Authors: Kay Stockham
Tags: #Teenage girls, #Problem youth, #Single mothers, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Montana, #Western, #Westerns, #Sheriffs, #Fiction
“Sure you don't want a TV or something? What about one of those iPod things? I've seen a lot of kids at the high school with those hanging out of their ears.”
He shoved himself to his feet and staggered back to the stove. The spaghetti-mush resembled his legs at the moment. “I'll think about it.”
Thin freckled arms slid around his waist from behind and her hands clasped over his stomach. When had she started painting her nails? Dark purple was a far cry from little girl pink.
“But you will! Thank you, Daddy!
Daddy, huh? This called for backupâonly he didn't have anyone to call.
,” a male voice called from somewhere behind her.
Skylar shoved all her books into her locker and grabbed her iPod to take with her to detention. She ignored the caustic laughter that followed the insult and turned in time to see Mandy, Travis and their sports jock buddies walking shoulder to shoulder and taking up the entire hallway. All were dressed in track shorts and T-shirts, with hundred-and-fifty-dollar shoes on their feet. She had shoes like that.
Mandy gave her a smug grin. “Better hurry, you don't want to be late for
The group snickered and continued on their way, but when Skylar began to raise her hand to flip them off, she saw Carly watching her, the girl's big, sad eyes taking in her every move.
“They're all jerks,” Carly said, coming up to stand beside her.
In a mood after a week of nasty comments and glares, and still really sore, Skylar slammed her locker shut, taking out her frustration that way. “If you think that then why do you like them so much?”
Carly's face glowed hot pink, the color making her freckles stand out. “I don't.”
“Yeah, right. You stare at them all the time, talk about
them, and moon over Travis. I don't get it, not after the way they've treated you.”
“They don't treat you any better.”
expect it from them. You take it and ask for more.”
“Is there a problem here? Mathews, you want another week?”
“It's okay, coach. We're just talking,” Carly said.
Skylar heard Carly stifle a low groan and turned to find an older woman staring at her in horror. A hand fluttered to her chest when she got a good look, and Skylar fought the urge to scream “Boo!” for shock effect. Hadn't anyone ever taught
it was rude to stare?
“Mathews, detention starts in four minutes. If you're lateâ”
“I'll be there.”
The assistant football coach glowered at her before turning on his heel and stalking away.
“Um, hi, grandma. What are you doing here?”
The woman turned her head toward Carly, but didn't take her eyes off Skylar, like she was afraid she'd jump her or something.
“IâI came to pick you up, dear. I thought we might do the grocery shopping together this week.”
“Oh. Oh, um, Grandma, this is Skylar. Skylar, my grandma, Mrs. Wells.”
The woman nodded once. “Skylar. What a uniqueâ¦name.”
“Thanks. It's nice toâ”
“Caroline, I believe it's time to go.”
Caroline.” The woman gave Skylar a terse smile. “We wouldn't want to keep Skylar. As we heard, she has somewhere to be.” Mrs. Wells turned and began walking away, her old woman shoes squeaking along the tile floor.
Carly released a huff, her shoulders hunched. “I'm sorry.”
“She's going to tell your dad you were talking to me, you know.”
Carly rolled her eyes but automatically began walking toward her grandma, looking over her shoulder. “See you Monday.”
“Yeah.” Monday. Detention again. “'Bye, Carly.” Skylar fell into step behind them, trying to walk “light” so her boots didn't make so much noise.
“Why did she call you Carly?”
“It's my nickname.”
“I don't like it. Your name is Caroline and it's a perfectly good name. Why are you hanging around the hallways with someone like that unchaperoned?”
“Why would I need a chaperone? Grandma, she's my friend.”
“You should not have friends spending time in detention.”
“You sound like Dad.”
“So your father has already warned you about that girl? Why haven't you listened to him?”
“Wait until your father gets home. We're going to have a nice long chat about this. I
wrong when you stopped spending time with Mandy Blake. Now,
a sweet girl. You could learn a thing or two from her, Caroline. I'll bet she isn't on her way to detention right now.”
Skylar made it to the classroom where the assistant coach waited, Carly and her grandmother's conversation fading until she couldn't hear.
The coach looked up with a smirk and pointed to his watch. “You almost earned another day, Mathews. Take a seat.”
a strong sense of dÃ©jÃ vu when he entered his house Friday evening. He'd taken two steps down the hall when Carolineâ
âflew out of the kitchen, her face bright red with obvious fury. Groaning inwardly, he braced himself. “What now?”
Marilyn appeared in the kitchen doorway. “You will not walk away from me, young womanâ Jonas! Thank goodness, you're home! I called Dave and asked that he leave work to come talk to you and his granddaughter, but he hasn't returned my call. Now that you're here, I'll do it myself.”
His daughter rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “Dadâ”
“Talk to us about what?”
“I stopped by school to pick her up today, Jonas, and caught her talking to the most frightful creature!”
His gaze narrowed on Caroline. “And why was that when we
talked about it?”
“Skylar's my friend, and
was rude to her!” Caroline glared at her grandmother, but glanced at him every second or so.
“Caro, you were told to stay away from Skylar.
Had you followed instructions your grandmother wouldn't be upset.”
Marilyn sucked in a sharp, indignant breath. “Caroline Elizabethâ”
“Watch it,” Jonas warned, moving closer to where Caroline stood. “You might be upset, but you'll
speak to your grandmother in that tone. Ever. Show her respect.”
what's the use! You don't understand anything!” With that she turned on her heel and ran down the hall. A second later a door slammed shut.
