Maybe if Jett kept his eyes closed he could buy himself another minute before the remorse of last night caught up with him. He wasn’t ready to wrestle the anxiety-monster that had been growing in his mind as he slept, feeding off the alcohol in his bloodstream like a steroid. But the harder he resisted, the heavier it leaned into him.
He opened his eyes and the weight of his world came flooding in. The early morning sunshine snuck its way past his curtains and landed on the bare ass of the woman asleep next to him, every small blonde hair on her backside illuminated in the natural light. Jett smacked his dry lips together and ran his coarse tongue over the roof of his mouth searching for hydration and found a foul taste that had taken up residence in his mouth. He reached beside his bed hoping to find the glass of water he brought with him before he passed out. Or was that the night before? The water was gone.
Jett’s sheets smelled like last call, a mix of liquor, sweat, and regret. He was going to wash them the second he got this woman out of his house. The top left corner inched its way toward the center revealing a bare white mattress and he quickly pulled the sheet back over the side. Jett couldn’t stand the look of a bare mattress, it reminded him too much of childhood.
He snuck a glance at the naked woman asleep next to him and noticed a small tattoo on her upper back of an Aztec sun with the date “2000” inscribed in the middle. He really hoped that was the year a close friend died and not the year she was born.
As the haze of the morning faded he tried to remember the last bar he was in and where he stumbled across the sun-tattoo woman.
The night started at a burger joint in the Blackstone District in Omaha with some football buddies from college. Jett was the oldest of the group since everyone his age had gotten married and made the obligatory move to the Omaha Countryside, better known as West O. In the past two years he’d been a groomsman twelve times, but he’d been asked to be one at least sixteen. Jett was told one wedding party still included his name in their program as an “honorary groomsmen,” even though he didn’t even attend the wedding. He tried not to guess which others would have also been satisfied with only his name in attendance.
After dinner, the group moved to a bar across the street to take some shots, then to an Irish pub on the corner. Somewhere along the way they started to pick up some stragglers. Stragglers, or ‘strags’ as the guys lovingly called them, were women of all ages dying to get their paws on a Nebraska football player for a night, no matter how far removed from playing some of the men were.
The old strags were easiest to spot because they were always the most starstruck. They’d see a group of large guys walk into a bar and their necks would instantly crane, like they had radar telling them former football players were in the house. The ones who thought they actually stood a chance would prance over in their tall heels and those tight rhinestone-assed jeans that middle-aged women seemed to love, and attempt to strike up a conversation. They’d usually start rambling off stats, showing off their extensive knowledge of football history like that would actually impress the men who’d lived it. Sometimes it worked.
And then there were the young strags, the women barely old enough to be in a bar. They didn’t usually recognize faces, but they recognized names. They’d hear “Jett Ramsey,” and their eyes lit up. They probably remembered the name from the Husker game days of their childhood, hearing their dad scream it at the TV, perhaps wearing a jersey with Ramsey on the back.
He looked again at the naked body next to him and tried to gage an age based solely on her ass. It was plump and round, like maybe the girl did squats or something. He bet that when she stood up it was high and perky, an ass that hadn’t been brought down by age yet. Her left hand was shy of a wedding ring as well as a tan line, two more bonuses.
“Hi,” the mysterious woman said as she turned to face him. She casually grabbed the blanket to cover herself, as if Jett hadn’t already seen everything.
“I was just about to get something to drink, need anything?” Every once in a while Jett would get lucky and bring a girl home who would sneak out in the early morning before he woke up. Those girls were like unicorns, hard to find and even harder to keep.
“I’m okay, thanks though.”
The woman smiled and Jett guessed she was 23 or 24. Her makeup was smudged under her eyes. Later, Jett would joke to his friends that if he ever wanted to see the woman’s face again he’d just have to look on his white pillowcase.
“It was like that story in the Bible, you know when Jesus wipes his face on a towel and it’s like his reflection or something. I swear to God, this girl left her full face on my pillow.”
Jett heard the joke back in college when a senior on the team told it in the locker room and everyone laughed. He’d been retelling it as his own ever since.
Jett reached for his boxer briefs, which had been carelessly thrown behind his nightstand. He pulled them on and then put on a pair of athletic shorts. He wore the shorts low on his hips to make certain that the tanned indents of his lower abs on both sides were slightly exposed.
Jett figured she’d ask, so he handed her a shirt from his shacker drawer as if it were a party favor. “Here, I thought you might want this.”
