I Pick You, page 22
“Come on. Get this guys. Sixty-eight is where?” I asked the rhetorical question while I tapped on the number, wanting them to say the top. They all looked at me like I was a giraffe. “Top. The bigger number is on top. Forty-two is where?” Of course, they all said bottom. “Do we need to borrow from the top number?” Another blank stare. Nothing. Just when I thought there was no hop, Harry Potter saved the day.
“Yes. Simon. I pick you,” I said, yardstick pointing right at him with a little too much excitement.
“Hey, can I tell you something?”
“Well, yesterday at recess Kayla said you didn’t how to do math. That’s why she couldn’t do it.”
Tori Spelling fired right back. “I did not.”
My head dropped and shook back and forth. “I’m going to back to Nashville.”
Just like that. I wasn’t even thinking about Nashville. “There’s a new game on your student hubs with your spelling words for the week. I just uploaded it this morning. Let’s take a break from regrouping. We’ll try it again tomorrow. DeVito. You’re in charge. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Used to me calling him Danny DeVito, Drake looked up and smiled, happy to take on the leader role.
I walked to the side door and stuck my head into Rydell’s classroom, waiting for her to finish explaining the exact same thing I had just been trying to get through my own kid’s heads. She looked so pretty walking around in front of a classroom. I loved it when she wore skirts, even if some of them touched the floor.
“Hey, can I tell you something?” I asked, when she stopped and looked to me.
Rydell smiled and nodded toward the outside door, putting Whoopi Goldberg in charge.
“Your kids are so dumb.”
“Shut up. They are not. They’re learning. What’s up?”
“Let’s go to Nashville this weekend.”
“Nashville? For what?”
“I’m not telling you. Come with me. Please.”
“I’m not marrying you.”
I laughed at how serious she sounded. “It’s not Vegas, but okay. I promise we won’t get married. Just trust me.”
“Sweet. You’re going to love it. I promise.”
“I’m sure I will.”
I made plans with Bridgett to meet me in Nashville rather than coming to Florida. After all, I would be needing a sitter for what I had planned. Friday couldn’t come soon enough. I also told Kit my plans that night.
“I don’t like it. I don’t want you taking her there by yourself.”
“What? I can’t take her to Nashville? And I’m not going to be by myself. Bridgett will be there,” I explained, while I quickly picked up on the Rydell disclosure. I’m not even sure why I hadn’t told her about Rydell. It just never came up. Not really. I guess Bay did talk about Dell a lot, but Kit was the one who presumed Dell was Dale, and he went to preschool with her. I just never set her straight. I didn’t think there was a need to tell her, or was it a need to hide it for my own personal reasons? I did what I always did. Forgot about it. No sense in creating drama over things that didn’t even matter. But…I would have wanted to know any guys she had around Bay. There was that. I brushed that adulting off to the side, forgetting about it to make it go away.
“You’re just going to go there and get a hotel room, or you’re going to sleep with a few sluts?”
“Where the hell is this even coming from? Why do you care who I sleep with?”
“I don’t care who you sleep with, Brantley. Sleep with whoever you want, but don’t have them around my daughter.”
I looked to Bay, pushing buttons on my cellphone while choosing my words carefully. “She’s my daughter, too. She wants to go to Nashville and see Aunt Bridge, huh, Bay?”
“I see a Bwidge.”
“Aunt Bridge can see you there.”
“Kit, you’re being ridiculous. I would never let anything happen to her.”
“Ugh. Are you flying?”
“No, I’m trying to get Friday off. If we do. If I do, I’ll leave Thursday night, so Bay will sleep most of the way.”
“Nope. I hate that idea. What if you fall asleep?”
“Kit. Oh, my God. Stop. I’m not going to let anything happen to Bay.”
“Can I still talk to her every night?”
“Maybe not Thursday because we’ll probably be on the road by eight, but definitely Friday.”
“Well, I mean it’s not like I’m there to keep her while you go. I suppose it’s okay, but you better watch her like a hawk.”
“I watch her like a hawk now. You have to. She’s a ninja baby, aren’t you, Bay?”
“I a inja Bay.”
I half listened to Kit talk about the foundation for the school, and how proud of the village people she was for pitching in, but I wasn’t interested that night. I wanted to book a couple hotel rooms, and make a reservation at a place I had always wanted to try in Nashville. I never did because it was a romantic place where couples went. Guys like me didn’t do the romance thing, and I never needed to drop a couple hundred bucks to get laid. An open tab with my money, a few sweet words wrapped up in a pretty little song was usually enough.
Bay finally got rid of Kit for me. She wanted a dwink. Right that second.
Rydell came to school sick the next day, but we did get good news. We both got Friday off and it couldn’t come quick enough. She hadn’t come over all week. She didn’t want to get me and Bay sick before our trip. I was okay with that, but so ready to get it in. We didn’t go many days without sex and this was a hell of a long stretch for us. She wouldn’t even let me kiss her, afraid of me getting sick.
Thank God she felt better by Thursday. I picked her up just after six, fed them fast food, and hit I-95 by seven. To say I had the time of my life is an understatement. We sang to every country music song on the radio. All three of us. We laughed, and Rydell jumped in the back with Bay when she got tired. They watched twenty minutes of a movie on Rydell’s tablet, and Bay crashed.
