“I’ll be home late; like every night, you know.” David was a bit anxious about his new responsibilities. He felt a bit insecure as to how the other men would respond to his leadership and authority. Debbie was just what he needed.
“You’ll be fine, just fine. Go and have fun. I know how much you enjoy your job, so just go and do it. Don’t be worrying about anybody else. They’ll do what you ask. It’s not like Daniel is going away forever you know. If they dare give you a hard time then they’ll have to answer to it.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know why I get so wound up about everything.”
“It’s because you care. That’s not a bad thing; just go.” Debbie stood at the doorway and saw her husband off. She was proud of him, even with his imperfections and reservations. She knew that he would do just fine; just like she had said.
“I’ll be late.” David reiterated as he got into his pick up truck. “Maybe even dark.” As he closed the door. Debbie just stood there and smiled. He sure was a good guy.
David pulled up in front of Daniel’s house and saw that his was the only extra vehicle so far. He was glad. That would give him a minute to get everything straight with Daniel. It was Friday and Daniel was leaving the next day. They were going to do a mock-run of David running the farm. Daniel would be there, but only for an emergency back-up and to help to get everything set up to run smoothly when David was in control on his own the following Monday.
“How’s it going, bud? You ready?” Daniel greeted David with a handshake and a smile.
David returned the nicieties and then said, “As ready as I’m going to get. You got my list ready?”
“You know I do. Let’s go on inside and I’ll go over everything with you. Thanks for coming so early.”
“Yeah, well, I figured I’d better be prepared.” David replied with a smile of his own. He liked the added trust and responsibility.
“I knew you would be. That’s what I like about you.” The two men entered Daniel’s spacious living room. “Right through here,” Daniel said, as he led David through to the kitchen. Daniel took a seat at a large dining room table and David sat in the chair next to him.
“It’s a nice place you’ve got here.” David admired the modern country kitchen that he was now sitting in. Everything was classic for country, but updated. The counters were a light brown mixed with darker brown granite and the appliances were all stainless steel. There was a soft glass backdrop that sparkled with hints of browns and gold. Whoever had designed the kitchen had done a very professional job.
“Yeah, it is nice. Thanks. We had it all re-done after the explosion.” Daniel didn’t elaborate. Of course it was a new kitchen; the old one had been destroyed.
“Oh, I’m sor –”
David started to apologize, but Daniel lifted up his hand in objection. “Don’t. It’s okay. Wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not something that no one is allowed to talk about. I know he’s gone. It just is what it is.”
“Anyway,” Daniel continued, “Here’s the list of chores. As I was making it out I was amazed to see what all has to be done in a day.”
“That’s just how it is. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Let me have a look, would you?”
Daniel passed the paper over to David. David looked at it and tried to keep a straight face, but ended up just letting out a bit of a chuckle. Daniel wasn’t kidding when he said that it was a lot of work!
“Too much?” Daniel asked.
“No, not too much. But there sure is a lot that needs looking after.” David took his hat off and absently ran his hand through his shaggy blonde hair. “Lots.”
“I was pretty surprised when I got it all written out myself. But it’s really not as bad as it seems. And you have to remember that the guys are all going to be here to help you. You can count on them. If you need a right hand man I’d go with Mario. He’ll do anything that you ask, and all of the guys know and respect him. In fact, I even told him that you’d be counting on him pretty strongly. He was more than okay with the idea. Mario is a hard worker.”
“It looks like you’ve covered all of the bases. I should be fine.” David stood up. “Let’s do it.”
The apartment was ready. Penelopy looked into the guest bedroom and she couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place. There was a crib to one side of the room and there was a changing table and a wardrobe for little Brittany. A person would have thought that the infant was moving in. The girl’s uncle had spared no expense to make Daniel and baby Brittany a home away from home.
“It’s beautiful.” She hugged her uncle. Thank you so much! It’s more than I could have ever hoped for!”
“I just had the guys put everything in place dear. This is your masterpiece.” Ray graciously allowed.
“It’s perfect!” Suzie chimed in. She was excited as she saw everything coming together. At least most of her was excited. There was a real fear in her also. What if Daniel came and took her Penelopy away? What was going to happen to her? She knew that her sister would one day grow up and move away, but Suzie had always believed that when she did she would take her little sister with her. That’s not life works, but for little Suzie, she couldn’t imagine it any other way. Her thoughts started to overwhelm her and she silently slipped off.
