I dozed off with Rydell in my arms and a weight on my shoulders, but I didn’t know why. I couldn’t pinpoint where the darkness came from, but I had a good hunch. No matter how many times I tried to ignore it and say it wasn’t so, something kept me from feeling grounded, something like Kit Noel Berry. The sudden thought that had turned into urgent words caused Rydell to jerk awake.
“What’s your middle name, Ry?”
“Your middle name. What is your middle name?”
“Rydell is my middle name. Edith Rydell Brinkley. Why?”
I shrugged one shoulder and kissed her forehead. “Just curious. Come to North Carolina with me next month. I don’t want to go without you. Maybe we’ll find some place to busk or something.”
Even through the dark, I could see the puzzled expression. “I can’t. I made plans to go to Miami gambling with Wendi. I told you that, but I will be here for her birthday on Sunday. Promise.”
“But what if I said not to go with Wendi, that I really want you there with me?” I questioned.
“Where is this coming from, Brantley? I don’t know if I’m reading this wrong or not, but in case I am, I have to tell you, I won’t do it.”
I wore the puzzled expression this time. “Do what?”
“I refuse to be second best to anyone and I refuse to carry that kind of jealousy again. I love you, and I believed you when you said that there is nothing between you and Kit. I have to, Brantley. I can’t carry that around like I did with Ryan. There were always girls hanging on him, and it gutted me. I’m not that girl. If I have something to worry about with you and Kit, then I need to know this right now. Dump me, don’t cheat on me.”
I leaned in on one elbow and gave her a serious expression through the dark. “Babe, you never have to worry about that. I have everything I need and want right here with you. I was merely begging for my own self-satisfaction. I hate the thought of not seeing you for two days.”
Rydell snickered and touched my face. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Even you should know that. It’s two days. You’ll survive. Go to sleep. Bay is going to be awake in about five more hours, if we’re lucky.”
I plopped to the bad and took a long deep breath of Rydell’s scented shampoo, or her lotion. Something smelled amazing.
One second I had just closed my eyes, and the next, I heard a loud ringing coming from the living room. I jumped up and darted out when I realized it was my computer and Kit calling me on Skype. I darted to living room, cussing a plastic cow when I ran out to shut it up.
“Jesus, Kit. We’re not even awake yet. I am supposed to call you, remember?”
“You have a morning woody,” she giggled.
My eyes dropped to my shorts, and my hand covered my crotch. “Let me get woke up and I’ll call you back. Bay’s note even awake yet.”
“It’s almost nine-thirty on Christmas morning there. I’ve been waiting all day for this.”
“I open a toy, Daddy.”
“See, she’s awake. Merry Christmas, my little Bay Berry.”
I looked up to Bay, holding Phil, and wearing her cute little nightgown, one sock on, one off. “I’ll call you back, Kit. Give me ten minutes.”
Of course that wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t quick enough to stop Bay. She darted in front of the computer before I had a chance to put her in the right pajamas. “Oh no, I’ll wait. It took me twenty minutes to get connected. You go take care of that and I’ll talk to my sweet baby, Bay.”
I went to the bathroom in my room, covered Rydell’s naked ass with the sheet after a quick peek, and slid on a shirt and sweats, closing the door behind me. This might go better than I had planned. Rydell drank at least a six pack, and we were up really late. If I was lucky, I’d make it through Christmas morning with my family before—Wait. Not my family. I shook off the thought and started coffee, wondering why I had just internally said that.
Two cups of coffee, and five presents from her mama later, we were done. Thank God. I relaxed realizing I didn’t have to deal with any Rydell drama. One more present and I was out of the woods.
Bay opened little leather bracelet with silver diamond way too big for her wrist, and I turned my frown from her back to Kit.
“What time is it there, Brantley?”
I looked over my shoulder just as the doorbell rang. “Ten, hang on. Someone’s at my door.”
“Oh, yay! I can’t wait.”