Rydell and I talked about her while we listened to Reba McEntire sing, Just Like Them Horses. She told me about her mom taking off with some truck driver when she was twelve. They talked on occasion, but not much, and I could tell it bothered her, yet I didn’t mention my own rejection with my dad. Maybe I felt like she just needed an ear. Maybe I didn’t see how my misfortunes would make her feel better. Maybe I felt like I already shared that piece of me. Just not with her.
“Let’s stop and get a room. We’re only about three hours out. We’ll finish it in the morning.”
“Sounds like a plan. I have to pee anyway.”
Rydell carried Bay in and I got our bags, feeling the fatigue as I followed them inside. I fell sideways across the bed closest to the door and let out an exhausted breath.
Rydell straddled me, her fingers gliding up my shirt as my hands did the same to both her bare legs. “Tired?”
“A little,” I lied. I was beat, but I wanted laid and I wasn’t that beat.
“We’re not having sex with Bay in the next bed.”
“I didn’t say a word about sex, but there is zero need to worry about Bay. She can sleep through anything. I see what’s on your mind.”
“No, it’s not.”
“That why you’re straddling me like this?”
“Shut up. You’re such a dick.”
I laughed and rolled Rydell to her back. “I’ll show you dick.”
Rydell’s expression went from playful to serious in the blink of an eye. “Brantley.”
“What, baby?” I asked, my lips touching hers as I spoke soft words.
“I love you.”
I was stunned. Not what I was expecting at all. I didn’t know how to respond to that. Either my expression was easy to read, or the lack of words were a dead giveaway.
I smiled and kissed the tip of her nose while my fingers slid past the elastic on her shorts. I didn’t lie and say I wanted to say it, too. I didn’t want to say that. Regardless of how I felt, I never thought about saying it. I pulled Rydell up by both her hands, kissed her, gave her a quick spin, and led her to the bathroom with a slap to her ass. The bathroom sink may not have been the most romantic place to say it, but that’s where it happened. With my lips touching her back, I quietly whispered, “I love you, too, Rydell, and believe me when I say this, I didn’t think I would ever say those words.”
Rydell said it again before we dozed off, and then again in the morning after we did it again, Bay still out like a rock and the sun barely up.
“I love you, too. Now move it. Let’s hit the road. Nashville’s waiting for us.”
We ate breakfast at the hotel and then set out again, a new sense of excitement setting in with the warm sun. Again we had a memorable time, talking with Bay, singing, and just living in the moment. I wasn’t sure it was possible to be any happier, and then it was gone. Poof. Just like that.
My happy smile met Bridgett’s as we entered the hotel lobby, and at precisely the same moment, they both dissipated. Mine from seeing my mother standing nervously right beside her, and hers turned into a frown when she saw Rydell, holding Bay.
Quietly and muffled, Rydell whispered, “What’s going on here, Brantley?”
I possessively took Bay from her arms and walked right to my sister. “I’m going to kill my sister. That’s what.”
“You brought a girl?” Bridgett said, the same stifled tone that Rydell had used.
I fired right back, debating on pulling Bay away from her when she took her from me, her smile already returning. Not once did I glance at my mother, but I could see her just fine without looking. “You brought her?”
“Brantley, please talk to me. Please let me be in her life.”
“Like you were mine, Mom? Like you were Bridgett’s? Whatever. What’s the plan? I want to know where you are with her at all times,” I ordered, my angry eyes on my stupid, stupid sister.
“What do you mean? Aren’t you going to spend some time with us? Come on, Brantley. It’s the holidays. Don’t be like that.”
“Holidays? I’m used to spending the holidays alone. It’s just another day. Give me Bay. I’m going to check us in and take her to the potty. I have to find her warmer clothes.”
My mom walked away without another word, crying maybe, and I didn’t care.
“For what? Because she’s crying, Bridgett? Did you forget how much we cried when she left? She didn’t give a fuck. Why should I?”
“Dat a bad word.”
“Sorry, Bay. Let’s see if we can find you some winter clothes.”
I looked over my shoulder to Rydell and jerked my head for her to come, hating that she was put in the middle of the unnecessary drama.
“I’ll come and get her in a few minutes.”
I didn’t reply to Bridgett. I was ready rip Bridgett’s head off. Fire surged through my veins, sending hot anger throughout my entire body. I couldn’t believe she did that. It took me as off guard as Rydell’s love confession. Maybe this weekend wasn’t such a good idea.
“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t know,” I said, as I dropped an arm over her shoulder.
“What the hell, Brantley?”
“I told you. I don’t talk to my mom and I don’t want her here.”
I gave her an angry glare from the corner of my eye, a warning for her to drop it. “I don’t know, Rydell. The same reason you don’t really talk to your mom, I guess.”
“So, is this how it’s going to be? I can have this much fun in Florida shoveling horse shit.”
“I sovel horse shit, Dell.”
Rydell smiled at Bay and brushed her hair from her forehead. “Okay, thanks, Bay Berry.”
