Surprised, I somehow managed to knock over a can of WD-40 with my foot. Kara gasped and whipped around, her hand up to her chest in surprise.
“Oh! I didn’t realize anyone was here!” She flushed pink.
I cursed under my breath. “Yeah, I’m just finishing up.”
“Everyone else’s done for the day. You always work so late.”
I shrugged. What was she doing noticing things like that? She really needed to focus her attention elsewhere. Nothing good could come of this.
“What are you doing with my shirt?” It came out gruff and accusatory. She winced. I was an asshole, I knew it, but the best thing this girl could do was turn tail and run right out of this barn. She thought she wanted to get to know me, probably had some half-baked notion that she wanted to become my girlfriend. Like I could pick her up on a Saturday night, shake her daddy’s hand and let him know his little princess would be well taken care of out on the date. Then we’d sit out at the Dairy Queen and hold hands or some shit. She had no idea what she was playing with.
“I just…” She stammered and fidgeted like she did when she got nervous, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear and biting on her lower lip. I clenched my hands at my sides. “You left it out on a fence. I washed it and saw you were missing a button so I sewed on a new one.” Her voice faded to a near-whisper.
“You sewed a button on my shirt?” I strode toward her, closing the space between us. “Why?”
“You were missing one.” She looked up at me, nervous and shy. “I’ve done it for Bill, too. And my daddy. I can sew a button on your shirt.” She stood, defiant and gorgeous in her white sundress, insisting on her right to mend my clothes.
I stood there like an idiot. I didn’t think anyone had ever sewn a button for me before. It shouldn’t matter but it did. My mouth felt dry.
That was the problem with Kara. I wanted to shrug her off, or even look down on her, dismiss her as a spoiled brat. But then she’d go and do this kind of shit. It shook me up, shifted the ground right underneath my feet.
This close, I could smell her, a clean strawberry scent. Her hair gleamed, smooth, shiny and thick. I breathed her in like some pathetic teenage jerk.
“I thought about bringing the shirt down to your cabin, but—”
“No!” That snapped me right out of it. “Don’t come to my cabin.” That was the last thing I needed, her knocking softly on my door late at night.
She looked down at the floor. Damn, were her eyes filling with tears?
“Listen, Kara.” I exhaled and took off my cowboy hat, rubbing my hand along my forehead and through my hair. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She beamed and glowed. The way she looked up at me, it was like she saw me as her hero or something. Me. Fucked-up, beat-down me.
Lust, that I was used to with girls. They liked what I had to offer. But this kind of bright shine in Kara’s eyes? It was a whole new level.
“What are you doing hanging around a barn? You should be out.” With people her own age. And her boyfriend.
I hated her boyfriend. Bryce or some tool name. The kid was the high school quarterback, son of the sleezeball mayor. The few times I’d seen him around town, he’d given me the eye, like he was a tough guy and he was on to me. I’d love to square off with him sometime, just him and me. I knew it would take one punch, just one, and he’d be lying flat on the ground bawling for his mommy. The boy was as tough as a newborn kitten.
“Yeah, I guess.” She looked down. None of the bounciness I’d come to expect from the resident cheerleader.
“You’re not going out? It’s Friday night.”
“I don’t know.” She seemed reluctant and bit that plump lip of hers, hesitant. Then she looked up, all wide-eyed and innocent. “What are you doing tonight?”
Shit, she wasn’t fishing around to hang out with me, was she? This had gone too far. Her father would probably fire me just for talking to her alone in the barn. Plus, I didn’t do schoolgirl crushes. She needed to stick with the teen heartthrob posters I was sure she had up in her room. And her quarterback boyfriend.
“You should go out with Bryce.” I all but patted her on the head and sent her out the door, class dismissed.
She winced again. You’d think with what an asshole I was she’d steer clear of me. “I don’t know, maybe.”
“Seems like if he’s your boyfriend, you should hang out with him.”
She shrugged and looked deflated. I hated that. I didn’t want to hurt her. That’s why I needed to push her away. Standing there in the barn, the last ray of sunlight streamed down into her golden hair. What would it feel like to wrap my hands in that honey goodness? I bet her skin was as soft as silk. She didn’t weigh so much, I could pick her right up in my arms. Better yet, I could pull her down into my lap and spend a long while like that together.
I cleared my throat and turned away. “Have a good night, princess.”
“Thanks, Declan.” She left, disappointed. Good. She needed to be.
That night I didn’t stay long at the bar. A girl I’d hung out with a few times was there, raring to go. She liked to fuck. It wouldn’t be me tonight, though. I wasn’t feeling it. A whole host of other guys would be more than happy to oblige, I was sure.
“What’s the matter, sexy?” She stood next to my barstool. My eyes roamed the bar until she took matters into her own hands, literally, and reached right between my legs. She was one subtle, classy chick. “I bet I know what to do to take your mind off of things.”
“Yeah, maybe later.” I finished my beer and slid off the seat.
“Asshole,” she muttered, heading over to the dartboard.
“You got that right,” I agreed. At least someone knew me for what I really was.
Driving back in my truck, I couldn’t find anything on the radio other than sad-sack love songs. What was wrong with people that they wanted to wallow in that shit? My personal philosophy on life was Move On. You spent too much time dwelling it would eat you up.
I barely ever thought about the past. I was too busy moving forward into the future. What, was I supposed to cry myself to sleep every night on account of never having a daddy? Yeah, my so-called father had split before I was born. And my mom was a junkie. Real happy family. The kind you put on a Christmas card and mailed all over town.
I didn’t even know where my mother was at these days. I knew I’d hear from her again once she needed money. As if I had any.
Every now and then I wondered about my father. I didn’t know a thing about him, not even his name. My mother refused to talk about him. Sometimes she’d hint at not even knowing for sure who he was, like she’d been at some crazy orgy or something. But that struck me as a lie. Every now and then, she’d say something, usually when she was pissed off. If I was being stubborn, she’d shake her head and say, “Just like your father.” Didn’t sound like an orgy to me.
Did she even know how to track him down? The couple of times I’d asked she’d changed the subject real quick. I’d wondered, of course, when I’d had to go into foster care. She’d fallen asleep with a cigarette and burned an abandoned building to the goddamn ground. No one had gotten hurt, but it had come to light that her parenting skills might not be all that sharp. But it didn’t matter, anyway. I wasn’t about to chase after him. He’d left me, never wanted anything to do with me.
In my experience, it never paid off to show any weakness. You toughened up or you got fucked over. Nights like these, driving late in the dark with too much time on my hands, I found myself thinking about things. I didn’t like it when that happened.
Sometimes I’d remember Shelly. We’d only lived together for about six months in one of the many foster homes I’d bounced through. Shelly had been real small for her age, at eight or nine she’d looked about six. All she’d done all day long was watch this goddamned DVD. She had a machine that played it and she’d watch it start to finish, over and over, Beauty and the Beast. She loved
that shit. “Be Our Guest!” she’d sing along.
I looked out for her the best I could, but there was only so much I could do. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I’d left in a hurry. When you got arrested and thrown in juvie they didn’t exactly give you time to say fond farewells. I’d never looked her up since, though. Deep down, I was a coward.
Maybe I should have stayed at the bar, had a few more beers. Headed out to my truck with a girl or even two. My mind was restless tonight.
I pulled into the ranch. Up in the big house, no light shown from Kara’s bedroom. She must have taken my advice and gone out with her boyfriend. They were probably out with all their high school buddies toasting marshmallows and eating s’mores. Either that or the two of them were out steaming up the back seat of some car. I didn’t like the thought of that at all.