“Scott?” Josie’s voice called down the stairs. “Call Po.”
Scott went to look up the stairs. Josie was standing at the top, Po looking cautiously at the stairs. He was fearless when it came to scrambling up them, but he was still a little afraid going down.
“Come on, Po,” Scott said, patting his leg.
The puppy wagged his tail furiously and whined, clearly wanting to go down to Scott. He paced back and forth, but between encouragement from Scott and Josie, he finally began his clumsy descent. He stumbled once, banging his chin on the step, but he didn’t give up, and he eventually got close enough that Scott was able to reach and scoop him up.
Po licked his face repeatedly, wriggling. “Here, Clarice,” Scott said, handing him off. Clarice smiled brightly as she took the dog in her arms like a baby. He started to lick her face.
“Do you want your keys, or do you want me to leave them up here?” Josie asked.
“Um… better let me have them, so I’ll know where they are.”
Josie gently tossed the keys down to him. “I’m going home to get some sleep. Call me in a few hours and wake me up.”
She gave him a saucy wink, then shut the door to the stairwell. Scott could hear her footsteps on the creaking hardwood floor above as she left.
“Is Josie your girlfriend?” Clarice asked.
“What?” he asked, turning to look at her, startled.
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“I… uh….” Scott didn’t know how to answer. His secret seemed to be out around town, but he wasn’t sure if his daughter needed to know. But, at the same time, he’d have to tell her eventually.
She looked at him expectantly.
“I-I’ve… yeah, sort of,” he said lamely.
“I like her. She’s nice. …And pretty.”
“Yes, she is. And I think she likes you, too,” he said with a smile.
She smiled in return.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of trying to get Clarice to settle down and do her homework. It was hard to tell who was more excited by all the changes—her or the dog. Po wanted to sniff and explore everything, but Clarice wanted him to stay in her room while she did her homework.
“Your mother’s not going to let you stay with me if you can’t get your homework done while you’re here,” Scott warned her.
That sent her scuttling back to her desk, but fifteen minutes later, she was up again, carrying Po back into her room. She tried shutting the door, but then she just fussed at him when he scratched it, wanting out.
Once the sun finally set, Scott called a halt to the madness. “Let’s get something to eat,” he announced.
Clarice and Po both burst out of the room. “Can we go to MacDonald’s?” Clarice asked.
“You always want MacDonald’s.”
She just smiled.
The three of them got in the car and drove the mile to MacDonald’s. Clarice got her usual chicken mcnugget Happy Meal, which she scarfed down so she could go play on the indoor playground—the real reason why she preferred MacDonald’s.
Scott put Po on a leash and let him walk around in front of the building, sniffing the bushes where all the other dogs had been. Clarice waved at them occasionally through the wall of windows.
They had no more pulled into the parking space in front of Scott’s office again when Maggie pulled in next to them.
“There’s Mama,” Clarice said.
“You need to go downstairs and gather up your stuff,” Scott told her.
“Take Po with you. Be sure to shut the basement door after you, so he won’t get out.”
“Alright. Come on, Po!” she said, scooping his wriggling body up under her arm.
Scott took his time getting out of the car. He took a deep breath—out of habit, not out of necessity—and slowly walked around his car to Maggie’s, parked on the other side.
Clarice was showing Po off through her mother’s open window.
“Isn’t he cute, Mama?” she asked.
“Yes, very,” Maggie said with the false sincerity that parents use for any manner of things their excited kids will share with them—rocks, bugs, knock-knock jokes, etc.
“His name is Po.”
“I know. You told me,” Maggie said patiently.
Scott patted Clarice on the back. “Get your stuff together, baby.”
“Alright.” She walked back into the office, talking to Po the entire way. As soon as the front door shut behind them, she put Po on the floor and the two of them raced down the long hallway to the back.
“You’ve always liked dogs,” Maggie said, cutting through the silence.
Scott bit back the first retort on his tongue: and you never did. “Yeah,” he muttered instead.
He leaned down, resting his elbows on Maggie’s door. He saw her recoil, then she made a concerted effort to move back a little closer. She faked a small smile, her body still held tense.
A couple of years ago, her reaction would have wounded him down to his soul. Hell, a few months ago it would have. But now he was a changed man. Maggie, his family—they had all hardened him a little. Even Josie had toughened him up, just by providing a point of contrast. He steered his own course now; he didn’t drift the way other people blew him.
“I got my apartment finished this week,” he said.
“That’s… that’s good.”
“Clarice has her own room and a bathroom.” He smiled a little. “I’m sure Clarice will tell you all about it on the way home. She was so excited, I had trouble getting her to do her homework. She may have a little left to finish up.”
“Um, okay,” she said warily.
“When did they start giving kids her age that much homework? It’s really ridiculous.”
“It’s been like that for a while.”
“She really doesn’t have time enough to play in the evenings. It’s like she goes to school twelve hours a day.”
“That’s what’s necessary to make them competitive, I suppose. We’re lagging behind all the other countries, you know.”
“Yeah, but they assign less homework, not more. Most of them, anyways.”
Maggie was silent for a moment. “Nothing we can do about it, I suppose. She’d be in trouble if she didn’t do it. And I don’t want her to be behind.”
Scott nodded a little. That wasn’t an acceptable answer for him, but he didn’t have an answer of his own yet, so it would do for the moment.
He glanced back to the office, but didn’t see Clarice. “Now that I have a room for her, I want her on the weekends, starting this weekend. You’ll need to get the bus to pick her up here every other Monday morning.”
“I said I would think about it when the time came,” she said.
“Um, no, you signed a parenting plan that said I could have her once I had a room for her. I now have one. …You’re welcome to come down and have a look at it,” he said, gesturing to the building.
“I was pretty sure that I said I would think about it,” Maggie insisted.
“And I’m pretty sure the parenting plan says you’ll do it. Want me to get you a copy?”
She frowned. “That’s not what we agreed to.”
“Of course it is. You signed it.”
“I didn’t know it said definitely. I thought it said what I said—which is that I would think about it.”
“You should have read it.”
She frowned more. “Is that what they taught you in law school? To hide stuff in the fine print and legalese so you can trick people?”
Scott leaned in a little more, just to get the satisfaction of seeing her flinch away again. “I don’t know. Did your divorced friends tell you how to get the right judge to screw me over?”
She didn’t respond.
His voice dropped lower. “One thing you seem to forget is that I have a right to see my child. And she has a right to see me. I’m not taking anything that’s not ours by rights. I’m sorry if you feel that us spending time together is somehow cheating you. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck about you anymore. I gave to you and gave to you and gave to you. I’m all used up. Now, I’m caring for only two people: me and Clarice.”
Clarice came running out of the office a moment later. Scott stood up and smiled, as if nothing was going on.
“Got all your homework and books?”
“Yeah,” she said, hurtling herself into him and hugging him around the waist.
He hugged her back and kissed her on top of the head. “Good girl.”
He opened the door behind Maggie. “See you Friday, princess.”
She hopped into the back of the car, then paused. “Really?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“Yep,” he said, shutting the door.
She grinned and waved through the window.
He tapped on the glass. “Seat belt.”
She hurried to fasten it, then waved at him again, still grinning.
He returned her smile and waved as they backed up and pulled away.
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee