Jonathan strolled down the street with his daughter at his side, happy and full of life. Apart from private conversations at home and the restaurant, he never spent one-on-one time with Aubrey before and regretted not having this idea sooner. He never got the feeling she felt neglected, and she had not hinted at such, but the thought of having wasted opportunities made his stomach churn. If he could ever catch Maya at home for more than 10 minutes, he wanted to take her out as well. Aubrey’s excited response to his invitation was enough to make a tough guy cry. She was such a daddy’s girl. They both were. Jonathan knew the day would come when she would not respond as favorably to hanging out with him and Skyla, and he dreaded it. Good thing he still had a small child. He hated to think of Oliver as some sort of escape, but the boy would certainly be a welcomed distraction while he mourned his near-empty nest.
As they neared their destination, Jonathan’s eyes were fixed on the house across the street.
“Hmmm…it looks smaller than I remember.”
Aubrey smiled nervously. “He downsized when his mother moved out.”
“She got married.”
“Ahh.” He couldn’t keep his eyes off the house. It was almost as if he wanted to feel something, but there was nothing to feel except hopeful happiness. If Aubrey chose to live there one day, he wanted her to be happy and loved.
“Are you ok, daddy?”
He snapped out of it. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
They went inside.
“What is this place?”
“Songbird Country Club. I had my bachelor party here. It was epic.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“Because it’s nice! And…I figured, if I can be friend’s with Tony’s son, I should stop being afraid to show my face in Newcrest.”
She flashed a beautiful smile. “I’m glad you’re trying, daddy.”
“So…while we’re on the subject…how is Julio?”
She got nervous again. “He’s fine.”
“Does he treat you well?”
“Of course. He’s a perfect gentleman.”
She was a good kid and always had good judgment. He had to believe she wasn’t simply a naive girl who was in puppy love with an older boy. And, honestly, he didn’t get a predatorial vibe from Julio. Frankly, the kid wasn’t even that charming. Sometimes it was hard to believe he really was Tony’s son.
“Are you two…dating? Officially?”
She shrugged and squirmed in her seat. “I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”
As old as she was, she was still so innocent. It made him smile. “Is that what you want?”
He had never seen her so hesitant before. This was new territory, and honestly, he was glad she was scared and unsure. Choosing with whom to spend your time–even just friends–shouldn’t be done flippantly. Friends and lovers heavily influenced their lives, and Jonathan didn’t want Aubrey to experience anything near what he did.
“Do I have to decide right now?”
He grabbed her hand and rubbed it. “Of course not, sweetheart. You take all the time you need. And don’t let him pressure you either, ok?”
“Good. Well…I didn’t bring you here to talk about him…” He chuckled, and she looked relieved. “We have business to discuss.”
Her face lit up like he thought it would.
“I have a proposition for you. Actually, I haven’t even made it to your mother yet.”
She beamed at the news of secret information.
“What do you say to working with me full time after your birthday? You can take a little break to rest and enjoy life for a moment, and then we’ll get to work. I want you to take her place so she can stay home with Oliver.”
Her jaw dropped, and infectious laughter poured from her mouth. “I actually had the same idea!”
“Yeah! I wanted to ask you, but I didn’t want to make it seem like I was trying to take over or force mom out or something.”
Sweetness. What a perfect name!
“Of course we wouldn’t think that! Skyla loves the restaurant, but she loves you guys way more. She’s been so sick about not being able to be with him all the time. Trust me, she’ll love this idea.”
Jonathan was quite sure Skyla had already concocted this plan in her own head but was afraid to bring it up for fear of appearing like she was giving up. He would have debunked her feeling and dubbed it the silliest thing, but that was his Skyla. Always worrying.
“We should celebrate! Would you like a drink, Aubrey?”
Her eyes widened. “You’re gonna let me?”
“Let you? I never said you couldn’t drink. I just didn’t want you drinking all the time.” He chuckled. “Excuse me…can I have two Sea of Fires, please? Oh, and don’t make them strong…please.”
At least he knew for sure she and Julio hadn’t had any crazy, drunken nights. He didn’t believe his sweet Aubrey would ever behave so recklessly, but people were surprising sometimes. He knew that all too well.
