Chapter 9

Warnings: Over 7.5K words (!!) and some mild language and love talk. Still PG-13. 🙂

 

She watched him across the little lamp on their table as he sat back and laughed at what Lilah had just said. He still wore his sunglasses – as he had all afternoon, even in the theatre – but the way the lamp illuminated his face, she could see his eyes clear enough. They lingered on hers for the smallest of moments.

With his lips quirked in a carefree smile, his teeth white against his dark skin…she had thought him handsome before, but at that moment, he caught her by surprise.

He wasn’t just handsome. He was drop-what-you’re-holding handsome. She had to remember to bring her glass of water to her lips instead of slopping it all down her front.

She only became more aware of him as the night wore on…

——————————————

Christiana’s panic turned swiftly into anxiety as she saw the look on Carlos’ face. He knew. That was the only explanation for such a glowering expression.

And meanwhile their daughter was busy chattering away at them, with neither of them listening to her. Christiana’s maternal instincts kicked into high gear when she saw that he was about to speak. She didn’t want Lilah to know…not yet. She didn’t want to explain everything with her there, and if he said it now, Lilah would be all ears. And based on his facial expression, he was far too incensed to respond without anger at the moment, and she didn’t want Lilah to hear that, either.

She cut him off, keeping her tone firm.

“I think we should talk,” she started, and he expelled a chop of air bitterly from his throat.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” he agreed with a hint of sarcasm. Christiana ignored him.

“But not right now.” When it looked like he was about to protest, she tipped her chin in Lilah’s direction pointedly, keeping her gaze locked on his. “Let me just put my daughter to bed first. You can wait here, or maybe you should take a walk and…cool down.”

She didn’t miss the way his jaw tightened when she’d said the words my daughter. It took him a minute to respond; she could only imagine it was to school his temper before he spoke. His words were clipped and formal. “I think I’ll take a walk.”

She nodded, feeling defensive. “Give me half an hour.”

He barely inclined his head in answer. He took one last fleeting look at Lilah where she had her back to them, drawing on her chalkboard, and then he abruptly turned on his heel and made his way downstairs. She heard the door shut with finality behind him, and she exhaled shakily.

“Come on, Lilah, time for bed,” she said, her eyes not leaving the place he’d just been standing.

*****

Once outside, Carlos wasn’t sure where to turn. He felt a myriad of emotions rolling through him – the most accessible of them being anger – which he knew, deep down, was displaced. The others were far more intricate for him to deal with at the moment. Shock, betrayal, fear, guilt…

Running his hand over his head, wishing there was hair there to grip, he forced himself to walk. His mind was working as he made his way slowly down the street. He could hear her voice in his head: “Just let me put my daughter to bed first.

Her daughter, she’d said. As if his involvement were nothing. As if he meant nothing. Suddenly her shyness around him earlier that weekend seemed to make sense, as well as the panic he’d seen flash across her face just moments ago. She’d been afraid he’d already guessed that Lilah was his daughter. The idea prickled his anger again; put his back up. What did she think he was going to do? Demand to take Lilah back with him to Miami? Well she could forget that argument right there…the last thing he wanted right now was a child.

The last thing he wanted was to abandon a child. He knew from experience what it was like to be the one that was abandoned…

And here he was, having just done the same exact thing he’d been afraid of doing. The thought poured through him with the bitter aftertaste of unwanted guilt. He’d thought that by being very careful in his sexual escapades, he’d never have to father any unwanted children, and therefore never take the risk of abandoning or hurting the child. He’d live peacefully knowing that he’d never have to worry that he’d turn into the abusive parent that his mother had been.

He had reached the corner of the street. He felt overwhelmed and disoriented. The boardwalk was across the street to his right, offering the soothing sounds of the channel waves lapping against the wall. In front of him was the park, to his left a small drug store on one side of the building and a small café on the other.

A small, digital bell sounded when he entered the drug store, announcing a new customer. He ignored the kids grouped together around a comic book shelf, and he went straight to the counter, asking for a pack of Marlboro Lights and a cheap lighter. He peeled the bills from his wallet, thanked the cashier, and left the store.

Once across the street, he walked slowly down the boardwalk until he found an unoccupied bench. He sat, packing the cigarettes against his palm before opening the wrapper. He hadn’t smoked in years – and even then he only did it on occasions when he was too stressed to put his thoughts in order – but today called for one.

“Congratulations. You’re a father.” He lit the cigarette in the corner of his mouth.

Taking a long pull, he let the smoke settle smoothly into his lungs for a moment before expelling his breath, blowing the smoke out his nose. He let his arms rest loosely on his thighs as he stared out at the smooth water.

Despite the nicotine and the resulting mind numbing effect it usually had, his thoughts were still racing. They seemed slightly more organized, perhaps a little dizzy, but otherwise they were all still there, still haunting him.

He could see Lilah’s face in his mind – could see every piece of her face that came from him. His eyes, his nose, his eyebrows. She had her mother’s mouth and cheekbones. She had a combination of his dark hair and her mother’s mahogany color; it was full like his. Curly and wavy, as his had been when he was young, but with small tendrils that framed her forehead – a result most likely from the softer texture.

Flicking the ash off the end of his cigarette with his thumb, he sat back in the bench, feeling the original bite of anger coming back to him. He checked his watch, noting that it had been long enough. Rising, he took one last pull from the cigarette before flicking it down and crushing it beneath the toe of his shoe, and made his way back towards the complex.

*****

“Thank you,” Christiana said as she shut the door behind him and began up the stairs.

“For what?” he asked bitingly. She could sense he was still angry.

She looked back at him sharply as she led the way into the living room. “For coming back.” She sat on the edge of the couch, motioning for him to sit with her, but he ignored her, choosing to stand instead.

“What kind of man would I be if I didn’t come back after something like that?” he said resentfully, his brow creasing. He leaned against the wall, his arms crossed across his chest. Christiana decided to leave his question unanswered, clasping her hands in her lap. She waited to see how he wanted to lead the conversation. When he didn’t say anything after several minutes – just stood glowering in any direction but hers – she finally broke the strained silence.

