Thanks to my team. Harddaysknight is my mentor and gives me critical review. Sbrooks103x also gives me a pre-post read. My editors are Girlinthemoon, Norafares, GeorgeAnderson, Hale1 and Pixel the Cat. Love you all. Thanks to Qhml1 for the idea for this story event.
If you’re looking for kink, this isn’t it. This is a romance, within the theme of the event. What can I say? I’m a romantic girl. Thank you to all the kind and gracious readers who offer feedback, comments, votes and keep us writing, Randi.
When I pulled up to my gate, I saw a guy pushing a lawnmower along the fence on the property next to mine. I hit the remote, and as the gate swung open, I saw her. I have orange trees lining my driveway, including two outside the gate; she was sitting under one of those, reading a book. She had a large plastic thermos sitting in the grass next to her and she looked up at me. I wondered what a little girl was doing sitting there with no one else around. I put my car in park and got out. I walked over to her.
“Hi, sweetheart,” I said. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
She looked up at me. God, she was cute! Long honey-blonde hair framed a cherub’s face. Her eyes were huge and a rich brown. She had a little button nose and she had a nice tan going on. “Hi,” she said. “I’m not by myself. Daddy is mowing the lawn over there. What’s your name?”
I sat down in the grass in front of her so we could be on eye level. I hoped I wouldn’t get a grass stain on my linen skirt. It was one of my favorites, but I wanted to hear her talk some more. Her little voice was sort of husky and she was enchanting.
“I’m Sage,” I told her. “What’s your name?”
“Reynolds,” she said. “Do you live here, Sage?”
“Yes, honey,” I said.
“Do you mind if I sit under your tree?” she asked. “It was hot in the sun, and Daddy will probably take a while.”
“No, sweetheart, I don’t mind. You can sit anywhere you like. Do you always come to work with your father?”
“Yes.” She nodded and that flaxen hair floated around her like a halo. “I got a book from the library.”
“What are you reading?” I asked.
She showed me her book. It was about horses, listing all the different breeds and information about them. “Do you like horses?” I asked.
She nodded again. I heard the mower engine stop, behind us. “I wish I could have a horse, someday.”
“Hey, everything okay over there?” I heard her father call.
“Yes, I’m just talking to Sage,” Reynolds called back. He came walking over, I suppose to check me out.
“Hi,” he said. “Is it okay if she’s here? She won’t bother anything.”
I looked up at him. He was very tall. The sun was behind him and I couldn’t really see that well. I stood and extended my hand. He shook it and his huge hand swallowed mine. “I’m Sage,” I said. “This is my place. I don’t mind her being here, but it’s pretty hot. If you don’t mind, she could come up to the house. I’ll give her a tour and you can come and get her when you’re done mowing.”
“Jackson,” he said. “Jacks, but we don’t want to be any bother. She’ll be fine here.”
“It won’t be a bother,” I told him. “I don’t have anything I need to do, and it will be fun.” I whispered so she couldn’t hear, “I have two horses.”
He glanced at her. I could tell he was tempted. I moved a little so I could see him better. Damn, this was a hot white boy! He was very tanned, like Reynolds. His hair was a mop of brown curls, nearly matching my black mop, he had the same warm brown eyes she did, and he was very good looking. He was built, too. Muscles bulged all over him, and they were on display in the t-shirt with the cut-off sleeves he was wearing. He looked me over, and I could tell he was going to say no.
I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t have trusted that little angel with a stranger, either. I upped my game. “I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “You take a break for a bit. Both of you come up to the house with me and you can check things out. I’ll give you a drink, then, if you think you can trust me, you leave Reynolds with me and finish your job. If it makes you uncomfortable, you can bring her back here, okay?”
He hesitated for a few seconds. “Really, we don’t want to bother you,” he said.
“You won’t. I was going to do something with those two things I told you about.”
“What two things?” Reynolds asked.
“I’d rather show you,” I told her.
“Please, Daddy?” She hugged his leg. “I want to see the two things.”
He laughed. “Okay, let’s go to this lady’s house.”
