It was several hours before Alanna woke up and Lexie asked the doctors not to mention what happened while she was unconscious. They’d talk about it when Alanna was ready. Except for a lingering headache and a sprained ankle, Alanna wasn’t any worse for the wear physically. But she was distracted and sad. Lexie was worried but she didn’t want to push her sister. Finally, she and Maria decided upbeat and busy was what Alanna needed. So, as soon as the doctors gave the okay, Lexie signed her baby sister up to volunteer at the on-campus daycare.
For weeks, being around the adorable young ’uns did nothing to raise Lana’s spirits. She was like an automaton, performing her tasks perfectly but without any heart, soul or real enthusiasm. Even when Lexie had bribed all the other volunteers to ensure that Lana only ever got the fun jobs and was spared diaper duty and clean up, she remained wrapped up in a cloud of melancholy.
Just when Lexie had given up and was starting to think about pulling Lana out of school for a while, the tide began to turn. A little girl with the cutest smile you ever did see breezed into the nursery and shook the fog from Alanna’s life. Her name was Malicia and she was three years old. Her father, Michael, had been a single dad ever since Malicia’s mom ran out on them just after she was born. Michael was his daughter’s world and it was obvious they were very close.
From the very start, Malicia bonded with Alanna. She followed the latter around and assisted her with her chores. And at the end of the day when they were waiting for Michael, who always ran a little late, Malicia would sit in Alanna’s lap and listen to a story about a princess or a fairy or some other fantastic creature. Alanna was smiling and laughing again; and Michael was surprised that his normally shy daughter had taken to Alanna the way she had.
“You know, she calls you her big sister,” he told Lana one night as he packed Malicia’s bag.
Alanna smiled and replied, “I love her like a little sister. I’m always a little sad on Tuesdays and Thursdays when she’s at her swimming lessons. She is such a darling. I love reading to her because she always points at the big words and asks me ‘what does that spell’. And she always remembers it the next time we read the book! Your daughter is amazing!”
“Thanks. I know I have you guys to thank for a lot of things, including how well adjusted she is.”
“Are you kidding? You are the best single dad I know. She talks about you constantly and she’s always talking about wanting to be a doctor like her daddy when she grows up.”
“It’s nice to hear that. I worry sometimes that with all the hours I spend in classes that I’m not being a good enough dad.”
“I don’t anyone that knows you who would accuse you of that, Mike.”
Michael smiled with relief. Alanna gave him a hug and continued, “My sister, Alexis, is always singing your praises to everyone. She is very impressed by your ability to juggle fatherhood and medical school.”
Michael blushed and for the first time, Alanna realised that he was attracted to Alexis. She smiled as plan formed in the back of her mind. If she succeeded, Malicia would have the best stepmother in the world and Alanna would have the best niece.
“So, Mike, how’d you and Malicia like to come over for dinner tomorrow night?”
“Sure, that’d be great. Now, I better get the little one home to bed.”
They looked over at the little angel who had fallen asleep in a chair with just one of her boots on. Alanna helped him get Malicia all bundled up and walked them to the car. Michael dropped her off at her building before heading off-campus to the apartment he shared with his best friend and Malicia’s godfather. He was perfect for Alexis and Alanna intended to make Lexie aware of that fact.
No one was home when she arrived and Alanna took the opportunity to take a long, hot bubble bath. She heard someone fumbling with their keys at the front door as she sat luxuriating in the water. A few seconds later, she heard voices coming from the living room. Someone came stumbling down the hall and before Alanna had time to react, the door burst open and Terrence came lumbering in. He was clearly tired and very drunk but seeing Alanna looking horrified in the bathtub seemed to sober him up some.
“GET THE HELL OUT!!!!”
Maria burst into the room and started laughing at the scene she met.
“THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY!!! GET HIM OUT!!!”
Maria managed to drag Terrence out of the room- still apologising- and put him to sleep on the sofa. She knocked on Alanna’s bedroom door and asked permission to enter.
“So, you jackasses do know how to knock after all?”
“He was drunk and, to be fair, we didn’t think anyone was home.”
“How are you drunk at ten o’clock at night?”
“We were celebrating …something. I can’t remember what. I’ll ask him tomorrow. Anyway, I’m sorry about what happened and I know Terry is horrified.”
“What does that mean?!”
“What? Oh, no. No. Nothing like that. I’m sure he thought you looked hot. Although, as his girlfriend, I kinda hope he didn’t.”
“Go to bed, Maria. I’ll decide whether or not I still love you in the morning.”
“Nitey- nite, Lana. I’ll always love you. Like that Whitney Houston song.”
Alanna bustled her friend out of her room before she could start singing. She popped her headphones in and listened to her IPod as she fell asleep for good measure. It was bad enough that she had been seen nude but she would not put up with the horror that was Maria’s singing on top of that. A girl could only endure so much torture in one night!