An amused grin slid across her face, “Oh yeah?” She took the shirt and sat up.
He walked into his kitchen and started prepping his protein shake. He really wanted coffee, but knew better. Making coffee in the morning was like an invitation to stay, but the sound of a grinding blender was a clear message it was time to get going.
A few minutes later the woman entered wearing her black strapless dress from the night before, carrying her heels over her shoulder. Her hair wasn’t quite as messy and the makeup from under her eyes was washed off.
“Do you have a daughter?”
“Uh yeah, how’d you know that?” Jett poured the shake into one tall plastic stadium cup and took a drink.
“I was looking for the bathroom and opened the door to a little girl’s room. What’s her name?”
What was with all the questions? Was she already trying to figure out if she was ready to be a step mom?
“Allison. She lives with her mom mostly, but sometimes I get her for long weekends.” The woman didn’t request elaboration, yet Jett continued, driven by the vague need to justify his position, “she has half siblings and stuff, so it just makes more sense for her to stay with her mom and step dad.”
He took another drink.
“Allison’s my name,” the woman smiled.
“Yeah… it is.”
At least he could now say, “Bye, Allison,” which felt better than just leaving it hang there nameless like he’d done many times before.
She stared at him for a second like she was trying to read something on his forehead. “I’m kidding, Jett. That’s not my name.”
“Oh shit, sorry. I was a little drunk last night, I guess.”
“We both were.”
He hid his face in his cup and knew what he had to do next to make her feel better. “Well, you going to tell me your real name? And maybe your number?” He gave her a shy smile and pulled her closer to him.
She leaned into him and smirked and he felt a little bad he had no interest in ever really using her number. He went in for a sympathy kiss but she turned away and instead served him a patronizing pat on the cheek.
“Oh Jett, you’re adorable. You really think you picked me up last night, don’t you?”
“Um, yeah?” He stepped back and pushed his hands through his hair like he was going to tie it in a ponytail, an insecure tick.
“No, that’s not how it went.” The woman moved back into him and Jett leaned away, feeling uneasy. “See, I just broke up with my boyfriend and needed a night to forget about it. You looked okay and were clearly willing, so I thought fuck it, why not?”
“Oh,” heat flooded his face.
“But last night was fun. Just what I needed, actually.”
She pecked him on his cheek and moved toward the door. “And I left that old shirt on your bed, I’ve got my own clothes. Cute gesture though.”
Then she turned and walked out, never telling Jett her name.
He stood there motionless, unsure of what just happened. His reflection taunted him from the hallway mirror and he instinctively pushed his shoulders back and his chest out. An emboldened grey hair stood out in his otherwise perfectly groomed dark beard and he plucked it like a weed before it could spread.
When his phone vibrated he had a feeling it was her, whoever she was. She’d probably gotten his number last night and couldn’t wait five minutes before sending a flirty text, confessing that she’d been messing with him.
He looked at the message and his stomach dropped.
Did you see my email?? We need to talk. It’s about Allison. She thinks she wants to come live with you. Call me ASAP! –Tish
Of course he’d seen the email. Knowing Tish, she had a read receipt attached so she knew full well he’d seen it. He walked into Allison’s room and sat on her bed. The walls were adorned with photos of her as a baby and then photos of her from more recent years. There was an evident blip in the middle, as if time had fast-forwarded through the ten years in between. The ten years of his football career, becoming more and more relegated to the past each day.
Jett picked up his phone to respond to Tish, then set it back down on Allison’s bedspread. He tried to imagine life with Allison living with him full time. As she was getting older and he was moving even further away from his football days, this thought had been sneaking its way in more frequently.
Jett was more involved with her life now than ever before, but it still wasn’t a lot. He craved more time since he’d already missed out on so much. But as he envisioned life with a teenage daughter under his roof he remembered the last teenage girl he’d lived with, his older sister Cassie.
The dark looming feeling he kept buried away took over reminding him that he’d never be the father Allison deserved. He wasn’t when she was a baby and he certainly wasn’t now. What if she ever found out who he really was? She’d be disgusted, those were the exact words Cassie had shouted at him the night of their blowout when she threatened to tell their dad what she’d overheard and—even worse—tell Tish.
“She’ll make sure you never see your daughter again!” Cassie, standing outside of her trailer, had hissed and Jett had believed her. Luckily, his sister, who had been characteristically inebriated that night, hadn’t brought up the incident since. He hoped she never would, but he couldn’t put much faith in Cassie, though he tried to send her and her children money every month.