“‘This “lady” is Sage,” I said.
“Yes, let’s go to Sage’s house.” She tucked one little hand into each of ours and started walking, dragging us along.
“Can we take my car?” I asked. “It’s kind of a ways to walk, and I’d like to have my car at the house.”
“I’m all dirty and sweaty,” Jacks objected.
“I have leather seats,” I told him. “It’s okay.”
We went to the car and he put Reynolds in the front with me, getting in the back.
I started it and the air felt pretty good. “I like your car,” Reynolds said. “What kind is it?”
“It’s called a Mercedes GLE,” I said. “I like it. It’s big enough to haul Reynolds and Jacks around.”
She laughed. “Well, I’m not very big, but Daddy is kinda big.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” I said. “How old are you, honey?”
“I’m six,” she said. “Daddy is really old. He’s 27. How old are you?”
Jacks intervened. “I don’t think that’s something you should ask Sage, baby. Women don’t like to tell how old they are.”
“Why not?” she said. “She asked me.”
That made me laugh. “I don’t mind,” I said. “I’m even older than your father, Reynolds. I’m 29.”
She leaned over toward me and said, conspiratorially, “I don’t really think that’s old. I just say that to roast Daddy.” I thought I was going to hurt myself trying not to laugh.
She was a doll! It was about a quarter-mile from my gate to the house, over a little hill. When we crested the hill, Reynolds gasped. “You live in a castle, Sage!”
“Well, it doesn’t have a moat, or a drawbridge, or a dungeon,” I said.
She looked up at me to see if I was serious. We both giggled hysterically when she saw the smile on my face. I pulled up at the front door, and Paul came out and opened our doors. He would take the car and park it. Paul was ... I’m not sure what he was. My friend, but he took care of the estate: everything about the estate. I introduced him to Reynolds and Jacks.
He walked us to the door and opened it for us. Julie met us in the entry and asked if she could get us anything. “Yes, we need something to drink,” I said. “Do we have the stuff to make lemonade?”
It turned out that we did, both Jacks and Reynolds approved, and I took them to my office. Reynolds was all big-eyed, and Jacks seemed like he was in a daze.
I seated them in chairs in front of my desk. “So, tell me about Reynolds and Jacks,” I said.
Reynolds couldn’t contain herself. “Gosh, Sage, you have like, servants, and stuff, just like a real castle! Are you a queen or a princess or something?”
I laughed. “No, honey, I’m not a princess, and they aren’t servants, really,” I told her. “They work for me, and they live here. That’s their job ... They’ve been with me since I was a teenager, and I love them very much. They’re my friends, and they help me do the things I need to do.”
“What do you do?” Jacks asked.
“I own a logistics service,” I said.
“What’s a log ... what you said?” Reynolds asked.
“Well, imagine that you had 1000 of something you needed moved, anywhere in the world,” I said. “It could be chairs, or cars, toys, animals, food or just about anything else. You would call my company. We would provide the containers, pack them, come and pick them up, take them to a ship and move them wherever you needed them to go.”
“Oh, so do you have trucks and stuff?” she asked.
“Yes, and we have railroad cars and two ships,” I said.
The lemonade came, and Reynolds told me all about herself. She would begin second grade in the fall, “Daddy” was looking for a job and he mowed lawns, they lived in a “yucky” apartment, she didn’t like the people who lived next door to them, and she loved horses. I could tell that Jacks was quite embarrassed by all these revelations, but he didn’t seem to know what to say. I saw how he looked at that little angel, and it was clear she was his whole life.
When we finished the lemonade I asked Jacks if Reynolds could stay until he was finished with his job. “Yes, you’re obviously a nice person,” he said. “I’ll just go finish. I’ll pick you up when we’re ready to go, okay, baby?”
Reynolds nodded, and Jacks bent down and kissed her forehead. The smile she gave her Daddy made her look more angelic than ever, and he was leaving when I remembered to give him the gate key-code. “Are you ready to see the two things, sweetheart?” I asked her.
