Home > When We Met(6)

When We Met(6)
Author: Shey Stahl

With her coat slung over her shoulder and her backpack dragging behind her, Camdyn doesn’t look back at me, won’t say goodbye, and if she could flip me off, I bet she would.

“Sissy so mad at you, Daddy,” Sev notes when I start the truck up again.

Blowing into my hands, I rub them together. “She’s always mad at me.” Camdyn, she’s a lot like Tara. Nothing I do makes her happy. I fear that kid becoming a teenager.

Sev kicks my seat again. “I’m hungry.” She has no patience. I have no idea where she gets that from.

“You keep kicking my seat and you’re going to be more than hungry,” I warn. I’ve yet to spank the girls, but it’s threatened daily.

After we drop Camdyn off, I head to the shop but stop by the bar to get coffee. My aunt Tenille, or Tilly as we call her, owns a bar near the ranch. Another family-owned place that she took over when my grandparents passed away.

It’s not open yet, but she serves coffee to the locals in the mornings, and she quite possibly has the best espresso in town.

Sev comes in with me. It’s nothing new to be in this bar with them, and where I go, Sev isn’t far behind. She’s been my shadow since she was born, and I doubt that’s changing anytime soon. She claims she’s not going to school. “Got food, girlfren?” Sev climbs up on the barstool and smacks her hands on the wood. “I’m hungry.”

Tilly smiles at her and slides a donut toward her. “I do for you, girlfren.”

Sev’s eyes light up. “Yes!”

While Sev devours a donut and wears most of it, Tilly sweeps her black hair from her chocolate eyes. She takes a cup in her hand, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth. “Did you hear—”

Here we go. Small-town shit. “I don’t care.” Holding up my hand, I stop my aunt Tilly before she continues. “Whatever it is, I don’t fucking care.” I wave my hand to the espresso machine. “Just give me coffee.”

Her eyes flick to mine, amused. She’s used to me being in a bad mood. “What’s up your ass today?”

The sound of laughter leaps from Sev’s lungs as she plays with Tilly’s dog on the floor.

I look down at her and then back to Tilly. “A stuffed lamb named Looper spent some time there last night. But lack of sleep,” I mumble, leaning against the bar with my elbows rested on the lip. The smell of fresh ground coffee beans invades my senses as I run my hand over my face. “I got three hours and slept in a bunk bed with Marilyn Manson staring me down.”

Sev pays no mind to me, nor does she care how much sleep I got.

Tilly smiles, pouring hot water into my Americano. “Did Sev have a bad night?”

I don’t even have to tell her which kid; she knows which one has a poster of that dude. “I just told you I slept in a toddler bed. With Marilyn Manson. Sevyn’s fine.” Adjusting my hat, I point to my chest. “I’m not.”

She laughs it off and slides my coffee toward me. “You might want to check on Morgan this morning.”

I take the cup, warmth hitting my palms. “Why? It’s late. He’s probably in the field by now.” Morgan, my older brother, he’s a lifetime cowboy. He’s been working on the ranch since he was old enough to walk. Left for college, returned, and is still working the ranch. Us Grady boys, we can’t seem to make it out of Amarillo for long.

Desperate for the one who set my heart on fire, I left for a couple weeks back when Sev was only a couple months old. Between off-the-rails crazy and rock bottom, I went to California to beg a girl to come home and turned around at the border, knowing my priorities didn’t lie with her any longer. Too much her, too little us. She made her decision, and I never looked back again. Okay, I still look back and stalk her Instagram page, but whatever. You get my point. Us Grady boys belong on the ranch.

“Trust me.” Tilly leans into the bar when I step back, a napkin in her hand that she hands to my chocolate-cheeked toddler at my feet. “Check on him.”

I groan, sighing. “Cut the bullshit. I remind you, toddler bed, three hours. Marilyn Manson.”

“He left the bar with Lil last night, and it didn’t look like they went their separate ways.”

Shit.

Morgan, he’s… a dick-in-your-face kind of blunt, stands up for what he believes in, a damn good brother, but he has a weakness. Lillian Taylor. She’s a mean-as-fuck country girl, a farmer’s daughter, his high school sweetheart, and not his wife.

“And…” Tilly continues when I grab Sev off the ground.

“Ugh.” I groan, looking over at her, the dog jumping up and planting his paws on my waist. In the process, his fucking claws scrape my junk. “Stay down,” I growl at the dog and step back, fighting through my urge to punch a dog in the face for being an asshole. I level Tilly her own glare. “I don’t care.”

“Alexus was asking about you again.”

I scowl, my annoyance kicking up, as does my breathing. Sev tries to reach for the dog, smears my jacket with chocolate icing, and then taunts the dog with her hands. “Also don’t care.” I right Sev in my hands. “Stop provoking him.”

“Why are you so mean to her?”

“I’m not mean to her. That damn dog nailed my nut sac.”

Sev lifts her eyes to mine. “What a nut sac?”

Shit. “Get that word out of your head.” Told you I’d said it a time or two.

My three-year-old simply blinks slowly at me, as if she’s burning the word into her memory for later.

Tilly laughs. “I meant Alexus.”

Ah, yes. Alexus. The chick my aunt set me up with a couple months back. “She tied me to a goddamn chair and left my ass, that’s why.” I don’t like to remember that night and actively try to push it out of my memory. Unfortunately for me, when your friend comes into the shop and finds you tied to a chair, half-naked, you remember it.

“She said she had an emergency.”

“Uh-huh. Not buying it.” I step toward the doors of the bar, lifting my coffee in one hand and holding Sev with the other. “Do me a favor. Stop setting me up. I don’t want to date.”

“You’re twenty-four, with two kids, you should date.”

I nod toward Sev. “The two kids part is why I don’t date.”

“Barron….”

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