SNEAK PEEK OF WORK IN PROGRESS
“You’re not going out!”
Maya had taken a bold stance in front of his desk, and the fury in Jackson’s voice cast back the parental challenge in his daughter’s dark eyes. He’d always encouraged her to stand up for herself and speak her mind, but her fisted hands reflected the strength she was using to keep from showing him disrespect. He hated this conflict between them, but more so, he hated those responsible for making their lives a living hell.
“I’m seventeen years old, not ten, and it’s only the library!”
He leaned forward in his chair and picked up the silver slinky from the center of his desk. He’d been using the stress-relieving toy too much lately. “You don’t have to remind me how old you are, because you just had a birthday. There isn’t anything in the library you can’t find on the Internet using your laptop in the comfort of your bedroom.” The words had barely left his mouth when he surmised it wasn’t just “books” she needed to reference.
“Is Dylan going to be there?” When her eyes shifted to study the picture of Teddy Roosevelt on the wall behind his desk, he knew he’d guessed right. There’d be hell to pay if she lied to him.
“You know the rules around here when it comes to lying, so I’ll save you the trouble of answering my question. I know you feel caged with all these new restrictions, but they’re for your own good.”
Maya threw her slender arms wide and paced in frustration. “I have no life! The kids think I’m being grounded because I was caught drinking on the beach with my boyfriend. That is so far from the truth. We’ve got a housekeeper with special skills that dogs my every move. The UPS man brought three packages the other day, and Valerie ran a little scanner over the boxes before she let me open them. I’ve got a fancy watch that serves as a tracking device and has a built-in panic button. When is Uncle Ryder going to find the men who kidnapped me and Dylan?”
Jackson’s heart softened, understanding the problem all too well, wishing he could tell her the truth. “He’s working on it. That’s all I can tell you, and stop pacing. You’ll wear out my carpet.”
“You won’t give me straight answers to my questions, but when will this be over?”
“I don’t know, and that’s the truth. You’re frustrated and so am I.” This has been going on longer than you’ve been alive, he wanted to add, but couldn’t. “I’m asking you to be patient. Now, I suggest you go to your room and let Dylan know you won’t be able to meet him.”
“But, Dad, nothing. Like I said at the beginning of this discussion, you’re not going out!”
Maya turned to leave but swung back. He’d anticipated additional objection, but the tension in her beautiful face relaxed and her voice softened. “You don’t know or understand what it feels like to have special feelings for a first love. I like Dylan, a lot, and he makes me happy. You’re a wonderful father, a great principal, but you don’t give an inch and would never consider breaking the rules. Daddy, you have a cold heart, and that makes me feel sad.”
They both looked up when there was a knock on the door and it was opened by Valerie, their housekeeper. She was a pretty Asian woman with eyes that had a natural sparkle. Her reddish-brown hair was in a twist atop her head, and she had a soft-spoken manner. She’d been managing the household for a couple of weeks and had blended with them like a family friend. Jackson determined her age to be mid-fifties, but she kept herself in shape doing yoga. Her uniform of choice was wearing colorful tunics over leggings and ballet-like flats. She explained they gave her the freedom to move quickly, if necessary.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but Ms. Harris is here and asked if she could have a few minutes of your time.”
“No problem. I’ll speak to her in here.”
He didn’t have time to consider his daughter’s determination that he had a cold heart before his door opened and the ice Maya had accused him of having around his heart melted like spring snows. Years quickly vanished as he recalled the first time he’d set his eyes on his love.
She was standing in the back of a battered green pickup truck, passing bales of cornstalks to the committee decorating the gym for the fall harvest dance. A dog-eared straw hat covered her light blond hair, which she wore in a braid down her back. Her black and red quilted jacket was well worn, and her jeans were ripped at the knees.
The fun began when she and her girlfriends gathered the fallen pieces of corncobs from the bed of the truck and started a corn fight. He’d paused to laugh at their antics before heading for his new red Corvette. When a corncob slammed into his back, he quickly turned around and was greeted by her dazzling smile and infectious laugh. At that moment, his heart and fate had been sealed.
