Amy had the feeling that she was about to get deep into whatever had been going on with Daniel. Deep enough that her palms were sweating. How badly did she want to know this? This, whatever it was, was beyond satisfying her curiosity. She had figured, when she’d seen him checking his phone that he was being chased by creditors or that he was hung up on some girl. She was wondering now, why she had even pried. She was sleep deprived and dealing with enough on her own without taking on Daniel’s drama. But here he was, freshly showered and making himself at home in her living room. What could his wife possibly have on him that was worth stalling his life and hers for that matter. Why not give her a divorce and move on?
“What does she have, Daniel?”
Daniel rubbed his forehead hard. He was fighting off a migraine and he knew he should probably just leave. This was his problem. He looked up at Amy who had moved from her corner of the couch to a more relaxed position in the middle. For a moment, he wished like hell that things had been different between them. That she hadn’t gotten so hung up over Dorko and that he’d had the guts to be a little nicer. She was pretty. Not supermodel pretty but scrubbed-clean, Noxzema pretty. She’d had a hard life. He didn’t know any details he just knew that it hadn’t come easy. He admired her and had been too insecure to just tell her so.
“Daniel?” Amy interrupted his thoughts. “What does she have?”
“My daughter,” he croaked, tears instantly springing to his eyes, his next words sticking in his throat. Without warning, a sob from deep down found it’s way out but he swallowed hard and continued. “When she left, she was pregnant. She didn’t tell me until it was almost time for her to be born.”
Amy stared back in disbelief. This was not at all where she thought this was going. “How…how old is she?”
“She’s 5. I send them money with the agreement that Adelina and I get to Skype call once a week. It’s not enough but it’s all I get.”
“Why don’t you sue for custody?”Amy asked.
“I would but it’s sticky. For one thing, she left while she was pregnant. The law doesn’t protect me there. If she’d taken our kid out of the country without my permission, I’d have kidnapping case but it’s more vague with a pregnancy. Plus, she claimed Adelina wasn’t mine. Also, to sue for custody I’d actually have to divorce her and I’m not willing to gamble. If I lose, I lose her forever.” His voice trembled. Amy was seeing a side to Daniel that he’d buried…way, way down.
“What if…why…” she started.
“I know,” he replied. “Trust me, I’ve thought of everything.”
“I was just thinking, don’t be mad…”
“What if she’s not mine?” he smiled sadly.
“Well, yeah. It’s a good scam and I bet the money you send her is a lot of money over there.”
Daniel pulled his phone out and showed her a few pictures. Other than her light brown hair, she looked exactly like him. “Wow, that’s your kid. She’s beautiful.”
“I know,” he smiled. “Anyway, I visit a few times a year and as soon as she got hair, I pulled some from a hairbrush and brought it back with me. She’s mine.” he smiled proudly.
“Okay, but if that’s where your baby is, why don’t you go live there?” she was going to keep up with the questions.
“You can’t just go live in a foreign country and I’d have no way of supporting them over there. Believe me, as much as I despise Juljana and the crap she’s pulled, I would go live there if I could.”
“Do they ever come here?”
“She’s too smart for that. If they did, I’d get an injunction and make sure she couldn’t leave with Adelina.”
“So what’s the problem you’re having right now. Seems like things got worse.”
“Jules is pushing hard. She wants to remarry and she’s been making what I thought were idle threats. She told me that she’d stop calling if I didn’t give her what she wanted. I told her if the calls stopped, the money stopped. She stopped calling 3 weeks ago. I let one week pass and messaged her telling her I was serious. When she pushed into the next week, the money stopped. I thought that would do it but now she’s blocked my number and Messenger. And I have no idea what she’s telling my baby girl. I’m sick, Amy. I made a mistake and now I have no way to fix it. She barely makes any money and the prick she wants to marry doesn’t either.”
“So send her money.”
“I did. A week ago but now that just tells her that I’ll cave no matter what she does. She has my balls in a vice and there’s nothing I can do without a shit ton of money of my own. He looked back up at Amy who had a horrified look on her face. “I never should have dumped this on you. I’m so sorry.”
Amy was quiet. She had no more questions and no way to help.
Nathan crawled from his place on the floor to a still, breathless Carrie and pulled her over on top of him on her sofa. She trembled from the aftershock of what he’d just done to her and he wound his arms around her, moving his lower jaw side to side until he got a satisfying crack behind each ear. It was a full minute until either of them spoke. Even then, completing a sentence proved challenging. Carrie was shell-shocked and Nathan, though very pleased with himself, became self-conscious as the adrenaline slowly made its decline.
“That was…,” Carrie panted, not sure what to say exactly. Legacy had bragged about a few rare guys who had been into oral sex. She’d nicknamed one of her ex-boyfriends Lucky because she said that finding a guy who liked it and who was good at it too, was like finding a Leprechaun.
“Did you like it?” Nathan asked, self-consciously?
