A Daddy for Jacoby - By Christyne Butler
He was scared.
He hated being scared.
Jacoby pulled his ragged teddy bear tighter to his chest and wiped his wet eyes on the soft overalls Clem wore.
That was his bear’s name, Clem.
The car swerved and tires squealed. Jacoby shut his eyes tight and buried his face in Clem’s fur. He was glad the seat belt worked.
His mama swore and banged her fist against the steering wheel. She cursed the rain, the dark night, their piece of junk car and her miserable life.
Mama did that a lot.
Jacoby didn’t like it, especially after a teacher pulled him aside at the start of the school year and told him that nice people didn’t talk that way. And he wanted to be nice.
He wished his mama was nicer more.
He wished they were back at Miss Mazie’s house, even if he did have to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag that scratched his legs. But his mama had packed up their stuff, shoved his clothes into the worn pillowcase he used to carry his books and made him crawl out the window.
He’d turned back and watched her take all the money from a jar Miss Mazie thought they didn’t know about. She’d then grabbed two unopened bottles of wine, leaving the almost-empty one where it lay on Miss Mazie’s lap.
It was wrong to steal, but Jacoby didn’t say anything. The last time he’d told his mama she’d done something wrong, his arm had hurt for three days where she’d grabbed him.
So he’d crept into the backseat next to his pillowcase book bag and kept quiet.
They did this a lot. Moved around.
They’d been with Miss Mazie since New Year’s Eve and it would be Easter soon. He’d miss the egg hunt at his school tomorrow and wondered if his teacher would miss him.
He didn’t know where they were going, but he hoped they got there soon. Or maybe the rain would stop when the sun came up and he wouldn’t be so scared.
Lightning lit up the sky and Jacoby waited for the thunder, but it didn’t come. His mama turned back and looked at him, tears on her cheeks.
Now, he was really scared.
She looked silly.
She never looked silly.
Gina Steele studied her reflection in the full-length mirror hanging in the employee break room. She’d been called a lot of s words in her life. Scholarly, serious, studious, solemn.
Even scary, thanks to the jerk who’d sat next to her during her freshman year’s Introduction to Classic Literature class at the University of Notre Dame. It wasn’t her fault at fifteen she’d been the smartest person in the room.
Not to mention the youngest.
Smart was another s word associated her. Until today. Today, silly was the only word that fit.
“Oh, I love it!”
Startled, Gina looked into the smiling green eyes that belonged to Barbie Felton, her best friend and fellow waitress, in the mirror’s reflection. She focused back on her own face and grimaced. “It’s pink.”
With long blond hair, complete with bangs, and her athletic body, Barbie looked more like Skipper, the iconic doll’s little sister, than her namesake. She leaned against the wall. “You can always cover it up. Relax and enjoy it!”
Gina couldn’t help but smile as she twirled the inch-wide streak of pink in her hair.
She’d been excited about rekindling her friendship with her elementary school friend when she returned home to Destiny, Wyoming, last winter. Barbie had been one of the few kids who hadn’t cared that Gina was years ahead of them in the smarts department.
When Gina had left town after the fifth grade to attend a private school, she and Barbie tried to stay in touch. But like most childhood promises, it hadn’t lasted. When Gina started working at The Blue Creek Saloon a few months ago, she was surprised to find that Barbie still lived in town and worked here, too, and they’d reconnected.
“First stop, hair color.” Her friend teased, her voice hushed in a dramatic whisper. “Next up…a tattoo!”
Barbie laughed and turned around. Tucking her thumbs into the waistband of her jeans, she tugged the material lower by a few inches. A purple, green and gold dragonfly flitted across her lower back among colorful flowers and green leaves.
A flash of something coursed through Gina. Jealousy? And was it over the beauty of the artwork or the courage it took to sit still while a needle— “When did you get that?”
“Two weeks ago in Laramie.” Barbie grinned over her shoulder.
“And you’re just showing it to me now?”
“I wanted to