Authors: Mary Manners
Tags: #christian Fiction
a daddy. Unless something happened after I left. Unless…
His brain shifted, began to calculate. She wouldn’t…Misty would never…
Jack turned on the faucet and dipped his head beneath to draw a cool sip of water, forcing back the bile and chills. He got a handle on things, grabbed his cell phone and speed-dialed as he stumbled toward the bedroom.
“Hey, Boss.” Mike’s voice slipped over the line. “You miss me already?”
“I need a favor.”
“Hit me with it, my friend.”
“I need you to cover at the jobsite for me for a few days, make sure the landscapers don’t end up diving from a cliff and that the punch-out details stay on schedule as planned.”
The playfulness fled from Mike’s voice. “You OK, Jack?”
“I don’t know. I need to get to Mill’s Landing now—tonight.”
“Does this have anything to do with that letter you got today?” Concern now, full-on, filled Mike’s tone. It reminded Jack once more of why he’d gone into business with him—why he trusted Mike like no other.
“It has everything to do with the letter.”
“Then go take care of it, and I’ll handle things here. No worries.”
“Right…no worries.” Jack tossed what was left of his sandwich into the trash and dumped the remainder of soda down the sink drain. “Thanks Mike. I’ll touch base as soon as things settle.”
Jack disconnected and dialed information for the airlines. As he waited to be transferred, he grabbed a duffel bag from the closet shelf, tossed it onto the bed, and began lobbing clothes into it. A few pairs of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, a handful of essentials rounded things out. He rushed to the bathroom and, with a quick, one-arm sweep, emptied the shelf of toiletries into the bag.
Within eight minutes, he was packed and booked on the next direct flight out of Palm Springs and straight to Mill’s Landing.
“Mama, I need help.” Allie snuggled beneath the blankets and scrunched her nose at Misty. The scent of strawberry shampoo and grape bubble bath filled the room. “We’re doing a project in art.”
“What kind of project?”
“Family trees. Mrs. Barnett said my tree is too small. It has to be bigger, with more branches.”
“Oh?” The comment smarted, but Misty covered her displeasure with a half-smile as she selected a picture book from the shelf and slipped onto the bedside. “Who do you have so far?”
“You and Grandma.”
“We can add Grandpa.” Misty didn’t have any siblings, so aunts and uncles weren’t an option. “Remember the pictures I showed you of him?”
“Uh huh. Now he’s in heaven with the angels, right.”
“That’s right.” Misty tucked the blankets beneath Allie’s chin and swept a lock of hair, still damp from a bath, from her forehead. “He loved you very much.”
“What about my daddy?”
The question startled Misty speechless. She could manage nothing more than a slight nod and a pitiful gurgle. Memories welled up, carrying with them a hurricane of resentment. The storm raged through her belly, seething her insides. “Um…well.”
He lives in California. He ran when he found out I was pregnant. No letters, no phone calls—nothing.
“I told Mrs. Barnett that God is my daddy,” Allie continued, “but she said I need an earth daddy—a real daddy—too.”
Misty sputtered, drew a painful breath. “Is…that so?”
“Uh huh. And everyone else has a daddy ’cept for me.” Allie snuggled her baby doll to her chest. “Why don’t I have a daddy?”
have a daddy.”
“Where is he, Mama? Why don’t I ever see him?”
“It’s complicated, Allie.”
“Doesn’t he want to see me?”
“I…” Misty forced tears back. “Honey, oh my…” She fumbled with the picture book, her fingers trembling. “He lives very far away…in California.”
“Why doesn’t he like it here?”
“I didn’t say that.” She stumbled over the words. “He does…
“It’s OK, Mama.” Allie shrugged. “But what should I tell Mrs. Barnett?”
“I’ll speak with Mrs. Barnett.” Though her lips felt like thin slabs of concrete, Misty forced them into a smile. She steadied her voice…and her hands. “And we’ll talk more about this tomorrow. But, for now, how about a story?”
Misty climbed into the bed beside Allie and they snuggled together. Though her mind raced, Misty managed to read with enthusiasm until Allie slipped asleep. Thankfully, it didn’t take long—not even a full story. The child was worn out from a sunshine-filled afternoon of swinging and sliding at the park on the Landing.
