Chapter 23: Liam
I blink open my eyes, and her face is beautiful.
Her entire being is beautiful.
Her eyes are locked on mine and my heart hammers in my chest, leaving me to silently supress the urge for me to touch the side of her face where there are no flaws. None at all. The soft corners of her lips curve up and she does what I had been resisting to do: reaches for me and touches my cheek.
I blink hard, completely convinced this is a dream, but it’s not. I open my eyes and she’s still there. I take my hand away from under my pillow and touch her hand that lies on my cheek. Her hand is warm, and her small fingers are engulfed in my large grasp. I fold my hand into hers, our fingers interwining with one another and our grasp falling off my cheek and onto the cold space between us on the mattress.
“Good morning,” she whispers, her voice clear as if she’s been awake for hours.
I feel myself smiling and I squeeze her hand. “Good morning.”
Her brown eyes scan my blue ones, as if making sure nothing is out of place. “Did you sleep well?”
We stay silent for a second, soaking in each other’s presence. How did this happen? I ask myself. A girl in my bed... after only knowing her for how many days? Three? Four? I’ve lost count. Days are blending in with each other, but each memory with her is bold in my mind, as if they’re inked into my head.
When she sighs, I don’t know how, but I know I’m not the only one supressing something. “Something’s wrong.”
She parts her gaze from mine. “Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I’m fine.”
I open my mouth to apologize when a little body tackles me and flattens me on my bed. “What the heck are you doing, little man?” I laugh, past worries seeming to fade all because of the beaming smile of my son’s.
He giggles, lying in the middle of me and Libby and where our hands slowly detangle beneath Jere’s head. “Why are you here?” he asks, turning to Libby with a smile while trying to snuggle beneath the covers with us.
She glances at me, but then finally comes out with, “Just visiting. I missed y’all too much!”
Jere’s smile grows broader and he flips over to where he’s facing me. “We missed you too, didn’t we Daddy?”
I’m too embarrassed to look at her, so I smile a small smile and look down at him with his ratty bedhead and his shining blue eyes. “Absolutely.”
Jere squirms beneath the covers to where he’s tucked against me, snuggling his head against the pillow I’m resting on - at least, was resting on - and staring at Libby as if she were a lovely, out-of-a-fairytale-book goddess. “You’re really pretty,” he says, reaching out to pet her haphazard, pixie hair.
A warm smile spreads on her clean face, and she reaches up from beneath the covers to pet his curly hair too. “And you’re really handsome.”
He laughs, burying his face in my pillow as if to hide his pleasure. ”No, silly, Daddy’s handsome! I’m cute!”
She laughs with him, like lights on a rainy day. “You sure are.” She pauses, then meets my eyes that have been gazing down at her. “You both are.”
Before I can reply, Jere interrupts with another one of his no-boundary questions that five-year-olds always seem to have up their sleeve. “Why do you have a boy’s haircut?”
She shrugs, as if she’s use to being asked this question. “I guess I just hate brushing it everyday. And washing it. And keeping ponytails on my wrist. And the heat. And the-”
“Okay, okay!” he giggles, stopping her seemingly endless list by placing both of his hands lightly over her mouth. “No more!”
“But I have a question for you," she says, and he drops his hands to give her room to speak. Now having his attention, she glances at me and then steadies her focus on Jere. “Do you like it?”
He looks at her as if she’s crazy. “I love short hair! Especially yours, Libby.”
She blushes at the sound of her name on his lips. Jere turns against my chest and looks at me with more questions in his eyes. “Do you like her hair, Daddy?”
I ‘boop’ his nose and he giggles as I answer, “Duh.” I don’t even think through what I’m saying, because of the happiness that’s flooding through me. “Why else would I have her in my bed?”
This brings out a loud laugh from Libby, her cheeks flushing red, and her face being buried in a pillow to muffle the sound coming from her. I never heard her laugh like that, I realize, and I smile.
“What’s so funny?” Jere asks me, but I just shrug and silently point out that she’s crazy. We laugh together mischievously when she looks back at us with a clear, jovial glint in her eyes now.
“Jere, I have something for you.” This makes his ears perk up like a labrador’s, as if he heard the word “treat.” She rolls out from under the covers and hops onto her feet, but when she does, heat rushes to my cheeks and she instantly pulls her - my - shirt down to cover her panties.
I wonder why in the world she would be wearing my clothes instead of hers, and why she wouldn’t even wear pants to begin with when I remember. “Ah, Lib, I forgot! I’m so sorry, oh my God-”
But I’m cut off from her and Jere’s laughter. “Your entire face is red, Daddy,” Jere points out, while Libby says, “It’s not a problem, Liam - I knew you were just trying to see me naked the entire time I was here.” If my face was red before, it must be a a tsunami tide of the entire “warm” side of the colorwheel.
I turn to hide my face while her laughter follows her out my door and across the hall to where she slept last night - or at least where I think she slept last night. By the time I think my face has cooled down and my thoughts aren’t racing inappropriately anymore, she’s back in bed, sitting criss-cross facing us, with her bare legs covered with blankets. Thank God.
