Brianna feeds Marley baby food with a dainty spoon, something orange.
“What is that?” I ask, searching for topics. It feels as if I’m in a parallel universe, but I’m trying to roll with it.
“Sweet potatoes. They’re her favorite. Wes said they were your fav too,” Brianna replies.
As if to show her agreement, Marley giggles, her nose scrunching up, and a bubble of orange goo comes out of her mouth. I’m struck by the pale blue color of her eyes.
“She looks like Myles,” Dad murmurs next to me.
A ball of emotion clogs up my throat. Suddenly, it’s too much, this shitty week, him surprising me, him gazing at Marley…
“Yeah, she does.” I wipe my face and stand. “Excuse me, I need…”—a minute—“…a walk.”
I dart for the door and step outside. The late October air is crisp, and I drag in a deep breath as Dad jogs up next to me. “Let me join you.”
“Alright.” We don’t look at each other, our paces in sync as we walk. When we get to the end of my block, I can’t stand it any longer. “Why are you here?”
He sticks his hands in his pockets. “It’s your birthday tomorrow, and I wanted to see you. You weren’t answering my calls. Maybe you had the right not to.”
“I see.” I really don’t.
He flashes a careful, searching look at me. “Dillon, we need to talk. I left your mother at a terrible time, right after Myles—”
“You left me.” My stomach churns as I stop to turn and look at him. I feel off-centered and disoriented, as if I’m unraveling. Part of it is the loss of Serena, the way my game is falling apart, and I can’t stop the spiral. I’m stuck in a black pit, itching to crawl out, but I can’t find the energy.
His blue eyes meet mine and a nod comes from him, almost hesitant. “You think I blamed you, and I did. I blamed everyone—myself, you, your mom, the postman, the grocer, the water, the rocks, the air itself. I sank down into an awful place and I forgot about the people—you—who depended on me. Then, I met Brianna. I didn’t plan on meeting someone new and starting a family, and I’m sorry I hurt you.”
I shrug. “You’re not even my real dad.”
“Dillon…” He opens his mouth, looking for words. He exhales. “Son, I raised you from the age of two. You are mine in my heart.”
“I thought I was,” I say softly.
Regret is etched in his voice when he replies, “Grief ate me alive until I didn’t have anything left. I wanted out of that house, away from everything that reminded me of him. You’re going to have a new sibling next year. I want us to…” His voice catches. “Be a family. I want you to forgive me for leaving, for not being the father you deserve.”
A long pause stretches. My teeth grit to keep from blurting out that I love him, that I missed him, that I want to know Marley, that I want him in my life so fucking bad. I want to see him in the summer. I want to hold my sister without feeling left out.
I look away from his face and at the setting sun.
His words are ones I’ve longed to hear, but…
I picture Myles’s ghost next to me, telling me to give Dad a chance.
He’s my father, bio or not. He was there for me when Mom never was. We were close.
Dad speaks, a hoarse quality to his voice. “When I watch you tomorrow, when you kiss your hands, when you put Myles in your heart, save a little room for me?”
I shut my eyes, my throat tight. His words settle deep, taking root. I let out an exhalation. “Yeah.”28“What’s that?” Romy asks as she bends over my shoulder.
Sitting at my desk, I push the sewing machine to the side and flick out her skirt. “I hemmed your uniform. It was frayed on the side.” I’m doing anything to keep me busy. If I stay on a task, then maybe I won’t think about him.
“I meant the gift on your desk.” She points down at the black box.
Oh. I stare at it. It’s been lying there for a week. “Just something I got for Dillon’s birthday, but—”
“Ooooo! What is it?” She tries to snatch it, and I grab it back, holding it to my chest.
“Nothing.” I push the skirt into her hands. “Mind your own business and go try this on—” I stop as Nana enters. “No bingo tonight?” I ask.
She plops down on the couch and waves me off. “I’m staying in. Thought I’d check on you.”
There have been lots of evenings when she checks on me. I know what they see. I’m grieving. My face is haunted, my eyes sad.
Romy dances around me and sits next to Nana. “Serena bought Dillon a birthday gift…”