Misty had used the playground time to snap a bevy of additional photos for the Parks and Rec Web-design, as well. She should download them to her laptop tonight and get them posted, finish the project. But Allie’s questions nudged all thoughts of work from her mind.
“Why don’t I have a daddy?”
The words brought fresh tears to Misty’s eyes. Her mother had warned her this day would come. They’d rehashed the conversation—
—just last week as Misty paced the impeccably clean tile floor of her mother’s kitchen.
“Put aside your pride, Misty,” Her mom had nudged. “Contact Jack again and talk to him about Allie. How hard can it be? With the Internet, you can find anyone today. He has a right—”
“He didn’t want her six years ago, Mom.” Locating him wasn’t the hard part—she could figure that out within five minutes. It was the What-Comes-Next part that terrified Misty—and kept her from making the first move. She’d done that once and been shot down—crashed and burned miserably, and had the emotional scars to prove it. “What do you think has changed?”
“Who knows?” Her mother slipped a tea kettle beneath the faucet and filled it before setting it to boil as Misty continued to pace. “Look, sweetheart, you two were best friends long before you became something…more. That’s pretty special, in my opinion. How will
ever know his reasons for leaving—and staying gone—if you continue down this stubborn path?”
“I’m doing fine on my own, Mom.” Misty stopped pacing to delve into a cabinet for two flowered tea-cups and matching saucers. “Allie is fine, too.”
done a wonderful job, Misty, and Allie
fine—for now, yes.” Her mom selected a tea bag from an assortment in a small wicker basket on the counter, tore the wrapper, and plopped it into her cup. “There’s no doubt you’re a fantastic mother, and you make me proud every day. But Allie has a father, too. And a month from now, a year, when she begins to ask questions—what then, sweetheart?”
“I don’t know.” Misty crossed her arms and leaned back against the counter. “Maybe she won’t ask.”
“Oh, she will. I’ll promise you that.” Misty’s mother sighed and pulled her close for a hug, enfolding her in a cloud of perfume. “It’s not going to go away, honey. This is just a bear in the closet. Eventually you’ll have to open the door—”
“And shoot it, right?”
“That would just lead to a bigger mess, and more explaining.”
The buzz of her cell phone drew Misty back to the present. She checked caller ID, then connected with her most cheerful voice.
“Mr. Tucker, how are you?” Though they’d gone to school together…had even taken in a movie together once—only once—Misty took pains to remind him their present conversations were purely business.
“Please…Spence.” He cleared his throat. “I know it’s getting late, but I just left a City Commission meeting and the topic of the new Website came up. I wondered how things are going.”
“Moving right along,
.” Misty made a point to emphasize his name. She would be thrilled to get this project done for more than just the paycheck. Spence Tucker was becoming bolder in his advances, and Misty had seriously-mixed feelings about that. He was nice enough, sure, and she
made the mistake of going out with him that one time after Jack left. She could see how some women might be swept off their feet by his rich brown eyes and tall, muscular stature. She just wasn’t one of them. A night at the movies had been more than enough to pound the nail into that coffin. “I fully expect to wrap things up in another day or so.”
“I was thinking we could get together and discuss the project…over dinner tomorrow.” He paused for a moment. “I know a nice Italian restaurant on the river—”
“I’d like to, but I’ll be working.” She cut him off as tactfully as possible, keeping her voice light and steady. “I promised you—as well as the Commission—that I’d be done by the deadline.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to extend things a day or two.” His voice was smooth, coaxing. “After all, you need to eat, Misty.”
“A promise is a promise, and I plan to keep mine.” Misty crossed to the sink, turned on the faucet, and let the water run cold before filling a glass. “Let’s set up a time to meet at your office.”
“Oh, my office is still under renovation.” He paused slightly. “How about we get together on Saturday morning, say nine o’clock, at Anderson’s coffee shop right across the street from my office, instead?”