She was. I changed into some jeans, sneakers and a top, and we walked out to the barn. She held my hand and skipped all the way. We walked into the cool shade inside the barn and when she saw Misty and Buddy, she squealed with excitement. “Sage, you have horses! Yeet!”
“Yes, I do,” I said. “Would you like to feed them and pet them?”
She couldn’t speak she was so excited, and she just nodded, her hair floating around her in that halo. I kept vegetables and apples to feed them, and we fed them a couple of carrots and an apple. “What are their names, Sage?” she asked.
“This one is Misty,” I told her. “She’s a mare and she’s seven, just a little older than you. This is Buddy. He’s very old for a horse, 22, and he likes beautiful girls to ride him. Would you like to ride him?”
She was so excited she could hardly breathe. I put a bridle on Buddy and led him outside. I didn’t bother with a saddle. I loved riding them bareback, and I thought she would like the contact. Buddy was fat and soft and as lazy as an old dog. He was absolutely gentle and safe for her to sit on, even if I wasn’t around. I lifted her up and she got a handful of his mane.
I led him around the barn a couple of times and asked her if she wanted to try by herself. She did, so I went and bridled Misty and we ambled down beside the driveway until we could see Jacks, mowing. He noticed us, after a minute, and waved. Reynolds waved excitedly to him and he killed the mower.
“Watch me, Daddy!” she called.
We rode down the fence so he could see us, and when we turned back toward the barn, I heard the mower start again. We rode down to the lake and let the horses stand in the water and drink with us on their backs. When we got back to the barn, she hugged Buddy’s head and told him he was a “good boy.” He seemed gratified by the praise, and we fed them another carrot and went back to the house.
Julie had made us sandwiches and another glass of lemonade. When Jacks came to pick her up we were snuggled up in a big chair in my sunroom, reading Reynolds’ book. He just stood in the doorway, and the most wistful look came over his face. He shook his head a little, and came into the room until she saw him.
She jumped up and flew over to hug him. He knelt and hugged her, while she overwhelmed him with the tale of her adventure. “Jacks, do you think I could talk to you for a minute?” I asked.
“Honey, would you be okay if I talked to your father for a second while you read?”
She agreed, and I took him into the library. I left the doors open so she could see us, but we were out of little earshot.
“Jacks, you have a beautiful little girl,” I told him.
He grinned. The guy was really charming. “Yeah, she’s my angel,” he said. “She’s a very good girl, Sage.”
“I can see that,” I said. “Look, I know it’s none of my business, and I’m not meaning to pry or intrude, but do you need a job, Jacks?”
He shifted from foot to foot and looked embarrassed. “Do you want me to mow your lawn, or something? It’s kinda big for me, Sage. I really don’t have the equipment...”
I interrupted him. “No, Jacks, someone does that who Paul arranges. I don’t know anything about that. What did you work at before you lost your job?”
“I was a salesman,” he said. “I worked for a furniture manufacturer, but they went out of business. I’ve tried a couple of furniture stores, but they’re hard to work for and I have Reynolds. I have to find her a babysitter, and I hate leaving her.”
“I’m going to have to ask you this, and feel free to tell me it’s none of my business, but what about her mom?” I asked.
He hesitated for a minute. “Okay, it’s none of your business,” he said. “I’m not trying to be rude. She’s not around, okay?”
“Yes, I understand,” I said. “Would you take a job if I offered it to you?”
“Doing what?” he asked. “I have a degree in marketing. It’s pretty useless. What would I do?”
“I have no idea,” I told him. “I would just turn you over to my HR department and they would see where they thought you would fit. I don’t do any of that, but I have good people working for me.”
“How much do you pay?” he asked.
“I have no idea about that, either,” I said. “How much do you make mowing lawns?”
He grinned ruefully. “Not that much. I keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. That’s about it. I’m not trying to come off ungrateful, Sage. It’s not steak I keep on the table and we don’t live in a ‘castle’.” He laughed at the “castle” reference. “I do need a job, Sage, but it has to pay for a good daycare for Reynolds and not involve much travel. She means everything to me.”
