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One touch has just erased twenty-one years.

One touch has just erased everything my analytical mind can comprehend.

“You feel it?” She opens her eyes and meets my gaze, but all I can see is pain and confusion.

I can’t speak, so I give her a slight nod.

“Why?” she says on a breathless exhale.

Because you’re my best friend. Because not even death could separate us.

“I don’t know.” It’s all I can say because I don’t understand it, so I can’t explain it. I can name every part of the body, recite the stages of human development, DNA, the life-saving abilities of stem cells … so many miraculous things that make up the human species. But this I can’t explain. Nor can I deny the existence or truth of whatever this is.

There’s a knock on the door.

Swayze jumps back. “Donna is watching Morgan.” She shakes her head like she’s trying to clear her mind. “I-I just came to tell you we’re leaving.”

I slip on my damp shirt and start to button it. “Thank you for bringing her.”

We don’t look at each other.

“We’ll see you later.”

I nod, staring at my hands as I button the button next to my birthmark.

The door clicks shut behind her.

“Fuck …”

*

I message Swayze to tell her that I’m going to be later than expected. After two solid hours of watching live video feed of her and Morgan, I click out of the screen and actually get some work done. It occurs to me that by this point it’s not necessary to monitor them. I’m not. Now I’m just being creepy as fuck and watching her. Wondering what she’s thinking. Waiting for her to light up with some grand ah-ha moment.

By the time I arrive home, silence fills the house. Swayze has dozed off in the recliner chair with a sleeping Morgan nestled on her chest. I take a seat on the sofa and watch them some more. It’s crazy how for years every girl with blond hair and brown eyes reminded me of Daisy, but when I met Swayze at Dr. Greyson’s office, I didn’t think of Daisy. Now all I see is her.

Some days I swear her eyes are brown instead of blue.

“Watching me sleep is kinda creepy.” She opens her eyes and grins. “I’m supposed to be the creepy one, not you, Professor.”

Professor. She calls me Nate when she’s vulnerable, Nathaniel when she’s nervous, and Professor when she wants to pretend we’re nothing more than employer and employee. I knew everything there was to know about her then … and I’m going to know this new version of my best friend. She’s the distraction I need. A gift.

“Tell me about your family.”

I hold her gaze even as her eyes narrow. I may be a different person to her, depending on her desire to deal with the past, but she’s so much more than a nanny. And now that I know that, I can’t pretend it’s anything but a fucking miracle.

“My family?”

I nod.

“Well, you know my dad died of a heart attack. He was a CPA for almost thirty years. My mom is a product photographer. She’s worked for several large companies over the years while trying to balance her career with raising me. I’m not sure she’s taken her camera out of its bag since my dad died.”

Swayze shakes her head. “She said she needs to decide ‘what’s next’ in her life. But I think she’s afraid she’ll see him through the lens of her camera. He was the one who convinced her to pursue her passion. He bought her first camera. She took a gazillion rolls of film, all of him, before digital. It’s crazy how many photo albums she has, all of my dad. He was handsome, even when he started to lose his hair. She was—is beautiful. I like to imagine they had a passionate relationship before they had me. I just never saw that kind of love.”

“Grandparents?”

“Yes. All four are still alive. My mom’s parents live just outside of Chicago and my dad’s parents live here in Madison.” She presses the home button on her phone on the arm of her chair. “I have to go.”

“Of course.” I take Morgan from her; she doesn’t even make a noise. The outing to my office and big blowout must have exhausted her. “Thanks again for bringing her to see me at work today. My colleagues really enjoyed seeing her.”

“Even Donna?” Swayze gives me a suspicious grin as she grabs her bag and walks toward the front door.

“Even Donna.” I chuckle. “I should give her some money for a new shirt. It’s probably ruined … like mine.”

Swayze’s gaze drops to my shirt, but I know she’s not thinking about the shirt; she’s thinking about my birthmark.