“I’m sorry, Carlos.”

He swallowed, his jaw tightening. He turned his head to look at her, his gaze penetrating hers behind the dark lenses of his glasses.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked accusingly. She noticed his accent was much thicker. From what she’d seen of him before when he was angry, it was probably an effort for him not to start yelling in Spanish at her.

She shrugged with her hands in the air in a helpless gesture. “How was I supposed to tell you, Carlos? Hmm? How?” His earlier anger – the fact that he was angry still – had fueled her own indignant ire. “I was nineteen and pregnant without any idea of your last name or what you did for a living, even. All I knew was your name was Carlos and you lived in Miami.” She laughed once, the sound bitter and sarcastic. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe ‘Carlos’ is a pretty common name in Miami.”

He still hadn’t answered her, so she kept talking, filling the void. “I didn’t have any way of contacting you. I wanted to,” she assured him. “But I didn’t know how.”

His silence was almost too much for her to handle. Her leg began to twitch uneasily as she watched him. He seemed like he was far away, not listening to a word she said. She sighed impatiently. “Please say something.”

Carlos looked at her slowly, his stance having barely moved. He spoke quietly, his lips only moving a fraction. “I don’t understand. We used a condom.” He shook his head. “Several,” he clarified pointedly.

Her cheeks colored and he felt the brief heat of awareness shiver through him as he watched her blush. She surprised him by keeping her gaze steady with his; he had expected her to glance away in shyness. “I know we did. But one of them didn’t get the job done, apparently.” She waved her hand in the direction of the stairs.

He was quiet again while he thought things through. She moved so that she sat on the edge of the couch, leaning forward. “Carlos,” she said slowly, gazing at him with her wide gray-green eyes. “I know what you’re going through. Believe me,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “I went through it. Nearly six years ago. I know it’s a lot to take in. It’s not easy, and I was alone…”

His voice was calm as he looked at her, but he couldn’t quite keep the bitter undertone from seeping in. “What do you want? Do you want money? Is that it?”

She drew back, as if he’d spat at her. She frowned. “No! I don’t want your money,” she said, offended.

He fought to keep the impatience out of his voice. “Then what?” he demanded as he turned away from her.

“I want you to know her, Carlos!” she said to his back.

“Don’t ask me that,” he said cuttingly.

Christiana folded her arms across her chest, feeling suddenly as if she were only seconds from flying apart at the seams. His earlier question about the money had irritated her. Did she truly come across as desperate for money? She stared broodingly at the back of his head. “She’s your daughter,” she said through wooden lips.

He turned to face her. “I know she is.”

“So you don’t want to know your own daughter?” She got to her feet and stood in front of him, tilting her head back to look at him. His face could have been cast in stone for how tense he was, but in the indoor light she couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses. She waved her hand impatiently. “God, take those off!”

Fast as lightning he whipped the glasses off his face, his expression glaring down at her. Testing her.

She wasn’t prepared.

She gasped involuntarily in shock. She’d already gotten used to the scars that decorated the left side of his face, but she hadn’t seen that they reached up to his eye as well, mottling the tender skin that surrounded it. Left it bare – no lashes.

She hadn’t seen the large gash that sliced from above his brow down to his cheek bone, leaving a jagged white scar across the iris and pupil.

Time swung away as they looked at each other, his features becoming almost glacial as he watched her assess him. Bitter resentment flooded his veins as he saw her recoil slightly; of course she thought him a monster. What else should he expect? With an acrid taste in his mouth he turned his face away from her, putting the glasses back on. His voice was flat when he spoke, picking the conversation back up from where she’d left it.

“I can’t be a father to her, Christiana. I live in Miami. My job – my family – they are in Miami.” He crossed his arms over his chest defensively, ignoring the twinge of hurt that her blatant revulsion had caused.

“I know that,” she whispered, shaken. His mouth twisted bitterly.

“So what do you want me to do?” he asked exasperatedly, holding his arm out. “I can’t tell her who I am and then disappear.”

She blinked and seemed to shake herself. “I wasn’t saying that.”

“Well then what are you saying?”

“All I’m asking is that you spend some time with her. No,” she said, catching his hand in hers when it looked like he was about to dispute her again. “I’m not putting expectations on you. You can take the time you need to think about everything, and whatever your decision is…well, we’ll figure it out from there.”

He was quiet as he stared down at her hand gripping his fingers, and she felt herself begin to flush, but she didn’t let go. His hand was impossibly warm in hers, as if his skin burned with the very flames that had marred him. She wasn’t sure if it should bother her that she was so aware of him…

“We’ll figure it out,” he repeated quietly. He tugged his hand away from hers gently and she thought he was about to touch her cheek, but at the last minute he stopped. His hand dropped, and he bent to the side table and pulled a tissue from its box. He held it out to her silently; she hadn’t even realized she’d been crying.

She swiped at her cheek quickly, taking the tissue from him.

“What if I can’t stay.” His words were soft, but there wasn’t a question behind them, either. She collected herself before she looked back at him again.

“I’ve always known that was a possibility,” she said.

He waited. “And?” he pressed when she hadn’t said anything more.

“And,” she said, expelling a breath. “We’ll figure it out.” She scrutinized him. “But I’d like you to at least try before you write her off completely.”

His lips pulled back in a sneer. “I would never ‘write her off.’ I have more decency than that.”

She was silent as he paced the floor in front of her. After several minutes of strained silence, she sighed. “Here, why don’t I give you my cell phone number,” she said, reaching for a small pad and pen that was on the coffee table. She wrote as she spoke to him. “And you can call me and let me know what day works best for you, and we’ll do something.”

He took the paper from her automatically, frowning down at it. He folded it with care, placing it slowly in his pocket. Christiana let out a soft breath of relief. She stood up.

“I promised you dinner.”

He shook his head before she’d even finished talking. “No, thank you, but I think I’ll take a rain check.” His stomach was in knots, and he felt caged. He needed to leave, to sort everything out on his own. He didn’t notice the small flash of disappointment cross her features.

“Okay,” she said softly, with a short shrug. She smiled. “Next time, then.”