“I understand. I’ll give you my card and the number of the head of my HR. I’ll give him a call and tell him to give you an interview. Is that okay?”
“It is more than okay,” he said. “You are an amazing woman, Sage. You’ve been so nice to Reynolds, and I’m very grateful. I have mad hustle, but that only gets you so far. I’m doing the best I can. We’ve had ... some bad ... breaks. I’m trying to get us back on our feet. Thanks for being the kind of person you are.”
“That little doll in there deserves that mad hustle,” I told him. “She also deserves a steak and a castle. You just give them a call, okay, Jacks?”
He promised, and we went back to get Reynolds. I walked them to the door, and Reynolds pulled me down so she could kiss and hug me. I felt a lump rising in my throat. “Can I come back and see you again?” she asked. “Can I come back and ride Buddy? I love Buddy.”
“Reynolds...” Jacks started to object.
I cut him off. “Of course you can, baby. Is it okay if I call you and we make a date?”
“Oh, yes, but I don’t have a phone,” she said.
“We’ll work something out,” I promised. They went out and started down the drive. I noticed Jacks was pulling his lawnmower, and something occurred to me.
“Jacks, wait a minute,” I called. I hurried out to them. “Are you walking home?”
I could tell he was embarrassed again. “Yeah, we don’t have a car,” he said.
“Don’t move,” I told them.
I had a truck. It was a new GMC 3500 HD Denali. I rarely used it, but I pulled my horse trailer when I wanted to ride somewhere other than home, and I had an RV I sometimes pulled. I got it and drove it around to them. I got out and handed the keys to Jacks. “You can use this,” I told him. “It’s too hot for walking. Reynolds is going to be exhausted and you can’t pull that mower.”
He looked at me with his mouth open. He recovered after a minute. “No, Sage. Hell no. I’m not taking that. What if I wrecked it? It’d take me the rest of my life to pay for it. We’ll be fine. We’re used to it.”
I was a little taken aback, but he wasn’t through. “Sage, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I don’t think I’m going to be talking to the guy at your company, either. I kind of need to make my own way. It probably seems dumb to you, but I’d just prefer to find my own job.”
It did seem dumb to me, and ungrateful. I wasn’t going to make a deal out of it. I’d tried to be nice. “It’s up to you, Jackson,” I said, deliberately using his full name.
Reynolds was looking from one to the other of us and she grabbed my hand. “Daddy, I don’t want to walk all the way home,” she said. “It’s hot, and my legs get tired. Can’t we at least let Sage give us a ride? Will you please just give us a ride, Sage?”
I looked down at that little angel and melted. I looked over at Jackson, and he was visibly struggling between his pride, or whatever his problem was, and his love for his daughter. I could tell he didn’t want to give in, and the muscles in his jaw tightened and relaxed, but he ate it and looked at me.
“Will you give us a ride, please, Sage?”
“I will,” I said. I started up the truck to get the air going while he loaded the mower in the back. Reynolds got in the back seat; I buckled her in and got behind the wheel. Jackson came and got in the passenger seat. It was awkward as fuck, and we didn’t exchange a word except when he gave me directions, but Reynolds chattered away and sort of filled the silence.
They lived in a shithole. It was one of those low-income places, there was a party going on two doors down with red-neck music blasting, and there were two meth-hoes sitting on the wall in front of where we pulled up.
“That’s Lue and Jenny,” Reynolds told me. “I don’t like them.”
“No, I can see why, honey,” I told her. “We’ll just sit in here where it’s cool while your father gets the mower out. Then you can just walk by them, okay?”
“Yes, they swear a lot and I don’t like to talk to them,” she said.
When he lifted it down, I got out and helped her down. I hugged her and kissed her cheek. Jackson was pulling the mower toward us and I got back in the truck and closed the door. He stopped by the door as if he wanted to say something, but I just kept the window up and after a minute, he took Reynolds’ hand and they moved toward the building. I backed out and drove home. I was mad as hell.