Tamie’s warm smile faded as she shifted her eyes from him to Maya, recognizing the troubled look on his daughter’s face.
“Sorry to bother you at home. Is this a bad time?”
“Hi, Ms. Harris,” Maya said. “I was just leaving. Good luck. Daddy is in an unreasonable mood.”
“What was that all about?” Tamie asked as soon as the door closed behind Maya.
“Father-versus-teenage-daughter argument,” he explained with a small smile, moving out from behind his desk. “We seem to be having a lot of them lately. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
“I was visiting a client in the neighborhood and wanted to drop off a report. I’ve had a number of kids requesting to see me about problems they’re having with one of your tenured teachers. He was our Intro to Psychology teacher when we were in high school and should have retired long ago. I’ve included the reports from the school psychologist who had the position before I came in.”
Jackson accepted the file folder and set it on his desk. “You’re the best school psychologist we’ve ever had, and the kids feel very comfortable with you. Have a seat.”
“I can’t stay. I’m meeting the Fabulous Four in the private parlor of the Book and Brew. Why is Maya so upset?”
“I’ve a meeting myself with The Association at the Plumb Beach Restaurant. As for my daughter, she’s angry because I’ve curtailed most of her freedom, but more so because she can’t see her boyfriend.”
“Have they found out who abducted her and Dylan?”
“Ryder is working on the case.”
She took a step closer and wrapped a consoling hand around his wrist. “Jack, you know I’m willing to listen anytime you need to talk. I’ve heard from the teachers that you haven’t been the most pleasant person to be around lately.”
He didn’t like himself much these days. “You don’t have to pull the psychologist card on me.” Hurt at his callous statement showed in her lovely, bluish-green eyes, and she abruptly withdrew the touch she’d offered in comfort. He’d gone too far. “Sorry, Tamie. I’m in a shitty mood.”
“So your daughter warned me.”
“I don’t think I ever thanked you for helping look for the kids without asking a lot of questions.”
“I was glad to be there for you and Maya, but the lie going around is very upsetting for me, because I know they’re good kids. I’ve reluctantly respected your wishes to keep my mouth shut, but I’m also very disappointed in you. Rather than defend your daughter’s honor, you’ve put your head in the sand to avoid the truth.”
Just like his daughter’s had, Tamie’s eyes moved to the portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in his Rough Rider uniform. “You should turn that picture around, because your hero wouldn’t approve of cowardice.”
He suffered the phantom pain from every one of her stinging barbs. There was so much he wanted to say, but he swallowed hard and forced himself to accept the insult. “You’ve never had a problem speaking your mind, and there are very few people I’d let call me a coward.”
“Jack!” Outrage and frustration filled her voice. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re not even going to try to defend yourself?”
If only I could tell you the truth. The urge was strong to wrap her in his arms and absorb the healing of a much-needed hug, but that wasn’t about to happen, not now, not anytime soon.
“It appears you and my daughter have teamed up to kick my ass. According to you, I’m chickenhearted, and Maya accused me of having a cold heart.”
“Considering the present situation between us, I agree. You’ve been pulling away from me since I returned to Beacon Pointe fifteen years ago.”
He wanted to shout, It’s been killing me, but kept his silence. “Since you both agree, I’d better invest in thermal underwear.”
“Despite you being a butthead, my offer to talk still stands. Now, I have to be going.” She dipped her head toward the file on his desk. “I’ve tried to remain neutral in my report, but it was difficult. You’ll understand after you’ve read the kids’ complaints.”
“Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Because he’s tenured, I have to tread carefully when considering dismissal, but the students come first.”
“I expect nothing less.”
“Thanks, Tamie. Enjoy the rest of your evening.” He wanted to say more, but this wasn’t the time to pour his heart out to the only woman he’d ever loved. When she slowly closed the door, the ice around his heart returned.