Blame it on the Rain
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115 pages

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Charlie Naughton and Jenny Craft grew up together. Their parents were best friends and the kids were inseparable throughout their school years. But when Charlie goes off to college, he’s focusing more on his baseball scholarship than the friend he’s leaving behind. Jenny’s been in love with Charlie since she was seven, and he kissed her at his brother’s wedding reception. Since then she’s bided her time, waiting for him to realize that he loves her, too. Her senior year of high school is supposed to be one of her best. But when her parents’ marriage hits the skids and her best girlfriend makes a surprise announcement, Jenny barely has time to deal with her blossoming romance. And with Charlie’s insane schedule, thinking about each other seems to be the best they can do. When they finally find time to be together, neither one of them wants it to end. “If anyone asks where we were, we’ll just blame it on the rain.” But is ‘happily ever after’ really possible?



Publié par
Date de parution 26 janvier 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773620312
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Blame it on the Rain
The Blame Game Book Four
By Jamie Hill
Amazon Print ISBN978-0-2286-0272-9

Copyright2 nd Ed. 2018 Jamie Gerry
Cover Art by MichelleLee
All rights reserved.Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no partof this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced intoa retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the above publisher of this book.
To Brenda Hoefler forsharing her baseball-mom knowledge.
Any inaccuracies arecompletely my fault.
Brenda, your help wasinvaluable! Many thanks.
Yours is the light bywhich my spirit’s born: yours is the darkness of my soul’s return ~you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars. ~ E. E. Cummings
* * *
There are threethings you can do in a baseball game. You can win, or you can lose,or it can rain. ~ Casey Stengel
Chapter One
“Merry Christmas!”
Charlie Naughton heard several excited voicesexchange the greeting, followed by laughter and squeals whichwafted upstairs from the foyer. His extended family and friends hadobviously arrived for their holiday meal.
He wasn’t even dressed yet. He’d only beenhome from college for two days, and hadn’t caught up on his sleep.Christmas Eve had been crazy busy with four active nieces and anephew who never sat still. They’d gone to an early Mass then camehome and ate, until the children couldn’t stand it any longer andwere allowed to open presents from their grandparents.
After his brother and sister had taken theirfamilies home, Charlie and his sister Clarissa opened gifts at aless frantic pace with their folks. They’d started the ChristmasEve tradition when he and Lis were teenagers and decided thateveryone preferred to sleep in on Christmas rather than wake upearly for presents. It also gave Dave, Carys and their girls, andDana, Clint and their three kids a chance to open gifts with theirown families on Christmas morning. Everyone met back at home basefor a big meal at one p.m., including the one person Charlie wasmost anxious to see.
His best friend forever since he couldremember, Jenny had gone with her folks to Atlanta to see hergrandparents for the holiday. He’d texted her throughout the weekbut hadn’t seen her yet. He was more than ready. He had so much totell her.
Charlie tossed his towel on the bed andpulled on some boxers and his well-worn jeans. The only semi-cleanshirt he could find was an Emporia State sweatshirt, so he tuggedit over his head. Checking in the mirror for stains, he wasrelieved that it looked okay, and made a mental note to do laundryas soon as time allowed.
His hair was short enough that he didn’t haveto brush it. He patted on some cologne and at the last minute foundsome socks, then headed downstairs.
“There he is! Hey, Sleeping Beauty.” Jenny’smother Jetta was the first to get her hands on him. She pulled himclose for a hug. “How you doing, sweetie? Merry Christmas!”
Charlie grinned and hugged her back. She wasa darker-skinned clone of his own mom, with long curly hair andpersonality to spare. The women had been best friends since beforehe was born, and he and Jenny had grown up calling both of them‘Mom’. “Mom, the sequel! Great to see you.”
She patted his chest. “You look tired. Arethey working you too hard at that school?”
“Yes they are. Suppose you could call mycoach and have a word with him?”
“Anytime. Just say when.”
Jenny’s father Jim stepped up and grinned.“That’s just what he needs, two moms bugging his coach. He’ll be onthe bench the whole year. Hey kid. How’s practice going? Ready forthe season to start?”
“You mean it hasn’t?” Charlie pretended towipe his forehead. “If this is what pre-season is like, I honestlythink the season might kill me. Two to three hour sessions a day,five to six days a week.”
“It’s good for you.” Jim gave him a hug.
“Spoken like a true dad,” Charlie deadpanned.He’d always admired Jenny’s father, but the man intimidated thehell out of him from an early age. His twenty-plus years with theMarshall Police Department had most recently landed him a Captain’sbadge and a desk job, which hadn’t lessened the intimidationfactor.
He glanced over Jim’s shoulder and spottedJenny. Quietly waiting her turn, she wore similar faded jeans ashis and the exact same Emporia State sweatshirt. Hers isprobably clean. Charlie grinned and reached out for a hug. “Heyyou.”
“Hey you,” she echoed, and hugged himtight.
