“You did this on purpose!”
Tony spat he words at me, getting so close to my face that I had to back up. He had never hit me during our one year of marriage, but he had a bad temper and I constantly found myself wondering if his rage would ever escalate into a physical attack.
“Tony”, I said, shaking my head and keeping my voice low because I found that when I spoke slowly and softly, he tended to respond by lowering his voice, too. “I didn’t get pregnant on purpose.”
Heck, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay with the lug. I’d just found out a week ago that he’d been having an affair. But he was the father of my baby and he had a right to know, didn’t he? And I had to at least try to get over his affair and believe that he could change like he promised he would, especially if there was a baby involved.
“It’s probably not even mine,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he glared at me.
I could feel the heat rise to my face. How dare he?! Again, I lowered my voice. “It’s yours.” And I couldn’t resist adding, “I didn’t have an affair, you did.”
Turning to set my mug of tea on the kitchen table, I could feel tears stinging the corners of my eyes. But I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing his words hurt me. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be when a married couple found out they were pregnant. There were supposed to be hugs and congratulations, and tears of joy, not sadness.
I felt like I should at least try to stay with him for the baby’s sake, but I couldn’t help wondering if being around him was a good idea. It would be better to raise a baby by myself than to raise him or her with a father who obviously didn’t want to be married to me.
But I hated breaking that promise I’d made to myself —the one that I’d made as a kid. I swore I’d never get a divorce if I had children. I’d gone through so much pain as I watched my parents fight over every little thing through their divorce. One or the other was always making my two sisters and I take sides. But this baby hadn’t even been born yet. Leaving Tony might just be the best thing for the baby—and me.
Tony made the decision before I could think about it anymore. “I’m outta here,” he said.
l whirled to face him. “What? Where are you going?”
He’d started walking down the hallway toward the front door. “I’m coming back for my things tomorrow morning at ten. Don’t be here.” Then he grabbed his leather coat off the hook by the front door. Slinging it over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of the handsome man I’d fallen in love with — tall, dark hair, even darker eyes with a slim, athletic build. And the fact that he rode a Harley was the icing on the cake.
“I want a divorce, Sandy,” he said, jotting me from the temporary trance his physique had put me in.
Before I could respond, he was gone.
My cell phone chimed as I juggled my four-month-old, Lily, in one arm and my Biology book in the other. Setting the book back on the tiny kitchen table and glancing at the caller ID, I was shocked to see it was Tony. I hadn’t heard from him in a year. Aside from the flowers he had sent to the hospital after Lily was born, he hadn’t tried to be a father at all.
And I hadn’t missed him one bit.
Biting my lip as the phone rang again, I flipped it open, deciding I’d have to deal with him sooner or later anyway, so I may as well make it now.
“Hey Tony,” I said, trying to get right to the point.
“Hey,” he said, using his most charming voice. I knew that voice well. Tony really knew how to use his charisma to his advantage. And sex appeal was one of his best attributes. But too much time had passed, and he’d shown his true colors, so that sort of charm wasn’t going to suck me in anymore.
I moved the phone between my shoulder and ear, using both hands to slide Lily into her highchair. She cooed as I handed her a frozen teething ring.
“Is that Lily?” Tony asked, sounding excited. “Put the phone by her ear. Let her daddy talk to her.”
Taking a deep breath and blowing it out, I patiently held the phone out so Lily could hear his voice. I wish he’d hurry up and get to the point of his call. All this time, he hadn’t called or visited, so why now?
Taking a seat in the wooden chair across from Lily in the small apartment kitchen, I brought the phone back to my ear, and glanced at the textbook on the table. Big quiz tomorrow and I have to get Lily down fora nap so I can study.
“Tony,” I started, trying not to sound annoyed. I was glad he wanted to know about Lily, but I didn’t have time for games. “Why are you calling?”
He got straight to the point. “I want to see Lily.”
My heart did a little flip, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was because I was glad for Lily that she had a father who was going to take an interest in her, or because I was just a little bit scared to have him be a part of her life.
