Rumor Going ‘Round by Samantha Lind

1

Tucker

“Hey,Tucker, are you going out tonight?” Lee, my best friend and truck mate, asks from his locker located a few from mine. We’ve both been firefighters since joining the academy right out of high school, both following in our fathers’ footsteps.

“Nah, I’ve got Paisley tonight,” I tell him, referring to my four-year-old daughter.

“Oh, I thought you got her tomorrow?” he questions.

“Normally, I would, but Lilly texted me this morning asking if I could pick her up after my shift. She’s got something going on and knows that I’ll never turn down time with Paisley.”

“All right, I guess we’ll just have to have a drink in your honor, then.” Lee smacks my back as he passes by me, his bag slung over his shoulder as he makes his way to the locker room door.

“You do that,” I call after him. “I’ll catch up with you next time.”

“You’re buying the first round, then,” he retorts back as he pushes the door open. Our shift ended about ten minutes ago, and after being on for the last twenty-four hours, I’m ready for a burger and fries with my best girl. Probably following that up with some Disney Junior and then a long-ass shower once she’s in bed for the night before I crash myself. It wasn’t a super busy shift, we went out on a total of three calls, but they were all spaced out just enough that I didn’t get more than a few catnaps during my shift.

“Tucker,” I hear my name being called as I walk through the lounge. I look down the hall and see my dad standing just outside his office. I turn his way, coming to a stop next to the sign that reads ‘Chief Donald Wild’ on it.

“Yeah, Pops?”

“Your mother has been bugging me all day about when she’ll get to see Paisley,” he tells me, and I can see the way he softens when he says my daughter's name.

“Mom, huh?” I call him on his bullshit. I know Paisley’s got him wrapped around his finger and has since the day she was born.

“You know your mother; she can’t go more than a few days without seeing her, or she starts having withdrawals.”

“I think that you’re the one that has withdrawals,” I tease my dad. “You know either of you can call Lilly and arrange to go pick up Paisley any time you want.”

“I know,” he admits.

“Well, you’re in luck. I’m on my way to go pick her up now. Lilly had something going on tonight, so I’m getting her early.”

“I’ll text Mom and have her plan on the two of you for dinner, then.”

“Sounds good. Tell her I’ll be over in thirty,” I tell my dad before turning and heading for my truck in the parking lot. I toss my bag in the passenger seat, then slide in. I open the sunroof, letting in the cooler fall air that is finally showing up here in Georgia. Fall has always been my favorite time of year; cooler temps, football, beers by the fire, pumpkins, and Paisley’s birthday. I can’t believe my girl will be five in just a few weeks. It feels like just last week she was born.

“Paisley Grace!” Lilly calls as I step out of my truck in her driveway. She’s rocking her new son on the chair on her front porch. Lilly and I were never together more than a handful of fun nights between the sheets back in the day. We had a few drunken nights, and either a condom was forgotten or broke, but I wouldn't change the outcome at this point in my life. Paisley is the best thing to have ever happened to me. She made me grow up and become the man I am today at the age of twenty-seven. I was a young twenty-two-year-old when she was born. I knew nothing about babies, but I learned fast.

“How’s the little guy?” I ask, making polite conversation. Lilly got married to a good guy, Mike, about two years ago. We’ve all worked together to co-parent the best we can, for Paisley’s sake. She didn’t ask to be born to parents who weren’t together, so no reason her life should suffer because of it.

“He’s good. Still working on getting his days and nights straightened out,” she tells me as Paisley comes flying out the door, her pink backpack in hand.

“Hey, baby girl,” I greet my daughter as she launches herself into my arms. Her little hands wrap around my head, pulling my lips to hers in a smacking kiss.

“I missed you so much, Daddy!” She hugs me tight.

“Missed you, too.” I squeeze her tightly, tickling her sides lightly, which has her squirming in my arms. Her legs start kicking, and she almost hits me in the balls, which has me stopping and setting her down quickly.

“Careful there. She’ll get you good.” Mike chuckles as he stands behind Lilly’s chair.

“No, shit.” I laugh right along with him.

“Thanks for coming after your shift. She’s been pestering me to go see you and your parents. I just couldn’t tell her no.”