She always smelled the same, like jasmine andhoneysuckle, spicy and woodsy. He knew she wore Chloe by KarlLagerfeld because he’d bought it for her enough times at birthdaysand holidays. Her sweet, familiar scent was comforting andreassuring. He hugged her another long moment.
“I missed you,” she whispered into hisneck.
“I have so much to tell you,” he whisperedback.
“All right you two.” Charlie’s mom, Catlin,put her hands on their backs. “Let’s move this party into thefamily room. But prepare yourselves. The munchkins are here, andthey are wired for sound. I don’t know if they ate pure sugar forbreakfast or what, but they’ll knock you over if you aren’t holdingon to something.”
Jenny clutched his hand.
Charlie smiled, and they headed into thefamily room.
“Did you cut your hair?” his mom asked Jenny,touching her ponytail.
“A little. Had the ends trimmed, mainly.”
“It looks good.” Catlin squeezed her freearm.
Charlie glanced at Jenny’s hair. How canshe tell it was cut? It looked the same to him. The thick, wavyblack hair fell just past her shoulders when it was loose but Jennyalmost always wore it pulled back. She had to when playing thesports that she loved as much as he did. Jenny played for St.Joseph’s volleyball and basketball teams during the school year andfor a city league softball team in the summer.
They reached the family room and the noiselevel increased five-fold. Charlie saw his dad on the floor withtwo of the littlest girls, looking at their new dolls andaccessories. “Dang, Dad! Wish I would have known you liked dolls somuch, we would have got you one for Christmas.”
His father, Steve, glanced up at him and hiseyes twinkled. “Got my doll for Christmas a few years ago, son.Don’t need another one . Couldn’t handle another one.” Hewinked at Catlin.
She beamed and wagged a finger at him. “Yougot that right, buddy. Look who’s here, the Craft family returnedfrom Atlanta in one piece.”
“Barely.” Jetta rolled her eyes and made herway around the room saying hello.
Charlie and Jenny nabbed two straight-backchairs that had been brought in for extra seating and sat on theedge of the fray.
“Holy smokes!” she muttered to him teasingly.“How can you hear yourself think?”
“Best not to try and think. Just smile andenjoy them. Dad says they’ll grow up too fast.”
“Your dad is so cool.” Jenny’s voice soundedwistful.
Charlie glanced at Jim who had accepted abeer and was talking to Dave. “Your dad is too. He’s just got that‘police captain’ thing hanging over him. Like you know he’d helpyou out if you were in trouble, but you’d still manage to catchhell for it.”
She laughed. “I know, right? I’d totally callyour dad if I was in trouble before I’d consider calling mine.”
He glanced sideways at her. “What kind oftrouble would you get in, Miss Class Valedictorian?”
She swatted his knee. “We don’t know thatyet. I could blow this last semester.”
Charlie chuckled. “Like that’s going tohappen.” He watched her for another moment. She had a funny look onher face. “Jen, is anything wrong? You’re not in trouble, areyou?”
“Of course not.” She rapped his legagain.
“Because you know you can call me any time ofthe day or night, I don’t care where I am. If you need me, I’ll behere for you.”
Jenny smiled. “Unless you’re at baseballpractice or playing in a game, right? How many games did you sayyou play in a season?”
He smiled sheepishly and knew his face wentred. “About fifty-six. Two during the week and a weekendseries.”
She sighed. “I’ll never see you duringbaseball season.”
He knocked his knee against hers. “We canSkype and text. It’ll be fine. You’ll be busy too, in the last fewmonths of your senior year.”
His nephew approached and Charlie smiled.“Hey Sam! Did Santa find you guys?”
“Yes.” The serious eleven-year-old nodded. Hehad blond hair like both Dana and Clint, but wore big black-framedglasses. “Would you like to see my Skylanders?” He held up twoaction figures. “I just got these. This is Blast Zone and this oneis Boom Jet.”
Jenny took one of the characters and studiedit. “What are these guys?”
While Sam launched into a detailed andcomplicated description of the toys, Charlie whispered, “You putthem on this platform thing and they move while you’re playing theSkylanders video game.”
“These are the latest editions from the SwapForce series,” Sam continued, and proceeded to show them how thecharacters ‘swapped’ body parts to create other characters.
“Cool.” Jenny nodded.
“Looks like your sisters got dolls again.”Charlie motioned to the two girls who were still showing his dadall about them.
“Yeah, they only even asked for dolls! Canyou believe that?” Sam shook his head.
“Dolls are dumb.” Eight-year-old Annie, oneof Dave and Carys’s twins, joined them. Another blonde-hairedcutie, she and her sister were obviously not into girly things liketheir cousins. “Ash and I got skateboards. And a new Playstation,but I think that was really for Dad,” she confided.
Charlie and Jenny laughed. “I’d tend to agreewith you there.” He touched one of her light brown pigtails. “Whatelse did you get?”
