I need to thank my editing team, PapaKilo14, Hal, Pixel the Cat, GeorgeAnderson and OldDave1951. You guys are the best in the business and keep me from making stupid mistakes. Harddaysknight is my mentor and gives me critical advice. SBrooks103x also gave me a prepost read and helped with the writing. I love you guys.
She was at one of those standup tables when I saw her, eating hot wings. I had just pulled out my chair at a single. There were only three singles in the place. Most of the tables were quads, and three of them were standup. She was by herself, and my eyes just slid over her without even registering what I was seeing. Then I did a double take. She was gorgeous!
She had long red hair, that sort of flaming orange you see sometimes. She had on a tight skirt and top that showed off all her advantages, and she had plenty of advantages. Some loser wandered over and tried to strike up a conversation with her. I saw her give him the brush-off. She was gorgeous! She was also lethal and deceptive, and she would break your heart. I knew because I’d been married to her for five years. Her name was Ripley, she worked for a huge radio station as their star attraction and I hoped she wouldn’t see me.
I ordered my pizza. The Cellar had a wood-fired pizza oven and they made good hot wings, too. I got a basket of the wings, a good dark beer and I was enjoying them, watching the Razorbacks play basketball on one of the big screens. I sensed danger, and when I looked around, there she was.
“Hello, Kaine,” she said. “Mind if I pull up a chair?” Her voice was everything I remembered, low, husky, sounding like she was giving you oral sex just by talking to you. It was good whiskey, a Dominican cigar and Nat King Cole on the stereo.
“Yeah, I kind of do, Ripley,” I said. “I’m trying to enjoy a good meal here.”
“Tough,” she said. “What’s it been, three years? How many times have I tried to call you? How many times have I showed up at your house, camped out at your office, tried to talk to you?”
“Way too many,” I told her. “I don’t have anything to say to you, Ripley. Why don’t you just leave me alone? If you try to sit down here, I’m leaving. They’ll stick you with the check.”
She threw back her head and laughed. It was a low, thrilling sound and at one time, it would have sent a jolt through me like nothing else in the universe. Now, it just made me sad. “I don’t mind that,” she said. “I think my credit card can stand it.” It could, too. She was probably making more than I was.
“You’re not stupid; you know I want nothing to do with you. What do you want, Ripley?” I asked her.
“I want to talk to you, find out how you’re doing, tell you what I’m up to, ask how Kelly and Sam are doing, how Atlas is getting along and tell you some things. What would it hurt? Am I that ugly that you can’t stand the sight of me? Are you still that mad at me? Do you still hate me that much?”
“Why?” I asked. “Why do you give a damn about Mom and Dad, or my dog? I’m not interested in what you’re doing. We’re not friends, Ripley. I’m sure you aren’t interested in my life and I damn sure am not interested in hearing anything you have to say. Leave me alone, Ripley, or I’ll tell the manager you’re stalking me.”
She cocked her head to one side and raised one eyebrow in that gesture I knew so well. She sighed. “Okay, Kaine. Have it your way. I guess I’ll just have to break out the big guns. Don’t move, now.” She went back to her table and I saw her get her phone out of her purse. She took the purse and went to the restroom.
I had no idea what the big guns were, and absolutely no interest in finding out. My pizza came and I told the guy to put it in a box, I was leaving. I followed him up to the counter, paid and left. Jesus, another evening shot to hell. I went home and took my pizza out by the pool. I put “Rubber Soul” on and got a few beers, throwing them in the cooler with some ice. I was enjoying the hell out of the pizza, leaning back on the lounge chair, listening to the Beatles when I heard the gate close. I have a wooden privacy fence and the gate has a spring on it to make sure Atlas doesn’t get out. I opened my eyes and groaned. It was her. What the hell was with this woman? Of course, she knew where I lived. She kept track of that. Then I realized something: she wasn’t alone.
