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He Can Only Hold Her

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I could use a Texas man
But one who can feel at home
Yeah, here in the California sand
Who holds me like he'll never let go
It's been way too long
Since somebody's body was tangled with mine

-The Chicks, Texas Man


MAY 2019


It was a beautiful, warm spring day in sunny Southern California and Jessica Rodham was taking her four year old daughter, Shiloh, to the park for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon so that the little girl could burn off some of her restless four year old energy. They were walking from the car towards the playground together, holding hands, when Jessica's phone suddenly started to ring.
"Hold on, one sec, baby girl," Jessica said to Shiloh as she dug her phone out of her purse. "Hello?" She answered.
"Hi, honey!" Hillary, her mom's, voice rang out on the other end. 
"Oh, hey, Mom!" Jessica smiled to herself, happy to hear from her mother. They usually talked to each other on the phone at least every couple of days and texted each other constantly. "What are you up to today? Are you in New York this weekend?"
"Yep, I'm in Chappaqua this weekend to spend some quality time with Bill and your sisters," Hillary replied.
Jessica smiled to herself again. She knew her mom really missed her family while she was away in Washington DC, hard at work during the week due to her position as a Senator from New York. 
"I'm just catching up on some reading while your dad went into town with the girls for a couple of hours," Hillary added. "Chelsea and Marc are coming over for dinner later. They said they have some news to share."
"Ohhh, intriguing," Jessica said. She smirked to herself and tried not to spill the beans, having learned of her younger sister's first pregnancy a few days prior. Chelsea had sworn her to secrecy until she had told the rest of the family.
"What are you up to?" Hillary asked her eldest daughter.
"Well, it's just me and Shiloh this weekend," Jessica explained. "Sophia is away on a school camping trip and Lucas went to a friend's house for a sleepover. So it's just us girls." She smiled down at her curly haired four year old daughter who was tugging on her mother’s arm, anxious to go play in the playground. “We just got to the park. Someone is very impatient to go play.” Jessica chuckled to herself. 
Hillary chuckled in return. “I won’t keep you. I’ll let you girls go then. Have fun. Love you, honey.”
“Love you, too, Mom,” Jessica replied before she held the phone to Shiloh’s ear. “Say goodbye to Grandma, sweetie.”
“Bye, bye, Grandma,” Shiloh said sweetly. “Love you!”
“Aww, I love you, too, Shi,” Hillary said. “I miss you. I’ll see you very soon on Facetime, okay?”
“Okay!” Shiloh said, now practically dragging her mother towards the playground.
Jessica chuckled again and held the phone back up to her own ear. “I gotta go, Mom. Talk to you later.”
She quickly hung up and let Shiloh lead her over to the playground. Shiloh immediately ran towards the jungle gym while Jessica stood off to the side, so she could keep an eye on her daughter. She smiled to herself when she recognized that one of Shiloh’s friends from school was also at the park that afternoon and the two girls were happily playing together. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the other girl’s father sitting at a picnic table, also keeping an eye on his own little girl. She had seen the man around the school when he was picking up or dropping off his daughter, and while she knew that their daughters were very close friends, she had never actually properly introduced herself to the mystery man. She was feeling confident that day and decided there was no time like the present.
She walked over to where he was sitting and awkwardly waved. “Hey, you’re Mariah’s father, right?”
The man looked up and locked his deep brown eyes with Jessica’s own. He smiled a charming smile, causing Jessica to nearly swoon on the spot. “That’s me. And you’re Shiloh’s mom, right?”
Jessica nodded and took a seat at the picnic table across from him. “I’m Jessica. But everyone calls me Jess.”
“Jeff.” The two shook hands. “It’s nice to properly meet you, Jessica. I know our daughters are good friends. Mariah is always talking about how much fun she has playing with Shiloh.”
“And Shiloh is always talking about Mariah.” Jessica chuckled. “I’ve been meaning to set up a play date between them but ya” She shrugged.
Jeff nodded. “I feel you. It’s okay. They’re making up for it now.”
The two of them stared over and watched as their daughters ran around the park and happily played together. Meanwhile, Jessica started admiring Jeff. She had to admit...he was handsome. He was probably around her age if she had to guess, and he had dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and just a hint of stubble on his chin. His voice had a bit of a southern drawl to it, which reminded her of her stepfather. Plus, he had a gorgeous smile and the most adorable dimples ever.
“Is that a southern accent, I detect?” Jessica asked him, making conversation and giving him a flirty smile.
Jeff nodded and smiled tenderly. “I’m originally from Houston, Texas.”
Jessica nodded and wondered what had brought him to Los Angeles. He wasn’t like most of the other men who she had encountered in this town. He seemed way too humble and down to earth to be living in Los Angeles.
“How about you?” He asked her. “You look like a California girl.” He teased playfully.
