Standing in a group with Russell and Indira, I felt ten shades of nasty still being covered in dirt and muck from filming an earlier scene for the movie we were shooting. We’d wrapped up about an hour earlier, but – as was often prone to happen – one thing led to another and I hadn’t left yet.
I needed a shower like a barefoot Pam needed a new pair of shoes, but – unlike Pam in a high end shoe store – Russell wasn’t buying it. And after watching the dailies, with him telling us what he liked and what he thought we could improve on, I couldn’t disagree with his assessment of our performance. He had a great reputation in the business and had directed a few indie flicks that received critical acclaim, so I was excited to be working with him and listened intently to every little thing he said.
I twitched a little feeling my phone vibrating in my pocket, but knowing Mustapha or Alcide would let me know if there was an emergency, I ignored it and continued to listen to Russell, so I would have a better feel for what he wanted to see from me.
Another twenty minutes passed when I felt the vibrating start up again, but now that Russell was talking more to Indira than to me, I stepped away and pulled the phone from my pocket. And seeing Sookie’s name and picture on my caller ID, I smiled automatically and answered the call with, “Hello, beautiful girl.”
I had a fifty/fifty shot as to who would be on the other end, but my greeting could be for either Sookie or Lilly, so my bases were covered.
And I’d known immediately which one it was when I was greeted with a snappy, “You were supposed to be home more than an hour ago.”
Not only would their voices have given them away, but Lilly would’ve said, “Where you, Daddy?”
“I got held up at work,” I replied.
And even I could hear the ‘Duh!’ in my tone.
“You couldn’t have called? Sent a text or maybe some smoke signals?” she asked, signaling me she was more than a little pissed.
Hell, I could practically see the smoke coming from her ears.
But I didn’t let that stop me from pushing her buttons a little more by replying in a mocking tone, “Working!”
“Eric,” she simmered. “You know I have a class this afternoon. I told you I have a class this afternoon. I even programmed all of my classes into your phone. The least you could’ve done was let me know you wouldn’t be home in time, so I could find someone else to watch Lilly for an hour.”
She was right.
We both knew it.
Not that I would ever tell her that.
We both knew that too.
I’d seen the reminder when I checked the time on my phone earlier and feeling like an ass, I hoped maybe a compromise would get me back in her good graces and not-so-jokingly said, “It’s a yoga class. I’ll just bend you like a pretzel later on when Lilly goes down for her nap.”
I thought it was a good metaphor, considering how salty she sounded.
But I was married for long enough to know better than to draw any attention to her bitchitude and instead hoped to put her in a wholly different kind of mood by adopting what she’d dubbed my ‘sex voice’ and added, “I’ll even make sure you’re all sweaty by the time I’m through.”
However, my ‘sex voice’ must not have been enough to cool her down – or enough to heat her up in a different sort of way – because her outraged gasp was quickly followed by an incredulous rant of, “If you think I’m letting your pretzel rod anywhere near my dipping station after this stunt, you’re sadly mistaken.”
That thought did make me a little sad.
But I also knew she was full of shit. Our best arguments always had a climactic ending, so I smirked into the phone, knowing she couldn’t see it, and went back to using my normal tone of voice, when I asked, “Can we fuck about this later?”
I was treated to another gasp – minus the outrage – and I could tell she was trying to fight off the smile I could hear in her voice as she said, “You. Did. Not. Just…” when the beep sounded in my ear signaling the call had been dropped.
But I knew it hadn’t been dropped.
She hung up on me.
Glancing at the time – and knowing there was no way I’d make it across town and home in time for her to make it to her class – I walked back over to Russell and Indira with a smile on my face.
Because I knew Sookie’s dipping station would be nice and hot – just like the rest of her – by the time I got home.
It had been a while since we’d had angry sex and I was almost pissed at myself for not thinking to pick a fight with her sooner. But if being pissed at me wasn’t enough to get her going, it wasn’t like I couldn’t put on a little bit of eyeliner to go with my swagger and get her in the mood. And if that didn’t work, I always had my failsafe.
The white Navy dress uniform I’d kept after filming Valhalla.
It had the opposite effect of the SEAL’s motto: The only easy day was yesterday.
My wife was easy every day that I wore it.
Picking up on the second ring, I was greeted with a jovial, “Hello, beautiful girl.”
Like father, like son…
But I smiled at his greeting and informed him just as pleasantly, “Your son is an asshole.”
As a parent myself, I would want to know these things about my child.
“Aww, don’t hold that against him. Poor bastard takes after me,” he chuckled. “What did he do this time?”
I wasn’t about to go into the twisted details of his son’s pretzel twisted perverted mind, so instead I only explained, “He didn’t bother to let me know he’d be working late and I have a yoga class in thirty minutes. Would you be able to watch Lilly for an hour?”