“Okay,” I said, not exactly sure how to proceed.
“Can I stop by tonight?” he asked, taking advantage of my hesitation.
It would be fine. He’d meet her in the safety of my apartment, and then knowing him, he’d disappear for months again. But I’d take what she could get.
I gave him the address of the farm and said, “Call when you get in the driveway. It’s a little confusing when you get here to figure out which barn we’re in.”
“You live in a barn?” he asked.
“A loft. An apartment above the barn.”
Two hours later, I watched out the window as Tony pulled up—dressed in head-to-toe black leather—on his motorcycle.
In spite of myself, I couldn’t help but yearn for the days when I used to hop on the back, hold his taut abs, and breathe in the scent of him. Shaking my head, I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and reminded myself that he’d been absent through my entire pregnancy and the first four months of our daughter’s life.
Picking up Lily—who was dressed in a soft pink long-sleeved one-piece outfit with a matching headband over her almost-bald head, I headed for the door to meet him.
“Baby!” he said, his voice loud as I opened the door. I could smell alcohol on his breath.
Lily let out a wail loud enough to catch the attention of the two sheepdogs—Kylie and Wylie—as they were making their rounds. They came running to the bottom of the wooden steps, both of them barking as if they were ready to help if I needed them.
“Shhh,” I said, trying to quiet Lily as I turned to move back inside the apartment.
“Geezer” he said, stepping inside and banging the door closed, making Lily cry even harder. “Is she always this loud?”
My maternal instinct made me pull her closer to protect her. “You scared her,” I said, shifting to hold her head close to mine as hiccups started to interfere with her crying. “Babies scare easily.”
“Sorry,” he said, softening his voice and taking a tentative step closer.
Lily finally quieted enough so that I could hold her over my shoulder and rub her back to try to ease her hiccups.
Tony moved behind me, I guessed to get a better look at Lily’s face.
“Hey there,” he said, his voice gentle.
But I could feel Lily’s body tense just before she started to wail again. Tony moved in front of me, putting his hands over his ears like a ten-year-old.
Moving to the kitchen, I said, “Maybe she’s hungry.” I knew she wasn’t—I’d fed her just twenty minutes earlier, but I didn’t want Tony to think his own daughter hated him.
He followed me into the kitchen as I turned on the stove to warm a pot of water and pulled a bottle out of the refrigerator.
“Why don’t I help?” Tony said, reaching for the bottle.
I was pleasantly surprised. The old Tony never offered to help with anything in the kitchen. Handing him the bottle, I said, “Just let it simmer in there, then we’ll check the temp on our wrist before we give it to her.”
He nodded, and the corner of his mouth lifted into a small smile, revealing the dimple I found so attractive on him. I had to remind myself he’d ditched me when I needed him the most. This wasn’t the time to be charmed by him. And as he reached out and pushed a strand of stray hair that had escaped my ponytail, I realized that that was exactly what he was doing—trying to charm me.
Clearing my throat, I glanced at the pot. “I think it’s ready now.”
He let his fingers gently brush my cheek before he turned to heat the bottle.
When the temperature was right, I said, “Let’s sit on the sofa to feed her.”
“She’s beautiful,” he said, following me into the small adjoining room. There was just enough space for a small chair and a short sofa—all from the second-hand store. Tony’s presence in the room made the room feel even smaller than usual.
He took a seat on the sofa next to me and watched as I lowered Lily’s head into the crook of my elbow and lifted the bottle to her lips. She placed a hand over mine and Tony bent closer.
“Do you think I could feed her?” he asked.
I bit my lip, saying a quick prayer that she wouldn’t burst out crying, and Tony smiled and settled back into the sofa, readying his arms.
I leaned to transfer Lily. For a second, as I lowered her to his arms, I thought she might be okay. She opened her eyes wide and looked from mine to Tony’s face and then at the bottle I lowered to her lips.
But as she opened her mouth and took a deep breath, I readied myself, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Lily let out a wail that made her face turn beet red and should have cracked the windowpanes. Cringing, Tony half-stood and dropped her back into my arms.
