As the dying light of another Saturday faded into oblivion, parents, devoted teachers and giggling school children began to head for the parking lot. The art fair I'd set up for my classes of elementary school children seemed to have been a rousing success. Since the fair had been my project, I suppose it was only to be expected for there to still be a crowd of people waiting to speak to me.
Okay let's face it, there were always people waiting to speak to me and there had been for all of what I jokingly call life.
As I looked at the people waiting to see me, it again struck me as very funny that neither the other teachers nor even the principal had nearly as many people waiting for them. In fact the principal was one of the people waiting for me. This didn't shock me since I knew what she wanted, or at least what she hoped for.
It was important for me to stay on her good side though, so I often did little things to keep her hopes up. Anna, my principal, was an attractive woman. She'd dedicated her life to teaching and working with kids only to find out that as her biological clock began to tick very loudly, she had none of her own. I guess that's where I came in. It was like something out of a romance novel. The mysterious new art teacher sweeps in and sweeps the beautiful maidenly principal off of her feet and they live happily ever after. Okay sorry ... I forgot that this is, after all, the twenty first century.
Let's re-do that. It should be the mysterious new art teacher, who's obviously a bad boy with a hidden past, rides into town on his motorcycle and starts secretly fucking the beautiful principal. She ends up pregnant and helps him to get over the secret tortures and terrifying dreams of the past he's trying to escape.
It doesn't matter which version you prefer, they're both bullshit because I have no intention of ever touching another woman for as long as I live. Been there, done that, got the claw marks all over my heart to prove it. And I'm not like those modern theorists who believe that people can fall in love over and over again. They believe, I think, mistakenly that love is a simple equation that can be generated whenever the circumstances and people are within certain parameters.
In other words, if you take two reasonably attractive people, put them in the right situation at the right time, they will fall in love. I suppose with the number of divorced couples and the amount of cheating that goes on, it does tend to make sense. I, however, say thee nay. The theory is pure hokum and those who espouse it have simply created their theory to explain the lack of stability in the marital unit as of late. I believe that what happens a lot today is that people mistake attraction for love. They find someone they're attracted to, start fucking, enjoy the sex and then get married. A few years later, inevitably, the sex becomes mundane and sex was all they ever really had. They need someone else to stoke their fires and excite them, so they start having affairs or simply divorce.
Real, true love, may only strike a person once in their lifetime. Our problem is that we're so used to getting what we want instantly, that we no longer have the will or the ability to wait for it.
I've had mine. It ended tragically and I'll never go down that path again. I don't think I'm physically or mentally capable of going through it again. It was all I could do to walk away with part of my sanity intact. Real love takes you to the heavens, borne aloft on its wings. But there's always, always, always gravity lurking just beyond the tips of those same wings waiting to return you swiftly and painfully to the rocks below.
I flew ... God damn it I flew higher and longer than I ever thought possible. So when I fell, it was from a higher altitude and far more painful than I ever thought I could endure. I should have died, perhaps like in one of those great Shakespearian tragedies, we both should have died. We both survived, but it was clear at least to me, that we couldn't both exist in the same world any longer.
See what I mean ... artistic people should never be allowed to speak. I've just given you the boring broad strokes of my entire life without giving you any of the details to flesh it out. But don't worry, you're not alone. I never talk about who I was, to anyone. Not even to Anna and she really is my best friend in this chapter of my life, though she doesn't realize it.
My hackles are up this evening. It's almost as if I can feel something coming for me, a shadow of trouble reaching out to fuck up my life all over again. I scan the faces of the people waiting for me. Besides Anna, there are three women and a man. One of the women has a very angry face, the others are smiling. The man is one of my fellow teachers, Jim. We're somewhat friendly. I know what he's after so I take him first.
"Hey Larry," he says to me. It still takes me a while to realize that he's talking to me.
"What's up Jim," I reply. "Before you ask, I'm still on for our run tomorrow morning. Six a.m. by the trail in the park."