There was a little shadow behind her. It had a mop of curly black hair about a foot long, fair skin, like Ripley’s, very blue eyes, and she was the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen. She seemed very, very shy. She tried to avoid letting me look directly at her by hiding behind Ripley. When Ripley stopped in front of me, the little shadow went around on the other side of her and held her hand. Ripley knelt down beside me and gently led the little shadow forward so that I could see her. Her eyes were looking at the ground and Ripley slowly tilted her little chin up with one finger so that our eyes met.
“Kaine, I’d like for you to meet Makenna,” she said. “Makenna, this is Kaine.”
I really had no idea what to say, so I stuck out my hand. What an idiot! Little girls don’t shake hands. This one did. She put her tiny little chubby hand in mine. I could see the baby dimples on the backs of her knuckles. “Hello, Kaine,” she said.
“Hello, Makenna,” I said. Brilliant, right? I’ve never known what to say to kids. Most areas of conversation that you would have with adults are just closed. “So, where do you work?” I asked her. She giggled. Now that was worth dying for. I wanted her to do it again.
“I don’t work, silly,” she said. She had the cutest little voice imaginable. It was low and sort of breathy, just a little bit hoarse sounding. I thought she was going to sound a lot like Ripley when she grew up. “I’m too little to work.”
“How old are you?” I asked. She held up three of those perfect little fingers. “Three, huh,” I said. “Wow, that’s a perfect age. You’re a very beautiful little girl, did you know that?”
She blinked those impossibly huge blue eyes. “Yes, I know,” she said. We both laughed. I looked up at Ripley.
She was watching us with the oddest expression on her face. “This is the big gun,” she said.
“What in the he ... what are you talking about, Ripley?” I asked.
“Look at her,” she said. “See her.”
I looked. She was gorgeous. I still had no idea what Ripley was talking about. She spoke. “Kaine, can I go swimming in your pool?”
“Um, sure, Makenna,” I said. “Right now?”
She nodded. “Your dress would get wet, honey,” Ripley said.
“Take it off?” Makenna suggested hopefully.
Ripley glanced at me. What the hell? I shrugged. “Okay, honey,” she said. “I’ll just stay here and talk to Kaine.”
Shit, now I was stuck. “Makenna, see that black three painted on the side of the pool?” I asked.
She looked. “What’s a three?” she asked.
I took one of those chubby little hands and traced the number in the palm. “It looks like that.”
She nodded. “Yes. I see it.”
“Don’t go past there,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “Why?”
“It’s too deep for you past there,” I told her. She nodded again, kicked off her shoes, pulled her little white dress over her head and handed it to Ripley.
“Hold this, Mamma,” she said. She ran giggling to the steps in her panties and was splashing away in seconds. I was frozen. She had called Ripley “Mamma.”
When I could think again, Ripley was easing herself down into the chaise next to mine, one of my beers in one hand and a slice of my pizza in the other. “What the hell are you doing?” I said.
“Do you like her?” she asked. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she? She’s very sweet, too. I know you’re going to love her, Kaine.”
I sputtered for a minute. “Yes, she’s gorgeous. Mamma? She’s yours, Ripley? When did this happen?”
“Well, three years ago, obviously,” she laughed. “Yes, she’s mine, Kaine. She can be yours, too, if you’re interested.”
My brain was very stupid. “What’s that supposed to mean? What’s going on here, Ripley? Why did you bring her over here? Why are you here? You left me, remember? You needed to ‘find yourself.’ Why can’t you leave me alone?”
She laughed again. “Which one of those do you want me to answer first? How about this: I brought her here so she could meet her father. I’ve been trying to do that for three years, but you’re too big a coward to face me so I could introduce you. If you hadn’t run away at The Cellar, you’d have seen Kelly drop her off.”
I was going into panic mode. “Her father? I’m not ... what the ... fuck you, Ripley. I’m not a coward; can’t you get it through your head I don’t want to be around you? I think it’s time for you to leave.”
“I’m not leaving,” she said. “You’ll have to call the police to get rid of me. Do you really want to get rid of her?” She nodded in the direction of the pool. “You are her father, Kaine. Look at her; can’t you feel it?”