As if all this commotion wasn’t enough, I heard a loud rapping noise over Lily’s screaming, and noticed a shadow at my door.
Bouncing Lily up and down as I tried to calm her, I crossed the room and headed for the door.
I pulled open the door to find Dave’s smiling but concerned face. “Hey what’s all the racket up here?” he asked, reaching out to touch Lily’s arm.
Dave lived at the farm next door, and had what seemed like a thousand cousins in the area. He was a natural with babies.
To my amazement, Lily stopped crying and leaned toward Dave.
She practically slid into his arms as he handed me a stack of papers and I transferred her to him.
“Who’s this Bozo?” Tony said, appearing behind me. I’d almost forgotten he was there.
Dave froze for an instant, a worried look on his face as he glanced from me to Tony dressed in all his leather. But Dave—wearing a weathered heavy flannel jacket, worn jeans, and a smile on his face—stretched out a hand.
“Dave Mullen. I’m in charge of the farmers’ markets around here.”
With the two men standing so close together, I couldn’t help but to compare them. Tony, with his dark eyes and hair, tall, and leather-clad from head to toe; and Dave, who stood almost a head shorter than Tony, was fair-haired with a slightly smaller build, and a smile—there was always a smile on Dave’s face.
After giving him a very obvious once-over from head to toe, Tony finally took Dave’s outstretched hand. “I see you spend a lot of time here,” he said, sending me a knowing look.
“Well, I —” Dave started.
Tony shrugged and glanced at Lily. “Well, the kid hates me anyway, so I don’t know why I bothered.”
Dave’s face softened as he looked down at Lily in his arms. “Nah, she doesn’t hate you. She just likes to be charmed a little bit,” Dave said, his whiskey-smooth voice calming Tony and Lily at the same time.
Tony grunted, but stared at the now-cooing Lily and I could see his face lose its earlier tension. Dave had it right. Tony was uptight. Why hadn’t I thought of that earlier? He was nervous, that was all.
“Well, didn’t mean to interrupt anything,” Dave said, using his chin to point at the stack of flyers he’d handed to me. “Just wanted to drop off some flyers in case you wanted to publicize the farmers’ markets since they open in two weeks.”
“No, you’re not interrupting, why don’t you come in for a few minutes,” I said.
But Dave shook his head. “No thanks. Got some more stops to make to other farmers.”
“Okay,” I said, looking at the bright orange papers. “I’ll help get the word out.”
I couldn’t help noticing how he held Lily in just the right position that made her happy and yet let her look around at the same time. He was a natural.
Dave nodded and looked from me to Tony. “I’m off, then.” And he started to hand Lily back to Tony.
Tony put his hands in the air and started to back up. “Uh-uh, not going there again,” he said, gesturing with his hand for Dave to hand her back to me.
I took my baby and bent to inhale the sweet smell of her head.
With a quick smile and wave goodbye, Dave jogged down the old wooden steps.
‘Well he’s very comfortable with Lily. He your boyfriend?” Tony asked, watching Dave climb into his pickup truck.
“Dave?” I asked, waving back as Dave stuck a hand out his window to wave good-bye. “No,” I said, bringing my attention back to Tony and turning to head back inside. “He’s a business acquaintance. He runs the farmers’ markets around here and I’m in charge of the markets for this farm. We set up a vendor tent three times a week and sell produce.”
“Oh,” Tony said, following me back inside.
Over the next two weeks, Tony dropped by a few more times. Each time, he seemed a little more relaxed with Lily.
She still cried when he tried to hold her, so for now, he just sat next to me as I held her. At least he was still trying to be a father and not taking things personally. And Lily wasn’t the only one who’d dropped her defenses. I, too, was starting to trust Tony again.
On a particularly mild early-May evening, Tony helped me put Lily into her crib and I was touched when he started to sing a lullaby. Tony? The big, leather-wearing brute who could out-drink a college kid was singing a lullaby? Maybe he had really changed.