Ashley popped up next to her sister. Herpigtails were the only similar feature to her sister. They werefraternal twins and looked completely different, but both werelittle spitfires like their mom. “We got kittens! Mine is brownstriped. She looks like chocolate so I named her Brownie.”
Annie added, “Mine is black and white. Hername is Oreo.”
“Cute!” Jenny grinned at them. “We’ll have tocome see them before Charlie goes back to school.”
“You bet we will.” He tickled the girls andthey laughed before they raced off.
“Slow down!” Carys called over her shoulderafter them as she approached Charlie and Jenny. “Hey you two. MerryChristmas.”
“Same to you.” Jenny looked at Carys’sbulging stomach. “You’ve grown since Thanksgiving!”
“Don’t I know it?” His pretty blondesister-in-law held her back. “The doctor swears this isn’t twinsand it better not be because he’ll be so dead if he’s wrong. Rightafter I kill David, that is.”
Charlie chuckled. “You’re a nurse. If youdidn’t want more kids, I would have thought you’d know what to doabout it.”
She rolled her eyes. “In case they didn’ttell you in Health class, little brother, sometimes accidentshappen. We didn’t plan to start over with diapers again now thatthe girls are eight. But honestly, I think Dave is pretty excited.He always wanted a boy, and now he’s going to get it. Provided Isurvive the next couple of months!”
Jenny blinked. “Aren’t you excited,Carys?”
Carys smiled. “Of course I am. Just don’ttell David. He’s feeling pretty guilty, more so the bigger I get.I’m going to milk that guilt for all it’s worth. He’s never been sohelpful around the house. He and the girls are taking care of mefor the first time, so I’m not going to blow that.”
Charlie put a finger to his lips. “We won’tsay a word. Go sit down and put your feet up.”
“I think I will.” She winked at them and asshe walked off, continued to hold her back. “David? Could youpossibly bring me something to drink?”
“Sure.” He hopped up and disappeared into thekitchen.
Charlie and Jenny laughed. He loved hisstepbrother, but both Dave and Dana were children of his father’sfirst marriage and sixteen years older than him. They were simplyat different stages in their lives than he was. He couldn’t imaginebeing thirty-something and having three kids. It felt like hiswhole life was ahead of him. Charlie shook his head. “He’swhipped.”
“Totally,” Jenny agreed. “About like your dadwith Stephanie and Stacy. He loves them all, but he can’t resistthe girly-girls, can he?”
Charlie glanced at his nine and six-year-oldnieces, Dana’s younger two. “No kidding. They’ll be just like Danaand Clarissa—Daddy’s little girls.”
“Where is Lis?” Jenny glanced around.
“I don’t know. Maybe the kitchen? Shepromised Mom she’d help her cook today.”
Jenny bit her lip. “Maybe we should offer tohelp?”
“Nah.” He took her hand. “Let’s talk. There’sso much I want to tell you, I’ll never remember it all.”
She smiled at him. “Sure. Let’s talk.”
Jennifer gazed at Charlie dreamily as he heldher hand. He’d been regaling her with stories from his firstsemester at college for nearly half an hour. It all seemed soimportant to him. Of course it was important to her, too, but hewas a storyteller, and could make a trip to the grocery store soundlike an event.
Deep down, when he’d mentioned he had so muchto tell her, she’d hoped it was something about the two of them.Apparently, she’d overthought that one. His talk was all aboutbaseball and dorms and roommates and classes—typical stuff a guyaway at college the first time should be excited about.
She had him home for a week. Hopefully it’dbe enough time to get him excited about something else—her. Shenodded as he explained how the cereal dispensers in the dining hallworked, or some days, didn’t work. She smiled.
His mom called them to dinner and they ate ahuge turkey feast around the Naughton’s big dining room table withall the leaves inserted. Jenny felt almost as comfortable there asshe did at her house, but not so much when everyone wasgathered. The children were cute but they were precocious likelittle kids in their family tended to be, and everyone fussed overthem.
Jenny was more at ease when it was justCharlie’s parents, him and Lis. At those times, she’d be happy tomove right in. There was so much love in the home, she couldn’thelp but feel it wrap around her, too.
Charlie’s folks were crazy about each other.Their twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up the followingsummer and they were having fun speculating on how and where theywere going to celebrate.
Her parents’ twentieth anniversary had passedquietly a few years back. Catlin and Steve threw them a smallparty, but her folks didn’t want a fuss. These days, they didn’twant much that had to do with each other, or so it seemed. Eversince her dad had gotten promoted to captain and taken a desk job,he’d changed. More serious, she decided, probably because he was incharge of a unit of officers. Definitely less fun and not homenearly as much as he used to be. Jenny and her mom were togethermuch of the day at St. Joseph’s where her mom had taught mathforever. Then they went home and spent much of their evenings alonetogether, too. It wasn’t bad, she loved her mother to pieces andenjoyed spending time with her. She just wished her mom seemedhappier.
“So Catlin,” Dana addressed her stepmom. “DidI hear that you’re going to be subbing at St. Joe’s full time thissemester?”
