“All right you two-play nice. Are you guys hungry? Can I make you something?”
“No, we just came from the diner so we’re good. But thanks anyways… beautiful.”
I dodge Jaxson’s hand when he goes to smack me upside the head. He takes a seat next to me but I move my chair slightly back, knowing he’s trying to get close enough to strike when he can.
“Oh, you were at the diner. Was Grace working again?” she asks, concerned. She moves to sit next to Jaxson, but he grabs her hips and brings her down on his lap.
Cade answers her with a nod. She lets out a heavy breath, “Of course she was; I don’t know why I even bothered asking. That girl has been working herself into the ground lately.”
I noticed that too. “Speaking of Grace,” I pipe up, “what’s with her? Why the hell does it seem she’s always avoiding me?”
Jaxson smirks, “Because she’s smart.”
Now I’m the one scowling at him. “I’m serious. I mean, the chick doesn’t even fucking look at me half the time.” At least not when I’m addressing her, but I leave that out.
Julia starts to look uncomfortable. “Sawyer…” She trails off like she wants to share something, but not sure she should.
“What? Tell me. Have I offended her in some way, or something? I mean, I know I fuck with her a lot, but I’m only kidding, and she was acting this way with me before I even started that shit.”
She looks at me seriously, “Can I ask why you want to know? What is it you want with her?”
Being truthful, I shrug, “Honestly I don’t really know. But it would be nice to at least be fucking friends with her, talk with her.”
She studies me for a moment then lets out a sigh. “You just have to be patient with her, Sawyer. She’s guarded, she’s been hurt and I have a feeling I only know the half of it. It’s taken her a long time to open up to Kayla and me.”
I tense at hearing she’s been hurt. “What do you mean, hurt? What kind of hurt are we talking about here?”
She shifts uncomfortably, “It’s not my story to tell.”
Jaxson and Cade also look at her now with questions. “Baby, is this something we should know about? Is she in trouble?”
I hold my breath, waiting for her answer. “Um no, well, at least I don’t think so. Like I said, I only know some of it.”
We all stay quiet and stare at her, not backing down until we get some answers. She realizes it and lets out another breath. “Listen, she lost her mother tragically when she was seventeen.”
“Shit,” I curse under my breath as soon as the words leave her mouth.
“And don’t ask me for details, because I’m not sharing them with you, but it was real bad. I have a suspicion that where she was, before coming here, was not a good place. She’s been here for almost two years and just recently started opening up to Kayla and me about all of this.”
“What about her dad? Where the fuck is he?” I ask a little too harshly.
She shifts uncomfortably, “Again, that’s not my story to tell.” She narrows her eyes at all of our glares. “And don’t y’all dare try to bully me into telling you, because it isn’t happening. Grace is my friend and trusted me with this. Sawyer, if you want to get to know her then do it, just…”
“What?” I ask when she trails off.
“Just whatever it is you want with her, whether it’s friendship or more, I ask you be serious and sure about it. I don’t want either of you to get hurt. You both mean a lot to me.”
I nod in understanding. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to fuck the shit out of Grace, because I really do, but I also want to get to know her, especially now. All these unanswered questions aren’t going to cut it for me. So, I will take Julia’s advice: tread carefully and get to know her first, then I’ll go from there.
“Honey, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m sending you home.” I look over in shock at Mac. “What? Why?”
“Because you have been here for ten hours, Grace, and you worked twelve yesterday. You look ready to fall over. You need to go home and get some sleep. Ruby’s coming in; she’ll be fine on her own for a couple hours, now that the supper rush is over.”
“I’m all right, Mac. Really…”
He shakes his head and puts his hand on my shoulder. “This ain’t up for debate darlin’. Go home, get some sleep and come back refreshed for tomorrow. I appreciate all your help, Grace; you know I do. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find someone soon that will actually stick around and help us both out.”
“All right,” I agree quietly, “but just know I don’t mind all the hours, Mac. I need the money.”
