Overruled, p.15
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       Overruled, p.15
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         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  “Good idea, Marshall.” JD grins. “Mind if I join you?”

  “Sure, Coach Dean.”

  Coach Dean—what a fucking joke. But if nothing else, it’ll give me a chance to show him up. I pass my beer to Sofia.

  “You boys run along and play,” Jenn teases. “Sofia and I will get better acquainted.” Something in her voice makes me pause, and I look to see if Sofia’s okay with that. Her smile tells me she is.

  I take the ball from Marshall and launch it at JD’s stomach, just a few feet away. He catches it with a painful “Ooomph.”

  Oh yeah—this is gonna be all kinds of fun.

  • • •

  After a few minutes of throwing the ball, I decide to take advantage of the chance to question JD—maybe get something on him I can use. “So,” I start casually, “you’re coachin’ at the high school. What’s that like after so many years?”

  Inappropriate student-teacher relationships are all the rage these days, and I’m kind of hoping JD is a trend follower.

  He shrugs self-deprecatingly. “You know what they say—those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t play—coach. I was always good with strategy, makin’ plays—the physical stuff was tougher. I’m not real coordinated.”

  As if reinforcing his point, his next throw is about four feet above my head—I have to leap to catch it. But I do.

  “Jenny says you used to live in California?”

  Already had a background check done—came back clean.

  “That’s right—San Diego.”

  I receive Marshall’s pass and hurl the ball at JD’s face. He catches better than he did in high school. Damn it.

  “Must be hard movin’ back here, after being away so long. Leavin’ your job, friends . . . maybe an old girlfriend?”

  JD grins, and it’s annoyingly genuine. “My friends come to visit every now and then—get a taste of small-town livin’, you know? No serious girlfriend to speak of. And with the way things were with my daddy at the time . . . wasn’t hard at all. Sunshine still felt like home.”

  I glance at my own father across the grass, where’s he’s having a beer with Wayne Monroe, his arm wrapped securely around my mother’s waist.

  “I’m sorry about your daddy, JD. Truly.”

  He holds on to the ball, his brown eyes earnest. “Thank you. I’m glad I came back and had that time with him. In the end, he could see things developing between me and Jenny, and he told me everything happens for a reason. She’s my reason. She made all that sadness worth somethin’.”

  I want to be pissed. Jenny was my fucking reason, before this little shit even knew her name. But he’s just so damn sincere.

  Going after him would feel like kicking a little brown tail-wagging puppy, and only an asshole would do that.

  He tosses the ball to Marshall, then turns to me. “Can we talk for a minute, Stanton?”

  “I thought that’s what we were doin’.”

  “I mean privately.”

  This should be interesting. “Sure.”

  Marshall goes to find someone else to play with while JD and I walk side by side across the yard.

  Along the way I see Presley and a few of her cousins getting rowdy, throwing grass and screeching like banshees. I bring my fingers to my lips and whistle harshly.

  “Hey—settle down.”

  They immediately freeze; Presley in particular looks disheartened at the reprimand. I think it’s important for children to have a healthy fear of their parents. Especially their fathers. I was scared shitless of my father and he barely ever laid a hand on me. He didn’t need to—just knowing he might was enough.

  I give my daughter a wink to soften the blow. “If y’all are gonna act like animals, I’ll put you in the barn.”

  Presley smiles and they go back to playing, but calmer.

  JD and I stand near the oak tree, set away from the rest of the gathering. “You have somethin’ you want to say?” I ask him.

  He straightens up and looks me in the eye. “I know the wedding happenin’ so fast took you off guard. I’ve learned the hard way that life is short—that’s why I didn’t want to wait. And I know that you and Jenny are close, you have a bond. I trust Jenny, and I’d never give her a hard time about her friendship with you. As for Presley . . .”

  I automatically stiffen. If he says any wrong little thing, I will punt this puppy into next fucking week.

  “. . . she’s a great girl and I care about her. But you’re her daddy. I don’t want to undermine that, or replace you. I couldn’t if I tried. All I want to be is a friend to her.” He pauses, takes a breath, and goes on. “I know even after Jenny and I are married there’s a part of you that’ll still think of them as your girls. So I want you to know, all I plan to do for the rest of my life is make them happy.”

  He holds out his hand to me. “And I think it would make them happy if you and I could be friends. What do you say?”

