I Pick You, page 34
“Mr. Jandt,” she said, her glasses falling to the desk.
I didn’t stop. I winked at her and continued on my way, pretending that it was all okay, that I was on a new wave, and faking it rather well.
Next came my class. I opened the door with a prominent smile. They all ran to me, calling my name while we formed a group hug.
“My mom said you left your baby in the car. It was on the news,” my little Tori Spelling informed me.
I didn’t comment because I wasn’t there to talk about that. It was in the past. I was on a new path. Not that one. “Sit down guys. I don’t have much time. I just wanted to stop by and say goodbye. I’ve got to takeoff.”
“Hey, can I tell you something? I’ve been waiting since yesterday to tell you,” Rowan asked, her arm waving in the air.
I smiled, feeling Harry Potter there with us. “Of course you can. What’s up, Rowan?”
“We have a baby now. He came out of my mommy’s vagina yesterday in the morning. His name is Isaiah Ronin Pierce.”
I gasped my surprise and high-fived Rowan, ignoring the vagina comment. “That’s so cool. I’ll send him a nice present. Anyway, I think you guys are the coolest class ever. Reach for the stars, and you all have to promise to look me up when you grow up, tell me how successful you are. Promise?”
“I’ll send you a friend request on Facebook when I’m twelve. That’s when my mom said I’m allowed.”
I clicked my tongue and winked toward my buddy, Danny DeVito. Funniest kid in second grade. “I’ll be sure to accept it. Goodbye, guys. I expect you all to do great things. I’ll never forget you. Not one of you.”
I nodded toward the female substitute and left her to my class.
Stopping right outside Rydell’s door, I took a long deep breath, breathing in courage and exhaling nerves, or so I tried anyway.
Rydell was leaned against her desk, an open book in hand, and her glossy lips pressed into duck lips.
“Brantley? What are you doing?”
“Come where? What are you doing? What happened to your lip? Why are you bleeding?”
I didn’t answer one of her firing questions. I pulled her to the walk outside her room and trapped her between me and the brick wall behind her. “I’m leaving and I have something to say before I go.”
“Brantley, you don’t have to go. You belong here. You’re a good teacher and a good father.”
“No, I’m a horrible father, but that’s beside the point. She’s gone. Kit just picked her up and I’m sure she’s never going to let me see her again. Don’t you ever think I didn’t love you. I loved you from the first time you yelled at me. You’re the one who brought me to my knees, and don’t you ever think it was you. You did nothing but give yourself to me, and I ruined it. I’m the dick here. None of this was your fault, and I hope to God you don’t keep this wall up forever. You’re an amazing girl, Rydell, you have an amazing voice, and you’re an amazing lover. Please don’t give up on that, and please don’t give up on this. Promise me you’ll go. You’re already in. All you have to do is show up.”
“In what? What is this?”
I held the sealed envelope in my hand and kissed her strawberry flavored lips. “It’s my way of doing something for someone besides myself for once. Promise me you’ll go.”
Rydell opened the envelope and read through the typed letter. “A record deal for what?”
“Really? For your amazing voice, but you gotta go win it. It’s not a given yet. You are among fifty other contestants due in Nashville July 4th. It’s a yearly thing. I’ve been trying to get a spot for five years. It’s yours for the taking. Go Rydell, go sing your Florida cowgirl heart out.”
Her confused eyes went from mine, back to the paper. “Video? What video?”
“The one of you singing to Sugarland’s, Stay, in Nashville.”
Rydell snorted and looked up to me. “A cheating song.”
“I’m sorry, Rydell. I swear I am. I would do anything if I could take back the pain I caused you.”
Rydell smiled, a genuine smile, her fingers tapping off my chest. “I forgive you, cowboy, but you should take this. You deserve it, Brantley, you really do.”
I placed my hand over hers and squeezed, remembering one last time. “Didn’t you hear me, dumb girl? They don’t want me. I sent them one of me and one of you. I didn’t get the call back. You did. It could be a big deal, Rydell. Go. For the hell of it, go.”
