All the lights were off, so I was assuming Nate was still sleeping.
“Morning.” I heard the low rasp from the kitchen table.
I jumped but laughed. “You’re not sleeping.”
I could see him better as I came more into the room. He raised an eyebrow. “Am I supposed to be?”
A whole burst of nerves hit me, and I needed to get this over and done with. If I didn’t, it’d ruminate, and I was learning that I was terrible with anything ruminating.
I linked my hands together and stood before him. “I’m sorry about last night. Emotions were already high because of my family, but I think I would’ve been a mess anyway. The longer I stay away from my dad, it’s like the more things start to become clear. It’s making me a little bit crazy, and I didn’t use to be melodramatic. At all. There’s a reason Calihan is angry with me. I was stuck-up, and I was always just so perfect. I was locked down. This is the first real opening I’ve given her to get back at me, and that’s what she was doing. She was taking a swing because I’ve shut her down by not letting anyone else in. But all that aside, I lost it last night, and I am sorry for that. It won’t happen again.”
His eyebrows bunched together. “Look, what I said was wrong. I went for the shock factor, thinking it’d help you. It didn’t. I apologize for that, but for what you just said now… First off, I’m not your father. Second, I never want you to apologize to me unless you’ve done something to hurt Nova or me. And three, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Am I getting that right?”
“The fact you’re making yourself vulnerable and you think it’s okay that your sister is taking ‘her chance’ speaks volumes about your relationship.” He had a coffee mug in front of him, and standing, he took the cup to the coffee machine. He filled it, then reached for another. That one was filled. He added the coffee creamer I used, the healthiest I could find, and dumped the exact portion I always used before handing me the second mug.
I took it, slightly stunned. “How do you know how I take my coffee?”
“We live together.”
I rotated around as he took his coffee back to the table. His laptop was there, his phone next to it. He had headphones plugged in.
I said, “I never get my coffee when you’re here. You’re usually gone or working when I get mine.”
He opened his laptop, his eyes finding me over the screen for a moment. “You’re not the only one who can use a PI.”
“Carl was never that detailed.”
“Mine was.” He went back to his computer, and it felt like the conversation was finished.
I moved around the kitchen, starting to make breakfast, when he spoke again.
“I have a friend who plays for the Raiders. He offered me two tickets for the Sunday game. Would you like to go?”
I froze, then swiveled back around.
Was this a date?
But no… He didn’t look like he was asking me out on a date. He spoke matter-of-factly and business-like.
He stated last night we needed to get to know each other. Was that what this was?
I was going with that. It felt more comfortable in that situation.
Just two adults raising the same child, getting to know each other to make things easier and less complicated.
“I’m sure Emily could watch Nova.”
“You don’t want to take her with us?”
An eighteen-month-old? At a football game in October? In Seattle?
But before I could say anything, he waved his hand. “Never mind. You’re right. It would be a good idea if it were just us two. Media doesn’t usually care about me, but I don’t want them to start now.”
Media. Right. The gossip bloggers. This was never an issue in my life.
I was struck again at how similar but so different our lives were.
I needed to get out of there. I needed to dance but not here. Not so close to him.
“Do you—” I paused. No. I needed to ask. “Do you mind being here for Nova until Emily shows? I want to go somewhere right now. Maybe a walk in the gardens.”
An emotion flickered in his eyes, but he nodded. “I can be here all day if you need that? I know you like having Emily, but you’re more hands-on than most parents with nannies.”
I was because I had that privilege. I had the time, and I was in a situation where I could pay for help. It meant a great deal to me. I wanted to soak up as much Nova time as possible, but I needed to be somewhere not here right now.
My legs were itching for it.
I fled after that, totally fled. I had my purse in hand, the coffee with me, and I was pulling out of the driveway within five minutes. From there, I didn’t have a set location in mind, but body memory must’ve taken over.
I pulled up outside an old studio I used to go to. It was one that was always open for dancers.
No one else was there, so I programmed the music and went to the barre.
I stiffened but turned.
Matthew Chiltress was coming toward me.
Internally, I was weeping but also happy. I’d danced a few productions with Matthew. He was one of the stars in the Seattle ballet scene—well, in the national scene now. He was ready for a day of dancing in his gray top and black tights. His hair was combed back. He looked vital and alive, and I was so jealous.
I pulled on my dancing mask—chin up, shoulders back, arms at the ready. I lifted my mouth in a small smile. It was one that he couldn’t tell if it was polite or a fuck-off sort of smile. I always loved giving one of those. I’d been so good at them.
He paused, taking me in.
His eyes darkened in appreciation before he gave me a slight wolf whistle. “You’re looking amazing. Motherhood agrees with you.”
Motherhood with a nanny, he meant. No one believed I was actually the one raising Nova.
“Thank you. And you look amazing as well.”
A cockiness flared before he masked it, moving closer. “I was just talking about you the other day with another girl.”
“Yeah. She was a dancer in New York who recently moved here. She’s new but getting a master's degree in dance therapy. She doesn’t know the area that well, and I thought you might be a perfect person to show her around. You’re local and you have time now. She’s looking for places to set up dance therapy programs. She mentioned nursing homes or other shelters that deal with people who have experienced trauma.”