Dad had been getting more and more work lately doing commercials. He’d even gotten a few roles as an extra on several television shows and two films, so I didn’t know if he would be busy at the moment. I never pried for any information where his career was concerned and instead waited for him to bring up whatever he was working on. And while I knew he no longer blamed Eric for his lack of success, I also knew how personally rejected an actor could feel not getting a part they wanted.
The last thing I wanted to do was rub salt in a fresh wound I didn’t even know existed.
Eric had offered to try and help him with his career – put in a good word for him here and there – but he’d refused him each and every time, saying he wanted to do it on his own.
And even though I had no real right to feel that way, I was proud of him for wanting to make his own way nonetheless.
“I’ll be there in ten,” he replied, with his own smile coming through in his voice.
And because he wasn’t an inconsiderate asshole, he was actually there in eight minutes, which was just enough time for me to get Lilly up from her nap and dressed. Hearing Pop-Pop was on his way over was just as good – if not better – than hearing Santa was on his way to get her out of bed, without her sometimes she-devil-mad-at-the-world mood she could be in if woken up early. It was also a good way to get her into her much hated clothed state because she wanted to wear her new pretty dress for him.
Pam’s shopping for Lilly hadn’t slowed down one bit over the years and she had more dresses than there were days in the week for her to wear them all before she would grow out of them. When I informed Pam of this fact, she looked at me like I’d asked her if she’d gotten her own outfit from Wal-Mart, and then she informed me all about the ins and outs of daywear versus eveningwear.
It was Pam’s way of saying, ‘Duh!’
My way of saying, ‘Duh!’ was informing Pam that Lilly’s preferred eveningwear consisted of footy pajamas.
She was a toddler for Christ’s sake.
But I’d learned early on that Pam would do what Pam wanted to do, so I didn’t bother trying to stop her anymore. And because Lilly barely had the chance to wear something more than once before she grew out of it, unless it was a favorite of hers, everything I donated looked brand new, so it was a win/win.
I’d gotten myself ready to go before waking Lilly and made sure to let Rasul know we would be leaving in a few minutes. The poor guy had been stuck schlepping me to my classes at the gym for the past couple of months. And even though it was his job to act like my shadow, when I tried to apologize to him – thinking he’d been bored to tears – he gave me his own ‘Duh’ face, while telling me he had absolutely no issues with watching a bunch of women in fitted clothes doing downward facing dog.
The pounds were slowly but surely coming off. I’d started off getting back into shape gradually at first by changing my diet and just trying to move more, after reaching my weight gain breaking point after Thanksgiving. With everything else going on with the holidays and the wedding, I waited until after Amelia and Trey had gotten back from their honeymoon to ask her how she’d lost her baby weight.
Even if Quinn didn’t work at that gym anymore, there was no way I wanted to go back there thanks to all of the bad memories it evoked.
But having a husband who was a personal trainer came in handy for her, so Amelia showed me all of the things I could do to get back into shape, even using Lilly as one of my workout tools. Lifting her with my hands, legs, or feet, I used her weight as resistance to workout with, while still being able to spend time with her. She thought it was just a fun way for Mommy to play with her, so I didn’t feel the guilt I would have had I left her with a sitter all of the times I wanted to go to the gym.
I’d dropped a little over ten pounds since Thanksgiving, but I still felt like I needed to do more. My body changed with Lilly’s birth and it didn’t seem to want to cooperate. Curves I was okay with, but I’d much prefer an hourglass shape to a barrel.
If only ‘running late’ qualified as exercise, I’d be a damn swimsuit model already.
But since it didn’t, the closest I would be was one of those sharks on Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Halftime show.
The left shark.
Yoga was still new to me and I felt uncoordinated the majority of the time, but I also felt determined to not give up.
So it was with that thought in mind, I gave Dad and Lil a quick kiss goodbye and beat feet out the door.
Seeing my father’s car in the driveway when I’d driven up, I parked in the garage and sent Sookie a text that I was home. She’d mentioned earlier that morning that she might be meeting up with Amelia after her class, but I knew she would have come straight home if she’d thought Dad was still babysitting.
I considered it Step One of my newly formed plan of Operation Get Out of the Doghouse.
But walking into the human house, I went straight into the family room hearing Lilly’s giggle and tried to remain as straight faced as I could manage, while I asked, “Is there something we need to talk about?”
But it didn’t last for long and my lips twitched on one side because I couldn’t resist immediately following up with, “Something you need to get off your chest, maybe?”
Walking into the room and seeing my father all dolled up like a drunken Dame Edna – thanks to my little girl who was busy doing her favorite Aunt Laffy proud, what with how sparkly they both were – I would’ve made a crack about confusing him with my mother. But considering who and what my mother was, it felt like too low of a blow.