Sorry Tish, haven’t seen the email. Work has been crazy. Will call you later to discuss.
Realistically, he’d rather call the nameless sun-tattoo girl than Tish, but he hadn’t even gotten her number.
He clicked send as he walked out of Allison’s room and closed the door behind him.
Hi Love Bugs!
We made it to the weekend! As usual, it will be a chaotic one at the Brinkman household. But no complaints here, I just love the start of summer when the days feel warmer and the nights get longer. Soon the lighting bugs will make their appearance, making every evening feel just a little more magical!
Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve been up to lately!
*Tegan had her second to last dance practice before her big recital! As I’ve already mentioned, she made the competitive team this year so she is in five numbers! FIVE! Sometimes I wish she was only in two numbers like most of the other girls her age, but I know it’s what she wants and is truly such an honor. At only four, she is one of the youngest to be on the competitive team since the studio owner’s daughter- who went on to become a ROCKETTE! Can you imagine? What a dream!
*Tanner had a peewee soccer game Friday night. I was happy to go because I think one of the coaches is a major babe. Spoiler alert: Tanner’s coach is the hubs! Stan really does a great job with the 5-6 year olds, it’s so fun to watch all the littles chasing the ball around the field.
*Allison started packing for horse camp, which is just around the corner. It’s the first year she gets to go since 12 is the minimum age. Can you believe I almost have a teenager? I thought the terrible twos were hard with Tegan, but boy oh boy this girl is already moving into the terrible teens. Moms, I need advice! How do you deal with a moody preteen? Allison isn’t speaking to me at the moment because I wouldn’t buy her a pair of $80 jeans from the Buckle 😉 Good grief!
Anyway, I need to wrap this up because I’m in the process of tackling my next big project… planning my high school’s ten-year reunion! I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I am having a total blast doing it. I just love planning parties and organizing get-togethers.
Hope everyone has a wonderful day and remember to cherish every moment, especially if you have littles around the house. They wont be little forever!
Follow me on Instagram @tishtalksxoxo
Follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tishtalksxoxo
Tish published her blog post and opened her Instagram account. Her bio read, *Mommy* Wifey* Influencer* Fall in love with Christ and you’ll fall in love with your life!* She’d recently taken a super helpful course on writing the perfect Instagram bio. People may choose to follow or unfollow, based solely on those first 150 characters. Talk about pressure! Luckily, Tish felt good about what she chose, at least for now.
Her profile photo was also new, but it still needed work. The image showed Tish standing against a bright pink wall with an ice cream cone extended in front of her, as her long extensions fell over her shoulders in waves of dark curls. She was looking away of course, but something about her chin looked odd. It was like she was about to swallow, or cough, or maybe the problem was actually her hair. Did her extensions really make her look like a “Cocker Spaniel in a Gucci belt,” as one person so rudely stated in a blogger gossip forum the day Tish revealed them?
Those forums were pure evil, which is why she intended to stop reading them. Or at least stop reading them every single day.
Tish looked at her follower count; the number had dropped by over sixty since last night. She knew she shouldn’t have posted two photos of Tanner in a row. Of course she loved her son dearly, that wasn’t a question, he simply wasn’t as photogenic as Tegan. Her photos always got substantially more likes and had a much better time-to-engagement ratio. Tegs was just at that golden Instagram age.
The last photo Tish posted of Tegan garnered the most likes she’d gotten in nearly two months. It gave her butterflies just thinking about it. It was a front yard shot taken before dance class, Tegan wearing a bright pink tutu and black leotard with matching pink leg warmers. Her little feet were in her best version of first position and the smile on her face was as big as the blonde ballet bun on her head. It was truly adorable. Instagram gold.
Never mind that it had taken nearly forty five minutes to capture because Tegan was having a meltdown about the bun hurting her head. Every time she ripped it out, Tish tied it right back up.
“Tegan, just let mommy take this one photo and then you can wear your hair however you want.”
“No! It hurts! Out! Out!”
“Just give me one smile, please. That’s all I ask. For mama, Tegs, please.”
She continued to wail, but Tish held fast to her vision. The Baby Gap leg warmers could even get her a repost, and given the way things were going, she could really use a few powerful reposts. The new algorithm was killing her.
Eventually, she promised a toy from Target if Tegan stopped crying and much to her surprise, it worked. It usually took so much more.