"Well I also wanted to know if you wanted to hit a couple of bars with me and the guys tonight," he asked. "Jeezus guy, you have to start getting out there sometime." He looks at the women standing around by my booth and smiles. "Maybe you've already picked your horse," he said, looking at Anna. Then punching me lightly in the shoulder he smiles and says, "It's dangerous to shit where you eat."
A few feet away, Anna blushes as she overhears a part of the conversation and looks away shyly. For a principal she's fairly easily embarrassed.
The two women who follow Jim are simply women from the neighborhood or school district who saw me and wanted to talk to me. I'm not even sure that they have kids in the school. They seem a little bit young to be mothers. I politely get rid of them and turn to the woman with the angry face.
"Mr. Martin, did you buy Melissa's painting?" she asks.
"Yes I did, Mrs. Crane," I told her. "It's brilliant and I wanted it."
"But she priced it ridiculously high so no one would buy it," said Mrs. Crane. "Her father was supposed to show up at the fair today. She was supposed to drop the price when he came over. Then he'd buy it. I can't believe that you'd pay a hundred dollars for a ten-year-old girl's painting. What the hell is going on here?"
"It's worth it," I said. "It was the best piece in the show and I know art."
"Just because you're a fucking art teacher doesn't mean you know anything about art," she snapped.
From, behind us a voice I'd never expected to hear again said, "Art teacher?" The voice was very loud and I looked up and recognized the man instantly. I was also sure he recognized me despite the pains I'd taken to change my appearance.
"None of these people know who you are, do they?" he laughed loudly. "Oh shit, this is rich."
"Anna, could you please take this gentleman inside the school to my office. I'll need to speak with him privately," I said.
I turned back to Mrs. Crane. "Mrs. Crane, your husband never showed up today did he?" I asked. She shook her head. "I really don't know what's going on in your family life nor do I want to. But I do know that your daughter has a monstrous talent. It should be nurtured and fed. She seemed so disappointed that people came by and bought paintings and flower pots and all of those other things that her classmates made. They looked at her painting a lot, but as you said no one was going to pay a hundred dollars for it. That made her feel worse. Most of my students made five or six little projects and just between us, on an artistic scale, most of them were worthless. Melissa has real talent. Her painting was so much more complex than anything else here that she only had time to complete the one painting."
"I bought that painting for two reasons. The first reason is because it really is worth a hundred dollars. The second is because I'd have paid anything to see her smiling the way she usually does. With all due respect, I don't want to see your daughter's talent quenched in the middle of your marital flames. If your husband had showed up he could have bought the painting back from me. But he never showed. Right now you have a very happy daughter. She's thinking of all of the things she'll do with the money she got for her picture even after the school takes its cut."
"I think that you're really pissed at your husband for not showing up and trying to take it out on me. Is that even a little bit possible?"
As a few tears started to fun down her cheeks, she nodded her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Martin," she told me and hurried away. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there are problems in that family. Her husband was either so engrossed in his work that he didn't see what was happening to his family or already fucking someone else. In either case, if things didn't change, she would be doing someone else very soon too. Whoever it was, it would not be me."
I turned and hurried into the school. I quickly walked through the deserted building towards my classroom with its large work area and small office. The light was on in my office. Anna stood there looking nervous. The mysterious man had removed his hat. The balding and older man sat there smirking and shaking his head.
Anna was worried. I could tell by the way she was wringing her hands. Her senses were telling her that she was about to find out something that she really didn't want to know. I think she thought that she was about to find out that she'd hired and was attracted to a criminal or worse, though nothing could be farther from the truth. The only crime I'd committed other than changing the name I worked under, which wasn't actually a crime, was to walk away from a bad situation.
"Legolas, what the hell are you doing here, pretending to be an art teacher?" asked the man furiously. "We've been looking for you all over the fucking world for almost five years. Do you know what's happened to Kerri since you left her? Do you even care? I know that artists are supposed to be eccentric but this is my daughter we're talking about. God damn it I ought to..."