“It’s my favorite drink. I made these for the guys when we were here.” He looked around the place nostalgically. “That was a very different day. A very different Jonathan.”
The bartender placed their drinks in front of them. “Here you are, sir.”
“Thank you. So…how do you feel about having your first drink with dear old dad?”
She laughed. “You’re so silly, daddy.”
“Can I make a toast? To you?”
He snickered under his breath. She was so much like her mother it was crazy. “To you, Aubrey. You are an incredible young lady, and I’m so proud of you. You’re smart, ambitious, level-headed, beautiful, and mature…I feel so lucky to have a daughter like you. So, here’s to a bright and successful future…and my new partner!”
They clinked their glasses together, and Jonathan watched her take her first sip.
“So…what do you think?”
“It’s good! Nice and fruity, but not as hot as I was expecting.”
The bartender winked at him, and he returned a nod. “Good. You don’t need it to be hot right now. Maybe after your birthday.” He took a swig of his drink and so did she. “So, back to business. Here’s what I’m thinking. After you get the hang of management, I’ll step back a little and let you run the show. When you’re ready, we’ll see where we’re up to for the next restaurant.”
Her jaw dropped. “My own restaurant?!”
That’s when it occurred to him only Skyla knew of his dream. “I want to own restaurants all over the world. It’s what I always wanted. I still do, but I don’t think I’m gonna be able to do that now. But…you can.” He felt butterflies in his stomach and hoped he wasn’t putting too much on her.
She looked away for a moment and seemed to be in deep thought…and he panicked.
“But only if you want to, of course. I know it’s a lot to think about…and it might not even be what you want.”
She giggled. “No, no. I love the idea! I was just thinking… What you want…what this is…it almost sounds like…” she looked nervous again, “kinda like…the legacy?”
A flash of warm energy shot through his heart. He was glad she understood it right away.
“Is that ok to say?”
Just like her mother, she was so sensitive about his feelings. “Of course, sweetheart.”
“It feels like I’m the heir, and the restaurant is the legacy.”
“The restaurant is the inheritance.”
“How is it different?”
Jonathan never thought he would ever need to have that conversation with his child, but now that he was having it, he was even more proud to pass down the same lesson that had been passed down generation after generation.
“When I was your age, I was kind of a jerk. I was spoiled…and arrogant. I had everything I ever wanted, and anything else I could want, I could just buy a dozen of them. I was probably bored. Anyway, I didn’t have any problems spending our money. We had so much of it, and to me it felt like it was just sitting around collecting dust in the bank.”
It felt strange to recall his former self. It was kind of embarrassing.
“It didn’t make any sense to me to have all that money and not spend it, so I tried to spend it. I’d take my friends out, and we’d go to the club and drink all night and go home at crazy hours of the morning on school nights completely juiced.”
She gasped. “You were like that?”
“Yeah. That’s when my dad had the heir talk with me. I heard what he said, and it made sense, but I still didn’t get it.
“When did you get it?”
“When me and your mother first seriously talked about having kids. We renovated the estate immediately after we got married, and mom didn’t want to have children until the nursery was finished. When it was just about done, she said we could start trying for a baby. I remember that moment so clearly. We were sitting the in the master suite. It was unfinished, but we could still live in it. I looked around the room, and I thought, wow…if I have a son, all of this would be his. I wanted to be a good dad like mine was, and that’s when it hit me. The legacy wasn’t about waiting for an old man to die to cash in on goo-gobs of money and a mansion. It was about the family and perpetuating that family’s values and ethics and teaching valuable lessons. That’s how the Pruetts are known. That’s why people love and respect us.”
“I thought I had learned the lesson, and I did, but when hard times came, I forgot that I learned it and had to learn it all over again. When I finally accepted the money was lost, I thought I failed. I thought the legacy was over. But, we weren’t dead. The family didn’t cease to exist. That’s when I learned the lesson for good. Sometimes I still think about everything, and I feel bad for what I allowed to happen, but I know those material things aren’t what’s important. You and Maya and Oliver, Juliana, Carlee, Mark, Derek, Chasity…all of us…my grandchildren…we are what’s important. And, as long as we continue to embody what it means to be a Pruett, the legacy will never die.”
“I’m glad I’m your heir. I’ll make you proud.”
“You already do.”