Authors: K. S. Thomas
I laid Jessa down in her bed and tucked her in. Then I went and prepared to get ready for my first night of work without her.
he weeks seemed to be passing in slow motion. The fact that I wasn’t working wasn’t helping matters any. I was supposed to be on location in New York, but the project had been delayed due to production issues. In the meantime, I had nothing to do but sit at home and wait.
I half considered packing up and taking off to Africa again, but some ridiculous part of me wasn’t ready to give up all hope on the fact that Embers would magically change her mind about us and attempt to get in touch with me which would be considerably more challenging if I wasn’t receiving any cellphone reception.
So, I stayed put. Most days Crisco came around with a handful of our buddies in tow and we’d end up doing something, but I could tell they were all getting tired of my shit. I wasn’t the same carefree asshole I’d been before. Embers had changed me.
Summer was creeping up quickly. Business was booming and Grilla and I were making out like bandits most nights. We certainly had no need to pick up any extra shifts, and yet I was quickly turning into a full blown workaholic.
Still too busy avoiding dealing with letting go of Brady, I needed constant distractions. With May gone now, the incessant chatter I was accustomed to day in and day out had decreased considerably. Jessa was obviously an entertaining companion, but I felt guilty placing the responsibility of being my only source of joy onto her shoulders, so, come lunch she and I usually loaded into the truck and drove down to the beach to serve the local beach crowd our tasty treats.
Jessa had a blast assisting me and was quickly becoming an expert at separating the pre-cut bagels, as well as scooping heaping portions of stuffing onto the sandwiches. Of course I wasn’t surprised she was such a natural. She’d been watching May and I since she was in diapers. It was to be expected that she’d end up feeling just as at home in that truck as we did.
One Sunday, Grilla joined us to work an art festival further inland. It was a quaint little historic main street and all the store fronts had an antique sort of charm about them. However, while lovely to look at, the town was infuriating to attempt to navigate because every intersection came fully equipped with ‘no right turn’ signs compliments of all the one way streets streaming the area.
By the end of the day we were all exhausted and ready to get the hell out. Since I wasn’t at all familiar with my surroundings I had but one road to cling to that I knew would take me back to where I needed to go. Only thanks to all the stupid signage I couldn’t legally find a way to get to it.
Frustrated by feeling controlled by yet another careless entity who clearly was completely insensitive to my plight, I blew caution to the wind and turned right in spite of the three signs telling me not to.
Thirty seconds later I was pulled over on the side of the road with blue and white lights flashing in my side view mirrors. At least I was finally on the street I wanted to be on.
“Ma’am, I need to see your license and registration, please.” The cop looked like his day had been as long and hard as ours had been. He’d likely been at the same festival all day we had.
“Hang on a sec,” I mumbled as I unbuckled my seat belt so I could reach the glove compartment.
“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over today?” He had his ticket pad in hand already.
Having retrieved the needed papers I sat up straight and looked him right in the eye.
“Random DUI check?”
His brow crinkled. “You are aware you just made an illegal right turn?”
“Ma’am, there were several signs.”
“Oh. I’m not from here. I just knew I needed to turn right onto this street to get home.” I knew I was being a jackass, but I was too deep in to turn back now. “Here’s the stuff you wanted. Just so you know though, the truck is in my ex-husband’s name. I didn’t steal it or anything.”
Somewhat agitated from my lack of willingness to cop to my obvious error, he took the papers and reviewed them. I noticed his brow knit further in confusion as he read over the registration.
“Ma’am, this registration is in your name. So is the title which you handed me.” He handed both back to me along with my license and insurance card.
“Listen, I’m guessing you’ve been out here in the heat dealing with all these people all day same as I have. You want to get home and so do I. Before I let you go with a warning, are there any other turns you need to make in order to get out of downtown?”
I wasn’t sure what I found more perplexing. The fact that the papers suddenly seemed to have my name on them or the change in the officer’s demeanor and his inexplicable generosity given my attitude.
“No, it’s just straight from here,” I said quietly, still staring down at the folded papers in my hand.
