A Shot In The Dark
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Please be aware this contains spoilers from A Shot in the Dark. If you haven't read the novel please turn back now.
A Short Visit
Childress, Texas - December
“It’s gonna snow.”
“No way. We have another week at least.”
“I know these things. I lived in Colorado my whole life. It’s gonna snow.”
“Babe?” Garrett turned his smiling eyes to me where I lay sunken into the couch. I could barely see over my infant-occupied stomach to where Garrett and Holly we’re decorating the Christmas tree.
“I have to agree with Holly.”
Garrett grinned at me before he schooled his face and turned back around. Before he could say a word, I threw in the neutralizer.
“I’ll change my mind if you can’t be a graceful winner Holly Hill.”
My daughter scowled at me with those Hill eyes then rolled them playfully. Now sixteen, she’d come into her own. Holly was beautiful, kind, full of love and she couldn’t wait to meet her new brother or sister. Garrett kept joking he had to lock the ranch gates to stop those teen animals sniffing around his horse wild girl, but Holly was in love with the school's pitcher. And he was enamored with her, and both of them loved the horses. Though I suspected they lived the hayloft, too.
I’d worried at first, I knew how powerful that first love could be. I knew how bewildering it was to have someone worship the ground you walked on. I understood how it felt to have someone love you enough to make you love yourself. Unlike me, however, Holly had me and Garrett who both loved her that way. Also unlike me, she was popular and loved by everyone in that school. There was no pressure for her, and I’d taken the time to make sure she knew she could come to me. I’d even bought her condoms just so she would always have them.
I wasn’t excited about the prospect of her being in a sexual relationship but, unlike Garrett, I knew that trying to stop her would only make her more curious. So I chose to educate her and allowed her to get a babysitting job.
“Would you care to put a wager on this?” Holly asked Garrett, placing the first ornament she’d ever made on the branch.
“Guys…” I started but trailed off as I had a hand waved at me.
“If I win, you clean out my stalls for a month, and if you win, I will take over all chores in the shack for a month.” The shack was the name of Garrett’s personal stables away from the main ranch barn.
Garrett tugged at the end of his neatly trimmed beard. He already knew his answer. He just loved messing with her.
“If it snows between now and when we get up I. The morning I win.”
“Anything beyond that. I win?”
“You’re that confident?”
“I have a sixth snow sense.”
Garrett’s laugh lit up the room, a sound that brought Holly’s dazzling smile to her lips.
“You’re on, kid.”
I watched them shake on the bet, Holly’s long hair falling forward as she nodded for extra emphasis. Garrett should have known it was pointless to bet against her. This was the second year they’d had this wager and she’d won herself a horse last year. One of Garrett’s prize mares, too. Though he’d been happy to lose considering Pacino got to stay in the family.
They went back to decorating the tree together with a new topic of conversation flaring to life, while my eyes fell on the television where Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the lovely, grumpy, green Grinch was playing out. I stroked my stomach gently as I watched, half my attention in my little family.
I must have dozed off at one point, my dreamscape coming in the form of a familiar memory. It was dark, I was young, and I was standing on the roof of the Childress high gym looking out over the small town as cars made their way slowly to their destinations. I also saw the main strip of the highway, all those headlights heading to destinations I could begin to fathom.
I probably should have been shocked when Dustin stepped up next to me. I still thought about him often but with peace. A small embrace of serenity accompanying it. It was, for this reason, I probably celebrated the moment by resting my head on his shoulder.
“I am. I really am.”
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you,” he whispered, turning his head to press his lips to my temple. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted for Garrett.”
I felt a small lump form in my throat, the way it always did when I tried to navigate the complicated landscape of my life.
I loved my life. I loved Garrett with every inch of my heart and soul. I loved my home and the bar I’d finally managed to get up and running into a successful business. I loved being so close to my little adopted family. I also loved Dustin, and I found myself wondering where we’d be if he was still alive, and sometimes I felt guilty about that. Whether I felt guilt for changing my past and wondering what a life without Garrett would be like or guilty for being so damn blissful with Garrett and accepting Dustin’s death, I never really knew. So I compartmentalized it. I couldn’t change the past, and I couldn’t give up my future.
“You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?” I asked as a small gust of chilled wind pushed my hair around me.
