“Oh that’s … terrible. I can’t believe you never told me this. That’s really sad.”
She nodded, risking a glance. “They’ve been mad at God ever since.”
“I suppose I would be too. That sucks.”
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “My grandma thinks we’re all going to Hell now.”
“What do you think?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s not like I don’t believe in God. I may not know the difference between Samson and Mason…” she grinned “…but I like the idea of God. And sometimes when I’m scared or need something really bad, I pray to him. I’m not sure I’m doing it right.”
“What do you ask God for? My dad says we should spend more time giving thanks than asking for stuff. Like with my mom … he says he thanks God for the days she is here more than he asks God to bring her back. That’s kinda cool, right?”
Daisy shrugged. “He’s probably right. I should say thank you. Maybe that will make him more likely to say yes when I do ask for stuff.”
Her hands slid back around my neck and her lips brushed along my ear as she whispered, “I always ask God to remember to feed you and to make sure you don’t end up homeless.”
Swayze’s smile breaks my heart. When I tell her about my past, she doesn’t move, doesn’t blink, just … grins. If my best friend lives inside of her soul, I wish we could talk about it. How can she remember everything but the one person who made my childhood truly special?
“I’m scared…” Swayze’s smile fades “…because you’re adding beautiful color to everything in my head that’s black and white. But it’s like watching a movie based on actual events. You know what’s going to happen. I can’t unsink the Titanic. And Daisy …”
“Died,” I mutter, wanting so much to connect with the memories in her mind.
“Yeah.” She mirrors my sad smile.
It’s impossible to not stare at her, waiting for something more than curiosity to shine in those blue eyes. A glimmer of recognition would probably stop my heart.
“You haven’t asked me how she died,” I say, but what I think is: You haven’t asked me how you died.
If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I could tell her that and keep my shit together.
“No.” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to know. Not yet … maybe not ever.”
A tense concern mars her face. “I don’t know. Is that weird?”
I chuckle in spite of my chasm of emotions.
“You’re asking the wrong person. I cleared Jenna’s clothes out of our closet, but her overnight bag that we took to the hospital is still in the back of my vehicle. My daughter bears the name of the first girl I ever loved, and I’ve accepted the fact that you’re … someone connected to my past. So…” I shake my head “…I’m not the best judge of ‘weird.’”
One side of her mouth slants into a half smile. “My whole life, I’ve known stuff that hasn’t made sense for me to know. It stole my childhood, but I never felt truly different until you.”
Her words make it hard to breathe. I want to whisper, Daisy. I want her to acknowledge us. I want to ask her why she was alone the night she died.
All these years later, I feel that hole in my heart, in my soul, like no matter what happens in my life there will always be part of who I am that’s incomplete. These are the words I would tell my best friend, Daisy.
“Well, I hope I don’t disappoint. I hope I can help you find answers.”
“Blowout! Huge blowout! Oh goodness …” Donna holds Morgan out at arm’s length.
I jump up and take her, also keeping her at arm’s length. “Oh no. Sorry, Donna.”
Donna looks down at her poop-stained shirt. “It’s fine. I should have known when her face turned bright red that something explosive was about to happen. I’ll go get her bottle and burp cloth before I head home for a change of clothes.”
“Sorry …” I bite my lips together. I don’t know what else to say.
“Hush, it’s fine.” She waves off my comment while walking out of my office.
“Here.” Swayze takes Morgan and lays her on my desk that she’s already covered with a changing pad. “And you were worried about her. Clearly, Morgan can take care of herself when strangers run off with her.” She giggles, peeling off the soiled onesie.
“Like a skunk spraying its predator?” I laugh.
“Exactly.” Swayze folds up the onesie and sets it aside while I ease off Morgan’s diaper.
“Shit!” I shove the dirty diaper back down over her, but not before the front of my shirt looks like a Dijon mustard bottle exploded onto it.
Swayze’s hand flies to cover her mouth and the huge grin I know she’s hiding, eyes wide and unblinking as they flit between Morgan and me. “Language, Professor,” she mumbles behind her hand.
She’s right. I roll my eyes. “A little help?” My attempt to sound upset is spoiled by a stupid grin crawling up my face. And it feels so damn good even if just inches below it there’s poop splattered all over my shirt and my daughter now has it up the front of her too because I instinctively shoved the dirty diaper over her to protect me.
Swayze turns and snorts a stifled laugh as she grabs several wipes from the diaper bag. She turns back to me with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry …” She erupts into laughter until the tears in her eyes stream down her cheeks. “Oh my gosh.” She cringes, making a quick assessment of the situation. “This is too big of a mess for baby wipes. We need a sink.”
“The restroom is just down the hall.” I nod toward the door.
“Okay. Um …” Her nose wrinkles.
I try not to move, but Morgan kicks and coos with delight. I’m sure she feels pretty great right now after getting rid of so much crap.
“You’re already a mess, so I say you carry her to the bathroom and hold her while I wash her off.”
“Fine. Let’s go before this mess gets any bigger.”
Swayze nods, grabbing the diaper bag.
“And stop laughing,” I say while picking up Morgan, letting the diaper fall to the changing pad.
“I’m not laughing.” A giggle escapes before she can get the last word out.
It’s a single bathroom, which is nice since no one else needs to see this mess. We manage to avoid running into anyone on our way.
“Hurry up before she goes again.” I hold Morgan over the sink.
“I have to let the water warm up a little.” Swayze shoots me a quick glance, still trying and failing at containing her amusement.
She wets a wad of paper towels and quickly cleans the poop off Morgan.
“I’ll bathe her as soon as I get her back home, but this is good for now.” She takes her from me.
“Careful. She might not be done.” I stare at Morgan’s naked backside as Swayze hugs her to her chest.
Swayze eyes my shirt. “I think it’s safe to say she’s on empty right now. I’ll go get a diaper on her and a new outfit. You should do…” she frowns “… something with that shirt.”
“Ya think?” I smirk.
When the door closes behind her, I unbutton my shirt and shrug it off. There’s no way this shirt will ever get worn again, but I spend the next five minutes scrubbing the hell out of it anyway. Since I don’t have a change of clothes, I attempt to dry it a little under the hand dryer so it’s not soaking wet when I put it back on.
“We’re going to—” Swayze pushes open the door and freezes.
It takes me a few seconds to figure out what has her in such shock. But when I follow the line of her gaze to my bared abdomen, I know.
“Nate,” she says my name like I just broke her heart.
I don’t move. Maybe I should cover up what’s caught her attention, but I don’t because I’d give anything to know what I believe is true.
“Nate,” she whispers again like a desperate plea while inching toward me, letting the door close behind her, eyes focused on only one thing.
I can’t blink. If the slightest bit of realization flashes in her eyes, I don’t want to miss it.
Maybe I should put on my shirt, but I don’t.
Maybe I should back away as her hand reaches out to touch me, but I don’t.
Maybe I should say something—fucking anything—as her fingertips brush the heart-shaped birthmark on my abdomen, eliciting goose bumps along my skin, muscles hardening beneath her touch.
But … I don’t.
Her fingers don’t move from my skin as she closes her eyes.
Remember … please … just remember …
Her touch. Professor Albright said this girl is not my Morgan, but … what if she is? With one touch, I’m that young boy in love with his best friend. I’m that young boy standing in front of Daisy, watching her push back my unbuttoned shirt and tracing her fingertips over my birthmark.
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