That little wet beauty had found some pool toys and was happily playing with them. “I better get her some towels,” I said. There was a huge lump in my throat and I could feel myself beginning to lose the control I so desperately needed around Ripley. I got up, went inside and got some big fluffy towels. Atlas eyed me, sleepily, heaved himself to his feet and ambled out after me. He saw Ripley and his stump of a tail began to wag furiously. Then, he spotted Makenna and he began to wiggle all over. He trotted over to Ripley and she threw her arms around him.
“There’s Mommy’s big guy,” she crooned. He licked her face, his huge pink tongue nearly covering it. She looked up at me, a bit of drool hanging from her chin and laughed. “Is one of those towels for me?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. All mastiffs drool. The Neapolitans drool more than most. Atlas is a 160-pound male Neapolitan Mastiff. I got him as a puppy when Ripley and I were still married. “Yes,” she cooed at him. “Mommy does love you. She’s been missing you very badly.”
That soured my mood. I seemed to remember that she’d been the one who left. If she’d missed him so badly, she knew the cure. Makenna saw him and shrieked with delight. She came splashing up the pool steps and I wrapped her up in one of the towels. “Is that Atlas?” she asked. “Mamma told me about him. Can I pet him?”
“Yes, he’d love that,” I told her. She ran on her tiptoes over to him and her mother and threw her arms around his neck. He panted with joy, all that loose wrinkly skin jiggling with the effort. She looked up at her mother.
“I want him, Mamma,” she said. Ripley looked at me and raised that eyebrow. She dried Makenna off, slid her dress over her head and watched her scamper away, throwing Atlas’s ball for him to chase.
“I don’t believe you,” I told her.
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I’ll get proof. I’ll get a DNA test done. I was never unfaithful to you, Kaine. You know that.”
I didn’t know that at all, but it didn’t matter. “I’ll need to see that proof,” I told her.
Her bottom lip came out in a pout. It was adorable and made you want to kiss her and suck on that puffy lip. Until she broke your heart, that is. “I figured you’d say that. You’ll have to cooperate. I’ll need a cheek swab. I’d have done it long ago if you didn’t run every time I tried to talk to you. I began to lose hope that I’d run into you. You’ve been hiding pretty well.”
“Ripley, you left me, remember?” I said. “You weren’t happy. That’s what you told me. We got married too young, there was all of life waiting for you out there and you wanted to explore. That’s what you said, and that’s what you did. You tore my heart out. I loved you with everything I had. That wasn’t enough for you. You wanted more. I don’t know what the hell you wanted. I only know you moved out, went on your merry way, ‘exploring’ or whatever. Fine, you had every right to do whatever the hell you wanted. It’s been three years. Why are you here? Don’t give me any bullshit.”
“Kaine, did I divorce you?” she asked.
“No, you just left me,” I said.
“That’s right,” she said. “You divorced me, not the other way around.”
“What did you expect?” I asked.
“Not that,” she said. “Why do you assume I didn’t mean exactly what I said, Kaine?”
“Well, there was the fact that I saw you at the White Rhino with ‘The Big Dog’,” I said. “He has dark hair and blue eyes, doesn’t he?”
“You bastard,” she practically spat it out. “So do you. Charles is a colleague, we were there doing a live show, and he’s the biggest asshole on the planet. What, did you think I would ever voluntarily be with him anywhere?”
“Looked like you were having a good time to me,” I said.
“I’m a performer,” she snarled. This was the Ripley I remembered.
“So, how’s the search going?” I asked. “Did you find yourself?”
“Jesus, you can really be a prick sometimes, Kaine.” She drew in a deep breath. “I didn’t come here to fight with you, the opposite, in fact. I need to explain some things to you.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” I said.
“Well, that’s too bad,” she shot back. “You have a daughter, Kaine. I’m her mother. She’s our daughter and you need to listen to me. She needs her father in her life.”
“Maybe the ‘Big Dog’ would be interested in hearing your story,” I said.
