Rose woke Grace just before eight. Her daughter grumbled, pleaded, and eventually gave in to the inevitable when Rose reminded her that she needed to discuss the internet with Chad.
“Can we dye our hair today? I think I have picked out the style I want,” were her daughter’s first words as she plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table.
Rose turned the dial on the microwave. She had made Grace a plate and put it in there before cleaning up the kitchen and going outside to help Chad with the chores. She rubbed the red marks on the back of her hand, reminding herself that she had to get quicker grabbing those eggs. After that experience, it might take a bit of time before Rose was ready to tackle this milking business.
The dinging of the microwave broke through her reverie. She used the oven mitten, which also looked homemade, to place the plate on the table in front of her child, whose nose was already in some game or YouTube video. “Be careful. The plate is really hot.”
Grace nodded but did not speak as she reached for the fork. Rose took a glass from the cupboard; she was rapidly learning her way around this kitchen. She poured some orange juice from the carton in the fridge and placed that next to the plate.
Rose was uncertain where to begin. As tough as the past few months had been for her daughter, this sullen young woman was not the person that she had raised her to be. Was she making excuses for her child? Perhaps some of this was merely typical teen angst?
That was something she had no experience with. In all her almost four decades on this planet, she had rebelled just once.
But was playing the role of the ‘good girl’ really what she wanted for her daughter? Look where it had gotten her. Unquestioning obedience to authority was not always such a good thing, she had learned. Still, pouting and petulance were not either. So, where did that central road lie?
She turned as she heard the back door open. Red dust coated Chad’s jeans and shirt. His hands were dirty. Rose could even see sweat beading on his brows. In short, he was the sexiest thing she had ever seen.
“Good morning.” He walked to the kitchen sink, washed his hands, and pulled a glass from the cupboard, running cold water into it.
Rose watched as his Adam’s apple moved up and down in the strong column of his throat as he drained the glass. Oh, she wished she had even one of those toys from her nightstand in Houston. Because she was sure that she could never find the courage to ask this man to order more.
He rinsed the glass and put it on the drainer. Then he turned back towards them, leaning against the old porcelain sink. “I said, good morning, Grace.”
“No, you said, good morning. How was I to know you were talking to me?” Her daughter lifted her head from the tablet. Green eyes met green eyes, and both had that same smile as if truly taking the measure of an adversary for the first time.
He chuckled and moved away from the kitchen sink, coming to take a chair across the table from their daughter. “Fair enough. But we all have some things to discuss. Would you mind putting that thing away at the table, please?”
Grace stared at the man for a long moment, then she glanced at her mother, but in the end, she laid the iPad on the table next to her barely touched plate. “Okay, so here it comes. Lay down the law to the kid time.”
“There’s a reason we have laws and rules. They keep us safe. They make it easier for us all to live together,” Chad answered.
“Justice is nothing more than the advantage of the stronger.”
Rose had trouble suppressing the smile that played at the corners of her lips. Her daughter often surprised even her.
Chad did not bother as that hearty laughter boomed off the slightly yellowed kitchen walls. “You know how to quote Plato. These days anyone with the internet can.”
“Plato wrote Republic, but that quote comes from Thrasymachus.” Grace’s stare was as stalwart as her father’s.
“Ah, yes, but to render to each his due.”
While this game was certainly interesting, it was getting them nowhere. Rose held up her hand, “We can have the Philosophy 101 class this afternoon. For now, let’s focus on what needs to get done. Internet, first. Grace, did you look at those brochures that your…” She barely caught herself before the word ‘father’ came out.
She inhaled and brought her third cup of coffee of the morning to her lips. “Did you look at the information Chad gave you last night?” She finished more calmly, or at least it appeared that way.
Her daughter looked from first her face to Chad’s then back again before nodding her head.
“And?” Rose demanded, feeling her doubts and insecurities arise.
But it was not necessary. The two of them focused on that one thing, while Chad questioned their daughter about specifics, and about her thought process, in the end, he shrugged his shoulders and looked Grace in the eye.
“Alright, I know next to nothing about any of this stuff. Heck, I can barely manage the breeding spreadsheet. I meant it when I said that the final decision is yours, Grace.”
The stare down resumed, “But with that privilege comes responsibility. Our choices always have consequences. So, if we go with the faster satellite stuff, then you can’t complain if, or more likely when, it goes down.”
