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“Are you still sick?” Nick asked as he leaned against the bathroom door and taking a sip out of his water bottle.

Roxie stopped throwing up and said. “What does it look like?”

“What I meant was you’ve been throwing up for the past two weeks. You should be better by now.” It was a little over two weeks since Ariel broke her arm and all that transpired afterwards.

“Wow, you’ve noticed that I’ve been sick. That’s a shocker.”

“Just because you’re mad at me doesn’t mean I’m not observant.”

“Really, you can observe things? I figured that would be difficult since you’re barely home.”

“What?”

“You’ve been going out, every night.”

“I haven’t gone out every night. Maybe if you would’ve let me back into our bedroom you would know that.” He said defensively, only partially lying. It’s true that he didn’t go out every night but it’s also true that he did go out at least 5 nights a week.

“Whatever Nick. I’m really tired. I’m going to go take a nap. Do you think you can watch your daughter, without making her cry?”

“What? I only made her cry that one time.”

“First off Nick, you made her cry more than once that day and you shouldn’t have made her cry at all.”

“Do you have to hold every mistake I make against me?”

"When it comes to that little girl, yes. You can’t make those kinds of mistakes with children.”

“Ariel is just about due to have her nap. We can nap together.”

“You do realize that you’re still on the couch, right?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“But nothing. If I don’t want to sleep with you at night, what makes you think that you’ll be sharing a bed with me during the day? Oh, and for the record, the only reason you haven’t made Ariel cry since that day is because I was around.” Roxie once again slammed the door in Nick’s face.

He downed the rest of his drink and threw away the bottle. He went downstairs and found Ariel lying on the floor coloring. The Little Mermaid was playing on the TV. Nick sat on the couch behind her.

Ariel saw him come in. She stood up and walked over to the TV. In the last two weeks she learned how to shut the DVD off herself and that’s just what she did at that moment. She gathered her coloring supplies and movie and headed out of the room.

“Where are you going sweetie?”

“Where’s Roxie?”

“She’s taking a nap.”

“Then that's where I'm going, to be with Roxie.” She said and walked out of the room, leaving Nick feeling very confused. He knew he hurt her when he threatened her two weeks prior, but he thought little kids forgot things easily. He stood up and went to the refrigerator and grabbed another bottle of water. He sat on the couch and started to try and figure out when his life took its first turn for the worst. It depressed him when he realized that he couldn’t remember a time when he was genuinely, and completely happy.

A couple of hours later Roxie woke up and was shocked to find Ariel lying in bed next to her, holding her stuffed dog. “Ariel?”

"Hi Roxie." Ariel said through big, saddened eyes.

“I wasn’t expecting to wake up and find you.” Roxie responded, and pushed a stray strand of blonde hair from Ariel’s face.

“I didn’t want to be alone with Daddy.”

"Honey, Daddy loves you,” Roxie told her as she pulled Ariel close and gave her a big hug.

“I don’t know. I only want to be with Daddy if you’re there to protect me.”

Nick had spent the past couple hours trying to figure out what to do. He was sure that Roxie didn’t know that he remembered that it was her birthday. He had a gift for her and had also planned on making dinner. But now he wasn't so sure. He didn't want to seem like he was using her birthday to get back into her good graces.

He decided at that point that he'd leave the gift for Roxie where she could find it and open it if she wants. He also decided to make dinner and with that he went into the kitchen and began cooking.

He set the table for two and decided that he wasn't going to eat dinner since both his girlfriend and his daughter didn't want to be near him. He placed the food on the table as Roxie and Ariel walked into the room.

“What’s all this?”

“I made dinner. Happy Birthday Roxie.” He said and then walked toward the entrance of the kitchen.

"I can’t believe you remembered. Nick, thank you. After all this, aren't you going to eat with us?"

He shrugged. “I’ll get McDonalds or something.”

“Nick…”

“I had your gift and planned on making dinner for you before all this happened. I didn’t want to give you the impression that your birthday gift was anything more than your gift. I don’t expect you to forgive me right now. So, your newest birthday gift today, is to not have to spend it with me. Enjoy your dinner. I’ll be back later.” He said and turned around, grabbing his car keys on his way out.

 

~*~

 

Once again, 3:30 in the morning rolled around and Nick stumbled into the house. He made use of the bathroom before he collapsed onto the couch and passed out.

 

~*~

 

The next morning, Roxie walked downstairs. Nick was still sound asleep. Even though she was still mad at him she couldn't help but smile at his sleeping figure. He always looked so peaceful when he slept. She also smiled at how he seemed to be falling off the couch.

Feeling her stomach churn, she headed into the bathroom on the lower level. As soon as she entered the room, the smell of dried vomit assaulted her nose. She was slightly confused until she looked around the small room and saw that the smell was coming from a spot near the toilet. There wasn’t a lot, it merely looked like someone had missed. She knew that it wasn’t her, so that only left one other person.

When she was done emptying the contents of her stomach, she cleaned up the bathroom and opened an air freshener. She walked back over to the couch. She began to feel bad for making Nick sleep on the couch, especially now that it seems that she got him sick. Sitting on the table in front of the couch, she gently shook his shoulder until he woke up.

He opened his eyes and groaned, then shut his eyes tightly to keep out the light. “Nick, look at me, I want to talk to you.”

