“Yeah, I guess so.”
I held out my pinky toward him. “Pinky promise?”
He linked his pinky with mine. I tried to ignore the butterflies that began to stir in my stomach, because those butterflies had no right to even exist.
When it came time for me to leave, I stood up and walked to the front door. The night sky was deep blue and drunk with stars. Greyson walked me out to the porch with his hands in his pockets.
“Thank you for staying,” he said.
“Of course. I hope you’ll be okay.”
He nodded once. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Does that mean I still have a job?” I asked, somewhat joking based on my new wingwoman position.
“If you’re still willing to work for me, that is.”
I smiled. “I’ll see you on Monday, Greyson.”
“Ellie…” He brushed his finger against his chin and shrugged a bit. “You can call me Grey.”
“Oh, my gosh, is that a pony?!” a voice that sounded shockingly like Lorelai’s hollered as I sat in my office Saturday afternoon, though I was certain I was mishearing things because the girls were still at their grandparents’ house until Sunday.
“OH MY GOSH IT’S A PONY!”
I sat up straight in my chair. That was definitely Lorelai’s voice.
I walked out of my office and headed straight toward the noise that seemed to be coming from my back yard. The closer I got, the louder the racket was becoming. It wasn’t just Lorelai’s voice that was heard—it was everyone’s.
And by everyone, I meant everyone.
The yard was completely decked out. Pink and gold helium balloons were tied to trees. Two barbecue grills were fired up and I saw Landon and Jack were there flipping burgers.
Friends I hadn’t seen in months were in the backyard with their children, playing games, laughing, and having a great time.
“What in the world…” I opened the door, and everyone probably saw the shock on my face as they noticed me.
“Daddy! Daddy! Look! A ponyyyyy!” Lorelai shouted as she rode on its.
There was an actual pony in my backyard.
My mind was spinning faster than ever. When I looked to my left, I saw Eleanor, who was smiling ear to ear. She came skipping over to me with a birthday hat in her hand and she placed it on top of my head. “Great party, Grey,” she told me. “It’s the best kid’s party I’ve ever been to.”
My heart caught in my chest as I took a deep breath. “You did this? For Lorelai?”
She shook her head. “Not just for her. I did it for you. We did it for you,” she said, gesturing to every person I’d ever cared for.
They were all there. Even though I had ignored them for months. Even though their calls always went to voicemail. Even though I’d pushed them away. They had still shown up for me.
They didn’t have a clue how much that meant.
Eleanor didn’t have a clue what she’d done.
“Thank you,” I choked out.
“You’re welcome,” she replied. “Now go! Go say hi to everyone! It is a party, after all, so go party.” She blew her birthday kazoo in my face and kept that big smile on her face.
I started to walk away but stopped in my tracks. I turned back toward her, and without any thought, I wrapped my arms around her. I wrapped her so tight against me that I was almost certain I’d squeeze her to death, but I couldn’t let go. Luckily, she didn’t ask me to. When I pulled back, I felt a bit embarrassed. Ambushing her with a hug was completely out of character for me, but it had felt right. I’d needed the embrace. It had felt like the only way I could truly show her my gratitude.
She didn’t even look taken aback by my approach. She just kept smiling that gentle smile and she nodded her head toward my friends. “Go have fun, Grey,” she told me.
I wasn’t sure I still knew what that was, but I’d try my best to do as she said. I walked over to Landon and patted his shoulder.
He looked at me and gave me a big cheesy grin. “Dude! Great party. You’ll have to point out who the single women are,” he joked.
“What are you even doing here?” I asked, a bit stunned to see my best friend back in Illinois.
He shrugged. “I was just in the neighborhood.”
“You left me a voicemail yesterday from L.A. You weren’t just in the neighborhood, Landon. You were across the country.”
He smiled a genuine smile and patted me on my shoulder. “For you, Greyson, I’m always in the neighborhood.”
That meant more than he’d ever know. I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Listen, I know I’ve been a bit off for a while…”
“If you apologize to me one more time, I’m going to kick you in the balls, Greyson,” Landon warned.
I tossed my hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright.”
“So, Eleanor really grew up, huh? Like, holy hell, she’s fucking beautiful.”