She walked him to the door where they said a stiff goodnight to each other, and she bolted the lock after him. She leaned against the door, her mind numb. She realized she was crying again when a tear splashed against her shirt.

With determination, she pushed off from the door, turning off lights as she made her way through the house. She checked on Lilah, sound asleep in her bed. Her daughter’s soft breathing was soothing, and Christiana leaned in to kiss her cheek softly, tucking the blankets up around her.

She changed out of her clothes methodically, placing them in the laundry basket, and pulling on her pajamas slowly. She wasn’t really ready for bed, but she didn’t feel like doing anything else. Climbing onto the bed, she pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them.

How many times had she envisioned that conversation in her mind over the years? And each time, she’d imagined him perhaps not exultant, but at the most receptive to the news. In her wildest dreams, she’d even conjured up the idea that he might move back here and start a life with them, as a family. But she knew that was only a fantasy. Based on tonight’s conversation, she’d be lucky to get him to interact with their daughter again.

The thought made her ache with sadness.

With a resigned sigh, she gave in to the tumult of emotion that washed through her, pressing her cheek to her knees. The tears fell steadily and silently as she sat huddled against the wall.

*****

Her phone stayed silent all week. She half expected it to ring sometime over the weekend, but Sunday came and went without a single missed call or voicemail. She began to feel agitated.

She busied herself with work and cleaning the house when she was home, to keep from staring at the phone. She wished she’d insisted on his number, too, but she’d been so sure he would call. She’d expected him to need a few days to collect himself, but now it was nearly two weeks since he’d found out and still – nothing.

Her resolve hardened. If she hadn’t heard anything by this coming weekend, she was going over to his apartment, and dragging him out by the ear if that’s what it took.

Thankfully, she never had to make good on her silent threat. That Friday she got a call at nearly eleven at night. He’d probably thought she’d be sleeping (and he was right) and would get away with a message, but when she saw the unknown number on the screen, she was suddenly wide awake.

“Hello?” she asked, sitting up in her bed. She blinked the disoriented sleep from her eyes.

She heard him clear his throat first. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize what time it was,” he started. It sounded as if he was about to hang up and she panicked.

“Carlos?”

There was a moment of silence and she thought for a second that he actually had hung up. But then she heard his soft answer. “Yes?”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s not too late. Hi.”

She heard the smile in his voice when he spoke. “Hello.”

There was a slight pause as they both hesitated, and then they spoke together.

“How are you –”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said –”

They each chuckled nervously. “Go ahead,” he said.

“How are you?” she breathed. Her knuckles were white on her fisted hand. She felt the bite of her nails in her palm and she relaxed her hand, inspecting the crescent-shaped red marks they left.

“I’m fine,” he said, and then it sounded like he laughed once and she could envision him running his hand across the back of his head. “I’m okay,” he amended. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner. I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I’d like to…to try.”

Christiana bit her lip, holding her breath. “That’s great, Carlos.” Her voice was tight and on the verge of sounding squeaky. She willed herself to calm down. “What were you thinking of?”

He let go of a puff of air. “What about a movie or something?” She noticed his voice was strained as well.

“That sounds perfect. She’d love that.”

“And you?” came his reply, a soft undertone to it. This time she bit her lip for an entirely different reason as butterflies assaulted her stomach.

“And I’d love it, too.”

“Good.” She could hear him smiling again. God, how could he still be so sexy, even over the phone? She had to focus.

“Um,” she stuttered, her mind racing. “I think there’s an animated film showing over at the old cinema on Fifth Ave. It’s just a few blocks from here. We could walk,” she babbled. Then a thought came to her and she spoke quickly, backpedaling. “Wait, are you okay with animated movies?”

His chuckle was soft and husky. “After living with my two nieces, animated films are all I’ve seen in the last six months,” he assured her. “I find them quite educational, actually. Go to a sea-witch to replace your fins for human legs, and you lose your voice.” His voice lowered. “Never trust a sea-witch,” he stated wisely.

She giggled despite herself, biting her lip again. “Do you come in contact with many sea-witches, Carlos?” Her face immediately flamed. She was flirting…!

“Mmm.” Was he drinking? He must be, she heard a glass being placed down on a table and the ice clinked. “Not recently.”

“Do they frighten you, then?”

“Frighten me?” He laughed robustly. “No, they don’t frighten me. Not that kind of witch.”

She laughed with him, feeling light headed and bubbly. His laugh was easy and warm and she wanted to press her ear to his chest to hear it. She had to remind herself it was pure coincidence that he’d chosen her favorite film from her childhood as an example. It didn’t mean anything. Not. A. Thing.

“What kind of witch are you frightened of?”

“Oh,” he said slowly, drawing out the word. “The kind no one ever suspects. The ‘she-witch.’”

“She-witch?”

The cadence of his words flowed so smoothly together that it was like he was quoting from a fairytale. “The she-witch is perfectly lovely – beautiful, even – and you can never tell where she may be, but she will wrap men around her finger and bewitch them into loving her.”

She felt a small shiver of awareness trickle down her spine, as if he’d touched her with his fingertip. “Sounds serious,” she said quietly.

“Quite serious,” he agreed, the sound of amusement in his voice. She realized belatedly that he was enjoying this playful teasing he had started. The thought flustered her.

“So, when were you thinking you’d like to go see this highly educational film?” she asked a little breathlessly, trying to refocus the conversation. “I promise not to pick one with any type of witch.”

He chuckled, the sound echoing into the glass he must have raised to his mouth. He paused again, and she heard the ice clink against the glass as he took another sip of his drink. “When are you free?”

“Anytime,” she said, trying hard to keep her lips from pulling up at the corners. This wasn’t a date for her. It was a date for Lilah. She shouldn’t be this happy.

“How about tomorrow? Will that work for you?” he ventured.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“Okay then,” he said, chuckling a little. “I’ll be over around…two? Will that work?”

She bobbed her head in answer, forgetting that he couldn’t see her. “Perfect,” she rushed to say.

“All right,” he said, formal again, with a hint of a smile in his voice, making it sound huskier. “I’ll see you then. Goodnight…Christiana.” He almost whispered her name.