Not giving a single fuck about me ribbing him, he just shook his head with a small smile and said, “I have a feeling you’re gonna be saying those lines again when your wife gets home. You should practice, but it might be a good idea to add a little more, ‘give a fuuu…dge,’ to your tone. You’re gonna need it.”
Waving him off, with my patented ‘I’m not afraid of her’ stare – that we both knew was as fake as the birth year on Pam’s ID – I scooped up my baby girl and gave her monster kisses, pretending to chomp on her cheeks to her squealing delight.
And then setting her down – and leaving a trail of glitter in her wake – she pulled me down onto the floor with them, while I asked, “You staying for dinner?”
I was getting better in the kitchen. Pop Tarts weren’t the only thing I could make anymore, but if Sookie wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, we all knew what would be on the menu.
“Nah,” he grinned and stood up, looking even creepier thanks to the crooked red lipstick lining his mouth. “Now that you’re home, I gotta date to get to.”
“Oh yeah?” I grinned in return. “Is his name Wayland Flowers?”
“Fowlers?” Lilly asked, with her eyes darting everywhere.
“Judith,” he glared – more at me than the glitter polish he was trying to pick off of his nails – but with Lilly in the room, there was only so much he could say out loud.
But I could read the ‘fuck off’ shooting from his eyes just fine.
While he disappeared into the bathroom to wash the Madame puppet from his face, Lilly returned to being suspiciously quiet, busily giving me the makeover treatment too. But it was a game that we played often.
I pretended I didn’t notice her painting my face and nails until she was done and then she laughed until she peed her pants at my put-on outrage before she would beg and plead for me to leave it on.
Which I always would.
There wasn’t much I wouldn’t do to hear that laugh.
And she must have been doing a fine job of it too, seeing the ‘payback’s a bitch’ smirk come onto my father’s now makeup free face when he came back into the room to say his goodbyes, before leaving the two of us to our own devices.
Unfortunately for me, Lilly’s current device was an eyelash curler.
“How about we play a different game?” I asked, moving my head away from her eye poking torture wand.
“We play dress up,” she bossily replied, looking a lot like her Uncle Jason thanks to the tip of her tongue poking out of her lips in concentration, but sounding a lot more like Pam.
“Can’t I dress up like a boy for once?” I whined.
I wasn’t above it.
But I’d thought my whininess must have gotten her attention until she pulled back and asked with wide gleeful eyes, “You be announceh?”
It was thanks to her that Lilly now had an appreciation for things like beauty pageants. Fashion show catwalks.
Basically any reason for her to dress up and strut her stuff.
Stifling my eye roll, I silently swore I would get back at Pam if it was the last thing I ever did.
“Wweeddddyyyy!” she called out through the crack of her bedroom door, at a decibel that could be heard on Mars.
But Sookie was always stressing that we shouldn’t give in to Lilly’s every whim – and honestly, it was so easy to wind her up that I couldn’t help myself sometimes – so I didn’t acknowledge her at first and just waited on the inevitable.
I didn’t have to wait long.
That one reached Jupiter.
I was sure of it.
I was also sure my balls would never be heard from again, now that they’d hidden themselves up in my torso, away from the screeching child they’d had a part in making.
Maybe that was why Sookie hadn’t gotten pregnant yet?
My balls weren’t playing ball, so to speak?
We were on month number eight of trying to get her pregnant again, but each and every month she got the red ring of death.
Like an X-Box, there wasn’t much that could be done about it except to start all over again.
But hearing Lilly’s deep inhale, cluing me into the fact she was about to go ballistic all over again, I put on my best emcee voice and said into my imaginary microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen! Please bring your attention to the top of the stairs and allow me to present the one…the only…Lilly Northman!”
Appearing at the top step a second later, wearing a dress befitting a real life princess – and a tiara meant for a Disney one – Lilly faked looking shocked and she covered her mouth in disbelief, as though her imaginary surprise-debutante-Quinceanera-prom-wedding-day ball wasn’t her idea.
If I hadn’t known any better, I probably would have thought about having her audition for the countless movie and television roles out there. But as it turned out, I did know better.
I would cut off my left nut before I subjected her to that bullshit.
I could only hope that she would grow out of it before she turned eighteen and I no longer had any say in what she did. She was too young to understand what I did for a living, but it was only a matter of time. She was growing up so quick – too quickly – so I was doing my best to just enjoy every moment of her childhood.
And that was my cue that she wasn’t enjoying my slacking off on my emcee duties. So I tugged at the knotted bowtie at my neck – because wearing a tuxedo was the only proper attire for an emcee, according to Lilly – and channeled the ghost of Bert Parks as I gestured to where she was on the stairs and dramatically said, “This evening Miss Lilly is wearing a creation of the famed designer…Olaf.”