I kissed her again, my hands on each side of her face, and let her go. I walked away from Rydell, I walked away from St. Augustine, and I walked away from Florida, my mind set on a new direction. I filled up my car and ate a greasy burger, keeping everything intact. Just like it was supposed to be. Every time I thought about Bay, I remembered what I did to her, I saw her face, her wet hair, and her lifeless body, and then I saw L.A, forgetting that she existed. Every time my mind thought about Rydell, I thought about the hurt I caused in her beautiful eyes, and then I focused on a new adventure, forgetting her, too. Every time I thought about Kit, my tongue touched the cut on the inside of my lip and my mind tried to un-see what I knew I saw, and then I erased her from my mind, from my life with thoughts of a new beginning, without her.
US-101 had to be the longest road in the continental United States. The same view lasted hour after hour, and the same thought circled in my mind over and over. It wasn’t Rydell, for whatever reason, I felt like we’d made peace. I was glad I met her. Kit. Kit with a very rambunctious two year old, a newborn baby, and a blow up bathtub.
I stopped for sleep sometime after one in the morning, but I didn’t even bother with a room. It wasn’t like I could sleep more than a couple hours at a time anyway. A truck stop somewhere in Louisiana below a burned out pole light was all I needed. I closed my eyes, leaning against the cool glass, trying not to see Bay asleep with Mavis. I pictured them asleep in the apartment not meant to live in, and opened my eyes. The headlights on the overpass worked as a distraction until I could sleep. Four-hundred-and- something was what I counted to before I finally dozed off.
The sun was up, but that wasn’t what woke me. It was the dream. The nightmare. My body jerked, sending me to a straight up position, eyes wide and heart pounding. I loosened my shirt, trying to get unavailable air. It was so real, so vivid. I felt the heat in her body, my shirt was drenched from her sweat, and she cried out for me. Her words were real, right there in my car and they echoed through my head. “Daddy.” Then, her emotional cries. I stepped out of my car and walked around, trying to get ahold of myself, trying to get it out of my mind, out of my soul.
I walked to the building for a cup of coffee and the bathroom, shaking off a past I wanted erased from my memory. Taking my time, I messed around until after eight in the morning before getting back on the road, a coffee and a bag of doughnuts in hand.
Talk radio held my attention for a hundred miles or so. Listening to people talk took over my normal music stations. I could focus on what they were saying without thoughts, or the vendetta my guardian angel had on me. Baseball highlights, world news, book radio, an interview with some famous gymnast who had just come out of the closet, anything but country music. Every song they played seemed to be about me or my life.
I’d just changed the station again when my mom called, a debate about global warming went to a chocolate milk commercial, reminding me of Bay and her cockamill. I answered because I figured she could be a time waster for a bit. Help me stay sane while I put the days behind me. Time was all I needed to get over them. All of them. Just like it had with Simon. Time would ease my pain. I just needed a few distractions to get me there.
“Where are you, Brantley?”
“News travels fast. I take it Bridge talked to Kit.”
“Where are you?”
I lifted my hat and scratched my head, eyes darting around to my whereabouts. “Um, not real sure. I saw a Galvesto
“I know what happened, Brantley. Why didn’t you call me?”
“And say what? That I’m a fucking idiot?”
“Brantley John Jandt. Turn around. Every parent on earth makes mistakes. I’m a convicted felon for Christ’s sake. You can’t keep running. Stay. Stay and face your problems like a man.”
“I don’t want problems, Mom. That’s the part you don’t get. I don’t want this. Everyone involved is better off without me. This is too fucking hard. I fucking quit.”
“Don’t quit on Bay, Brantley.”
I jerked my hat from my head and flung it to the passenger seat. “Don’t you do that. You don’t know me. Don’t you judge me. You don’t get that right. You left. You left, too, Mom.”
