“She’s gone,” I said, glaring at my father.
“Gone?” Dad asked dumbly.
“You scared her off again. We were coming back here when we saw you pull up. She literally ran away at the sight of you.”
I was going to say more, again none of it good, but I held my tongue. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. My love and my baby were gone, and I was never going to see them again.
Austin, Texas, was a culture shock. It wasn’t really that much smaller than Vegas, and the crowds weren’t much bigger, especially during tourist season on the strip, or the crime rate that much higher. The big difference was the laidback attitude. The Texans I met were relaxed and civil, trying as hard as they could to help me.
One of the first things I did when we got there was go shopping for clothes with Ryan’s wife, Ryan footing the entire bill. They really were kind and generous people, though I still planned on paying them back every cent when I could. Which might be sooner than it otherwise would have been because Ryan managed to pull some strings and get me a one-bedroom apartment for six-hundred-dollars a month. It was a fourth-floor walk-up, but we made do.
If all that wasn’t enough sweetness for one human to contain, Ryan also gave me a job as a receptionist at his company, something I was more than qualified for. His main office happened to have one of the top-rated private daycares in the city.
I was at my desk one day about two weeks after we arrived when I answered the phone and just about fell out of my chair.
“I’ve got the monthly report for Sure Thing Graphics,” Carl said after I had done my bland introductory speech, letting the caller know who they had reached, just in case they didn’t know.
I had nearly forgotten that Ryan owned Carl’s advertising firm, which was quite profitable going by the numbers Carl was reading off. I wondered if he always did that or if he had been deputized for that month. It didn’t seem like a job a copywriter would do — more an Art Director or something like that. Did they take it in turns?
None of it was a particularly good or healthy thing to think. I could feel myself start to panic, realizing that I would have to speak again at some point.
“I will pass those numbers on—” I said as quickly as I could.
I was just about to hang up.
“Please listen, Lila,” Carl begged, making me halt.
I still didn’t speak but I sat there and listened to what he had to say figuring I owed him that much at least.
“My father is through trying to control you. He didn’t really mean it when he threatened to take Billy away. He was just talking out of his ass like he so often does. I know that it is hard for you to believe, mostly because you know him, but we came to an understanding, and Dad is done with all the strong-arm bullshit. He has backed off and will let us raise our son how we see fit. Please come back to Vegas or at least wait until I can get to Austin. I miss you both so much.”
I hung up without speaking. It was all too sudden. I couldn’t talk, let alone commit to anything significant like that.
I could run away again. It would be so easy to just get up, get Billy out of daycare, and leave. Make it so Carl couldn’t find me. But I didn’t, not only because I owed Ryan and his family so much already. To leave again so soon would be like spitting in his face.
I just sat there at my desk, too afraid to move, too overwhelmed to make a decision. I didn’t want to keep running. Billy cried for his daddy every night at bedtime, not even having the photo in his crib anymore. But I was still terrified of Carl’s dad. Conrad tended to have that effect on people.
I had always heard that indecision was a decision itself, and it really seemed to be true. I vowed that if Carl did come, I would go back with him to Vegas. Conrad be damned. If he didn’t come, I would take it as a sign and make the best of my new life in Austin.
The clock ticked by at an agonizing pace until it was very close to six, which was closing time. The hands were approaching five minutes to the hour when I heard a slam that made me jump in my seat. The next thing I knew, Carl was skidding to a stop in front of me, not stopping quite right and stumbling to the floor like something out of Buster Keaton.