“So, all the baby clothes are in there?” Penelopy went on and on, and her uncle patiently answered her questions and listened.
“Yes, of course. Right there where they belong. And there’s plenty of room for Daniel’s clothes in the closet and in the dresser there. They should be fine.”
“I can’t believe that he’s coming.” Penelopy confided.
“Have you given our talk any thought?” Ray was trying to help Penelopy walk into her future with not only an open heart, but also an open mind.
“I have. I’ve gotten really close to Daniel, but I know that I’m not ready to make any kind of a commitment; at least not yet. I really do hardly know him.”
“He may be incredibly disappointed.” Ray offered. “Or very persuasive. Keep an open mind. I don’t want you to feel pressured about anything.”
“He’s a good man.” Penelopy had ran these things through her mind time and again.
“He’ll be level headed. I’m certain of it.” He put his arm over Penelopy’s shoulder. “I think we’re done here. What time is his plane coming in?”
“He’ll get here at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon.” As she said it, butterflies fluttered in her stomach.
“Great. We can leave earlier than we would need to and we’ll have a late lunch over by the airport. Don’t want to get tied up in traffic. That’ll give us something to do while we wait.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t, Uncle. He’ll be hungry when he arrives, and we’ll have just eaten.” Penelopy had a good point.
“You’re right. I guess we’ll just plan on picking him up and then coming here. We’ll get them unpacked and then have an early dinner instead. Does that sound better?”
“Much.” Penelopy smiled. “Hey,” she said, “Where’d Suzie run off to? She was right here a minute ago.”
“I imagine she’s off sulking. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but she’s pretty upset. This whole visit seems to be tearing her up.”
“Tearing her up? Why? She didn’t say anything to me.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She knows that Daniel makes you happy. But she’s afraid, Pen. I can see it in her eyes. I don’t know how to help her. I just don’t know how to tell her that everything is going to be okay. She’s afraid of losing you. And it’s sad, but her fears are founded. There are too many years between the two of you for it to be any other way. If not in the next couple of months, then surely in the next couple of years, and you’ll be gone.”
“But I can’t leave her. I’ve never even thought of that. Oh, I can’t do this. I never should have told him to come.”
“He’d come anyway, Penelopy. You have to know that. You can’t be afraid to live.”
“I can’t leave her.” Penelopy was done with the conversation. She needed to find her little sister.
“But Penelopy.” It was useless. She was gone. Ray looked out in the hallway where Penelopy had disappeared in, and then he just shook his head as he turned his attention back to the guest room/nursery. God help us, he thought, as he closed the door.
“What’s the matter, kitten?” Penelopy had found the missing Suzie. She was curled up in a ball on her oversized Princess bed. The canopy cast a shadow over her, and she looked so small and vulnerable.
“You’re going to leave me. I just know it.” Suzie couldn’t help herself, and she began to quietly sob.
“Baby, I will never leave you. I promise.” I promise. Penelopy heard the words and they echoed in her mind. How could she promise to never leave her when she had fallen in love with a man that lived so far away? You don’t just grow up and take your baby sister with you! What in the world was she going to do?
“I’ll send him away.” Penelopy stated with determination. “Them, I mean. I’ll just send them away.”
“But you can’t.” Suzie sat up and snuggled into her big sister’s welcome arms. Penelopy wrapped her arms around Suzie and pulled her close.
“What are we to do?” Penelopy was the adult, but she was in as much turmoil as the child. Both the woman and the child sat on Suzie’s bed enfolded into each other’s arms and confusion.
Their Uncle Ray came in the door. “Girls,” he called out softly.
Both looked at him; wondering what he would say: Wondering if he had the answers that they desperately needed.
“I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through. You know that I am here for you; but you don’t really need me; not like you need each other. I would never split you up; not ever. Just know that whatever you decide to do, you have my blessings.”
And with that their uncle left them to think about what he had just said.
“Does he mean that if you go to Oklahoma that I could go with you?” Suzie dared to ask.
“Sugar, that’s exactly what he means. But that doesn’t mean that Daniel is ready for a ready-made family. I just don’t know. We’ll have to see how things go. I just want you to know that you are more important to me than anything. Mom and Dad would have wanted it this way.”
“But I don’t want to keep you from being happy. What if he doesn’t want me? What then?”