“Maybe it’s all part of the plan. Don’t you think there’s a reason?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Mom. You don’t understand, and I don’t believe in that everything happening for a reason bullshit.”
“Oh, but you should, son. You should. I don’t know why we’re here, Brantley. I don’t know what the purpose is, but I do know somebody is keeping you in line, somebody is watching out for you, and giving you these road blocks.”
“Right, for years, and years, starting with my dad walking out on me. Yup, I’m totally with you. There was a good reason for that. Gotcha. I’m going to go now, Mom.”
“Yes, Brantley, maybe that had to happen to you. Maybe that happened so you would never forget. So you never made Bay feel like how that made you feel. Like it still makes you feel.”
The air fell from my lungs as I felt the bat crush my chest. I didn’t want Bay to feel like I had. I didn’t want her last memory of me to be a picture of me from the back glass of a cab. I didn’t speak, I let my mother talk and I listened for the first time in years. Maybe she was wiser than me.
“I think there was a reason for all of it, Brantley, just like me. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I kept doing it because I could. I kept doing it because, because.”
“Because why?” I questioned when she stuttered, preparing for a lie, I presumed.
“I needed the money for my cocaine habit, I needed to go to prison to stop, I needed you to hate me to show me what I lost. You have to believe in something, Brantley. The signs are there. They’re leading you, you just have to let them.”
“She’s pregnant, Mom.”
A light sigh was heard in my ear, “Bridgett told me.”
“What the fuck is that? That’s a cruel fucking joke. That’s what that is. Why would I want to believe in something that brings an innocent baby into this mess? You know what? Never mind. Hey, I’m going to jump off here and take a leak. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Read between the lines, Brantley, the detours are clear, and the direction is right in front of your face. Look for them.”
My opened hand came down hard on the steering wheel, a frustrated groan filling the car while the hope of my mother helping me forget dwindled away.
Despite the unfortunate events of my life, I kept going, I kept moving, again driving well into the night, only this time a shower and a real bed was in demand. I pulled over to a roach motel beside the road, a meth lab probably brewing in the lobby, kind of place.
I judged the place prematurely. The entrance was very elegant with a Caribbean feel, and a refreshing clean scent. I cautiously walked to the counter, hearing a baby cry from the back, seeing a mother bent over a definite little boy as she diapered him. I stared like they were some sort of freak show.
“I’ll be right with you. He always picks the perfect time.”
“Sure, no hurry.”
The young girl handled the little guy like Kit handled Bay, natural and routinely. I watched her stick tiny little feet into pajamas while he screamed, thinking about Bay. My first few attempts in dressing her were just short of a nightmare. I zipped her belly up in the pajamas Kit yelled at me for buying, I could never get the tiny little buttons buttoned on her clothes, and thank God for Rydell. Poor kid would have gone to school with mismatched everything had I not had her.
“Sorry about that. He doesn’t have his night time sleeping figured out yet.”
“It’s okay. How old is he?”
“Two weeks today.”
My eyebrows rose while I pondered how new that was. He was so tiny.
“Forty-three-twenty nine. Room 402. Right around the corner.
I paid with cash, watching her little person with a weird curiosity, but I shook it off, knowing exactly why it felt so strange. Nope, didn’t need to go there.
The shower was hot, the sheets were clean, and I was mentally and emotionally drained. I ordered a pizza and watched reruns of, Law and Order, but mostly I thought about what my mom had said. It didn’t seem as crazy when I took the time to hear what she wanted me to hear. Maybe my dad did leave me so I would never show Bay how it felt. Maybe she went to prison not only for her own detour, but my Grandma Sarah’s as well. I know there were times she would have died from diabetic shock had Bridgette and I not been there, but why Bay? What was the reason for bringing her into my life only to hurt her? Maybe I needed to get over the hate I built up for my mom, and a fairytale life that only happened in the movies. Was Bay placed in my path to show me a love that I refused to see? Maybe. And Rydell? Why would she have to suffer for me? That right there blew my mother’s theory all to hell…Or did it? Was it possible I needed Rydell to show me what love could be because I was too stupid to see it was right in front of me? Maybe I needed to cross her path for the same reason, to knock down her wall and show her she could love again. Maybe I had to go to Florida to get out of Nashville in order to see there was more to life than country music. Maybe I was put in front of that class because each and every one of them taught me something. Including, hey, can I tell you something, Simon. Maybe that was always his destiny, and maybe he came into my life to show me how fast it could all be taken away.
