I Pick You, page 33
My mom laughed and hugged her tight. “Okay, I’ll find something for Mavis, too. I love you.”
My mom hugged me tight, and I felt the love permeate from her to me. “I love you, Brantley, and I’m so proud of you. Didn’t I tell you, you’d be okay?”
I smiled to myself with her in my arms, not sure I would call my survival okay or not. “Yeah, I’ve got this,” I said, my words sounding stronger than I felt.
“You do. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Text me when you make it home.”
And once again it was just me and Bay Berry Jandt. We picked up a pizza and a twelve pack on the way home, and I think I drank all but two of them. A couple while Bay was still awake, and then a lot more afterward. Me, my music, and a ton of beer.
I felt it the following morning, too. Man did I ever feel it. Hitting the alarm for the fourth time, I thanked God for my mom being there, and not having to get Bay up and ready. My eyes popped opened as soon as I remembered she left. My mom wasn’t there to save me. Looking at the clock, I jumped up, dressed myself, and tossed clean clothes in a bag for Bay. She didn’t even blink an eye, not even when I put her in her seat, not through the busy streets, and not when I parked the car and ran to a carpool that was already over.
“No need to show up now. I’ve got it,” Rydell smartly said, reminding me of our earlier days together.
I smiled at her, wiping sweat from my brow from the already hot sun. Of course she didn’t smile back. She didn’t even look at me. I started the morning with a game, something I hadn’t done in a while. Hot potato with our spelling words. I silenced my phone in my pocket, tossed the ball to Rowan, and gave her the hard word with thirty seconds on the timer.
I stopped the timer, telling her to hold up with a finger when Rydell stormed into my class from the front, not the side. She was out of breath and panicked.
“Where’re your keys? Give me your keys!” she screamed.
I fetched them from my pocket with a frown, confusion, and then sheer panic. Bay. I left Bay in the car. I ran past her as fast as I could, seeing the janitor, Mrs. Day, and Father Don, beating the back window with a ball bat. The horn beeped once and I reached the door just as Father Don reached in for her. I shoved him out of the way and cried like a baby. Her face was beat read, her hair was soaked, and she didn’t move.
“Somebody call nine-one-one,” I screamed, as I threw Father Don out of my way, jerking her from the overheated car, ripping her clothes off to cool her body. Her chest rose and fell and a whimper escaped her lungs. “I’m so sorry, baby, I’m sorry.”
“I’m here, baby. Daddy’s right here,” I said, while rocking her naked body back and forth with mine.
I’m not sure if she had a flashback or what, but Bay started screaming, crying that God awful cry, the one where she sucked in air, unable to control her emotions.
I couldn’t control mine, either. God, what did I do?
“Brantley, bring her into the air,” Rydell said from my side, taking my arm and leading me to the cafeteria, the closest room with cool air.
Everything from then on was like some sort Lifetime Movie. We went to the hospital in a squad with Bay terrified on my lap. She wouldn’t let them touch her without screaming. We were cleared to go, with instructions to keep a close eye on her and to feed her plenty of fluids. If that nightmare wasn’t enough, I had the cops in the exam room asking questions about my intent, and tossing out words like child endangerment charges.
“I can vouch for him. Anyone who knows him can tell you that. He’s an amazing father.”
The taller one looked to Rydell and then continued the interrogation. “And who are you?”
“I work with him. He teaches at St. Augustine.”
I looked at Rydell, holding onto Bay like I was afraid to let her go. I was. “I don’t know what happened. How could I be so stupid?”
“Where does your daughter stay while you work, Mr. Jandt?”
“Daycare at the church. She hasn’t been there all week. My mom was visiting. I—I—I forgot her. I left her in the car asleep.”
“So you got her up, got her dressed, drove all the way to school, and forgot her?”
I looked at the cop, unsure of his intentions, or his accusations of my intentions.
Rydell helped me out. “Bay is the worst kid ever to wake up. She can sleep through a tornado. Brantley would never hurt her. Ever.”
