“The presents were too much,” Kat said as I wrapped my arms around her shoulders. “I can buy him things, you know? I have a job.”
“I know,” I told her, burying my nose in her hair.
We stood in the park where a light layer of snow covered the grass. Jared tried climbing the steps of the jungle gym. Christmas was a few days ago, and the park was nearly empty.
It seemed like time was flying. He was walking now, Kat’s divorce was final and she was in school, going for her accounting degree, and Maddie had taken our son to Hawaii with her parents.
“I care about him,” I admitted. “I’m not trying to use him to keep you. I want him to have the best.”
I saw him more than I saw my own kid these days. Besides the few moments in the morning before I had to leave, he was either gone or asleep when I was home. Even if I had a free day, Maddie had made plans and taken him off somewhere. If I got home early, it would only be a matter of minutes before she decided they had an errand to run. She wasn’t trying to keep him from me. I knew that.
She just didn’t want to be around me. I’d given up a long time ago, and she finally had as well.
I could’ve gone on the trip to Hawaii and spent time with Madoc. I’d wanted to. But Maddie asked me to stay home, and so I squeezed Kat in my arms, because I felt like shit and she was the only thing I had to hang on to.
My wife had caught onto me. Our marriage was in trouble before Kat, but the wedge between us was an abyss now, and she did almost anything she could to avoid me.
The part that gutted me was that I didn’t really care. I wanted my kid, but I wanted Kat, too. I hated to admit it, but I was relieved when Maddie told me not to come. I didn’t have to put on a mask, because now we were just going through the motions.
But I did have some truths to face.
My behavior was a mistake, and the continuation of my marriage was wrong.
And I was in love with Kat, and I was a terrible father.
So why wasn’t I making the decisions I needed to make? Why was I so afraid to leave what was familiar, even if I was miserable, for what was unknown?
“That’s something I want to talk about,” Kat says in a serious tone, turning around to face me.
“I don’t want Jared to grow up confused about you,” she stated. “I don’t think you should just come by whenever you want anymore.”
“He’s getting to know your face,” she explained. “I don’t want him to see you around and be old enough to remember. Old enough to miss you when you’re not there and wonder why you have to leave to go to your real family.”
I blinked long and hard and let her go, nodding. Fine.
It made sense, didn’t it?
But the anger still built in my chest, because she was cutting me off, too.
“I’ll try to be more discreet,” I said in a clipped tone.
I started to turn away, but she grabbed the lapels of my jacket, holding me in place.
“Nothing,” I answered, kissing her forehead. “I’ve got to go. Merry Christmas.”
“Hey.” She pulled me back, making me look at her. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not giving you up. You’re trying to protect your family, and I’m trying to protect mine. It’s a two-way street.”
I caressed her cheek, rosy from the winter air, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I know.”
She leaned into my hand, and I could barely contain the need firing in my body. This girl had me completely wound into knots.
“I want to spend the night tonight,” I whispered to her.
Her eyes dropped to the snow, but I saw a little smile peek out. She turned around and pulled my arms around her again, snuggling close.
“You’re cold,” I said, feeling her body shake.
“No. Just thinking that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is on tonight, and I’m going to make you watch it.”
My chest shook with a silent laugh, loving the mischief in her voice. It was a rare occasion when I could stay over, and tonight we could just enjoy being with each other.
“As long as I can take you in for a nice long shower afterward, then I’ll play along,” I assured.
Buffy. Sometimes I forgot she was still so young. ‘Course, so was I, I guessed.
I looked out, seeing Jared walking around the jungle gym. I’d given him a soccer ball as one of his gifts, but it laid abandoned in the snow. I guessed he wasn’t going to be much into sports, more interested in climbing a contraption he was still too little for.
“I wish he was yours,” she said suddenly, watching him.
And I kissed her hair, letting out a sigh. “Someday he will be.”