“Well, I think so.” She glanced at herhusband cautiously. “Your dad isn’t keen on my working full time. Itold him it’s only going to be for two months while their Englishteacher has her baby. But I was so excited when I found out it wasthe English position, I accepted without thinking about it.” Shesighed. “My old stomping grounds.”
Jetta smiled. “I’ll be tickled to have youthere every day. Occasionally substituting is nice, but I don’t getto see you often enough.” She glanced at Steve. “You don’t reallymind, do you?”
He placed his elbows on the table and flexedhis fingers together. “It makes me sound like a caveman if I saythat I’d prefer to have my wife waiting for me when I come home atthe end of the day. So I’ll have to fake it and say of course Idon’t mind.”
“It’ll be fine.” Catlin batted her lashes athim. “I’ll make sure you don’t feel left out.”
“What about me?” Clarissa threw her hands inthe air. “Not only will my mom be my English teacher, butI’ll probably have to help more around the house!”
Jenny grinned. Lis was sixteen and not reallyas spoiled as she came across. Gorgeous with curly blonde hair anda curvy figure that was the opposite of her own athletic build, Liscould usually get what she wanted out of her father. Fortunately,he was on to her and tried hard to keep her grounded and in line.Jenny liked Lis a lot, and even though she was two years younger,they spent a lot of time together. “It sucks to be you!” she teasedher friend. “I’m excited to have your mom as my teacher. I thinkit’ll make class much more fun.”
“You’d know about ‘sucks’, Miss ‘Suck Up’,”Clarissa retorted jovially. “You think kissing Mom’s behind isgoing to get you a good grade?”
Jenny grinned. “No. I think studying hard anddoing the work will get me good grades, Miss ‘The Dog Ate MyHomework’.”
A rumble of laughter went around the table.Charlie added, “That excuse failed being plausible once our dogdied, Lis. And considering your math teacher, Mrs. Craft, knew hedied, it was pretty lame.”
“It’s always been lame,” her mom agreed.“Even when Roscoe was still here. I don’t recall him eating anyoneelse’s homework, and believe me, if he was going to, it would havebeen Dave’s.”
“Hey!” Dave raised his hands in defense mode.“I did my homework! And when I didn’t, I had really great excuses.”
Everyone laughed and talked and finishedeating. Jenny watched Charlie’s parents, wondering if his dad wasreally unhappy about his mom going back to work full time. Shefigured he’d probably get over it. Catlin seemed to have Stevewrapped around her little finger.
After the meal everyone pitched in to cleanup, then Dana and Clint took their kids to go visit his mother.Dave, Carys and the twins went to spend some time with her AuntBecky and her aunt’s new husband, Rafe. Jenny liked Rafe. He wasSpanish and spoke with a neat accent. He told her his given namemeant ‘wolf’. She thought he was cool. Her mom thought he wassomeone to steer clear of.
It was finally quiet when her parents andCharlie’s folks opened a bottle of wine and sat in the family roomto relax. Jenny, Charlie and Lis joined them for a while toexchange some gifts they’d gotten each other.
Charlie looked sheepish as he passed outboxes to her and her folks. “I’ve been pretty busy.”
Jenny opened her gift to find a new EmporiaState sweatshirt. This one was pink, which made absolutely no sensewhen the school’s colors were orange and black. “I love it,” shetold him, hugging the shirt.
Her parent’s shirts were at least grey withblack and orange lettering, like the one she was alreadywearing.
Charlie told them, “I just wanted to makesure you had something to wear when you came to watch me play. AndI knew you had the grey one,” he told her.
“I love it,” she repeated, still clutchingthe pink thing.
“Don’t feel bad, we all got them too,” Lissaid.
Charlie blushed again. “Like I told you, I’vebeen super busy.”
“They’re wonderful. Thank you.” Jenny’s momsmiled at Charlie. “We’ll wear them with pride. Here’s your gift.We hope you like it.”
He opened the small box and pulled outtickets. It took him a moment to register what they were for. “TheHistory of the Eagles concert in Kansas City? Are you kidding me?”Charlie hopped up and hugged both her parents. His huge grinindicated he loved the gift.
Her dad raised one hand. “There are a couplethings you need to know. You’ll notice there are five ticketsthere.”
Jenny watched him point to Charlie, Lis,Steve, Catlin, and finally her. “Since I can’t get away, your momand dad agreed to take you. I know you’re on your own and all that,and she’s eighteen.” He tossed a thumb in her direction. “But she’sstill in school and she’s still my little girl. Humor me, and letyour folks take you.”
“I am totally fine with that,” Charliegushed. “You know I love the Eagles. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Good.” His dad smiled. “The timing couldn’tbe better. You’ll still be home for a few more days. We figuredwe’d get a suite and stay for two nights. We can spend New Year’sEve in Kansas City.”
Charlie grinned at Jenny. “Doesn’t that soundgreat?”
