I could think of about a million other things I’d rather be doing than sitting here listening to my friends bitch about the sad state of my social life.
Get a rectal exam.
Wait in line at the DMV.
Clean the toilets at the local diner after chili night.
Yeah, any of those would rank higher than hearing my friends question me about the last time I went out and did something that was just for me.
“Will you guys please just drop it?” I mutter, shaking my head.
“Hell no, we won’t.” Bryce smirks, taking another sip of the single-malt Scotch in front of him. I braced for whatever is going to come flying out of his mouth next. “When’s the last time you’ve been on a date?”
I hesitate, curling my hand around the glass in front of me and choosing to avoid their eyes. I knew my dating life or lack thereof would be brought up.
And to be honest, I can’t quite remember the last time I took out a woman. At least, a grown woman who wasn’t my two-year-old daughter. She and I go out together and do things all the time. Does visiting the pediatrician count? We go to the library story’s time, and we take walks in the park. Just this morning, we went to the farmers’ market together. We do plenty.
Devin leans forward, putting his elbows on the table. “Better question is—plug your ears, Lesley—when’s the last time you got some pussy?”
Bryce’s wife cringes but shakes her head at Devin. “You don’t have to censor yourselves on my behalf.”
Since I settled in New York a few years ago and met Bryce and Devin at my building’s gym, we became good friends and regularly meet for dinner or drinks. Bryce got married last year to his longtime girlfriend, Lesley, and now she’s a regular addition to our boys’ nights.
I heave out a sigh and rub at the sore spot on my neck. “It’s kinda difficult with a two-year-old at home.”
What they don’t understand about that, I’ll never know.
Oh yeah, it’s because neither of them has kids. There’s not so much as a pet goldfish between them.
They have no idea what my days are like. Wake up at dawn, get my baby girl ready for her day, then work my ass off to create a good life for us, then I basically drop into bed at night exhausted and pass out until my alarm goes off again. My schedule doesn’t exactly leave room to wine and dine members of the opposite sex, even if I wanted it to.
“Don’t tell me.” Devin grimaces. “You haven’t—plug your ears, Lesley—fucked anyone since the egg donor.”
Lesley rolls her eyes, then gives me a look of sympathy.
That’s what they call the mother of my child, the egg donor, since she didn’t want to be part of Grier’s life at all. She never wanted children, and as soon as Grier was born and placed in my arms, she split and hasn’t been in contact since. Which is for the best, as far as I can tell. She and I weren’t in love, weren’t even really a couple. She was just a hot attorney who worked almost as much as I did, and happened to like no-strings sex. What we had worked—until two pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test and then everything turned upside down.
“Your dick is going to fall off from lack of use, man,” Devin says with a smirk.
Not likely. My social life might be dead, but my sex drive sure as fuck isn’t. I still jerk it every morning in the shower. Just because I don’t have a willing partner doesn’t mean I don’t get horny. Of course I do. And if these assholes had any tact at all, they wouldn’t rub it in my goddamn face.
Bryce waves one hand in my general direction, squinting at me as he says to Devin, “Be nice to the guy. Maybe women just aren’t into the whole single-dad, workaholic vibe he’s got going on. Plus, he could really use a haircut and that shirt he is wearing is on the questionable side of fashion.”
There isn’t a damn thing wrong with my hair. I get it cut every four weeks like clockwork, and my shirt? It was black, tailored, expensive as hell and I have had no complaints about it before. Fuck them.
“You guys understand that I’m sitting right here, right?”
Unfazed, they shrug, and continue right on.
I drain the last of my Scotch and stand, tossing a couple of bills onto the table to cover the cost of my drink. “As much as I’ve enjoyed your running commentary on my love life, hair and fashion choices, I need to get home and relieve the sitter. ’Night, boys. Lesley.” I tip my chin toward her.
She smiles at me. “Don’t listen to these idiots, Lexington. Any woman alive would be lucky to have you—and the beautiful little angel waiting for you at home.”