"Wait ... wait, please!" said Anna. Her eyes were huge and she'd become very pale. She crossed the room and looked at me. I could tell she was imagining me without the trimmed beard and facial hair. She was imagining me with my hair cropped very short. She even took off my glasses and looked through them.
"These aren't prescription lenses," she said slumping down in a chair. "You're ... you're not Larry Martin are you."
"Of course not," snapped my father in law. "He's..."
"Legolas Ambrose," finished Anna.
"That's right lady," snapped Dan Connors, my father in law, who'd known me all of my life. "But I haven't the faintest idea why he's here pretending to teach art to preschoolers."
"In the first place Dan, I'm not pretending. I do have a Masters Degree in fine arts and graphic design as well as a number of other subjects. So I'm more than qualified to teach art anywhere," I said.
"But why not in a college somewhere if you have to waste your talent?" he snapped. "You shouldn't be teaching at all. You should be doing what you do best. And you should be with your wife. She really hasn't done well since you deserted her. I have to insist that you come home immediately so we can work this out."
"There's nothing to work out," I hissed. "That part of my life is over."
"You asshole," he hissed back at me. "My daughter went fucking nuts when you walked out on her with no reason and no warning. I'd always told her that you were off your fucking nut. All of that bullshit about Mustangs and swords, cowboys and Samurai, I never understood any of that shit. She spent nearly all of her money trying to find you. She sent private investigators and agents all over Europe and South America trying to find you. She languished away drinking herself nearly to death over you, you fucker. It was all over the news when she had to be put into a treatment facility and you have never even so much as written to her. Lately it had gotten so bad we had to put her, your wife ... my daughter in an institution. She tried to kill herself twice, God damn you. And all the time you're here in fucking Arizona, playing art teacher with this Bimbo."
"I can't believe you're less than two hours away from us by plane and we're searching all over the world for you. Kerri went out of business and went through all of her money. Her reputation was ruined and she lost all of her clients because she spent all of her time trying to find you. She's told me more than once that whether I like it or not those are her only choices. My own fucking daughter told me that her only options were to find you or die. She loves you so much that she simply can't live without you."
"Then when we needed money, she decided to sell one of two of your smaller pieces from your collection. She didn't want to, but she has to have money to live on. Do you know what she found out?" he screamed.
"Yup," I said smugly. "She found out that she couldn't."
"You did know," he said incredulously. "You knew!"
"Well duh," I said. "I did it."
"So there was no trickery ... no legal manipulation?" he asked.
"I left the rights to manage and protect all of my unsold pieces to Dana," I said. "I also turned over management and rights to my name and image to her. I also gave her the money to start her own agency. I truly believed that she'd be great at it."
"Dana gave up running her agency soon after you left," he said. "We can talk about that and what she left you later."
"What do you mean what she left me?" I asked. "I haven't heard from Dana in about a month. But we do sometimes go weeks without speaking to each other. Dana is a part of the art world and I'm not any more. I knew that she'd given up the agency. I also knew that she'd been renting out some of my pieces to museums. I was fine with it. Has she run off or something? I don't believe it, Dana wouldn't do that. She's not like..."
"Don't say it," he snapped.
"So tell me what's going on with Dana," I snapped back.
"Legolas," he said sadly. "Dana died last month. She was in a car accident. She was in the hospital for three days fighting for her life. She had no family other than..." he stopped and looked at me.
"I forgot," he said. "You really don't know do you. God damn it this is fucked up. Some of this is beginning to make sense."
"I don't know what," I screamed. There were tears running down my face. I couldn't help crying. Anna was immediately on her feet coming over to comfort me. She got down on the floor where I'd slumped and cradled my head in her soft breasts.