She couldn’t help but smile. She liked theretro band, too. She and Charlie used to sing a lot of their songswhen they were kids. “It sounds like a blast. Thanks for includingme.”
Clarissa moaned. “The Eagles, really? Itcouldn’t have been Justin Bieber or One Direction?”
Steve’s eyes bugged out. “Not if you wantedme to take you.”
Catlin chuckled. “Me either, sweetie. TheEagles will be great. You’ll have fun.”
“I suppose.” Lis rolled her eyes.
Excitement welled in Jenny’s chest. It was going to be fun. She’d make sure Lis enjoyed it, too, ordie trying.
The concert was amazing and Jenny couldn’twait to call her mom when they got back to the hotel. “Sorry tocall so late. I just wanted you to know we’re at the hotel.”
“So how was it?”
“Stupendous. Charlie’s still floating on air.He sang Hotel California all the way back here.”
“Hmm, sorry I missed it! And how about MissClarissa? Did she enjoy it, even without the bieber-mania?”
“Oh yeah. She loved it, even if she tells youotherwise. I think she’s made it her mission in life to annoyadults. So I’ve made it my mission to follow along behind hertelling people what she really thinks.”
“Everyone should have a friend like you,Jennifer.” Her mom chuckled. “I’m glad the concert was good. I knewit would be. I’d have loved to see it.”
Jenny hesitated. “You guys bought thetickets. If you wanted to come, why didn’t you?”
Her mom didn’t answer right away. She finallysaid, “Your dad had to work. It’s okay.”
“You could have come with us, Mom. Why didn’tyou say something?”
“Nah, he didn’t want me to. It’s no big dealhoney. Hey, it’s late. I’m going to bed and you should too. Try andget some sleep. Give Cat and Steve a break.”
“We will. I know Lis is tired. We won’t stayup talking too late. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve!”
“Yeah, and Jen? Remember what anniversary itis, sweetie.”
Jenny remembered very well. Thirteen yearsago Charlie’s older brother had been killed in a car accident. Thewreck happened December thirtieth. Chris died the day after. “Iremember, Mom. We talked about Chris tonight. They’re sad butthey’re okay. Time heals.”
“Yes, I suppose it does. Time also goes waytoo quickly. When did you get to be such a smart and sensitiveyoung woman?”
“Just trying to be like my mama, the bestrole model I could have asked for.”
Sniffling noises on the other end of thephone, then, “Goodnight Jenny. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom. ‘Night.” Shedisconnected the call and turned off her cell phone.
Catlin stepped up behind her. “Everythingokay?”
Jenny sighed. “Yeah, I guess. Dad’s workingagain. I wish Mom would have come with us.”
“I do too! I would have said something if I’dknown Jimmy had to work all this time.”
“He’s working a lot since he took the newjob. Mom just seems kind of sad.”
“I’ll talk to her, honey. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks.” Jenny hugged Catlin.“Goodnight.”
“’Night sweetie.”
Jenny went to Charlie’s room and tapped onthe door. “Goodnight,” she called softly.
He opened the door part way. He was wearingpajama bottoms and no top. Jenny would have loved to run her handsover his lightly furred chest before pulling him close for a kiss.Instead, she smiled sweetly. “Thanks again for tonight. It wasgreat.”
Charlie gazed at her warmly. “It wasfantastic. I’m glad you were with us.” He leaned out and placed alight kiss on her cheek. “See you tomorrow. We’ll go shopping orwhatever you’d like to do.”
“Sounds good. ‘Night.” She stared at himanother moment before he closed the door, leaving her to return tothe room she and Lis shared.
Lis was already in her pajamas, flippingthrough TV channels to see what was on. “Wonder if we could watchPay-Per-View? There’s some really smutty stuff on here.”
“No!” Jenny grabbed the remote and turned offthe TV. “Go to sleep. No smut for you.” She changed into her ownpj’s and brushed her teeth, then crawled into bed. They talked fora while then shut out the lights and talked a while longer. Prettysoon Lis’s breathing became steady, and Jenny knew she’d fallenasleep. She closed her eyes and tried not to think of Charlie.
The next day they did everything Charliepromised and more. Nice lunch, shopping, fancy dinner, movie, andlate night appetizers as they watched the lights on the plaza andcounted down until midnight. When the New Year turned she knewCharlie’s mom and dad would kiss. She intended to seize the momentand kiss him , just to see what happened.
They counted down with the famous ball dropand when the TV announcer cheered “Happy New Year!” Steve pulledCatlin into his arms for a passionate kiss.
Jenny turned to Charlie but before she couldact he made the first move. A sweet, fast kiss that was over beforeshe realized what was happening. “Oh!” she touched her fingers toher lips.
“Happy New Year.” He smiled at her.
He turned to his sister and gave her the samekiss. “Happy New Year Lis.”
Charlie turned to his mom and repeated thekiss a third time. “Happy New Year Mom.”
He hugged his dad and they wrestled a bit,grinning.
