Read an Excerpt
‘Caught you, Charlie,’ he said.
I laughed again. Something about Giovanni made me laugh. Made me feel light in the centre of myself where I’d felt heavy and tense for way too long. Again Annabel gave a sharp little cry – a little bubble of joy bursting in the late fall afternoon.
‘Yes, you did. You caught me. Good?’ I nodded to his shaved ice, changing the subject.
‘Good.’ He settled his intensely clear brown eyes on Annabel and said, ‘So, are you gonna tell me who this cutie is?’
Intuition reared up and I tapped his cast with my fingertip. ‘I’ll tell you about little Miss Annabel if you tell me about this.’
There was a flash of unease over his handsome face and my body hummed with interest. Interest in him, interest in his story. Something told me that he had not gotten that cast playing air drums.
‘Fine.’ He bit into his shaved ice and it made my teeth ache just to watch it. I shivered and he winked. ‘But you first.’
‘This is my daughter.’ I shrugged and licked my lemon ice as if to say end of story.
‘And?’ He rolled his hands at me to carry on. His mouth was wide, his eyes flashing. He was a ball of energy lit by some unseen generator. ‘I’m going to guess you might possibly be a … oh … homosexual?’
I snorted at his tone and his goofy facial expression. ‘Correct.’
‘And most of the homosexual men I know do not have kids. Unless they’re older and did the whole denial deal. Or adopted maybe.’
‘No denial here.’
‘Well, how did …’ Giovanni leaned in and touched Annabel’s’ nose and she squealed at him, ‘this doll baby come to be?’
I blew out a sigh, setting down my lemon ice. Suddenly cold sugar and syrup didn’t sound so good. I had to get used to this. Every guy I flirted with, every guy I talked to, every guy I potentially wanted to fuck would want to know about my daughter.
‘Ready? Because I’m going to do it fast like a band aid.’
‘That bad, man?’ Giovanni asked
‘Not bad. Just … it was unexpected.’
Giovanni gave a brisk nod. ‘Got it. So … go!’ He tickled Annabel’s toe and she wiggled in her carrier.
‘Annabel’s mom is my best friend. For most of my life Mariah’s been my rock. So, when she came to me and asked if I’d …’ I waved my hand.
‘Knock her up?’
I blinked at him but then nodded. ‘Yeah. She wanted a baby, couldn’t afford invitro fertilization. Didn’t have a guy in her life she wanted to, as she put it, spread a gene pool with. So she asked me. “Let’s get drunk, fuck and I’ll have a baby. You can be Uncle Charlie and I’ll be mom and the kid will be none the wiser”.’
‘Sounds very modern and reasonable,’ Giovanni said.
‘I thought so too.’
‘So what happened?’
‘We got drunk and we fucked.’
‘Who’d you picture?’
‘Andy Garcia,’ I said.
‘Thanks. Anyway, we actually had the stars aligned and it worked. She got pregnant on the first try and Annabel was born.’
‘Cutie too,’ Giovanni said and undid her strap. My heart stilled for a moment and then beat wildly in my chest. But he seemed to know what he was doing even with the cast. And Annabel, all agog over a new person, grinned and drooled and cooed like she’d known him forever. ‘I have a niece not much older than her in case you were wondering.’
Air flooded my lungs and it was only then that I realised I’d been holding my breath. ‘I was. Sort of. Not a lot.’
It’s amazing how fast you can go from unwilling father to overprotective worrisome dad.
‘Liar. So go on,’ he said to Annabel but was addressing me. She squealed and bashed him in his blue lips with pudgy fingers. At six months old my daughter was a featherweight boxer.
‘She developed PPD – post partum depression,’ I said. I said it slowly as if tasting the words. Then I flicked the edge of my shaved ice cup so that it scooted across the wrought iron table inch by chilly inch.
‘And she bolted?’
I sighed before I could catch myself and ran my hands through my hair. Dark hair fell across my eyebrows, into my eyes. I needed a haircut but I kept forgetting to get one. I forgot damn near everything but what Annabel needed at any given moment. I usually remembered my remodelling appointments, so that was good.
