Solid Ground

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Chapter 14

“You want me to do what?” Jill practically screamed at Simone and the half dozen other wives and girlfriends that huddled in the kitchen. “Are you fucking nuts? I might be drunk, but I ain’t that drunk. You want me to prance half-naked before Daniel.” She stared at Simone, “With everyone watching?”

The buxom young redhead from Texas, who had introduced herself as Trisha, stepped forward. “It’s tradition, honey. You a Texas gal. You know how important these things are,” she looked around to the others for support. “We all did it. I promise you, another glass of wine, and it’ll all be good fun.”

Jill could not expect this girl, who looked like she stepped directly off the Miss Texas USA ramp, to understand, so she turned to Simone. “You know why I can’t do this, Simone. Please,” she pleaded in a whisper, tears glistening in her eyes.

The woman nodded her head of curls and turned back towards the others. “It’s her choice, girls. You know that.”

The petite brunette, who had just entered the kitchen carrying a toddler, stopped. A horrified expression crossed her pretty face, as tears threatened to brim over her green eyes. “You have to,” she cried out. Looking at Simone, she begged, “You have to tell her. She has to do it. I don’t want this happening to anyone else.”

Simone tried to wrap her arms about the younger woman, “Chloe, you have to let this one go, honey. It wasn’t your fault. Daniel’s right, it’s all just a superstition. You refusing to dance had nothing to do with that copter going down. You aren’t to blame for Zach’s death any more than Dwayne is.”

The woman clutched tightly to the toddler as the tears spilled down her innocent cheeks. “Maybe you are right, but I’ll never know for sure, will I?”

Her eyes bored into Jill, who at that moment felt remarkably sober. She knew those eyes. They had stared back at her from a mirror for years. They were the eyes of grief.

“It’s a dance. Just a dance. Trust me; it isn’t worth the pain of never knowing,” Chloe choked out the words before she turned and ran from the room, clutching the little boy so tightly that he began to cry.

Jill stood up and went to follow after her. Her heart brimmed over with the shared pain of losing a soldier, husband, and father. It was the worst of nightmares, suddenly made real.

But Simone held out her hand. “I’ll go after her, sweetie. And don’t let this lot pressure you. It is your decision. The tradition began as a special gift freely given by a bride to her groom. If that ain’t what you want, then don’t do it.”

Jill nodded and squeezed her friend’s chunky hand. “Thank you. Now go after her. And call me if you need me. I might be drunk, but I ain’t so drunk I don’t still know those feelings. Tell her I’ll call her next week too, will you?”

Simone brushed a stray hair back from her face, “I meant it. You are as perfect as we thought you were. You are everything that man, those little girls, and this unit needs. And don’t you forget that, girl. Size zero or size twenty-four don’t matter half as much as what’s in here,” the woman thumped her ample chest. “And that you got in spades.”

Jill hugged her. “Go, damn it. If I’m gonna do this thing, I don’t need black mascara smudges on my cheeks on top of everything else.”

Simone squeezed her back, “You go, girl. I knew you would come through in the end. Don’t you dare do nothing before I get back.”

“You have my word on it. And no matter what Daniel says, bring me another bottle of wine. I’m gonna need it for this one.”

Simone winked before she disappeared through the back door. Jill sighed and joined in with the other wives as they chattered about the night’s main event. Or what for all of them had been the prelude to the main event. She hoped like hell that Simone was right. That she could do this. Or at the very least she hoped that bottle of wine was enough to make her forget it all.

***

Daniel was still seething with anger when his eldest daughter walked over to him, “What’s that man doing here, daddy?” Jess practically hissed.

Daniel looked over his shoulder, “I didn’t know you knew Clay Dodd, Jess.”

The girl stared at the grass, her toes making circles in it. “Yeah, well, he came around a few times. To talk to Mom when you were away.”

Daniel shook his head. He should have known. When he refused the man’s offer for a higher paying job with his father’s company, he would have gone to Rachel, of course. Hell, the two of them were probably country club buddies from way back in New York City. Daniel smiled as he lifted his daughter’s chin. “Don’t worry about it, sweetpea. And besides, since when you did you start talking to your old man again?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that. I’m still plenty mad with you. And you know I have every right to be. You marry the woman a week after you pick her up from the airport. Friend of gran’s, my ass.

“Watch your mouth, young lady,” he wrapped his arm about her shoulders. “I know this seems sudden to you. And one day when you’re a bit older, we’ll talk about it. But for now, will you just trust your old man that he has not gone crazy. That he’s just trying to do what’s best for our family?”

“Is this because of Aunt Heather and the custody case? I thought we won that?” He could see the worry in her face. His eldest had endured way too much of that in her short life.

“Sort of, Jess. But more than anything, it’s about having someone else there for you and your sisters. If anything,” he smiled. “Well, just if.”

Jess shook her head, “I get it. I guess. Althea and me watched this old movie. I mean really, really, really old. It was like this. A Navy commander that wanted to get back on his ship, but he had all these kids. He married this red-headed lady, who had just as many kids. It was called something funny like His, Hers, and Theirs or something.”

Daniel chuckled. He remembered being forced by his mother to watch it when he was younger. Back in the day when there was only one television set, and adults got to decide what you watched. “Yeah, something like that, sweetie.”

The girl shivered, “Just promise me that there won’t be any ‘theirs.’ That’s the most disgusting part. Old people like them, and you guys having babies. Yuck!”

Daniel chuckled at his daughter’s train of thought. He certainly would not mind a little baby making action with his wife. “If I promise it is not on the agenda any time soon, am I forgiven?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe, but she still won’t be my mother. Ever. You tell her to keep her smothering to the little girls, and we’ll be fine.”

He knew that Jill would appreciate his daughter’s boundaries, but he doubted very seriously that the woman would simply give up on trying to reach the temperamental teen.

He hugged his daughter and watched with worry as he saw Chloe Johnson race from the house, carrying a screaming toddler. He was about to go after her when he noticed that Simone was right behind the girl, calling out to her. But she would not be stopped. Chloe barreled through the wooden gate at the side of the house towards the street.

Thankfully, Daniel noticed Dwayne roll his wheelchair after the woman that was his best friend’s widow. He held out his hand to stop Simone as she ran after Chloe. “Leave it. Dwayne can handle her better than any of us.”

Simone nodded, “All right, I have some things cooking in the kitchen anyway.”

Daniel stared at her. “It better not be what I think it is.”

“Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out, commander,” the woman swung her wide hips and danced back into the house.

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