"Legolas, what the fuck is wrong with you?" he asked. "You didn't even bat an eyelash when I told you how my daughter, the supposed love of your life, tried to kill herself twice. You don't seem to give a half a God damn that she's practically destitute. This is the woman you've loved for most of your life, or so you claim. But you start crying and can't even stand up when you find out that your fucking secretary died?"
"I'm not getting any of this shit," he said. "You were doing what you wanted. You were on top of the fucking art world. I know that you were under a lot of pressure and you artists are weird but what the fuck? I mean all of that shit with you and all of those swords and the cars, it didn't make any sense to me but you and Kerri were happy. You both worked way too hard, but you were happy and rich so what could I say? I also had to admit that you loved her more than anyone else could have, probably even more than I did. Shit, in her own way Kerri was a little weird too. So maybe the two of you belonged together. Then out of the blue, wham, bam, thank you ma'am. You were fucking gone. Kerry didn't say a fucking word, she just spent all of her time crying over you, trying to find you and drinking herself into oblivion."
"It took me a while to figure out that you'd cheated on her," he said. I looked up when he said that, but I didn't say anything.
"It took me even longer to figure out that you'd cheated on her with Dana," he said. "It still makes no sense. We still don't know why you just ran off. I'm sure it was because of all the guilt you felt about betraying my daughter, but God damn it Legolas, you should have faced it like a man. Kerri would have forgiven you a thousand times over. She, more than anyone else, knew the pressure you were under. And there were always women parading around in front of you like cats in heat. Why the fuck did you leave?"
"Making one mistake wasn't enough to bail on a lifelong love, no matter how much guilt you felt," he said sadly. "I'm just glad I found you now so we can put this whole thing back to the way it should be."
For a long time no one said anything. Anna just held me against her breasts, telling me that everything was going to be fine.
Then I finally recovered enough strength to sit up and to speak. "No," I said.
He looked at me as if I had snapped. "No, what?" he asked.
"No, we're not putting anything back together," I said. "We couldn't put this shit back together with God's personal tube of super glue. None of what you said is right anyway. In the first place I didn't cheat on Kerri. That isn't why I ran."
"Legolas, you aren't a man who's known for lying," he said. "So that's probably why you suck at it. I know you slept with Dana, dumb ass. I can prove it."
"Let me guess," I said. "She video-taped it for her memories and you have a copy of the tape."
"No son," he said seriously. "You got her pregnant and I have your almost five year old daughter living in my house. When Dana died and we found out about her, the court gave temporary custody of her to Kerri and me. It had to be both of us because Kerri just recently snapped out of her funk. Dana asked us to find you and bring your daughter to you. We've been looking for you since she passed. We found you by going through her records but it still took us a month. Kerri is trying to adopt her. That way the three of you can be a family and everything will work out."
"No the fuck she isn't," I snapped. "I will not have my daughter raised by..."
I pulled out my iPhone and started to make a call.
"Who are you trying to call?" he asked.
"My lawyers," I said.
"Son, Kerri isn't trying to take Aria from you," he said. "She's just trying to find a way ... any way that she can become a part of your life again. Anyway she's on her way here now. Her plane should be landing in about an hour. Can't we all just sit down and talk about this then. I still don't understand any of this. Why won't you just accept the fact that Kerri still loves you and wants to forgive you? She's even willing to raise and love another woman's child to get you back. Why can't you just accept her forgiveness?"
I had intended not to say a word about it. I hadn't ever told anyone anything about the situation. Before then the words had never escaped my lips but I was so angry at the way things had turned out that I couldn't help it. I had contingency plans for what I'd do if Kerri ever caught up to me. I already had another name change and another life set up, but I hadn't foreseen this. I had no idea that I had a daughter. Her, unlike Kerri, I couldn't walk away from.
My frustration at having to face Kerri, at her father's stupidity and at all of the pain that was welling back up in me finally erupted and I couldn't help it. The words came out of me faster and angrier than I'd intended. "BECAUSE I WASN'T the one who CHEATED!" I screamed.