‘She bolted. You guessed it. It was too much for her. She didn’t want the meds, she couldn’t handle the baby. The crying, the sleep deprivation, the post partum itself. It was the perfect storm. She just left one night. Asked me if I could spot Annabel so she could go on a date and poof! The next thing I knew I was getting a phone call from her and she was in California staying with friends.’
‘Cali’s a long haul from here.’
‘No interest. Her mom’s pretty much a drunk. And they’re both hardcore practicing Catholics who think babies born out of wedlock are a sin.’
‘And babies born with hom-ee-sex-shul daddies. Dear Lord.’ He drew his words out in the ways of a fire and brimstone preacher and bounced Annabel so she gurgled.
‘Right. Bingo. Give the man a cigar.’
That’s when Giovanni turned to me and said quite bluntly. ‘I don’t know about a cigar but I bet daddy deserves a blow job. We’ll see what we can do later when little ones are down for long naps.’
I swallowed hard, coughed, felt the surge and thump of blood in my veins, my cock. When was the last time I’d felt my heart stutter and my stomach roll over with that excited, almost sick feeling? Too long to remember.
For one brief heart-stopping second, I touched the small dark hairs on the backs of his fingers. His cheeks went rosy and his eyelids sort of dropped like he was stoned. ‘Dude.’
‘Shush,’ I said. ‘Now tell me about the arm. What happened there?’
He handed me the baby so fast I feared I’d drop her and his face changed in the span of a heartbeat. ‘It’s nothing really.’
‘Yeah. I bet. Convince me of that.’
‘I fell down the steps.’
‘Ah, see, I suspected maybe you walked into a door.’
He grinned at me, changed his mind and took Annabel back. It was like a game, Pass the baby! But I gave her over easily. Giovanni’s teeth were still blue and slightly crooked in the front. Just crooked enough that I wanted to lean in and kiss him. The baby bopped him in the face.
‘That’s a black eye, anyhow. Not a busted arm.’
‘Do tell.’ I picked at a small hole in the knee of my jeans. This is when I would have lit a cigarette. But I’d quit. For me and for Annabel. No smoking around the baby! I could hear my mother in my head.
‘Do we really need to do this? We just met. This borders on water torture.’
‘Do you trust me?’ I wasn’t sure why I’d asked that. It would be perfectly understandable if this man said no.
Giovanni cocked his head, his long dark shock of hair falling in his face for an instant. ‘Yes.’
My heart staggered a little in my chest but I said, ‘Then tell me.’
‘My ex did it. There. But you knew that, didn’t you?’
I gave one short nod so as not to spook him. ‘Glad to hear he’s your ex, though.’
‘Well, damn. I’m slow to leave when I think I’m in love. I’m not stupid, though. I won’t stay with someone beating on me.’ He pulled his head back fast, realising maybe just how much information he’d just given away.
Annabel was staring, transfixed at this stranger, a hunk of his coffee coloured hair caught in her pudgy hand. She yanked hard like she was trying to rein him in. I winced but Giovanni didn’t.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘Don’t be. He was an ass. When he hit me so hard my knees buckled you’d think that would end it.’ He shrugged his thin shoulders and bounced my child on his leg. ‘But no. He always was an overachiever, my John. So he kicked me down the stairs.’
Rage, hot and swift, filled my chest and my hands bunched into fists. Hitting the likes of funny, kinetic, sexy Giovanni was beyond my scope of thinking. Hitting his ex seemed totally doable.
‘What the fuck?’
‘I know! What the fuck? But that was the wake up call I needed. They say all addicts have to hit rock bottom before they get it. I was addicted to that man. And when he did that and then stepped over me to leave the house and go out and party with the boys, I knew that I, Giovanni Rustici, was spread out over my rock bottom. And I was bleeding on it too. So for the time being I‘m living with my sister.’
‘Can I take you out?’ I blurted.
He blinked at me. His warm brown eyes unbelievably trusting for someone who was still wearing a fresh cast. ‘We are out.’