“Goodnight…”

She disconnected the line, holding the phone in her lap. Her cheeks hurt from smiling, and her pulse was on hyper speed. She took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself down.

She replayed the conversation all over again in her head, and a small giggle rose from her throat when she remembered his remark about sea-witches. She fell back against her pillow, smiling widely.

Burying her face into the soft down, she let out a muffled screech of excitement, kicking her feet against the mattress, the phone still gripped in her palm.

*****

Carlos was nervous as he made his way to Christiana’s apartment the next afternoon. He wasn’t sure what to expect…or what would be expected of him. Should he hug Lilah? Did he feel ready to?

His mind was bombarded with questions left and right. Would she want popcorn? Was she allowed to have popcorn? What if she wanted candy? He didn’t feel comfortable enough to say no to something she requested, but neither did he want to be put in a position where he felt cornered to say yes, either.

“Ah, this is stupid,” he said to himself as he approached the door. This was exactly the reason he was not good father material. For the last ten days, he’d convinced himself of this: he made a much better uncle than he did a father.

Hesitating only briefly, he finally jabbed the doorbell with his finger and stood back, palms sweating. He wiped them on his jeans.

The door swung open, and there stood Christiana, with Lilah practically bouncing with excitement in front of her. Carlos’ gaze fixed on Christiana’s first, noting her bright smile and hopeful expression, and then his gaze slid to Lilah, who was beaming from ear to ear at the sight of him. The corner of his mouth lifted without him even knowing it.

“Hi Mr. Carlos!” Lilah crowed. She practically dragged her mother from the house as Christiana hastily turned to lock the door.

“Hello, Lilah,” he returned warmly. She bounded toward him, her pigtails swishing with every bounce. “Are you ready for our movie?”

Lilah gasped wildly, bouncing in place. “Yes yes yes yes!”

Carlos chuckled, amused at her enthusiasm. Christiana grappled for Lilah’s hand as they began to walk, and Lilah reached with her other hand to hold Carlos’, too. Her little hand was warm and small inside his, and he was careful not to grip too hard. His gaze slid to Christiana’s profile, and he greeted her, too.

“You look lovely,” he complimented her. She looked over at him suddenly, as if she hadn’t expected him to notice her, and her cheeks turned deliciously pink for a moment.

“Thank you,” she murmured back, biting her lip.

“Mr. Carlos! We’re going to go see a princess movie!” Lilah announced, and Carlos’ attention was drawn away from Christiana’s lower lip.

Lilah skipped between them as they walked down the sidewalk. “We are? What movie is it?”

Tangled!” she replied, and then she launched into a long explanation of the movie in detail for him.

He must have shown the right amount of enthusiasm, because he caught Christiana looking at him with a smile on her face a few times. While Lilah babbled incessantly, Christiana was exceedingly quiet throughout the walk to the theatre. He realized that she was simply trying her best to let him and Lilah have their own conversation…for him to get to know his daughter without Christiana’s interference.

For some reason, the thought – the gesture – touched him more deeply than he’d expected it to.

His earlier anxieties about popcorn and candy were set to rest once they entered the theatre. Christiana’s presence alone was all that was needed to curtail Lilah’s pleading for snacks.

They sat with Lilah between them, and Carlos was actually surprised at how still Lilah became once the movie began. He had thought with her boundless energy that she would be squirming and restless within twenty minutes of the film, but she sat raptly in her seat, only occasionally asking a question that Christiana answered in hushed tones.

He watched Christiana’s face at different moments throughout the film. He watched her laugh at the antics on the screen; he saw the wetness in her eyes when the princess cried over her fallen prince. A few times he found his gaze sliding to her legs whenever she recrossed them, and he’d have to tear his eyes away before she could catch him.

When they left the theatre, Carlos was even more perplexed by his feelings for Christiana than he had already been. How was it possible he could find her even more intriguing than before? He strove to remind himself that she had a boyfriend. It would be so much easier to deny his attraction to her if he remembered she was unavailable.

They decided on a small pizza parlor for dinner, much to Lilah’s delight, and the three of them shared a large pepperoni pizza in the dimly lit and cramped restaurant. Lilah chattered away, talking about anything and everything – whatever she could find to comment on, she talked about it. Christiana marveled at how well Carlos paid attention to her. He let her ramble, but still kept pace with her just as well. He answered her questions, he added his own stories, and he listened with a patience she had never guessed he could possess.

She watched him across the little lamp on their table as he sat back and laughed at what Lilah had just said. He still wore his sunglasses – as he had all afternoon, even in the theatre – but the way the lamp illuminated his face, she could see his eyes clear enough. They lingered on hers for the smallest of moments.

With his lips quirked in a carefree smile, his teeth white against his dark skin…she had thought him handsome before, but at that moment, he caught her by surprise.

He wasn’t just handsome. He was drop-what-you’re-holding handsome. She had to remember to bring her glass of water to her lips instead of slopping it all down her front.

She only became more aware of him as the night wore on.

After a walk down the boardwalk and an ice cream watching the boats come back in from the harbor, they crossed the street over to the park. Lilah at once jumped and skipped her way over to where there was an abundance of fireflies.

“Look, Mr. Carlos! It’s like the pretty lights in the movie!” she exclaimed.

Carlos walked over to where she stood watching the fireflies, while Christiana made her way towards the gazebo at the back corner and sat on the bench within it. She could hear everything he said as he spoke to Lilah.

“Those aren’t lanterns, Querida, they are lightening bugs. They come out at night to be our nightlights.” He had crouched down so he was at Lilah’s level. He pointed up at the sky, and Lilah tilted her head back to look at where he pointed.

“Do you see all those stars up in the sky?”

“Uh huh.”

He looked at her face as she looked at the stars. “Someone once told me they are lightening bugs up in Heaven. They shine down on us at night so we will never be in the dark, and never have to be afraid.

“Did you know,” he continued, turning Lilah gently so that she was facing the lightening bugs that fluttered close by. “If you catch a lightening bug, it’s good luck?”

Lilah looked at the blinking fireflies with round eyes. “It is?” she asked in wonderment.