“Children’s Services are here,” the nurse who had taken care of us announced to the officers, with a sad smile to me.
“Why? Why are Children’s Services here?” I questioned, panic engulfing me like gas on a fire.
“It’s the law. We have to call them anytime a child has been hurt.”
“Should I call an attorney?” I questioned, the worst thoughts ever running through my mind. This could get ugly. I wouldn’t let them take her. Not for one second was she leaving my side.
“Mavis go, Daddy?” Bay questioned with one hand on my cheek, the way she always did to get my attention.
“Mavis is at home, baby. We’ll go see her in a little bit.” I meant that, squeezing her tighter to me, I meant it with everything in me. Over my dead body would they take her from me.
“You can decide that after your conversation with Children’s Services. We’ll be back after they are finished. Don’t get any ideas.”
“Brantley, did you drink last night? Do you have bottles laying around your house? They’re going to go there. They’re going to have to see where she lives.”
My eyes met hers when I thought about the empty bottles strung about the patio, right by the pool, where my guitar still sat. I didn’t have to say a word. Rydell knew.
“I’m going call Gabriella to go there. Do you still have a key over the door out back?”
I nodded. That’s it. This was really happening. This was going on right before my eyes. I did it. I did this.
Rydell hated me, but she was the first one to jump in when I needed her. She was right about the state people. After asking me for everything but my left kidney, they needed to see where Bay lived. That’s when Rydell ducked out.
“I’ll see you later, Miss Bay Berry. You gotta start sleeping lighter.”
“I comin, too, Dell.”
Rydell picked her up and hugged her tight. “You better go home and take care of Daddy and Mavis, okay? I love you so much.”
“Mavis comin, too, Dell.”
Rydell smiled a warm smile at her and kissed her cheek. Our eyes met and I thanked her.
Her eyes gave me a once over, and her tone changed to hate. “I didn’t do it for you.”
I deserved that, and I took it like a man, happy she did it for Bay. The social workers followed me to my house, scrutinizing my home the same way they had me. Thanks to Rydell’s quick thinking, and Gabriella Pierce, my home checked out safer than Fort Knox. I’d taken care of that months ago. They did inform me of their requirement to reach the child’s mother. They already knew from the many questions where she was, and they took my word when I said she would call them the following day. But…I had to tell her.
I spent the evening watching Bay a little closer than normal, not because I was afraid of her getting hurt, but because I was remembering her. With a heavy heart, and tears threatening to fall, I carefully took it all in. Bay was fine, the mishap already out of her mind, but I was not. I was so not okay.
My words were only answers to Bay’s silly questions, mostly her new favorite. Why? Other than that, I quietly and painfully observed her while I made drastic decisions in my mind. Bay stayed in the tub, making one hell of a mess with a blow up chair that she insisted on putting in the water. I didn’t care. She could make twenty water messes and I would clean them up after her. Bay could do anything she wanted and I would let her.
She disappeared whi
“There you are. Are you ready for bed already?”
“No, I not tire. My mommy go?”
I took a deep breath, looking to the clock, dreading this conversation more than any other one I had ever had with her. “It’s almost time for Mommy. Do you want to read a book?”
“A Bill one.”
“Bill again?” I teased, but just like the mess, I’d read it to her a million times to make her happy.
“I wike it.”
“Okay, Bill it is.”
I was three pages in, the part were Bill, the little lamb, brushed his teeth, when Kit called. My heart stopped, and I was sure, I might very well die.
“Hey, li’l lady. What’cha doing?”
“I stuck in a car.”
“You got stuck in your car?”
I don’t know where the anger came from, but it did, and it was so powerful. “Come and get her. Now. Not in June. Right now.”
“What do you mean? What’s going on, Brantley?”
“I go hosapillow, and me was all hot.”
“I almost killed her, Kit. I left her in a hot car for forty minutes. She almost died, Kit. I’m done. I don’t want her. Come and get her.”