Jessica chuckled in return and blushed. She guessed with her long flowing blonde hair, tan skin, and black yoga pants, she did look like a stereotypical Californian. “I’ve lived all over,” she admitted, with another chuckle. “I was born in New York City but spent my childhood in Chicago and Arkansas. I moved to L.A almost thirteen years ago when my ex-husband got a job opportunity here. As much as I miss the East Coast and want to be closer to my parents, I couldn’t uproot my kids after my ex and I split up.”
She missed New York terribly and longed for the East Coast but Los Angeles had become home for the past thirteen years and her kids dearly oved their schools and their friends so she would never take those things away from them.
Jeff nodded understandably and perked up slightly at Jessica’s mention of  an ex-husband.
At the same time, Jessica then realized that she had never seen Mariah’s mother around or heard Shiloh talk about Mariah’s parents. She thought that was unusual and wondered where the girl’s mother was…
“I’m going to go get Mariah and I some lunch,” Jeff said, gesturing towards some nearby food trucks. “Do you and Shiloh want anything?”
As he was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, Jessica suddenly noticed the gold wedding band on his left finger as it glinted in the sun.
”You’re married?” Jessica said, in disbelief. Ugh. Men. Of course. She could tell he had been flirting with her and checking her out during their brief conversation but he was married. She shivered slightly, feeling disgusted with both herself and Jeff. He had probably just wanted sex all along. Jessica was an attractive woman after all and was used to men admiring her beauty, but that didn’t mean that she was going to be somebody’s mistress. After watching her stepdad cheat on her mother many times during her childhood and teenage years, cheating was something she was vehemently opposed to. That was her number one deal breaker. She shook her head to herself. Well, at least the connection had been nice while it lasted...
“It’s not what you think!” Jeff immediately said, noticing the look of disgust on Jessica’s face. “Let me explain.” He gave her a pleading look.
“Don’t give me that crap,” Jessica retorted, trying her best not to roll her eyes. She was about to get up and storm away when something stopped her. Jeff did have a faraway, distant look in his eyes.
“Lauren. My wife. away,” he said quietly, in a tone that was barely above a whisper. “Last year. Ovarian cancer.” He looked down. “I can’t bring myself to take the ring off yet.” He shrugged slightly and let out a heavy, shaky grief filled sigh.
Jessica immediately softened and stared tenderly into Jeff’s eyes. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” She bit her lip and looked down, feeling guilty about the way she had immediately jumped to conclusions. She quickly swept away at the tears that had pooled in her eyes, before Shiloh could notice her crying.
“Hey, it’s okay. Don’t cry,” Jeff drawled, reaching out to comfortingly pat her on the arm. “You didn’t know.”
Jessica just nodded as things started making sense as to why she had never seen Mariah’s mother around the school.Of course.  And her heart ached for the little girl, too. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if something ever happened to her and she had to leave her children without their mother…
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Jessica said again, staring at him softly.
“Thank you.” Jeff nodded and sighed harshly again. “She was diagnosed when Mariah was two and passed away last year, a few weeks after Mariah’s third birthday. It’s been rough for the both of us but every day, things get a little bit easier.”
Jessica nodded again. Going through a divorce wasn’t the same thing as losing a loved one the way Jeff had lost Lauren, but she felt the same way with regards to her divorce from James.
“She’s the reason I moved to LA,” Jeff admitted, with a slight chuckle. “She was a makeup artist and wanted to make it big in Hollywood." He smiled nostalgically. "And she was so talented and really good at what she did. She actually worked on some pretty major productions before she got sick.”
“How about you? What do you do for work?” Jessica asked curiously, wondering why he had stayed in LA after his wife's death. 
“Right now I work in construction but back in Houston before Mariah was born, I was an oil rig worker,” Jeff explained."Like you, I didn't want to uproot Mariah after Lauren's death. Houston is my home but LA is Mariah's. I didn't want to make things harder on her, after her mother's death." 
Jessica nodded understandingly. "Of course," she said.
After being married to an academic type for nearly ten years, a guy like Jeff could be a nice change of pace, she thought. She was definitely attracted to him already and thought she sensed some romantic chemistry going on between them.
They were suddenly  interrupted when Shiloh and Mariah ran over to their parents.
“Daddy, we’re hungry!” Mariah announced.
“Yeah, I’m starving!” Shiloh piped in. 
“Okay, we’ll get you princesses some lunch.” Jeff chuckled, seeing that Shiloh had a similar flair for the dramatic as Mariah did. He turned towards Jessica. “Do you and Shiloh like tacos?”
Jessica smiled. “We love tacos.”
Jeff grinned. “Tacos it is then. My treat.”
“Thank you,” Jessica said, giving Jeff another flirty smile in return.
“No problem,” Jeff said,  giving Jessica a charming smile of his own as he got up from the table so he could go get everybody some food.

