28. Game of Chess
Leila rushed out of the house clad only in a turban-style towel on her head and a light pink bathrobe, cinched at the waist. She didn’t look at anything but Nate’s prone figure as it tried- and failed- to get up from the ground.
“The fuck, man?” Nate asked from his knees, his hands flat on the concrete walkway to the home.
“Yeh got ‘er pregnant an’ left her!” The man growled the words.
“What? Who?” Nate asked, completely having forgotten for the moment what they were talking about and where he was.
“What?” Nate asked, finally up on one knee instead of two. “That’s impossible. And what’s she to you, ya big oaf?”
“My girlfriend,” the man answered, voice still low and dangerous.
“Yeah? One of how many?” Nate spat back, Leila finally helping him to his feet.
“Nate...” Leila scolded.
“What? It’s true!” Nate blinked, took in the man’s face again. “I thought you looked familiar.” He paused, looked the man up and down. “You look different without Lorelei bouncing up and down on your dick in her apartment.” Another pause. “Maybe it’s the shoes.”
It was a bad time to make a joke. Especially one that a foreigner wouldn’t understand.
“That was you?” the man asked, surprise taking over the anger in his face.
“Yeah, I suppose watching her tits bounce as she rode you would have made you blind to the angry man with flowers and food at the door your bedroom. I hope you were able to finish.”
“Still...” The man tried to bring his anger back to the fore. “Yeh left her after impregnating her an-”
“If that kid’s mine, I’ll eat your gigantic fucking shoes,” Nate said. “I was always careful, always wore a condom. You should look elsewhere... unless it’s actually your kid.”
Leila was watching them from between their bodies. Shocked was an understatement. Words... too many of them bounced around in her head.
“Elsewhere?” the man asked, his face falling. Nate almost felt sorry for the poor sod. Poor, enormous sod.
“I dated her for a year,” Nate explained. “Twelve fucking months. During that time she could have fucked any number of other men. I certainly found your dick buried in her while she was with me.”
“She tole me you were an ex... trying to get her back,” the man told him.
“She fucking lied,” Nate gritted out. “Lied to you, lied to me. Unless you have a sonogram, I bet she lied to you about being pregnant.”
The man pulled a tattered photo out of his pocket, handed it to Nate.
There was a date and time as well, but Nate didn’t pay much attention to them. It was a sonogram, and his eyelids slammed shut for a moment.
“Not. Fucking. Mine,” he decreed, shoving the photo back into the man’s large hands.
“Well, I don’t think it’s mine,” the man said forlornly. “The timing... it’s not right.”
“That is if she’s telling you the right delivery date or conception or... whatever it is they base due date on,” Nate said. If the dude hadn’t tried to TKO him, he would’ve put his hand on the man’s large bicep and squeezed it in solidarity. They were both victims in all this as far as he was concerned.
“Why... why don’t we go inside?” Leila asked. “We’re starting to attract an audience.”
The two men looked around. Several people were on their front stoops, looking over at them. One or two had a cell phone in hand, ready to call if help was needed. This was a nice neighborhood, filled with nice, albeit nosy, neighbors.
“Fine.” It came out sounding a bit like foyne, but the two Americans understood him just... foyne.
Nate led them into his apartment, offered water or tea, rubbing occasionally at his sore jaw. A lump was already forming.
Leila saw it and immediately went to his freezer, grabbed some ice and put it in a freezer baggie she found in a cupboard. Wrapping it in a towel, she brought it into the living room as Nate was handing the large man a glass of iced water and was sitting down.
“Who are you?” Nate asked. “You obviously knew my name and where I lived. It’s only fair.”
The man nodded.
“My name’s Conley. Conley Dougherty,” he told him. “I met Lorelei at one of her father’s factories. I’m a line foreman there.”
“How long were you seeing Lorelei when I walked in on you two fucking?” Nate asked. It wasn’t said in a cruel way, but the bitterness in the words seeped through anyway.
“Four months, give or take a few days,” Conley said with a shrug. “Shoulda known something was up. She usually never wanted to go back to her place.” He looked over at Nate and took a sip of water. “Now, at least, I know why.”
“Are you still involved with her?”
“Yes.” He said it begrudgingly, probably feeling like a fool.
“And you don’t think that this baby might be yours?” Nate asked.
“I always used protection as well,” Conley said. “We never were really official until two months after you walked in on us. It was just... fucking for a bit. Then she said she was pregnant and that you were the father, that you had to be the father, and that she would understand if I didn’t want to see her again.”
Nate’s eyes narrowed. Typical fucking bullshit.
“You should know,” Nate began. “that Lorelei is a master manipulator. She bends the truth and or plays the innocent victim until she gets what she wants.”
“Aye... I’ve seen a bit ’o what yer saying.” The man nodded in agreement.
“If you’ve seen it, it’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Nate allowed. “If she’s saying it’s mine and you’re saying it can’t be yours because of timing or whatever, I say she’s playing us both.”
“She could be lying about the conception dates,” Nate explained. “How far along did she say she was?”
