Looking at the gorgeous face, smiling back at me. I can't help the tears, that threaten to fall. It's been three whole weeks, since I've seen him in person. Held him, kissed him. Read stories at night, only for him to doze off, five minutes in.
Dad said it was better this way, being here alone, I would get more done. Of course, he was right, it's almost finished. The new apartment, I now own. It's in the heart of New York, close to work and the subway.
Working at the local public school, which is only a thirty-minute commute, makes my life a whole lot easier. Not to mention, Priya is moving in, tomorrow to be precise. I'm so excited, I haven't seen her in six months, she's been overseas, helping Ryan set up a school in Kenya. They got married, then a month later left for Africa. Now, she's heading back, to New York, to me.
"Mama missoo" his big blue eyes are twinkling, the way his fathers used to.I smile at the only love in my life, my two-year-old son. The day he was born, I experienced true, unconditional love. Looking into his eyes, when I held him for the first time. I promised to protect him at all costs. I would do everything in my power, to keep him safe and loved. I think I've done a good job so far.
My son's squealing draws my attention back to my laptop. Ryder is waving his chubby little hands around, something sticky hits the camera, my mum's face comes into view. When she offered to have Ryder with them, I wasn't keen on the idea. Being away from him, caused great panic to me. I was also worried it would be too much, mum has been unwell lately. Zack thinks it's chemical, he's been trying to get her to a psychiatrist, but she flat out refuses to go. Hopefully they figure it out soon.
"Hey mum, how are you feeling today?" The woman I'm looking at, is a far cry from the woman she was a few years ago. Her face is gaunt, her skin is dry and pale. The biggest change is her temperament. My mum was always a happy, fun-loving person, lately she's been prone to anger outbursts. Flying off the handle at the smallest things. That's why I was worried leaving my son there. I know she'd never hurt him; Ryder is her grandson, she adores him. I was just worried; the extra stress could become too much.
Mum gives me a weak smile" I'm doing okay today, well I would be, if your fucking fathers would stop hovering over me. They follow me everywhere, even to the fucking toilet. I'm capable of pissing without supervision". I sigh, this is what it's like, every time.
I hear Atticus and Ryder start to cry, my heart hurts hearing them, knowing I'm not there. My dad's voice reaches the speaker, he's talking softly, so he doesn't set her off again.
"Riley darlin, the boys are upset, let's go get some fresh air. We could walk down to that ice cream place you like. What do you say?"
Mum looks at Joel, the love in her eyes, still as bright as ever. "I'd love that, I'm so sorry for yelling. I'll take the boys to get changed".
She holds Ryder up to the screen again, so I can say goodbye. "I'll see you soon my little love, be good for nanna". I blow my son a kiss, he returns the sentiment with a wet raspberry. When mum and the kids are gone, dad sits on the chair. I take a second, to really look at him. It's clear, the last few months have taken a toll on him. He looks absolutely exhausted; his face is scruffy, and his hair needs a cut.
"You doing okay dad?" I ask, he shrugs his shoulders, running a hand over his mouth. "Hanging in there darlin, it's been nice having my grandson here. I'll miss him when he leaves. Promise me, you'll sign him up for kickboxing". I roll my eyes, dad is convinced, Ryder is the next fight champion. He even bought a pair of gloves and silk shorts.
"Dad, he's two. Give him a few years, let him learn to run properly first" my dad gives me a sheepish look. We go silent for a bit, I can see he's got something on his mind.
"What's going on? You look deep in thought". He looks at me, a big sigh whooshing out. "There is something, I'm going to fly home with Ryder tomorrow. There's a young kid, he's an upcoming fighter. I want to check him out, plus I need a fucking break. I love your mum, she's everything to me. Lately it's been hard, she refuses to go see a doctor, so we have to deal with her temper tantrums. I love my wife vi, I would kill for that woman. Lately though, I'm feeling suffocated. I'm with her the most, your other dads have jobs to go to. The gym is slow, now that school is back. So, I'm taking a time out".
I feel like crying, the anguish is evident on his face. My dad is the strongest person I know, both physically and mentally. Nothing ever gets him down, to see him like this. It's a big shock.
