Meadow is going to be the death of me. I thought having two daughters was going to be trying enough considering I know nothing about being girly. Thank God I have Paige and Lorelei now. At least they can take her shopping when she doesn’t like the jeans and T-shirts I pick out for her. I know you’re not supposed to force your children to be like you, but come on, what parent doesn’t at least try?
I put her in karate class when she was four and she spent the entire six-week lesson doing pirouettes around the other kids and breaking out into random dance moves instead of kicking some ass. I gave her all of my old G.I. Joe guys to play with when she was six and she gave them all makeovers with nail polish and glitter glue. G.I. Joe can never show his face in the line of duty again. When she turned seven I finally had to suck it up and buy her a Barbie.
“Oh my GOD, you are ruining my life!” Meadow screeches at me before stomping out of the kitchen.
“YOU’RE WELCOME!” I shout in reply.
Seriously, she’ll thank me one day when she’s paying a shrink and getting her money’s worth.
Heading over to the fridge, I grab a much-needed bottle of beer and before I can take my first sip, I’m interrupted by a sigh behind me.
Turning around, I see my youngest daughter, Livia, staring up at me with the same annoyed look on her face that I’m sure I have. Yes, I named my daughters after characters on The Sopranos. It’s in my blood to name my offspring after famous people.
“Meadow is in her room screaming about how much her life sucks. Can we trade her in for a new sister?”
Livia is nine and so much like me it’s scary. Everyone calls her my mini-me. Not only does she look exactly like me with long, wavy auburn hair, but she also hates the color pink, her favorite movie is Full Metal Jacket, and on her Christmas list last year, she asked Santa for a Wenger Ueli Steck Special Edition Swiss Army knife.
I’m not gonna lie; I cried a few tears when I saw that at the top of the list.
“No, we cannot trade your sister in for a new model. It’s just a phase. She’ll get over it.”
“Why does she want to go to a party with boys anyway? Boys are dumb. And gross,” Livia replies.
Boys are definitely dumb. Especially Alex. He was supposed to pick up the girls tonight and take them to dinner but cancelled at the last minute. Via text. He couldn’t even be decent enough to call and tell me, the rat bastard. Meadow immediately tried to take advantage of the situation by telling me that the only thing that would fix her devastation at being stood up by her father was to go to a party. It was a nice try on her part, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Livia, never one to let something like that ruin her day, just shrugged and asked what was for dinner.
Before I can sit Livia down and explain to her all the reasons that boys suck and why she should stay away from them forever, the doorbell rings. For a second as I leave Livia in the kitchen to go answer the door, I actually think it’s Alex, coming over to beg forgiveness from the girls and trying to be a stand-up guy.
I should have known better.
Checking the peephole, I groan when I see Griffin standing on the front porch and fling the door open.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demand as Livia comes up behind me and shoves me out of the way to go barreling into his arms.
He scoops her up with ease and swings her around in circles on the front porch.
“Look at how big you’ve gotten. You’re going to be taller than me soon,” he tells her before setting her back down on her feet. “I told you we’d talk later, Kennedy. It’s later.”
Why? Why does he choose now to be a man of his word?
“Liv, why don’t you go into your room and look through that new Soldier of Fortune magazine I got you?” I step aside so Griffin can come into the house, closing the door behind him. I’d really much rather slam the door in his face, but I’d never do that in front of Livia.
Griffin has always been amazing with my girls and they adore him. I feel a twinge of guilt over the fact that I shut him out of their lives as well. They’ve had a hard enough time dealing with the divorce ever since it was finalized a few weeks ago and their father being so self-absorbed that he can’t even spend an hour with them every couple of weeks. Maybe I can try to be the bigger person here for their sakes.
Livia throws her arms around Griffin’s waist and squeezes tight before racing off down the hall to her room.
“Soldier of Fortune?” Griffin asks me with a smile and a raise of his eyebrows.
“Oh, please. Don’t act like that’s a surprise. You’re the one who bought her a camo bed set and all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD for her birthday last month,” I remind him, my heart constricting at the fact that even during our estrangement he still remembered my daughter’s birthday.
We stand there in the foyer staring at each other for a few minutes and the silence grows uncomfortable. Griffin and I have never been at a loss for words around each other. Even in the past when I’ve been irritated with him and his blatant, flirty comments or annoyed when he acts like a typical, self-absorbed guy, I had a lot to say.
This momentary truce I’ve declared in my head thirty seconds ago is already starting to mess with me. Standing here this close to him, I’m forgetting why I was even mad at him in the first place. Griffin moved to town after Alex and I had been dating for a few months, and suddenly I started to have doubts about my feelings for Alex. For a little while, it was a serious struggle for me to be around Griffin and not fantasize about being with him. To make matters worse, Griffin and Alex quickly became good friends and the three of us spent practically every waking moment together. He was sweet and thoughtful, even as a teenager, and he proved time and time again what a loyal friend he was to both of us.
A week before prom, Alex and I got into a typical teenage fight over something stupid and decided to take a break. Griffin, whom I’m assuming felt sorry for me, saved the day and told me he would be my date instead. I thought it was fate finally getting her shit together and deciding to join my side. Unfortunately, Griffin’s ex-girlfriend at the time found out he asked me and she suddenly realized how much she loved him and begged him back. Griffin ditched me. Alex and I made up and the rest is history.
Or at least I thought. These past few days have been the first time I’ve been alone with Griffin since I dumped even the idea of Alex and me. It’s the first time I’ve been single around him since high school and I’m suddenly reminded of all the reasons why I had such a huge crush on him back then. It’s all I can do not to imagine him naked.
“So, are you ready to talk to me yet?” he asks, finally breaking the silence.
I take a step back from him and clear all thoughts of him in the buff from my head. It’s making me twitchy.