He returned a few minutes later with tacos, french fries, and bottled water for everyone.
“Eat up,” he said as he sat back down and passed everybody their meals. 
But Shiloh and Mariah did that thing kids did where they only ate a couple of french fries each before they ran off to play again. 
“I thought you girls were hungry!” Jessica called after them.
“We’re busy playing mermaids!” Shiloh called over her shoulder as the two girls ran away together.
Jeff and Jessica both chuckled. Kids, right?
“They’ll come finish their lunch soon enough,” Jeff said.
Jessica nodded, knowing he was right and that they would get hungry again in a few minutes. All that playing and running around would wear them down eventually.
“We were interrupted earlier,” Jeff said in between bites of his chicken taco. “What do you do for work?”
Jessica took a sip of water before she answered. “Well, I’m currently a freelance entertainment writer. I mostly cover reality television,” she admitted, blushing slightly. “But I also teach writing courses part-time at Santa Monica College.”
“Ohh, very cool.” Jeff nodded.
Jessica’s cheeks flushed a light shade of pink again and she nervously chuckled as her and Jeff continued chatting and getting to know each other.
“And does Shiloh have any siblings?” Jeff asked curiously. He thought he had noticed Jessica dropping off and picking up other children from school besides Shiloh.
Jessica nodded and wiped some taco residue off of her lips with her napkin. “Mmm hmm. My son Lucas is eight and my daughter Sophia is almost thirteen.”
Jeff gave her a look of surprise at the mention of having an almost thirteen year old.
Jessica chuckled. She was used to people being surprised that she was the mother of a twelve year old because she didn’t look old enough to have a preteen aged daughter. 
“I had her when I was very young,” She explained. “I was a few weeks shy of my twenty-second birthday when she was born.” She smiled nostalgically at the memories. “We basically grew up together and raised each other.” She chuckled again and acknowledged to herself how proud she was of how far she had come. Three kids and a divorce later, She wasn’t the young, immature, single mother she used to be. She had come a long way in the past thirteen years. 

* * * * *

Eventually, a few hours had passed and as it got late into the afternoon, Shiloh and Mariah were getting tired and cranky. Jeff and Jessica realized it was time to get their girls home for dinner.
“I had a really nice time with you today, Jessica,” Jeff said as he scooped a sleepy Mariah up and let his daughter rest her tired head against his shoulder.
“Likewise.” Jessica nodded. She had gone on a few dates since her divorce had been finalized but she hadn’t connected with anybody the way she had connected with Jeff that afternoon. 
“We should do it again,” Jeff said. “I’ll text you to set up a play date between the girls some time.”
“Sounds great,” Jessica said, also scooping up a tired Shiloh and propping the girl up against her right hip.
Shiloh yawned and also rested her head against her mother’s shoulder.
“And Jess?” Jeff said, smiling at her.
“Yes?” Jessica asked, intrigued.
God she couldn't resist that charming smile of his...
She wasn't sure what was coming next but she could already feel butterflies fluttering around in her stomach.
“Can I give you a call and ask you out on a real date, some time?”

To Be Continued…