And when he stopped singing, and turned to pull me in his arms, the moment felt right. He bent his head and his lips brushed mine. I felt an old familiar yearning to let him hold me, protect me, make me forget about the stress and worries of life. That was what he was good at.
Quietly, so we wouldn’t wake Lily from her sleep, we crept out of the bedroom and back to the sofa where Tony tenderly kissed me, reminding me why I fell in love with him years ago. He let his fingers roam to the soft part of my throat and gently brushed the tender skin as he searched my mouth with his tongue.
And on the small couch, we made love and slept in each other’s arms until Lily’s soft coos and cries awakened us the next morning.
But two nights later, when I heard a loud motorcycle engine followed by banging on the door at two in the morning, I found Tony reeking of alcohol and perfume.
“Hey, Babe,” he slurred.
I had to bite my tongue to keep from lashing out at him. Drunk? On a motorcycle? I wasn’t his wife anymore, and I was beginning to remember why I was better off without him. But a nagging voice reminded me that he was Lily’s father and I had to do what I could to keep him in her life.
“Come on in,” I said, holding the door open. “You can sleep on the couch.”
When Lily and I got up the next morning, he was still passed out on the sofa, and we left him a note that said we were heading out to the farmers’ market for the day.
“Hey, is that asparagus?” I heard a friendly voice saying from behind me.
“Dave!” I said, turning from the truck I was unloading. He was wearing layers—we all were because mornings were still chilly, even though it was June—and by afternoon we would be sweating in T-shirts. That’s how the farmers’ market was this time of year.
“Here,” Dave said, stepping forward to grab a crate of broccoli from the back of the pickup truck. “Let me help,”
“Dave,” I said, letting him help with one crate because I knew he wanted to help. “Alexis is with me, we can handle it.”
As if on time, fifteen-year-old Alexis, the farmer’s daughter, came sprinting across the parking lot, giggling and carrying a pastry in one hand and holding Lily on her hip with the other. I had to laugh at them—bartering our vegetables for pastries from the local baker who also had a stand setup.
‘Well if you told me Lily was here, I would have offered to help unload her first!” Dave said, racing over to pick up Lily and twirl her around. Little tufts of her growing soft blonde hair flittered and flew as he turned her, and she squealed in delight, happy to see Dave.
I couldn’t help but notice the difference between her response to Dave and her still-hardened attitude toward Tony.
Although Dave had a truck full of strawberries and blueberries to unload, he lifted Lily high and made motor noises.
This is what a father should be like, I said to myself.
And when Dave looked at me and threw me a giant smile, I couldn’t help but to compare the way my heart did a little flip in my chest when I looked at Dave to the way my heart sunk when Tony was around.
A month later, I cradled the cell phone between my shoulder and ear as I unloaded another crate of tomatoes from the pickup truck. The July heat was already oppressing, even at eleven o’clock in the morning.
“My mother wants to meet Lily,” Tony was saying.
“Tony, I know Lily is warming up to you, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to take her out by yourself,” I said, knowing he’d had very little experience with things like changing diapers and nap time.
“Look, you can meet us there. It’s a Fourth of July party. You can stay and party, or pick up Lily and take her back. It’ll be for just a few hours. That’s all I’m asking. I can borrow my mom’s truck. I think I’ve shown I can handle it”.
I bit the inside of my lip, afraid to take a chance, but at the same time afraid to let him slip out of our lives if I said no.
“Okay,” I said, even though my gut was screaming, no! “Pick her up at ten—you can use my car seat—and I’ll be there by noon to pick her back up.”
“Ah come on, Sandy. The parade doesn’t even start until two. It’ll be her first parade.”
As two more customers approached my farm stand, I shook my head. “Lemme call you back,” I said, and disconnected before he could argue his case.
By the time we finished folding our tent and loading the empty crates back onto the truck, I was ready for a nap. It had been a long, hot day. Even Lily looked beat, asleep in the shade in her stroller next to Alexis, who was resting her head against the tree stump.
But Dave—true to his nature—was smiling, and there was still some pep in his step.