She sighed. “Kaine, there are some things you need to know. I never intended for this to turn out as it did. I never intended to hurt you so badly. I was 24 years old, for God’s sake. We got married when we were 19. I felt as if I was suffocating. I wasn’t leaving you; I just needed some space for a while. I tried to explain it, but I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job. You went all nuclear and divorced me. You moved to Alaska, for God’s sake. Alaska, Kaine, really? Is that the place you thought would be the greatest distance you could get from me?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it was,” I said. “You moved out, left me. We were talking about starting a family, and then in one month, it all went to shit. You left. Your choice.”
“Yes, I moved out,” she said. “I was scared. I was losing myself. The idea of having a baby scared me to death. I just panicked. I know it sounds to you like a bunch of shit. It does to me, too, now that I’m not a stupid immature baby. I felt like there was no me, there was only us and I felt like I was losing my identity. I panicked and got stupid, okay? I never meant to really leave you. I just wanted a little space, a little time to figure out who Ripley really was and what she was all about. I thought I’d see you every week; make love to you, that it would be like we were when we were dating. I wasn’t leaving you, Kaine. I didn’t want another man; I wanted us to stay exclusive, but you were too busy shouting at me to get that. I was just trying to establish myself as my own person. I thought it would be a few months and I’d move back in. I loved you, Kaine. I still love you. You hurt me a lot when you went nuts like that. I know I hurt you, too, and I need to tell you how sorry I am for that. I’m sorry, Kaine. I fucked everything up. I didn’t mean to do that, but I did.”
I thought back to our last conversation. I was yelling, furious and frustrated. She had told me she was moving out a week before and my anger, hurt and insecurity had been building all week. When she pulled up with the truck, and I knew she was really leaving, it all came boiling out. It was not pretty and it had been the last time I had spoken to her. Oh, she’d tried. I just wasn’t in any mental state to have anything to do with her. I wasn’t in any state to do so that day, either.
“What do you want from me, Ripley?” I asked. “It’s all good, Ripley? I don’t believe a word you say. You realize that, right? I think you’ve been out ‘finding your identity’ by sleeping your way around town. I don’t know what your game is here, but I think you should leave.”
She gave an exasperated sigh. “I expected all this, Kaine. That doesn’t make it any easier to hear, but I did expect you to feel exactly like this. You never gave me a chance to explain what was going on. You never showed up at court, you’ve avoided me like the plague and you run every time I track you down. You know the court ordered counseling, don’t you? The problem was, you were in Alaska and couldn’t be reached. I finally just gave up and let it go through. Give me a chance, that’s all I’m asking for. Let me come and talk to you. Let us come and talk to you. If not for me, do it for her.” She nodded toward Makenna, walking toward us with her arm over Atlas’s broad back. “What about her, Kaine?”
I couldn’t say anything because Makenna was standing beside me. “I love Atlas,” she said. “Kaine, when you’re my daddy, will I get to stay here and play with him sometimes?”
Now that wasn’t fair. There was no way in hell that was fair. It got even worse when she climbed up on my lap and laid that curly little head on my chest. “Hold me,” she said. She curled up as if she was settling in. I looked daggers at Ripley but she only laughed. She knew damn well that little girl was irresistible.
“I have a couple of errands to run,” she said. “It should only take me a couple of hours. It looks like Makenna is sleepy. Can she stay with you?”
“No, I...” That gorgeous little face tilted up at me and sleepy blue eyes melted my soul.
“Please, Kaine. Mamma does boring stuff and I’m very tired.”
“I ... well, let’s go inside,” I said.
I carried her and she was as light as a little feather. Ripley carried the leftover pizza and the cooler. I sat on the sofa and Makenna curled up in a little ball on my lap. “Cold,” she complained.
I grabbed a throw off the back of the sofa and put it over her. She wiggled around until she was comfy and her breathing grew slow and deep. I heard Ripley puttering around in the kitchen, putting the pizza in Tupperware and then into the refrigerator. She brought me a beer and opened it, setting it on the table where I could reach it. Damn the woman, she waltzed into my house and made herself at home, as if she had every right to be here, and she got away with it because she knew Makenna would have me wrapped around her little finger in nothing flat.
She looked at us for a long moment and I could see tears welling up in her eyes. I hadn’t expected that. The brilliant green of them started sparkling and she turned, grabbed her purse and started for the door. “I shouldn’t be long,” she said over her shoulder. Her voice sounded sort of funny, and I could see her wipe her eyes as she closed the door.
