Jared's POV:

"Daddy, Daddy!" I heard Melinda call to me and her feet patting against the ground. I smiled to Dad as he went to the refrigerator. He knew Melinda and I always share two glasses of warm chocolate milk together after she came back home from a sleep over.

"In the kitchen, angel!" I called. She ran and before I knew it, she was on my lap.

"Did you have fun with Uncle Todd and April?" I asked and kissed her forehead. "I missed you."

"I missed you too." She smiled up at me, not caring about the milk. "Uncle Todd went to a shooting hall thing where they got to shoot these white papers! Doesn't that sound like fun, Daddy? Don't you think it would be fun if me and you did that, Daddy?"

I looked over to Dad, hoping he could guide me. He shook his head slightly, but I wasn't sure if that meant I couldn't do it because of my felony charge or that I was on my own for this one.

"She jumped out of the car before I could pull the keys out of the ignition." Todd laughed as he and April came into the kitchen. He must have noticed that I was concerned, so he said he just wanted to make sure she got in the house okay and then quickly took April out the door.

"Can we, Daddy? I bet it's a lot of fun!"

"Melinda, honey, do you really want to go to a shooting range?" I asked, trying to make it sound boring.

"Yeah, Dad! It'll be so much fun!"

"Angel, sweetheart," I sighed and kissed her again. "Honey, you know what I am, right? You know what the law considers me, right?"

"Yeah," She glanced at Dad, then back at me. "You're a felon."

"Right. And because I'm a felon, I'm not allowed to carry or own a weapon. I don't know if I could go to a shooting range with you." I said carefully. I could see the tears welling up in her little eight year old eyes. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I can't take you."

"Oh..." She said and looked down. A few tears fell.

"Melinda, if you really want to go to the shooting range, Uncle C.J. or I can take you." Dad offered and rubbed her back. She mumbled and pushed his arm away.

"Hey, now, I know you're upset but being mean to Papa won't change a thing, Miss Melinda Ann. You should apologize for that and thank him for offering to take you there." I said.

"I don't want to go with him! I want to go with you! I just want to go with you, Daddy! It's not fair!" She cried harder and completely broke down. She rubbed her eyes with her fists and ducked her head. She cried louder and I adjusted her on my lap so she was facing me. I stood up and held her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my stomach.

"Shh, shh, just calm down sweetheart." I cooed softly like she was still a baby. I looked over at Dad and he was giving me that look that said 'You better punish her for this'. I looked away.

She was just a little girl. A little girl in a fragile place. She was just like me, small and thin with her dusty blond hair. And just like me, she had a temper and her emotions tended to run rapid. It didn't help that we just moved in to another apartment, the fifth one in one and a half years. She just changed schools and hasn't made any friends yet, and she couldn't have anyone over before I talked with the parents about my past history and we unpacked. All her toys and favorite stuffed animal was packed in one of the dozens of unmarked boxes. The apartment we're in now makes a lot of weird noises, and that made it hard for her to sleep. We just moved in four days ago and every night she crawled into my little twin-sized bed. Even though it comforted her, neither of us slept well like that. She was just set up for a break down.

"It's okay, angel." I promised and kept her close to me. "Go ahead and let it all out, baby girl."

"Jared," Dad said in a low voice.

"She's stressed out, Dad."

"Stress? She's eight! How much stress can she be under?" He said a little to loudly.

"I hate you, Papa!" She said angrily.

"Melinda!" I scolded her and quickly walked her out of the room and to the kitchen. I took her to the living room and sat her on the couch. "That was very rude of you, young lady. Why did you say that to him?"

"Because he doesn't like me! He thinks I'm a cry baby!"

"No, he does not. He loves you. I think you're just overly tired. What time did you and April go to bed last night?"

"One." She sniffed.

"In the morning?" I asked. Her bedtime was usually nine. She nodded. "Is that the problem? You're just tired?"


"Then let me make you a little bed here on the couch and you can rest. This house doesn't make weird noises, so you'll sleep really well." I said. I took the pillow from the end of the couch and put it next to Melinda. She laid on her side with her head on it. I took the baby blue blanket Mom crochet, her newest hobby now that she had an empty nest, and put it over Melinda, covering her head. She smiled and pushed it down to her shoulders. I knelt down, kissed her forehead and gently stroked her hair.

"I love you, Melinda Ann." I smiled. She smiled, her tear stained dimples showing.

"I love you too, Daddy." She leaned forward and put a quick kiss on my cheek. "Alyssa isn't coming over tonight, is she?"