He shrank back against the fury of my words. I grabbed a piece of paper off of my desk and scribbled down my address. "When she gets here, bring my daughter to my home so we can settle this once and for all," I said. "It's time for us to get this out of the way once and for all."
"Legolas," he began. "Maybe I don't know wha..."
"We'll get it all out when Kerri brings me my child," said. Then I walked away. He just stood there in the office with shock written all over his face. Kerri never could accept reality, or the truth. It was just like her to let everyone think that I'd cheated on her.
I got into the car I'd driven today, my pewter 2009 Mustang anniversary edition. I hit the gas hard and started the rear wheels to spinning and left a trail of smoke across the parking lot until I suddenly stopped. The big oversized Brembo brakes halted the car's momentum in a split second.
Anna grabbed the handle of the door and got into the car beside me.
"I've always wanted to ride in this thing," she said cheerfully.
As we drove down the streets of our small to medium sized Arizona town, the desert's beautiful colors failed to bring the normal smile to my face. I'd picked Randall city for two reasons. One, because it was close enough to Phoenix that I could get anything that any major city had to offer. But also because Randall was small enough to be off the grid to anyone who'd look for me.
Anyone looking for me from my old life knew that there were simply things like internet service, good mechanics and cable TV that I'd never do without. It seemed funny to me that I'd give up the woman I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with but I wasn't ready to miss Spartacus to do it.
"Were you ever going to tell me," Anna asked, as I took a corner particularly hard and threw us both against our seats. I got out of the car and started walking fast towards a strip mall. I hadn't answered her because I truly didn't know what the answer was.
I took off my glasses and threw them against a wall where they shattered. Well the frame shattered those plastic lenses are designed not to shatter, but even they cracked multiple times.
"We've been working together for two years," she said, getting louder. She had to run a little to keep up with me.
I stepped into the barber shop and she followed me in. Luckily the place was about to close.
"Whoo, you're just in time," said the man. "I was on my way to flip the sign around to read closed."
"I could come back," I began.
"Nah," I haven't made nearly enough money this week to turn down any paying customers," he said. "Besides, my wife is probably only halfway through burning the shit out of my dinner anyway." He smiled as he said it. He had a twinkle in his eye that told me that no matter how badly he talked about his wife, he'd give up his life for her.
"I feel really bad for you," I said.
He laughed again. "Hey what she lacks in cooking skills, she makes up in other rooms in the house. If ya know what I mean," he smirked.
Anna forgot her growing anger long enough to blush.
"So how am I cutting this?" he asked.
"Just a light trim," said Anna. "We have to get you another pair of glasses."
"Cut it all off," I countered.
He looked at both of us. "I tend to side with the ladies," he said. "Are you two going through something?"
"NO," I said, at the exact same time as Anna said, "YES!"
The friendly barber sat there stunned. "Why do you want his hair long?" he asked Anna.
"It's the way it's always been since I've known him," said Anna. "It's soft and wonderful."
"Why do you want it cut short?" he asked me.
"I'm tired of hiding. There's no need for it any more. I've always liked my hair short and functional. It's easier to take care of and it doesn't get in the way. I only like long hair on girls," I said. "Anyone who knows me and cares about me knows that."
"Cut it short," said Anna sadly.
"And can you shave off the beard?" I asked. He nodded and went to work. Anna seemed to worry more with each lock of hair that was cut and fell to the floor. By the time the pile of dark brown curls littered the floor around the barber's chair, she'd stood back up and was standing beside me holding my hand as the barber shaved me.
"You were never going to tell me," she said. "I can see that now. Her holding my hand wasn't new. She'd started doing it when I had the flu really badly. I'd barely made it through school the first day that I came down with it. I'd had to stop several times driving home because I was so dizzy.
When I got to my house, I got the door open and had collapsed on my couch. When I hadn't called in the next morning, Jim had stopped by to see me at lunch time. I'd been there for about a year and everyone had wondered where I was because I'd never missed a day of school before. He must have called Anna on his way back to work, because the next thing I knew she was at my house.