Grace nodded and held out her hand, “Fair enough, old…”
“I’ll have you know I ain’t that old. I can still hold my own against most men in a fair fight.” He looked at her before continuing, “Speaking of which, one of the stipulations your Mama asked for when she agreed to ya’ll stay here was that I teach both of you some basic self-defense. You good with that?”
Her daughter beamed like the sun on a bright Texas summer’s day, “Hell, yeah.”
“Young lady,” Rose chastised.
“Come on, Mama. Preachers say that word all the time. It’s just a mythological place, same as Olympus, Zion, or Valhalla.”
Chad laughed, “This homeschool shit seems to be going well. Where did you learn so much about philosophy and ancient religion?”
“YouTube, of course,” Grace replied with a smile. “There are thousands of videos on there about everything.”
“Really? Your Mama wants to help out with the chores around here. She ran into a bit of trouble this morning with old Maude while she was collecting the eggs. Is there one of them videos on there bout that?”
Grace picked up her iPad with a broad smile. She did not even bother typing the search in, “Siri, YouTube videos on collecting eggs from chickens.”
“Here, Mama, that should get you started,” she passed the tablet across the table, making sure that Chad saw as well, “One-hundred-twenty-million of them.”
That laugh did funny things to Rose’s stomach, but his next words did even more to her heart. “I’m really starting to like you, kid.”
“Verdict is still out on you, old… Okay, if I can’t call you old man, then what? I mean, it is only JUST if you call me ‘kid.’”
“Yep, that seems about right. How about jarhead?”
“Jarhead? I’ve never heard that one before. Though it somehow seems about right for you.”
“It’s a slightly derogatory name for Marines.”
Grace nodded, “Is that how you met Mama? In the Marines?”
Chad caught her eye; Rose could see the questions in those green depths. “No, honey, Chad and I met when I was on a trip to New Orleans. Now, show me those pictures of the hairstyle you picked out, and let’s see what we can get done.”
She knew that pink, blue, and purple hair dye would distract any fourteen-year-old girl. But for how long? And how much of the truth did they tell her? When? There were just so many unanswered questions. But she and Chad needed to talk about it, and come up with a plan.
Chad was guiding Garnet’s Folly around the coral on her lead line. The mare was too close to birthing her foal to be ridden, but she needed exercising nonetheless. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught her. Grace was once more holding out the carrot to Inferno.
He could empathize. That was how he felt with his daughter. Like he was trying to gentle a wild thing. As much as he preached to Cassie – Rose – that they could not change the past, he was struggling with guilt. Both of them had been through so much. And at least some of that responsibility rested on his shoulders.
His gut had told him to stay that morning. To find some way to be with the woman that had captured his heart as she lived out her fantasy. But he had allowed logic, insecurity, and yes, some warped sense of duty and honor to override that gut feeling. And they had all paid a high price for it.
But like he told Rose, he could not change that. All he could do was the right thing now. But what was that right thing? Sure, he knew all about ‘breaking’ new recruits. He had been both a drill instructor and front line corporal in the US Marine Corps, after all. But he was also a horseman and a rancher. He knew that as she said this morning, the ‘advantage of the stronger’ was not always the just or the right way to go.
While his grandparents had been both highly religious and strict, they had also been fair and loving. That was the example he wanted to emulate, but it was not always as easy as it sounded. Finding that line between setting boundaries and understanding, accepting, and loving your child was a totally new concept for him. And his greatest fear was failing at this most important job of his life.
Chad had to admit – he was damned impressed with the girl over breakfast this morning. He didn’t think all that many teenagers knew who Plato or Socrates were, let alone Thrasymachus or a philosophical argument that was almost three thousand years old. Grace even seemed to grasp it, at least as well as he could anyway. Hell, probably better.
So, what should he do? Did he approach her and try to start up some conversation? About what? Philosophy? Horses? That new hairdo of hers? He was not precisely whippy on the damned thing. It was not just the stripes of shocking pink, blue, and royal purple, but they had cut it, taken several inches off, until it barely reached her shoulders.
Worst of all, they had found the old clippers that he kept in the bathroom cabinet, for those times when he didn’t have the time or energy to go into town to the barber. They had shaved the right side, almost regulation short. Damn, what was he thinking of buying those colors anyway? One thing was for sure, though – no one would remember anything about Grace except her hair.
