“You still there?”
“I thought the call dropped.”
“Oh no, it didn’t,” I say like an idiot; obviously, he knows the call didn’t drop.
“So I…” He pauses, and I can picture him running his hand through his hair the way he always used to when he wanted to say something but didn’t know how to say it. “I talked to my mom, and she will watch Jax tomorrow so I can come up and see you and Ashlyn.”
“I have the weekend off, so we will be home.”
“Okay, good,” he says, and I can hear the nervousness in his voice. “Did you talk to her?”
“No, I will. It’s just she fell asleep in the car.”
“Yeah, Jax fell asleep too,” he sighs.
“This is really awkward,” I laugh.
“Tell me about it.” I have the urge to ask him about his wife, but can’t spit the words out. The thought of him married makes me ill. Why did he still have to be so gorgeous? With his overgrown dark hair, crystal-clear blue eyes, tan skin, strong jaw, his height and body—geez, his body is as perfect as I remember—wearing dark jeans that fit just right, and a red t-shirt that was so tight I could see everything. “So I was thinking that I would come up around ten; does that work for you?”
“What?” I hear the words, but they don’t register for a second because I am stuck in a daydream about his body. Maybe it’s time to start dating.
“Ten in the morning…does that work for you?” I can hear the smile in his voice, and I shake myself out of my daydream.
“Yeah, sure. Ten is fine.”
“Good, I told Ashlyn I would talk to her tonight before she goes to bed. Can you have her call me when she wakes up from her nap?”
“Yeah, no problem.” I close my eyes.
“I am glad you don’t hate me,” he whispers, the words sounding pained. My eyes open.
“I want to.” I really do. I want to rage and scream and cry, but I just can’t. I feel like this isn’t really happening.
“I have a lot to explain. I just…damn, this situation is completely f**ked up.”
“Look, we will just talk tomorrow or whenever. I will have Ashlyn call you tonight. I just…I just need to know that you plan on sticking around; otherwise, I won’t put her through this.”
“I told you already I won’t change my mind. I have already missed out on way too much.”
“All right, so let me give you my address.” I rattle it off to him quickly. “See you tomorrow,” I say, and before he can say anything more, I hang up. I pull the phone from my ear and it starts ringing again right away; this time my mom’s number is flashing across the screen.
“Hey, Mom.” I try to sound cheerful.
“What’s wrong?” Dammit, I didn’t want to have to tell her this. I moved home shortly after I had Ashlyn. I tried to make it on my own, but with a new baby, school, a job, and an apartment, it was just too difficult. My dad was ready to fly down and kill Cash, and my mom wasn’t much better.
“IranintoAshlyn’sdadtoday,andshewaswithme,” I say as quickly as verbally possible.
“You what?” she screeches.
“Oh, God, Mom, I don’t know. I took Ashlyn to the place she likes with all the trampolines and he was there with his son. I tried to leave and he stopped me. He knew right away that Ashlyn was his, and I swear, Mom, I swear he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about when I told him about the messages.”
“You need to come home.”
“Mom,” I sigh, sitting down on the couch.
“Honey, that prick told you to get rid of my granddaughter. He doesn’t get to come in now, filling your head with a bunch of bull-hocky, making you believe that he never told you those things.”
“I know, Mom, but what if he didn’t do it? I can’t keep Ashlyn away from him; she knew right away who he was. If he really does want to be in her life, I can’t keep him out.”
“I have a 12-gauge that says different.”
“I think that’s illegal, and I kinda love you, so I would hate to see you in jail.”
“Honey, just,” she pauses, “just promise me that you know what you’re doing.” I had not a clue what I was doing.
“I am thinking of Ashlyn, Mom. That’s my one thought.”
“How is my grandbaby taking this?”
“I haven’t really talked to her about it yet. She fell asleep in the car on the way home. I have no idea how to explain this to her.”
“Well,” she lets out a long breath, “don’t start off by saying that her dad is a good for nothing ass**le.” I laugh. I can’t help it; my mom is funny.
“That’s sound advice.”
“Just tell her that he is ready to get to know her—that he missed her and is glad that you moved close so that they can see each other.”
“That’s even better advice.”
“Well, kiddo, you know I love you, and you know if you need anything—even an alibi—me and your dad will be here for you.”
“Thanks, Mom. I love you,” I whisper, laying down on the couch. “Tell Daddy I love him.”
“I will, honey. If you need us, you call.”
“I will, Mom. Don’t worry about me; everything will be all right.” I hang up, staring at the ceiling, knowing I need to get up, but I don’t move until I see Ashlyn standing in the hall rubbing her eyes. I call her over, pulling her into my lap. I explain as best as I can about Cash and why he wasn’t around before, and how that was now going to change. Then I tell her about him coming over the next day, and she is very excited about that. My dad was the only man who she’s had in her life, so having her dad would be huge for her. After Cash, I only dated one guy. He was sweet and good friends with my dad. We didn’t get serious—I wasn’t ready for that. When I got the job here in Tennessee, he was a little upset I was leaving, but understood why. Plus I never wanted to feel the loss of someone that I loved again like I felt when Cash left me. So it was easier to get out before we got too involved.
Ashlyn jumped off my lap and ran to her room, yelling over her shoulder that she wanted it to be perfect for when her daddy came to play tomorrow. I snorted to myself; maybe there was a bright side to this after all.