“But you have to eat your vegetables.”
“I don’t want to be as tall as you then,” he grumbles, and I pick him up, tossing him over my shoulder chuckling.
“Sure you do.” I look at Lilly, who is watching me with a small smile. “We’ll talk soon.” She nods. “Call me when you get home,” I tell her.
“Lilly, call me when you get home,” I say it a little more slowly so she knows I am not f**king around. She shakes her head.
“I will message you,” she sighs.
“No, no more messages. Call me.” Her eyes flash like they used to when we were a couple and her temper would flare. I used to love when it happened. I would kiss her until she melted into me and couldn’t remember why she was mad.
“Fine, I will call you.” She rolls her eyes, making me want to fist her hair and put my mouth on hers.
“Say bye, love bug.” Ashlyn waves from the backseat and Lilly from the front as I set Jax down next to me. We watch Lilly and Ashlyn pull out of the parking lot. I don’t like the feelings coursing through me. I don’t like them driving away, and I don’t like the amount of hate I am feeling towards Jules. I didn’t think I could hate her more than I did, but she’s proven me wrong. I need to call my brothers. I need to talk to them and have a beer.
“How about we stop at Grandma’s?”
“Okay.” Jax shrugs. I can tell he’s getting tired and will most likely be asleep by the time we hit the highway. After I get Jax in the car and buckled in, I hop behind the wheel and send a text to each of my brothers, telling them to meet me at the barn in an hour. I can’t believe Jules told Lilly to get an abortion. The whole time she was pregnant, she’d threatened to have one if I didn’t do exactly what she wanted. I shake my head and put my truck in reverse, stare at myself in the mirror, and notice my hat. It’s the same hat Lilly gave me when we were dating; I haven’t stopped wearing it since then. I head out of the parking lot wondering if this is my time, if I’m finally going to have a chance to be happy again.
What the hell just happened? I look in the rearview mirror to see Ashlyn trying to see out the back window. I never in a million years thought I would see Cash again, let alone see him when I have Ashlyn with me and he has his son. I want to puke. He had asked why I was being so cool about this; honestly, I might have been cool on the outside, but on the inside, I was freaking right the f**k out. All I’d wanted to do was pick Ashlyn up, run out of there, and get as far away from him as I could.
“Mommy, was that really my daddy?” Oh, God, I never thought I would be having this conversation. I considered that maybe when she got older she might look for him, but I never thought that I would have to find a way to explain to my almost-three-year-old something that I didn’t even understand.
“Yeah, love, that was your daddy.” I silently pray that she falls asleep and doesn’t have any more questions. Hell, this would be so much easier if she was still a baby. She doesn’t say anything else the whole way home. My mind is going over millions of scenarios, some of them involving packing up and taking off back to Alaska to the comfort of my parents, but I know I can’t do that. The look on Cash’s face when he saw Ashlyn and realized who she is was , just broke my heart. And then, when I looked in his eyes when he told me that he didn’t send those messages, all I saw was honesty. He didn’t want to admit he was married, I remind myself.
When I pull up in front of our apartment building, I look back and see Ashlyn asleep. I grab our bags and unhook her, pulling her out of the car. I slam the door and make my way up the two sets of outside stairs, and once I reach the door, I juggle her and our bags so that we can get inside. The first thing I do is drop our bags to the floor and go lay her down in her bed, pulling off her shoes and making sure her doll is where she can see it when she wakes up. I pull a blanket over her and make my way to the kitchen, where I pull out a bottle of moscato from my fridge, pop the cork, and fill my wine glass half-full. I down the contents, then refill the glass.
I walk to the living room and sit down on my secondhand couch, looking around our small two-bedroom apartment. It’s not much, but it’s what I could afford from the money I saved working over the past few summers in a fish processing plant. Most of our furniture is used, but in good condition; the only things that I bought new were our beds. When we moved from Alaska, I didn’t want to pay for shipping everything, so we came with our clothes and what could fit in suitcases. I wonder what Cash will say about our home. My stomach starts to turn when thoughts of him trying to take Ashlyn from me fill my head. My phone starts ringing from my bag on the floor. I unfold myself from the couch, pick up my bag and digging to the bottom for my phone, but by the time I find it, it has stopped ringing. I flip it over in my hand, seeing Cash’s name along with the words Missed Call.
“Shit,” I whisper, fumbling with the phone when it starts ringing again. I drop it to the floor, forgetting I have a glass of wine in my hand, so when I bend over to pick it up, I dump the glass of wine all over it. I shake as much of the wine off as I can, then start franticly wiping it on my jeans. The phone goes silent for a second before ringing again, and I slide my finger across the screen, hoping that it will work.
“Are you home?” Cash growls down the line. I look around for a second before answering him.
“I called and you didn’t answer, and I told you to call me when you got home.” I roll my eyes and take a breath.
“Well, I had to put Ashlyn to bed because she fell asleep in the car. Then I had to have a glass of wine. Then you called and I spilt said wine all over my phone, so I am so sorry if I didn’t call or answer you fast enough.”
“You had to have a glass of wine? And you spilt it all over your phone?” he asks.
“Um…yes. I definitely had to have a glass of wine,” I tell him truthfully, ignoring the part about spilling my wine. I have always been clumsy. “There is only so much stress a girl can take. And it’s either wine or shopping, and since I am a single mother and can’t afford to shop my stress away, I had to have a glass of wine.” I realize I’m rambling and squeeze my eyes closed, my head falling back and hitting the wall. I hear him laughing; my eyes fly open and I remember that he used to always laugh at everything I said. In Alaska, I’d hated that I still loved the memory of the sound of his laughter; part of me still wants to hate him, but I just can’t.