“Five months, give or take,” Conley stated.
Nate pondered that. Five months ago would have made it possible that the baby was his. Improbably, but possible. Still, he was quite certain it wasn’t. If Lorelei had convinced herself it was his, there was a damned good reason behind it.
“Pardon me for asking, Conley, but do you make a decent wage? A living one?” Nate asked.
“Aye, I do alright,” Conley spoke.
“Enough to keep Lorelei happy?”
Conley hesitated, his mouth opening and closing a few times like a fish.
“I... don’t rightly know,” he admitted.
“Lorelei loves money,” Nate stated bluntly. “She grew up with enough of it. Do you think she’d marry you if you made less than she was happy with?”
Again the man looked hesitant to respond.
“Yeh think she’s wanting yer money?”
“Or a settlement, child support, something of that nature,” Nate said with a nod.
“I... I don’t-”
“Do you think your wage would allow her to eat lobster tails and dine at the Dorchester on a weekly basis?”
“Will it pay for her haute couture and her Louboutins and the $500 haircuts she insists on having every other month?”
The man looked downtrodden enough and Leila felt bad.
“Nate... enough,” she said quietly.
“Proving a point, sweetheart,” he told her as he looked up at her. She was still holding the ice to his jaw, but his hand came up to take it away from his face and he placed a gentle kiss on her thumb. She moved it back to his face.
“Conley, besides the fact that you knocked me to the ground without getting my side of the story, I can tell you’re a stand-up guy,” Nate said, sighing. “You came here with the best intentions, but I think the jokes on us. I think we’ve both been fucking had.”
“What do yeh mean?” the man asked. It was almost pitiful, this large man looking so confused, miserable. He obviously cared for Lorelei, maybe even loved her. Maybe his trip to America was pulling his world out from under him, but Nate owed it to the man to let him know the score. Lorelei McCormick was fucking trouble.
“I am pretty certain that neither of us is the father,” Nate announced. “And I’m pretty certain that there’s at least one other man that could be the father of her baby, maybe more. If she was fucking around on both of us, there isn’t much of a chance she wasn’t doing it with another chap as well.”
“Yeh think there’s the chance that the real father is someone else?”
“Lorelei is a spoiled, rich kid who grew up with money,” Nate explained. “She knows I have it and that you- though you make a decent living wage- don’t have enough of it for her. She’s the type that’ll play one man against the other to get what she wants and then throw it away when she gets it.”
Conley only nodded, gulping loudly around the growing lump in his throat.
“I’ll have to fucking deal with it, but I’m not letting the bitch win,” Nate growled. “Not now, not ever.”
Conley left a little while after that, apologizing for his boorish ways profusely before Nate gave him a card for a decent hotel and his friend’s name. They would give him a nice room for a low rate before he had to fly back to England. Nate knew the owner’s son.
Leila was in his living room, pacing back and forth. From fist fight, to babies, to Nate getting on the phone with his father in the extra bedroom/office, she didn’t know what to think. This could get messy if Lorelei continued to insist that Nate was the father.
And it could get even messier if it was true.
God, she hoped it wasn’t true.
The apartment was silent, though Leila’s mind was humming with thoughts, good and bad. She didn’t even realize Nate was calling her name until he had to raise his voice.
“Huh?” She kept up her pacing, moving from one end of the room to the other, back and forth like a caged lion at the zoo.
“You alright?” he asked, walking toward her a few steps.
“Yeah... I’m- yeah,” she said, trying to slow her frantic pace.
“No, you’re not,” Nate said, frowning. “But you will be. We will be, too.”
He sounded so sure of it that Leila almost believed him.
Horseshoes. Hand Grenades. Wasn’t that part of the saying? She didn’t know much about horseshoes, but even a child would have known what a grenade could do.
Destroy. Annihilate. Kill. All those other unpleasant words that one didn’t want to use.
“What... what if it’s yours?” she asked, voice soft, worried.
“It’s not,” he told her, coming up to her now still form and holding her from behind. His hands smoothed down her shoulders, arms, to her elbows and then curling around her waist, holding her to his chest.
“But, what if-”
“Even if it was, it doesn’t change who she is or where I belong,” he told her, his lips at her ears. “I don’t belong in England... my home is here, my family...” You, he wanted to add, but didn’t.
Maybe he should have.
“I... I should get dressed,” she said, squirming away from him.
“I prefer you like this,” Nate told her. “No makeup, barely dressed, hair a fucking mess.”
She smiled back bleakly.
“I need to go,” she said. Well, her voice said it, her body... well, her body was hesitant to land on GO.
“Leila,” Nate called after her as she walked to the door.
“I’ll talk with you later, Nate,” she told him, opening the door and closing it slowly behind her.
Then there were steps, slow at first and moving faster with each second up the stairs.
Running. She was running. Running away from what they had, or just running away to think.
Nate plopped his ass down on his couch, his head in his hands, scrubbing up and down his face a few times.
He could deal with Lorelei’s carefully plotted drama, but he couldn’t deal with Leila running away from him.