The thought hit me like a semitruck.
It had nothing to do with the baby.
And everything to do with her.
I’d wanted her from the beginning.
And impossible as it might sound, I wanted her more now.
Her soft moans as I made love to her were the only thing keeping me sane, keeping me from jumping off the cliff, falling to my knees, and proposing.
It wasn’t the right time.
That seemed to be the new motto of my life.
But in this moment, it wasn’t because I was afraid of what my words would do.
Until Austin, I never realized how much beauty could be found in the mess.
We had survived this mess.
The least I could do was give her a perfect proposal.
I didn’t want to dance around anything, so when I walked up to my house—the house that I was going to be moving out of as soon as this all blew over—I felt empty.
Kind of like, the home I’d grown up in hadn’t really been a home, just a place to put my things. I’d always felt empty in this large house; I just never realized how empty until now. I expected some sort of sadness, another emotion, something. Instead, it was like I was walking up to a stranger’s house.
Thatch’s apartment felt more like a home, and for the first time since finding out about my dad and his mom, I was justifiably sad.
Sad that my dad had done this to our family.
Sad that he felt the only way to cover his ass was to blame someone he should be protecting—my mother.
And just sad all around that although I was bringing a life into the world, as far as I was concerned, if he didn’t apologize, he wasn’t going to share a part in it.
By the time my hand reached the doorknob, I almost itched to knock. I knew he was home, because I’d texted him earlier and told him I wanted to talk.
Mom was gone—I was meeting with her later. All she’d done was cry on the phone and apologize—like it was her fault.
We’d talked for two hours, during which she confessed that she’d suspected my dad was having an affair for a while. And whenever she would finally work up the nerve to confront him, my dad seemed to have a sixth sense that something was wrong and would come home and bring her flowers or take her out to dinner and make everything better. She had convinced herself that he was just going through a phase.
Poor Mom. She cried harder when she said she’d even followed him one day to his meetings.
Ah, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I finally realized, in that moment, that my mom kept her façade up not because she actually liked living the life where everything was a perfect illusion, but because she wanted to protect me.
Just like Thatch.
But sometimes, love isn’t enough. Her love for my dad wasn’t enough to keep him from cheating.
And maybe the sick part was that my dad loved us in his own way, just not enough to put our needs above his own. I refused to love that way, with only a part of my heart. Maybe that’s why I refused to let Thatch go—he’d stolen my heart and never given it back. So I fought him for it, and I’d like to think we both won.
I turned the knob and shivered as I took a step inside my house and saw my dad sitting at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper.
How many mornings had I woken up to this?
And how many mornings had I woken up to a note saying he was already out?
Not enough mornings where he was sitting at the table.
And too many mornings to count—where he was absent.
“Dad,” I croaked.
He turned. His eyes were sad, and then a steely resolve replaced whatever else had been present. “You knew better.”
“Wow.” I held up my hands. “I love you too?”
“I told you that boy was trouble. Now look at him, sleeping with both my wife and my daughter.”
It was a lie.
I knew that.
And so did he.
“I know everything.” I reached for his hand.
He jerked it back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He checked his watch. “Now, I have a meeting in a few minutes. Was there anything else you needed?”
I took a deep breath. “Tell me the truth. That’s all I need.”
He looked down at his coffee, then stood. “The truth is that your mother isn’t being faithful.”
“Dad.” I felt my entire body tense, though I tried not to show it. “She isn’t cheating. You know that.”
“No.” He shook his head wildly. “She is, that’s what everyone believes, and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
He started walking away.
“Is it worth it?” I said to his back. “Is being mayor? Running for public office? Is it worth losing your family over?”
For a brief second he hung his head, and then his back straightened as he called over his right shoulder, “I do love you, baby.”
“Prove it,” I whispered.
His only answer was silence, and then the front door clicked shut. I didn’t cry. I wanted to. But I didn’t feel like giving him my tears.
Instead, I waited in the tense silence and then, very slowly, went into my room and started numbly putting things in boxes.
My childhood felt shattered and I had no idea why; it wasn’t like I had this perfect upbringing and now the rose-colored glasses had fallen to the ground and got crunched beneath his boot or something.
A deep sadness filled me.
And then determination.
To be better.
To not cheat my child out of a life full of love and happiness. I wasn’t going to give my kid gifts when I worked too late, or fun trips with his or her friends because I couldn’t take time off for a family vacation.
When I looked around at all the pictures in my room, it was oddly reassuring that in almost every picture I was with Avery, and some even with Lucas.
And then there was Thatch.
The missing piece.
I picked up an old teddy bear and tossed it in a Goodwill box.
And then I grabbed another box that I’d been keeping in my room for when I eventually moved out, and slowly started tossing in shoes, clothes, pictures, pieces of my life that seemed worth rescuing and keeping for later, for my new life with Thatch.
I didn’t realize I was crying until strong warm hands wrapped around my middle and tugged me down to the carpeted floor.
Thatch held me in his lap for at least a half hour while I cried out the rest of the tears my dad had caused. When I blinked up at him, his face was soft, so beautiful.
Let it be known that you can meet the love of your life after a one-night stand and a crazy game of Mario Kart.
“I’m sorry.” He kissed my forehead softly and then pulled back. “Why don’t we just grab what you need, and you can finish up later.”
Nodding, I took his hand as he helped me stand up.
With a sheepish grin, he took a look around my room and then burst out laughing.
“Hey! What’s so funny?”
“You liar!” He charged toward one of my poster boards. “You knew who Enrique Iglesias was!”
I gave him a wide-eyed innocent look and then said, “Who’s your hero, baby?”
“That’s it.” He charged after me and then picked me up in his arms and started tickling my sides. “You said you didn’t know the song!”
“I wanted to see,” I said, laughing, “if you would sing it!”
“I was drunk!”
“You were adorable.”
“I puked all morning.”
I scrunched up my nose. “Yeah, well, maybe not that part.”
“You’re a horrible human being, you know that, right?” He set me down, still grinning as a piece of surfer blond hair fell across his high cheekbone.
“You love me anyway.”