She’d been beautiful since day one. Most people overlooked it, though.
He scratched at the beard he was growing out for his upcoming role in an action movie. “So…is she single?”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t start, Landon. You aren’t going to sleep with my nanny. Besides, you already slept with her cousin Shay all those years ago.”
“Shay…Shay…” He went deep into his mind trying to connect the dots of a woman he’d slept with named Shay. When it clicked, he slapped me. “Holy shit, Shay Gable. My first love!”
I laughed. “If that’s what you’re calling love, we should be worried. Come on, let me get you a drink.”
“I won’t say no to that,” Landon agreed. “Make it anything but EastHouse—that shit tastes like piss,” he joked, making me chuckle as I flipped him off. It might’ve been the first time I laughed in months.
Everyone interacted with me as if I hadn’t been a recluse over the past year. They welcomed me back in with laughter and smiles and hugs. I got so many hugs that day.
On a weekend that was supposed to be hard, they all made it that much easier.
Seeing Lorelai having the time of her life warmed me up inside. I swore she was riding the pony for the hundredth time, but Karla opted to stay in her bedroom the whole time.
After the party died down I headed to Karla’s bedroom with a slice of the unicorn cake. My stomach was in knots as I knocked on her door.
She looked up from her computer and raised the headphones she wore. “What?” she muttered, staring at me as if I was the biggest nuisance in the world.
“I, uh, I brought you some cake,” I told her, walking into her room.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Why?”
“I just thought you’d want some.” I set it down beside her, and her intense stare didn’t ease. “It would’ve been nice if you were at the party today. Everyone was asking about you.”
“Yeah, well,” she mumbled, going back to her computer screen.
“Karla, I was thinking—”
“Look, can we not do this?” she barked, taking off her headphones. “I don’t know what got into you or if the guilt of being a bad father for the past year has finally caught up with you, but I really don’t have time for it. I mean, yesterday was Lorelai’s birthday and you sent us away. Yesterday was the anniversary of Mom’s death, and you didn’t even spend it with your daughters. So, I’m sure everyone is happy-go-lucky to see you out and about and acting semi-human again, but please excuse me if I’m not interested in whatever it is that’s going on with you at the moment.”
My mouth gaped open, but no words left me. It was as if she’d slammed her fists into my gut and left me breathless. What was even worse about what she’d said was how true it was. I hadn’t been there for her or her sister for the past year.
“Mom would’ve never abandoned us,” she whispered, her voice shaky, and for the first time in a long time, she showed something other than anger—she showed her pain.
“Karla…” I started, reaching out to her, but she yanked her arm away.
“Just go, Dad,” she hissed, putting her headphones back on. “And take the stupid cake with you.”
I took a deep breath and picked up the plate. I wanted to say something else. I wanted to express myself in a way that would maybe make her understand what I’d been going through, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to even begin fixing the damage I’d caused her, the damage I’d caused my family.
I walked away and closed her bedroom door behind me. As I walked down the hallway, I heard voices and looked into the bathroom to see Lorelai washing her hands with Eleanor’s assistance. She was covered in chocolate and frosting, and the two of them were giggling like they were the best of friends.
“I think we got it all,” Eleanor commented, tapping Lorelai’s nose.
“Okay, good. I’m going to go get some more cake!” Lorelai hurried out of the room. She paused in front of me when she saw me standing there, and her eyes lit up. “Hey, Daddy!”
“Hey, you,” I said, giving her a small smile.
She rushed over, wrapped her arms around my legs, and pulled me into a hug. “Thanks for the best birthday party ever and the ponies and the cake and the burgers and…and…you’re the best dad ever.” She squeezed me tighter, and then when she let me go, she grabbed the plate in my hand and shouted, “And thanks for the cake!”
Eleanor was about to stop her from running off, but I shook my head. “It’s fine. We’ll deal with the sugar low when it comes.”
She nodded and leaned against the bathroom door frame, looking toward me. “Are you okay? You look upset.” She stood up a bit. “Are you upset about the party? I just thought…”
“No, not at all. This was amazing, Eleanor. You’ve been nothing but amazing to my family, to me, and words cannot express how thankful I am for that.”