I watched some sports on TV and drank my beer. Makenna sighed softly in her sleep from time to time and then Ripley was kneeling in front of us, watching us. I woke up a little and Makenna was still asleep. Ripley noticed I was awake and reached out, cupping my cheek in her palm.
“Carry her to the car for me, Kaine.”
I stood up carefully, trying not to disturb my weary cargo, and carried her out. Ripley opened the back door of her Escalade and I put Makenna gently in her car seat. There was a little pillow on the seat beside her and I used it to prop her head up. I couldn’t help myself. I kissed her tiny little cheek. She sighed and shifted a little into a more comfortable position. I stood up, Ripley took a step toward me, pressing all that hotness against me, and she kissed my cheek.
“Thank you, Kaine,” she said. “Can we come over some evening after you get off work? I really need to talk to you. I’ll bring the stuff for a DNA test. I’ll bring her. Please?”
“Friday at six,” I told her. “I’ll cook.” I didn’t trust myself any longer, so I pushed past her and went in the house, not looking back. I stood with my back against the closed door for a minute, then shook my head to clear away the cobwebs. It had been a hell of a night.
I was worthless at work for the rest of the week. My mind kept playing over that feeling I had, sitting on the sofa and holding that little angel on my lap. Visions of an incredibly sexy and passionate redhead filled my dreams at night and I woke up exhausted. There was something bugging me, too, something Ripley had said that I couldn’t quite remember, but was important.
It finally came to me on Thursday. She’d said something about if I’d stayed at The Cellar, I’d have seen my mom drop off Makenna. What the fuck? I visited my parents regularly, and they hadn’t said one word about either Ripley or the little girl. Ripley, I understood: I’d made it clear I didn’t want to talk about her. A little girl who might be mine, who they’re babysitting? That was another story altogether. I invited myself to dinner at my parents’ that night with the four famous words: We Need To Talk.
I was still upset when I got to the house, but dinner and talking about other things settled me down to the point where I could listen. Mom said they hadn’t told me about Makenna because they didn’t want to look like they were pushing me to get back together with Ripley. Well, that was fair enough, I guess, and I had been pretty vehement about not wanting to talk about her.
It seems they’d been in touch with her, Ripley that is, right along. She’d given them the same bullshit she’d told me about finding herself and seeing if she could make it on her own. It still made no sense to me: her career was all on her own, and that was going great guns. Besides, weren’t married people supposed to do things together? I still thought the real reason was she wanted to try out somebody else or more than one somebody else, before we started having kids. That was the only reason that made any sense to me, and I said so.
“I don’t think that’s it,” Mom said. “I know what she said is off the wall crazy, but I think she was really sincere. She thought you’d just live apart for a few months, and then she’d move back in. She had every intention of being faithful to you, and as far as we know, she was, until the divorce was final.”
“You mean you two bought that bunch of hooey?”
“No, son, we didn’t,” Dad said. “We told her that was about the stupidest thing we’d ever heard of anyone doing. When she came to us in tears because you’d left, we asked her what she expected after pulling a stunt like that. Do you know, she actually said she expected that you’d be upset for a while, but would settle down and wait for her to come back? By the time we finished talking with her, she knew she’d screwed up royally, but none of us knew what to do to fix it. We didn’t even know where you were.”
“We hadn’t the heart to tell her to go away,” Mom took up the tale. “We tried to help her get her head on straight; I’m not sure how much success we had. Then she told us she was pregnant. She swore the baby was yours, but we didn’t quite believe her. Still, we tried to help her prepare to be a responsible mom. She’s really done well, Kaine. She’s changed from an entitled, flighty princess who would act on any stupid idea that came into her head, to a responsible adult capable of raising a child. Did you know she cut back to half time on the radio, and cut out almost all of her outside appearances, when Makenna was born?”
I hadn’t known that.