"What did mum say?" I ask, although I can guess. She would have lost her shit. "I haven't told her, Zack thinks, with her erratic behaviours. She'll try to manipulate me to stay. He and roman, will tell her after I'm gone". I'm about to tell him, I don't think it's a good idea. Springing it on her, could backfire.
I don't get to speak, the little voices of my son and brother approaching, ends our conversation. "Alright dad, you know best. I'll see you tomorrow then". He waves goodbye, then logs out.
I sit for a while, staring at the blank screen. I pray, Zack and Roman can get through to her. Otherwise, I'm afraid of what could happen.
I get up, looking around at my new home, I've nearly finished unpacking. Ryders room is done, the lounge and kitchen areas are finished. It's just my room and Priya's left, she can sort it out tomorrow, now I need a coffee and fresh air.
When I saw this place, a few months ago online, I knew this was my home. It's a three bedroom, two bath open plan living. It overlooks the city and a park, that is just over the road. Perfect, seeing we have no yard. My baby boy is going to love it. I had enough saved for a large deposit, mum and my dad's helped with the rest. This is the first place; I can truly call my own.
I head into the spacious kitchen, pouring myself a mug of coffee. I go out to the balcony, leaning on the railing. Being back here, gives me mixed emotions.
When I left three years ago, I swore I would never come back. After my men betrayed me, I hightailed it back home. Six months ago, I applied for a job at the school near my parents' house. When I left NYU, I changed my major to early childhood studies. Luckily, I was able to do it all online. The position was for here instead, I decided to take it, despite my strong reservations. Mum said, I can't let fear dictate my life.
I haven't seen Liam or Dakota since I left, about two weeks after that day. They turned up at my parents' house. I hid in the house, but I could hear them pleading to see me. Of course, my dad's told them to leave, giving Dakota, a nice parting gift. Neither of them knows about Ryder, after what they did. I felt they had no right.
Tears trickle, as I recall that awful morning Eric finally got what he wanted, Liam and I apart. The funny thing is, he didn't orchestrate anything, it was all on them. I heard on the grapevine, Eric was killed in a hit and run, about six months after I left. It's really true what they say, Karma will bite you in the ass.
I finish my now cold drink, heading inside. When I step through the sliding door, the doorbell rings. Thinking it's the Chinese food I ordered, I grab my purse, walking to the door. When I open it, I scream. There is my best friend, suitcase in hand. "Hello to you too" she says, smirking.
We hug, jumping up and down. I can't believe it, she's finally here. I pull away, dragging her inside. Priya closes the door, looking around with wide eyes.
"Wow, this is beautiful vi. The pictures don't do this place justice. You've done really good girl". My friend flashes me a big grin. "What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow. Is everything okay?". Priya waves her hand, going to the lounge and taking a seat. I sit down across from her, waiting for an answer.
"Everything is fine, Ryan's great too. We finished a little earlier than expected. I wanted to see you, so here I am. Hubby says hi by the way". I shake my head, laughing.
"I still can't believe you're married. You, who swore she'd never be tied down" Priya gives me a cheeky wink, "what can I say, the man has a gorgeous cock. I wasn't going to let another woman enjoy it, so I tied him down" we both erupt into loud giggles, stopping when my food arrives. Thankfully, there's plenty to share.
We spend the rest of the evening, eating and drinking wine. Priya tells me stories about her time in Africa, some are funny. Others are really sad, the conditions over there are desperate. Children are dying from malnutrition and lack of health care. It really makes me appreciate, everything that I have. As a mother myself, I can't bear to think, what losing a child would be like. How does someone recover from that? I shudder to think about it.
Later that night, as I'm getting ready for bed. I can't help wondering, not for the first time either. If I've made the right decision, moving back, was the one thing I said I'd never do. Yet here I am, in my new apartment. Right in the middle of New York, the same place I had my heart broken. Climbing into bed, I turn the light off, staring into the darkness. I don't even know if they still live here. I mean, they could have moved away. They could both be married, for all I know.
I'm surprised at the surge of despair that hits me; I don't care what they're doing. They can both go fuck themselves, so why am I almost crying, imagining Liam and Dakota loving someone else?