As was his custom whenever I was eating anything that smelled better than what he had, Lucky came over and sat himself down by my chair. He didn’t bark or whine. He just sat there, providing an audience watching every bite I took. Some people would have yelled at him or scolded him or even put him in the bedroom, but I wasn’t one of them. If anything, I was glad for the company. He wasn’t getting any of my steak, but it was the thought that really counted. A gesture of good will, I put down my plate for him to lick off, not only going a long way in the cleaning process but also giving him a bit of a treat in terms of the juice and sauce still left over.
Leaving my dog licking away happily, I went to get dressed. I didn’t know what to wear. Mostly because I didn’t know why we were going after meeting up. I considered my suit, but that might be a bit too much. Particularly considering we were meeting at a public library, of all places. It was also the kind of thing that I would wear back when I wasn’t really my best self. In the end, I decided to opt for just being myself, so boots, jeans, and a band shirt it was.
We hadn’t set a time, but the library closed at eight, so I got there at six, to try and give us as much time as possible. I didn’t see Lila at the main doors, so I started looking around inside, planning to loop back and wait by the doors again if she wasn’t indoors. I checked the computers, the magazines, the DVDs, the CDs, and every section of the regular book collection, even peeking in on the Spanish and French in case she had hidden talents. I looked everywhere but two places, The bathroom, for obvious reasons, and the Children’s section. It was in this last location that I finally spotted her, after starting to think she might have stood me up.
My ex was sitting on the floor with a toddler who looked just under a year. Though it wasn’t the kid’s age that I noticed most — even though it would have been an important clue to what was happening. The thing about the kid that most got my attention was how much he looked like me. Or at least, how I had looked when I was a kid. Too much not to be my son. I really didn’t know how to respond. For the first time in a long time, I was well and truly speechless.
“I wanted to meet here so you wouldn’t yell,” Lila explained.
I could see the fear flashing in her eyes. It was something I had seen enough before I went into rehab, so I was able to recognize it instantly. I hated that she was afraid of me or how I might react to the news that I had a son. I didn’t feel like I deserved the fear, even though I could certainly understand it. I had done more than enough to put the fear in her. My ex had no way of really knowing that I wasn’t like that anymore.
I took a breath, trying to stay calm, and sat on the floor with them. As prepared as I might have thought I was, I really wasn’t ready when the kid came crawling over, at good tick too and climbed on my lap.
“Night, Daddy,” he said, waving his hand in front of my face.
With this cryptic greeting, he crawled back over to where he had been at Lila’s side and went back to looking through the pictures in a soft book.
“What was that?” I asked his mother.
She glanced away, looking pale. “Billy’s bedtime routine. I-I put a photo of you in his crib. I wanted to make sure our baby knew who his daddy was. I-I thought you might be dead when you just disappeared like that. That’s why I ran when I saw you at your office. I really thought I’d seen a ghost,” Lila said, not unkindly.
I was too shocked to even move. Suspecting was one thing, but the confirmation was a bit too much. I had a son. With Lila. Even if we weren’t getting back together, there was a person, a living breathing human, that was made up out of a combination of our combined DNA.
I watched Billy until I started to tear up. It was all too much. The guild crashed down on me like a ton of bricks. Not only had I left Lila behind but also our baby, who she’d had to raise herself. It was a good thing that I had gotten help in rehab, but I should have called her as soon as I got out.