  Sonofabitch.

  I can’t decide if Jimmy Dean is an idiot or a maniacal fucking genius. All I know for sure is I was really looking forward to hating him. And he . . . pretty much just made that impossible.

  • • •

  After I shake his hand, JD and I head back over to where Sofia and Jenny seem to be getting along. Sofia’s dark hair shines in the sunlight as she tips her head back and laughs, her mouth wide and uninhibited. And I grin just watching her.

  We only make it halfway across when there’s a disturbance from the far end of the yard. A ruckus. They’re fairly common too. Give alcohol to a bunch of people who’ve lived among one another for practically their whole lives—something’s bound to be said that someone doesn’t like.

  This time it’s coming from Ruby and her boyfriend.

  “Just get out!”

  He grabs her by the biceps, his fingers digging in. “Who do you think you’re talkin’ to, dumb bitch?”

  This isn’t my first ride around this particular track. I know where it’s headed. Apparently so does JD.

  “Aw—”

  “Hell—”

  He intercepts Jenny as she stands—always ready to open up a can of whoop-ass in defense of her big sister. “Jenny, hold on!” he pleads. “You get yourself involved all the time—”

  “She’s my sister! I’m not gonna sit here while that piece of shit talks to her like she’s trash!”

  I brush past them, heading straight to the source.

  People say there are two kinds of men. One who would never dream of putting his hands on a woman in anger, and one who deals with his own frustrations and shortcomings by blaming the closest woman to him with his fists. But I disagree. Because a man who would hit a woman is no man at all—just garbage impersonating a human being.

  “Hey, ZZ Top!” That gets his attention. “It’s time for you to go.”

  Ruby flinches when his hand tightens around her arm. Spit dribbles on his beard as he snarls, “Who the fuck are you?”

  I smirk. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

  “This ain’t your concern—piss off.”

  He turns back to Ruby, but I step closer—getting in his face. And my voice is low, lethally calm. “See, that’s where you’re wrong. Because my daughter is here and she’s watching us right now—that makes it very much my concern. So you’re gonna take your hands off her aunt right motherfucking now. Or I am gonna knock your teeth so far down your throat, you’ll be shittin’ molars.”

  We stand off for a few seconds, unblinking. And I can see the wheels turning in his ignorant head—debating whether he can take me. Dipshit must have a shred of intelligence after all, because he lets her go, then staggers out of the yard.

  “And don’t come back!” Ruby calls after him.

  I shake my head. “For Christ’s sake, Ruby.”

  She throws up her hands. “I know, I know, if I didn’t have bad luck with men—I’d be a lesbian.”

  That makes me chuckle.

  She nudges me with her elbow. “Let’
s go get a drink.”

  I loop my arm around her shoulders, and we do just that.

  • • •

  When I find Sofia, she’s holding two plates of food—one for herself, one for me—filled with chicken, potato salad, and ribs. “Thanks.”

  We grab an empty spot at a picnic table and sit down to eat. “Well, that was interesting,” she says.

  “That was nothin’—it’s still midday. The real interestin’ comes out after dark.”

  “Everyone turns into sparkly vampires?”

  I shake my head. “Rednecks.” I take a bite of rib that melts in my mouth. “So you and Jenny get acquainted?”

  “Oh, we did. Comparing notes on your sexual prowess gave us solid common ground. We both gave you two thumbs up, by the way.”

  “Just two?” I grin. “I gotta up my game.”

  “So how did your chat with JD go? Did you make friends like I suggested?”

  I wipe my mouth with a napkin. “I’ll tell you about it later. I was hopin’ to find Jenn, get some time alone with her.”

  Sofia pushes her plate back—apparently finished. “Um . . . I think she went in the house.”

  Laughter and whoops travel from across the yard, getting our attention. “I take back what I said about after dark,” I tell her. “Real interestin’ is headin’ our way right now.”

  And my big brother, Carter, comes strolling up, wearing tight, stonewashed jeans and a white T-shirt with a picture of Bob Marley. A gold chain hugs his neck with a large, strange medallion hanging at the end. Carter is very similar to me in looks, if I was taller, lankier, and had a thick, carefully groomed mustache like a blond Magnum fucking PI.

  I stand and accept the strong hug that almost lifts me off the ground. “There’s my little brother!”

