Daisy’s Back in Town

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Daisy Monroe raised her hand to the screen door then lowered it again. Her heart pounded in her chest and her stomach twisted into one big knot. Rain beat against the porch all around her, and water ran from the down spout and into the flower beds. The garage behind her was lit up, illuminating every nook and cranny surrounding Parrish Brother Classics. But where she stood was pitch black, as if the light didn’t dare creep any further into the yard.

The garage was new, rebuilt since she'd seen it before. The yard surrounding the garage had been cleaned up. The old cars towed away. From what she could see, the house was exactly the same though, bringing a memory of a nice summer breeze lifting her hair and carrying the sent of roses. Of the nights she'd sat on the porch where she now stood, wedge between Steven and Jack, laughing at their stupid jokes.

Thunder and lightening boomed and lit up the night sky, shattering the memory. An omen that she should leave and come back again some other time.

She wasn't good at confrontation. She wasn’t one of those people who liked to face problems head on. She was better at it than she used to be, but... maybe she should have called first. It wasn’t polite to just show up on someone’s doorstep at ten 0'clock at night, and she probably looked like a drowned cat.

Before she'd left her mother's house, she'd made sure her hair was brushed smooth and flipped under just below her shoulders. Her make-up looked perfect and her white blouse and khaki pants pressed. Now she was sure her hair had frizzed, her mascara run, and her pants were splattered with mud from the puddle she’d accidentally dashed through. She turned to go then forced herself to turn back. Her appearance wasn’t really important, and there was never going to be good time for what she had to do.

She raised her hand once more and nearly jumped out of her skin when the wooden door swung open before she could knock. Through the screen and dark interior, she could make out the outline of a man. His shirt was missing, and a light from deep within the house cast a warm golden glow from behind, pouring over his arms and shoulders and halfway down his naked chest. Maybe she should have called first.

"Hello," she began before she could give into her trepidation. "I’m looking for Jackson Parrish."

"My my," his voice drawled in the darkness, "if it isn’t Daisy Lee Brooks."

It had been fifteen years and his voice had changed. It was deeper than the boy she'd known, but she would have recognized that nasty tone anywhere. No one could pack as much derision into their voice as Jack. She'd understood it once. Known what lay behind it. She didn't kid herself that she knew him anymore.

"Hello Jack."

"What do you want Daisy?"

She stared at him through the screen and shadows, at the outline of the man she'd once known so well. The knot in her stomach pulled tighter. "I wanted too... I need to talk to you. And I thought..." She took a deep breath and forced herself to stop stammering. She was thirty-three. So was he. "I wanted to tell you that I was in town before you heard it from someone else.”

"Too late." The rain pounded the rooftop and the silence that stretched between them. She could feel his gaze on her. It touched her face and the front of her yellow rain slicker, and just when she thought he wasn’t going to speak again, he said, "If that’s what you came to tell me, you can go now."

There was more. A lot more. She'd promised Steven that she'd give Jack a letter he'd written a few months before his death. The letter was in her purse, now she had to tell Jack the truth about what had happened fifteen years ago, then hand over the letter. "It’s important that I talk to you. Please."

He looked at her for several long moments, then he turned and disappeared into the depths of his house. He didn't open the screen for her, but he hadn't slammed the wood door in her face either. He'd made it clear that he was going to be as difficult as possible. But then, when had he ever made things easy?

Just as it always had, the screen door squeaked when she opened it. She followed him through the living room toward the kitchen. His tall outline disappeared around the corner, but she knew the way.

The inside of the house smelled of new paint. She got an impression of dark furniture and a big screen television. The outline of Mrs. Parrish's piano pushed against one wall, and she wondered briefly how much had changed since she'd last walked through the house. The light flipped on as she moved into the kitchen, and it was like stepping into a time warp. She half expected to see Mrs. Parrish standing in front by the almond colored stove, baking bread or Daisy’s favorite, snicker doodle cookies. The green linoleum had the same worn patch in front of the sink and the counter tops were the same speckled blue and turquoise.

Jack stood in front of the refrigerator, the top half of him hidden behind the open door. His tan fingers curled around the chrome handle, and all she could really see of him was the curve of his behind and his long legs. One pocket of his snug Levi's had a three-corner tear, and the seams looked like they were about worn through.

Adrenaline rushed through her veins, and she balled her hands into fists to keep them from shaking. Then he rose to his full height, and everything seemed to slow, like someone flipped a switch on a movie projector. He turned as he shut the refrigerator door behind. He held a quart of milk in one hand by his thigh, and her attention got momentarily stuck on the thin line of dark hair raising from the waistband of his Levis and circling his navel. She lifted her gaze up passed the hair on his flat belly and the defined muscles of his chest. If she’d had any lingering doubts, seeing him like this removed them. This was not the boy she'd once known. This was definitely a man.