“Kaine, I know how much you loved Ripley, so I know how much it hurt when she left. I don’t blame you for what you did,” Dad put in. “Ripley was totally selfish and unbelievably stupid when she left you, but she isn’t the same girl any more. Your mom and I see a lot of good in her, especially when she’s with Makenna. I think it would be in your best interest to give her a chance to show you how she’s changed. If you don’t, and she decides you’re never going to, she won’t be on the market long.”
I didn’t think it was worthwhile to point out to my parents that Ripley is, by her own admission, a performer. She’s good at fooling people. On the other hand, my parents were pretty good judges of people. Stupid is one thing; lying is another, and they were convinced she’d just been stupid. At least she was consistent: she’d told them the same things she told me. I had a few things to think about, so I took Friday off to go fishing.
I’ve always found the process of finding the perfect spot for a fly to land cathartic. I’m alone in my head, just the sound of running water, the motions of the rod and line working together to make the perfect cast. I caught two big rainbows and a brown and I felt much better. Maybe, I was even confident enough to face Ripley and Makenna. I stopped by and picked up some shrimp and the ingredients to make a shrimp Alfredo Linguini. I steamed some vegetables, tossed a salad and opened a bottle of wine. I had apple juice for Makenna and I hoped she liked it.
I hated the thought of exposing myself to Ripley again. I still felt the pain and rage from the last time, and now I was letting her open up the cracks again. I almost threw dinner away. I had the pot of pasta in my hands, but I set it back on the stove. I thought about just leaving and not being there when they showed up. On the other hand, maybe my parents were right, and I did have the wrong idea about what she’d done.
I saw Atlas lift his head and those little ears swivel back and forth. He got up with a groan and went into the living room. That usually means he hears a car outside, so I combined the Alfredo sauce, pasta and shrimp and stirred it all together. I needed to add the Parmesan cheese, but I’d do that just before putting it on the table. The doorbell rang and I went to answer it.
There they stood. Makenna was hiding behind Ripley again, but when she saw Atlas, she danced forward and hugged him. He’s never liked me hugging him, but he didn’t seem to mind her doing it. In fact, he wiggled all over. She was even more breathtaking than the last time I saw her. She had on a pretty little red dress and all that curly hair framed her face like a halo.
Ripley, well she was just Ripley. She had on a dark green dress, and she was stunning. She’s tall and slender, but she has curves in all the right places. Her waist is long, slender and supple. Her hips flare dramatically, and she has the roundest firmest ass imaginable. My eyes slid up across the heart-stopping swell of her breasts. They were showcased and showing a bit of cleavage. There was a gold chain plunging into that valley with the tiny jade dagger I’d given her for her eighteenth birthday attached to it. My eyes slid up to that face. It’s heart shaped, high cheekbones, a slender patrician nose with a sprinkling of freckles on it, those huge emerald eyes and her puffy red lips had curled into a smile. She had a cream pie in her hands. “Hi, Kaine, do we pass inspection?” She laughed, and I felt that old thrill sweep through me.
“Um...” I cleared my throat. “Yes, you two would stop a train. Come in.” I stood aside and she went into the kitchen and put her pie in the refrigerator. She seemed right at home. I knelt in the floor in front of Makenna.
“Hi, Honey,” I said. I tried to make my voice as gentle as possible. “Did you have a good day?” I asked.
She stopped hugging Atlas, took a step toward me and threw her arms around my neck. I could feel her soft little cheek against mine. She pulled back and looked into my face. “Hi, Kaine,” she said. “Yes, I went to daycare and they took us to a thing. What was it called, Mamma?” she called to Ripley.
“The science center,” Ripley said, walking back into the living room so she could see us.
“Yes, they took us there,” Makenna said. “I liked it. What did you do?”
“I went fishing,” I told her. “Do you like fishing?”
“Don’t know,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “Mamma never took me fishing.”
“Well, we’ll have to fix that,” I said. “Would you like to go fishing with Atlas and me?”
“Yes,” she said. “When will we go?”
“We’ll have to work that out with your mother,” I said. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes, starving,” she said. “Mamma made a pie.”
“I saw,” I said. I scooped her up and carried her into the dining room. There was a problem. My chairs were too low. I went and got some cushions for her to sit on and we were good.