In her hands, she holds a piece of paper. “What’s that?” Jere inquires, nearly standing up to try and take a peek at it. She holds it out sideways so that he can see it - not that he’d be able to read it anyways.
“A bucket list,” she answers, watching him gaze at it curiously.
“Well...” she stops, trying to pick her words out carefully so that he’ll fully understand her goal for the summer. “It’s a list of things someone wants to do before they die.”
He turns to her, afraid. “You’re going to die?”
She smiles, shaking her head, and he nearly topples over in relief. “No - this is my old friend’s list-”
“Did she die?” She purses her lips, nodding sorrowfully. He hangs his head low, placing his head on her lap. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be! Be happy for her. She gave me this to complete for her while she’s unable to.” She pauses for a moment and makes a “hmm” sound, thinking.
Jere lifts his head and looks at her. “What?”
“Well...” she waits, hoping to catch his attention.
“What?” he asks again, growing impatient.
“I was wondering... would you like to help me complete one?”
“What’s on it?” he asks, as if he’s been on board since she pulled out the paper minutes before.
“Can you read it for me?”
“Of course! But can your daddy help us with the thing we pick?”
He nods excitedly. “And Jimmy?”
Libby looks at me, and I purse my lips to the side. “Jimmy’s at his last day of school, kiddo. Maybe next time.”
He nods again, sinking the information in before remembering he has a task to complete. “Read please!”
She chooses carefully - scanning the list for something kid-appropriate I guess. “Watch a ton of Disney movies in one day?”
“Yeah!” Jere shouts, turning to me with ecstatic features. “Please, Daddy?”
I laugh, rubbing his bedhead. “That was only the first one you heard! Don’t you want to hear more?”
“I guess,” he sighs, after a small moment of thinking.
“Hm,” Libby thinks, until she finds another one. “Build a blanket fort?”
“Yeah!” Jere shouts again, and this time all of us laugh. “Can we?” he asks us, and Libby looks at me with her pale lips curved up to her brown eyes.
“Why not both?” she asks me, and I look at her as if she were the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
“Both it is.”
Jere’s upstairs in his room, creating an avalanche of VCR tapes on the floor from the shelves they once stood upon, storing his favorite Disney movies in a reusable Walmart bag to bring downstairs to our makeshift tent made of blankets, pillows, couches, and chairs.
I’m taking out the box of popcorn we have left from the movie night Jere, Jimmy, and I had a few months back, closing the pantry door behind me as I placed the box on the counter. Libby looks at me, hair ratty and eyes bright, with a somewhat cool admiration on her face.
“What?” I ask, stepping towards her and playing with some of the leafs of hair that poked out at some places on her head. She smiles and shakes her head slightly, turning to the popcorn box and taking out one of the microwavable bags. “No, seriously Lib. What’s up?”
I watch her as she steps away from me and walks across the quaint kitchen to where the microwave is set up, sliding the limp bag in and closing the door while punching in the time for it to heat up. I admire her small body, her slim features and long legs that stand her up strong.
She turns around in the kitchen, and for a moment I take in the feeling of what it’s like having her in my clothes.
After Jere had run to his room to gather blankets and pillows, I had hurriedly gathered a pair of slacks with adjustable ties at the waist for her to wear. She only laughed when I handed them to her, taking them politely and sliding them on under the covers for the sake of my sanity.
I step towards her in the kitchen, and she just watches me as I slowly make my way towards her and all the way to where we are toe-to-toe. She leans her head on my chest, and I engulf her in my arms, protecting her from whatever is saddening her. I reach up with one hand and pet her hair again, stunned by it’s beauty - no, her beauty.
After a few silent moments and I can still hear Jere thumping upstairs in his room, I kiss the top of her head and ask what’s wrong. She sighs against me, leaning back against the counter and reaching to look at me in the eyes. Meeting her gaze, we look at each other and I know instantly that it’s the same thing from what was bothering her this morning.
“Something’s wrong,” I repeat this morning’s words, and she smiles a small, meek smile at the memory. She nods. “What is it?”
She squeezes her eyes shut and I reach to smooth out the crease that’s formed between her eyebrows. “It’s impossible to have something ‘wrong’ when I’m with you,” she ends up saying, and I shake my head.
Although I’m flattered, I’m more concerned than anything. She sees this when she opens her eyes again and my hands are cupping her cheeks softly. So many emotions are coursing through me in all sorts of ways, and it’s difficult for me to express it in the way that will feel right. So, instead, I say, “You never have to feel like you need to keep something from me.” I stroke my hand over her hair and to the nape of her neck. “Ever.”
She hesitates. “They cancelled my hotel room.” She says these words like they are practiced, stale and emotionless. “I don’t know what to do.”
I shake my head, wanting to laugh. “Don’t know what to do, huh?” I say, and she shakes her head. I smile down at her fondly, and for some reason, I fold my arms around her and envelope her into a hug, whispering in her ear softly, “Stay here.”
“Here?” she asks against my shirt. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. And if you’re worried about Jimmy, I’m sure he’d say the same thing.”
I hear her giggle and she nods, backing away from my hug and reaching for my face. Cupping her hands on my cheeks just the same I did to her earlier, she smiles at me warmly. “Thank you,” she says, before her lips touch mine.