“Getting lost in your memories and conflicts of pointlessness. Can’t we just be here in your head without all the noise? You can’t hear the snow falling when you’re thinking so loud.”
I smiled peacefully and leaned against him and waited. The small lantern lights of the gyms shack fading into darkness with the rest of the town.
I smiled bigger. I could almost hear it.
There was no disappointment at hearing my husband’s voice as I finally surfaced. Just a sense of happiness and contentment as the fullness of my life washes over me. When I opened my eyes and looked into his, I could see the warmth and love reflected in them.
“Time for bed?” I asked sleepily.
“Time for bed,” he agreed, lowering himself to kneel by my head, his warm lips pressing against mine with a hint of hunger in them. “How do you feel?”
Alive, was my first thought, but my only response was to kiss him again, harder, longer, and filled with the same passion I always felt for Garrett.
“I like that answer.”
I huffed a gentle laugh against his lips, my closest hand reaching to stroke his cheek.
“I always want you.”
“If I had my way,” he whispered quietly. “I’d be inside you ninety percent of every day.”
“The other ten?”
“Sleeping.” He chuckled as he helped me sit, then pulled me to my feet with an exaggerated groan, earning himself a slap for his troubles.
Gathering me to him, Garrett encircled his arms around my body and pulled me close. His unique smell embracing me with the same passion. He didn’t move us for a while, choosing instead to stand and rock our bodies in a slow dance that matched the gentle melody of the Christmas songs still playing softly from the dining room.
“I spoke to my dad today.”
“Way to get me out of the mood.”
Garrett chuckled in response and pressed his lips to my temple before continuing. “He said he wants to try again. With you, with Holly, he wants to be a part of the baby’s life.”
I knew how that conversation had gone. I’ll suffer her company, even if she bewitched you and your brother into loving her. The fact that I was the mother of his youngest son's child, and now his oldest child’s irked the shit out of him I was sure.
Yet, I was trying my best to be the bigger person. To encourage my husband to talk with his father. They were all that they had left when it came to immediate family and I didn’t want to be the one thing that came between them, but Paul Hill was a stubborn man. No matter how many olive branches I held out to him over the past two years, I was still the demon that broke his family apart.
In two-thousand and two and now.
Paul Hill still blamed me for Dustin’s death and I couldn’t hold that against him. Part of me still felt responsible. Even if I couldn’t regret living Dustin or where that love had led me.
“I hear a but coming on,” I finally said in the form of encouragement.
“The first time he insults you. The first time he mumbles under his breath, gives you one of his looks, rolls his eyes or breathes dramatically in your general direction, he’s gone. Third strike for him with Holly, too. I can’t see her breaking her heart like she did last year.”
Running my hand over his shoulder, I smiled at his chest. I didn’t want him to see the look there. He already knew I’d never tell him if any of these things happened to me. I could handle myself, and he just didn’t need that added stress. For Holly, I would burn Paul Hill and any bridges he had left to cross. My memory was just as clear as Garrett’s.
“Kay, promise me.”
“All the way. Don’t half-ass it. He may be my father, but he has no right to treat my family that way. I won’t stand for it.”
I opened my mouth to respond unsure whether I was going to make the promise or not when the baby wriggled more deliberately that it had to date, and this baby was doubly more active than Holly had ever been. It was enough of a movement to send Garrett stumbling back from me, his wide eyes on my belly.
I shook my head. “Not like that.”
Sinking to his knees Garrett placed his palms either side of the bump and leaned in. He pressed his cheek against me where the baby had moved waiting for a repeat performance. I think we both were at that point.
I pushed my hand through his hair and waited.
“Try talking again,” I whispered.
“I made a bet against your big sister tonight, kid. For the first time since I met her I actually hope I lose.”
“I knew it,” I mused, glancing down at those brown eyes I loved so much.
“Well, she’s earned it.”
“The horse or Holly?”
I rolled my eyes playfully. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said gently, then dropped his gaze back to my stomach. “And I love you, little button. I can’t wait to meet you.”
The baby moved again, the odd sensation of stretching skin and muscle just as pronounced as the first time. Garrett stared open-mouthed at my stomach, half in awe, half in disgust. I could only imagine what it had looked like from his angle.
“Is that normal?” He didn’t look away from my stomach.
“Yes. I think so.”
“Was button responding to me?”
