“That is a tough one,” Cooper said, rubbing his chin like the philosopher he fancied himself to be.
“Don’t I know it.”
“All you can really do is give your dad time, I guess.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
That was all I could do really, and it would probably be a long wait. It had taken almost a month to convince Lila to even think about getting back together, and Conrad was about a thousand times more stubborn than her.
I had Lila and Billy on my mind most of the day and made the somewhat bold decision to go and see them after work, even though we didn’t actually have a meeting arranged.
“Hi,” Lila said, surprised but not displeased to see me.
“Pizza?” I asked.
“You didn’t get another job.”
“No, I mean, would you like to go out for pizza.”
“Sure, I’ll just nip off and fetch our son.”
Vegas didn’t have the most sterling reputation for pizza in the world, yet I had still managed to find a pretty decent place.
“This is really good!” Lila said again, reaching for her fifth slice.
Billy, a bit more restrained than his dear mother, contented himself with gnawing on a large bit of pizza crust, looking happy as can be.
“I was thinking. What would you think of coming to stay with me? You and Billy that is. I have to move in a month or so, but maybe we could pick a place together.”
“That might make sense,” Lila said, not committing either way.
It wasn’t quite a win, but it felt like it was, particularly in light of what her opinion of me had been not too long before. I was even hoping I could convince her to stay over again and had brought in some things for Billy to make it easier.
When we got back to my building, there was a large black car outside the door as we approached. I didn’t know exactly who it was but recognized the kind of car. I got ready in case I had to fight.
The doors opened. Conrad and my stepmother, Malina, got out. I could feel Lila tense behind me. I had turned to explain to her what was happening, but she had already set off running with Billy. I wanted to go after her, but I knew I had to deal with my dad first. Maybe I would get that punch in after all.
I don’t know how far I ran. I just knew I had to keep going. I had to get away. Adrenaline did most of the heavy lifting after that. Billy seemed okay at first. He might have thought we were playing a game because he started laughing. Though he went quiet when the game didn’t end. I didn’t even think about calling a cab. Though that would be a hell of a lot easier than what I was doing right then, but there was no time to think about that.
I was nearly falling down by the time I got to Aria’s house. The door was unlocked, which was good because I really didn’t want to have to bother with a key. I tore through the house and down the hall. Putting Billy in his crib, I suddenly realized I wouldn’t be able to take it with us, which kind of broke my heart. I got out the bags from under the bed and started to pack. Nothing too much. Just things I didn’t think we could do without.
If Conrad thought he was getting my son, he had another thing coming. We would go somewhere he could never find us.
“Jesus! What’s going on?”
I whirled around and saw Aria standing in the doorway, looking quite concerned indeed.
“Leaving,” I said, getting back to my manic packing session.
“I can see that. Any particular reason?”
“Okay, I’m going to need a bit more than that, honey, Conrad who?”
“Conrad, fucking Conrad! Billy’s grandad. Carl’s dad. He said he would get custody, so I ran. I ran, and I came here. He knows. I saw him in the car. He knows. He knows we’re still in Vegas. He has connections, you know. Scary, bad connections. At least, I think. They all do, don’t they? Casino guys? The mob runs those, I think. Anyway, I have to get away. He won’t take my baby!”
“Why would he do that?” Aria asked, keeping calm.
“He said he would. He said Billy had to be raised his way, or he would sue and get him. He has friends in the courts. He said so. He’s going to take my baby if he finds me. We have to go. I went before, and that made him mad.”
I snapped to attention and looked at Aria in shock. I had never heard her raise her voice before. Fixing my gaze with hers, my friend came over and took me firmly by the shoulders and sat me down on the bed.