* * *
TJ didn’t know how he’d failed. But he had. He’d counted on Natalie, or anyone else at Highside Hospital for that matter, to point out the merits of the institution and impress Sage with the level of care Eli could expect. What he hadn’t counted on was for Natalie to take Sage’s side.
He hadn’t wanted to blurt out that he was Eli’s father. That wouldn’t have been fair to Sage, and he was determined that Eli would be the next person he told. But maybe that was a mistake. Maybe Natalie’s attitude would have been different if she’d known that it wasn’t just a mother’s support at stake here, but a father’s support as well.
“Can we go back to Seattle now?” Sage asked as she tucked her phone into her purse.
They were driving down the coast highway toward the Crab Shack. The helicopter was on standby in a parking lot nearby.
“Any news?” he asked, referring to the text message she had just checked.
“He’s still asleep.”
“That’s good.” TJ hoped Eli would have a restful night.
“It’s getting late.” She made a point of looking at her watch.
“I just need to make one stop.”
“Are you kidding me?” The exasperation in her tone was clear.
“It’s at my house. It’s not out of our way.”
“Fine,” she said tersely.
“Are you angry?”
“You couldn’t make the right decision without all the facts.” It hadn’t gone his way, but he still believed that. Not that he was giving up this easily.
“I’d already made the right decision.”
“You’re too smart to make that argument.”
“Okay. I saw Highside. It’s good. It’s terrific. But you already know that. And I never disputed it. My argument was never that Highside wasn’t a great facility. It was that I wasn’t in Whiskey Bay.”
“We can change that.” They could easily change that.
“I’m not quitting my job. I’m not giving up my apartment.”
“It’s not much of an apartment. That’s blunt. But you know it as well as I do. And you can get another job.”
“Really?” She turned her body to glare at him. “I can get another job?” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that, I can get another job?”
He didn’t understand her point. “Yes. There are jobs here in Whiskey Bay.”
“For people like me.”
“For people like anybody. What do you mean, people like you?” He flipped on his signal, taking the road that led to his and the three other properties along this stretch of the bay.
The houses belonged to Matt and Tasha, to Caleb and Jules, and to Caleb’s sister-in-law Melissa and her husband, Noah.
“A single mother with no college degree?”
“There are lots of single… What do you mean no college degree?”
Sage was a bona fide genius. She could earn any college degree without breaking a sweat.
“I didn’t go to college, TJ.”
“What about all those scholarships?” He knew she’d had a dozen offers, everybody knew that. How could she have turned them all down?
Her tone was flat. “I’ve been a little busy.”
“What about part-time?” Sure, he understood a baby added a complication.
“That didn’t work.”
“What do you mean it didn’t work? What kind of an attitude is that? When it’s that important, you make it work.”
Her voice rose. “Spoken like a man who hasn’t got a clue about taking care of a baby.”
“I know there’s such a thing as childcare.”
“And do you know they don’t give scholarships for that? I could get a full ride, sure. But I can’t live in the dorm with a baby. So, I’d have to pay rent, buy food, cover day care, study in the evenings instead of reading stories and giving baths.”
“And later? When he was in school?”
Surely she could have made something work at some point in the past nine years. She had a brain in a million. It was tragic to let it go to waste.
“Do you have any idea how insulting you’re being?” she asked.
He pulled into his driveway and parked out front between the two garages. “Go now,” he said.
She closed her eyes, shook her head and gave a long-suffering sigh.
“You’re only twenty-seven. Go back to school now. Get a degree.”
“Take me home, TJ.”
He realized he’d pushed too far. “Come inside.”
“This won’t take long. And then we’ll walk down to the helicopter.”