“If you ain’t got anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all.” He might not have had much use for his grandmother’s words of wisdom as a Marine drill sergeant, but Chad got the feeling they might come in handy as a father.
He drew the lead line in, slowing the mare’s canter and drawing the circle of movement tighter until Folly stopped almost right in front of him. He petted her between the eyes, then ran his hand down her neck and across her burgeoning sides. He felt the foal moving strongly within.
His throat tightened; damned, he had missed so much. Who had taken care of Cassie when she was pregnant? He seriously doubted that man had much time for rubbing her tummy to feel the baby move, let alone her aching back or swollen feet. And this situation meant he might never even get to see any photos of her while she carried Grace. He cursed his own stupidity for not listening more to his gut than his fucked up head that morning.
He started to lead the mare back to the barn. She needed to be brushed down and given an extra ration of oats before putting her back in the pasture. Folly had once been a prize-winning rodeo horse, as had the sire of this foal. He had planned to train it, perhaps for tie-down roping or maybe even bareback, but now he was thinking barrel racing. He knew the damned thing was worth a lot of money, but he didn’t care about that. One of her smiles would be worth it.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?”
He tried to hide the smile. Yep, the best policy was always to let the wild things come to you. “I was just exercising Garnet’s Folly. She’s almost ready to foal…”
“So, she can’t be ridden. Cool,” his daughter reached out a hand and slowly caressed the mare’s side.
Chad could see the foal moving almost right under her fingertips. Maybe that was some sign, some connection between them?
“Is it okay if I give her a piece of carrot?”
He nodded his head, not just in answer to her question, but at the fact, she knew enough to be mindful of regulating the horse’s food intake. “Sure, go ahead.”
They kept walking; he needed to cool Folly down slowly, but he also wanted to spend some more time getting to know his daughter. “I thought you’d be doing schoolwork or something?”
She shook her head, and those colors flew everywhere. “No, homeschooling isn’t the same. I don’t have set hours. Back in Houston, Gerald had bought this online course shit, but it was almost as lame as school. But Mama says we can’t use that, any more than I can play on my old gaming profiles.”
She looked down and scuffed the old boots, that she had on when they arrived, in the red east Texas dust. “I guess there are some upsides to all this.”
“So, what ya’ gonna do then?” He had not considered that. He should talk to Cassie – Rose – see if they should open another of those accounts. The man was right about one thing; raising a child was expensive. Not that he was poor or anything, but he should start to think about putting some savings aside for college. That was less than five years away.
He’d have less than five years with his only child. It was a sobering and depressing thought. But he wasn’t going to let it get to him now. He had to make the most of what time he did have.
“Most stuff is free online anyway. Loads of the classics, like Plato, have been digitized. I can read them or print them out. I don’t always understand it all, but I can usually find YouTube videos or articles online explaining it all. Or at least discussing that person’s opinion on it. But as Plato said, ‘opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.’”
“What about other stuff, though? I mean math, science, history, that kinda things?” He should have given it all more thought, talked more to Rose about it. His daughter’s education was important; he didn’t want to leave it all up to her. Even though he was sure she was doing her best by their daughter. He knew that school wasn’t an option right now. Maybe he could get Miss McCarthy, his old teacher, who had long since retired, to tutor her?
Before he could ask more questions, Grace picked up the brush and began at Folly’s neck with gentle but firm circular strokes. He could not stop the smile – the girl was all Wilson when it came to horses.
“With math, Mama has focused mostly on practical stuff. I help her cook sometimes. She doesn’t usually use recipes, but she will, just to force me to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with fractions. And finding the area, circumference, that sort of thing too.” She stroked as she spoke. Her tone was low and soothing.
“As for science and history, well, there are loads of things online there too. You can even take college courses on things. Mostly, Mama lets me choose what interests me. Sometimes, she’ll take the courses or watch the video. Then, we’ll discuss it, or she’ll make me write a paper on it. Lame, right?”
“So, why the fascination with Plato and Socrates?”
“It was one of the first things we studied. My da – Gerald – insisted that I needed a ‘classical’ education. I think he might have preferred Machiavelli or that misogynist Jean Jacques Rosseau, but Mama and I just sort of like The Republic. We read a bit in it each day and discuss it.”
She worked her way down Folly’s flanks, “Mama says that this self-defense stuff with you will become ‘part of my curriculum’ now.” She paused, and those green eyes that were like looking in the mirror met his.
