Until It Fades(10)

By: K.A. Tucker

He frowns, obviously picking up on the edge in my voice. “I just meant that you need something better for the future. You have that little girl to take care of.”

Despite his condescending tone, his words—just the mention of Brenna—make me smile. The one bright spot in my life, in the form of a rambunctious five-, soon to be six-year-old. “We’re doing fine.”

“I hear her daddy ain’t around.”

I force my smile to stay put. “Nope.”

He leans in, as if he’s got a secret. “So, he’s a drug dealer?”

This is the problem with where I live. Small towns, small lives.

Big mouths.

I clear the irritation from my throat, hoping he’ll take the hint that I don’t talk about Brenna’s father.

Sliding a toothpick between his front teeth, he works away at a piece of dinner. “You know, some people still think you and that teacher had somethin’ goin’ on after all, and it’s his kid.”

Gord has not taken the hint.

I glare at him until he averts his gaze to the ketchup label.

“Course, they also say it wouldn’t make much sense what with timing and all, now would it?”

“Not unless I had the reproductive system of an elephant.”

He scratches his chin in thought. “He moved out of state, didn’t he?”

“No idea.” Just after Christmas of that horrible year. To Memphis, Tennessee, with Linda—his ex-girlfriend, who he had reconciled with about two months after charges were dropped. The woman who is now his wife. They’ve since had two children together. A few of the more spiteful Philips family members still love to talk out loud about Scott every now and then, when I’m passing by them carrying plates to customers, or in line at the bank or grocery store. I think it’s their polite way of saying, “Look how happy he is despite you trying to ruin his life.”

I do my best to ignore them, because I’m not pining over a man who hurt me so deeply, who cared more about saving his own skin than protecting mine. It took a few years for me to understand how badly Scott used and manipulated me, to accept that I was a vulnerable and infatuated teenage girl that he took full advantage of.

Now I just count my blessings that he’s far enough away from me that I don’t have to see him. I heard he’s come around a few times at Christmas, but otherwise his visits seem rare. Shockingly—and ­thankfully—I’ve never once run into him.

“So your daughter’s daddy . . . he don’t even want to see his little girl?”

“Nope.” If he’s somehow heard that she exists, he’s made no efforts to reach out, which is exactly how I want it to be.

“I’ll tell ya, you need to be gettin’ money out of him, is what you need to be doin’,” Gord says, poking at the air with a stubby index finger in a scolding manner.

“I don’t want his money and I don’t want him in our lives.” And I don’t need this guy—or anyone, for that matter—telling me I should want otherwise. We can do this on our own, Brenna and I.

Gord pauses to stare at me, and I feel him weighing my words. “Well . . . I guess you’re your own woman.”

“I’ve learned to be.”

“I do like that.” Gord winks at the waitress as she delivers his slice of pie. Scooping up a forkful, he shoves a large chunk in his mouth before continuing, bits of crust tumbling out. “You gettin’ on with your family now? Aunt Lou said you had a rocky go of things with them. Didn’t they boot you out or something?”

I don’t bother to hide the flat stare at him, though in truth I’m more annoyed at Lou. Sure, she’s the reason I’m standing on my own two feet right now, but that doesn’t give her the right to discuss my personal past at length with her nephew before sending him off on a date with me.

Gord’s hands go up to pat the air in a sign of surrender. “Okay . . . okay. No need to get your panties in a bunch. I didn’t mean no harm.” Gord waves his fork in the air between us, a smile filling his face. “You know . . . there just might be a job for someone like you at Mayberry’s. I’m thinking of hiring my own personal assistant. Play your cards right and you could find yourself with a bright future ahead of you. You know, benefits and stuff. You wouldn’t need no welfare.” He pauses, watching me, waiting for my reaction.

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