“Then he doesn’t want me either. That’s that. That’s the rules.” Penelopy felt better than she had felt in days. She had been so concerned about Suzie. She needed to go and find her uncle and to thank him. And she needed to let Daniel know as soon as possible that if they were to ever even think about having any kind of a relationship that it was going to have to be a package deal. Period.
David pulled into the driveway, but there were no boys playing hoops. It was well past dark. Daniel had everything that had needed done all planned out, but the organizing and implementing the plan had taken time. First David had to get introduced to the dairy cows and the machinery. He had his own farm equipment, but like everything else, things run just a bit differently, and everyone has a way that they like to do things.
No sooner had the cows been milked and the large containers closed up for processing, then the workers all started showing up. They had immediately gone to Daniel for their instructions on what specific duties needed taken care of, but he redirected them back to David for their agendas. David did fine with the delegating, but whenever there was a question he had to search out an answer. And he purposely took care of all of his responsibilities without Daniel’s assistance. He knew that Daniel wasn’t going to be standing over his shoulder and so he just put his mind to the task and did what was needed done. Everything got done that was on the list, but it definitely took time! Daniel had made himself available, but scarce. He spent the greater part of the day just enjoying being home with Brittany and getting the rest of his packing done.
“You look beat.” Debbie said as she greeted David at the door. “How’d it go?”
“Slow. It went slow, but good. I got everything done. I didn’t mean it to take so long, but well, every time I turned around there was one delay after another. I’m hungry.”
“I’ve got dinner warming in the oven. I made a pot roast.”
“Smells good. Always does.” David took a minute and gave Debbie a hug. “Where are the kids?”
“The boys are upstairs playing a video game, and Kelly spent the night at Clara’s. You’ll have a little time to eat your dinner and unwind. I’m glad that you don’t have to work late like this all the time. We’re used to having our time with you.” Debbie smiled as she got a hot pad and took the hot casserole dish out of the oven and served her husband his dinner.
“Is this all for me?” David really was hungry!
“If you’d like, dear. But there’s quite a bit there. You’re welcome to it though. We already ate.”
David looked at the large amount of food that was in the serving dish. “I guess I’ll start with this,” he said as he put his mind to eating. “I feel like I could eat a horse.”
Debbie smiled and pulled up a chair. He’d be satisfied long before he polished off that whole dish of food, but she didn’t mind sitting there and watching him try.
41,103 Total word count.
30687 Nano word count
Daniel felt like a pack mule. He had already checked in two large suitcases, and he had his arms full with the baby in a car seat, a diaper bag over his shoulder and a carry on bag for extra clothes, diapers, and formula. He couldn’t believe how much stuff he needed to lug around, just for a few hour flight. But what if there was a delay? The only thing that he didn’t have was a man purse. He was starting to feel more like a woman than a man.
And the looks! He couldn’t believe how many women actually came right up to him and spoke to him as they admired Brittany. Didn’t they know that he could be some kind of a maniac? The kid was a better lure than a puppy, for Pete’s sake! He didn’t want to be rude, and so he would just smile back and be as polite as possible, thinking about how they shouldn’t be talking to a complete stranger…
The flight attendant helped Daniel to get Brittany settled in the seat beside him. He was fortunate that her car seat fit. She was a cute little red head. She smiled all the while that she was assisting him. Her name tag told him that her name was Scarlett. Fitting, he thought. After all of her cooing over the baby and doting over them both Daniel was surprised that she didn’t just whip out a little calling card. No, the little gal wasn’t being too very shy at all.
Daniel wasn’t impressed. She wasn’t his type. He much more preferred the quiet type. His mind drifted back to Mitzi and how hard it was to even get her attention. He looked at little Brittany. “You have your mommy’s eyes”, he told her quietly. “I hope that you grow up to be like her, sweetie. Your mommy was everything to me.” Daniel put his hand into the car seat and gently took a hold of Brittany’s tiny fingers. She gave him a sweet little giggle. His heart smiled as he was distracted from the overwhelming sense of loss that he had just been feeling. She was perfect. Just like her mommy.
The cute little look on Brittany’s face soon soured, and he could tell that she was about to let out a cry. How fickle women can be! He lost the nostalgia, and quickly started digging for her bottle. He didn’t want her screaming up the place. She was a good little baby, but she did not like to be kept waiting. “Here, here,” Daniel propped the bottle in her mouth. They hadn’t even taken off, and he certainly didn’t want Scarlett returning with a lecture about seat belt safety.
