“No,” I whisper. “But that man wasn’t my father.”
“You’re a hard man to find.”
I look up from the table as the sax player narrates my grief in song. “Who helped you?”
My dad inspects the tumbler of whisky next to my half-empty glass of water. Concern etches his already wrinkled forehead. “Cage.”
He takes a seat across from me, eyeing the glass. “Jameson?”
“How appropriate.” He chuckles. “It’s been a week. Aria gets to go home in two days. She’s gaining weight and maintaining body temperature.”
“Have you held your daughter yet?”
Swallowing hard, I shake my head.
“I have. She’s a little miracle.”
My jaw clenches. I know she’s a miracle. I know what time she usually wakes during the night. I know how long she nurses from Elle and that she prefers the right breast over the left.
“This is your life, Flint. Get in the game or quit, but don’t sit on the bench watching everyone around you live your dream.”
When I don’t look at him or acknowledge him in any way, he stands and rests his finger on the rim of the whisky tumbler. “I don’t have to ask if you’ve taken a drink. I know the man you are today.”
He tips the tumbler on its side, sending the gold liquid spilling off the opposite end of the table. “And Harrison knows about Heidi. Ellen told him.” He hands me a folded piece of paper. “She asked me to give this to you.”
I stare at it for a few seconds before taking it. Dad turns and walks out the door.
I always loved music. My piano teacher was my mentor. She lived two blocks away from us, a retired professor from Juilliard. I was her only student. She taught me because my dad made suits for her husband. Her name was Ethyl—the name you said we would NOT name our daughter. (I forgive you.) My junior year of high school she was hit by a drunk driver. She spent three months in the ICU. They said she’d never walk again.
My mom took me to visit her at the hospital every week. One of her therapists was a music therapist. I’d never heard of such a profession. Over the following eighteen months, I witnessed a miracle. Ethyl surpassed every goal the doctors said she would never achieve.
She walked again. Talked again. And played the piano again. Every therapist played a role in her recovery, but Ethyl said music healed her. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
BUT … are you ready for the good part? Because there’s always a good part. Of everything Ethyl accomplished in her life, by far the greatest, most admirable thing she ever did was forgive the man who drove the car that almost ended her life.
Heaven and Earth, Flint …
I’m going to love you so hard, time won’t matter. Distance won’t matter. All you’ll feel when you take each breath … is my love.
I check out of my hotel room and go to the hospital just before midnight. Ellen should be feeding Aria soon. I can’t hear her, but I know she’s humming to our daughter. I just know.
“Feeling better, Mr. Hopkins?”
I turn toward the same nurse I’ve seen off and on for the past week. “I think so.”
“Good to hear.”
I stand in my spot for almost forty-five minutes, failing to find the courage to go inside. And as if she knows, Ellen straightens her back and twists her body to glance over her shoulder at me.
A second chance has never looked so beautiful.
I wash my hands and put on a gown, keeping my eyes on her the whole time. The automatic door slides open. She smiles as tears race down her face. I stop in front of her, aching to touch her, aching to touch my daughter.
“I want this life too,” I whisper.
Elle blinks out more tears, her smile reaching the corners of her eyes. “I think it’s going to be a good one.” She eases to her feet. “Sit down, Daddy.”
I sit in the rocking chair; it’s warm from her body.
“Meet the girl who’s going to bring you to your knees.”
I grin as Elle hands Aria to me.
God … she’s so perfect. And so is our daughter.
When Ellen wakes a little before seven in the morning to feed Aria again, I slip out and go home to take care of unfinished business.
My dad greets me, shuffling from the coffee pot to the kitchen table. “Getting in the game?”
I shut the door and set my bag down. “If coach will still let me play.”
He nods toward the stairs. “Coach is upstairs feeding his rats breakfast.”
I nod, making my way to the stairs.
“Yeah?” I look back at my dad.
“Do you realize you have eight rats living with you?”
I chuckle. “I haven’t counted them recently, but that sounds about right.” I take one step at a time, preparing myself for the unexpected. “Hey …” I step inside Harrison’s room and shut the door behind me, leaning back against it with my hands shoved into the front pockets of my jeans.
“Hey,” he says without looking up at me.
“How’s the rat pack?”
“You just call them that because you don’t care enough to memorize their names,” he murmurs.
“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frédérick Chopin, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, and your three guitarists—Jimi Hendrix, John Frusciante, and Carlos Santana.”
I grin. “Probably.”
“You want to know what you can do to make it okay that you killed my mom. Don’t you?”
I flinch. Here comes a shitload of the unexpected. I brace for impact but speak my peace first. There are a few things he needs to know. “Nothing can make it okay. Not a million ‘I’m sorry’s,’ not all the money in the world, or all the cookies from your favorite bakery.”
“I’m ready for an electric guitar. A new one. The nicest one money can buy.”
“Harrison, I just said—”
“What?” he says with an edge while ushering the rats back into their cage and shutting the door. “A new guitar is too much to give me in exchange for me forgiving you?” Pushing to standing, he kicks at a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, crosses his arms over his chest, and paces in front of the window.
“I’m not asking for your forgiveness. I just want you to know that I’m truly sorry, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish it would have been me who died in that accident.”
“Fine. Great. Whatever.”
“If you’re not going to buy me the fucking guitar, then get out of here!”
“Harrison, that’s enough.”
“What? You can kill someone, but I can’t say fuck?” He balls his hands, arms shaking. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! FUUUCK!”
I draw in a controlled breath. “I’ll give you some time alone.”
“Great. More time alone. Maybe we watch more videos with my mom in them. Maybe you give me more framed pictures of her.” He picks up the photo next to his bed, the one where Heidi’s crossing the finish line, and he heaves it at me, missing me by a good three feet. It shatters against the wall. “Then what? All this fucking time spent in the past like you’re so fucking worried I’m going to fucking forget her! Newsflash! I DON’T FUCKING REMEMBER HER!” He pulls at his hair. When he opens his eyes, they’re red and filled with tears.
I don’t remember the last time I saw Harrison cry. And when I blink, releasing my own emotions, I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing about me.
He falls to his knees, still fisting his hair as his voice shatters like the glass frame. “I d-don’t remember h-her.” He sobs.
I step over the mess on the floor to get to the other side of the bed. Hunching down in front of him, I pull him into me, falling backward under the weight of him when he surrenders. And for the next few minutes, I hold my child, gently rocking him, feeling his pain and bleeding more of my own.
He doesn’t know how to forgive me for taking something—someone—that doesn’t exist in his mind. I get it. I finally fucking get it.
“Things got a little loud.” My dad cringes as I walk into the kitchen.
“Flint.” My mom hugs me. It’s the first time she’s seen me since they arrived last week. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
She gets me a coffee, and I sit at the table with them.
“The boy likes the word fuck.” My dad eyes me, sipping his coffee.
“And he uses it with surprising accuracy.”
“You two are terrible.” My mom shakes her head.
I rub my hand down my face, blowing out a long breath. “I have to find some humor in this situation before it kills both of us.”
“He doesn’t remember Heidi.” Mom frowns.
“No. He doesn’t. I always just assumed. Hell, I think Sandy always assumed.”
“I think he should talk to someone. Maybe a psychiatrist.” Mom says.