I chuckle. “Thanks. But she’d better not be waiting up for me at home. If I have to read that Happy Sunshine Bear book one more time, I’m going to throw myself out the fucking window.”
To a chorus of laughter, I head off into the night.
- • •
“Daddy! I’m awaaaaake!” my daughter hollers from her perch atop my stomach.
I jolt and crack my eyes open, looking first at her grinning face, then at the clock. “Grier, it’s five thirty.” Admittedly, my alarm will go off in only half an hour, but I was up later than usual last night, and I cherish every second of sleep I can get.
She bounces, forcing an oof from me. “Hungwy.”
I guess I’m going to have to start getting used to the fact I now have a toddler and not a baby anymore. Ever since I moved her from a crib to a toddler bed, she’s been getting up earlier and earlier, and her morning greetings are not only becoming earlier but also louder.
“Okay, baby girl, let’s get up and make some breakfast.” I set her down on the floor so I can climb out of bed.
I change her diaper, pour her a sippy cup of milk, and cut up half a banana to tide her over until I can cook her favorite breakfast; eggs. With Grier focused on her favorite cartoons, I check my phone quickly. Seven voice mails, ten texts, and almost thirty new emails. How the hell did so much happen before the sun even rose? But when you own as many properties as I do, it’s to be expected.
I tackle the easiest texts and emails while brushing my teeth and shaving, then take a lightning-fast shower while praying Grier doesn’t do anything crazy until I can get my eyes back on her. When I emerge from dressing for work, she’s careening around the living room, and I notice she’s eaten only two banana slices. But nothing seems broken, and I can’t bring myself to get into a battle of wills right now.
I put the earliest voice mail on speaker and listen while cracking and whisking eggs. It’s the superintendent of my Central Park property, asking me to talk to the AC repairman I contracted last week. I call them, bending my neck awkwardly to keep my phone to my ear while I stir the panful of scrambled eggs.
“Hearthside HVAC, Doug speaking. How may I help you?”
“Good morning. This is Lex Dane, of Dane Properties. Betty said you had some questions you needed me to answer?”
“Okay, let me see here . . .” There’s a rustle of paper in the background. “Have you worked with us before?”
“Yes, many times.”
“What type of repair did you need?”
Frustration rips through me and I exhale out a breath. “I explained the problem when I emailed you last week. The central air isn’t working, and I need a diagnosis.”
“Sorry, but I’m not seeing any record of that conversation. Who did you talk to?”
I rummage through my memory and come up with nothing but a jumbled mess. It’s way too early, I’m uncaffeinated, and I’ve had about a thousand similar conversations this month.
“Whoever responded to my email inquiry. I don’t remember his name off the top of my head. It started with F, I think.”
“Felix? He’s off today.”
Of course he is. “Look, I need someone sent out ASAP. I was told this would be dealt with within twenty-four hours, and it’s now been almost three days.”
“There’s no need to get upset, sir.”
My barely restrained temper flares. “I strongly disagree. I have a building full of tenants without air-conditioning, in June, and your company can’t get its shi—” I catch Grier staring at me with huge, fascinated eyes. “Uh, stuff together. Now, will you be over there by the end of the day, or should I find another contractor?”
A long pause. “I’ll send someone.”
“Thank you,” I reply icily, then stab at the End Call icon.
For Christ’s sake. Can this guy wipe his own ass, or does he need me to help him with that too? The only person who enjoys that privilege is my two-year-old daughter . . . whose hand is currently, oh my fucking God, about half an inch from the glowing red burner on the stove.
My heart kicks into overdrive, and I yank her back. “No!”
Grier’s face crumples, her bottom lip drops, and she howls in outrage.
“We’ve talked about this, baby girl. The stove is for grownups. It’s dangerous, way too hot. You’d get a big, big owie.”
Still screaming bloody murder, she shakes her tiny fists at me. “Bad Daddy!”