“It is,” he nodded. “And when you catch one, you must make a wish. The lightening bug will hear it, and it will take your wish with it when it flies away, and some day, your wish may come true.”

Lilah’s eyes lit up. “I want to catch a lightening bug!”

Carlos chuckled, and quickly showed her how to cup her hands the right way in order to catch a firefly. Her hands were small and didn’t quite form the right shape, but she laughed delightedly when he showed her how he caught one in his closed palms. He pretended to whisper a wish to his firefly, then let it go back into the night before standing up from his crouched position.

Lilah ran about, trying to catch her own firefly, and Carlos walked up towards the gazebo where Christiana sat.

“Is this seat taken?” he asked playfully. Christiana laughed and shook her head, scooting over on her bench to make room for him.

He landed with a short huff next to her, collapsing backward. He laughed once, dragging a hand over his face. “I think I’m going to sleep better tonight than she is,” he said humorously.

Christiana laughed knowingly, nodding. “She has a lot of energy,” she mused. He laughed through his nose in agreement, watching Lilah as she ran around chasing the fireflies. “You kept up with her really good today, though,” Christiana said turning to him.

He raised an eyebrow as he looked at her and she laughed again, her hand patting his knee. “You did!” She smiled radiantly at him. He beamed effortlessly back at her, trying to ignore the crackle of awareness that seemed to cling to the air surrounding them.

“Can I ask you something?” She said, suddenly wary. “And you can tell me if it’s not my place.”

Curious, he inclined his head once.

“The glasses…I noticed that you wear them even at night. Is that because you’re trying to hide your scars?”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. He hadn’t expected that. “No, not really. I mean, it is a little bit. People tend not to be as…” He broke off, searching for the right word. “Uneasy…around me. But I mostly just wear them out of habit now.” He frowned slightly, remembering the way she’d recoiled briefly the last time she’d seen him without his glasses.

“Out of habit?” she asked softly.

He readjusted his posture, affecting a more comfortable position as he watched Lilah running around in the grass. “The first few months after the accident, this eye,” he said, tapping the right corner of his glasses. “Was very sensitive to light. The left was blinded in the explosion, so this one had to adjust. I used to get horrible headaches after only a few hours of keeping my eyes open,” he mused, remembering. He shook his head, turning to smile at her with a lopsided grin. “But now, I don’t even need them in normal sunlight anymore. I’m just used to wearing them.”

She smiled softly back at him. “Well, just so you know,” she said after a moment, bumping his shoulder with hers. “It doesn’t make me ‘uneasy’. You can take them off, if you want,” she said graciously.

He smiled slightly as he turned away, folding the glasses methodically and placing them in the breast pocket of his jacket. “Thank you,” he murmured.

He felt the unnecessary need to fill the silence as they sat together, but he was unable to think of anything to say. Commenting on the weather seemed so trivial; so useless. And yet, what do you say to the mother of your child, someone you barely know? Other than to tell her how heartbreakingly beautiful she’d been all day.

How she was, still, even now.

Clearing his throat, he directed his thoughts away from the woman sitting next to him, paying attention instead to the babble of the brook that ran next to them. She seemed to take her cue from him, turning her attention back to Lilah to remind her to stay close. Lilah reluctantly stopped mid-romp across the foot bridge and redirected her path towards another patch of fireflies that hovered just outside of a copse of bushes.

“What kind of childhood did you have, Carlos?” Christiana asked, trying to keep her voice light. She was infinitely aware of him, seated so close to her. His thigh brushed hers and it was almost all she could do not to jump out of her skin.

He didn’t answer right away, but smiled tightly as he nodded in Lilah’s direction as she flitted past the gazebo again. “It was nothing compared to hers. She’s very lucky.”

Christiana sensed that he wasn’t going to elaborate any more on the subject, and she felt awkward and out of place, as if she needed to keep him talking. She wanted to see him smile again as he had when she’d teased him when he first sat down. His entire face lit up when he smiled like that. It made his natural charm even more irresistible.

Grasping for anything to keep him talking, she asked a question that had been burning in her mind ever since she’d met up with him again two weeks ago. God, had it already been two weeks? It didn’t seem like it. It felt like merely two days.

“So,” she started, clearing her throat nervously. “Do you have a girlfriend waiting for you back in Miami?” She realized she was having a hard time looking at him, and she forced her gaze up to his. His expression was slightly amused as he looked back at her.

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend,” he said, clearly attempting not to laugh. “I don’t get into relationships.” He said this last as if it were a defense mechanism, and he looked away from her again.

“Why not?”

Leaning back, he stretched his arm over his head, rolling his bad shoulder stiffly. “Hmm,” he hummed, frowning slightly as he thought. “I am not very good for them,” he said after a moment. “They never last with me.”

Christiana nodded, digesting that. “Well, maybe you just haven’t met the right one yet,” she suggested. She turned to look at him when he didn’t answer, and she saw that he was watching her, his expression unreadable. After a moment, he inclined his head slowly, allowing her explanation. “Maybe,” was all he said.

She couldn’t think why breathing should be difficult all of a sudden. She shook the feeling off. “Have you ever been in love?” she heard herself ask. Instantly she regretted the question. She didn’t want to think of him in love with another woman…not right now.

“I think I came close once,” he said quietly. His eyes were intense; compelling. She couldn’t look away.

“What happened?” Her voice was only a whisper.

He seemed to debate saying anything; his eyes questioning. He swallowed, and her eyes followed the undulation of his throat before looking back up at him. “I boarded a plane,” he said simply.

Her breath caught in her throat as she grasped his meaning. Carlos could feel the heat coming off of her skin as if she burned with a fever, and he saw the color seeping into her cheeks despite the cool air of the evening. Her mouth was partially open – in shock, he realized – and she floundered with what to say. His gaze was riveted there.

A very primal part of him longed to find out if her lips were as soft as he remembered.

He leaned in, closing the distance between them even more. He saw her swallow, her pretty eyes shining in the twilight, making her even more dangerously alluring. She inhaled shakily just as he bent his head towards hers…

“Mommy! Mommy! I got one!” Lilah crowed, bounding up the gazebo stairs.