Tish got the photo and they even made it to dance class in time to catch the last ten minutes so she could post a few Instagram stories, as well.
But after last night’s decline, it was as if the ballet photo never even happened. Another pearl of wisdom from her recent social media class, you’re only as good as your last post, scrolled through her mind as she scrolled her phone looking for a quick photo to throw on her feed to ease her anxiety. She landed on a cute ‘mommy and me’ image taken of her and Tegs a few months ago. Matching outfits against a brick wall, iced coffee, and high ponies. It was perfect. For now.
Tegan wandered in as Tish was deciding which filter looked best on her skin tone. Probably Clarendon with a mix of VSCO A5 or A6, it helped to brighten some of Tegan’s more dull features.
“Mama, I want Peppa,” Tegan clawed at Tish’s leg.
“Okay baby, go get Vanessa. Mama just needs to finish her work real fast.”
She had hired Vanessa for the summer to assist with the kids. Even though Stan was never home and Tish was scrambling to meet campaign deadlines, she still felt a weird ping of guilt for bringing a high school girl into her household to lend a hand. The looks people gave her when she introduced Vanessa certainly didn’t help, even from mothers who Tish knew had their own nannies! But of course those mothers worked outside of the home, which apparently put them in a very different category than Tish.
“But mama, I want to watch Peppa now. With you,” Tegan crawled into Tish’s lap.
“I know sweetheart and we will in a bit, I just have to finish some work.”
The Valencia filter did the trick. It gave Tegan a nice summer glow without making her look too tan.
#Ilovemybaby #Ilovebeingamom #twinning
“Mama. Peppa! Peppa!”
#tishtalks #lovemykids #babiesareblessings #momlife
“Vanessa!” Tish shouted louder than intended and Tegan burst into tears. “Oh Tegs, I didn’t mean to scare you,” she patted her back until Vanessa appeared in the doorway.
“Sorry, I was toasting some waffles for Tanner,” Vanessa said.
“I didn’t mean to shout,” she passed Tegan over. “I just really need some quiet time to finish things up. At least three hours.”
“Of course! Come on little girl, let’s go watch Peppa!”
The door shut behind them and Tish instantly felt a wave of regret. She wanted to be watching Peppa with her kids, but she had to post a photo to Instagram during her prime morning engagement window. She couldn’t handle the shame of two posts tanking right in a row.
Instinctively, she reached for the bag of trail mix in her top desk drawer and shoved a handful into her mouth. Tish had put on a little weight in the past month so she was careful to eat only the raisins and nuts, not the chocolate bites. It wasn’t technically stress-eating if she was conscious about it.
At only 5’3, she described herself as a curvy petite woman. She was proud of her curves and her petiteness, but found it increasingly hard to keep both in balance as she got older. Any extra calorie went straight to her butt or arms. Or midsection. Or thighs. It went everywhere, especially in Tish’s mind. She’d been wearing only yoga pants and her fat jeans for two weeks. She knew it would only take a few more pounds before the Internet forums started to chirp about it. Another reason she needed to stop reading those damn forums.
Tegan started to scream in the living room and she popped a few more peanuts in her mouth. All that she needed was a few childfree hours to work on blog posts, edit photos, and strategize new content to take her mom blog to the next level. Was that so much to ask?
She clicked share on her Instagram post and watched the likes pour in, each one supplying the tiniest rush of adrenaline. If a photo didn’t get 300 likes within the first three minutes it was likely doomed to fail and Tish would spend thirty minutes agonizing over whether or not to delete it.
Luckily, this image was doing okay. Not ballet-photo-good by any means, but it was on track to perform at average, thank God.
It killed her that she barely had 100,000 followers. All of the good mommy-bloggers had at least 250,000 and were in a very tight clique. They were constantly liking each other’s photos and mentioning each other in their stories, always adding to their incestuous growth cycle. They hosted lavish Louis Vuitton and Gucci giveaways to entice new followers and never invited Tish to participate. Not once. The only time someone of Tish’s size got the magic invite was because she was on the upcoming season of The Bachelor and everyone knew her following was about to skyrocket. It did, of course. And she was even sent home by episode four.
Tish’s only shot to break into the powerful circle of elite influencers was to do it on her own, which was no easy feat living in the middle of nowhere. Norfolk was an okay town, it was all Tish knew really, but she couldn’t help but dream about living somewhere a little more cosmopolitan like Dallas or even Nashville. Either place would make sharing a desirable lifestyle so much simpler.