"What makes you ask that?" I said. Me and her haven't talked about Alyssa in quiet a few days...

"I hate her, too."

"Let's not use that word anymore, angel. Now close those tired little eyes." I said and kissed her again before heading into the kitchen to face my Dad.

"I cannot believe she talks like that!" He started when I walked in. "You took care of that, didn't you?"

"She's tired." I said. "She just needs sleep."

"Sleep? What she needs is an attitude adjustment! What do you do when she acts out, anyways?"

"You know what I do. I talk with her. We talk it out and find the problem. It works for us. You know I don't punish much."

"Maybe that's what she needs."

"Dad," I sucked in an angry breath. Where was Mom when I needed her? She always put Dad in his place when he started to give me unwanted parenting advise. Oh, right, she was at that craft meeting thing. "I know you've raised Alyssa and C.J. without any big problems and you've done wonders with helping me get back on track, but Melinda is my daughter. I know you mean well, but let me raise her my way. It works for us."

I prayed that Dad got the message without getting angry with me or Melinda. He turned his head away from me for a few seconds, then turned back.

"How are things between you and Alyssa?" He finally asked and looked at me.

"Not good." I sighed. "Dad, I need to tell you something, but it has to stay between the two of us. And I need some advice from you as my father, not as Alyssa's father."

"I can do that." He patted my back and smiled.

"Okay, well, Melinda walked in on me and Alyssa." I said awkwardly. Dad's jaw dropped and I knew I was blushing.

"She walked in on you two?"

"We were just kissing, nothing too bad, but it definitely was," I sighed and tried to find the right words. "Intense and was leading up to something a lot more intense than kissing. It was just kissing at the time, but it wasn't something I wanted Melinda to see. And Alyssa is pissed about it. She's mad at me because I didn't lock the door, and I understand that. But she's also mad at Melinda for not knocking. It's not Melinda's fault. It's ours! We shouldn't have been messing around when she's at home with us. But Melinda didn't know. It's always just been me and her, so we never knocked coming into each others room. We've always changed in the bathroom."

"You going to have to start knocking, bud. She's going to get up to that age soon."

"I know, I know." I sighed. "We have to have a talk about that soon."

"So Alyssa is mad at the two of you?" He said, turning the subject back to Alyssa and I.

"Yeah. And yesterday I went to her place to pick her up and she was in the backseat of her car with another guy. So I just assumed our date was canceled and went back home."

"So does that mean you two are broken up?"

"I don't know. That happened Thursday. We were going to go out to dinner to discuss what to tell Melinda about the two of us. I haven't talked to her sense then. I guess that's her way of saying we're done."

"I'm sorry, J." He patted my back.

"So what should I do?"

"I think you need to forget about dating her for a while, son." Dad said with a sigh. "Focus on settling down, paying off debt and building a savings account. And Melinda, of course."

"I will." I agreed with a nod. "I need to teach Melinda how to control her temper."

"You mean teach her how to control your temper." Dad laughed. "You were like that when you were eight. She's just like you. She is you. All smiles one minute and crying and screaming the next. But eight was a rough year for you."

"Yeah, it was. But I was like that before Mom passed away." I shrugged.

Dad went on into a story of when I was seven and lost my temper. I listened and nodded in all the right places. After that he went on about how he taught C.J., Alyssa and I respect and kindness. I continued to listen, but I knew his way of parenting was much different than my way. I don't see the need for one night of yelling instead of one night of talking it out.

"There are a few of my favorite boys!" Mom's voice cut us from our conversation. She was so quiet coming in that we didn't hear her. She came over and kissed us both on the cheek. "Is Melinda back from Todd's?"

"She's asleep on the couch. She had a bit of a break down." I explained.

"I would explain it as a tantrum, but that's just me." Dad mumbled. Before I could, Mom shot him a look that warned him to stop.

"She's still not use to the new apartment and hasn't made friends at the new school yet." I sighed. "And she stayed up too late with April. So she's a little touchy."

"Understandable." Mom said with a nod, then whipped out a folder from under her arm. "Jared, I want your opinion on this blanket I was thinking of making. I could do pink and purple for Melinda, and I was thinking of black and red for you."

"That pattern?" I asked and pointed to one of the pictures on the inside of folder. She nod. "I like the pattern, but I think Melinda would prefer purple and black. She's not a pink kind of girl."

"Thanks for listening to me complain, Mom." I said as Mom and I walked hand-in-hand back in the house. I smelled like smoke from my cigarette.