“What do you mean you left her?”
“Just what she said. I forgot her. I left her in a scorching car and the only reason she is sitting her right now is that another teacher had a flat. Not because I remembered she was there, but because someone saw her.”
If I thought my anger was fueled by what I had done, hers was way hotter. “You left her in the car? You fucking left her in the car?” she repeated, the second tone louder with more fury.
“Bay eat a sucker.”
“Bay, Mommy is going to see you in a couple days, baby. Mommy’s done here. We’re going home, baby, okay?”
“I comin, too, Mommy.”
“Yes, you’re coming, too. I love you. I’m going to see you in two more days, just as soon as I can get there, okay?”
“Yes, Mavis. I love you. Mommy’s going to go before she reaches through the computer and rips your dad’s head off. Okay?”
Kit closed her laptop. She didn’t say another word to Bay and not one more to me. It was over. It was all over. This dreadful nightmare I should have never been part of. It was done.
As soon as Bay and Mavis conked out in my bed, I started packing. The kitchen first, smashing every bottle of booze in the sink I could find. I didn’t do it because I blamed the alcohol. I blamed me. It was no one’s fault but mine, and I was sure I would take it up as soon as she was gone. I’d probably drink myself to a speedy grave. No, this wasn’t about blame. This was about anger. Anger that sizzled my blood, and I needed something to take it out on. Jack Daniels and Jim Beam were my targets because they just so happened to be what I had my hands on when the urge hit me to break something. Pain blended with anger, which mixed with fear, and then the thought of not seeing her. That was the first bottle. Jack.
Just like the last few months of my life, I didn’t sleep much. I watched Bay sleep, finally dozing off just before two in the morning. Unlike Bay, it wasn’t a sound sleep. My eyes jerked open at her every move. Even Mavis’s moves woke me. I gave up just after seven in the morning and left Bay sleeping in my bed. Mavis followed me to the kitchen, biting my feet with every step.
“Ouch, you little fucker,” I screeched, when its teeth sank into my skin. The dumb shit went sliding across the wood floor with help from my foot and right back for more. A fresh can of cat food canceled the game I wasn’t in the mood to play.
I started coffee and dialed the school. “Hey, Marybeth. Brantley Jandt. Can you give Miss Day a message for me?”
“Hold on, she wants to talk to you.”
Looking up to the ceiling, I groaned my disapproval.
“You get in here, Mr. Jandt. Don’t do this. It was an honest mistake. Bay is fine. We need you here and you need to be here.”
“Yeah, I’m not doing that. I just wanted to make sure you got somebody in my class.”
Mrs. Day used her, I mean business tone on me, assuming I had a fuck to give. Nope. All out of those. “Take a couple of days off. Clear your head, then get your ass back here, Brantley Jandt. I mean it.”
“Yeah, gotcha. I’ll talk to you soon.”
I ignored a call from my oblivious mom after that, checking the voicemail when it alerted me.
“Hey, Brantley, it’s your mom,” I rolled my eyes, annoyed when she felt the need to announce who she was. “I tried to catch you before school. I need your mailing address. I want to order Bay some magazines. They’re so cute. A little girl sat next to me on the plane and shared with me. Her mom gave me one of those card things from the back. Send me a text or call me back. Tell Bay I love her. Have a good day.”
“Hey, you maked a mess,” Bay said, my smile instant.
“I know. We have to go get some boxes.”
“So we can take them to the thrift store.”
I lifted Bay to the counter, pulled her pajama pants down, and pulled up her undies. She didn’t quite have the hang of it yet. “Because someone else can use them. Daddy doesn’t need stuff.”
“I no stuff, too.”
“Yeah? You want to help daddy get rid of stuff?”
“Yeah,” she said in agreement, one long syllable showing way too much excitement.
I laughed and kissed her hair. “Let’s get some grub first.”
“Make sure you say that to your mom all the time. It’s so annoying. She’s going to love it.”
I laughed and swung her to the floor by her hands. “Because you talk a whole bunch.”