“Anything I can do?” Ripley asked.
“Pour drinks,” I said. “We’re ready.” I put the cheese in and stirred it until it melted, took everything to the table, and by the time I finished, Ripley had drinks and we sat down to dinner.
Makenna chattered happily the whole time and kept it from being awkward as we engaged her. She seemed to love my cooking efforts and asked for more of the pasta. She ate everything, even the veggies, and we all had a piece of pie. It was chocolate, and very good. Ripley had picked up some new skills. She burned toast when we were married, so I did most of the cooking.
After our pie, we went into the living room and Ripley put an animated movie on for Makenna. We sat on the sofa and Makenna snuggled up on one side of me while Ripley kicked off her shoes and curled her legs up under her in that impossible way women have.
“That was delicious,” she said. “You haven’t lost your touch in the kitchen.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Ripley, I hate to ruin the mood, but what is it, exactly, that you’re doing?”
“I’m throwing my hat back in the ring,” she said. “I’ve been trying to explain myself to you for a long time. I came over to sit down and talk to you three days after I moved out. You were gone. You disappeared. After I heard you were back, I tried to talk to you. I don’t know your phone number, so I couldn’t call you. You blocked me so that I couldn’t email you. I must have sat outside your office a hundred times, once I found out where you worked. I don’t know how you did it, but you never came out.”
“I had the security guard tell me when you were there,” I said. “I went out another door.”
She gave a sad little smile. “I thought it was probably something like that. I came here and parked down the street. I saw you leave, sometimes, but I couldn’t ever tell if you were home. You never came home while I was here.”
“I always checked,” I told her. “If I saw your car, I just went somewhere else.”
“Well, that’s why I never got a chance to tell you about Makenna,” she said. “You were gone all the time I was pregnant. I brought the test kit, Kaine.”
“Just leave it when you go,” I told her. “Assuming you’re telling me the truth, now what?”
“I need my husband,” she said. “Makenna needs her father.”
“What the hell?” I said. “You drop a bomb on my life, move out, after giving me some psych mumbo-jumbo, waltz right back, drop another bomb and tell me you ‘need’ me. Well, I needed you, Ripley. You didn’t give a da...” I glanced down at Makenna. She was enrapt in her movie. “You didn’t care at all about me needing you. Why should I care about you needing me?”
“You’re wrong about that,” she said.
“Okay, you tell me where I’m wrong,” I said. “What, was my co...” I looked down at Makenna. She was still absorbed in her movie. “Was I not big enough for you? Did I not do it for you?”
Ripley looked horrified. “Oh, no, Kaine, don’t ever think that. Se ... that, was never a problem for us. You know that. No, you rocked my world. You’re huge! I never ... Jesus, Kaine! What’s wrong with you? You’re such a man! Why do men think things like that? Do you think every woman is a size queen? Do you think we’re all panting for a ten-inch dong?”
“Are you a queen, Mamma?” Makenna piped up. Damn, she was listening!
Ripley laughed. “No, baby, but you’re a princess.” Makenna giggled. Nice save, I thought. I reached down and squeezed her knee. She smiled up and me, and my vision got blurry.
“I want her, Ripley,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean I want to be with her,” I said. “I want her to stay with me, I want her on the weekends, I want her for Christmas.”
“Okay, I thought you’d feel that way,” she said. “I know how you feel. The problem is, I want her, too. We can work things out.”
“I want her to spend the night,” I said.
“We’re sort of a package deal, Kaine,” she said.
“Makenna, would you like to spend the night with me and Atlas?” I asked her.
“Yes,” her curly little head bobbed.
“Baby, do you want to stay with just Kaine and Atlas?” she asked.
She shook her head, this time. “No,” she said. She was very emphatic. “I want you to stay, too, Mamma. I might need you.”
“You just can’t think about you, Kaine,” Ripley said. “She’s more important than that. You have to think about what she would want, too. I’ll work with you and you can have her nearly any time you want, but you have to be sensitive to her needs, too.”