“I just want you to be safe, sweetheart.” I glance back to discover that she’s somehow outwitted her spill-proof sippy cup and dumped milk all over the table.
Shit. We have less than an hour before I need to drop her off at day care on my way to work, and she’s still unfed, wearing pajamas, and now too pissed off to let me rectify any of those problems. And what the hell is that smell?
Fuck, the food!
I shove the pan of burned eggs onto the counter and turn off the stove. My phone rings again, and I snatch it up, ready to bite Doug’s head off—then freeze. It’s not his number on my screen like I expect. It’s my mom’s.
“Hello?” I say, trying to restrain the claws of worry that are already grabbing at me.
Why would she call at this hour? We just had our weekly chat a few days ago, and she said she was feeling fine then. Calm down, maybe she just wants a favor.
“How are you, sweet pea?” Mom’s voice is mild and so tired, it makes my heart hurt.
Grier abruptly stops flailing. “Gamma?” she asks, looking up at me with a furrowed brow. She’s too perceptive sometimes.
Sitting down, I pull her close and stroke her soft curls, as much to soothe myself as her. She wiggles a little, but stays with me. “I’m fine. What about you? Are you doing okay today? Do you need something?”
“I just got done talking to my oncologist, and . . .”
“At six in the morning?”
“Yes?” She sounds confused. “Why not? I was right there in the hospital.”
A spike of panic shoots through me, followed quickly by guilt. I totally forgot it was time for her monthly chemo session.
“Anyway,” she says, “we had a long talk, and, well . . .”
My stomach has knotted into a tight, painful ball. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, there’s no easy way to say this . . .” She hesitates, and my stomach twists.
“Mom, just say it.”
She clears her throat. “He estimates about six months.”
The floor falls out from under me. I open my mouth but nothing comes out.
“We always knew this was coming,” she says gently, somehow able to sense my implosion from five hundred miles away. “He told me the prognosis a year ago.”
I take a deep breath and resume stroking Grier’s hair. “I know, but you— I didn’t—” I swallow past the lump in my throat. “You’re my mom.” The words sound ridiculous as soon as they’re out. But I don’t know how to say what I’m feeling.
Grier squirms in my grasp with a noise like an angry cat. “Want Gamma!”
“Do I hear the wild goober?” Mom’s smile is audible.
“Y . . . yeah. She wants to talk to you,” I manage to whisper.
I hand my daughter the phone before she can gear up into a full-blown tantrum.
She squeals in delight and starts babbling at top speed while I just stare past her, completely numb. I can’t process anything. I know this is real, this is happening, it’s not a nightmare, but I can’t make myself believe it. I don’t want to believe it. I can’t imagine losing my mom. What the hell do I do? My dad hasn’t been in the picture since he split when I was four. It’s always been just me and Mom.
As I process that, another thought pops into my head.
And what kind of a son am I?
Yes, I made sure she had all the money she needed for the best medical care possible, and I’ve visited her a couple of times since her diagnosis, but that’s not nearly enough. What the hell have I been doing here in New York? My business is here. My life. But now, none of that seems to matter anymore.
I let myself pretend that my hopes would come true, and Mom would defy the odds stacked against her and magically get better, and nothing about our world would have to change. She’d live forever. She’d get to watch my little girl become a woman and be there to offer advice when I consider making stupid decisions. But the universe seems to be set against us. Suddenly, I’m so pissed I can barely breathe—at myself, at the cancer, at the mess that’s been made of our lives. Everything is wrong because it was never meant to be like this. At the prospect of doing something instead of just sitting here feeling empty, I absently bounce Grier on my knee as my mind starts churning.
Action items. Make a list. What needs to get done and in what order?
Buy a place in North Carolina as close to Mom as possible, hire a moving company, handle all the paperwork that comes with changing addresses, sell my apartment here, find a new oncologist for Mom, and dozens of other details. It’s a lot, but still manageable.
