought today was going to play out.
“I’ll stay to see you settled in,” Brett went on. “But I’ve got a business and a ranch to run in Montana, and I need to get back to it. I reserved a truck to move your things this weekend.”
“Well, it seems like you’ve just taken care of everything,” Jessie said. There was an edge to her voice. “That was real friendly of you.”
“I’m sorry, Jess. I know the timing is not great, but we always knew this was coming. I never made a secret of the fact that I was here for a short time, and that I would be going back.”
Jessie Lynn’s smile was forced. Saying anything would only make her look weak, and weak was not desirable. As long as she put a good face on Brett’s departure, there was always a chance that he’d have second thoughts, that he’d miss her, or realize what a wonderful woman she was, and come back for her. She had watched Pretty Woman way too many times.
“Don’t give it a second thought, honey. You’ve been more than generous,” she said, smiling through the lie. “You’re a good friend.”
Brett turned to Jolie. “Jo, can you help me get some stuff out of the car?” Jolie followed him outside. There were several sacks of groceries in the back seat.
“I didn’t want to give your mom money because I wasn’t sure what she’d do with it. She’s uh ...”
“An impulsive alcoholic?” Jolie finished for him, silently wanting to point out that if Jessie Lynn had not been impulsive, he would not have gotten laid so easily, or so often on such a short acquaintance. “It’s okay, Brett, I know how my mom balances her checkbook.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, or if that was disrespectful to your mother, Jo. I just want to make sure that there’s food in the house, and she’s not drinking it all away, that’s all. So, do I give you the cash or...?
“I’m not taking money from you,” Jolie informed him. “You’ve done enough. Whatever else you do or don’t do, you’ll have to work that out with my mom. If I had my way, she’d never take a dime from you.”
“I respect that, but you need help, Jolie.”
Jolie wasn’t sure where this guy was going with this sudden desire to promote her into the adult club. Taking her into his confidence wasn’t soothing her worries over him moving them to some mysterious hovel in the sticks where nobody could hear them scream. In Jolie’s experience, there was only one reason for an older man to try and make a young girl feel more grown up, and it had nothing to do with respect.
“My mom’s made some poor choices,” Jolie admitted. “But she’s still my mom, and it may not look like it to an outsider, but we have each other’s back when it counts. She isn’t the kind of mom who would stand by and let someone take advantage of her daughter.”
Brett didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah. I see that.” He seemed to genuinely have no idea what she was inferring. “And she’s real proud of you, Jolie,” he added. “You should hear her brag about her girl.”
“When I’m not around to hear it, right?”
“Lots of parents are like that. They don’t want to give their kids unrealistic expectations.”
Jolie smirked. “No fear of that here. What about your kids?”
“Never had any,” Brett admitted. “I kept marrying the wrong kind of woman I guess, and now, it’s too late.”
Jolie started getting nervous again about the direction of the conversation.
Brett must have sensed her nerves. “I’m not looking for anything from your mom, Jolie, or from you. I’d just feel wrong if I left you in such a pinch without trying to help. There was a time or two in my life when I was down and people helped me. Let me return the favor. I’ll walk away; no strings attached. I promise.” He gave her a friendly smile as he picked up the other two bags of groceries.
They were headed back to the apartment when Jolie’s phone chimed that she had a text.
It was Sean: “Change of plans. Can’t go to the wedding with you. Sorry.”
She should have known better than to count on Sean. She should probably have asked Remy in the first place.
Jolie slid her phone back into her pocket without replying to Sean’s text.