“I’m sorry, Ry. We’re going to have a good time. I promise. Nobody’s shoveling horse shit.”
Bay placed her hand on my cheek and stared at me through a frown. “I sovel horse shit, Da-day.”
“Okay, sorry. You can shovel horse shit.” Bay made it virtually impossible to be upset.
I tried to dress Bay in the long pants I had packed for her while Rydell talked to her dad, letting him know that we’d made it okay, but I had a problem.
“Bay, you grew too much. You look like Steve Urkel.”
“Bay wide a urkel.”
“Not turtle. Steve Urkel. He looks like you. You look like a dork.”
“I bend a tree.”
“Hmmm, okay, but what are we going to about your pants? Aunt Bridgette isn’t going to take you anywhere looking like this. What are we going to do, Bay?”
I turned to the knock on the door at the same time Rydell hung up from her dad.
“I’m going to shower,” she said, not about to caught in the crossfire again.
Rage instantly took over my body again as soon as I opened the door to Bridgett alone. Thank God. “I can’t even believe you right now, Bridgett. How could you do that?”
She ignored me for my daughter. “Come here, Bay. Brantley, I just want us to be a family again. Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“I have all I need without her.”
Bridgett hiked a thumb toward the running water behind the bathroom door. “And her. Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing a girl? Does Kit know about this?”
I looked at her like she had plainly lost her mind. She had. “Why the ffff? Why would I tell Kit?”
“Well, I don’t know. Don’t you talk every night?”
“No. She talks to Bay every night. I’m just the mediator that keeps Bay from pushing buttons.”
“I push a button.”
“It’s none of Kit’s business who I’m with.”
“Well, I like her.”
“Go away. What are you doing with Bay?”
“I was hoping we would all take her to see a Christmas musical or something, but it looks like you’re going to be busy.”
“Yeah, I am. You have fun with that. Her pants are too short.”
“I brought her Christmas presents and so did Mom. She has clothes. I brought your gift, too.”
“Great. You be good, Bay. Daddy will see you later, okay? Make sure she gets to Skype with her mom at some point today.”
I tossed Phil to my sister and she left with an angry glare, invisible daggers striking me dead.
Despite the series of unfortunate events, I was determined to show Rydell a good time. I was about to rock her world in one weekend. First, we did some sightseeing around the city. Rydell was the happiest girl alive, taking it all in. I had to move her along when she couldn’t get enough of the Country Music Hall of Fame. She didn’t miss a thing. Not one. She read every single plaque there was to read until I dragged her out. Literally.
“Let’s move here when Bay goes back to her mom,” she excitedly suggested, as we made our way back to the car.
I smiled at her, pleased that she was in love with Nashville. I knew she would be. It was in her blood and there was nothing she could do about it, but I didn’t like the comment about Bay going back to her mom. I didn’t even want to think about that. I put my arm around her, noticing she was cold, assuring her she hadn’t seen anything yet.
“Hey, can I tell you something?”
“You can tell me anything you want. I’m so excited to be here.”
I laughed and sarcastically replied. “Really? You are?”
“I am. I just wish things were better with you and your family.”
“Stop. I don’t want to talk about that. Wait until you see where we’re going after dinner.”
“I love you, Brantley Jandt.”
“I love you back, Miss Brinkley.”
Rydell and I dressed for dinner like true country western singers, jeans, cowboy boots, and leather jackets. I could not wait to see her face when we got there.
“What did you do? Why are we taking our guitars?” she questioned for the third time, but I still didn’t tell her. I wore a sneaky grin, happy from the inside out.
I had to rush her along several times. Rydell wanted to stop and watch every single busker that we passed, handing over a few bucks each time.
“Will you come on? We have to eat something.”
“I can’t help it. Did you see that kid? He plays the buckets better than any drummer I’ve ever seen. How old do you think he is? Where are his parents?”
I laughed and ushered her to keep moving when she hesitated, hearing a saxophone across the street. “I don’t know. Keep moving.”
“Do you hear that?”
“Yes. Keep going.”
Finally, we made it to the crowded Whiskey Bent Cafe, and took the reserved table right in front of the stage.
“Hey, guy. How the hell are you?”
I stood and hugged my favorite waitress. God, I missed Nashville. “Hey, Shelby. How are you?”
“I’m good, cowboy. This must be the lucky girl.”
I turned to Rydell and smiled. “Yup, this is her. You guys have something in common. Rydell’s brother owns a honkytonk, too.”
“In Florida?” she questioned with a puzzled expression, shaking Rydell’s hand.
“Right? That’s what I said.”
“You ready for this?”
“Ready for what?”
“Oops, sorry, gotta go. Do you want ribs?”
“No, big mouth. Bring us deep fried pickles, cheeseburgers, and chili fries.”
Rydell’s head was turned to the side, but her narrowed eyes were right on me. “What did you do?”
I kissed her and spilled the truth. “We’re going to eat the best burgers in Nashville, and then we’re going to play right up there with The Trigger Band.”
Panic instantly crossed her face. “Up where? The Trigger Band?”
“Yes, one of the best backup bands you’ll ever play with.”
JETTIE WOODRUFF SERIES:
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