There were no delays and so a few minutes after the baby started eating Daniel was able to remove her from her car seat and give her a burp. He put the burp cloth over his shoulder and patted her back gently. Scarlett happened by shortly after he placed her in position.
“Burping the baby, oh how sweet.” She commented on her way by.
And what is my alternative? Daniel wondered. Let her get a belly ache? He caught the cynicism in his thought pattern and felt bad. He was sure getting to be a crotchety old man. There was no doubt in his mind that he needed a break! He loved the baby, but he sure didn’t like the way that people approached him all of the time. He was a private man, and he certainly wasn’t, ‘one of the girls’!
On the farm he garnished respect. He felt like he was important. He knew that his baby girl needed him, but he just wasn’t a mommy. She needed a real mom, and he needed to be a father to his child and not a mommy/daddy. He couldn’t help but wonder if he was wasting his time even going to New York. What if things weren’t as close, in person, with Penelopy as they seemed on the phone? What if she told him straight out that she was too young to be burdened with such a responsibility of a family and all. What if?
He really wanted to move on. He couldn’t help it that he had a baby, and he sure couldn’t help that she needed a mommy. Brittany let out a wet burp, and Daniel told her what a good little girl she was, as he dug into his diaper bag and got a wet wipe to get the stinky off of her face. He placed the wipe in a small trash bag that he’d throw away at first chance, and the soiled cloth into a large baggie; one that was especially for the dirty clothes; and put it into a special compartment in the diaper bag. He really was quite prepared. He again praised his little girl for the ‘good burp’ and put her in the crook of his arm and placed the bottle in her anxious little mouth. He truly was a good mommy.
There she was. Daniel had dreamed of this day. He stood a little taller; hoping that her perception of him wouldn’t be skewed by the appearance of him toting the baby and all of their gear. He felt a bit foolish, and incredibly awkward. His fears were unfounded. Penelopy’s eyes lit up and Daniel knew that she wasn’t troubled by what she saw. He could see by the look on her face that her feelings were mirroring those of his own.
“Let me take this.” Ray offered, as Suzie immediately clamored to his side.
“Oh, how cute!” She exclaimed.
With his arms free, at least of the infant and her carrier, Daniel had a place for Jessica in his arms for a proper greeting.
“It’s so good to see you.” She stated shyly.
“And you.” Daniel simply stated, as he gave Penelopy a proper hug.
“Sir,” Daniel offered his hand to Ray.
“My pleasure. It’s nice to finally meet you, young man.” Ray shook Daniel’s hand.
“And you, young lady.” Daniel bent down and wrapped an arm lightly around Suzie’s petite shoulder. “How are you?”
“She’s so pretty!” Suzie exclaimed! “Look, she’s so pretty!” Suzie looked up at Penelopy with wide-eyed wonder.
“Beautiful.” Penelopy stated as she also bent down to admire Brittany. Brittany reached out her hand and placed it on Penelopy’s cheek. The gesture wasn’t missed by any of them.
“Oh, look! She likes you.” Suzie openly shared.
“We’re kind of blocking the aisle,” Ray said, not missing the tender moment. “You got other luggage, I assume.”
“Have I.” Daniel stated with a bit of a not so well masked sigh.
“It’ll be fine.” Ray offered. “We can get a caddy.”
Daniel couldn’t help but be amused. “Yeah, I know. I feel like a pack rat.”
“A very well prepared pack rat, I might add.” Jessica stated her obvious approval. The baby appeared to be very well groomed and cared for. She smiled at Daniel.
Ray carried Brittany as he walked along side of Daniel while Suzie stayed right at their side. Jessica walked on the other side of Daniel. Strolling down the corridor, they were one big, happy family.
“What do you mean by that?” Jessica was mad. How dare Brad try and blame her for the events of the party! “I didn’t give me a drink that was going to knock me off my butt, you did! And I don’t appreciate it either.”
“Hey, listen. You better cool your jets, girl. You need me.”
“I don’t need anyone, not if they are going to try and take advantage of me like you did.”
“Take advantage of you? I don’t know where you get off.” Brad was angry by this time himself. “If it weren’t for me you’d just be another notch on Ernie’s belt.” Brad heard the screech on the other end of the phone. He held the receiver away from his ear; that hurt.
