I took it from him. “Wow. I never had a chance to see any of them.”
“This one was my favorite because I snapped it when you weren’t posing. You were laughing at one of my jokes when I took it.”
My gaze traveled from the photo to his beautiful blue eyes that were staring into mine and reflected the ocean behind me. “You’ve always carried this around?”
“Even when I was mad at you, I couldn’t get myself to get rid of it. I’d hide it, so I didn’t have to see you, but I couldn’t throw you away.”
“Throw it away or throw me away?”
We continued to lock eyes as I willed away the pangs of longing that were always there and needed to be constantly suppressed.
Looking down at my watch, I noticed that it was ten minutes past three. “Adam is late.”
“What a jackass.”
Justin took Bea from me and lay back, placing her on his chest. She was reaching out her little hand to his mouth while he blew raspberries against her fingers.
The minutes passed and still no sign of Adam. After an hour of waiting, Justin was becoming irate. “We need to leave.”
“I can’t believe he would just not show up. Maybe he’s stuck in traffic.”
“Why wouldn’t he text you then? That’s fucking beyond disrespectful. He doesn’t deserve a minute more of our time. He’s better off not showing up at this point, because he’d get a punch to the face.”
I started to pack up, feeling incredibly sad for Bea. Whether Adam was a part of our lives didn’t matter to me, but it would surely matter to her someday.
Suddenly, my phone vibrated. It was a text from Adam.
I was on my way but turned around. I’m sorry. I just can’t. I can’t do this. I’ll send you money.
Justin took the phone from me and read the text. He shook his head in utter disbelief then looked down at Bea, who was still sitting there in her beautiful dress as she looked up at him. Justin had his knees up, and Bea was resting her back against the slope of his legs. Her tiny hands were enveloped in his large ones. My daughter was calm as a clam. She had no clue what that text meant for the rest of her life. She had no clue that her father had just abandoned her.
I was pretty sure she thought she was staring into the eyes of her father right now.
After a long moment of silence, Justin whispered, “He doesn’t know what he’s missing. He’s a fool.” He moved his face toward hers and said, “Well, we don’t need him. Do we, Bea? Fuck him!”
Even though he probably shouldn’t have sworn around the baby, the most amazing thing happened. The second Justin said, “Fuck him,” Bea started laughing like she understood. It wasn’t subtle, but rather a contagious belly laugh. When she suddenly stopped, Justin bent his head back then bobbed it down real fast as he repeated, “Fuck him!” Again, she erupted in laughter. He did it again. “Fuck him!” An even bigger laughing fit ensued. Justin and I were both in hysterics right along with her.
Tears were pouring out of my eyes, and I honestly couldn’t have told you whether I was laughing or crying.
That evening, Justin offered to put Bea down for the night. His soothing singing voice carried all the way downstairs. I closed my eyes and meditated to the sound of him rocking her to sleep. The song he’d chosen was no coincidence: Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder.
The following week, it was the middle of the day, and Justin was upstairs working. Bea was lying on her belly playing in the living room while I paid some bills. There was a knock at the door. When I opened it, Roger was standing there with two medium lattes from Maggie’s Coffeehouse. It had been over a month since he last visited.
“Long time no see.” I smiled. Taking one of the drinks from him, I said, “You didn’t have todo that. But it was time for my afternoon caffeine, so good timing.” I waved my arm. “Come on in.”
He knelt to greet Bea. “God, she’s getting big.”
“I know. She’s going on six months. Can you believe that?”
“Time is flying.”
“Yes…which is why I’m glad you stopped by. I was worried that Justin scared you away.”
He sat down and spoke low, “Well, to be honest, I debated coming. Your watchdog is a little intimidating.”
“I’m sorry he was rude the last time you were here.”
“I’m assuming he’s still living here?”
“Yes. Justin’s home now. He works remotely and is actually upstairs in his office.”
“How long is he staying on the island?”
It was nearing the end of the summer, and Justin had given me no indication of his itinerary. Any time I would ask, he would say he wasn’t sure.
“Actually, I’m not sure. He can stay as long as he wants because he owns half the house, so we really don’t discuss it.”
“Can I be a little nosey?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Is something more going on between the two of you?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Well, a man doesn’t bark at another man like that about his friend unless he wants her for himself.”
“Justin and I have a very long history, but during all of it, we’ve never actually been together. We’ve never even kissed once in over a decade of knowing each other.”
“He can be protective, but he doesn’t want a serious relationship with me—especially now. He cares for Bea, but he doesn’t want kids. He doesn’t want to be with me.”
Something about having said those words out loud made me incredibly sad—and angry. Why wasn’t I enough? Why wasn’t Bea enough? Justin cared about us, but just not enough.
“Sounds like his loss.”
“Some things are just better left the way they are.”
“Well, now that you’ve cleared that up…can I ask you another question?”
“Would you want to go out this weekend? The jazz festival is happening downtown. I’d love to take you…and Bea. We could go during the day.”
“I have to be honest because I don’t know if you’re asking me out on a date. I don’t think I’m ready for anything serious. But I do enjoy your company. So, if there are no expectations, I would love to.”
“I understand. We won’t call it a date then. No expectations…just each other’s company. It can get lonely out here on the island, and I feel grateful to have met you, to have found companionship at the very least. Even if it’s nothing more than that, I’d love to take you out. You need to get out, Amelia.”
“You know what? You’re right. Let’s do it. Let’s go out.” I smiled.
Slight wrinkles formed around his eyes when he grinned and said, “Saturday then?”
“Sure. I’ll see if Justin will watch Bea. If not, I’ll take her with us.” Deep down, I knew Justin was going to go ballistic. But this was necessary. If he didn’t want me hanging out with other men, then he damn well needed to explain why. If he wasn’t going to give me affection, then I needed to get it somewhere else.
“It’s really fine to bring Bea…” He winked. “Especially since it’s not a date.”