“Can we talk with my eyes closed? I have a horrible headache.”

Roxie smiled at him sympathetically. “Sure. Um, did you get sick last night?”

“Yeah. I know I wasn’t fast enough. I’ll clean it when I get up the energy to move.”

“It’s okay. I already cleaned it.” Roxie said, continuing to rub his shoulder sympathetically.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“It was smelly.” She said with a hint of teasing in her voice and scrunched up her nose to emphasize her point.

“Sorry.”

“Nick, why don’t you go upstairs and sleep.”

“Are you sure?” Nick said, finally looking at her.

“Yes. You’re sick. You should be comfortable.”

Nick smiled slightly. “I’m fine here. I know giving me the bed, even if you’re not in it, means you’re forgiving me, and I know you aren’t ready to do that.”

“Why are you like that?”

“What?”

“Well, last night you didn’t eat dinner, after saying something about not wanting to ruin my birthday and now you think I don’t want to forgive you?”

“You don’t and neither does Ariel. You can’t possibly be ready to forgive me. I’m fine here.”

“If you insist.” He closed his eyes and soon fell back to sleep.

A couple hours later, Nick was woken up by Ariel’s excited shriek. He groaned and began to rub his head in hopes of relieving some of the pain in his head. “Ariel please.”

“What?” She turned to the couch.

“I’m sorry hon, I know you’re having fun, but your voice is going right through me right now. Can you please lower your voice?” He mumbled in a raspy voice. When Ariel turned around to play again, Nick once again closed his eyes to try to fall asleep. Ariel went back to playing and paid no mind to her father’s request. “Why don’t you listen?”

“I’m not doing anything wrong Daddy.”

“All I asked you to do was lower your voice and you didn’t listen. I want to know why.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Please Ariel. Can you play quietly?”

“Why?”

“Because I have a horrible headache. Please? Why don’t you watch a movie?”

“Can I watch The Little Mermaid?”

“If it’ll keep you quiet, yes.”

Moments later, Ariel returned to the room, clutching her DVD. “Here Daddy. Put this on please?” Her eyes were full of hope and caution as she handed Nick the DVD case.

Nick slowly sat up and stood up even slower. Once up, he put the movie in the player and slowly made his way back to the couch. He lied down again and reached for the remote on the table beside the couch. It was just out of reach and he didn’t want to stretch to get it. “Ariel, can you get the remote for me?”

“It’s right behind you Daddy.”

“Please Ariel.”

She stood up to retrieve the remote and hand it to Nick. He started the movie and then closed his eyes. “Daddy, can I lie with you?”

He shifted his position to make room for Ariel. She happily climbed into his lap.

 

~*~

 

The movie ended, and Ariel turned around to see that her father was asleep. Ariel giggled and poked him. He stirred and opened his eyes. “What’s wrong Ariel?”

“The movie’s over.”

Nick looked at the screen. “So it is.” He stood up and shut off the movie. He went into the kitchen and grabbed his bottle of water.

“Want something to eat?” He jumped when he heard Roxie’s voice. He wasn’t aware that she was in the room. Roxie giggled. “Sorry. Feeling better?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Good. What do you want to eat?”

“I’m not picky.”

Several minutes later, Roxie put a bowl of soup in front of him. “I figured that since you were feeling sick this morning, that soup would be the best thing for you to eat right now.”

“Thanks.”

“I do forgive you Nick. I want you to start sleeping in our bed again.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Nick smiled. “Thanks. That couch was starting to get really uncomfortable.”

It was Roxie’s turn to smile. “I bet.”

A few hours later, Nick’s attitude caused another fight between Nick and Roxie. Since Roxie just allowed him back in the bed, she decided that until she forgave Nick for this fight, she’d sleep in the guest bedroom.

Nick was frustrated. He was tired of fighting with everyone. He saw his guitar in the corner of the room, where he left it. He managed to convince himself that the guitar was the reason for all his problems. He headed over to the guitar and when he reached it, he took it out of its case. All it took was a moment of consideration before he started to blame the guitar for everything that went wrong in his life. The guitar symbolized a time in his life that he'd never be able to get back; a time in his life that he regretted immensely and couldn’t seem to forgive himself. For that he resented his guitar. Without thinking, he picked his guitar up by the neck and slammed it back down on the floor. He did this a couple times until the guitar was destroyed.

Hearing the commotion from the other room, Roxie ran into Nick’s bedroom. Ariel wasn’t far behind her. He was still attacking his guitar. She went over to him and grabbed his arm. He tried to fight against her. Nick was stronger than Roxie, so it was no surprise that she couldn’t hold him. He returned to his mission of further destroying what was left of his guitar. Roxie once again grabbed Nick’s arm. “Nick, stop. What the hell is your problem?” She yelled at him. He brushed her aside and knocked her down. Ariel started crying in fear. Nick was too occupied with destroying his guitar to realize it. Roxie stood up. This time she touched his arm gently. “Nick, you’re scaring me and Ariel. Please stop.” When he didn’t stop, Roxie lost complete control over her emotions. "Damn it Nick. I knew I should have reported you to child services when I first met you. I guess that shouldn't make me upset, after all, I can still report you. You kept trying to warn me, but no. I just kept defending you. You really are an unfit father."

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