Shaking my head, I smiled at him. “Where do you get the energy, Dave? You look like you’re ready to start the day and I’m ready to crash.”
He took two empty crates from my arms and turned to load them on the truck. “I’m loving this weather and loving that I get the day off tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I said, glancing over at Lily. “Fourth of July.”
“What’s wrong?” he said, taking a step closer to me, close enough that I could smell the scent of sweet corn on him. He brushed my cheek to move a tendril of hair that had fallen from my ponytail and we both looked at each other. His touch sent an unexpected tingle down my spine. Had he felt it, too?
His eyes grew wide and he lifted a brow. Then he backed up a step, took a deep breath, and blew it out. “So how’s Tony?” he asked, his expression suddenly changing from soft to serious.
The drape of temporary distraction dissipated and I frowned and cleared my throat. “Yeah. Tony,” I said, kicking a pebble from the asphalt with the tip of my sneaker. “That’s a problem.” “What’s up?” Dave asked, picking up two more empty crates and loading them into the truck.
I grabbed the last two crates and headed for the back of the truck. “He wants to take Lily tomorrow.”
“By himsetf?” Dave asked, turning to face me as I slammed the tailgate shut.
I nodded. “I don’t know what to do.”
He didn’t say a word, just glanced over at Lily and then back at me. That was one thing I really liked about Dave—he was a friendly, kind person, but he didn’t talk much and I could tell he didn’t want to butt in.
But the fact that he was such a kind person made me want his advice. “So what do you think I should do?” I asked, shading the sun from my eyes with my hand as I glanced up at him. He wasn’t overly tall, but he had quite a few inches on me.
With a sigh, he glanced over at Lily again. “What do you want to do?”
I punched his arm playfully and he caught my hand and held it in both of his. “No fair,” I said, feeling my heart pump faster at the way he was holding my hand. “That’s a cop out.”
He shrugged and dropped one of his hands so that now we were holding hands and leaning against the truck, looking over at Lily and Alexis napping under the maple tree.
“What if I let him take her, and then you come with me to pick her up?” I said.
I turned to look at him and he opened his mouth to talk, but then closed it.
“What?” I asked.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. “Tony.”
“What about Tony?”
“He’s Lily’s father.”
“And?” I asked, not sure where he was going with this.
“And I don’t want to get between you and him. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize Lily’s parents being together.”
Wow. My heart did a funny flip in my stomach and I realized I’d been nothing short of stupid trying to make things work with Tony. Here I had this guy—hard-working, funny, kind, and selfless guy—right under my nose that cared enough for me to step aside and let me have what I needed.
Giving his hand a squeeze, I said, “Tony is Lily’s father, but he’ll never be anything more than that to me.” Without giving him time to respond, added, “Let’s go get Lily and Alexis and go home.”
The next morning, with my heart in my hand, I watched as Tony took off with Lily in the pickup truck next to him, leaving a trail of dust behind. I’d sniffed Tony’s breath for traces of alcohol, I’d made sure Lily was strapped in her seat properly, and made sure her diaper bag had all the essentials—diapers, wipes, powder, change of clothes, bottles. So why did I still feel so scared?
It wasn’t until ten minutes later, when Dave showed up at my door, that I finally relaxed.
“How’d it go?” he asked, opening the squeaky screen door and stepping inside my apartment.
“Smoother than I thought,” I admitted. “Lily didn’t cry at all, and he seemed very attentive.”
“You’re counting down the hours until you get to see her again, aren’t you?”
I smiled, wondering how he could know me better than someone I’d been married to for a year.
“I’m glad you’re coming with me to pick her up,” I said, leaning forward to grab his hand. He’d not only offered to come with me to pick up Lily, but to keep me company while she was gone so I didn’t worry. He said he had a plan.
“Okay,” I said, holding both his hands with mine. “You said you were coming to distract me. So how are you going to distract me for two hours?”
“Well,” he said, a crooked smile forming on his face. “At first I thought we could go for a walk around Blackberry Lake, but now —” he said, leaning closer so his face was just above mine.