“Yup, you’re two.”
The day Kit came to take her away was the longest day of my life. She was scheduled to be there by eleven, so there was nothing left to do but wait. The house was empty, the keys had been dropped off to the realtor, all but one bag of Bay’s had been shipped to her house, and my car was loaded. I ran off of adrenaline for two days, praying to get through the day without downing a bottle of pills. I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I understood whole heartedly how a person could be in enough pain to want to make it all go away. I totally got it.
Bay and I sat out front on the shady side of the house after I got the text that she was on her way. An ache in the back of my throat stuck, summoning tears I fought hard not to shed. This was the best thing for everyone involved, and I knew it. This wasn’t me, this wasn’t my life, and I was tired of pretending. I shouldn’t be anyone’s everything, and Bay deserved way better than me. Way better. I had a nice chunk of change put back, and thanks to my Saturday jobs with Paxton, I was able to fatten it a little more. Los Angeles. A slow drive across the country, and a new corner to busk on. Leave the old behind and make way for the new. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? A never ending cycle, always changing.
“Watch. Daddy, watch me.”
“I’m watching, baby,” I said, my eyes blinking through the water, seeing her spin in fast circles, and then falling to her butt, Mavis close by.
And then, all in slow motion, my heart stopped beating, my blood stopped pumping, and my mind went into a state of meditation. A coping mechanism, I presumed.
“Bay, come here, baby,” I quietly said as I dropped to my knees, seeing the cab pull into the driveway.
Bay walked to me, asking the famous question. “Why?”
I held her tight, choking away tears while I tried to tell her how much she meant to me without breaking. I couldn’t do it. I hurt. It hurt so much. “Because, I love you so much, baby. You’re going to grow up and be whatever you want to be. You go after what you want. You hear me, Bay Berry Ja
“You sad, Daddy?”
“Yes, baby. I’m going to miss you so much. You’re going with Mommy now, remember?”
“And you comin, too, and Mavis.”
“Daddy can’t come, sweetie, but Mavis can and guess what? Your mommy is here now. See?”
Bay turned to her mommy and ran as fast as her little legs would carry her. Kit met her halfway and lifted her into her arms. She kissed her cheeks, one peck to each one, and then set her down.
I didn’t even know what hit me. That was not in slow motion. Kit’s fists met my jaw in two point seven seconds, knocking me completely off my game. It wasn’t Bay’s giggle in the background, it wasn’t the sudden taste of blood in my mouth, and it wasn’t the deep dark sadness anymore. It was a baby. Even through the baggy clothes, and the failed attempt to hide it, I knew. Kit was pregnant.
She grabbed Bay’s backpack, spit in my face, picked Mavis up in one arm and Bay in the other. Not one word was spoken between us, and I just stood there. Speechless, confused, and breathless. Did this change things?
I watched the cab drive away with a whole new cloud. One I didn’t know whether to burst or not. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t tell me she was pregnant, which meant she didn’t want me to know. She didn’t want me in its life. No. No. Nothing changed. If she didn’t come after me, I wasn’t about to go after her. My plans were staying the same. Hell, I couldn’t take care of a two year old. They were all better off without me. Probably wasn’t even mine.
With as much composure as I could muster, I got into my SUV and set out for the rest of my life, a new life where I could get back to being me. A life without all this hurt. Life was hard, but it was a whole lot easier when I only had me to worry about.
I sucked the cut on my bottom lip into my mouth, trying like hell to keep going. I had to. This wasn’t my life. This was a life that was forced down my throat. I pulled into the carpool lane of the school and removed the keys from my keyring. The lunch room, my class, the gymnasium, and one I wasn’t supposed to have, Rydell’s.
My first stop was Mrs. Day. I slapped my badge and all four keys to her desk. “Thanks for giving me the chance to teach here. There isn’t another class in the world I would have rather been in. I’m going to miss the little rats.”
JETTIE WOODRUFF SERIES:
Other author's books:
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