Carlos ripped himself away, sliding back to where he’d been seated before. Christiana sat gripping the bench beneath her, trying to remember how to breathe.

“Look, Mommy! Look! I got one!” Lilah held up her clasped hands to her mother proudly. Christiana smiled wanly, nodding in vague approval, still too shaken to behave correctly.

“Good job, Honey,” she murmured with too little enthusiasm. Lilah held her treasure out so that Carlos could see, as well.

“See Mr. Carlos? Isn’t she bee-yoootiful?”

Carlos nodded, smiling softly. His eyes flickered to Christiana’s briefly before turning back to Lilah, and he echoed softly, “Beautiful.”

Lilah, unaware of the tension between the two adults, whirled and stood holding her hands under her mother’s nose. “Can I take her home, Mommy? Can I?”

“Oh, Baby,” Christiana said, cupping her daughter’s chin. “I think she might miss her family. She might be happier out here, free, don’t you think?”

Lilah frowned down into her hands as she thought over her mother’s words. “If I let her go,” she said haltingly. “She’ll be with her mommy?” She blinked up at Christiana, her little brow puckered.

“That’s right.”

She sighed heavily, her lower lip protruding in a small pout. “Okay,” she agreed.

“Make a wish,” Carlos reminded her.

Lilah’s eyes sparkled, and she put her lips to her closed hands, not quite whispering soft enough. “I wish Mr. Carlos can stay.” She opened her hands and the lightning bug fluttered bewilderedly before speeding away, blinking into the night.

Christiana looked over at him quickly, and Carlos suddenly felt a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach.

“That was a very grown-up thing to do, Lilah. I’m proud of you,” Christiana said pulling Lilah into her embrace, breaking the tension of the moment. She saw Carlos relax slightly out of the corner of her eye.

Smoothing Lilah’s dark hair away from her forehead, she looked down into her daughter’s face just as Lilah began an immense yawn. “You are so tired,” Christiana commented, rubbing circles on her back.

“No I’m not,” Lilah whined stubbornly.

Christiana shot a look over at Carlos as he tried to stifle his chuckle of amusement. She hid a smile into her daughter’s hair as she kissed her head and drew back.

“Well, Mommy’s tired, and Mr. Carlos is tired. It’s been a very long day.”

Lilah squirmed out of her mother’s arms. “You’re tired, too, Mr. Carlos?”

With another chuckle, Carlos nodded. “Yes, Princessa, I am.”

Christiana patted Lilah’s back as she stood. “Let’s start heading home.”

The walk back to the apartment was quiet and content feeling. The silence was quite the testament to how tired Lilah actually was; she hadn’t given her tongue a rest almost the entire night. She walked between them again, this time stumbling a little closer to her mother’s leg.

Christiana found herself wishing the night didn’t have to end so soon. She liked the sound of Carlos’ footsteps falling softly with hers as they shuffled down the sidewalk. When he wasn’t looking, she snuck glances at him out of the corner of her eye, and he caught her once.

The side of his face lifted as if he were trying to hide a smile.

All too soon they were at the front door, and Christiana was fishing her keys out of her purse with one hand while she held on to Lilah with the other. She finally managed to grasp her keys in her hand and open the door. Turning, she smiled, breathing a reluctant sigh.

“This was…a lot of fun,” she admitted. Carlos placed his hands in the pockets of his jacket, standing a few paces away from her. He smiled gently.

“It was.”

There was a small pause as she saw something flicker in his expression that she couldn’t quite place. Was it regret? The idea sent ice through her veins, but before she could clearly see what it was, the fleeting look had gone. She turned to Lilah.

“Say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Carlos for the wonderful day, Lilah,” she prompted gently. Lilah turned and smiled sleepily up at Carlos, before walking towards him. She wrapped her arms around his legs before he’d even been prepared, pressing her cheek to his leg.

“Thank you, Mr. Carlos,” she mumbled against his jeans. “I had lots of fun.”

Carlos was frozen. His eyes flashed up to Christiana, who was watching him with the same look of mute surprise. He felt an odd knot in his chest that he was unfamiliar with as he looked back down at his daughter.

Slowly, he placed his hand on the back of her head, stroking her hair, and then he was sinking down to her level, his knees cracking as he squat down. He gathered her close and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Something tightened in his chest again.

“You’re welcome,” he whispered, his voice strangely thick. He released her, straightening up with a clearing of his throat.

Christiana led Lilah into the hallway, telling her to sit on the bench for a moment while she said goodnight to Mr. Carlos.

“Carlos,” she said, turning back to him. She moved closer, her eyes cleaving to his. “I want you to know how much this meant to me.” She reached out to touch his arm, feeling him tense slightly at her touch. His expression was guarded, but he didn’t move away from her. He seemed rooted to the spot. “It meant…a lot. Everything,” she said softly.

Her hand slid slowly down his arm, squeezing lightly as she let go. “Thank you,” she murmured.

He nodded jerkily. “You’re welcome,” he said again. He paused, something else in his gaze as his eyes searched her face. His hand came up to softly touch her cheek, and she felt the heat of his skin burn a path down to her jaw. His hand fell away, and all she wanted was to feel his lips on hers.

“Goodnight,” he breathed, taking a step back.

“Goodnight,” she returned.

Carlos waited until she was inside, until he heard the lock slide into place. He turned and made his way slowly through the winding path back to his own apartment, his brain overtired and overworked from the day. His nerves were edgy; it felt like he would burst into flames all over again.

His earlier prediction was right, however. That night, he got the best sleep he’d had since before the accident. And in his dreams, he dreamt of things that he had never once remembered himself dreaming of – something he had once thought he was even frightened of:

A family.

It wasn’t an unpleasant dream, but in the morning when he woke, he was even more confused than he had been the day before.

What had he gotten himself into?

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30 Comments

Filed under Chapter 9

30 responses to “Chapter 9

  1. kelseypinkshoe

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH———

    Omg I just can’t—this chapter was too good! I just. Oh my.

    Firstly ahakgjadlkfjdalkfjadslkfjds why no kiss?!!? Why you do this to me!?!?! D:

    Secondly, oh my god Carlos/Lilah cuteness. I love. I LOVE.