“You’re getting a better idea?” I asked, tilting my head and closing the distance between us.
“Hmmmm,” he said, bending to touch his lips to mine and pulling me against him.
We were a half-hour early to pick up Lily. The usually-quiet streets were crowded with parked cars and people wandering everywhere. And the sound of tubas and other brass instruments permeated the air as the bands warmed up.
“Right here,” I said, pointing at Tony’s parents’ house along the parade route.
“Want to get out here?” Dave asked, idling the truck. “I can circle the block and come back for you since there isn’t any parking.”
I nodded. “You don’t mind?”
He just smiled and I licked my lips, remembering how his mouth had felt just an hour ago as we got to know each other’s bodies.
“Thanks!” I said, leaning in to kiss him, and then hopping out of his truck to head for Lily.
As I crossed the yard to the house, I had to weave between coolers, empty beer bottles, and portable grills. Tony had a lot of friends, but everyone he knew seemed to show up for July Fourth, even lots of people he didn’t know.
I spotted Pete, a friend of Tony’s. He was red-faced from too much alcohol. “Have you seen Tony?” I hollered over the loud music playing from someone’s car stereo.
“Sandy!” Pete said, taking a step forward to hug me, but almost tripping over his own feet he was so drunk. I caught his elbow, breaking his fall, and then helped him lean against a parked car.
“Yeah,” he slurred, “I think he’s up there,” he pointed to the front porch.
As I started up the front steps, something made me turn to the street.
I spotted Dave—double-parked next to Tony’s mom’s blue pickup—holding a crow bar. With disbelief, I watched as he smashed in the truck window. Tony must have seen it at the same time I did, and he came barreling down the front steps, almost knocking me down.
“What the hell is that guy doing?” Tony asked, taking off running across the yard as I followed.
What is Dave doing? He’d always seemed so mild-mannered. I knew he didn’t exactly approve of Tony, but why would he smash the truck window?
But as I ran across the grass, weaving between bodies and coolers, I could see Dave pulling something out of the car.
“Oh no! Lily!” I yelled.
Tony, in his drunken state, didn’t see a cooler in front of him and tripped and fell. I sped past him, running for my baby.
Panting, I couldn’t believe my relief when I got closer and could hear Lily screaming. She was red-faced and sweat-soaked.
As I raced next to Dave and looked down at her as he laid her in the shade, he said, “She’s okay, but an ambulance is on the way. She was locked in the truck. Window was cracked, but —”
Tony staggered next to us, falling on the ground. “Crap! Forgot to get her out after I took the case of beer to the porch.”
“How long ago, Tony?” I asked, fisting my hands in his shirt and pulling his face close to mine in an effort to sober him up as I heard sirens approaching.
He collapsed against the tree and started shaking his head as Dave ran out to the street to flag down the ambulance.
Two weeks later, Lily happily sat in her stroller with a portable fan and her favorite babysitter, Alexis, by her side in the shade of the farmers’ market.
“Think she’ll be scarred by the events of the Fourth?” Dave asked, stepping beside me.
The sun was beating down on us and it was time to fold up shop for the day. I’d sold all of the tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, and melons that I’d brought, and Dave had sold all of his corn.
“I think she’ll remember the hero who saved her life,” I said, reaching to put an arm around Dave’s waist.
Dave started shaking his head. He wasn’t too comfortable wearing the hero label, but without him Lily could have, well, I just couldn’t even think of what could have happened.
The EMT’s estimated she’d been left in the truck for ten minutes, and the window was cracked, but another ten minutes in the hot July sun could have meant disaster. She’d needed an IV to hydrate her, but she’d been released from the hospital that same day.
Tony’s guilt was keeping him at bay. He sent some money every week now, but I think he knew I’d never allow an unsupervised visit again.
And I no longer felt like I was breaking any promise I’d made to myself. After all, I thought as Dave pulled me in for a kiss, Lily loves Dave. And I do, too.
Just last night, he asked me to marry him. And when a hero asks to marry you, you just gotta say yes. So I did.”