An Unlikely Daddy. Rachel Lee
“Of course I’m right. He was an adventurer at heart. I knew it. I walked into it with my eyes open. That’s not making this hurt any less, but there was no way I was going to keep him stapled to my side for fifty years. If not this, then something else.”
He sat up, half nodding, half shaking his head. “Probably,” he agreed, then made an effort to change the subject. “Are you still teaching?”
“I’m on sabbatical until next fall.” She paused, then decided her reasoning needn’t be kept private. “It felt like too much to deal with—the baby, Johnny’s death. I couldn’t have focused on teaching. So I decided to focus on getting through this year, having the baby and taking some time to be a mother. Fall will be soon enough.”
Soon enough to try to resume a full life. Right now she wanted no part of it. Her life was all in a shambles, and she felt like she had to glue some of the pieces back together before she’d be any use to anyone. She tried to think of it as convalescence. Maybe it was sheer cowardice. An unwillingness to face more of the world than she had to, to deal with constant reminders that life went on. To deal with students who were young enough to be cheerfully falling in love or agonizing over not being asked for a date. For young people, even minor things were magnified. For her, she didn’t need a magnifying glass. She doubted she’d have patience for all that. She even doubted whether she’d be focused enough to be a good teacher.
Life had become an unending blur of pain punctuated by moments when she felt the joy of the coming child. A stark contrast that left her feeling continually off balance.
Ryker drew her attention back to him by rising. “I didn’t mean to intrude for so long. I just wanted you to know that I’m here. If it’s okay, I’ll stop by again in the morning.”
She didn’t move. “Where are you staying?”
“At the motel.”
She sighed. “Lovely place.”
“I’ve stayed in worse.” He moved toward the door. “Don’t see me out. And like I said, I’ll stop by in the morning. I don’t know about you, but I need some rest. Still adjusting to a major clock change. Jet lag.”
She looked up at him. “Where did you fly in from?”
A half smile. “Quite a few time zones to the east. Even more if you count to the west.”
A pang struck her. “Johnny used to say something like that. Really helpful.”
“I told you...”
She waved a hand. “I get it. Operational security.”
He paused and offered his hand. Reluctantly she took it, feeling warm, work-hardened skin. So familiar, but from a stranger. “Ryker...”
“We can talk more tomorrow.” He gave her hand a squeeze, then let himself out.
When Marisa heard the front door close, she felt at once a sense of relief and one of disappointment. There was more she wanted to ask. A lot more.
Well, he said he’d come back. Then she sat rocking and thinking about Ryker Tremaine. She didn’t quite trust him, even if he had been Johnny’s friend. How could she? He wouldn’t give her any more answers than her husband had.
Men who lived in the shadows, both of them. After all these years she was just beginning to understand how much.
Finally she rose, rubbing her back a bit, and went to lock the front door, something she didn’t usually do.
But the simple fact was, a stranger had come to her door, claiming to know Johnny. Maybe he did, but that alone didn’t make him trustworthy.
In all, the situation felt wrong. After all these months? Out of the blue without warning? Not even a condolence card? While she wasn’t yet prepared to reject the possibility that he was the “Artie” Johnny had sometimes mentioned, even that alone wasn’t enough to create trust.
He was a stranger. And while she might not care all that much about her own life, she did care about her baby.
When at last she went to bed, she rested on her side, feeling her daughter’s gentle stirrings, and staring into the darkness. She thought of Johnny, which was slowly growing easier, she thought about the child who would soon join her in this world and she thought about Ryker Tremaine.
Her sense of him was that he was a lot like Johnny in some ways. But different, too. Maybe even harder.
Or maybe this visit had been as difficult for him as it had been for her. She couldn’t imagine why he was planning to stay, was troubled by the fact that he wouldn’t say for how long, and realized that another box of secrets had just walked into her life.
Like she needed more of that. At last sleep freed her, giving her gentle dreams for a change, offering escape from a world that had too many hard edges.
Morning would come. Somehow, to her everlasting sorrow, it always did.
Rising before the sun. The phrase had amused Marisa since childhood, especially since she was climbing out of bed at the same time as usual. The sun’s winter-delayed arrival always made her feel cozy somehow, and this morning was no different. By the time she finished showering and dressing in one of Johnny’s old flannel shirts and maternity jeans, faint gray light began to appear around the edges of the curtains.
In the kitchen she made her allotted few cups of coffee and decided to eat cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast. With a glass of milk, she swallowed her prenatal vitamin while she stirred the oatmeal.
She had just poured the oatmeal from the pan into the bowl when she heard a knock at her side door. Looking over, she saw Julie standing there and waving. Immediately she went to let her in.
“Gawd, it’s cold out there this morning,” Julie said, pulling back her hood and shaking out her long auburn hair. Green eyes danced. “Be glad you don’t have to be anywhere. After that thaw last week, it feels like an insult. Oatmeal, huh?”
“Want me to make you some?”
“Sweetie, I already gorged on Danish and coffee. Unlike you, I don’t have to worry about healthy eating.”
Marisa laughed lightly. “Not yet, anyway.”
“I know, I know, it’ll catch up with me. All our sins do. So, dish.”
Julie pulled out a chair without unzipping her jacket and sat, arching a brow at her. “Did you really think a mysterious man could show up on your doorstep last evening and that your neighbor Fiona would miss it? Or that she wouldn’t call me and probably half the rest of the town? Sit, eat.”
Marisa brought the bowl of oatmeal and a milky mug of coffee to the table. Julie eyed the coffee. “Still on restriction?”
Marisa shook her head. “Not now. The doc says I can have more, it’s not risky. But now...I don’t want any more.”
“Hah. They retrain us. Anyway, the guy last night.”
“Fiona. Does she report on every breath I take?”
“You know her better than that. But last night was something new. Everyone needs something new to talk about. So, who was he?” Julie waited eagerly.
“He says he worked with Johnny for years.”
Julie’s smile faded. “What’s wrong, Marisa? Did he scare you?”
“I don’t know what to make of him, that’s all. He said a few things, so yes he knew Johnny but...it seems kind of late to be making a social call. He certainly doesn’t know me. And he’s talking about Johnny wanting him to check on me.”
“Well, that sounds like Johnny.”