That made sense, so I nodded. It didn’t sound like the old Ripley, either. “I get that.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said. “Kaine, I need to ask you something. When I told you what was going on with me, I was 100 percent honest with you. It had nothing to do with ... you know what. The idea of you not being big enough is ridiculous. Ten-inch dongs are something men are interested in, not women. You’ve been reading too much porn.”
“What’s porn, Mamma?” Makenna asked. We both burst out laughing.
“It’s nothing, Makenna,” I told her. “Um. It’s kind of like corn except yucky. You aren’t ever going to have anything to do with it.”
Ripley was nearly in hysterics. “This is too much,” she gasped. “Anyway, it wasn’t about that, Kaine. It was about me not being a very mature person. I was so in love with you. I still am. I felt like I was being swallowed and there wouldn’t be anything left of me and it scared the hell out of me. I panicked and did something stupid, okay? I thought I needed to get away from you for a while. I never meant it to be permanent. I thought we’d get together a couple of times a week and I’d...” she looked at Makenna and giggled, “I’d knock your socks off. I know this all sounds like BS. It does to me, now, but it didn’t at the time. I was an immature child and I thought like one.”
“Why didn’t you say that?” I asked. “It sure as he ... heck seemed like you intended for it to be permanent to me.”
“I did say that,” she insisted. “I said exactly that, but either I didn’t say it very well or you weren’t listening very well. Did I ever, once, say, ‘I’m leaving you, Kaine. I don’t want to be married to you anymore’?”
“No, you said, ‘Kaine, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m moving out. I have a place over on Pine Street and I’m moving in next Saturday. I need some time by myself. I need to find my own ‘identity’, or some stupid sh ... junk like that.” My voice got a little louder and Makenna looked up at me.
“It’s okay, sorry,” I said. Her eyes went back to the TV, but I knew her ears were on Ripley and me. This wasn’t working.
“This is too awkward,” Ripley said. “I want you to be able to say what you want to say. Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
“I was going to watch some basketball, drink some beer and wash and vacuum the car,” I said. “Why?”
“Can I come and pick you up and take you somewhere?” she asked. “I’ll get Mom to watch Makenna. I want to say some things to you. I want you to be able to tell me anything. Will you do that for me, Kaine?”
I was very suspicious. “Where are you taking me?” I asked.
“Jesus, Kaine, stop being such a ... wuss,” she said. “Do you think I’m dangerous? Do you think I’m plotting to bump you off and throw your body in the lake?”
“Yes, and no,” I said. “I don’t think you’re planning to bump me off, but I do think you’re dangerous. You’re the most dangerous person I’ve ever met.”
She laughed at that. “Please, I’ll be here at ten. I’ll help you wash your car afterward, okay?”
The credits were rolling on Makenna’s movie. “Okay,” I said. “Don’t get your hopes up, Ripley.”
“I won’t,” she promised.
I played with Makenna and Atlas for a bit and it was time for them to go home. I got a big hug from Makenna, and a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Ripley. I was buckling Makenna into her car seat.
“When are we going to spend the night with you,” she asked, “and when are you going to take me fishing?” She had a memory like a steel trap!
“Do you have a date for Sunday?” I asked her.
She giggled. “No. I don’t go on dates. Why do you want to know?”
“If it’s okay with your Mom, I’ll take you fishing Sunday,” I said. “We’ll have to talk about when you can spend the night, okay?”
“Yes,” she said. She was nodding vigorously and her curls bounced. “I really want to spend the night, though. Can Atlas sleep with me?”
“I don’t allow him to get on the beds,” I told her. “He gets kind of stinky. We can bring his bed into your room and he can sleep on the floor by your bed.”
She thought about that for a minute. “Okay,” she said.
“Ripley, is it okay for her to go fishing?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “I’ll see you at ten.”
I had nightmares that night. A little dark haired girl was being eaten by a giant fish and I was running to save her. I was running in molasses and it was taking me forever to get there. I shot upright, my heart pounding. I was sweating profusely and it was four AM. I got up and toweled off, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I lay back down. It took a while to get that image out of my head, but the next thing I knew it was nine and the alarm was going off on my phone.