I would have loved to have told him yes. He’d been so present through every step of my pregnancy. Had so many questions. Been at my disposal, always bringing me snacks, rubbing my back and feet and holding my hands. Even when I’d started getting morning sickness, he’d held my hair back and done his best not to gag.
This was so different from my first pregnancy I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Holly hadn’t kicked like this, but I couldn’t be sure that was lack of communication, I talked and sang to her all the time.
“I think maybe it was.”
The last word was barely out of my mouth when I felt my thighs dampen. The rush of water following made Garrett skitter back and to his feet.
“Oh shit, babe, I think your water just broke.”
“Don’t panic,” he said, his panic lacing his tone. “Let’s get you to the bedroom, get you changed. Then I’ll wake up Holly and throw some towels down on this.”
“We have time. No rush.” I whispered, taking his hand and staring down at the mess. “At least it was on the tile.”
My attempt to lighten the mood worked. Garrett’s chuckle was genuine and warm as he brushed my cheeks with his knuckles. Over the last thirty-something weeks I’d discovered just how excited this man was to have a child with me. He loved Holly like his own, and I knew that would never change, Holly would always be his first love, but this baby that was now decidedly on the way was something he hadn’t even known he’d wanted.
Standing here, leaning against him, I could feel that excitement as it ran through him. He was trembling, something that made the smile I loved seeing on his handsome face shine all the brighter.
Until that tightening and Pressure started inside of me.
“Contraction,” I whispered, trying my best to smile at him.
“Here we go,” he said, just as quietly.
I released a pain through the breath, and sucked it in again, sighing in relief as it passed.
“I’m going to get everything we need. You. Change.”
I nodded in agreement, stepping around the puddle at my feet as I waddled toward our bedroom. I took my time changing, listening to the house as Holly rose and started going through her own checklists with Garrett. They talked quietly, while I dressed myself and sat on the small bench at the end of the bed and breathed through rapidly speeding up contractions.
It had taken forever with Holly. Hours and hours of slow-moving contractions, stalling in several places before rushing forward again, but I could already tell this birth would be different. Meg had warned me it would be. The contractions were growing closer together and swiftly.
It took less than ten seconds for him to stick his head through the door. “Yes, babe?”
“We should probably go.”
“How far apart?”
His eyes widened, half in fear, half in mild amusement. “You want to start making your way outside, we’ll be right behind you.”
I offered him my hands, smiling as he rushed in and pulled me upright. He turned to rush out again before he stopped, planted a love-filled kiss against my lips, then took off again before following him out, heading toward the front door, stopping when another contraction crashed over me on the way.
I felt so uncomfortable and outside of my own skin as I finally eased myself outside, pulling my coat from the hook. Though, I was relishing the bitter breeze against my heated skin. For a full minute I just stayed standing there, the heat of the house at my back, my coat draped over my arm and my eyes closed while my free hand stroking my tight belly.
It was then in that solitary moment of peace that I heard it.
The first drops of snow falling from the sky and landing with a gentle whisper of sound.
Followed closely by the whisper of Dustin’s voice from the dream echoed in my memory. My lips curled into a smile as I realized what he’d meant. The double entendre he’d been giving me.
“It’s coming.” I heard him again faintly.
I’d thought he’d been talking about the snow, but maybe he’d known that wouldn’t be the only gift we received tonight.
“Babe?” Garrett said quietly as he stepped out behind me. “You okay?”
I smiled, turning my head to search for his lips, my eyes still closed. He obliged me. The heat and love he always held for me offered in the familiar gesture.
“How you doing?” he whispered, forcing my eyes open where they met the rich chocolate of his.
“I’m excited and terrified,” I admitted. “And you, sir, just lost a bet.”
Tearing his eyes from mine, Garrett stared up at the sky where the first flurries were giving way to larger balls of snow. That smile of indulgence he so often wore when he and Holly were bullshitting lifted the corners of his mouth and temporarily chased the worry from his eyes.
“Hot damn. How the hell does she do that?”
“I’m my mother’s daughter,” Holly answered for me, slipping out of the house with my bag in one hand and her coat in the other. She closed her eyes and smiled. The sound of the snow now a gentle hiss that surrounded us. When I looked to Garrett he was doing the same, so I followed their example, closed mine and listened.
Life was about to change again, but for this moment, with the people I loved most in the world surrounding me, I paused and let the happiness drown me.