A/N: Sorry for the delay folks. Both life and work decided to get crazy at the same time, which set me back on this and my Blicket fic. I hope y'all are still interested...
This world is made of yesterdays—all it gives it takes away and leaves you in the rain. It took Delilah a moment before her groggy head to make the connection that the sound she was hearing was the sound of music. The fragile faith in what we see will merely be a memory—like lightning when we turn away. It took another minute for her to realize that her clock radio was the source. She recognized the song as one by Michael English that was all over the Christian stations these days. Generally, Delilah loved worship music—it took her back to when she was a little girl in Austin with parents—but today it annoyed her and she reached over to turn it off before the song hit the chorus.
Most mornings she wondered why she even set her alarm. It wasn't as if she had anything to do—sure there were lunches, church functions to be planned, and her garden, but none of them really needed her specifically—even her garden would be taken care of by the staff if she didn't feel like going out to tend to it. Some days she was tempted to just stay in bed but she knew word would get back to Clint from either one of the staff or Cricket, so she always force herself to get up and give the illusion that she would have a productive day.
"Who is it?" she called at the knock on her bedroom door.
"It's me, Mama."
Delilah slid out from under the covers and pulled on her robe from where she had draped it at the foot of the bed the night before. "Come in."
"Morning, Mama," Cricket said brightly.
"Mornin' baby doll." She smiled at the sight of her daughter in her blue and white cheerleader uniform. "Did you eat breakfast?"
The ten-year-old nodded and began walking toward the bathroom without being prompted. Delilah followed, keeping an eye to make sure Cricket didn't knock over any of the bottles of perfume as she set her hair ribbons on the vanity. Once she was certain her things were safe she grabbed a bottle of pills from the counter.
"Do you have a headache?"
Delilah nodded as she dry swallowed two of the pills. "But I can still do your hair." She put the bottle back on the counter, picked up a hairbrush, and ran it through her own hair while Cricket watched her through the reflection in the mirror.
"Mama, why don't I have hair like yours? Sharon's hair is blonde like her mama's."
"Because your hair is like Daddy Bo's."
Usually, a comparison to her daddy was enough to make Cricket happy, but this time it wasn't enough. "But Manda's hair is blonde like yours and her daddy's is brown and Miss Gigi's hair is red."
Flashes of Punnett Squares and high school biology flashed through her head as she thought about how to simplify it. "Blonde hair is recessive, which means you don't have to get it from your parents—sometimes you can get it from your grandparents, so maybe Amanda gets her hair color from her granddaddy."
"Oh, okay, but I still wish I had hair like you and Manda."
Delilah sighed as she began running the brush through her daughter's dark hair. Amanda and Cricket were best friends but the two girls would get jealous of each other at the drop of a hat. For Amanda, it was the standard little girl things like new toys or a faster horse, but Cricket's jealous was different. Sure, Cricket pouted when Amanda showed up for church in a prettier new dress, but most what truly bugged her daughter was that Amanda was a complete daddy's girl and constantly got the attention Cricket always wanted.
"How do you want your hair?" Delilah asked. She may not be able to change Cricket's hair color, but she was determined to style it in a way that outshined Amanda."
"Cheerleader braids!" she excitedly referred to the way Delilah would weave ribbons in with French braided pigtails. "I brought all my ribbons."
"I can see that." Delilah picked up one of the ribbons and started weaving it into a French braid down the side of her daughter's hair. "Are you ready for your competition?"
"Yes. Is Daddy Bo going to come?"
"He's still in Houston."
"But he said he would come."
"He said he'd try."
The little girl's face changed into a pout. "If he's in Houston, he's not trying."
"Cricket," she scolded half-heartedly. "Daddy Bo is very busy with work."
"I know." Delilah watched her daughter's face through the mirror for a second before focusing back on her hair. She finished the first braid and was about to move to the next when Cricket said her name, "Mama?"
"Do you think Daddy Bo would come to my competition if I was led the cheers like Manda does? Because her daddy always comes to our competitions."
"Amanda's daddy's in banking and doesn't run a company as big as Caruth, so he doesn't have to work weekends like Daddy Bo."
Cricket considered this for a second and then said, "Well, maybe if I was head cheerleader, Daddy Bo could take a day off."
"Maybe, but you know I'll always be there to watch you cheer, no matter what."
"Yeah, I know, but…"
"Nothing." Cricket bit her lip and added half-heartedly, "Never mind."
"Now, hold still or your second braid will be crooked," Delilah said and by the way Cricket stiffened her shoulders, Delilah knew her tone must have been too sharp. She didn't mean to snap at her daughter, but she could help the harshness from seeping into her voice. It wasn't that she mad at Cricket for wanting her daddy's attention, but in a way she was jealous. When Cricket was little, it was just like Delilah had imagined it would be—her little girl was happiest when she was at her mama's side and Delilah assumed this bond would continue to grow as Cricket got older.
But then something shifted and suddenly all Cricket cared about was her daddy's attention. The more distant Clint was, the more Cricket wanted to spend time with him and the harder she tried to prove herself worthy of his time. When Cricket was four or five, it was easier for Delilah to divert her daughter's attention with new toys or clothes and Clint could make up for a week of fatherly absence with a special dinner or surprise trip up to the hunting cabin. But as Cricket got older, these grand gestures were less effective. Delilah would talk to—well, argue with—Clint about it and for a couple weeks things would be better, but then there'd be a crisis at work and things would go back to how they were before. It was a vicious cycle.
