“Billy’s grandfather doesn’t know you’re here. You don’t know he was there for you. It could have been a coincidence.”

“But he saw me! He said he’s going to take my baby. I won’t lose Billy. I’m a good mom.”

“And you got away. You’re safe now. He doesn’t seem to have followed you, and no one knows you’re here. The house is in my grandmother’s name, right? Unless Conrad tailed you, he has no way of knowing that you’re here. Conrad doesn’t have any leverage. He isn’t a blood parent and there isn’t any cause for concern with you because, like you said, you’re a good mother.”

“Will you check?” I asked, still paranoid.

“Okay.”

Aria went over to the window and looked out onto the street. I assumed she was looking for big black cars.

“Any big black cars?” I asked.

“No, there’s a small black dog and someone walking it, but other than that, there’s nothing.”

It felt like every muscle in my body relaxed at once. I looked over at Billy, who was standing up in his crib, hands on the railing, regarding me with grave concern. Aria left the room, briefly returning with a glass of apple juice.

“We still need to go somewhere else,” I explained, “we’ll never be free of him until we do.”

“Carl or Conrad?” Aria asked.

I hadn’t even thought about Carl. He seemed as surprised as I was to see Conrad there. As far as I knew, they hadn’t even spoken in years. And he was being so sweet and responsible. I really couldn’t believe that he would have told Conrad where I was. Even if he had, he would have gone to Aria’s place, not Carl’s. I could have been all a crazy coincidence.

However, Aria didn’t know Conrad like I did. He was almost my father-in-law, after all. At least I liked to think so. He was really okay underneath it all, but he was also stubborn as an old mule and had a tendency to always think that he was right, even when he was quite plainly wrong. If he believes it is in Billy’s best interest, he wouldn’t hesitate to take him and had the kind of high-priced lawyers who could work that sort of legal sorcery. Even with Carl and Aria on my side, I didn’t have much to fight him with, and Conrad always got his way with the possible exception of when Carl and I ran out on him.

“We need to go,” I said firmly, letting Aria know I was thinking straight.

“Okay.” She nodded.

Aria left the room again, coming back this time with a roll of bills — a large roll of bills. “Take this. I’ve been saving for a rainy day, and it seems pretty wet right now.”

“No, I-I can’t,” I said, shocked she would even try to give me anything.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I can make my own way.”

“Okay, well here,” Aria got a post-it from the night table and wrote out a name and phone number.

“Ryan White?” I asked.

“He’s my brother’s best friend from way back. He lives in Austin on a huge ranch. Tell him I sent you and he’ll help you out. Get you an apartment and all that. He’s really nice and super-rich. He actually owns that advertising firm we went to. Where you saw Billy that first time?”

“He does?”

“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go there. Yeah, small world, right?”

“Tiny,” I said, staring at the post-it, overwhelmed by the cosmic synergy of it all.

Three hours later, Billy and I were in an airport lounge, waiting for a flight to Austin. I had already called Ryan from a payphone, putting in about thirty quarters. He was expecting us and would meet us at the airport.

It was disorienting how quickly everything was happening. Just that afternoon, I had been planning on moving in with Carl. He didn’t know it, but I had intended to make it a permanent arrangement. We would have found a new place together and lived there together until Billy grew up. That was the plan anyway. Now it was all gone, and I felt like I was breaking Carl’s heart by leaving him behind, but I didn’t have a choice.

Chapter Sixteen

Jinx

There were several things I wanted to say to my dad right then, particularly in lieu of the fact that the sight of him had made Lila flee in terror — something he obviously didn’t see. None of them were terribly nice things. All of them boiling like acid in my head.

However, I kept silent, and my fists holstered, deciding to hear him out. I was an adult. I was sober. I was a father. Besides which neither of my moms would have liked it had Dad and I come down to fisticuffs — particularly considering the state he would have been in afterward. I had been in my share of fights. The biggest battle dad had ever had was getting his pants on in the morning over his ever expanding waistline.


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