  Growing up with Carter four years older than me, he was my idol. I wanted nothing more than to follow in his perfect footsteps. He played ball in high school too—still holds the most completed passes record. He got a scholarship to Ole Miss, but dropped out after just one semester. Then he came home . . . different. Born again. But not in the Christian way. Now he’s that guy—the thirty-two-year-old who still goes to all the high school parties. Who gets beer—and other enjoyments—for the local teens. He’s the life of the party, and every one of them worships the ground he walks on.

  “Good to see you, Carter,” I tell him with a smile. And I mean it.

  He looks me over, smacking my arm with pride. Then he turns to Sofia. She offers her hand. “Hi, I’m—”

  “You’re Sofia,” he finishes reverently. Then he hugs her—a bit too close and a hell of a lot too long for my taste. Finally, he backs off, holds her hands out to the sides, and rakes his eyes over her. “The birds told me your name.”

  Her eyes flash to me, but I just shake my head. “The birds?” she asks.

  “That’s right. I commune with nature every morning. You’d be surprised what she tells you, if you just take the time to listen.” Again, his eyes are all over her. “And you are every bit as lovely as they said you were. Look at these hips, your cheekbones, your . . .”

  “Yeah, yeah, she’s beautiful.” I slap my hand square on his chest, pushing him back. “What are you doin’ here? I thought you parted ways with the church.”

  He shrugs. “Even us pagans enjoy a good barbecue.”

  The two girls standing behind him move closer. Blond, braided hair, petite, wearing hippie peasant tops, fringed tan vests, and beaded moccasins. They might be twins—definitely sisters. “Let me introduce you to my ladies,” Carter says. “This is Sal and Sadie.”

  The one on his left steps forward. “I’m Sal, she’s Sadie.” She pinches my brother’s cheek familiarly. “You always get us confused.”

  “Heeey y’all!” Sadie greets us with a giggle.

  “We’re gonna go get some food,” Sal says. “You want me to fix you a plate, baby?” she asks my brother.

  He kisses her brow. “You’re too good to me.” As they turn to go, he smacks Sadie’s ass. “Make sure you get some of my momma’s fried chicken too.” She squeaks and bats her lashes back at him.

  After they head off, I ask, “Are they legal?”

  He squints. “Depends on your definition of legal.”

  “No, see”—I raise my finger in explanation—“that’s the beauty of ‘legal.’ You either are or you aren’t—it’s not subjective.”

  “You worry too much, Stanton.”

  “And you don’t worry near enough.”

  He smacks my arm. “You sound like Daddy.”

  I snort. “How would you know? Or are you and Daddy speakin’ to each other again?”

  After Carter came back from college, he decided he could no longer live under the fascist rule of my father’s household. He bought a run-down double-wide trailer on the outskirts of town, fixed it up himself, and tried his hand at . . . farming.

  A specialized, unique crop that’s now legal in Colorado.

  During this time, Carter also developed an efficient, high-potency liquid plant food that provides weeks’ worth of nutrients with just a few drops. He patented it, sold it to the federal government, and became extremely wealthy. But you’d never know it—his tastes are simple. He still lives in that same double-wide, though he bought the surrounding acres for privacy and raising . . . crops. It’s a commune kind of thing—free living, free love. Like Woodstock all day, every day. The kids around town take refuge at Carter’s. When last year a schoolmate of Marshall’s drove drunk, smashed into another truck, and took off—he fled to Carter’s. And my brother took him in, talked him down, and convinced him to turn himself in to the police. Carter even went with the boy to the police station.

  My brother’s alternative lifestyle is a bitter pill my daddy refuses to swallow. He hasn’t banned him from the house—Carter still shows up for holidays and family gatherings at my mother’s insistence—but my father just flat-out pretends he’s not there.

  Carter shrugs his shoulders. “Daddy just needs more time—he’ll get used to things.”

  I take a swig of my beer and wonder if bourbon’s available.

  “I’m havin’ a party this week,” my brother announces, arms raised. “And I wanted to make sure you and your lovely Sofia will attend. My place, Tuesday night.”

  “You’re having a party on a Tuesday?” Sofia asks.

  “I believe Tuesday is the most neglected day of the week. Everybody complains about Monday, Wednesday is the hump day, Thursday’s almost Friday, and Friday is the favorite. Nobody remembers Tuesday—it’s the black sheep.” He winks. “Like me.”

