“We can do this, Aria.”
“No,” I corrected him. “We can’t. That’s the thing. He’s not ours anymore, James.”
“I did research,” he explained, stepping closer to me, making me nervous. “A few sites said that the father has to give his rights for the adoption.”
“Which you did.”
“But now I’m changing my mind. People change their minds.” He reached for my hands, and I stepped backward.
“Don’t touch me,” I ordered.
“I want to be with you, Aria.” His words were wrapped in false dreams and tainted lies. “Haven’t you thought about it? About keeping him?”
“Please,” he said, glancing behind me before moving in to kiss me.
As our lips lingered, I whispered harshly, “Don’t. Touch. Me.”
He stepped back, and I listened to the sound of someone clearing their throat behind us. Turning around, I saw Levi standing at the end of the sidewalk with his hands wrapped around two gifts wrapped with newspaper. “Levi. How long have you been there?”
His blue Chucks kicked back and forth around the snow. “Long enough to find out that he’s the father. That he wants you. That he kissed you.”
“It’s not what—” I started, but James cut in.
“It’s kind of a family issue, man. If you could get lost, that would be great.”
“James!” I shouted. My eyes shot back to Levi’s, which were filled with rejection.
“Yeah, of course. I just wanted to drop off yours and Mango’s Christmas gifts.” He tapped the gifts against the palm of his right hand before he walked up and handed them to me. “Merry Christmas, Art.”
He turned and started to walk away. I went to follow, but James grabbed my wrist, halting me. “Let him go.”
I ripped my hand from his hold and flung my hand across his cheek. “I said don’t touch me.”
“What’s going on out here?” Dad asked, stepping onto the porch. His eyes landed on James. “Hey, buddy. Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks, Mr. Watson. You too.”
“You looking for Mike?”
I cringed and stepped toward Dad. “No, he was actually just—”
“I’m the father,” James said, cutting me off once more.
Dad didn’t process his words right away. He stood still, blinking with narrowed eyes. “I beg your pardon?” Oh my God. We’d been so close to having a perfectly decent Christmas after months of being a broken family, so close to being somewhat normal.
“I’m the one who slept with—”
“Don’t say it,” Dad ordered.
“…Aria,” James finished. He obviously had no desire to respect anyone’s wishes this Christmas afternoon.
“What?” Mike said, standing in the doorway, staring at his best friend. His left hand had a dinner roll stuffed with ham, and his right was a solid fist. He stepped onto the porch, his chest rising and falling hard. “You slept with my little sister?!” His words were filled with blades and anger.
“Mike, man. It was an,” Mike’s fist slammed into James’ jaw, sending him falling to the porch, “accident,” James muttered, brushing the back of his hand against his mouth.
“I’m going to fucking kill you!” Mike shouted, lunging toward James. Dad grabbed Mike before he could do any more damage, and a stumbling James stood back up. “She’s my sister, you asshole!”
“Mike, chill out!” Dad said, his arms still gripped around his son, who was five seconds away from killing his best friend.
“I want to raise the baby,” James said, spitting out blood from Mike’s punch.
“Shut up,” I cried. “Stop saying that.”
“I won’t,” he said, shaking his head. “Because it’s true.”
“What’s true?” Mom asked stepping onto the porch. Her eyes landed on James and filled with concern. “What happened?”
“He’s the father,” Dad murmured.
“The father?” Mom asked.
“The father,” Mike growled.
“The father?!” Grace said, standing in the doorway.
I tried my best to keep calm, staring at my family as they stared at us, their eyes shifting back between James and me. Dad still held an angered Mike back, while everyone else tried their best to wrap their heads around the newfound information.
“I just came to say that I want to give this a go,” James said, stuffing his hands back into his coat pockets. “With you, Aria. I want to raise the baby with you.”
“Oh my God,” Mom whispered, tugging on her earlobe. “I need you to go right now, James.”
“No. No buts. I need you to walk away and let us figure this out,” she said.
“Walk. Away,” Dad shouted, his voice shaking us all. James lowered his head and nodded before he turned to walk off. Everyone’s eyes moved to stare at me. Dad released Mike and within a second, Mike was dashing off after James. As he rounded the corner, all I heard was a screaming James and Mike shouting how he was going to kill him once he got a hold of him. “I should go get him…” Dad grabbed his coat from inside and headed off in the direction of the two boys.
Mom wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “It’s cold, come inside.”
I followed her into the house, but I hardly warmed up.
* * *