Jenny stood there in shock, her hand to hermouth . He has no idea how I feel about him. She was eithergoing to have to tell him, or take other, less obvious but moredrastic measures. I’ve got a lot of work to do.
Chapter Two
Charlie had to return to college a few daysafter New Year’s. Jenny had started back to school on the second,so he was running around getting some last minute things taken careof. He stopped by the newspaper office to see his brothers oncemore before he left.
“Hey.” He stuck his head in the ManagingEditor’s office and smiled at Clint. “Busy?”
“Charlie! Come in.” Clint rose from behindhis desk and shook his hand, then drew him in to a quick hug.“How’s it going? Getting ready to go back?”
“Yeah. I just thought I’d stop by and see thebusinessmen at work. Dad said after three should be a goodtime.”
“It is.” Clint motioned to a chair and wentback behind his desk. He picked up the phone and pushed a button.“Hey. Can you step in here for a minute, please?” He hung up thereceiver and sat. “I’m glad you did. The holidays were such a blur.Every time we saw you there was so much going on.”
Dave appeared in the doorway. “Hey littlebro!” He gave Charlie a hug and sat in the chair opposite him.“What are you doing out and about?” He glanced around. “Byyourself, no less. For a while there I thought you and Jen wereattached at the hip.”
“We hung out,” he admitted. “She’s back inschool. I’ll be heading to Emporia tomorrow.”
“Why so soon? Classes don’t start until themiddle of the month, do they?”
“No, but baseball practice does. Officiallythe fifteenth. Unofficially the fifth. No coaches, of course. Youknow, NCAA rules and all that stuff.”
Clint frowned. “You’re not breaking NCAArules are you? You could get in trouble for that.”
Charlie grinned. “Of course not. Someinformal weightlifting, throwing, catching among friends. No bigdeal. Don’t worry, I’m keeping my nose clean. I like my scholarshipand I plan to keep it. Most of the guys feel the same way. Youwon’t find many of the players drinking or messing with otherstuff, either. We’re a pretty focused bunch.”
Dave raised his brows. “You aren’t old enoughto drink anyway, young man.”
Charlie nodded. “Like that stops half theguys on my dorm floor. But don’t worry, I get it. And if I everforget, I have four dads to remind me. Present companyincluded.”
Clint and Dave smiled. Clint asked, “Speakingof dads, did you see much of Jim this trip? He’s been makinghimself scarce lately.”
“No I didn’t.” Charlie shrugged. “Jen sayshe’s busy with his new job.”
Dave exchanged glances with Clint. “Job.Yeah. Right.”
The look didn’t go unnoticed. “What’s up?”Charlie’s gaze went back and forth between them.
“Nothing.” Clint said firmly. “So I haven’theard about any girls in Emporia. They do allow females in theirschool, don’t they?”
“I guess.” Charlie shrugged again. “Not thatI have time to notice, practicing three hours a day on top ofclasses and homework.”
Dave added, “Which is probably all right withJenny.”
Charlie waved a hand. “She and I are justfriends. We always have been. You know that.”
“Just friends?” Clint raised his brows. Heexchanged glances with Dave this time, and both smiled.
Charlie patted the arms of his chair andstood. “Stop it you two. Yes, friends. I’ve got to go, and I’m sureyou have work you could be doing.”
Dave waved him off. “Boss has left for theday so I’m good.”
Clint shot him a look, and Dave laughed.“Kidding. But I do have to get going. Carys has a doctor’sappointment and I promised to pick up the girls from school.”
“Keep me posted on that baby.” Charlie gavehim another quick hug. “With the season starting, I might not behome again until spring break.”
“He should be here by then. I’ll shoot you atext if there’s anything to report. And we’ll try to make it tosome weekend games, as long as she’s feeling okay. I could bringthe girls and come if Carys wasn’t up to it, but it’s a two hourdrive and I hate to leave her alone for that long. So we’llsee.”
“No problem, I understand. This is my firstseason. I expect there’ll be more to follow.”
“A lot more.” Clint agreed, and theyhugged. “We’ll be in touch, too. Dad says there’s some nice hotelsin Emporia, we might stay over and catch two games oneweekend.”
“That’d be great. Talk to you soon.” Charliesmiled at them then headed out. When he reached his Jeep he grinnedand shook his head. Sometimes talking to his older brothers was like having two more dads. Four dads. Just what everyyoung man needs.
They were good guys, though. Dana had marriedClint right out of college. The story he’d heard was that they’dbeen high school sweethearts. It hadn’t worked out, and they didn’tmeet up again until she graduated and came home to teach secondgrade at St. Joe’s. He was already working for their dad at theGazette. They’d hit it off immediately and got married a few monthslater.
Charlie thought the most intriguing part oftheir story was the abstinence agreement they made, not to have sexbefore marriage. He wasn’t sure he saw the point. He’d never had sex, but figured he’d know when the time was right. Hewas only nineteen, for Pete’s sake.
