Roxie opened the door and smiled apologetically at Amanda. “I’m sorry…”
“He must be very self conscious of his disease.”
“I think you should go.”
“Fine. If you didn’t want me back in your life you should’ve said so.”
“It’s just that Nick requested that you come over tomorrow. Now he’s mad at me.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? I would have come over tomorrow.”
“I did say so.”
“Yes. You were just so occupied with him being sick that you weren’t even paying attention to me.”
“Well, I’m here now, so I’ll just help you with dinner.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll go talk to him.” Roxie tried to object but Amanda wouldn’t hear any of it. “Where is he?”
Roxie sighed in defeat. “He’s upstairs. At the top of the stairs turn right, second door on the left.”
Amanda went upstairs and found Nick standing on a ladder painting. She stepped inside the room. “Oh my. I feel like I just entered an underwater kingdom.” She said after noticing the sea creatures on the wall.
“That’s the point.” Nick said, not stopping what he was doing.
Amanda stood in the room for several minutes while Nick seemed to be ignoring her. She broke the silence. “It wasn’t Roxie’s fault. I wanted to come so I could get to know you on a more personal level since you’re dating my little sister.
“I’ve been in here all day painting. There is no way that I’d be able to finish painting as well as prepare a meal. That’s why I asked her to do this tomorrow. But since you’re here, make yourself useful. Hand me a small, clean brush and the red paint.”
Amanda handed him the paint and brush. “I must say, your wig looks very real. You can’t even tell it’s a wig.”
“My wig? I’m not wearing a wig.”
“Oh, that’s good. You’re one of the lucky ones.”
“I guess.” Nick was confused. He had no idea what she was talking about.
“I can’t believe you’re painting.”
“Well, I would think you’d spend your last days on earth being, I don’t know, more adventurous.”
“My last days on earth? Am I dying and nobody told me?”
“You aren’t dying?”
“No. Where did you get that idea?”
“When I was talking to Roxie at the mall, she said you were sick. So I asked her if it was serious and she said it could be fatal.”
“So you envisioned a sickly, bald cancer patient?”
Nick sighed. “The sickness Roxie was referring to is depression.”
“Oh. Well, depression is treatable, which is good. You’re too young and attractive to be fighting cancer.” Amanda felt foolish for assuming cancer. “Well, I’m going to go help Roxie with dinner. Would you like something special, you know, considering that you’re dying?”
Nick laughed. “No.”
“Okay.” Amanda went to leave. “You will come down for dinner right?”
“Yeah. I’m going to keep painting until dinner’s ready.”
"All right." Amanda smiled briefly and then left. She went downstairs and smiled at Roxie. "He's fine. He's going to work until dinner. Why did you tell me he had cancer?" She asked her.
"I never told you he had cancer." Roxie said. "He's really okay...?"
"Yeah." Amanda smiled. "Now let's go make dinner. Where are the girls?" She asked as she walked into the kitchen.
"In the living room playing." Roxie answered.
“Are they getting along now?”
“Well, I haven’t heard any recent crying or screaming, so that must mean that all three girls are still alive.”
“Well, my girls can be little terrors, so maybe I should check on them.” Amanda said and poked her head into the living room. She noticed the girls were quietly playing Candy Land. “Everything okay in here?”
“Yes Mommy.” Alana said. Amanda went back into the kitchen.
"Your turn." Alana told Ariel.
Ariel picked a card. "Queen Frostine!" She said excitedly and moved her piece all the way up to the designated spot.
"My turn!" Mikayla said right away. She grabbed the next card. "Plumby?!" She groaned. She got annoyed that she had to go all the way back to the beginning. "I don't want to play anymore." She said and started looking around the room. "Can't we do something else?"
"Do you want to watch Little Mermaid?" Ariel asked with a smile.
"No..." Mikayla said. She spotted a doll up on a high shelf. "Let's play with that doll!"
“We can’t play with that doll. It’s Roxie’s.”
“It’s just a doll, she won’t care.”
“Yes she will. Roxie told me I could never play with that doll. That’s why it’s so high up.”
“Alana, help me get it down.”
Ariel gasped and ran from the living room and into the kitchen as Alana and Mikayla helped each other climb the shelves until they could reach the doll. She spotted Missy under the table and dove to the floor. She crawled under the table and started petting Missy.
Roxie saw this peculiar action and knelt down besides the table. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I wanted to play with Missy.”
Roxie stood up and went back to cutting up vegetables for a salad when there was a crash in the living room. Roxie and Amanda ran into the living room to investigate. Roxie immediately spotted her porcelain doll lying in pieces on the floor. She gasped. “My doll.” She ran from the room and headed straight for the steps as tears started streaming down her face.
Nick heard footsteps running up the stairs but thought nothing of it until he heard a strangled sob. He looked out of Ariel’s room to see Roxie running by the room; it was obvious that she was either trying to hide that she was crying or trying not to cry. “Roxie?”
