“Here to do the hit yourself, are you?” I asked.

He sighed exaggeratedly. “Now, Jinx, you know those are just nasty rumors.”

“Yeah, but I still like busting your chops about it,” I said.

“Fair enough, shall we go up?” Dad said, taking it a lot better than I might have expected.

The elevator seemed more cramped than usual on the way up. Dad not helping much. Getting to the floor, I got out first, rushing a very confused Lucky to the bedroom, leaving him with a toy so he wouldn’t bark.

“Was that a dog?” Malina asked.

“Yeah.”

“What breed?” she asked, seeming genuinely interested. She wasn’t my mom, but I still liked her.

“French Bull Dog-Pug cross.”

“Oh, how cute!” she gushed, showing her young age.

“If you like that sort of thing,” Dad grumbled.

“Please sit, would you like something to drink?”

“White wine, please,” Malina said, gracing herself onto the couch.

“Scotch on the rocks,” me and dad said in unison. He had been having the same drink for as long as I could remember.

Pouring out an apple juice for myself, I carried the tray of drinks over to the couch and sat down in the nearby chair, placing the tray on the coffee table between us.

“I have to tell you something about Lila,” Dad said, after making inroads into his scotch.

“Oh?”

“She took your kid and ran,” he said, gravely.

“What?” I asked, shocked.

“She’s gone kiddo. She had your baby. She took him and hit the road.”

“I don’t understand. Why?”

Dad grumbled something that I didn’t quite get. Something about the court or whatever.

His wife sighed. “He threatened to take her baby because she wasn’t complying with his every demand,” Malina explained.

“What?!” I screamed, standing up sharply, the fuck-the-world punk rearing his head once again. Forget stupid punching. I was ready to strangle Dad with his own hideous tie.

“Yes, it’s not very nice, is it?” Malina glared, looking straight at Dad, making her chastisement quite clear.

“You are going to tell her it was an empty threat,” I said, it in no way being a request.

“I was just doing what was best for Billy and —”

“I’m a third-degree black-belt,” I pointed out.

“Wait, you know about Billy?”

“Yes,” I said bluntly.

“She’s back in Vegas?”

“Yes, and we’re back together,” I said, slowly unclenching my fist.

“I didn’t know. I’m really sorry. I promise I’ll back off. You two do what you think is best,” he said, seeming to realize that being involved at all meant backing off a bit.

“You were a great father but not the best dad,” I said, bluntly, “if you want a do-over, have a kid with Malina. She’s certainly young enough. Then Billy will be an uncle.”

There was an uncomfortable silence where they passed odd looks between them. Suddenly crestfallen, my stepmother looked down at the floor.

“We can’t actually. It’s my fault,” Malina explained, trying and failing to hide her depression.

“Now, honey, it’s no one’s fault that your infertile,” Dad said, putting an arm around her.

I was surprised by this show of support. Maybe the old man actually had changed over the years, at least in some ways.

Dad looked at me. “You could always come back to the casino and take over your old job. It has to pay better than what you’re doing. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll give you a raise.”

I sat down in the chair across from him. “I can’t, Dad. It would be like an alcoholic buying into a bar.”

“Oh, that old silliness. You can’t have a gambling addiction! You’re rich, and you didn’t lose anything,” Dad said.

“Except for my mind, morals, and self-respect. The money was yours, not mine. The money I’m making now is all mine. I’ve pulled myself up by my bootstraps from nothing and become my own man, just like you’ve always said people should. Like you did in the beginning. It may not be as much as you have or as much as you wanted, but I earned every bit of it. None of which even touches on the two years with Lila and Billy that I lost because of my addiction. I’m not losing them again.”

“I get that. Why don’t you ask them over here so I can apologize in person?”

That actually sounded like a good idea. I didn’t want to take Dad around to Aria’s and disrupt Lila’s sanctuary. Bringing her to my place felt more like neutral ground.

Lila wasn’t answering her phone, so I decided to go down there myself. It was a bit of a risk, but it was worth the chance.

Unconsciously wiping my feet on the mat, I knocked lightly on the door, not wanting to come off as too aggressive. However, when the door opened, if looks could kill, I would have dropped dead right off the stoop.

“Hi, Aria.”

“She’s not here,” Aria said bluntly.

“Where did she go?”

Lila’s friend just glared at me. Her arms crossed tightly in front of her. I realized that she didn’t trust me, and at least part of that was because of what my dad had done. He had a way of pissing people off. It was clear that Aria wasn’t going to tell me anything, so I got out of there and went back to my apartment, where my dad and stepmother were waiting.


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