“Alright, well we should all be safe then.” He smirked as he tipped his head and turned to walk back to his own car. A moment later the lights were out and he was back in regular traffic while I was still parked on the side of the road.
“What was all that about?” Grilla asked from the back. “Did you seriously just get out of another ticket?”
Grilla had seen me get pulled over a total of seven times in the last three years. I had yet to receive anything more than a verbal warning.
“Tell me you at least had to flash a little breast this time.” Because somehow that would make it easier for him to bear. Grilla could get a ticket just for thinking about speeding.
“Yes, Grilla. That’s exactly what I did. With my daughter sitting in the seat next to me.” At least his stupid commentary had snapped me out of my temporary daze. I shoved the papers I was still holding in between the seat and center console. Then I started the truck up and got back onto the road heading home.
I moved through the remainder of my day on autopilot. Something I was getting way too prone to and was starting to hate myself for. It wasn’t just my life I was wasting away. I was missing precious moments with Jessa I would never get back. More importantly, she already had one absent parent, the least I could do was be both mentally and physically present at all times.
In the midst of berating myself while preparing dinner, Jessa pulled up a chair alongside me at the kitchen counter.
“You’re the sparkle in my eye.” She wore a tentative smile and a hopeful gaze as she peered up at me with her beautiful big browns.
I wrapped both arms around her and tugged her close. “And you’re the sparkle in mine.” This was all that mattered. Nothing else would ever be more important. Even in my moments of greatest self-loathing, there was still someone who saw the light within and she would always be my reason to keep it shining.
After we ate, we snuggled up on the couch for a movie. Considering the long day we had had, I wasn’t at all surprised when she fell asleep twenty minutes in. I carried her to bed and tucked her under the covers. Then I lay down beside her and nuzzled her soft cheeks.
It wasn’t long before I dozed off as well. Hazy visions of Brady lying there curled up with the both of us flashed through my mind, yanking me out of my shallow sleep. I sat up straight in the dark room and before I could stop it, I had started crying again. I felt a sob rise in my throat and quickly covered my mouth with my hand as I hurried from the room.
I dropped down onto the couch and finally allowed some of what I’d been holding in to come out. In spite of secret fears that the pain would literally shatter me if I allowed it to roar freely through my body at full blast, I remained whole, if not complete.
When the tears began to ebb off, I fumbled through my purse for something to wipe my face with. While digging around I stumbled across the registration and title for the truck. In my hurry to get inside and get dinner started I had thrown them into my bag with every intention of examining the mystery of legal ownership at a later date. Now seemed as good a time as any.
My fingers trembled as I unfolded the papers. The moment of truth was upon me.
There it was in black and white. Embers Fillios. My name was listed as the owner of the truck.
I pulled out what the officer had referred to as the title, only to discover my name on it as well. There was no way Austin had managed to pay off the loan already. Even if he had, there was definitely no way he would have put it in my name. He never would have made my life that easy.
The tears started all over again. I reached back into my bag blindly and retrieved my phone. It took May less than two full rings to answer.
Apparently she heard me weeping, because she didn’t even bother with a hello.
“Bra-brady. He b-bought the t-truck.” I hiccupped.
May was silent, likely piecing together the jagged sentence I had delivered in the midst of my blubbering.
“How do you know?”
I took a deep breath, determined to be more intelligible the second time around.
“I-I found the registration and the title in the glove compartment. They both have my name on them.” Long breath out.
“Yeah…sounds like a Brady thing to do.” Somehow May seemed a lot less moved by the news than I had been.
“What was he thinking? He had no business buying my truck.” I knew it was stupid, but anger just seemed like a more manageable emotion.
“He was probably thinking something along the lines of, ‘gee, I love this girl and I hate to see her bastard ex blackmail her and make her miserable, so I’m going to do something about it.’ I mean, I’m just taking a stab at it here, but I’m probably not far off.”
I could hear Marshall whisper something in the background and my eyes moved straight for the clock on the cable box. It was nearly eleven already. God only knew what I had interrupted with my hysterical call.
“But this is exactly the sort of thing I didn’t want him to do. I don’t want to be his burden. Someone he feels responsible for. I don’t want that from anyone!”