She'd always been friendly with me. Well, as friendly as I allowed anyone to be. But the look on her face told me that there was more to it. She'd taken my coat off of me and made me get into my bed. She'd reached under my covers and taken off my pants and socks. Then she started force feeding me. She kept feeding me until I'd throw up because I couldn't keep anything down. She had a bucket right beside the bed for when it came back up. I was delirious that first day. By the second day, when I still felt as sick as a dog but found myself lucid enough to try to talk, I looked at her and said, "Sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry about?" she asked.
"I didn't call in," I said. "I'm really sorry but this hit me really fast and I could barely move yesterday." Then I noticed that she was laughing quietly.
"Am I suspended?" I asked.
"Well, I'd have to suspend myself too," she said. "I didn't call in either."
"But I think we'll be okay," she laughed. "I thought you were apologizing for the damage to my reputation. After all I did stay over-night at the home of a man I'm not married to. What will people think?"
That was when she started the whole hand holding thing. Til this day, whenever she needs something to grab onto she holds my hand. The last play of a game for the school's pee wee football team, she's holding my hand. If we're at a particularly heated PTA meeting, under the table she'll be holding onto my hand. Sometimes she digs in so tightly that I'm sure she'll draw blood.
"After all of this time, don't you know you can trust me?" she said sadly. I didn't say a word. I just stared forward out the window into space. There were so many questions running through my head. I couldn't believe that all of this shit had just come down on me from out of nowhere. Now I'd probably have to start all over again. I'd miss Arizona. I'd miss my little school and my students. And I really would miss Anna. I realized then that I cared about her more than I'd let myself realize.
As I formulated an exit strategy, the barber continued to shave me. My best hope was that I could get custody of my daughter if she liked me. The weird thing was that I loved her already though I'd never met her. I was curious to see what a child that I had with Dana would look like. Anyway after getting custody, I'd be in the wind. This time, no trickery though. I'd probably have to move to a different country for real, at least for a little while. Maybe my friend Duna could help me get settled somewhere in Europe. After a few years there, all of the heat would die down and Aria and I could come back.
I'd still love to be somewhere in the Southwest, perhaps Texas.
"Are you even listening to me?" asked Anna. I guess she had no idea that I'd zoned out a long time ago. I gave her hand a squeeze.
I paid the barber as Anna stood there with her mouth open. I gave him more as a tip than he charged me for the haircut. "I told you it was worth it to stay open," he said. "And I'm a stranger. I don't know you two or your problems but the way the two of you looked sitting there holding each other's hands, I'm sure you'll be able to work out whatever you're going through."
As we walked back to the car, Anna never grabbed my hand. I'd expected her to do that but she didn't. She kept looking at me and shaking her head. "What" I asked her finally.
"You're beautiful," she said. "And I'm a damned fool."
"Anna, I'm a guy," I smirked. "My nose has been broken twice and I have a square head. I just chopped off all of my hair. I look like an army recruit. And you're one of the most educated women I've ever met."
"Larry ... shit; I don't even know what to call you. Anyway your features, your face is wonderful. It looks even better out from under all of that hair. You're not the same man you were when we walked in to that barber shop. The way you look has changed, the way you talk has changed and even the way you walk is different. My Larry Martin is buried back in the floor of that barbershop under all of that hair." I saw a tear roll down her cheek.
"And there's a difference between education and intelligence," she said. "I've been chasing you on the sly for two years and you've never noticed. Now I know why. For all of this time that I've been fighting off men, hoping that someday ... well, I just feel stupid now." She started really crying then.
"And to make it worse, I'm sure you're going to leave. I can see it in your eyes. It's like in your mind you're already gone. You just need to take care of a few loose ends and you'll be out of here."