My frown continued while I went to the door, wondering what the hell she had bought that she couldn’t wrap. I opened the front door to a truck parked in my driveway and a boy about ten or so at my door, fluffy white kitten in hand.
“My titty, I titty, Daddy.”
I was speechless. The little boy handed it to Bay wearing a big smile. I had to pick her up and help her to keep her from breaking his neck. “The lady in the email said you’d pay me when I got here. It was only twenty-five, but she said I could get fifty since it was Christmas.”
“For a cat?” I exclaimed, uncaring of his young age.
“That’s what she said. Want me to show you. My mom has it on her phone.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Here you go, Merry Christmas,” Rydell said from behind me, her fingers inside my wallet.
“My titty, Dale.”
“I see, baby. Merry Christmas. I’m going to shower while you finish up with Kit. Merry Christmas to you too cowboy.”
I watched her walk away amazed. That’s why I was so in love with her. Rydell didn’t do drama. Ever. She could have been pissed about the whole kitten thing, but she wasn’t. She was happy, ready for our own Christmas. What a relief.
I walked back to Kit with the stupid little cat. “Are you kidding me? You bought her a cat?”
Kit beamed from ear to ear. “I’m hoping it will replace Phil, and you sort of bought it. Sorry about that. I didn’t have time to get it sent. I have been searching for a kitten close to you for two weeks now. Ahhh, look. She loves it.”
I shook my head, catching a glimpse of Rydell, standing in the hall with a cup of coffee to her lips. She winked at me while standing there listening.
“Okay, tell Mommy goodbye, Bay.”
“I pway a titty.”
Kit laughed, pulling my attention back to her. “You better name the titty, and one more thing.”
“Those are not the pajamas I bought for her. You’re lucky they’re adorable. Did your mom buy those?”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with this rat ball?”
“I would name it if I were you.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Bye, Bay Berry Jandt. I love you so much. Merry Christmas, baby.”
“You can call later and I’ll let you know whether it’s still alive or not.”
“Bye, make sure she has the best day ever.”
“I will, starting with some breakfast. Merry Christmas, Kit.”
“Merry Christmas, Brantley.”
I closed my laptop and looked to Rydell, waiting for the storm.
I rubbed my face while sputtering a frustrated breath through my lips. “What did you want me to say, Ry? I couldn’t say, oh no. Rydell bought her that nightgown.”
“I expected you to tell me the truth last night, idiot. That was something special from her mom. You could have just been up front with me. She could have worn my later. Don’t do that, Brantley. I love her to death, but I’m not her mom, and I will never try to be.”
Again, Rydell surprised me. I thought I was about to get an ass chewing for not telling Kit that Rydell bought it for her, and here she was mad because I didn’t tell her about Kit’s. Women were way more complicated than I could have ever guessed. Exactly the reason I didn’t get involved with them. “You’re right and I’m sorry, but you were so excited about it, I didn’t want to take that away from you.”
At least that softened her scowl. Rydell smiled at me, her head tilting to the side.
“Thank you for thinking of me like that, but next time just tell me.”
“Pinky promise, now can we get on with Christmas?”
“For sure. I’m going to jump in the shower. You go start bacon.”
I talked to my mother and Bridgett on Facetime while Bay played with her favorite toy, a white little fur ball, accusing them of being in on it. Even though they denied it, I could tell by the way they talked to Bay that they knew. Bridgett asked her what she named it before I told her she got it. Guilty.
Despite the fact that I thought about my little man Simon more than once throughout the day, I had the best Christmas I’d ever had in my life. Rydell and I exchanged gifts, and Bay opened a little pink guitar from me. She loved it almost as much as her new titty. I recorded her singing, Let it go, at the top of her lungs and sent it right to Kit’s email. She would piss her pants laughing. Rydell and I could barely contain ourselves. She was no doubt a performer. Her little foot tapped on the floor just like mine, and her face showed more emotion than Adele’s. My little county singer. Bay Berry Jandt.