    Thirdly, I gotta admit I was thrown off by Carlos’s eye! That is some amazing make-up work that you did. Like, holy cow!

    Fourthly, WHY NO KISS? D;

    Loved editing this in its earlier stages, and getting to read it now. It turned out so well, Christi!

    • awww YAYYY! So glad you liked it!! 😀 Thanks for the compliment on the makeup. I used the cyborg eye by generalzoi from MTS2 as a base for the eye scratch. (Someone else recolored them as whatever your default color eyes were, so that you could have someone with one blue eye, one brown…etc.) It gets in the way of his expression sometimes, but for the most part, it does its job. 🙂 And Carlos/Lilah cuteness!!! FTW! I love it, too 🙂

  2. Stephanie

    Gah! The suspense is killing me!
    Goddamn! I swear, there is so much sexual tension in the air between those two, you could cut through it with a knife.
    Anyways, fantastic chapter. Definately worth the wait.

    • Thank you!! The sexual tension IS thick between them!! I wonder how long that will hold out…? 😉 I know it’s been a long time. Thanks for waiting!! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  3. open_the_blinds

    SPANISH LULLABY UPDATE!!!!! OMGOMGOMG!

    I’m not sure if that will work outside of LJ but whatever it expresses my ~*feelings*~. Just pretend the dude in the gif is a teeny little white girl (and that she had a cool spinny chair too) and you totes have me this morning at work! 😀

    Oh, Lilah you’re such a c-block,lol. An adorable, entirely precious little c-block…I so knew she was going to come bounding up at just-that-moment. 😄

    I love how you wrote the awkward desire between Carlos and Christiana, especially in that scene in the park on the bench. I totally get that “omg, I’m so aware of this other person and feels like my heart is gonna pound right out through my pulse” feeling you described. *thumbs up*

    Also, I can’t wait for the obligatory “Colton is not my boyfriend” awkwardness that’s bound to come up! Gonna be good times, I can tell. 😉

    • bahahahaa that gif is priceless!! *saves* And wuuuuuut you don’t get a spinny chair?? Aren’t you like, the AM personality? What’s up with that?? You should ask for a damn spinny chair. And when you get one, you should dance, just like that xDD

      rofl “c-block”…but aren’t most children at some point or another? And I mean that in a totally loving and maternally as possible way… but c’mon… there can’t have been parents out there that were getting it on and the kid didn’t come ask for a glass of water and catch them or something! It’s like, a right of passage for kids, right? And this was totally not even close to that. She just blocked the inevitable kiss we were all drooling for… that’s all! haha.

      I’m glad you liked the tension!! I liked adding the part where she was like “omg why did i even just ask that?!” because I do that all the time. I’ll ask a question and then wonder how to fit my overly large foot into my even bigger mouth about it. >_< Then, you spend the next agonizing few minutes trying to dig your way out, and it just keeps getting worse and worse, and you're just dying inside and wanting to start all over but you can't.

      It's a miracle I'm married. Seriously. I need a drink. I'm stressing myself out 😉 😛

      Glad you liked it 🙂 This is the longest reply in history.

      • open_the_blinds

        Well, my cohost has a cool spinny chair…I’ve got the weird kitchen table type chair with the crazy tie-cushion that never stays put and so I always feel like I’m sliding around….though I suppose that has it’s own hilarious gif possiblities. 😉

        And like it? Nah, I LOOOOOVvveed it! *sparkle sparkle, twinkle twinkle fairy dust* 😀

  4. Monique

    Last night, I assumed that Google Reader wasn’t working properly because I must have missed this chapter. I looked at the blog and realized that you hadn’t updated yet. Imagine my utter joy and surprise when I saw in my reader this morning, Chapter 9 Spanish Lullaby. I had one of those Christiana moments when she kicked her feet against her mattress and squealed, but instead I was sitting down. This chapter was great. Fantastic. The chemistry between Carlos and Christiana is soooooo HOT. It’s like watching a volcano erupt. Can’t wait for Chapter 10!

    • haha thank you!!! xDD I don’t know what was up with google reader, though…I would think it would do that if I had accidentally posted first and then went in to edit…but for once, I didn’t have to do that! 😛

      Volcano!! yessss. Good analogy 😉

  5. Qui

    Let me tell you how I was on my way to bed, looked at twitter through my phone one last time and saw this update, turned my laptop back on! I got a total of 45 mins of sleep! I was so excited about this I couldn’t even sleep!

    Carlos’ reaction during their talk was very much expected. They did in fact use condoms and in a situation like that, one wouldn’t expect to see child come out of it. BUT they are not 100% effective so Christiana’s response was perfect! He is definitely battling what he feels now and how he felt before. It’s visible in the way he goes back and forth. He won’t write her off but he needs to get back to “his life”. One thing he’ll see, hopefully see, is that you can’t walk away from children that touch your heart. That hug at the end was so sweet and might have been exactly what he needed to see that he needs Lilah and she needs him. Notice how he always seems to smile around her? A real untrained smile. He needs her to be the light in his life throughout his recovery and she needs him to be the great father that he doesn’t realize he was for the day.

    The tension between Carlos and Christiana is so thick! I kept moving closer to the screen hoping they’d kiss! Ah! Soon! PLEASE SOON! How badly I want these two together is unreal!

    This chapter was well worth the wait and lack of sleep on my end! 😛

    • omg 45 minutes?? Are you crazy? I hope you’ve caught up on your sleep by now!!! I would hate to be the cause of sleep deprivation… :\

      I love how in complete denial he is about what good father material he actually has the potential to be. The ‘untrained smile’ as you put it. It’s so natural to him to love, and he resists it mentally as hard as he can. He’s one of the more complex characters I’ve ever written, actually. I love the different layers to him.

      Thanks Qui!! I am already planning chapter 10 out, so it shouldn’t be as long of a wait this time 😉

  6. SB

    How sad. At first I was surprised at Carlos’ reaction, but then, after thinking about it, it seems realistic. He’s defensive and uncertain, and the way you described his feelings when he turned down the dinner invite, kind of overwhelmed and claustrophobic, could be generalized to this whole situation. I don’t believe he can walk away from his daughter (although many men do). I don’t believe he’s unaware of Christiana’s feelings. They will figure it out.