“Jonas, you have
to do something.”
Jonas took hold of Marilyn's elbow and steered her out of the hall, back into the kitchen. “I know, Marilyn. She's having some growing pains.”
“Ha! She's rapidly on her way to becoming thatâthat Skylar person I saw today. You actually
to give her a makeover for her birthday? I do not approve. Jonas, have you
that girl? Dave will die,
die,” she stressed, “if I see our sweet Caroline dressed like aâaâ”
“That's not the look she wants,” he countered wearily. “Do you think I'd agree if that were the case?”
“I honestly don't know what to expect from you anymore.”
He stared at her, angry that she dared give him such a hard time when it was her daughter that had abandoned them.
deserved the tongue-lashing, not him.
“Something must be done immediately. It must be stopped!”
“I'll talk to her.”
“She needs more than a talking to or she'll wind upâ”
Jonas bit out a curse beneath his breath. “I'm not in
the mood for a lecture, Marilyn. At Caroline's age your daughter was not only wearing makeup, she pranced around in bikinis in front of audiences all over the state in the name of beauty pageants! Whether or not I agree to let Carly wear a
makeup is up to me.”
Marilyn's shocked expression turned slightly remorseful, a little ill. She nodded shakily and turned away. “We realized Lea did too much too soon, and IâI'm mostly at fault for that.”
“Let me finish, please.” She hesitated a long moment. “Jonas, I can't change the past or how I raised my daughter, but I'm older and wiser now. So much wiser. And I think it's time I took more of a role where Caroline is concerned.”
A ten-ton brick lodged in his stomach, weighing him down and stealing his breath. She'd worn the same look last summer when she'd asked to extend Caroline's one week of summer vacation at her house in Helena to two weeks. Now she wanted more?
“You can't deny Caroline is coming to an age where she needs a feminine touch. A role model she sees daily rather than weekly.”
“She has female role models. Her teachers, theâ”
“A steadying influence then,” Marilyn interjected. “Someone she can talk to, confide in, someone who'll help her through these awkward years she faces.” Her mouth pulled down at the corners, the heavy lines on her face deepening. “You're the sheriff. What are you going to do when you find Caroline drunk at a party? In the backseat of a car with a boy?”
“What are you getting at?” Jonas tried to remind
himself how much of a help his ex-mother-in-law had been since Lea's desertion. “She has more sense than that.”
The older woman gave him a dubious look. “Like my Lea did with you?”
Jonas ground his teeth together until pain shot up the side of his head. “I wasn't a saint, but neither was Lea. I wasn't the one to introduce her to those things, Marilyn. Or herâ¦ I wasn't her first boyfriend.”
Cheeks blazing, Marilyn raised her head. “But part of your appeal was your reputation. Fun-loving, charming. She told me how you'd come out of your shell once you had a bit of alcohol inside you. What if Caroline is the same way?”
He muffled a groan. “She wants a little makeup, that's all.”
Marilyn shook her head. “That's the beginning,” she countered. “Jonas, last summer we talked about Caroline staying with us for two weeksâwhy not let her stay all summer?”
She nodded, her gaze on his. “She needs me. I know she needs me. I think it's obvious to you, too. Caroline will have a better time of it if she has a woman to get her through these teenage upsets. Someone who sees and understands the mistakes made in the past. Jonas, she's only going to get worse.”
“She's a good kid.”
“She has been, yes. Here lately, however, things have changed. Let me take her this summer and maybe when you see the changes in her behavior, you'll reconsider letting her move in with me and Dave permanently.”
Jonas turned away from her and moved to the French
doors leading off the patio. He'd known it was coming, knew she'd ask again. But was his automatic denial in his daughter's best interests? Would she be better off with her grandparents?
Maybe so. Marilyn and Dave were smart, they wouldn't make the same mistakes with Caroline like they had with Leaâbut would they go to the opposite extreme instead? He'd seen examples of that already. The plain clothes Marilyn chose for Caroline that even he knew weren't in style, and her attitude. Whatever happened to middle ground?
“I know how much you love her, Jonas. And I know you want what's best for her. You've done everything a single man can when it comes to raising a daughter alone, but surely you can see it's time andâ¦”
Marilyn's words droned on, but he remained lost in his thoughts, the past. Rethinking decisions, choices. He saw all right.
Maybe it would be best.
“Jonas? Jonas, are you listening to me?”
“I'll think about it,” he promised huskily. “I'llâ¦talk to Carly and see what she thinks.”
“Right there is your answer, Jonas. Her name is Caroline, not Carlyâ”
“It's simply a nickname she likes.”
“Yes, well, what will be next? Adults need to make the decisions, Jonas, not children. That was something I learned the hard way. Now is the time to be firm, to regain control while you still can. You don't want her turning out like that Skylar person.”
M NOT GOING
,” Carly whispered, carefully tiptoeing back to her room. Her hands shook, and she was cold
and sick. “They can't make me go and even if they try, they can't make me stay.”
Could they? She sat on her bed only to hop right back up and pace the room. Her dad needed her. She might not be pretty, but she was smart and she helped out a lot.
When she wasn't burning dinner.
But that was an accident. Dad knew that. She'd gotten distracted reading the posts in the chat room and forgotten about the stupid spaghetti. It happened. Dad said himself he'd burned his share of their meals butâ
He was sending her away.
His “I'll think about it” almost always meant yes. But she hated Grandma's house. Everything was perfect and all she ever heard was “Don't touch” or “Don't make a mess.”
He couldn't send her away. He couldn't!