When she didn’t respond he got down off his ladder and headed toward his room. He entered the room and saw that Roxie was sitting in the middle of the bed, hugging her legs and sobbing. He got onto the bed and pulled her into his arms. “What’s wrong?” Roxie was crying too hard to answer. “You know babe, inconsolable crying is my job.” He joked trying to get her to at least crack a smile. He pulled back so that he could turn Roxie’s face to him. He wiped away some tears with his thumb. “Please tell me what happened?”
“They broke my doll.” Roxie said through tears.
“When you say they, who do you mean exactly?”
Roxie knew that he was really only asking about Ariel. “No, Ariel wasn’t part of it. It was only Alana and Mikayla.” Roxie said then buried her face in Nick’s shoulder as he held her tightly.
Amanda entered the doorway. “Rox, it was only a doll. They didn’t mean it.” Amanda said in a soft voice attempting to comfort her obviously distraught sibling.
Roxie turned her head to the doorway and glared at Amanda. “You had 10 years with Mom. Mom died before she could even hold me once.”
Amanda looked confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Roxie placed her head back on Nick’s shoulder. Obviously she didn’t want to answer the question. Nick answered for her. “It was your mom’s doll.” He paused. “Maybe you should go back downstairs.”
“But she’s my sister; I need to make sure she’s okay.”
“You’re not helping. I’ll take care of Roxie; you go take care of dinner.”
“Amanda, go downstairs please.”
Amanda stayed in the doorway for a few more minutes watching Nick hold her little sister as she cried. Finally, she turned around and headed back toward the stairs.
Nick held Roxie as she cried “It’s my fault.” She finally spoke.
Nick pushed her back from his chest gently so he could look at her. He looked at her with a confused, yet concerned look. “What’s your fault?”
“That it broke. I had it in this really durable protector case. The doll survived the earthquake but the case didn’t. I placed it up on that shelf thinking it would be okay until I got a new case, but I never did. I should have got one immediately. I’d still have the doll if I did.”
He didn’t know what to say to make her feel better. He wasn’t good at comforting. He was usually the one needing comforting. He pulled her back to him and hugged her tightly. He just hoped that was enough.
As Nick was holding her, her sobs began to die down. She pulled back. Nick smiled at her. “Feel better?”
“You ready to go downstairs?” Roxie immediately shook her head. “Okay, then why don’t you come help me paint until dinner?”
Roxie nodded. Nick got off the bed pulling Roxie with him. She hugged him again when they were standing. “I love you Nick.”
“I love you too.” Nick smiled at her and kissed her.
They walked into Ariel’s room. “Oh my god Nick. This looks fantastic.”
“I think I’ll just let you paint. I don’t want to mess anything up.” Roxie sat on Ariel’s bed which was currently in the middle of the room. “I’ll just keep you company while you paint.”
"Oh c'mon." Nick rolled his eyes. "You won't mess anything up. It'll be fun... I've kind of been lonely in here all day by myself."
“Nick really, you worked so hard on this, I don’t want to ruin it.”
Nick climbed on his daughter’s bed and hugged Roxie from behind. “Babe, look around. Everything is outlined. All you have to do is stay in the lines and it’ll be fine. And if you’re worried about going out of the lines, then stay away from them and I’ll do the lines.”
“I don’t know…”
“I won’t take no for an answer. Now pick up a paint brush.”
Roxie finally gave in. She stood up and picked up a brush. Nick smiled and climbed back onto his ladder to continue where he left off. Roxie picked a spot near where he was painting.
They painted in silence. Nick needed to change the color of the paint he was using. He got off the ladder. Roxie was concentrating hard on the spot she was painting. Nick thought she looked cute with her tongue sticking out as she concentrated on what she was doing. Nick smirked and “accidentally” brushed his paint brush across her cheek.
Nick smiled at her innocently. “What?”
She took her brush and reached for his cheek to retaliate. He dodged it and she only got his shirt. As he dodged the paint brush, he bumped into the ladder he was using. Roxie knew he was okay. She gasped. “I’m so sorry. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Roxie approached Nick and hugged him, pretending to feel guilty for making him bump into his ladder. She kissed him as a distraction while she placed the brush on the side of his face, allowing her hand to slowly trail down to his neck. This time she didn’t miss.
“You little sneak.” Nick said with a smile.
“That’s why you love me.”
“Is that so?”
Nick put his paint brush down and reached for the paint brush that Roxie was using. He gently took the brush from her. His Hand lingered at her side. He dropped the brushes as he began to tickle her.
Roxie tried to get away from him. She didn’t get very far as Nick grabbed her waist and they both fell onto Ariel’s bed. Roxie was still trying to get away from him.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Amanda had finished preparing dinner. She sent the three young girls to wash up.
Amanda went to the staircase. Immediately, she heard loud laughter coming from upstairs. She had no interest in find out what was going on up there. “Nick, Rox, dinner is ready.”
Amanda and the girls were already sitting at the table when Nick and Roxie walked in. Ariel was the first to spot them. She giggled causing Amanda to look up at them. Amanda tried to not laugh. “Did you get any paint on the walls?”
