So far, none had escaped or hit any other coffee-goers, so success.
I was sitting on the floor, Nova standing in front of me, and Ricci was sitting on the chairs kitty-corner from us.
Her mouth gaped before she took a sip of her chai tea. “I can’t believe that. I mean, we were sneaking out like you were an ex-convict.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “How are things with Hottie Patottie?”
I grinned, feeling the back of my neck heating.
Nate was… Nate was a different story.
Her eyes went wide, and she leaned forward. “What? Oh my God. Tell me something happened? Did something happen between you two?”
Panic seized me. Where did that thought come from? I mean, I knew, but that was not good.
I shook my head. “It’s not like that.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Then why are you all flushed? You only get like this when you’re attracted to someone.” She leaned forward, lowering her voice. “That’s a big deal, Quince. You’re attracted to your baby daddy?”
“He’s not my baby—”
“Yes, he is. The only difference is you didn’t get to test out the goods before he became your baby daddy. And he is feeine.” She leaned back, fanning herself. “Give me the deets. What’s going on between you two?”
“Nothing.” And it was true.
Except that Nate was perfect.
And he was an amazing father to Nova.
And he seemed to step into the role almost seamlessly and so smoothly. It was like he’d been her dad this entire time. Basically, the exact opposite of my own father.
Nova had then grabbed a stuffed koala bear and was trying to eat it.
I tried to take it, so she began waving it around instead.
Nope. She wasn’t content with that.
She reared back, and the koala bear sailed clear across the coffee place.
It smacked a lady on the side of her face.
We had our first casualty.
Ricci smothered a laugh but got up and retrieved the bear, murmuring apologies before she came back. “I’m taking that as your little girl wanting something to happen between her new mommy and daddy, too.” She was wiggling her eyebrows as she handed the koala back to Nova.
As she took it and started to do it all over again, I blocked her throw this time, which she loved.
And we had a new game going now.
She was babbling, flapping her arms, and picking up/throwing the koala bear over and over again.
I sighed, then reached out as she started to wobble once. She righted herself, clutching the bear to her for a moment.
“Nothing is going on between Nate and me.”
“And if something did happen?”
My insides were already melting, doing somersaults in glee, but anything happening between us would be bad. Really bad.
“He could have anyone, Ric.” Why me?
“So? What are you saying? He wouldn’t want you, or it shouldn’t be you?”
I mean, why would he want me? Look at all the baggage I’d brought him already.
But I didn’t say that. Instead, I blocked another koala toss and handed the bear back to Nova. “I was so terrified once I knew what I was going to do, going against Duke, but since that first night at Nate’s, it’s been silence from him.”
“And you think anything between you and Nate would...what?”
“It’d just make it all the more complicated.”
I could tell she wasn’t following my thoughts, but she went with my subject change.
She asked, “Has Duke frozen your accounts?”
I looked up, feeling a headache coming. “Yes, the ones where his name was on the account, too.”
Nova went over to Ricci, handing her three balls.
Ricci took them and piled them on the chair beside her.
That meant Nova needed to give her more balls. So she did. I scooted back, giving Nova more room to run so she wouldn’t trip over my leg.
Ricci asked, “You’re good for money? I mean, you told me before you were. Is that still the case?”
I nodded, focusing mostly on Nova. I had no idea why I didn’t want to look at my best friend. “Everything has been…too good.”
“What do you mean?”
Nova started to run, then dropped a ball and bent over. She reached for the ball, but it rolled out of reach. Holding the other two to her chest, she started to follow it, going past Ricci. We both waited, but the ball stopped.
Nova grabbed it and stood upright, wearing a proud smile on her face. She started to turn, a foot went around to step in front of her—and she wobbled.
Ricci darted for her, but I leaned forward and grabbed her.
I was bent forward, my reach beyond my legs. She was far enough away that my face was just above the floor, right next to my toes. As I grabbed Nova and waited for her to steady herself, I turned my face sideways, and because I couldn’t help myself, I raised my other arm for fourth position. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, I was home again.
Then Nova was running again, and I straightened back up, ignoring Ricci’s pointed look.
I knew she meant well for me. Leaving Duke seemed to have no consequences based on what I’d told her, so in her mind, it was time to return to everyday life. And because Nate was being so fantastic, I was given an opportunity to return to my career.
I didn’t know how to explain that it all seemed temporary to me.
I was on shaky ice that looked coated with snow. I knew the foundation under my feet was thin, but someone not walking with me would have no idea. It was a matter of time before it shattered, and I fell through.
“Something’s going to happen, Ric.”
“I know!” Her eyes flared up. She was smiling, not understanding my meaning.
“No.” My tone was flat, and I gave her a look. She saw the warning in me. “I know something bad will happen, and I can’t move forward because I’m just waiting for it.”
She frowned, a dark shadow coming over her face. She straightened back. “Have you talked to Nate about it?”
I shook my head. “I think I’m scared to rattle that cage, too. He might be scared, and then what? Kick me out?” Because he could.
I had to remember that I signed that contract, giving up any fight for Nova.
My throat was starting to burn, and I swallowed, trying to ease it. It only burned even hotter. My chest felt like it was being squished into my body. Something was trying to make my insides cave in on themselves.