    Beautiful, beautiful writing.

    • Thank you Beth! I think after that little date with Lilah and the night in the park with Christiana has really made more of an impact on him than he’s ready to admit. And you’re right; on some level, he is not unaware of Christiana’s feelings towards him. But we don’t always listen to our subconscious thoughts and musings, and he has spent most of his life resisting the depth of the feelings he’s just now starting to scrape the surface of…I think when he does finally fall, he will fall hard, and it will be jarring for him. Completely new and uncharted territory.

  7. I’m sure that conversation didn’t go the way Christiana was hoping but I’m glad they both had some time out to regroup and think it through. “You have a child” must be one of the biggest bombshells you can drop on someone and whatever the connection Christiana and Carlos had, they barely knew each other at all when they conceived Lilah.

    Their little “date” was very sweet. I can see Carlos wanting to be much more involved with Lilah than he might have thought. Like Beth, I can’t see him walking away from her.

    As for that…frisson, maybe? near the end there, when they almost kissed…SQUEE! And that’s all I have to say about that.

    Fantastic update!

    • LOL thank you Carla!! Frisson is a good word! ^_^ And you’re right, that was a huge bombshell he had to endure and with them having barely known each other, it makes it awkward and strained trying to act normal around each other. I’m really glad that came across 🙂

  8. YAY! What a wonderful update. I echo what has already been said, great writing-what no kiss?-and looking forward to the truth about Colton revealed. Lilah’s wish is adorable, though I wonder how she will accept her father returning to her life after being gone for so long and will she understand why he wasn’t around.

    • Thanks starrsim!! You brought up a lot of good points about Lilah. It’s hard to explain to a five-year-old “i didn’t know you existed” you know? Good questions!! 🙂

  9. *Fangirl squeal*

    I love it, I love it, I love it…did I mention I love it? The suspense is killing me…I got to the end of the post and pouted…I wanted more! Of course your updates are always worth the wait. 🙂

  10. OMG how did I miss this update?!!! D: It was so wonderful!!!

    Ahem. Anyway, on with the comments! I was actually getting pretty angry for Christiana when Carlos was accusing her of keeping Lilah a secret and then wanting money from him. But I understand he was probably hurt, confused and just lashing out. It is pretty crazy news and I was really hoping he’d calm down about it. I really loved how Christiana was able to see past his scars and wounds. I thought it was really sweet, but I also wonder if she gets the sense of how dangerous his past has been, just from those scars.

    Their entire outing was so sweet. I loved that they went to see Tangled, and the references to other Disney movies too. 😀 And the pics of Delilah playing with the lightning bugs in the park were incredible. Your settings are amazing!

    So, yeah, we’re also getting a hint of more Christiana and Carlos I see. 😀 I think Lilah will like him as a Dad. Maybe her wish will come true.

    • Thanks Mela!! I’m a few days late for a response, sorry! >.< But I'm so glad you were as emotionally involved in this chapter as I was! I was angry for Christiana, as well. 🙂 But you're absolutely right…anger is one of the most accessible emotions we humans have. It's easier to process than hurt and confusion or pain. It's a defense mechanism, built into us to protect us from those things that hurt, or confuse, or cause pain.

      I ❤ Disney movies. The two I mentioned are my absolute two favorites! And thank you for the compliment on the sets… **blush blush**… your sets are an inspiration to me, really. I'm always so critical of my own, and just floored by what YOU do.

  11. Blu Paws

    It was interesting to see Carlos’s progression from being quick tempered to accepting of his new title. I don’t have much doubt that he’ll ultimately be a great father, if his being such a great uncle is any indicator. Because Carlos seems to still be working through painful memories, I hope he doesn’t become overwhelmed and disappears cause Christiana and him NEED to happen.
    Great update. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

    • erm… apparently i have neglected to respond to this >.< I'm so very sorry.

      Carlos's past is definitely a hindrance in his ability to express love/compassion… at least in the verbal way. Hopefully with his time with Christiana and Lilah, maybe some of that will begin to fade.

      I'm so glad you enjoyed this update. I have had so much RL going on at home, at work…etc…but I HAVE been continuing to plug away at the next update. I can't guarantee a time frame at the moment other than to say that it's definitely over-due, and I am working hard at getting it ~perfect~!! Thank you so much for your kind words, and thanks for reading!!

  12. Omg, that was nice! I love Lilah’s clothing. Isn’t she wearing H&M jeans? Omg, I’m dying to have those! What a lot of cute interaction and that cigarette! I do have cigarettes in my game, bit no lighter and that smoke neither. Could you please tell me how you do That? It’s so cool!

    • Hi! Thank you so much for all your kind words 🙂 I’m so glad you liked it.

      Lilah is wearing the Bolero Jacket and Jeans outfit for kids by fakepeeps7 over at Mod the Sims 2 (link). I love all of her clothes for kids, they’re so cute!!

      The lighter and the smoke I actually edited into the final picture(s). I used a pose box for both of those pictures to pose Carlose, and then I found a stock-picture of a lighter on google and used that. The smoke I had from earlier, and I’ve actually used it several times before (in another leg of this story, link). It’s simply another picture manipulated to the right angle and then made to look opaque.

      Thank you again!! 🙂 This brightened my day. I’m sick with a cold and so to find I had a comment was like being able to breathe again :))

  13. Piper

    It’s been a while now. Are you giving up on updates, too? 😦

    • Awwww no, I haven’t given up on it… just RL stuff is really getting to me. I am still working on the next update though… just slowly. I know it’s been forever. 😦 I miss writing so much. I hardly ever get free time anymore. My husband is disabled, and I’m working two jobs and trying to make ends meet where we’re living… so it’s been a hectic year to say the very least. I appreciate you taking the time to check on me, though 🙂 I had begun to think people no longer came to view this anymore. I’m glad there are some out there that are still checking back :)) ❤

  14. I love this story and hope life improves for you so you can get back to writing.

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