"Anna, I swear to you that I would never leave that way. Even if I do move away from here, I'd always make sure that you could contact me. Even from what you heard back there you should have noticed that I made sure Dana was taken care of."
That was the end of that conversation for a while because we'd pulled up in front of my house. As soon as I got within range, the door of my barn opened up.
"God damn," said Don, seeing what was inside of the barn. "How many of those cars do you have?"
Even Anna was shocked. "What is this, your driving to school car?" she asked.
My attention was riveted to the tiny bundle of energy that my de facto ex wife Kerri was trying to restrain. Kerri's shock at seeing me gave her the opening she needed and the little girl bolted to me.
As she ran up to me, I scooped her up into my arms. Looking at her dark brown hair and the shape of her eyes told me everything I needed to know. I'd seen pictures of my sister when she was this age and this girl could be her twin.
"Do you know who I am?" I asked her.
"You're my daddy," she smiled. "Mommy had pitchers of you all over the house." She wriggled in my arms and tried to get down so I put her on her feet. She walked around me in a circle then came back. "Where's your sword?" she asked. "Mommy told me that you always had one, even though you weren't supposed to." I just smiled and told her that there were lots of swords all over the house.
She took a look at Anna and went over to her. "You're really pretty," she said to Anna. "Are you going to be my new mommy? My old mommy went to heaven to wait for my daddy and me."
"No, she's not," said Kerri from behind us.
"Hey Legs," she continued. "Don't you have anything to say to me?" I just shrugged my shoulders and started walking towards the house.
Looking at the two women was like studying contrasts. Anna was tall and very slender with generous breasts and long legs. She was dressed very conservatively in gray dress pants, a white blouse and a gray scarf that brought them together. Her long hair was swept back away from her face to fall over her shoulders. Her only jewelry was a simple gold necklace that, upon further inspection, I realized I had given her.
Kerri, on the other hand was far shorter, yet still thin. She was almost elfin in appearance. She had small pert breasts and very short hair. Even though she was thirty two years old, my age and two years younger than Anna, her hair was spiked on top and gelled back on the sides. Her legs were about the same size as Anna's but far shorter. Her ass however was a work of art. She wore a green leather skirt with a matching purple leather top. Her purple leather pumps had at least a four inch chrome spike heel. There were very few, if any, similarities between them.
Aria ran up and grabbed my hand, pulling me out of my comparison. She pulled Anna along with her. Dan looked at us suspiciously.
Kerri sprang into action. "Okay, whoever you are. This is a good point for you to go home. We have serious things to talk about to put our family back together. I'm sure you understand."
Anna looked confused.
"He probably won't let you drive one of those Mustangs, but you can drive his Jeep home. Legs, give her the keys so we can talk this out," said Kerri.
"She's staying," I said.
"Legs, we have a lot to work out," said Kerri between her teeth. "There are things that we have to go through that anyone who isn't involved doesn't need to know. I'm not even sure I want my father to know some of these things. Whatever you did or whoever you did while we were apart doesn't matter now. How about we just say that we're even? But it has to stop now if we're going to fix things and raise our daughter."
"Look, Kerri, I don't give a fu ... I caught myself just in time. There was a moment of silence while I let my anger dissipate.
"Daddy, were you going to say fudge?" asked Aria. "Are we going to make fudge or do we already have it?"
"That sounds like a wonderful idea," I said. "I have to talk to Kerri and her dad for a while. You and Anna can make some fudge in the kitchen. Anna, if I don't have something that you need, the two of you might have to go to the store for it. You can drive any of the cars that you want. The keys are all on the peg board in the kitchen. The keys for each car are in front of the picture of the car they fit."
"Your name is Anna?" asked Aria excitedly. "I'm smart. Your name is just like mine. It has a big "A" at the front and a little "A" at the end. Do you know where my daddy's swords are?"
"Well, we'll look for them," said Anna. "But I haven't been all over his house. I've actually only seen his living room, his bedroom and his kitchen."
