She was my seven-pound, eight-ounce surprise when she’d been born. The instant love of my life. The best thing I ever did.
She was the sweetest, happiest baby in the world. And I’d heard from multiple people who weren’t Grandpa Gus or Peter that she was the prettiest girl too, which I agreed with. Duh. She seriously cried like a kitten and now babbled all day. Was soft and sweet and smelled awesome, unless she’d shit her diaper. With dark brown hair and already fitting into eighteen-month-old clothes at eight months old, she was all chubby arms and legs that wiggled in the air as tiny little cries came out of her mouth.
But as perfect as she was, I focused in on my favorite part of her. Her honey-colored eyes with flecks of gold and brown in them. Big and already almond-shaped.
They were the eyes she’d inherited from her dad.
The same eyes Grandpa Gus had seen in the picture I’d showed him of Jonah.
“It’s me. Again. Lenny. If you wanted to run away, fine. But at least send a smoke signal to let the rest of us know that you’re alive. You’re pissing me off now. Call me back. Bye.”
I left Grandpa Gus and Mo at the house when I headed back to work, but my gut had known instinctively that neither one of them was going to stay there for long.
And that knowledge didn’t help the damn stomachache that had nothing to do with the burrito I had wolfed down even with all the dirty looks I’d been getting slipped from the man who had wiped my ass a thousand times growing up.
I mean Grandpa’s reaction wasn’t a surprise. I would have been surprised if he’d taken it well. Plus, the way he’d been wasn’t exactly overreacting if you really knew him, but it was close enough. It was exactly what any of his friends would expect.
The calm gestures he’d made and the smile he shot at baby Mo when I had come back downstairs with a hungry eight-month-old were all a lie. But to give him credit, he tried to be in a good mood every time she was close… which was all the time since he was her babysitter. That was why he’d settled for subtle sneers behind her back.
But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t picture him buckling Mo into her car seat soon and saying in a baby voice, “Grandpa Gus is gonna go kill somebody. You wanna come with me? You wanna help bury your daddy?”
So I tried to tell myself that him eventually showing up at Maio House wouldn’t be the end of the world. It might actually be a good thing for Jonah Collins to see Mo if he came by—not that I knew if he would actually come back, especially after I’d run him off with my perfectly timed scammer call earlier.
If he hadn’t left, was he going to be a father to Mo in some way?
Or was he going to see her, realize that this wasn’t some part-time job, and decide to go back to whatever hole he had crawled out of and never come back again?
From the moment I had last emailed Jonah, three days after Mo had been born, and explained that I would never keep him apart from his daughter if he was going to genuinely try to be a part of her life, I had promised myself that I could put my pride aside and let him be there. I could stand there, imagining myself ripping off his balls and spitting them out with blood all over my face, but that was all I would do.
Live in my dreams. Where I could murder people without repercussions.
Anyway, the point was, from time to time, when I had been growing up, I had imagined my mom coming to see me. In my head, I had thought I could forgive her. You know, for giving me up, for not being around. I had thought that maybe we could have some kind of relationship.
But the older I got, and now that I had my own girl, I realized that that shit was never going to happen. There were some circumstances that would make sense, but it had been thirty years now, and she hadn’t come back. That opening had closed a while ago.
I figured if she had wanted to find me, she could have. Any excuse she could have used to justify to herself leaving me with my grandfather immediately after my birth didn’t hold any value anymore. It had been her choice to walk away, and back then, it would have been my choice to let her back in.
So I could give Mo that opportunity. Grandpa would have offered the same for me if she had tried to come back; I just knew it. So, yeah, if Jonah Collins wanted to be around… he could.
And if that made my head pound, nobody had told me to have some deadbeat, immature asshole’s baby, did they?
I’d been so wrong about him; it made my throat ache with bitterness for a moment.
My best friend, Luna, had told me that when something was really bothering her and she knew there was no point in raging over it, or even thinking about it any longer than she needed to, that she would imagine balling it like a piece of paper and throwing it away. That was what I did right then: I threw it away.
Mo was here, and even though I had never, ever seen myself as a mom… and I had no idea what the hell I was doing seven-eighths of the time and was terrified because I didn’t, she was mine. And I wasn’t going to fuck up. I’d had the best example of a parent figure growing up, and I wasn’t about to let her down.
Walking through the main gym first, I looked around at all the equipment to make sure things were up to standard. It was the middle of the week, and things were slow, but that was normal for the time of day. There were two personal trainers with their clients, and more random people spread around the floor doing various forms of exercise.
I took my sweet time using the covered path that led from one building to the other and wasn’t at all surprised when I opened that door to the scene going on: a handful of guys training. Peter was there in the middle of it, along with two other assistant coaches.
Peter looked right over at me, and I didn’t waste any time raising my hand and giving him a thumbs-down.
From the grimace he made, he knew what the hell that was for.
We’d talk about it later.
Or we wouldn’t if Grandpa Gus came barging in like I expected him to.
He had never let me down, and he wasn’t about to start now.
Twenty minutes later, while I was responding to an email from a small production company that wanted to film some scenes at Maio House, I heard the commotion outside that only happened when the old man dropped by. And five minutes later, when the “silver fox,” like I’d overheard some blind women call my grandpa, headed straight into the office like he owned it—which he did—with Mo strapped to his chest, one of her diaper backpacks thrown over his shoulder, I wasn’t even a little shocked.
“Is he here?” Grandpa Gus demanded as his hands went to Madeline—or as we all called her, Mo—to take her out of the carrier.
“Hey, Grandpa. I missed you too. Thanks.” I got up and headed right over to put out the playpen I had stashed in a corner. “No. Did you see anyone out there that you don’t know? And didn’t I just tell you to leave it alone?”
The look he shot me literally said and since when do I leave anything alone?
Never, that was when, and we both knew it.
I groaned as Grandpa Gus handed the wide-awake baby over to me, brushing a kiss over the back of her head like he was rubbing it in that she was getting one and I wasn’t.
There was a reason why I’d never wondered where I got my pettiness from.