Having been forced to watch the Disney flick Frozen for…oh, I don’t know…a thousand fucking times, I didn’t think she’d balk at me pulling the snowman out of my ass and seeing her eyes light up, I knew I’d hit the mark. And I silently thanked God because I had no idea of who’d made her dress.
But I did know it had come from Pam’s shopping addiction, so I could honestly say that I didn’t want to know.
I didn’t want to know how much I’d paid for it because I was sure Pam finagled a way to bill me for it.
I blathered on for the little time it took her to reach the bottom of the stairs, talking about her growing up in the fictional Kingdom of Arendelle and her subsequent misfortune when the evil witch Pam showed up and froze everything with her cold stare.
She thought that was hilarious.
But at least when she reached the ground floor it always signaled the end of that particular game.
I wasn’t sure I could handle it if she insisted on doing the talent and swimsuit portion of the Miss America pageant.
Pulling on the end of the bowtie, so I could undo the top button of my shirt, I pulled out my phone and asked, “What do you want on your pizza?”
“Fiiiisshh!” she squealed, leaving behind a small glitter cloud when she streaked into the family room.
But knowing she in no way meant anchovies, I followed behind her and said, “We can play until the pizza gets here, but then you have to eat dinner and take a bath.”
“Okay,” she grinned, now sitting up on her knees in one of the chairs surrounding the poker table.
Or, as Sookie still called it, The Precious.
She was just jealous.
Twenty minutes later, Lilly had a pretzel stick dangling out of the side of her mouth, like a Rold Gold Cohiba, and eyed me with a victorious expression, saying, “Go fish.”
But before I took another card, I ended up taking a good look at the two of us.
I’d taken off the tuxedo jacket and had my sleeves rolled up, with the tie still dangling around my neck. Lilly’s tiara was barely hanging onto the top of her head and her face looked like she’d gone bobbing for apples in a Crayola vat.
We were quite the pair.
But since she claimed to not have the seven card I’d requested, I did not have a pair, so I was forced to Go Fish.
“Watch me, daddy! Watch me!”
“I’m watching! I’m watching!”
Watching all of the water being sloshed out of the tub.
Lilly liked taking her bath in the tub in the master bathroom because it was big enough to fit ten of her.
Which was what made it so easy for her flop around like a fish out of water.
Which she almost was.
Out of water.
Throwing down some towels onto the floor, I just chuckled at her, watching her doing her version of the backstroke, but in reality she was just scooting back and forth on her back.
Once I’d cleaned the glitter, makeup, and pizza sauce off of her body, she’d started her nightly aquatics routine. The scooting back and forth, like a tiny torpedo, was new, but it seemed harmless enough in three inches of water.
At least until she’d sat up and I saw the rat’s nest that had formed on the back of her head.
Trying to keep my panic internal, I pulled the stopper to let the water drain out of the tub and said, “Time to get out.”
But how in the hell I would be able to get that knot out of hair without cutting it off was still lost on me. Sookie was the girl hair expert. I could push a headband onto her head. Clasp a barrette or do a sloppy looking ponytail, but that knot looked like the things that trapped my beloved whales out in the ocean.
For a second I thought about calling Sookie, but stopped myself. She was Lilly’s primary caregiver, but I was her father for Christ’s sake.
I should be able to handle knotted hair.
I hadn’t planned on being out so late with Amelia, but when I’d texted Eric earlier, he hadn’t replied back, so I figured he and Lilly were doing their daddy/daughter thing.
And seeing the pizza box on the kitchen counter, I knew I was right.
Bubba greeted me when I walked into the house and seeing the glitter in his fur, I had a good idea of what I would be cleaning up in the morning. But for now I was tired and probably smelled like sweaty ass, so all I wanted to do was take a shower and fall into bed.
But walking into the bedroom, the first thing to catch my eye was what awaited me on the other side of the bathroom door. Wet towels covered the floor, but before I could get pissed my eyes swung back towards the bed and any rising anger I’d felt evaporated just as quickly.
Eric and Lilly were cuddled up asleep on the bed. Her face was a little puffy like she’d been crying, but seeing the comb stuck in the knot on the back of her head, I had a pretty good idea why.
She was in her favorite PJ’s, which I knew had been in the hamper, so Eric must have been desperate to make up for whatever torture he’d put her through. But he hadn’t come out of it unscathed either.
With a plastic tiara stuck on the top of his head and a Lilly makeup masterpiece on his face, I couldn’t help but smile at the lengths he would go to for her.
But the tuxedo he was wearing was a little over the top, even if I was the only one who would ever know how glamorous his life really was.