“Why, I ought to –”
“To what, Jessica?” Brad asked calmly. “Get another agent? And where you plan on doing that? Like I said, you need me.”
“I can’t believe you –” Jessica tried to continue on in her protest.
“Listen. You need to be still and just listen. It’s a tough town. I’m not making it up that you need me. And you need me now, I’m telling you. We need to get together and figure out how we’re going to patch things up with Ernie.” Brad gave a directive that he was dead-serious about.
“Are you kidding?” Jessica was incredulous. She wasn’t about to ‘patch things up with Ernie’ as Brad was saying.
“You may think that we’re in this massive town where no one knows anyone else; but let me tell you; it’s a small circle of people that run the fashion and commercial industry, and if you get yourself blacklisted then you’re done in this town. And not only that; but with the Internet things are even tighter; and far-reaching. You wouldn’t even be able to relocate to Los Angeles and make it doll. Nor would you be able to jump on a plane and try your hand in Paris. Like I said; you need me.”
Jessica couldn’t help but listen to what Brad was saying. “What am I to do? I’m not happy with him, and I’m most certainly not happy with you.” Jessica was frustrated and didn’t hide it.
“Look. We need to sit down and talk. Can I come over?” Brad sounded sincere.
Jessica looked around her small apartment. Everything was in pretty good order. She lived alone and it wasn’t that hard to keep things picked up after herself. Still, trust was definitely an issue. “What are your intentions?” Jessica asked, knowing that it would set Brad off, but she didn’t care. He didn’t deserve her trust.
“Seriously? Look. I’m doing you a favor. I’ll be there in about ten and we can talk this through. If you won’t listen then I guess we’ll have to be done with it all.” At that Brad hung up the phone.
Done with it all? It couldn’t be! She had just gotten here! She had just began her dream career. She certainly didn’t want to have to go back to Oklahoma! She had a lot to think about, and a very little time to do it.
Brad tapped lightly on the door. Jessica answered it in her sweats. She wasn’t interested in her physical presentation at the moment. All that she wanted were some answers; some answers, and an apology. He owed her at least that much.
“Come in.” Jessica was not being very gracious, but she was trying. “We can sit here.” She said, and took a seat at her little dinette. Brad joined her.
“Have you settled down some?” Brad asked, hoping that she would be civil.
“I’m pissed.” Jessica stated bluntly.
“Well, there really is no need to be. Okay, so I did give you a loaded drink. I’ll own that. But I didn’t drink it for you. And I never told you to go prancing all over the place. I didn’t give you that second drink either; and I most certainly didn’t tell you to go upstairs with Brad.”
“I was fine.” Jessica still wasn’t willing to admit to her terrible judgment on that front.
“No, you were not fine. Ernie had you dead to rights. You wouldn’t have stood a chance had you gone upstairs alone with him.”
“Yes, I would have. I’m a good girl. I wouldn’t have let him –”
“Oh, yes you would have. Once you finished that second Long Island Tea, you wouldn’t have known the difference.” Brad looked at Jessica, and she could tell that there were truth in his words. “Why do you think that I stopped the two of you? And then when you insisted on continuing on upstairs, well, I had no choice but to go with you. What do you think I went up there for, my health? I was at a party, remember. I wasn’t bored.”
“Not only that, but I about got my butt kicked over trying to protect you. I certainly didn’t appreciate that. And that’s another thing. We’re going to have to try and get Pete and Ernie’s situation straightened out also. You’ve caused a lot of trouble.”
Jessica didn’t know how to respond. What was she supposed to say? She never meant for any of it to happen. All that she was trying to do was have a good time. She could finally see Brad’s side of the whole situation and couldn’t stay mad at him. It wasn’t all his fault, even if some of it was. She was the one that was sucking down the drinks…
“Okay.” Jessica conceded.
“Okay? And what does that mean?” Brad wanted to know.
“Okay, you were right. I shouldn’t have been such a lush.” Jessica was feeling pretty awful about the whole mess; and once she truly saw her own responsibility in the situation she was pretty embarrassed and discouraged.
“Ah, you didn’t do nothing wrong. It wasn’t you fault. But still, we have to get things straightened out with both Brad and with Pete.”
“I threw up on the way home.” Jessica admitted.
“Nice.” Was all that Brad had to say.