Clint and Dana were happy, though, sowhatever they’d done must have been right for them. Clint was alsohappy at the Gazette, according to their dad. He’d worked his wayup to Managing Editor with the final stop somewhere down the line,Editor in Chief. Ron, the current EIC, had a few more years untilretirement. Clint was soaking it all up, learning everything hecould, according to Steve. When the time was right, their dad hadno doubts Clint would be ready to take over.
Steve had cut back his hours as publisherwhen he suffered a pulmonary embolism several years back. He was ingood health again, but after a couple more clotting scares, thedoctor had put him on anticoagulation therapy for life. He’d alwayshave to take blood thinners, which wasn’t a big deal once helearned what to do and not to do.
Dave had stepped up and taken on some of thepublishing duties. When he’d started the role of liaison, NaughtonPublishing had seven newspapers. Some of them weren’t profitable,and they’d made the decision to sell a few. But with Dave focusingsolely on that, he’d also managed to acquire a few, and thebusiness was back to owning ten newspapers across the state. Theother thing Dave did, which their dad spoke of regularly andproudly, was to bring the papers online so each print version alsohad a digital counterpart. The move was highly effective andwithout being solely reliant on print papers, the company was setup not only to survive, but thrive, going forward in the digitalage.
Charlie chuckled as he drove home. Dave alsowrote a weekly column for all their papers, called Sports Scene.He’d already covered Charlie’s recruitment and scholarshipannouncement. Charlie wondered how much more the poor readers wouldbe subjected to learning about his baseball career.
And it was a career. Charlie wasn’t naïveenough to think he’d automatically get drafted into the majors.Most college players didn’t. But he had talent, and he intended tosee how far it could take him. When he got to the end of hisplaying road, he felt certain another road would open up to him.Coaching, scouting, he wasn’t sure what. But it would involvebaseball, that much he knew.
Jenny wanted to teach like both their momsand Dana. She hadn’t decided if she’d pursue the elementary orsecondary level, but she had time. And Clarissa? He smiledagain. Lis liked cheerleading, dancing, and boys. He wasn’t surewhat career path that would take her on, but he wasn’t worried. Shehad two more years at home with Mom and Dad, two of the mostgrounded people he knew. They’d help her figure it out.
Not to mention Dana, Clint, Dave, Carys,Jetta, Jim and Jenny also watching every move the girl made. Howmuch trouble can she get into?
Jenny closed her Trigonometry book. Sheneeded her mom’s help with the last problem on the homeworkassignment. Judging from the angry, hushed voices coming from herparents’ bedroom, it didn’t seem like a good time to ask. Shesighed and inserted her ear buds, turning up her iPod.
They’d been arguing a lot lately. She knewher mom hated the hours her dad worked. But she couldn’t understandwhy they didn’t enjoy what time they did have togetherinstead of picking at each other and fighting so much.
She tried to read a novel for English classbut couldn’t focus on the words. Glancing at her phone, she couldtell there were no new messages. Charlie had texted her when he gotback to his dorm and she didn’t really expect to hear from himagain, but she could always hope.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump, and sheyanked the ear buds out.
“Sorry.” Her father smiled. “I knocked.”
“It’s okay.” She didn’t want to tell him hisvoice was the noise she’d been trying to drown out. “What’sup?”
He sat on the edge of her bed. “We need totalk.”
Dread oozed through her. No good news wasever preceded by those words. “What’s wrong Daddy?”
He appeared decidedly uncomfortable. He tooka breath as if to steel himself. “I’m sure it’s no secret that yourmom and I are having problems.”
Jenny didn’t like where this was headed.“That’s just because of your new job and all the long hours. Thingswill get better once—”
“Jennifer.” He gazed at her sadly. “The longhours aren’t because of the new job. They’re because things aren’tgood here. Your mom and I have talked about it, and I’m going tomove into a hotel for a while.”
“A hotel?” She couldn’t believe her ears.“But why?”
Before he could answer she continued, “Imean, how is anything supposed to get better if you’re gone? Youneed to stay here and work on it!”
He reached for her hand. “We have worked onit. Frankly, we’re tired of working so hard. We both need abreak.”
“But why a hotel? Why don’t you go stay withCharlie’s mom and dad? They have plenty of room.”
“I’m not going to bother them. In fact, yourmom and I agreed it’s best if they don’t know about this fornow.”
Her voice rose an octave. “If they don’tknow? How do you intend to keep it from them? We sit with them atmass every Sunday. I see Lis every day!”
He cleared his throat. “We’re asking you notto say anything to Clarissa. We’ll tell Steve and Cat we’re goingto mass at a different time because of my schedule. They won’tquestion it.”
She pulled her hand away and jumped up,pacing the floor. “You’re going to lie to them? That’s why youwon’t stay there, because you’re lying.”
He stood and faced her. “There’s no reason toinvolve them at this point. It’ll be better for everybody if—”
Tears streamed down her face. “You don’t wantthem to know because they’ll try and talk you into staying. They’llagree with me that moving out isn’t the way to handle yourproblems. Staying and working on them is.” The tears made her angryat herself, but she couldn’t control them.
