Is it? I’m fairly numb to the whole dad thing. Until I have to talk about it. A familiar lump of pain settles at the back of my throat. I ignore it and shrug. “Out of the picture since I was seven.”
Baylor is looking at me now. I focus on scattering the cheese over the half-cooked eggs and tossing the whole pan under the broiler. “There,” I say, “in a minute we’ll have a frittata.”
My voice is over-bright and too brittle. I shouldn’t have talked. I shouldn’t have cooked for him. This is a hook up, not some after-school tell-all. But it’s too late now. And he’s still watching me with eyes that are too knowing.
“Why is he out of the picture?” he asks softly.
I pull out two dishes and get the forks. “It’s a shitty story.”
“I told you my shitty story.” He sets the plates and forks out, one set next to the other. “Besides, I’m a great listener.”
While his job is to give orders and think fast, something about his calm demeanor and quiet strength makes me want to confide in him.
“When I was seven,” I say, “my father told my mother that he couldn’t handle parenthood, that I was too much of a pain in the ass, always whining for attention.” My smile is weak and wobbly. “His words.”
I turn and pull out the frittata, setting it down to cool on the stove. It’s golden brown and the cheese bubbles. I pick up a knife and hack at the frittata. “So, he went back to Ireland, and my mom raised me.”
Sometimes I wonder if my dad would have stayed if I hadn’t begged him not to leave. But I had. And he’d merely looked pained. After he left, I’d curled up under my bed. And my mother had done much the same. Only she had cried. I never did. I wouldn’t let myself.
A warm hand covers mine, and I still. Gently, Baylor relieves me of the knife before cupping the back of my neck. “You’re right,” he says. “That was a shitty story. And your father is a stupid, undeserving ass**le.”
I study the floor. “What? No ‘you’re better off without him’?”
Baylor’s thumb strokes along my hairline. “But you know that already.”
“Yeah, I do.” I risk a glance at him. His expression is so serious, as if he’s hurting for me, when he’s the one who has no family left. Something deep within my heart clenches.
The gentle exploration of my neck doesn’t stop, and his voice drops low and tender. “Some people never understand the gift they have.” A light pressure on the back of my neck eases me closer to his warmth. “And some people wait a lifetime to have someone to love.”
Emotion wells up within me, and it’s warm, dizzying, choking. I want to burrow in and let him take my pain. He’s strong, maybe he can weather it. Oddly, I want to pull him close and hold him as if he is the one in pain. I don’t understand it. This isn’t light or fun. This is consuming me. A steady, relentless attack.
As we stare at each other, his lids lower and his head dips toward mine. My lips part and throb with the need to touch his. I want his taste, to draw his breath into me and let it fill my lungs.
His whisper brushes my cheeks. “Anna…”
The front door opens, and I spring back, nearly knocking the damn frittata off the stove. Drew puts a hand out to steady me, but I’m already turning toward Iris as she saunters into the apartment.
She stops short as she sees us, and George, who is following close behind, slams into her. “Damn, woman, give a little warning.” Abruptly, he stops talking, and they both gape at Drew.
Great. Iris I could have handled. George is another task entirely. And I know I’m going to pay when an obnoxious light gleams in his eyes. His voice is just shy of sing-song when he says, “Hey, Baylor. I’d say you were the last person I expected to see in Anna’s kitchen, but I’d be lying.”
Drew raises a brow at me, and I glare at George, who just smiles and steps forward, offering Drew a hand. “George Cruz.”
They shake hands in that hard, abrupt way guys do when they’re sizing each other up, and I roll my eyes.
“And this is Iris,” I say for my friend who simply standing there grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Drew offers his hand to her. “The roommate who has excellent taste in parties.”
And Iris f**king titters. God, this is too weird. Baylor is too big for the kitchen, towering over all of us.
“Oh, hey is that food?” George makes a grab for the pan, and I slap his hand. He snatches it back, holding it to his chest. “Ay, woman! Share the love, eh?”
“Get your own.” I split the big frittata down the center and spoon half onto Drew’s plate. “Eat,” I tell him.
George is far from done whining. “But I’m hungry too. Why does he get some and I don’t?”
Iris coughs in her hand, going red. “You have to ask?”
Drew laughs, though his cheeks go a bit red too. He’s not stupid, however, and promptly tucks into his food.
George on the other hand, pouts. “Seriously, Banana? No food?”
Drew’s head snaps up, a smile spreading over his face. “Banana?”
“Yup.” Iris helps herself to a yogurt. “Anna Banana.”
“Her mom calls her that,” George puts in helpfully. “Anna has a ratty old stuffed banana hiding in her closet—”
I smack his head.
I cut a small slice of the remaining half of the frittata, take it for myself then pass the rest to George, the ass. “Just take your ill-gotten gains and flee.”