I try to be a good person. I know that I’m lucky as hell to be in my position. My father left me very well off. He owned 25 trucks and a warehouse when he adopted me. He’d gradually expanded while I was growing up, and by the time I graduated from college, he let me take control. He had a good bit of cash, and I bought into containers. Things snowballed, and we just kept expanding.
I try to give back to the community when I have the chance. I don’t kick puppies and I thought I had been perfectly kind and reasonable. Evidently, Jackson felt I was intruding, and who was I to tell him his feelings were wrong? I guess I was intruding, but I had tried to offer him a hand up and he bit my hand. Fuck him. That was my thought, but I remembered the look on Reynolds’ face when she walked into the barn and saw the horses. I also remembered the feeling of that soft little hand in mine. Whatever I didn’t like about Jackson, and I could think of plenty, there was no doubt he loved his little girl. I knew he would take a bullet for her. Why couldn’t he take a job and the loan of a truck for her? I sighed. Why did life have to be so difficult?
Fuck it, I felt good about myself. I went on vacation. The sun and the surf soon had me recharged and ready. I cruised the scene, danced my little ass off and had a blast. There were some large contracts to work on when I got home, and I had to fly to Houston and Los Angeles to make sure we landed them. When I got back from Los Angeles, the second day after I was back, I was driving home and stopped at the gate. I saw her. She stood up from where she had been sitting under the tree and waved at me. Damn. Here I was all happy, and now there was a little blonde angel over there waving at me.
I sighed, put my vehicle in park and got out. I could hear the sound of the lawnmower over behind a group of trees. “Hi, Sage.” That little voice broke through my barriers.
“Hey, baby,” I called. “How you been?”
I walked over and we sat in the grass. “I’m okay,” she said. “Sage, do you think I could go see Buddy?” God, she was cute, and she was breaking my heart.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. You’ll have to ask your father. As far as I’m concerned, you can come see Buddy any time you want. Do you think he’d mind?”
“I’ll go ask him,” she said. She scampered away and I heard the mower stop. There was silence for a few minutes and when she reappeared, her bounce was gone and as she got closer, I could see she was crying. “Daddy said I couldn’t,” she sobbed. I hugged her for a minute.
“Wait right here, baby,” I said. I was pissed. I marched over and saw Jackson pushing the mower on the other side. I walked up to him and he killed it.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I started. “That little girl is over there crying because you’re an insecure prick! Jesus Christ, Jackson! Just because you have some sort of pride thing going on, your daughter can’t go see a horse? What, you think, I’ll let her get hurt? I’m finna kidnap her? All she wants to do is see a horse. Is it because she’ll be with me? Am I that repulsive? I was nice to you. I get it that you want to be independent, but what the fuck?”
“Sage, I’m not, we’re not, from around here.” He was as vociferous as I was. “We come from a two-bit one-horse town in Oklahoma that nobody’s ever heard of. Nobody has much there; the town itself will probably dry up and blow away in the next thirty years and nobody will care.
“But there are some things we do have. You can call it pride if you want; it’s just how we are. You don’t sponge off people. We hate gold diggers of both sexes. And you don’t use your daughter to get things that you ought to be hustling for yourself. We’re down right now, down pretty far, and you have every right to say so, though I won’t think much of you for it. But by God, we won’t stay down, and when we’re up, it won’t be because we’ve ridden on somebody’s back to get there!”
He was pretty flushed, almost angry, as he stood there next to that lawn mower. I was almost angry right back at him, until I remembered that little angel.
“Well, Jackson, suppose somebody in that wonderful little town of yours needed some help, and you could give it to them. Would you?”
“Of course. If you can help, you do it.”
“So why won’t you let me help you?”
I could see him wrestling for an answer. “Some of you rich people think you can buy anything and anybody. Well, you can’t buy us!”
I was about to turn around and stalk away when the funny side of it struck me.
“What the hell would I want to buy you for? What would I do with you? I love Reynolds, and she loves me, but you?”