Each time Delilah would try to fill the void Clint left in his daughter, but whatever she did was never enough. And each time Cricket's face fell, Delilah felt guilty—like she was a failure as a mother. The only time she didn't feel that way was when they were at church. Listening to the pastor's sermon with Clint's arm around her shoulder and Cricket nestled between them was the one time it felt right—like they were the family God intended them to be. But then the service would end and the transition to the coffee hour shifted the dynamic. They went from "family" to "The Caruths"—Clint's perfect family.
"Mama." Cricket's voice interrupted her thoughts. "You done?"
"Almost, baby doll." She picked up a can of hairspray. "Close your eyes," she said before spraying copious amounts onto her daughter's braids. "Go find Isobel and have her get your cheer bag together while I finish getting ready."
A little over an hour later, Delilah walked into the high school gymnasium with Cricket at her side. After promising her mama that she would remember the routine and do her best, Cricket skipped off to join Amanda and Sharon, leaving Delilah alone with the other mamas. During the competition, Delilah sat between Gigi Stopper and Carrie Lee Johnson and was painfully aware that Clint was not standing with the other daddies in the back of the gym. She smiled and clapped at all the right times and made the appropriate small talk, but each time the other women spoke their voices seemed laced with judgment. Through most of the competition, Delilah kept her hand on the one thing that could keep those feelings of failure at bay—the slender pill bottle in her purse.
During the awards ceremony, Delilah slipped into the bathroom and swallowed two more pills before returning to the gym to celebrate the girls' first place win. They all eventually made their way to the parking lot where Gigi turned to her husband and suggested he carry their little champion on his shoulders. Within seconds Amanda was on her daddy's shoulders and Sharon's daddy followed in suit. She shot a glare at the back of Gigi's head—the red headed woman had to of known that her little daddy-daughter victory suggestion would make Cricket feel left out.
Delilah increased her pace so she could catch up with her daughter. "Hey, baby doll, guess what we're doin' tonight?"
"Flyin' to Houston to see Daddy Bo."
"Daddy Bo paged me. He wants us to head back straight to the airport," she lied. Their jet was in Houston with Clint, but Delilah knew she could throw the Caruth name around to get them on the first commercial flight or on a charter a jet need be.
"Awesome!" Cricket all but skipped up to Asa so she could shout up to Amanda about how her daddy was flying her to see him because they won.
"You're flying to Houston?" Gigi asked. "When did this happen?"
"Clint paged me and I gave him a call just before the awards ceremony," Delilah explained casually.
"I thought you went to the ladies room," Carrie Lee said.
"Yes," Gigi agreed. "I saw you go inside."
Delilah fought the urge to roll her eyes. Why did these women even care? It was none of their business what she was doing. "I stopped in the gym's office afterwards and used their phone to call Clint." Thankfully, they were just about at her Mercedes and she finally would be able to get away from these women. "Cricket," she called. "We need to get a move on so we can meet Daddy Bo for dinner."
After a chorus of bye y'alls, they slipped into the car. Delilah waited for Cricket to buckle her seatbelt before turning her key in the engine. The instant she did, the radio crackled to life. Save me, save me, I need your love to rescue me—save me, won't you save me. It was the same song that had been playing when she woke up that morning.
She looked over to see her daughter reaching to change the station and slapped her hand away.
"Mama!" Cricket said with a pout.
"You don't just change the station."
"Fine," she said dramatically. "May I change the station?"
"But, Mama, can't we listen to the country station?"
Country was Cricket's favorite type of music—well, Clint's favorite type of music, so Cricket loved it by default. "I like this station."
"But all these songs sound the same—they're all about Jesus."
"Jesus Christ is our lord and savior—there cannot be too many songs about Him," Delilah snapped. Sometimes she wondered if her daughter listened in church. "Besides, country music is all about broken hearts and pickup trucks."
"Nuh-huh. Country music tells a story."
That was the same argument Clint always made. "I am not having this argument with you, Cricket. This is my car, so we listen to my station."
"That's because Daddy Bo gave it to you."
Delilah's mind was swimming. Did her daughter really think that little of her? She had half a mind to tell Cricket the truth—that Clint hadn't bothered to check in on his daughter, that he had probably forgotten she even had the competition. Maybe then Cricket would show some respect to the one parent who actually wanted to be involved in her life.
"Mama…" Delilah ignored her daughter and turned up the radio. "Mama!"
The worried urgency in her daughter's voice didn't reach Delilah's ears. All she heard was a little girl who wanted to so little to do with her mama that she couldn't even listen to the same radio station for a few minutes. "I'm not changing the station, Cricket."
"But, Mama, the light's…"
Delilah never heard the end of Cricket's sentence or saw the red light the ten-year-old was frantically pointing to. Instead, she heard the sickening crunch of metal against metal without ever seeing the truck that hit them. Somehow—despite the broken bits of windshield scattered around it—the radio kept playing. You are the strength, oh yeah, you are the vine. Lighten my darkness—oh, save me in time.
A/N: Cliffhanger? What? I'll try not to leave you hanging for too long, but I can't make any promises. Besides, it's not that much of a cliffhanger since this fic falls into the same head-canon universe of my Blicket one, you should be able to piece together an idea of what happens next. That said, I won't abandon this and will finish it up. That I promise. Finally, as usual, please drop me a note with what you think-it means a lot.