When Grier pauses for breath, I say, “May I talk to Grandma again?”
She stares at me as if I just asked her to jump off a cliff.
“Just for a minute.” When her eyes narrow, I have a stroke of inspiration. “Is Flapflap hungry? Let’s give him some breakfast.”
Grier drops the phone in my lap—I grab it before it falls to the floor—and charges off at top speed to fetch her beloved stuffed bat. Tossing him in the washing machine later is a small price to pay for peace, even if I’ll have to figure out a way to distract her from his brief absence.
She does not like him put through the washing machine. I learned that the hard way.
Without preamble, I say to Mom, “We’re coming to North Carolina. I’m moving back.”
“What? When? Are you sure? But what about your job?” Mom’s voice is filled with disbelief.
Next to Grier, real estate is my biggest passion. I can’t imagine giving it up. Besides, I’m just not the stay-at-home type. I tried taking extended leave when she was born, and I got cabin fever and went back to work early. The thought of retirement makes me break out in hives. There’s no way I can give it up. I’ll run my company remotely but delegate more so I can focus on the big-picture stuff.
Grier returns with her favorite bedraggled friend in tow and starts mashing a handful of banana slices into his fuzzy snout.
“Lex?” Mom says. “You still there?”
“Sorry, I was thinking. And yes, I’m sure. I can work from home.” And if worse comes to worst and I have to pass ownership on to someone else, I can always try to get involved in the local market. Flip houses and whatnot.
Mom hums in a way that I know is accompanied by a frown. “I’d love to have you close. But you work too much, sugar. I worry about you two.”
This again. I restrain a sigh and speed through my counterarguments to every point she’s about to try making. “What can I say? I love my job. It keeps me happy and sane. And before you bring up Grier, I don’t think having more free time while also being miserable will help me be a better father.”
“Well, I don’t understand it,” Mom says as if we haven’t had this exact conversation a hundred times before. “But if that’s what you’ve decided, then at least think about finding a nice lady to help out. You’ve got your hands way too full.”
“Uh-huh,” I say automatically, and I almost have to laugh. Retreading such well-worn ground makes me feel so much more normal.
“Good. Anyway, I’ll let you go now.” Her voice brightens. “I really am over the moon to know I’ll have you back home. I love you both so much, and I’m looking forward to seeing you and my grandbaby all the time.”
“I love you too, Mom. I’ll keep you updated about the plan.” I hold the phone up to Grier’s ear. “Say bye-bye to Grandma, kiddo.”
“Bye!” she yells before going back to force-feeding Flapflap.
I call the office to let them know I’m telecommuting today, make a new batch of scrambled eggs, deal with my remaining emails while eating, then start making arrangements. As I cross each item off the list, a little weight slowly lifts from me. I have a concrete plan, and I’m putting it into action. I can’t fix Mom’s cancer, but I can at least control this much.
A tiny hand tugs on my pants leg. “Daddy.”
“Hmm?” I surface from my concentration.
Grier thrusts Flapflap forward. “Icky.”
So he is, the fake fur smeared with abundant banana goop and egg crumbs. Grier herself is sporting more than a little mess too.
“I think Flapflap needs a bath, don’t you? Will you come with him so he doesn’t have to be alone?”
She considers, then nods as gravely as an old diplomat. My terms have been accepted.
I take them to the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and undress her while the tub fills. The instant I’m elbow-deep in soapy water, my phone rings from the other room. I heave a deep sigh.
I hate to admit it, but maybe Mom is right about me needing help. This morning’s chaos and stress is part of a pattern, exactly like the majority of mornings since Grier was born two years ago. While I’m a quick learner, I can’t be everywhere at once, and there are only so many hours in the day.
Normally, I’d just do my best to roll with it and work harder, but now that I’m changing everything else about our life, why not reexamine this too?
I mentally add one more item to my to-do list. Hire a nanny.
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