He did that turning red and shuffling thing again. “I’m sorry, Sage. That was a ... Well, we read about people who are as rich as you, and how they all look down on the rest of us and cause most of the world’s problems, you know? I’ve never met anyone like you before, that’s for sure. But my mother did teach me not to insult a lady, and I just did, and I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” I said. “But seriously, Jackson, why can’t you accept help from me? Is it because I’m black?”
“No, not that. Absolutely not. I’m not a racist.” He was very sure of that.
I grinned. “Then is it because I’m a woman?”
Now he really turned red. I was starting to enjoy this. “N ... n ... no, well, not ... um ... I don’t think so?”
I let him stew for a while in his preconceived notions then let up on him. “You’re right, Jackson, I am very rich and I like it that way. There are rich people who are bastards, too. But one of the reasons I enjoy being rich is that when I see someone who deserves better than they’re getting, I can do something about it.
“I’m not going to beg you to take my help, just like you’re not going to beg for help. I can respect that, as long as you don’t insult me or stereotype me. But I think we can work some things out that will be good for both of us, and especially will be good for that little angel we both love, if you didn’t have some ... issues.”
I could see him flush and he was getting ready to make an angry reply. I cut him off. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, but making little girls cry isn’t high on the list of things I like. Please, Jackson, just let her see the damn horse. What could possibly be wrong with that?”
He visibly relaxed. “Nothing,” he said. “I just ... I don’t want her getting her expectations up, and then being disappointed if I lose this job and she can’t come over here anymore, okay?”
“I understand,” I said. “You can bring her over here any time I’m home, whether you’re working, or not. That little girl deserves to be happy, Jackson, and you know how much she loves horses. Hell, I’ll come and get her, whatever it takes, just give a little here. I won’t bother you. I wasn’t trying to insult you or interfere. I thought I was doing something positive. I’m sorry you took it as an insult; I certainly didn’t intend it that way.”
He looked at me for a minute. His eyes fell and he scuffed his toe in the grass. “I’m ... I don’t know what to say, Sage. I was kind of a dick, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, but you’re a dick with a beautiful little girl,” I said.
He grinned a kind of lopsided grin. It made him look like a little boy being scolded and it was absolutely charming. “I do have a beautiful little girl, don’t I?” he said. He stuck out his hand. “I’m sorry. Friends?”
I shook it. “Maybe friends,” I said. “She can come up to the house with me?”
“Yeah, let’s go tell her,” he said.
We walked back and she was sitting all slumped and dejected-looking. He snatched her up and squeezed her. “I think there are some horses that have been missing my baby,” he said.
She looked up at his face, those huge eyes full of hope. “Really, Daddy? I can go see them?”
“Really,” he said. “Sage will take you and I’ll come pick you up when I’m done, okay? I’m sorry I made you cry.”
“Yeet!” she said. “I won’t cry anymore. Can we go now?”
He laughed and kissed her, set her down and she tucked that little hand into mine. “Let’s go,” she said. “Thanks, Daddy.”
We had a blast. She rode Buddy for a while and I rode Misty; we fed them some treats and went back to the house. Julie brought us finger food and sweet tea, and we were watching the new live-action Lion King when the doorbell rang. Paul let Jackson in, and Julie got him a glass of tea. I was sitting on the floor with my back against the sofa and Reynolds between my legs, leaning back against me. He sat in a chair and finished watching the movie with us.
When Reynolds noticed him she went over and sat on his lap. I got a little wistful as I watched that little blonde angel snuggle up against her daddy’s big body, safe and secure without a care in the world. I realized again just how much I missed my father. I gave them a ride home and all the awkwardness of the previous trip was gone. She regaled him with her adventures all the way home and he had a permanent goofy grin affixed to his face.
He promised that he’d check to see if I was home next time he mowed, and we talked about me coming to pick her up the following Tuesday. He was good with that, and she hugged and kissed me goodbye. When she released me, she looked expectantly back and forth between us. “Daddy, aren’t you going to hug Sage?” she finally asked. We laughed and he turned all red as he tried to give me one of those awkward side-hugs. It was like trying to hug a fence post.
I grabbed him and made him hug me right. He laughed and his reserve vanished as I hugged him for an embarrassingly long time. “Okay, I get it,” he said. “Thanks for everything, Sage.”