“You know you could have called my mom, and she’d have dropped everything to come and get her,” I remind Lilly. Even though Paisley is almost five and I’ve always been a part of her life, as have my parents, Lilly still has a hard time believing that she can count on all of us to help when she needs it. She didn’t have the best home life growing up, so to know she finally found someone with Mike was a good thing, and I’m happy for her.

“I know,” she sighs. “I just hate to bug them,” she admits.

“It wouldn’t be bugging, and you know it. Hell, my dad called me into his office just before I left to ask when I’d be bringing her over. Tried to blame it on Mom wanting to see her, even though we all know he’s just as enamored with her as she is.”

“Right,” she says, chuckling as the baby sleeps on her chest.

“Ready to go, Miss P? Nona is expecting us for supper.”

“Will Papa be there?” she asks, slipping her hand into mine. I grab her backpack as she waves at Lilly and Mike, then heads for my truck. “Bye, Mommy, love you.”

“Love you, too, have fun. I’ll see you in three sleeps.”

“Of course, he’ll be there,” I tell Paisley as I help buckle her into her seat.

“Yay!” she cheers, which has me laughing at her antics as I shut her door and open my own.

We live in Monroe, Georgia, a small town just under an hour outside of Atlanta. We’re far enough away from the city that the pace of life is slower here, but we still have many people who commute to work every day. Small town life is all I’ve ever known. I was born and raised in this very town. The type of town that everyone practically knows everyone. I never got away with much as a kid; between the nosy people and my dad being the fire chief, it was hard to get away with anything. But that didn’t stop us from being kids and getting into shit.

“How’s your baby brother?” I ask Paisley once we’re on the road to my parents’. Even with driving across town, it will only take us just under ten minutes to get there.

“He cries all the time,” she says, all put out like.

“Babies do that. You used to cry all the time,” I tell her.

“Not like he does,” she insists.

“I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” I prod.

“It is, Daddy,” she says just as I look up and catch a glimpse of her in my rearview mirror. She’s got her hand on her forehead like she’s exhausted—the dramatics of a four-year-old. Lord, help me in ten years when she’s a teenager.

I can’t help but laugh at her dramatics. “Get used to it, kiddo. He’s not going to get quiet anytime soon, and he’s here to stay.”

“I know,” she sighs. Maybe she isn’t adjusting to having a new sibling very well. I guess some spoiling by my parents is just what she needs to feel better.

We pull into their driveway a minute later, my dad’s truck already parked in his spot. “Looks like Papa beat us here,” I tell Paisley as I put the truck in park. I hop out, then help her from her seat. She takes off running for the front door, and before she can even reach it, both of my parents are out and waiting on the porch for her.

I lean against the front of my truck, just watching the interaction between the three of them. She’s one lucky-ass kid to have my parents as her grandparents. They spoil her so damn much; she’s going to be in a world of hurt the first time they learn how to tell her no one of these days. I swear, they’ve never said it to her once.

“Are you coming in or just standing out here?” Mom calls out to me a few minutes later.

“Just letting the three of you have a moment,” I tease her as I join them on the porch. “Smells amazing, Mom; whatcha got cooking?” I ask as the aroma from the house reaches us.

“Meatloaf is in the oven, mashed potatoes and gravy are on the stove.”

My stomach picks that moment to rumble, which, in turn, causes Paisley to laugh at the noise it makes. “Daddy, you’s hungry!” she exclaims.

“Sounds like it,” I agree with her. I reach out, opening the screen door and holding it for all of us to walk through.

“Wash up now. Supper will be ready in just a few minutes,” Mom tells all of us. I follow Paisley into the hall bathroom, where we both wash up.

“We’s all clean, Nona,” Paisley calls out as we enter the dining room. She heads right for the table, taking a seat in her “special” seat right between my parents.

“Good, I don’t let no dirty birds at my table,” Mom teases her.

“I’s not a bird, Nona,” Paisley states matter of factly. Once again, the sass on this one.

“Oh, child.” Mom chuckles at her as she sets down a baking dish with the meatloaf. She makes quick work of cutting it into slices then serving all of us one. I pull Paisley’s plate over in front of me so that I can cut things up for her. She hasn’t quite mastered the use of knives just yet.

“How was your shift?” Mom asks once we’re all sitting down.

“Pretty good, just a couple calls,” I tell her between bites. My mom is one hell of a cook, and I take advantage anytime the offer is on the table to come over for dinner. When Paisley is with me, I make an effort to eat a well-balanced meal, but when it's just me, I’m a little more lenient on what I make myself, since it’s a pain to cook for only one sometimes.