She forced herself to look up passed his strong chin, the etched bow of his tan lips, and into his eyes. She felt the back of her throat go dry. Jack Parrish had always been a good-looking boy, now he was lethal. One lock of his thick hair hung over his forehead and touched his brow. Those light green eyes and long black lashes that she remembered, that had once looked at her so full of passion and possession, looked back at her as if he were no more interested in seeing her than a stray dog.

"Did you come here to stare?"

She moved further into the kitchen and shoved her hands into the pockets of her rain coat. "No, I came to tell you that I’m in town visiting my mother and sister."

He raised the milk and drank from the carton, waiting for her to elaborate.

"I thought you should know."

His gaze met hers over the carton then he lowered it. Some things hadn’t changed after all. Jack Parrish, bad boy and all around hell raiser, had always been a milk drinker. "What makes you think I give a shit?" he asked and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

"I didn’t know if you would. I mean, I did wonder what you'd think, but I wasn’t sure." This was so much harder than she'd envisioned. And what she'd envisioned had been pretty dang hard.

"Now you don't have to wonder." He pointed with his milk carton toward the other room. "If that's all, there’s the door." "No, that's not all." She looked down at the toes of her boots, the black leather spotted by the rain. "Steven wanted me to tell you something. He wanted me to tell you that he's sorry about... everything." She shook her head and corrected herself. "No... was sorry, I mean. He's been gone seven months and it's still hard for me to remember him in the past tense. It seems wrong somehow. Like if I do, he never existed." She looked back at Jack. His expression hadn't changed. "The flowers you sent were really nice.”

He shrugged and set the milk on the counter. "Penny sent them."

"Penny?"

"Penny Colten. Married Leon Cribs, she works for me now."

Well, Penny hadn't sent them and signed his name without his knowledge. "Thank Penny for me."

"Don't make it a big deal."

She knew how much Steven had once meant to him. "Don’t pretend you don't care that he's gone."

He raised a dark brow. "You forget I tried to kill him."

"You wouldn't have killed him, Jack."

"No, you're right. I guess you just weren't worth it."

The conversation was headed in the wrong direction and she had to turn it around. "Don’t be ugly."

"You call this ugly?" He laughed, but not with pleasure. "This is nothing, buttercup. Stick around and I'll show you how ugly I can get."

She already knew how ugly Jack could get, but while she might be a coward, she was also as stubborn as ragweed. Just as Jack was not the same boy she'd once known, she was not the same girl he'd once known, either. She'd come to tell him the truth. It had taken her fifteen years to get this point, and he could get ugly all he wanted, but he was going to listen to her.

A flash of white caught the corner of Daisy's eye a second before a woman entered the kitchen wearing a man's white dress shirt.

"Hey y'all," the woman said as she moved to stand by Jack.

He looked down at her. "I told you to stay in bed."

"I got bored without you."

Heat crept up Daisy's neck to her cheeks, but she seemed to be the only embarrassed person in the room. Jack had a girlfriend. Of course he did. He'd always had a girlfriend or two. There had been a time when that would have hurt.

"Hello Daisy. I don't know if you remember me. I'm Gina Brown."

It didn't hurt any longer, and Daisy was a bit ashamed to admit to herself that what she mostly felt was an overwhelming relief. Like an axe had been lifted from her throat. She guessed she was more of a coward than she thought. Daisy smiled and moved across the kitchen to offer Gina her hand. "Of course I remember you. We were in American Government together our senior year."

"Mr. Simmons."

"That’s right."

"Remember when he tripped over an eraser on the floor?" Gina asked as if she weren't standing there wearing Jack's shirt and, Daisy would bet, nothing else.

"That was so funny. I just about--"

"What the hell is this?" Jack interrupted. "A damn high school reunion?"

Both women looked up at him and Gina said, "I was just being polite to your guest."

"She isn't my guest and she's leaving." He pinned his gaze on Daisy, just as cold and unyielding as when she'd first walked in the door.

"It was nice to see you, Gina," she said.

"Same."

"Good night, Jack."

He shoved his hip into the counter and crossed his arms over his chest.

"See you two around." She walked back through the dark house and out the door. The rain had stopped and she dodged puddles on her way to her mother's Caddie parked on the side of the garage. Next time, she would definitely call first.

Just as she reached for the door, she felt a hand on her arm, whipping her around. She looked up into Jack's face. Security lights shined down on him and the angry set of his jaw. His eyes stared into hers, no longer cold, they were filled with a burning rage.

"I don't know what you came here looking for, absolution or forgiveness," he said, his drawl more pronounced than before. "But you won’t find it." He dropped her arm as if he couldn't stand the touch of her.

"Yes, I know."

"Good. You stay away from me, Daisy Lee," he said. "You stay away or I'll make your life a misery."

She looked up into his dark face, at the passion and anger that had not abated in fifteen years.

"Just stay away," he said one last time before turned on his bare heels and disappeared into the shadows.

She knew she would be wise to heed his warning. Too bad she didn't have that option.

Although he didn't know it yet, neither did he.