This girl was smart, damned smart. And he would bet that she knew genetics, maybe not as well as he did, after all, breeding was his business. But he and Rose needed to have a long talk, not just about her education, but about how they were going to tell her the truth. Cause he was confident that she would guess the truth if they didn’t, and something told him that wouldn’t be a good thing for any of them.
“She says that chores around here are part of it, too.” She scuffed the toes of those boots in the hay, “I guess it’s only fair. I mean, you are giving us a place to stay and feeding us. Hell, my math is good enough to know I owe you at least one-hundred-fifty hours at minimum wage for my iPad alone. Not to mention the new satellite, tv, or laptop.”
She looked back up and squared her shoulders, firmly meeting his gaze. “I don’t know how you know Mama, or why you agreed to this crazy shit, but I don’t want charity from no one.”
His heart just about burst with pride. He was the one to break their gaze because if he didn’t, he feared his daughter would see the tears he knew were glistening in his own Wilson green eyes. The very thought that he might have lived his whole life and died never knowing this remarkable young woman had his guts in fucking knots.
But he could not say that or let it show, not now. He needed to talk to Rose about all this. The woman had done a remarkable job raising their child. Part of him said ‘alone,’ but another part argued despite that man. He’d like to think that genetics played some role in that. That her Wilson blood was showing through, but even with horses, he knew that training held as much sway as bloodline.
Hell, Inferno proved that. That horse had one of the finest bloodlines in the country, if not the world, but the abuse he suffered that first couple of years had meant the horse would never be good for anything more than stud services. Even then, Chad had to be damned careful with the mares.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot, “So, what you proposing?”
His daughter shrugged, “I don’t know. I mean, we don’t even know how long Mama and I will be here.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to say ‘forever,’ but somehow or the other, he held it back. “Your school work still needs to come first.”
She laughed, and he swore he would do whatever it took to see that the rest of her life was filled with those or at least the next five years that Fate and that bastard had given him.
“What don’t you agree with Plato’s assessment that ‘The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful?’”
“Tell you what, let me give that one some thought, and we can talk about it at breakfast tomorrow.”
He picked up another brush and began rubbing down the other side of Folly as he spoke. “When my cousins and I came here in the summers, my grandmother had this old dictionary. Every morning she had one of us open it randomly and find a word of the day. A fancy one. She called them her fifty-cent words.”
It felt incredible to share this part of their family history with his child, even if she did not realize it was that. Yet. “Then we all had to try and use it as often as we could during the day. And the winner got an extra-large slice of dessert. But maybe the three of us reading your Plato and discussing it is better?”
She finished brushing Folly in silence. “Why don’t you take her out to the pasture, then meet me in the kitchen? I’m sure your Mama has made lunch. We can wash up, eat, and talk about what’s reasonable chores for you then. That good with you?”
She half-nodded as she took the horse by the lead, and they walked together towards the door. “Then, after lunch, the three of us can work on some basic self-defense moves, okay?”
“Sure, whatever,” he got the feeling that Grace still was not buying McBride’s concern for their safety. Was she right? Was the man paranoid? Maybe his son’s death was suicide? He was sure that no parent would want to face the reality of that situation.
But as his grandmother used to say, “Better safe than sorry.” A few basic self-defense lessons and some shooting practice would not do his daughter any harm. Heck, as much as she looked like her Mama, the girl would need them – if he ever let her date.
He was caught up in the complexities of that thought as they exited the barn. But before they separated, his daughter stopped and looked up him with those wide Wilson green eyes, “What was her name?”
He shook his head, uncertain what the girl was talking about. “What was your grandmother’s name?”
He would never out and out lie to her. She had had enough of that for several lifetimes, “Grace. Her name was Grace, just like yours. Pretty funny coincidence, huh?” He saw her eyes flare wide.
And it had been, but if he had been there, if he had been around for his daughter’s birth, that was precisely the name he would have chosen. But instead of saying any of that, he settled for, “I’ll see you back at the house in a few minutes.”
He stood there, watching as she walked the pregnant mare back to the fields. Yeah, things were moving fast. Too damned fast. He and Cassie – Rose – had some serious thinking and talking to do. And no time like the present, another of his grandmother’s sage pieces of advice, as he headed back to the house to wash up.