“Yes,” she whispered and then a bit louder than she’d intended. “I liked it a lot! God..my brain…I think I forgot my own name.” She started to giggle. He seemed to make her giggle a lot lately.
“Well, your neighbors know mine!” he joked. “I never…” he began and then stopped himself.
“Never what?” she looked up at him innocently.
“Mmmm, nothing,” he insisted, rubbing her bare arms that were now covered in little goose-bumps.
“Tell me,” she yawned, completely naive to what he’d nearly said.
“Wasn’t important. Are you cold?” he cuddled her close, hoping she’d drop the subject but she didn’t.
“Nathan?” she poked his ribs.
“It’s…Carrie, I don’t want you thinking of me with other…” he sighed. “All I was going to say was that I’d never done that to..um…completion.” He blushed hard.
“Really?” she teased him. The thought of him with someone else wasn’t her favorite image but it bothered her a lot less than it bothered him.
“It was just…foreplay before…a..uh…means to an end. Can we drop it please?” he laughed. She always surprised him.
“Yes, and yes, I’m cold. Go get me a blanket and then we can discuss what to do with the rest of our day. I have a few ideas.” she winked.
A minute later, Nathan returned with the blanket from Carrie’s bed and had popped a random cassette tape from her mother’s collection. Carrie heard the first note of the first song and shook her head.
“Not okay?” Nathan asked, wondering if he’d crossed some unspoken boundary by touching her mother’s things.
“Totally okay, but not the best choice for setting the mood.” she smiled.
“Mmm, oh yeah?” he yanked the blanket off of her and spread out on the floor, motioning with his head for her to join him.
“K,” she agreed,” rooting in the covers next to him. “But this is a 90s mix. When you can’t get Tubthumping out of your head, don’t be mad at me.”
“I grew up in an Irish bar, remember? I think I’ll survive.”
As it turned out, Catherine Davison’s bizarre mix of music served as a trip down memory lane for Nathan.
“Oh, man. I forgot about Soul Asylum. This was my last year of high school. I played the hell out of this CD in my car.”
“Was this the same car you were making out with…what was her name?” Carrie teased him.
“Ellen and we weren’t making out…we… kissed a couple of times. First base, I swear.” he insisted, laughing at his embarrassment.
“So how old were you when you got passed First Base?” she grilled him.
“YOU are NOT going to trick me into talking about this!”
“You know I am.” she insisted, cuddling close to him. “It doesn’t bother me, Nathan. I want to know about you. You know, the people that shaped you and if that means ex-girlfriends, I’m okay with that.”
“Alright. What are you asking?”
“I don’t know.,” she said with uncertainty. “What was your first time like?”
Nathan cleared his throat and winked at her. “Not as good as yours.”
“And,” he cleared his throat again. “First of all. It’s important for you to know that this…us…this is all a first time for me too. Nothing can compare to being with you.”
She blushed and knew he was telling the truth. She also knew how lucky she was that she had no baggage, no one night stands, or bad experiences diluting what she was getting to have with Nathan. She didn’t want specifics but she couldn’t help her curiosity. She snuggled closer and breathed him in. “I guess I kind of hope that
you’ve had good experiences… but not too good.” She smiled shyly and he threw his head back and laughed.
“It’s not a big deal,” he promised, still laughing.
I was 19. It was fine. Not particularly planned and not my idea either but… it was okay.”
“Was she your girlfriend? Was it her first time? She was full of questions.
“She was my girlfriend for a little while and no, it wasn’t.”
“What about…” she looked up at him and saw his expression. “You really hate this don’t you?”
“Yeah.” he sighed. “Listen, I have no secrets. It’s just hard to know how far to take this. I never want to tell you something that might hurt you, especially when it’s so far in the past that I never think about it.”
“Amy’s not,” Carrie stated, realizing for the first time that she really wanted to know about their relationship. “I’m sorry. That sounded clingy and jealous.”
“Are you jealous? Because there is nothing there,” he promised.
“I know that. I really do. I just have this sudden, kind of scary, attachment. I don’t know where it came from.”
“So do I, Carrie. Look at me.” he tilted her chin to him. “You own my heart and you have since the day we met. After what we did, if we weren’t both feeling a little attached I’d worry. It’s not just you.”
She sighed with relief and he continued. “And, for the record, you’re so cute like this.”
“What, all silly and flustered?” she teased.
“So, was it good with her? With Amy?”
“If I tell you the truth can we drop it?” he rolled his eyes and smiled.
“Yes,” she nodded.
“In the beginning, yeah. We both knew what we liked so it was. By the end, it was…. effective.”
“Effective,” he repeated “but there wasn’t much of a connection. It happened so slowly that I barely noticed.”
She frowned a little and then said, “That’s not going to happen to us.”
“No,” he whispered, dragging his fingers through her hair. “It won’t”
His heart was pounding, rattling his chest, so hard. It felt as if he’d never be able to hold her close enough. She’d changed his life the day he met her and she kept changing it, showing him sides to himself he’d never seen.
The cassette ran to the end and they lay in the quiet until they fell asleep.