Maybe an opportunity, too.
“You know, Ms. Dwyer said you have a gift with the kids,” I told her. She radiated pride even as she kicked a rock, pretending not to care. “She thinks you should go into early-childhood education. You’re really good with them, especially the special-needs kids.”
“I like them, that’s all,” Jess said. “But I don’t want to do more school. I already told you that—I don’t like school. It’s too hard for me.”
“I know it’s hard for you. But when you take the time, you do a really good job. You graduated with a 3.1, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“That’s just because I took all the easy classes. I’m a retard and we both know it.”
I stopped dead and grabbed her, turning her toward me. Catching her gaze, I studied her face. What I saw there killed me. She believed it. No matter how many times I told her otherwise, she still couldn’t forget what those little bitches in middle school had starting calling her. Not even changing schools had helped.
“I never want to hear you say that word again,” I told her, the words slow and forceful. “A learning disability doesn’t make you stupid—it just means you have to work harder. You have a perfectly normal IQ. I’m incredibly proud of you, Jess, and when I suggested you go to more school it’s only because I know you can handle it.”
She rolled her eyes, and I fought the urge to shake her.
“Jess, listen to me. Ms. Dwyer said you have a gift—and you know what? You do have a gift. Would you call the kids you work with here retards?”
Jess’s eyes narrowed and her face flushed.
“No. I would never say that and you know it.”
“Then why the hell would you say it about yourself? You’ll either go to more school or you won’t, but don’t for one minute tell me that it’s because you aren’t smart enough. You’re smart, Jess.”
She stilled, and I practically saw the wheels turning in her head.
“You said ‘hell.’ ”
“Yes,” I replied, feeling suddenly sheepish. “I guess I did.”
A slow smile crept across her face. Then she leaned forward, catching me up tight in a hug.
“Thank you, Loni,” she said. “I know I drive you crazy, but I love you. Thank you for always being on my side.”
I hugged her back, tears filling my eyes. Why couldn’t Jess be like this all the time? This was the girl I’d given up so much for. Imperfect and frustrating, but worth all the sacrifices and then some.
“You gonna buy me pizza or what?” I asked finally, pulling away.
“First one to the car gets to pick the restaurant,” she said, then took off across the parking lot, long legs pumping. I started after her, but I never had a shot. The girl was six inches taller than me with the stride to prove it.
Good lord, I loved that kid, and every time I started to forget why, she’d do something beautiful to remind me.
Wednesday was the shits.
One of the girls working at The Line OD’d right after lunch, right on the stage. They called the ambulance and Gage started CPR, but she didn’t make it. We’d all known Pepper was using, but not how much, and apparently she left behind a son, too. I’d banged her the weekend before, but she never said a word about having a kid. Not that I’d given her the chance to talk much, or would’ve listened if she had tried.
I hated myself a little bit for that.
Now social services would step in and I hoped to hell she had family somewhere. We’d probably do a little fund-raiser for the boy, which would change exactly nothing because he didn’t need money—he needed a mom.
Then we got word out of La Grande that they’d intercepted a major cartel shipment, which was farther north than we’d realized they’d started running product. This also fucking sucked, because it meant things were heating up faster than we’d anticipated. I guess technically we’d been at war with them for six months, but it wasn’t an active war. More of a wait-and-see while making plans for payback.
Clearly the waiting game was over.
To top it all off, I’d smashed my thumb at the shop fixing my bike because I’m a fucking dumbass. Now my thumb hurt like hell and the bike still wasn’t up and running. On the bright side, watching me cuss and punch the walls in frustration seemed to entertain the guys.
Nice to provide some comic relief, I guess.
When I pulled up to the house, all I wanted was a hot shower, followed by a cold beer and maybe some TV. We’d already had church that afternoon—just a quick meeting to cover events down south—but there wasn’t anything else going on tonight and I needed some time to myself. Normally I’d bring some bitch home for a fuck after a crap day, but Pepper put a stop to that. She’d been the last girl in my bed.
Pretty sure she shot up in my bathroom, too, now that I thought about it.
That’s when I saw the goddamned minivan in my driveway. Shit. The Ice Princess had said she’d be out by early afternoon, and I wasn’t in the mood to listen to her prissy voice while staring at her off-limits boobs.
“God damn it,” I muttered, slamming my hand down on the steering wheel for emphasis. That sent a wave of pain shooting up from my swollen thumb and I stiffened, groaning.
Could anything go right today?
When I walked into the house I froze, disoriented. I smelled food cooking—good food. Some kind of savory chicken thing filled the air and my stomach growled. What the hell?
“London, you in here?” I called, throwing my shit down on the couch and moving toward the kitchen. No answer … but up on the kitchen counter I spotted the biggest Crock-Pot I’d ever seen full of whatever the hell smelled so good. I looked around for her, then moved toward my bedroom. The bathroom door was closed and I heard the shower running.
Still cleaning. I decided I’d forgive her for being so late, seeing as she’d cooked. I went back into the kitchen and pulled the lid off the Crock-Pot, taking a deep whiff.
Holy fuck, that was amazing.
Thirty seconds later I had a giant bowl of bubbling chicken and dumplings in one hand and a beer in the other, ’cause I don’t believe in fucking around when it comes to food. I went back to my room and sat back on my bed, leaning against the pillows she’d artfully arranged over the comforter. I hadn’t even known I had that many pillows.