“I guess that will do.” It was an acceptable compromise, and Misty would be delighted to hand off the project. “It won’t take more than an hour to walk you through the program. That should give you plenty of time to get your feet wet before you unveil the new site to the City Commission at the meeting Monday evening. Does that work for you?”
“I suppose.” His tone deflated slightly. “Although—”
“I’ll see you then,
“Right.” She held the phone away from her ear as she put an end to the conversation with a clipped, decisive tone that she hoped drove her point home. “Now, I have a project waiting to be finished. Good night.”
Couldn’t the plane fly any faster?
Jack shifted in the seat and shrugged the kinks from his neck. A four hour flight had become six due to a detour and delay following a freak thunderstorm that blew in over the mountains. His legs were cramped, his back stiff, and his gut roiled from bobbled take-offs and extended bouts of turbulence.
Flying certainly wasn’t, for good reason, on his list of favorite pastimes.
He took Misty’s letter from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and read it for the umpteenth time.
You’re going to be a daddy…
The words shocked just as much, no matter how many times Jack drank them in. Did he have a son…or a daughter?
It surprised him how much the thought of that—of the possibility that Misty had terminated the pregnancy—unsettled him. He felt sure she’d never do that. Misty would cross the street to avoid stepping on an ant. As a kid, she was constantly seeking his assistance in doctoring stray animals. She had no fear of raccoons, squirrels, mice, snakes—even spiders didn’t much get to her. It was one of the many reasons he’d fallen in love with her.
Her child—their child—would be treasured, for sure.
Jack tamped down the thought. The love they’d shared was a lifetime ago.
The seatbelt warning light pulsed on, accompanied by a half-dozen staccato chimes of a bell. The plane shifted and began its descent. Jack sighed and lifted the window shade, willing his gut to settle as he peered through smudged glass and into the black of night.
Below, the winding Tennessee River snaked into view along with a shadow of land speckled by the artificial glow of streetlights. Six years had passed since he’d left Mill’s Landing. He hadn’t meant to stay away for so long—it just happened. But now he was home.
He dismissed the thought as the plane listed right. Soon after, the landing gear kissed the runway, bounced and shrieked. Jack gritted his teeth. He hated flying, preferred his feet on the ground and the hum of his open-air jeep along the highway. But time was of the essence here.
“Sir, the seatbelt light is still engaged.” A flight attendant paused in the aisle, frowning. One manicured hand propped sharply on her hip. “Your restraint, please.”
“Oh, right.” Jack clicked the belt back into place, drew a breath, and bit his tongue. Like the thin strap of cloth would make a difference if the plane decided to careen from the runway. Good grief! Nerves coupled with exhaustion stole a chunk of his patience and he was careful to hold himself in check. No point dumping his frustration in the bossy flight attendant’s lap. After all, she was only doing her job.
sounded, and passengers went into motion like a crew of Pavlov’s dogs. In the frenzy, overhead bins snapped open and luggage scattered. A briefcase missed Jack’s head by mere inches. He waited for the crowd to clear before melding into the fold, grabbing his duffel, and heading toward the exit.
He was all the way to the rental car counter before he realized he had no idea where he was going.
Misty’s place, for sure, to hash things out. But where did she live now? Surely, it wasn’t in the same campus apartment she’d settled for through grad school. Maybe she didn’t even live in Mill’s Landing any longer.
No, she said she’d never leave.
Flickers of dread raced up Jack’s spine. Maybe she hadn’t left Mill’s Landing, but what if she was dating someone—or married after all this time? The thought that another man had claimed her—and his child, as well—caused a flash-fire of jealousy Jack was helpless to contain.
His blood turned to ice. What had he done? What was he doing?
Jack drummed his fingers on the rental counter as the clerk gathered keys and contracts. His brain was shrouded in fog, his throat parched from recycled plane air. His body told him it was still the middle of the night, but outside moonlight was veiled in the first golden hints of pre-dawn. The three-hour time difference had jettisoned him fast forward toward morning.
Maybe he should just head to a hotel, sleep for a few hours to get his head on straight, and figure out where to go from there.
No. Sleeping wasn’t an option, no matter how hard the exhaustion nipped at him. He’d get into the car and drive.