“What’s wrong?” He pushed his way into the cool and closed the door behind himself as she walked away pressing her palm into her ribcage.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing.” But she took a quick gulp of air.
He followed close on her heels, ignoring the kids because he could hear them playing together in the back bedroom. “It’s not nothing and you’re a bad liar. What gives?”
She shook her head then confessed. “It’s hiccups.”
He didn’t buy that for a hot second. “Hiccups?”
“Yes, I’ve had them since two hours ago.” And this time when she gulped he realized that it had been involuntary.
“So just sit really still for about five minutes.”
She gave him a look that would have boiled cold water on sight.
“Mom! Andie won’t let me have my dolly!” Allie appeared in the doorway, her face tear-streaked, perfect evidence for Kelsey’s state.
“That is why I haven’t been able to get rid of these.”
“Yeah, I figured that out about two seconds after I uttered my stupidity.”
That changed her expression to a grin instantly, and JD was proud of himself, until she hiccupped and winced again. Her hand flew back to her ribcage, her sweet hazel eyes widening.
“I could scare you.” He volunteered.
She shook her head. “Can you let me lie down, uninterrupted, for about ten minutes?”
“You got it.” He followed her into the living room, where she peeled off the headset before stretching out on the couch. He lowered himself quietly into the armchair that sat at a right angle.
Kelsey even had comfy furniture. It wasn’t the leather he’d given up with his condo, but was nice enough despite the quilt thrown over it.
After a minute of contemplating the furnishings, he turned his attentions to the woman occupying the couch. Her long summer-tanned legs stretched from shorts to their perch on the armrest, looking casually graceful in white Keds. Her face was almost relaxed, except her lips held just the tiniest pout. And, oh god, don’t let her open her eyes and catch him looking at her.
He glanced away, but his thoughts didn’t change direction with his gaze. He bet, if he just leaned over and kissed her right now, that he’d startle her enough that those hiccups wouldn’t ever come back.
He’d been having these thoughts for a while. At first, they had lingered undeveloped in the back of his head. Then he’d dreamed about her the night before her birthday, some erotic scene from a movie, only it was Kelsey crawling across the covers like a cat, wearing only some unidentifiable filmy white thing. In the dream it hadn’t surprised him. It hadn’t really surprised him when he woke up either.
He heard her deep intake of air, and her lips un-pursed, just a little.
He heard her voice. You don’t screw the baby-sitter.
She’d been talking about Bethany, and she’d been right: Bethany was hot. But Bethany was twenty and acted twenty. Bethany needed a frat boy.
Of course, Kelsey had thought that of him, because he sure looked like his old frat-boy self. It had been a shock to find Kelsey’s birthday on her driver’s license. He’d startled when he read that her birth-year was before his. He’d done the math and figured out it was her thirty-second birthday. That put her just over three years older than him.
No wonder she’d been so shocked that he’d once worn suits and had a real job.
A vocal scuffle between all three kids caught his attention and pulled him from his thoughts. Hopping up, so that Kelsey wouldn’t be disturbed by it, he broke up the mild melee and told Andie that it was time to start getting ready to go.
She protested, loudly, again making him grind his teeth. JD desperately wanted to not care, but if he didn’t care, then Andie would be with a foster family.
He put up his usual battle, and finally got her shoes on her and the doll she had brought gathered up. As he stretched up, turning to go check on Kelsey, he almost ran into her. She had planted herself in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest.
“Are you feeling better?” She didn’t really look it. JD hoped she hadn’t gotten up, thinking he couldn’t deal with his daughter. He could deal with Andie, just not well.
Kelsey absently replied, ‘yes, thank you’, but she didn’t look at him. She stared at Andie. “Young lady, you owe your Daddy an apology.”
“Why?” Andie sulked.
Oh, no. JD thought.
“Because, he’s been nothing but nice to you, and you have been rude to him at every turn.”
“So?” There was a defiance in her voice that he hadn’t heard in a while. He had thought that maybe she was coming around, but perhaps she was simply seething quietly. “I don’t need a Daddy.”
Kelsey stepped into the room and squared herself off with his daughter. “Everyone needs a Daddy.”
“No they don’t!” Andie bordered on screaming. “Daniel and Allie don’t. You are just fine with only a Mommy, that’s the way it should be!”
JD almost stepped back, the look on Kelsey’s face was vicious. She’d lost her husband just over a year ago, and he knew, even if Andie didn’t, what a viper pit his daughter had jumped into. His response was almost to step in front of Andie and end this, but Kelsey must have seen some movement in him. While her gaze didn’t stray from Andie, her hand came out in a subtle motion telling him to back down.
Her voice was soft, but deadly. “You have no idea how much Daniel and Allie would love to have a Daddy like JD.”
“They can have him!” It was a full wail as she shoved past Kelsey and down the hall, they heard the front door rattle then slam as she let herself out.
“Jesus.” JD let the breath out of his lungs as his body automatically followed Andie, the adrenaline controlling his movements when his brain didn’t. His feet pounded down the front walk, then hit the sidewalk, skidding to a halt.
He frantically looked both ways, only to see the pink tail of her dress disappear behind the Henderson’s hedge. He stayed put this time, only after two full, deep breaths did he realize that his teeth were so tight he was about to crack them.
A small hand appeared against his back, making him jump then sigh. “I wonder what Mrs. Henderson thinks of me.”
“Only good things. I talked to her about Andie after that first day we met.”
He turned to face her, only to find that her eyes were swimming with unshed tears. “I’m so sorry, I thought I could-”
“Don’t. It wasn’t you. It’s Andie. She hates me.” He felt his hands reach for her, but stopped them. “She’s great for Bethany. It’s just me.”
Kelsey shook her head. “It isn’t you. I’ve watched her. She hates men. You said she kicked TJ, and at the party she wouldn’t go near any of the guys. It’s not you.”
Even if he believed her, it didn’t change anything. Andie wouldn’t be happy with him. She simply refused.
He started down the sidewalk to fetch her from the Hendersons’, but Kelsey put her hand flat against his chest. “Let me. I started it, and she’ll be less trouble for me.”
He agreed, still taking deep breaths. Already missing the feel of her hand against him, he watched as her long strides ate up the sidewalk. Turning, he went back inside to explain to Daniel and Allie where their mother had gone. At least they didn’t hate him.
He watched out the front window until he saw Kelsey, hand in hand with a clearly petulant Andie, coming down the walk. What he wouldn’t give to hear what they were saying, but they were beyond the glass and beyond him, both of them.