“It’s not shaped like a heart. More like a banana.”

Her eyes shoot up to mine, confusion all over her face.

“My birthmark. The only person who thought it was shaped like a heart was Daisy.”

She nods slowly, but I don’t detect any real understanding.

“Just like Daisy was the only one who knew about me cheating on that Spanish test.”

Swayze twists her lips and continues to bob her head, but I have no clue what she’s thinking. It’s like watching the rainbow wheel spin on my computer with no results.

“Well, don’t forget I have my doctor’s appointment Friday.”

That’s it—nothing more than a spinning rainbow wheel. What would she do if I just told her? The words make their way to my mouth, but I can’t force them out. Instead, I smile and nod. “I can work from home Friday. If you need all day, that’s fine too.”

“Okay. I’ll let you know. See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.”

I watch her until she gets to her car. When she turns to give me a final wave, I return a quick wave and close the door. She may be right. My staring is getting a little creepy. After laying Morgan in her crib, I collapse onto my own bed, rubbing the tension from my temples as my thoughts drift back to twenty-one years earlier.

*

Nathaniel Age 15

“Daisy,” I whispered while my shaky fingers unbuttoned my wrinkled dress shirt.

The cracked window let in a soft breeze, but the humidity hung heavily in our house that had been without air-conditioning for over a week. Crickets sang in the distance, but the pounding of my heart nearly drowned them out.

“I’m so sorry about your uncle.” A tear splattered on my hand, but it wasn’t mine. It was hers.

The man who inspired me to play hockey died, and I hadn’t shed a single tear. Daisy had enough emotion for the both of us. She eased my shirt off my shoulders. It fell just below my waist, holding onto my wrists.

“Don’t cry.”

She shook her head and swatted at the emotions before they got away again.

“I don’t want to do this if you’re not ready.”

Her lips pressed to my neck as her hands ghosted down my stomach. Dropping her chin, she watched her finger trace my birthmark. “I love this heart. I think it’s where cupid hit you with his arrow just as I stepped on the school bus that fateful day.”

I chuckled. “Except I’ve had it forever.”

She traced it again and the promise of what was to come, mixed with her warm hands on my naked skin, had me harder than I had ever been in my life.

“I guess you were always meant to be with me,” she murmured with a voice as shaky as my hands.

“We don’t have to do this.” I kissed the top of her head and closed my eyes. “It feels like grief sex—sympathy sex.”

She shook her head with her chin still dipped toward her chest. I wondered if she was looking at my birthmark or my erection tenting my dress pants.

“Maybe you should save this for your real boyfriend.” Only an idiot in love with a girl who was too good for him would try to talk said girl out of having sex with him for the first time. An untimely case of the nerves left me babbling because I respected Daisy and her parents, but I also wanted to give her everything she wanted. Not having a dime to my name left very little for me to offer her, but when she asked me to take her virginity, I said yes.

Young.

Stupid.

Impulsive.

Completely in love.

She giggled and looked up at me while her hands worked on removing my belt. “My real boyfriend will want to be with a girl who knows what she’s doing. And since I suspect you’re a virgin too, I bet your real girlfriend someday will be happy that you figured stuff out with me first.”

The words that came out of her mouth were a hundred times more confident than the nervous hands trying to unfasten my pants. We were nothing more than jittery teenagers attempting to act like grownups.

“I love you.” My hands framed her face. I honestly can’t remember if that was the first time I said those three words to her. My mind had thought them a million times. But I wasn’t going to take something that I couldn’t return without her knowing that she wasn’t a conquest or a way to get rid of my virginity.

She wet her lips then bit them together, but I could still see them quivering. “I love you too.”

“We don’t have to do this,” I said as she got my belt loose and moved to the button of my pants. We had explored each other’s bodies, but never completely naked. It was easy to make out with her, slide my hands up her shirt or rub between her legs on the outside of her panties. Boundaries make it easier to relax and be in the moment, led by desire and curiosity.

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