“That depends. Are you going to try and feed me the same line of bullshit you did six months ago?” I ask as I cross my arms in front of me and stare him down.
He sighs deeply and runs his hand through his hair, making it stick up in all directions. He always does that when he’s frustrated or angry. I wonder which it is right now. It’s probably both.
“It wasn’t bullshit, Kennedy. You only heard part of that conversation. I swear to you, I had no idea he was having an actual relationship with that woman.”
I scoff at him and roll my eyes.
“Let’s be honest here. She’s not a woman; she’s a child. A home-wrecking, slutty child and you condoned his behavior and told him to keep it from me,” I tell him, trying to keep my voice down so the girls won’t hear me.
“I should have never said that. At the time, I thought it was just a one-time thing. I thought he had just fucked up and it was never going to happen again. I knew it would kill you if you found out. And I didn’t know you already had,” he says.
He could be telling the truth. A part of me thinks it’s kind of nice, albeit misguided, that he wanted to do what he could to save me from being hurt. But a bigger part of me has a hard time believing anything he says. The name of our business isn’t Fool Me Once just for shits and giggles. I’ve lost my faith in mankind. Well, I’ve lost my faith in man, kind or not. Period.
“I haven’t spoken to him at all since I found out the truth. I told him he was a lying sack of shit and a pathetic excuse for a man for doing that to you and the girls. He’s tried calling me a bunch of times since then and I’ve ignored him. You know that you, Meadow, and Livia have always been my top priority.”
At least that part isn’t a lie; he’s always made sure the girls and I are taken care of. Even with my giving him the cold shoulder and refusing to have anything to do with him the last six months, he’s still called to talk to the girls and sent them gifts. And I know for a fact he’s the one who hired a landscaper to mow my lawn every week, even though I know he won’t admit it.
I always used to ask him why he never settled down and got married since I was sure he’d make an amazing husband and father. He would just shake his head and laugh and tell me that he’d get married when his dream girl became available. Then Alex would always pipe in about Griffin’s celebrity crush—Megan Fox—and make a joke about her being too good for him.
“Well, the pathetic excuse for a man you speak of has gotten worse. He hasn’t seen his daughters in two months. He was supposed to pick them up for dinner tonight and cancelled at the last minute. I’m sure Chloe with an e had episodes of Sesame Street she needed to watch or something.” I try to make light of the situation. I can’t take the heavy stuff right now. I can’t handle thinking about how much I’ve missed having Griffin in my life.
“Chloe with an e? Am I missing something? Is there some other way you spell Chloe?” he asks with a laugh.
“He actually brought her to Uncle Wally and Aunt Janet’s anniversary party a few months ago. He assumed that since he got an invitation before he cheated on me, he’d still be welcome. They stayed long enough for her to introduce herself. ‘Like, hi everyone! I’m Chloe, with an e!’” I say in a singsong, squeaky voice. “Bobby and Ted dragged Alex outside and told him they would use him for target practice if he ever showed his face at one of our family get-togethers again with that whore.”
Even though I wanted to puke when they walked into the restaurant together hand in hand, the night was made all better by watching Alex sob like a baby out in the parking lot. Real tears and everything. It was beautiful. If only he would have wet himself, I could have died a happy woman. Maybe next time.
“He’s an asshole,” Griffin growled.
“Yes, yes he is. Unfortunately though, there’s nothing I can do about his assholishness. He’s going to continue to let the girls down and all I can do is sit back and pick up the pieces,” I tell him with a sigh. “Look, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. All I want to think about right now is catching McFadden because he’s really pissing me off. Thank you for saving my ass when he tried shooting at me. I appreciate it. But I work alone.”
It’s one thing to go easy on the guy so that he can still be in Meadow’s and Livia’s lives, it’s a whole other thing to work side by side with him and try not to think about banging him. Or if he has birthmarks in any special places. Or tattoos that can only be seen with his pants off.
“I figured you’d say that. Which is why I came here tonight with a proposition for you,” Griffin tells me, one side of his mouth tipping up into his signature grin.
I’m always a sucker for this man’s smile and will agree to anything when he aims it in my direction. I should know by now just to run away when I see it.
“Fine. What’s your proposition?” I ask.
Obviously, I’m a moron.
“How about a little wager? We’ll each do our own separate thing. I didn’t reenlist with the army and I’m on furlough from the police force right now because of budget cuts, so I need the work. But I’ll leave you alone to chase after McFadden. If you catch him first, you win.”
Who doesn’t like a little bet? My heritage practically screams gambling aficionado; we go to the church and bet on simulcast horse racing all in the name of Jesus. If a Notre Dame game starts to get a little boring (don’t tell my father I said that), we’ll start placing bets on anything we can think of.
“I’ve got five on that super fan in the first row taking his shirt off before the third quarter.”
“Double or nothing on the announcer saying the phrase ‘ball and sack’ in the same sentence by the end of the quarter.”
“I’ll wash your car for a week if there’s a Budweiser commercial during the next break.”
“What do I win, since we both know I’m going to get him first?” I ask with my own cocky smile.
“If you bring him in before I do, I’ll let you get in one good solid punch to make up for the hurt I caused you,” he replies.
Oh, man. He knows exactly how to sweet-talk a girl.
I quickly accept the bargain with a firm shake of his hand and as he’s opening the front door to leave, my brain finally gets with the program and I realize I just agreed to this thing without asking what he would get if he caught McFadden first.
“Wait!” I shout to him as he gets to the bottom step and heads toward his motorcycle parked at the curb. “I know it’s a long shot, but what do you win if you catch him first?”
Griffin grabs his helmet and after securing it on his head and swinging his leg to straddle the bike, he turns to look at me, and son of a bitch if I can’t see the twinkle in his eyes through the visor of the helmet.