“Of course I am.” He said, pushing her back so he could look into her eyes. The same chocolate brown eyes as her mother, yet her hair was much lighter, almost blond. “Look. I even brought you something.”
“For you.” He confirmed as he brought the plastic bag up so she could reach it.
“What is it?” She asked as she squirmed in his arms, trying to get down and grab the bag all at the same time.
Cole set the little girl on her feet and handed her the bag, smiling to himself at the look of joy on her face.
“A Barbie!” She squealed and then turned to look at her mother. “Look, Mommy, it’s a Barbie!”
“A very pretty Barbie.” Lucie confirmed, standing a few feet away, still not looking at Cole. “Let’s sit down and eat before we open her though.”
Cole followed Haley to the table where he sat in the spot she designated just for him. For the next thirty minutes, the little girl dazzled him with her stories of preschool and her apparent trip to the zoo the week before. Or maybe the month before. Haley didn’t seem to have a good concept of time, but her recollection of the event was vivid.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Cole was able to forget about all that was going on in his own life and focus on the wonder and excitement of one four year old little girl.
“Did you make an appointment?” Cole asked Lucie a little while later as he helped her to clear the table while she washed dishes in the small sink before sliding them into the dishwasher.
The three of them had shared dinner, laughing and talking. Once they were finished, Cole had helped Haley to open her new Barbie and then Lucie whisked the little girl away because it was well past her bedtime. Waiting patiently in the living room, Cole distracted himself with his own thoughts while Lucie read Haley a bedtime story, returning when the little girl had finally fallen asleep.
“Yes, I made the appointment. Next Thursday.” Lucie stated, scrubbing one of the pans she had used to cook dinner unusually hard.
Cole watched while she continued to attack the pan, clearly some of her emotions were coming to the surface. A moment later he removed the pan from her hand, turning off the water before pulling her into his arms.
“It’s going to be ok.” He promised her; unsure exactly what he was promising. He could guarantee that financially Lucie and Haley would be fine. He could make sure Haley received the medical attention she needed, and that mother and daughter wouldn’t go without food because of the cost. He, however, could not promise that what was bothering Lucie would get easier.
“It’ll never be ok.” Lucie sobbed against his chest. “How does he not even know that it happened?”
The question was redundant, and one Cole couldn’t answer. He knew who she was referring to and he knew it was about the night Haley had been conceived, but he didn’t know how to answer. He couldn’t imagine being inebriated to the point that he didn’t know what he was doing.
Lucie pulled back, wiping her tears with the back of her hands before turning back to resume washing dishes. Cole had other ideas. They needed to sit down.
“Let’s talk. The dishes can wait.”
Surprisingly less reluctant than earlier, Lucie wiped her hands on a nearby dishtowel before heading back to the kitchen table. “Would you like some coffee?” She asked, obviously trying to play the part of a good hostess.
“I’m good. Sit.” He directed her before taking the seat to her left.
After a moment of silence, when it was apparent he was going to have to initiate the conversation, Cole asked the question that had been burning on his mind. “Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t know what else to do.” Lucie started, staring at her hands resting on the table. “I needed the money in order to pay the doctor bills –”
“Not that. I know why you stole the booze.” He wasn’t asking about her recent crime spree of stealing liquor from her employer and apparently selling it for extra money. That was a given. “Why did you keep Haley a secret from her father?”
Apparently the question startled Lucie because her eyes darted quickly to Cole’s before she turned and glanced down the hall. She must have been satisfied because she turned her attention back to Cole.
“He doesn’t remember what happened. At all.” Lucie stressed the last two words.
“That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to know he has a daughter.” Cole lowered his voice, cognizant of the fact Haley was still within ear shot, even if she was asleep.
“How would he even have time for her? He spends all of his time at the club.”