He handed her a handkerchief. “We think thisis best for now.”
She dabbed her eyes and shook her head. “Whatabout counseling, have you considered that? I could go withyou.”
“Jenny, this has nothing to do with you.Whatever happens, your mom and I love you very much. We alwayswill.”
“Whatever happens?” her voice screeched.“What are you talking about Daddy? Are you getting a divorce?”
He didn’t reply.
She grabbed his arm. “Don’t do this. Stayhere and work things out. You have to!”
He removed her hands and shook his head. “I’msorry, sweetie. I have to go.” He turned to leave.
“Daddy, no!” Jenny sobbed.
He paused, his shoulders sagging, but didn’tturn around. “I’ll call you every night. Call or text me any time.I love you, Jennifer.” He walked out.
She flung herself on the bed and cried untilthere were no more tears.
Later that evening, she tapped lightly on hermother’s bedroom door.
“Come in.”
Jenny opened it and found her mom looking aslousy as she felt. Red rimmed eyes and wads of tissue scattered onthe bed. “How you doing?” It was a stupid question, but she didn’tknow what else to say.
Her mom smiled sadly. “I’ve been better. Howabout you?”
“Well,” Jenny thought about it as she satdown, “I’m sad, and confused. I don’t see how moving out is goingto fix anything.”
“Dad’s not sure it can be fixed,sweetie.”
“That’s ridiculous! Of course it can. Heneeds to try harder.”
Her mother held out her arms and Jenny curledup in them. “We’re going to give him some time right now. He’sasked for that, I guess it’s the least we can do.”
“As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid,”Jenny muttered. The list of stupid things her father could dostretched out in her mind, beginning with moving out. Divorce?Affair?
She couldn’t believe her father would ever dothose things.
But before today, she’d never have imaginedhim moving out, either.
She needed to vent to Charlie or Lis, butapparently that wasn’t possible. “This sucks, Mom. I can’t eventalk to my best friends about it.”
“No, we agreed it would be better if theNaughtons didn’t know for now.”
“You agreed. I didn’t.”
“I know, sweetie. We just need some time withthis. Once Cat and Steve find out, they’re going to be all up inour business, you know they are.”
“Maybe somebody needs to be.” Jennypouted.
Her mother didn’t say anything, justcontinued to run a hand over Jenny’s hair.
Keeping the secret was easier than Jennyimagined. The January weather was frigid and it got dark early, sothere wasn’t as much socializing. People tended to keep tothemselves. She knew Catlin was preparing to teach full timestarting in February. Lis told her that Steve pored over theEmporia State baseball schedule, trying to fit as many games aspossible on his calendar. They’d already invited Jenny to aFebruary weekend series, they wouldn’t make the Friday night gamebut would go early Saturday and spend the night to catch two gamesof the series.
She couldn’t wait to see Charlie again. Theytexted every day but it was never anything earth-shattering. Hetold her about his classes and practices, and she told him what wasgoing on in school. It was friendly enough, but not the same asbeing together. I miss him.
Jenny spent some of her free time online,checking out colleges. She was almost certain she’d be going toEmporia State with Charlie, but her folks wanted her to keep heroptions open. She got their concern, but she wasn’t sure they understood where her mind was at. She could get ateaching degree from any school. She wanted to be close to Charlie. Needed to be with him. So she went through the motions oflooking at schools, just to pacify her parents. Even if theyweren’t doing much to pacify her these days.
True to his word, her dad called every night.She had dinner with him a couple nights during the week, and spenta few hours with him on the weekend. With each week that passed,Jenny grew more uncomfortable. Her dad tried too hard to be nice,and she never knew what to say. They stared at each other a lot. Bythe first of February, they were down to talking every few days andsharing one meal a week. Jenny grew to dread it, and couldn’t helpnotice her dad’s visible relief when dinner was over and he tookher home.
“I hate this!” She slammed a kitchen cabinetdoor for emphasis. “He hates it! I can tell he doesn’t want tospend time with me.”
“Jenny, that’s not true!” Her mother tried tocalm her. “He’s just busy, and can only do so much—”
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe that. You shouldsee him, Mom. I mean, I love him, but when we get together, we have nothing to talk about anymore. Five minutes on school, fiveminutes on his job, and that’s about it. He spends the rest of thetime fidgeting and looking at his watch. I’m not going again.”
“Jenny, don’t say that. You have to—”
Anger bubbled up inside her. “Excuse me? Ibelieve it was Benjamin Franklin who said I don’t have to doanything except pay taxes and die. I’m eighteen years old. I shouldhave some say in my life. He’s the one acting like a child. I’msick of it.”
Her mother stared at her for a moment. “Okay.If you feel that way, that’s your right. But you’ll need to explainit to him. I won’t have him accusing me of keeping you fromhim.”

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