The first time I met Malcolm’s daughter, Nicky, a funny feeling welled up inside me, seeing them together, seeing them hugging and the long breath he let out as he held her. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Some combination of wistfulness and longing and attraction.
“Look what I have!” she said. She started to give Malcolm something, then snatched it back. “Close your eyes.”
He put her down, did as she said, and held out his hands, palms up. She put the item in them, and he looked at what lay there. A shadow crossed his face. It was gone in a blink.
Nicky jumped up and down. “It’s a cell phone. My own cell phone.”
He glanced to the front of the barn where a woman had emerged from the car. She was petite with severely coifed blonde hair that was too yellow to be real and shellacked to a bulletproof sheen. She must be Brooke. She wore cinnamon-colored jodhpurs, expensive and highly polished black paddock boots, and a gauzy, pale-green, sleeveless ratcatcher. Her arms were tan and toned, and her butt looked like she spent most of her time on a stair-stepper—when she wasn’t at the hairdresser.
“Why don’t you go find Mike, Nicky,” Malcolm said. “I’ll catch up.”
She made a face, but did as she was told, walking my way with her head down, the cell phone hanging from her wrist by a pink strap. Malcolm intercepted Brooke.
“A cell phone?” I heard him say to her.
“Hey there,” I said to Nicky before she ran into me.
She stopped and stared at me. She must have her mother’s eyes, I thought. They were dark, and she had glossy brown hair that reminded me of Cali’s shiny coat. It was pulled into a ponytail with a purple ribbon. She wore jods and paddock boots and a ratcatcher, just like her mother.
“Who are you?”
“Viola Parker. I work here.” I put out my hand.
“Oh, your name rhymes with—”
She stopped herself for some reason, and did not return my shake. Instead, she just stood there, looking lost. I glanced at her parents. Brooke had her arms crossed. I could hear bits of their conversation.
Malcolm said, “A cell phone—for an eight-year-old?”
Brooke asked, “What do you care?”
“I’d like to see your phone.” I said. If I could hear them, she could too. “Mine’s in the tack room. Let’s see if they’re the same.”
With a glance over her shoulder toward the other end of the barn aisle, Nicky shrugged and followed me.
We sat on the loveseat. I opened my phone and held it next to hers. “Wow,” I said, “yours is way better than mine. Look at how big the buttons are.”
She nodded. “I can make it ring like a horse’s whinny.”
I widened my eyes. “Seriously? Coolio.” Mine rang when I got a call. That’s all I expected.
“None of my friends have phones, though, so I can only call Mommy.”
“Oh,” I said. “Let me see it for a minute.” She gave it to me, and I poked around the menus for a moment, pushed a few keys.
“What are you doing?”
“Programming in some numbers. Here, let me show you.” I put it back in her hands. “Push and hold the number two like this, and that will dial your daddy’s house, okay? And on the number three, I put his cell phone.”
She looked at it like it had turned into a pink lollipop. “Thanks, um—”
“Vi. Just call me Vi.”
She stared at the phone, looked at mine, then at me, and back at her phone. “Can you put in your number?”
“My number?” This is why I don’t mess with kids. They’re always one step ahead of me. “What would you want my number for?”
She shrugged. No reason. But somehow, more numbers made it better. It wasn’t that long since I’d been a kid.
“Okay.” She handed the phone back to me. I put in my cell number. “Now, what if one of your friends is going to call, but you don’t want anybody else to know?”
“What do you mean?”
“See this?” I pointed to a button on the side. “Watch.” I lowered the volume until the screen indicated the phone was on vibrate. “Give me your number.” She did, and out of habit, I added it to my address book. “Put your phone in your pocket.”
She cast me a skeptical look—no one can do skeptical like an eight-year-old—but did as I suggested.
I went into the barn aisle, stood where I could see through the tack-room door window, and dialed her number. When her phone started vibrating in her pocket, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Her face went from shocked surprise to delight in a breath. She smiled, pulled out the phone and answered.
“Is this Miss Nicola Malcolm?” I asked.
She put her hand over her mouth and giggled. This is why parents don’t like me to mess with their kids.
“How’d you know my real name?”
Good guess. I made my voice very serious. “Miss Malcolm?”
“Yes?” she squeaked.
I heard a shuffle not far away, shot a quick look—Malcolm was headed toward me. “Shit.”
“What?” Nicky shouted at her end.
“Gotta go. Later, kiddo.” I clicked off.
She pointed at me. “You said the “S” word.”
Cute kid. Her mother, though, she could make Mother Teresa cranky. Little did I know, Brooke was the least of my problems. Join me tomorrow for O is for Odd.
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