Reynolds’ brown eyes shone up at us and she looked very happy. They went inside and I drove home feeling happy again.
The week was a busy one for me, but I made sure I blocked out the time for Reynolds’ visit on Tuesday. I walked her to their apartment door when we got back and some creep made a comment when we walked past where he was hanging out on some steps. We ignored him and just kept walking.
Jackson was making macaroni and cheese with hotdogs when we went inside. He asked me to stay and eat with them. “I know it’s not four-star dining,” he said. “It’s Reynolds’ favorite, though.”
I just laughed. “You don’t know how many times I ask Julie to make this,” I said. “I lived on this when I was a kid. Thank you, I’d love to stay.”
We had a nice time, and they walked me out. The creep was gone, and when Jackson opened my door, we did our little hugging ritual. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t get it out. “So, we on for next Tuesday?” I asked Reynolds. She was, and that became our routine. Every Tuesday, I picked her up at 11:30; we had lunch and went riding. My horses needed the exercise, and I enjoyed every minute Reynolds spent with me. I was falling deeper in love with that little angel.
I had never been around kids that much. I hadn’t much enjoyed the experience when I had been around them, so Reynolds had been a welcome eye-opener. I wasn’t all that domestic. I’d dated and had a couple of long-term relationships, but never really experienced anything like Jackson and Reynolds. It had been just my father and me, along with Paul and Julie, and that was my family. Having Reynolds in my life was something new. Jackson and I were becoming closer, as well. It took him three months to finally vocalize what he’d obviously been holding inside all that time. He asked me out! It wasn’t without prompting.
We were doing our “Sage is leaving” thing, and he was doing his awkward thing. “Daddy, ask her,” she said.
“Ask me what?” I said.
“He wants to take you on a date,” she gushed.
I looked at Jackson and raised one eyebrow. He was blushing furiously. “Well?” I said.
He stammered around and finally got it out. “I was wondering ... Sage, would you like to go to a movie with me?”
“Jesus, Jacks,” I said. “You’ve been thinking about this for three months and a movie is what you came up with?”
He laughed. “Hey, I’m not very good at this, okay? I also don’t have a lot of money. I hope you’re a cheap date.”
I took them back to the apartment and asked Reynolds to wait inside while we talked. She got in a parting shot. “Please, Sage. Daddy really likes you a lot, and I love you.”
Well, what the hell do you say to that? I hugged her. “We’ll see, baby.”
She turned on the TV and Jacks walked me back to my car. It was my turn to stammer and be unsure of myself. “Jacks, I’m flattered, and shit, but I kinda have a “No white boys” rule. I like you, and I do love Reynolds, but I don’t know.”
He looked kind of shocked, then he recovered. “Well, I guess you won’t have to worry about that, since I’m not a boy.” He gave me that lopsided grin and I rolled my eyes at him.
“You know what I mean.”
“I guess I do. Seriously, Sage? You don’t want to date me because I’m white? Is that what I’m supposed to tell Reynolds? I’d like to hear you explain this one.”
I laughed to cover my nerves. “I don’t know if I can. I guess I’ve never really tried before. It’s just awkward as fuck. It’s as exciting and intense and interesting dating a white guy as it is dating black guys or white girls, but it starts to get annoying after a while. It’s the little things: How do you describe me if we go out and meet at a restaurant? If you don’t see me, how do you tell the person who to look for, the black girl? The tan girl? How does that make you feel, awkward, right? When we’re together and people are surprised that we’re together, how does that make you feel?”
“I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ve never dated a black girl before. I think I can handle it. I’ll never know until I’ve tried it.” He looked pointedly at me. I tried again.
“Look at me, Jacks,” I said. “I’m ... curvy. I have a phat ass. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black, or because I work out a lot. Whatever, it’s not okay for a guy to compliment me on my “black ass” the first time he sees me naked. I have big lips, I’m black. I went out with this one white boy who told me I have ‘blow job’ lips. Who the hell came up with that? I guess he didn’t realize he was being a sexist fuckwit when he said that. Even worse, he was a racist sexist fuckwit, which is the worst kind of sexist fuckwit.”