"No problem, honey." She squeezed my hand. "I just wish you didn't have to have that cigarette hanging out of your mouth while you complained."

"I do my best complaining when I'm smoking." I laughed. We were almost in the kitchen when we heard Melinda's little voice.

"Papa? Can I talk to you?"


Mom and I smiled at each other and stepped into the living room so we could watch Melinda and Dad.

Melinda had the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The bottom of the blanket dragged against the ground. Dad was on the bar stool, turned so his side was against the counter-top so he could see Melinda.

"I'm sorry I said I hate you." She said in that little angel-like voice that she knew got her out of trouble. She crawled up on his lap. "I don't hate you, Papa. I was just angry and it just came out. I didn't mean it."

"Oh, I am so happy to know you don't really hate me!" He said in a convincing tone. "I was so worried. I wouldn't know what to do if you really hated me. You're my favorite grandchild, you know." He smiled and touched the tip of her nose with his finger, making her giggle. All the anger in his face melted away.

"I'm your only grandchild, Papa!" She laughed.

"But even if I get more grandchildren, you'll still be my favorite." He wrapped his arms around her. "You're so much like your daddy it isn't funny."

"Did Daddy tell you he hated you?"

"He's told me quiet a few things like that. He was a bit of a trouble maker."

"He was a big trouble maker. So big that the cops had to take him to jail for a year long time out." She sighed.

"A year long time out?" Mom whispered with one cocked eyebrow.

"It was the only way I could get her to understand the concept of doing time." I explained.

"Let's not talk about that, angel."

"Daddy says I'm his angel."

"You are his angel." Dad smiled, hugged her a little closer to him and kissed the top of her head. "You saved him, Melinda. You're the reason he straightened up his act and didn't go to jail a second time. You saved him."

Melinda looked up at him and smiled. She reached up and touched his graying hair.

"Papa, was your hair always like this?" She asked. Mom and I laughed and joined the two in the kitchen.

"Jared," Dad said with a smile on his face when he saw me. Melinda rested her head on his shoulder. "Forget about what I said earlier. You're doing a great job with this little girl."

"Thanks, Dad." I smiled back. Melinda gave me a little wave, so I blew a kiss at her. "That means a lot to me."

"Melinda, I want to know about your friends." He said, looking back at her.

"I don't have any friends yet at my new school, but at my old school, I was friends with-" She went on to list all twenty-three kids that were in her class. She had no problem being social. She just needed time at this new school.

"Wow, that's a lot of people." Dad said in a surprised face. He was great at pulling her leg and being dramatic. "But who's your best friend in the whole wide world? I bet it's tough to decide with that many friends."

"No, not really." She pointed to me. "Daddy is my best friend in the whole wide world."

"Thanks for everything." I whispered to Mom and Dad as I shifted Melinda in my arms. She was fast asleep, and I had fifty bucks in my pocket and two bags full of groceries already in the car, thanks to Mom and Dad. They were eager to pack the bags with things from the refrigerator and give me some money when they got me to admit things were tight. "I really appreciate your help."

"If you need anything, Jared, anything, just call us. You know we're always here for you." Mom said in a firm whisper. "And you better tell us if you're struggling."

"Mom," I sighed. "I don't really need your help. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what you've done for me, but you have to let me do this myself."

"Jared White," Dad said in the same scolding like whisper Mom used. "Now isn't the time to go against what we say. You've had your rebellious stage, you had your reasons to be rebellious, but now you're in a stage where you have to be responsible and admit you need help and that little life in your arms right now," He pointed to Melinda. "Is your reason to be responsible. So tell us if you need help. We can give you money, we can buy you two food, we can clothe you and Melinda. You just have to ask."'

"Okay." I agreed with a nod after a moment of silences. He made sense. "Okay. You're right. I'll start asking for help when I need it."

"Good boy." He smiled and gave my shoulder a very light pat. Mom said goodbye and kissed my cheek before I carried Melinda out to the car.

"Daddy?" She said in a tired voice once I sat her in the backseat. She was still half asleep.

"Shh. Go to sleep, angel." I told her with a kiss on her forehead. She tilted her head back so it rested on the seat and quickly fell asleep. I started the car and drove towards the apartment that I was trying to make a home for my daughter.

Life at twenty-three isn't much difference than my life at eight and fifteen and seventeen. It still sucks, knocks me out, kicks me while I'm gone and throws some sucker punches and curve balls. But it was a hell of a lot more rewarding now.

I smiled as Melinda started to snore.

Yeah, life still sucks, but it's worth it.

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