As Aria and Anna disappeared into the house, Kerri couldn't help voicing her opinion.
"Sounds like a whore to me," she snapped. "She's only seen the bedroom and the kitchen."
"Kerri, I appreciate whatever you've done for Aria for however long you've done it. All you have to do is name the price for your services or expenses and I'll write you a check so you can get back on your plane."
"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Kerri. "I'm going to adopt her, so she'll be my daughter legally. Then you and I will raise her together."
"Yeah, your dad told me that you were willing to forgive me and adopt her but I couldn't believe it," I smirked.
"Uhm we don't need to go into that," she said.
"Yeah we do," I countered. "First, you're not adopting my daughter. If we have to go into court you'll lose. You've been off of the nut farm for less than a month, right. The only way you got temporary custody was by having your dad go in with you. So realistically it would be me against him. I have a blood connection to her. I also have a stable career and far more than ample funds to take care of her. In the words of Ivan Drago in Rocky 4, "You vill lose."
"Legs, you have to take me back," she screamed. "I love you. I've never loved anyone except you. You leaving me was what messed me up in the first place. At least give us a chance. I can do anything for you that your blonde bimbo can and you know it. WE belong together. We always have and we always will. I know you ran away because I hurt you, but baby I never meant to. That was never the plan. I wish I could tell you that it was just the business aspects of everything but it goes deeper than that. For almost as long as I can remember, since back when we were kids, there always seemed to be something missing. Not from us, we were perfect together. There just seemed to be pieces of me that were missing. I guess I got fucked up looking for them. But I couldn't help it. It was like there was a hole in me that nothing could fill."
"I know Kerri," I smirked. "I was there. I understand what you were trying to find. YOU didn't understand it until it was too late."
"I don't understand any of this shit," said Dan. "I thought you told me he cheated on you, Kerri."
"Dad, I never said that," said Kerri. "If that was the conclusion you drew, it's not my fault."
"But you let everyone believe it," he snapped. "You never denied it once, especially after Dana got pregnant. I need to hear this whole fucking story. Who did what to whom? Start from the beginning."
"I'd like to hear it too," said Anna coming into the room. She sat down on the sofa next to me.
"Aria?" I asked.
"She's asleep," she said. "I laid her down in your bed. Your guest room is probably too dusty. We're going to have to air it out if you stay. I think she had too much excitement."
"He's not staying," said Kerri. "We're going back to New York." Suddenly she looked around the living room and her mouth dropped open. "You painted all of these?" she asked.
I nodded. "He did most of the sculptures in the back room and several bigger paintings too," said Anna. "There's even one of me."
"Do you realize what they'll be worth?" asked Kerri. "I thought that you couldn't ... you worked without..." she sputtered.
"Yep," I smirked. "And they're good too."
"Can we just get to the fucking story?" asked Dan. "I feel like I came into a movie that had already started and I'm lost."
"Okay," said Kerri. "You'll have to hear this from both of us so I'll start."
I nodded in agreement.
"The first thing you need to know, Dad and blond woman," said Kerri. "Is that Legs and I have always been together and we always will be."
"Uhm didn't you two meet in college?" asked Dan. "Wasn't it more like two weird art students got together than star crossed love?"
Kerri's eyes narrowed. "Daddy a big part of your problem is that you never really took the time to ever get to know me or anything about me. You were always too busy with your precious son doing guy stuff. How'd that turn out? Steve won't get out of jail for how long again? And when you weren't busy with Steve, it was Connie, your little princess, the perfect daughter. I was always just what you called me, the weird girl, right?"
Dan started to say something but changed his mind. "Ever since before Mom died and you lost your job, I've been the one supporting you, Daddy," said Kerri. "The weird girl with the artsy husband pays all of your fucking bills. Connie your little princess has what, 5 kids and no husbands. They just hit it and quit it huh?" continued Kerri.
"Can I tell you my story now or do you intend to keep butting in?" she asked.
"Go ahead," said Dan.