He broke down laughing. I just stared at him for a minute, then I started laughing, too. “Okay, it’s funny, but you see what I’m talking about?”
“Yes, I do, and I promise not to be a racist sexist fuckwit. If I have to be a fuckwit, I’ll choose one or the other.” He burst out laughing again.
We broke down again, and when we recovered, he said, “Just give me a chance, Sage.”
“Okay, one date,” I said. “Just don’t let the little things get annoying, okay? No strings. If it feels right, we’ll try it again. I’m only doing this because Reynolds wants me to. I really hate you, okay?”
He laughed again. “Yeah, I use her to get all my dates,” he said.
“How many have you had, recently?”
“Um ... well, you’ll be my first since...” he trailed off. The laughter left his face and his eyes.
“Yeah, the elephant in the living room you don’t want to talk about,” I said. “You realize that isn’t going away, right?” I was as serious as he had become.
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’ll tell you and we’ll get rid of that particular elephant. I just ... I don’t like to talk about it, but I know you deserve to know. We’ll talk, okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “What are you going to do with Reynolds while we’re out on this date?”
“I’ll have to get a sitter,” he said.
“Want me to ask Julie?”
“Do you think she’d mind?”
“No, she loves Reynolds almost as much as I do,” I told him.
That’s what happened. They came in a cab, and Reynolds stayed with Julie. We went to the movie and out for dinner, afterward. We went to a little diner, and they had a good cheeseburger. I got a piece of peach cobbler, and it was the bomb. We had that talk. It started awkwardly.
We were talking about the movie, and there had been a mother/daughter thing in it. He started to say something, then he went all quiet.
“What the hell, Jacks?” I said. “We hit a wall here or something?”
He shook his head. “No, this is just that thing I said I would tell you about.”
“Ah, the thing. Well, I’m all ears.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how to start.” Well, that was obvious, as his face turned red and he stared at the table as if he was looking for a script or something. I wished I could help him, but I knew how he felt about boundaries. Finally, he found words.
“Reynolds has a mom, you know.”
“Most people do,” I said. “I imagine even you.” I hoped that would lighten the moment, some.
He laughed. “I meant she’s around somewhere. Not around here, but back where we came from.”
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
“Just a little town in Oklahoma,” he said. “I’ll tell you the name of it if you want to know. It was just one of those places with 2000 people, nothing special, you know.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know. Is that where you grew up?”
“Pretty much,” he said. “I graduated from high school there and I went to one of those regional universities. Reynolds’ mom was my girlfriend all through school.”
“Were you married?”
“No, that’s one mistake I never made. We went to the same college; she was two years behind me. When I graduated, we got engaged and moved in together. We were planning to marry right after she graduated.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, we did all the typical college kids shit,” he said. “We did a lot of partying. I was doing less of that as we got toward graduation, but she wasn’t. Then she told me she was pregnant. It was still pretty good until Reynolds was born. She wanted to go right back to being the party girl. We had a bunch of really big fights. She moved out and left me with Reynolds. She got busted at a party and there were a lot of drugs involved. I had enough. I quit my job, packed up Reynolds and her stuff and came out here.”
“Do you know anything about where she is?” I asked.
“I don’t want to know,” he said. “The night she moved out she said some pretty bad things, Sage. She was tired of being tied down to a ‘squalling brat.’ Can you imagine anyone talking about Reynolds like that, much less her mother? She was sick of me, she wanted to have a life, not be some ‘dumb married bitch with a pack of rug-rats’.”
“Damn, dude. That’s cold,” I said.
“Yeah, I figure we’re better off just closing that book. What about you, Sage? You ever been married?”
“No, I’ve never found anyone I was interested in like that,” I told him. “It was just me and Dad, all my life. I never knew my birth parents. He left some pretty big impressions on my life. I miss him every day. I guess I’ll always be a daddy’s girl. A guy would have to be hella impressive for me to think about marrying him.”