She scanned her Kate Spade planner to see what campaigns she had to shoot this week: Famous Footwear, Fairy Forts, and Crate Kids. Between the three of them she was barely going to make $5,000 this month. She would have to post more outfit images to make more affiliate money, which meant ordering new clothes. No one wanted to see last season’s cardigans or ripped denim, nor could they purchase them. The fashion industry was as ever changing and intractable as the social media platforms Tish relied upon.
Vacation outfits always did well, but Tish had zero trips scheduled. And the pile of unpaid bills glaring at her from the corner of her desk mocked any dreams of a tropical escape. When a new envelope was added, the stack grew closer and more daunting, making the air in her exquisitely decorated home office feel a little more suffocating.
She slipped out into the hallway and skipped up the large staircase toward Tegan’s room. The room was decorated in collaboration with West Elm Kids and it always made her happy, if only for a fleeting moment. She opened the closet doors to reveal a perfectly organized closet full of shiny children’s clothes, toys, and accessories, all with the tags still intact. When companies sent Tish free items to blog about they never said she had to keep them, so every once in awhile she posted a few items on eBay.
“Did my dad text you back yet?” Allison appeared behind Tish and made her jump.
“Goodness, you scared me. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
At twelve years old Allison was already starting to look more like Tish every day. Her pointy adult nose was trying to make its mark on Allison’s face, fighting her other childlike features for a place to stand out.
“Well did he?” Allison put her hands on her hips and sighed heavily. “Did you even text him?” Sighs and huffs were a popular form of communication in the Brinkman household lately.
“You know I did,” Tish thought of the lousy response she got from Jett earlier. “But he hasn’t responded yet.”
Work was crazy, he said. Ha. Try having work and three kids, Jett. Not to mention he had a staff of ten helping him run his weird little website that catered to dried up old athletes and the dried up people who still cared about them.
“Fine,” Allison whined.
This had been an ongoing fight for almost two months. The thought of Jett being fully responsible for another human was laughable, but not to Allison.
Tish got pregnant when she and Jett were only sophomores at Norfolk High School. She was sixteen, just four years older than Allison was now. The thought made her shudder. It also made her want to lock Allison in her room forever.
Caring for a baby while she was a baby herself was far from easy, but the most difficult part came two years later when Jett left them behind to go live his college football dreams at the at University of Nebraska.
Of all the things that upset Tish about the day he moved away, it was the sunglasses he wore that she’d never forget; a pair of shiny new Ray-Bans. They looked so stylish and chic perched on his handsome face when he came over to say good-bye, and even though they were only sunglasses, he looked so different already. So beyond the place they’d always known. How had Jett become the one who got to leave?
So, Tish changed diapers and took online courses in her parents’ basement while Jett became a football star in Lincoln. He paid child support and mailed football tickets and apparently that made him father-of-the-year according to several Nebraska publications.
“How a promising student athlete manages fatherhood, academics, and his rising football career: an interview with Jett Ramsey.”
Remembering that headline still caused her TMJ to act up at night. The one small life vest that kept Tish afloat was nurturing the belief that their child would always love her more. She—not Jett—would be the one their little girl needed the most. For a while, it felt true.
But now here was her baby girl, on the verge of teenagehood, begging to spend the summer with that shiny-sunglasses man who never once woke up in the middle of the night to change a single diaper. Who missed her third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh birthday parties because Allison had inconveniently been born during the fall, also known as precious football season to Jett Ramsey. The indignity of the situation was almost too much for Tish to bear.
“Why can’t I just call him?” Allison glared. “This is about me, anyway!”
“Because I told you it’s something that needs to be discussed by adults first.”
“Well why hasn’t he responded to you yet?”
Because your father is a coward and likes to avoid me, Tish wanted to say. “I’ll call him this afternoon, I promise.”
“Ugh,” Allison groaned and crossed her hands over her budding chest.
Tish worried the rejection from Jett would be too much for Allison’s heart to handle.
“It’ll all work out, sweetie.”
Allison moped out of Tegan’s room.
Tish’s greater worry, the one she wasn’t ready to admit yet, was that he might say yes. Something about Jett had been off lately. She knew nothing about his personal life, nor did she care to know anything, but she couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that he was hiding something from her.
She pushed the feeling away by habitually checking her likes.
But not good, either.