Overruled (The Legal Briefs, #1)(2)

“Hey, c’mere.” I pull her small body against my chest, holding her tight. “It’s gonna be okay. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

Her shoulders shake as she weeps. “I’m so sorry, Stanton.”

I met Jenny Monroe in the first grade. I put a toad in her backpack because my brother dared me to. For two months she shot spitballs at the back of my head in retribution. In third grade I thought I was in love with her—by sixth grade I was sure of it. She was beautiful, funny, and she could throw a football better than any girl—and half the boys—I knew. We broke up in eighth grade when Tara-Mae Forrester offered to let me touch her boobs.

And I did.

We got back together that next summer, when I won her a bear at the county fair.

She’s more than just my first kiss—my first everything. Jenny’s my best friend. And I’m hers.

I rear back so I can look into her eyes. I touch her face and stroke her silky blond hair. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You didn’t do this by yourself.” I wiggle my eyebrows and grin. “I was there too, remember?”

That makes her laugh. She swipes a finger under both eyes. “Yeah, it was a good night.”

I cup her cheek. “Sure was.”

It wasn’t our first time—or our tenth—but it was one of the best. The kind of night you never forget—a full moon and a flannel blanket. Just a few feet from where we are right now—next to the river with a six-pack of beer kicked and music floating out of the open windows of my pickup. It was all soft kisses, hot whispers, sweaty bodies, and grasping hands. Joined so deep I couldn’t tell where I ended and she began. Pleasure so intense I wanted it to last forever—and prayed out loud that it would.

We would’ve thought about it—tried to relive it—years from now, even if we weren’t having a baby to commemorate it.

A baby.

Fuck me. As the reality truly starts to set in, my stomach drops all the way to China.

Like a mind reader, Jenny asks, “What are we gonna do?”

My father always told me being scared was nothing to be ashamed of. It was how you reacted to that fear that mattered. Cowards run. Men step up.

And I’m no coward.

I swallow roughly, and all my aspirations, hopes, and plans for leaving this town get swallowed too. I look out over the river, watching the sun sparkle off the water, and make the only choice I can.

“We’re gettin’ married. We’ll stay with my parents at first. I’ll work on the farm, go to night school—we’ll save up. You’ll have to put off nursin’ school for a little while. Eventually we’ll get our own place. I’ll take care of you.” I put my hand on her still-flat stomach. “Both of you.”

Her reaction isn’t what I imagine.

Jenny steps back out of my arms, eyes wide and head shaking. “What? No! No, you’re supposed to leave for New York right after graduation.”

“I know.”

“You gave up your Ole Miss football scholarship to go to Columbia. It’s Ivy League.”

I shake my head. And lie.

“Jenn, none of that matters now.”

There’s not a single guy in this town who wouldn’t give his eye teeth to play ball at Ole Miss . . . but not me. I’ve always wanted different—bigger, brighter, farther.

Jenny’s flip-flopped feet kick up sand as she paces on the riverbank. Her white sundress flares as she turns a final time to me, finger pointing. “You’re goin’ and that’s all there is to it. Just like we planned. Nothin’s changed.”

My voice rails with resentment she doesn’t deserve. “What are you talkin’ about—everything’s changed! You can’t come visit me once a month with a baby! We can’t bring a baby to a dorm room.”

Resigned, she whispers, “I know.”

I take my own step back. “You expect me to leave you here? That was gonna be hard enough before, but now . . . I’m not gonna f*cking walk away when you’re pregnant. What kinda man do you think I am?”

She grasps my hands and gives me a speech that rivals “win one for the Gipper.” “You’re the kind of man who’s gonna go to Columbia University and graduate with honors. A man who’s gonna be able to name his salary when he does. You’re not walkin’ away, you’re doin’ what’s best for us. For our family, our future.”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

“Oh yes you are.”

“And what about your future?”

“I’ll stay with my parents—they’ll help me with the baby. They’re practically raising the twins anyway.”

Jenny’s older sister, Ruby, is the proud mother of twins, with baby number three on the way. She attracts losers like cow shit attracts flies. The unemployed, the alcoholic, the lazy—she can’t get enough of them.

“Between them and your parents, I’ll still be able to go to nursin’ school.” Jenny wraps her slender arms around my neck.

And, God, she’s pretty.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I murmur.

But my girl’s mind is made up. “You’ll go and come home when you can. And when you can, it’ll get us through until the next time.”

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