“That’s good.”

“They were spaced out just enough, though, that I didn’t really get a good night’s sleep. Just a few catnaps, so I’ll be calling it an early night tonight.”

“Do you need us to keep her?” Dad pipes in to offer.

“That’s okay. I figure after a quick episode on Disney Junior, she’ll be ready to hit the hay.”

“If anything changes, you know she can stay here with us,” Mom reiterates.

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” I say to appease them both, but don’t have any plans on pawning my daughter off on my parents for the night.

“Paisley.” My mom says her name once the table has been cleared.

“Yes, Nona.”

“Papa and Nona need some ideas about what you want for your birthday in a few weeks. Do you have any ideas yet?”

“Yes!” she exclaims, bouncing up and down in her seat. “I’s wants a puppy, a Disney princess, a bike, and a pink dress,” she tells mom matter of factly, like she’s been making her list for weeks.

“Wow, you’ve got quite the list,” Mom says as she pulls out a pad of paper to write down what Paisley told her.

“Yep,” Paisley agrees with her, and I can’t help but laugh at how serious she is about this conversation.

“You ready to go, P?” I ask her once she’s done talking to my parents about her upcoming birthday. “Daddy is tired,” I tell her, yawning again.

“Sure,” she agrees, hopping off the stool she’d sat down on. I watch as she runs off toward the door, stopping to slide her shoes on before she goes to give my parents both a hug and kiss goodbye.

“Thanks again for dinner, Mom,” I say as I hug her myself.

“Anytime, honey. Get some sleep, and we’ll see you later in the week.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I tell her as I wave goodbye to my dad.

“So, you want a puppy, huh?” I ask Paisley once we’re on the road to my house.

“Yes!” she says excitedly, but then immediately sticks her bottom lip out in a pout that I almost don’t see in the quick-second look at her in my rearview mirror.

“What’s that look for?”

“Mommy said no puppies,” she pouts, adding in some crossed arms as she really sells her disappointment at Lilly telling her no to a dog.

“Maybe not at Mommy’s house, but there's always Daddy’s house,” I tell her, not really thinking about what that is going to mean to her.

“Really?” she questions, her voice picking up in excitement.

“I’m not saying yes for sure, but it's something we can talk about, and I can look into. Getting a puppy is a lot of work, and with Daddy’s work schedule, it might not be easy to do. I’d have to see if Nona and Papa would be willing to help with it when I’m at work.”

“Nona would help,” Paisley insists.

I chuckle at her persistence and faith that my mom will help me out so that she can have a puppy. “Don’t go volunteering her for something now. I’d have to talk to her first and make sure that she’d be on board with helping.”

“Can I help pick the puppy out?” Paisley asks as if this is a done deal.

“Slow down, P. I didn’t say that we were getting a puppy. I just said that it might be an option.” I flick my eyes up to the mirror in time to see her little hopes flee her body as the bottom lip comes back out in a pout. “Hey, now, no need to pout. I said we’d talk about it, and I’d look into it. Okay?”

“Okay, Daddy,” she agrees with me.

I pull into my driveway and into the garage. Once parked, I help her out of her seat and grab both her bag and my own. “How about a bath or shower, and then we cuddle on the couch for an episode on Disney Junior before bed?”

“Yes! Can I have bubbles?” she asks, skipping into the house.

“Sure.” I chuckle at her back as I follow her into the house. I drop our bags off in our respective rooms before heading to the bathroom next to her room. She’s already dumping the bucket of toys into the tub before I can even get the water turned on. I get it all set up for her, bubbles included. While she plays in the water, I set out her vitamins and get her toothbrush ready for after she’s in PJs.

“I loves you, Daddy,” Paisley tells me once we’re cuddled up together on the couch about a half-hour later.

“I love you, too.” I kiss the top of her head as we watch some princess show she wanted to watch. I feel myself nodding off by the time the episode ends. “Ready for bed?” I ask, picking her sleepy body up from the couch.

“Yes,” she says, yawning into my neck. I carry her to her bed, tucking her in for the night. I kiss her forehead before turning on the small night light on the nightstand.

“Sleep tight,” I tell her in a whisper before I leave the room, shutting the door behind me. I check the doors to make sure everything is locked up tight and then head for my shower and then into bed.