Today's prompt came from Irene via Twitter. She wanted more Ben, so I hope this works.
Spoilers for my book Whatever Remains, which turns 3 years old in just a few days! Goodness. It's one of my personal faves, so if you haven't checked it out, here's the link. And if you have checked it out, I always appreciate Amazon reviews!
7/15/16 – Girls’ Day Out
The single saddest day of Ben Haley’s life was the day his oldest started calling him “Dad” instead of “Daddy.” Not that he would admit that. Homicide detectives should probably have sadder memories in the bank.
“Dad,” Clara said, holding up the purple, black, and white-striped leadline she’d picked out. “I want this one.”
He gave her The Eyebrow.
“May I please have it?” she amended.
“You do know that Merry is a boy pony, right?”
“Boys can wear purple,” she said, fiercely.
“Yes, they can.” He sighed. “Give it here. Is that all you wanted to look at?”
“No, breeches, too,” she said, and spun away from him, dark hair rippling down her back, looking much too old and grown up; she couldn’t just be nine, could she? She seemed so much older than that, lately, and it terrified him.
At his side, Catherine – who still called him “Daddy” – curled her little fingers into his belt loop and followed along without protest. He dropped a hand on top of her head as they weaved through the crowded racks and displays.
“You okay, munchkin?”
She nodded, dark hair rustling like silk beneath his palm.
Up ahead of them somewhere, Clara was diving toward the English apparel section, trusting them to follow.
It was Saturday, and Jade had a full schedule of lessons, mostly adult students who would be trailering in. The girls loved the controlled chaos of trailers and trucks and big warmbloods in shipping boots clattering down ramps and snorting into the morning mist. But both he and Jade got a little nervous about tiny toes and curious fingers and all the dangers present in a busy barn. So he’d volunteered – because he was a masochist – to “take them somewhere fun.” And of course they’d picked Horsetown, because it was a veritable fantasyland for horse-obsessed little girls.
“Daddy,” Catherine said, tugging at his belt loop and pointing toward a stuffed black and white horse perched on a rack of horse-themed t-shirts. “I want that pony.” Because of course she did.
“Do you want that to be your ‘something special’ for today?” he asked, and she nodded. “You sure? Okay.” He plucked it down and handed it to her, and she hugged it tight to her chest. She beamed up at him, all Jade in miniature. “Thank you, Daddy.”
That caused all sorts of melting in his heart region.
They caught up with Clara, who had already found a hunter green pair of full-seat breeches she loved and changed into them in the dressing room. “They’re so comfy!” she exclaimed when Ben drew into sight. A sales associate stood behind her in jeans and boots, looking like she’d made a sale and knew it. “Daddy,” Clara said, and Ben’s heart arrested, “can I have them?”
“Sure,” he said, automatically. “Whatever you want, sweetheart.”
“I saw an awful lot of Horsetown bags go into the house,” Jade said a few hours later, as she choked down the Subway sandwich he’d brought her at the arena rail, foot braced on the bottom board, gorgeous and dusty with arena sand. She grinned knowingly. “How much did they con you into buying them?”
“Clara called me ‘Daddy’ again,” he said, helplessly.
Jade grinned and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “You old softie.”
“Yeah, old,” he said. “I don’t have many years left on earth. I gotta take my kicks when I can get them.”
“Wow, Gramps. How optimistic of you.”
He gave her his worst scowl.
She laughed. “You’re a good daddy, Detective Haley.”
He ducked his head.
“Lots of other things you aren’t good at–”
He shot a dark look across the fence at her.
“–but you’re good to your girls.” She climbed up on the fence and leaned across to kiss him.
He met her halfway, cupping the back of her neck in one hand, tasting mustard and cheesy herb bread when he dipped into her mouth with his tongue.
She smiled when she pulled back. “Who’d have thought, huh?”
“Not me.” He cleared his throat, looked out across the pastures and fences, long grass rippling in the breeze. “Wouldn’t trade it, though.”