Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

Previously: Nathan agrees to be on the show. SarahJane will take April home and return to the show. Austin tells Nathan to be sure and make no promises to the women and to remember that the cameras are there to create drama and conflict.


The Bandbox Hat

Chapter Thirty-Four

April chattered away for the first half hour before nodding off and curling up on the seat beside me with her head on my lap. I stroked her hair, smoothing the blond strands away from her cheek. She smelled like sun screen and sand and little girl sweat.

What had I been thinking, leaving Rosedale like that? With no explanation or anything from me, no wonder she’d pestered her parents to let her come see me with her own ideas. So soon after Opa’s death, she must have been bewildered.

The sound of tires on pavement soon lulled me sleep too.

The SUV’s motion slowed and my head bobbed forward. I pulled my eyes open and peered into the twilight. We were pulling into the ranch driveway. Uh oh. I’d meant to call to let Anna and Jake know we were on our way. Not that I had a cell phone, but presumably Justin did and he would have called or let me make the call.

Stop it, SarahJane, I lectured myself. You’re here now.

Lights flickered through the lace curtains as the Suburban’s headlights swept across them. Someone was still up watching television.

Sure enough, the front door screen swung open and Jake’s head appeared in the opening. Justin pulled open my door and I waved. “Shhh!” I called. “April’s asleep.”

Jake clattered down the porch steps and scooped his sleeping daughter from me. “I knew someone would be here. I just didn’t know if it would be Nathan or you or the CHP to tell me everyone was dead.” Though his words could be accusatory, his tone was gentle. I think that meant he was kidding. Mostly.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a long day. I meant to call but I fell asleep.”

“Where’s Nathan?”

“He’s …” I wasn’t sure what to say. Or what I could say. I flashed a look at Justin but he seemed to be staring at the sky. Or what was visible of it through the surrounding orchard. Stars were beginning to be visible. It wasn’t full dark yet, but we’d definitely have some spectacular night sky views on our return trip. I finally spoke. “He stayed in LA. I have to go back, too.”

Jake shifted April to his shoulder. “What’s going on, SarahJane? You leave without saying good bye to anyone. You hardly call. I’ve heard from Rachael more in the last couple of months than I have from you.”

That stilled me. “Rachael? You’ve talked to Rachael?”

He nodded. “She called after Dad’s service. Even came by for a short visit. We’ve been talking, emailing. You know, communicating.”

I opened my mouth to say something along the lines of it was about time she remembered how to dial a phone but the front door opened again and this time Anna stood on the porch.

“Jake? Is that SarahJane? And April?”

“I’ll be right there,” he said in a loud whisper. “Go on back in.”

Anna turned and disappeared. I stared after her.

“Since when does Anna just go back in the house and miss a chance to give me holy heck? I’ve kept April out past her bedtime. I let her play on the beach with a bunch of girls in thongs and—”

“She agreed to let me handle the situation between you and April. I said Nathan could bring her to see you.”

That made more sense than anything else did all day. I nodded. “Well, I have to go back.” I kissed April’s cheek, then Jake’s. He didn’t argue or even ask why.

Justin pulled the door open again and I climbed in.

Jake watched us turn around. I twisted in the back seat to see him still standing in the driveway, his daughter in his arms, as we turned back onto the main highway.

I was right. Within a few minutes, dusk gave way to night. Stars gleamed.

I cried all the way over the Grapevine.

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