It was the longest seventeen minutes of my entire life. Blood pounded in my ears as I ran around Nick's house, shouting her name at the top of my lungs. Randy checked the yard and came back empty handed. I checked every nook and cranny of the lower level that I could find. A million horrible thoughts ran through my mind, including some that were nothing short of illogical like her accidentally getting mutilated by a wayward garbage disposal.
Yeah, my brain went there.
"She's up here!"
Magic words. I flew up the staircase. "Where?"
I had only gotten the sixty second tour, but I remembered where Parker's room was on vague memory and instinct alone. The door was open and I spun into the room, sure that I looked as crazed as I felt.
Rielynn smiled at me. She held a giant piece of chalk in her hand and she looked nonchalant, like she toddled away in a strange house every day of her life. "Cock!"
Nick bit his lip and looked away from me. I saw his shoulders shake. I laughed through tears I didn't even realize I had produced.
"Chalk," I clarified.
It was evident that Parker hadnt slept through the cacophony going on downstairs. He had been busy decorating on one of the shorter walls of his room. It had been covered in chalkboard paint. Blue, yellow, and green squiggles stretched across the expanse of black. Parker's cheeks were covered in dust.
Rielynn's tongue flicked out, snake like. I sprang towards her.
"Not in the mouth! Yucky!"
I wondered how much she had already eaten as I crouched beside her and talk her hand that held the chalk. I moved her hand along the board, loop after loop, until a flower formed.
"Petty cock!" Rielynn giggled.
Nick's laughter filled the room. I turned around. He was grinning.
"Parker what's this?"
From a low bookshelf, Nick pulled out a book with a big calico cat on the cover. Parker dropped the chalk and headed towards Nick.
I started to laugh. Nick put the book in his son's eager hands.
"From the mouths of babes," he said happily. He sat down and pulled Parker into his lap.
"Mama, cock!" Rielynn said, nudging my wrist with the chalk.
My heart rate was just beginning to slow. I pulled her into my lap and she watched as I drew another picture. Nick's narration was perfect background noise.
Even though I had been stabbed by a needle, temporarily lost my child, and stubbed my toe running, it was turning out to be a good afternoon.
"Rielynn still needs her s-h-o-t."
The story was over. I looked at Nick and then down at Rielynn's curly mopped head.
"There goes the neighborhood," I muttered.
"My ears are still ringing."
"We have to go in for her vaccinations before the pediatrician's office officially opens. Otherwise, they have a room full of nervous, crying children."
"And parents," Nick said. He rubbed his ear.
I laughed. "And parents," I agreed.
It was almost seven o'clock. After Rielynn had used her operatic pipes to bring down the house and Randy left, Nick had ordered a pizza, convincing me that we had to stay for dinner. We ate in his large dining room, his adorable French Bulldog Nacho running under the table, snorting. I'm pretty sure half of Rielynn's cheese pizza went into his mouth. Afterwards Parker and Rie had run around until they collapsed, falling asleep in the gigantic dog bed under the big screen TV. Parker hung over one end while Rie commandeered the middle. Nacho was lying several feet away, watching them with what I could only describe as a 'bored' face.
"I'm glad Parker has a friend."
Nick was watching them sleep just like I was. I smiled. " It's great for Rielynn too," I said. "Kids make friends fairly easily, but if you don't get along with the parent--"
"Or the parent is a crazy person," Nick added.
I grinned. "Then what am I doing here?" His eyes widened.
"You stabbed me in the arm!"
His mouth dropped open and he pressed his palm to his chest. "I didn't! A trained physician did!"
"On your orders!"
His eyes softened. "Forgive me."
I turned back to look at the kids. The pizza rolled weirdly in my stomach. "I already did."
We were quiet then. It wasn't an awkward silence, it was just...
"There's something I have to tell you before you're on the plane tomorrow and think I've been dishonest with you."
I didn't like the sound of that. I looked back over at him. He had showered and shaved before dinner. He smelled like Axe, the gray hoodie he wore was missing the neck string. My green hoodie looked new in comparison. "Okay," I said hesitantly.
"It's not out yet, and I don't think it's anyone's business, but my life's under a microscope. It's the sucky part of the job." He glanced back over at Parker. "Lauren's a work-a-holic. Parker changed me, but she's struggled to find a balance. I've only seen her twice in three months."
The story hit home. Rielynn's cheek was pressed into the fluffy white fur lining of the bed. Every breath she took moved the fibers.
"My parents stayed married too long for all the wrong reasons. I think that's partly why they both became such shitty parents. There was too much anger and they took part of it out on us," he leaned back, quiet.
"You're not a shitty parent. If Charlie--"
I stopped myself. Charlie did everything he could for me and Rie. Sure, we didn't see much of him, but--
"I filed for divorce about a month ago. I served the papers when she came home."
His voice shook slightly. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
"She didn't care," his voice cracked and my throat tightened. The sight of the tear falling down his cheek did me in.
"She just didn't care."