  I have too much to do to waste a night at my brother’s, partying with high school kids, getting high off of secondhand pot smoke.

  “Don’t know if we’ll be able to make it.”

  He grins knowingly. “Jenny and JD will be there.” He grasps my shoulder. “Change is difficult, brother, especially for someone as goal oriented as you. I would like to volunteer my services to ease the transition.” He links his fingers together. “To bond our families into one, you hear what I’m sayin’?”

  I sigh over his New Age, touchy-feely, bullshit outlook on life. But . . . if Jenny will be there, it may give me the chance to talk to her. To get her alone. To romance her—bring back her feelings, memories, of all the good times we shared. This could be useful.

  “Yeah, I hear you, Carter.”

  He nods. “Good. I’m gonna go see Momma.” He kisses both Sofia’s cheeks. “It was sublime meetin’ you in person. I look forward to entertainin’ you on Tuesday.”

  And then he strolls off.

  “He was high, right?” Sofia asks, grinning.

  “It’s hard to tell with Carter . . . but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t.”

  • • •

  A few hours go by, filled with cold beers and good conversations. Sofia and I go undefeated in a horseshoe tournament. The crowd thins out; people start to head home to get ready for the week ahead. A handful of us
sit in folding chairs around a fire as the sky goes pink and gray with the sunset. Jenny’s there, sitting beside Ass Face. Sofia’s next to me and Presley sits on my lap. I smooth her hair down, kiss the top of her head, and enjoy holding her like this. Because in the space of a moment she’ll be too old for lap sitting, and instead of being her hero, I’ll be her ultimate source of embarrassment.

  Mary sits cross-legged on the grass with her guitar. “Sing a song, Stanton?”

  I shake my head. “Nah, not now.”

  “Aw, come on,” Mary pushes. “It’s been ages. We can do ‘Stealin’ Cinderella’—I love that song.”

  Sofia’s legs are curled under her, her head resting on her hand. “I didn’t know you sang.”

  “Stanton has a lovely voice,” my momma volunteers. “He used to sing in church every Sunday.”

  Sofia smirks. “You were a real live choirboy? How did I not know this?”

  “I was seven,” I tell her dryly.

  But then Presley takes all the argument out of me. “Come on, Daddy. I like listenin’ to you sing.”

  Simple as that.

  I nod to Mary and she starts plucking at the guitar. It’s a mellow, almost sad melody. A song about fathers and daughters, moving on while staying exactly the same.

  “She was playin’ Cinderella, ridin’ her first bike . . .”

  I run my hand through Presley’s hair again, but as the song continues the lyrics take on bigger, more relevant meaning. I feel the heat of Sofia’s gaze, watching me—this different part of me she’s never seen—with fascination. I see JD’s eyes all over Jenny, almost willing her to turn her head. But she’s not looking at him. Across the campfire, through the smoke and licking flames, she’s keeping her blue eyes straight on me. And while I sing about precious memories—old loves and new—I stare right back at her.

  “In her eyes I’m Prince Charming, but to him I’m just some fella, ridin’ in stealin’ Cinderella.”

  • • •

  I’m a picker—one of those guys who combs over the leftovers just before everyone’s about to head home. At the food table, by the light of the fire, I see that JD is also one of those guys. I put the last chicken leg on my plate, and JD goes for the last of the beef tips. I coat the chicken with my homemade barbecue sauce and he asks, “That’s your sauce?”

  “Yep.”

  “I heard it was pretty good.”

  I offer him the spoon. “You heard right.”

  He douses his own plate, then licks his fingers and shovels the bite-size beef into his mouth. He gives me the thumbs-up while he chews.

  “My brother mentioned a party on Tuesday. Think you’ll be goin’, or will you be too busy?”

  I’m really hoping he has something else to do—then I’ll get Jenny all to myself. I mentally rub my hands together—eager for the prospect.

  He nods. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Pretty mush cleared my schedbudle por de wheek.”

  My brow furrows as his words get harder and harder to understand. Then I peer closer . . . because something just doesn’t look right.

  “Ib my pace pubby, Thanton? It peels pubby.”

  “Holy mother of fuck!” I jerk back, revolted.

  Because Jimmy Dean doesn’t have the face of a Calvin Klein model anymore.

  Now he resembles the lead role in a production of the goddamn Elephant Man.

  “Are der pebbers in dis?” he asks.

 
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