I ran fingers through my hair with both hands, wondering what it all meant, and got up. I walked out to my car in bare feet and no shirt to fetch my guitar from the back, picking it up for the first time in weeks. The two latches on my old black case clicked and I pulled it out, situating it on my lap with an instant smile. A little corner of blue peeked out of the red material. A rip in the bottom of my case where I stuffed notes from music I’d scribbled down from here and there. I pulled the notebook out and flipped through the pages, reminiscing about my few short months with Bay. That’s when I realized it was lost more than it was found. I figured it out on my own. Most of it anyway. My thumb skimmed pages, stopping every now and then to read in great detail things Bay and I worked out without a book of instructions. We didn’t need it because we were a team. We were an awesome team.
I flipped to the last page and read the short paragraph in Kit’s handwriting.
“Don’t think you’re not going to fuck up, you are. It’s okay. It happens, and it doesn’t make you a bad dad. Don’t forget when you smash her fingers in the car door, or let her touch a hot curling iron. You’ll screw up, Brantley. I guarantee it, but it won’t matter, because she’ll forget it, and she’s still going to love you at the end of the day.”
I closed the Bay Bible and strummed my strings, knowing exactly where my heart was. It wasn’t a place at all, it wasn’t in a song, and it wasn’t in Nashville. It was wherever my family was.
I watched her peek out the little square in the window and then open the door, all doubt about a pregnancy gone. Kit was pregnant. The way she tugged on the bottom of her shirt was a dead giveaway, not that I didn’t already know it.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Hey, beautiful. Get dressed, I have something to show you.”
Kit’s head moved back and forth, her eyes glaring at me while the expression on her face assured m
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to take you somewhere. Now get dressed.” I took it upon myself to back her up, feeling the hard little ball behind her shirt, solidifying the truth a little more.
“I’m not going anywhere with you. I hate you.”
I stepped around and went to Bay, sound asleep and the cutest kid in the entire world. One pant leg was above her knee, her arms over her head, and Mavis curled to her side. “You can hate me when we get back. Hey, Bay Berry Jandt. Wake up, girl. Come on, we have to go.”
“I not tire,” she said while rolling to her side, curling in the same positon as Mavis, her hands sliding under her cheek, and her eyes staying closed.
I scooped her into my arms and relished her tiny little body, snuggling right into my chest, perfectly fine with sleeping right there. “For a little girl who is never tired, you sure like to sleep.”
“Brantley, will you stop?”
“Nope, not yet. Not until you give me an hour of your time.”
“I don’t have an hour for you. Get out.”
I opened a top drawer without permission, realizing right away it wasn’t Bay’s. Elegant panties and bra’s, and two very sexy toys. I held the pink one in the air with raised eyebrows and a happy smile. “This isn’t Bay’s drawer.”
Kit jerked it from my hand and slammed the drawer. “Will you tell me what the hell you’re up to?”
I kissed her lips because I had to, because she was so close to me, and because her lavender scent pulled me to her. “I’m trying, now will you please put some pants on and tell me where I can find something to put on Bay.”
Defeated, Kit shook her head and pointed to the dresser by the unused crib and I happily dressed my sound asleep daughter while Kit disappeared to the public bathroom. Even the stomping of her feet as she walked away didn’t cause my smile to dissipate. I loved it.”
JETTIE WOODRUFF SERIES:
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