“Oh be quiet.” Roxie said with a slight laugh. They sat down at the table and began eating.
The meal was quiet and Ariel was getting nervous. She knew her daddy had to be painting her room because he and Roxie were completely covered in paint. However, since no one was saying anything she was nervous to talk. She had tried talking to Alana and Mikayla when they first sat down, but they only scowled at her. They were still upset that their mother punished them.
Conversation started slowly. Nick, Roxie and Amanda started to break the silence with small talk, which eventually led to Amanda and Roxie sharing stories and laughing.
Mikayla looked over at her mother and glared. She was still mad that her mother punished them. Her little nostrils flared as her mother held an animated conversation with the Aunt that they had just met. She picked up one of her chicken nuggets. As she was about to take a bite, her mother burst out laughing. Acting on impulse, she threw the chicken nugget, aiming for her mother.
She has bad aim. She missed her mother completely and the chicken nugget bounced off Nick’s chest. Amanda gasped as Nick glanced down at the chicken nugget that was now lying in his lap.
“Oh my god, Nick. I am so sorry.”
She glanced over at her young daughter ready to scold her when Nick picked up the nugget when he said “Eh, I’m already covered in paint, what’s a little food?” She looked at him curiously as he held it, seemingly contemplating what to do with it. After what seemed like hours Nick playfully glared at Roxie. “Here, hold this.” He said as he tossed the nugget at Roxie.
“This means war mister.” She picked up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and flung them at Nick.
Nick responded by throwing a piece of gravy covered meat at Roxie. Ariel giggled. She picked up a chicken nugget and threw it at Nick. She smiled innocently when Nick looked at her. Nick picked up a little bit of macaroni salad on a spoon and walked over to Ariel. He hugged her and placed the macaroni salad on Ariel.
Mikayla, feeling brave, stood on her chair and said loudly, “FOOD FIGHT.”
After that food started flying all over the room. Missy was prancing around the table happily. This was more table scraps than she ever got.
The food fight was getting out of hand. They were all moving quickly around the table trying to avoid more food getting on them. The kitchen was a mess. There was food everywhere. There was even a paper bowl stuck to the ceiling. Nick thought it might be one of the girl’s bowls of mac and cheese. He just wasn’t sure how it latched onto the ceiling. He decided he didn’t want to know.
Without warning, Nick felt himself practically fly into the air and land hard onto the food covered floor. Activity seemed to stop as the girls around him realized that he fell. Ariel cautiously approached him. “Daddy, are you okay?”
Nick reached up and pulled her onto his lap. “Yes, I’m okay. But I do think it’s time to end this food fight and start cleaning.” He placed Ariel back on the floor and stood up feeling a slight pain in his lower back. It wasn’t horribly painful; he just hoped that it didn’t turn out to be worse. He cautiously made his way over to the phone before turning around to face the kitchen. “Well, since our dinner is now all over my kitchen, what do you girls say if I ordered in a pizza?”
“Pizza.” Ariel shrieked excitedly.
“Sometimes I swear that girl is a pizzaterian.” Nick said with a slight chuckle. After everyone else nodded their approval Nick ordered the pizza and then they started cleaning up the kitchen. Nick and Roxie both knew that tomorrow’s project would be to really clean the kitchen.
The pizza arrived about a half hour later. After eating, Alana, Mikayla and Ariel were showing signs of being tired. Amanda started gathering their things so they could leave. Standing in the doorway, Amanda said, “Well, this was fun. We need to do it again sometime.” She turned to Nick and said, “And next time, I’ll bring my husband and my boys so you aren’t so outnumbered.”
Nick shrugged. “If you haven’t noticed, I am outnumbered all the time. Even growing up I was outnumbered.” Nick said with a chuckle. After bidding Amanda goodbye, he left the doorway to let Roxie say goodbye. He spotted Ariel lying on the floor and almost fast asleep. He knelt down beside her and gently shook her so that she’d open her eyes. “Come on. It’s time for your bath.”
“Normally I would let your bath slide, but you’re covered in food. And there’s no way you’re sleeping in my bed covered in food.” He scooped her up and brought her into the bathroom to give her a bath.
After her bath, Nick wrapped her in a towel and carried her into her bedroom to get a pair of pajamas. Ariel’s tired eyes lit up when she saw her new room. She never expected to see a wall of Ariel and friends and every other wall with dolphins, fish, whales, and other sea creatures. “Daddy, can I sleep in here?”
“Why not tonight?”
“Because the paint is still drying. You like it?”
“Yeah.” She said and clapped her hands excitedly. “I love you daddy.”
“I love you too. Now, let’s get you into pajamas and to bed.” He dressed her and lied her down in the middle of his bed. He stood in his doorway watching her sleep.
Roxie came up behind him, wrapping her arms around him. She kissed his back through his t-shirt and he placed his arm around her shoulder. Roxie looked into the room. “She looks so tiny on that big bed.”
Nick smiled. “Yeah, she does. The bed just kind of engulfs her completely.” He turned to look at her. “You’re going to have to share me tonight.”