He narrows his gaze, “Oh, and what exactly are you needing it for?”
I shift nervously. “I’ve been thinkin’ about trying to take some online courses for school. I haven’t decided exactly what yet, maybe business or somethin’,” I shrug, “but even online it costs a lot.”
“Well,” he starts cautiously, “how much are we talking about? Maybe I can help…”
“No!” I put my hand up, stopping him right there, “you have already done too much for me. I will not accept anythin’ more.”
He scowls at my quick rejection. I walk closer and wrap my arms around the big lug, not wanting to hurt his feelings. “Mac, I love and appreciate everything you have done for me. Besides my mother, you have done more for me than anyone else in my life. Please don’t be offended, and understand that I can’t accept anymore from you.”
He lets out a frustrated breath and hugs me tight… a little too tight that I find it hard to breathe. “Fine, you stubborn-ass girl, I’ll drop it for now. But you are going home, Grace, and I want you to get some sleep. That’s an order!”
Easier said than done, but I don’t say that out loud. Instead I stand back and give him a salute, “Yes, sir.”
His lips twitch as he nods, “All right, get outta here, I’ll see you tomorrow, darlin’.”
“Bye.” I reach up and give him a quick kiss on the cheek, then go grab my purse and jacket from the back. Before I head out to the front I open the back door and look around for the sweet, timid, chocolate Labrador that’s been comin’ around lately. Normally anytime he spots me, he runs off, scared spit-less, which breaks my heart. I’ve tried coaxing him to come closer, have tried reassuring him, but he doesn’t trust me yet; which is something I can understand. Lately I leave leftover scraps for him, in a styrofoam take-out container, and hope he’s been the one eating it.
Sure enough, as soon as I set down the container, I hear some clickin’ against the pavement. Looking up, I see the sweet, but homely lookin’ dog, walking slowly and unsurely towards me. With my heart in my throat I stay completely still, not wanting to spook him.
“Hi, sweetheart, are ya hungry? Come on, it’s all right, I won’t hurt ya.” I keep my tone soft and gentle.
The dog stops and tilts his head, as if assessing whether it’s a trap.
Oh poor baby. Who hurt you?
He must see something he likes because he continues slowly towards me. Once reaching me, he sits down and starts chowin’ down.
I raise my hand ever so slowly; the dog stays still and braces itself, not knowing if the touch will be gentle. Laying my hand on the side of his neck, I pet softly, “There ya go, see I won’t hurt you.” I keep my strokes soft and gentle through it’s matted hair. “What’s wrong, baby, don’t ya have a family?” The dog whines, as if answering my question. “Well don’t feel bad, families are over-rated anyways. And they’re just big fat dummies if they don’t love somethin’ as special as you.”
A chuckle erupts behind me that has me jumpin’ in fear, and smackin’ my head against the door, causing me to fall flat on my butt. The dog yelps and runs off.
“Shit! Grace, are you all right?” A concerned pair of intense green eyes suddenly comes into view as Sawyer kneels down in front of me.
“Sawyer? What the heck are ya doin’ sneakin’ up on me?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Mac told me I could find you back here. I didn’t want to intrude on your conversation with your new friend there,” his lips twitch as he bites back a smile.
“Well thanks a lot for scarin’ him off. Do you know how long it’s taken me to even get that close to the poor thing?”
He loses his smirk. “I’m sorry, really. I didn’t mean to frighten you, or the dog. Is your head all right?”
I soften from the sincere concern that’s etched on his face. “Yeah, I’m all right. What the heck you doin’ back here anyways? Don’t ya ever get tired of eatin’ out?”
He chuckles, “I’m not here to eat, I’m here to see you.”
“Me?” I ask in confusion.
“Yes, you. I thought I would see what time you were off work, and offer you a ride home. Looks like I came at the right time, Mac told me he was sending you home.”
I narrow my eyes at him, “You want to give me a ride home?”