The cold air bit my cheeks. I wasn’t used to the frigid weather. There was a reason I preferred the west coast over the east. Even if East LA wasn’t directly on the beach, the weather was certainly warmer than New York. It was 11:00 PM, and I was standing outside the three-storey walk-up where Lydia’s mom lived. Lydia’s stepfather had money. When Lydia’s mom married Barry, Lydia butted heads with him frequently.
Eventually, she refused to live under the same roof as him. So she moved as far away as possible, choosing to move in with her father in LA to finish her senior year in the warm weather of the west coast. She didn’t go back to New York often, at least not in the time I knew her. I looked up at the dark building, my finger poised over the call-back button. I had been standing outside for the last half an hour, waiting for Lydia to pick up and come out. She thought ignoring me would send me away, but I wasn’t turning back now.
“Lydia!” I called up at the building. “Pick up before I bang on the door.” That was going to be her one warning. A light on the second floor turned on, and a minute later, Lydia came out, wrapping her jacket around her shoulders.
“Derrick, this is not acceptable!” she said, annoyed.
“This is unacceptable?” I walked towards her. Anger boiled in my veins. “THIS?” I screamed.
“Would you keep your voice down?”
“Are you freaking kidding me right now? You disappeared, won’t answer my calls, and took the children across the country. You’ve moved in with your parents, whom you despise and apparently have been having an affair for the last year, and you think me calling you at 11:00 PM is unacceptable? That’s rich Lydia.”
“This could have waited until morning. I am not letting you see the children right now.”
“I wasn’t asking.” My eyes turned into tiny slits. I could no longer feel the cold. All the blood had rushed to my face.
“No, Derrick. It’s out of the question.”
I took a step forward, attempting to push past her, when a hand on my shoulder stopped me. Lydia stood frozen in place. I looked over to see the man from the ice-skating rink. I think he said his name was Todd.
“I wouldn’t do that.” His hand gripped tight before I shook it off.
“Don’t touch me again,” I spat. Todd moved to stand beside Lydia. The sight of him should have made me cringe. I could lay him out with one punch, but I didn’t want to. I wasn’t here for a fight. All I wanted were my children. “I just want to see Charlie and Miles, Lydia.”
“It’s late. Perhaps tomorrow would be better?” Todd said, raising a brow at Lydia.
I couldn’t help but jerk my chin in Todd’s direction. “I wasn’t asking you, and they’re my children.”
Lydia turned to face Todd, gently placing a hand on his chest; she nodded to him like they were having some silent conversation between lovers. I braced for the sting in my chest, but it never came. Perhaps Lydia was never the love of my life. But if she wasn’t who my heart desired, then who was? The woman from my dreams popped into my head. Her long black hair framed her beautiful face, the curves of her body snug in her fabulous red dress. My heart hammered in my chest. Focus. I looked to Lydia, who looked to be reassuring Todd of something. She slid her hand into his. The blatant, philandering whore.
“Derrick. I have been meaning to tell you something.”
I eyed Todd suspiciously. “I think I’ve figured out your little secret.” I couldn’t even try hiding the sarcasm from my voice.
“Well, just over a year ago.” She nervously pulled at a string that had unravelled from her jacket. “After the reunion, Todd and I…” She struggled to speak. “Me and Todd, we had a date.”
I crossed my arms one over the other and leaned back on my heels. I didn’t want to hear the details of their affair. I may not be in love with Lydia anymore, but I didn’t want to hear about how she had fallen in love with someone else. I shook my head and started to speak, but Lydia cut me off.
“One thing led to another, and we slept together.”
“Lydia, I don’t need to hear this.”
She looked up to Todd, and he squeezed her hand tight. “Yes, you do.”
“Miles isn’t yours,” she blurted.
Lydia’s mouth was moving, but all noise ceased to exist. I felt the ground move out from underneath me as my legs wobbled and I fell backwards. Todd stepped away from Lydia with his arms stretched out to prevent me from falling. I scrambled to get a hold of myself and grabbed hold of Todd’s hand before he could connect with me. Rage pulsed through me as I pushed Todd’s hand back into an unimaginable angle, willing it to break. A dull ringing sound replaced the silence. Lydia began pounding on my back, her shrill cries breaking through the ringing.
“Derrick! Derrick, let go of him!”
I ignored her and twisted Todd’s arm back behind him, never mind his wrist. I was going to break his arm. My body shook violently. I was clenching my jaw so hard I thought I would grind my teeth into dust. How could she? She slept with another man and had his child! She lied to me for an entire year. She let me believe Miles was mine all to cover up her affair. I wanted to smash Todd’s face into the ground, but that wouldn’t solve a thing. A guttural noise erupted from me as I struggled with my emotions and what I wanted to do to them both physically. I tore myself away from Todd and walked five feet away, gasping for air.
“Are you crazy?!” Lydia screamed.
“What’s going on out here? Derrick, don’t you think you’ve caused her enough heartbreak?” Barry stepped out the door and onto the stair.
“Go back inside,” Lydia snapped.
I gave a sharp look at Barry. He clearly had no clue what kind of whore his step-daughter was. I continued to pace back and forth, my hands on my hips. I didn’t want to go anywhere near them for fear I wouldn’t be able to control myself again. Todd was gasping for breath and sitting on the first step. Lydia hovered over him, rubbing his shoulder as if he was an injured bird. Give me a break.
“Derrick, do I need to call the police to have you removed?” Barry ignored Lydia’s pleas.
I shot a dirty look at her. “Do you want to tell your stepfather, or should I?”
Lydia looked scared. “Barry, please, go inside.”
I smirked. Of course, she wouldn’t want her perfect reputation tarnished. She couldn’t have Mummy Dearest and Daddy Warbucks knowing what she had been up to. Barry looked at me, then back to Lydia and Todd. “I’ll be just inside, watching,” he said, giving me a pointed look.
I gave a flick of my wrist, waving him off. I let out a huff of breath. “Go.”
Barry retreated inside. I could see Lydia’s mom standing in the hallway just beyond him, her hair in curlers; she looked a fright. I wondered if we had woken up the children. I didn’t want to upset them. They had already been through enough, their mother ripping them from the only home they had ever known. God only knows what kind of lies she’d fed to them. The twins would believe anything their mom told them. They already had one father who was a deadbeat; what’s one more? My chest ached at the thought of Charlie being told I didn’t love her. If I stayed, I would only make my chances worse for seeing her tomorrow. I circled back, standing in front of them. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the two of them. I looked up at the sky and then to the ground.
“I will be back tomorrow for Charlie.”
“She has preschool tomorrow,” Lydia said quietly.
My jaw clenched. “I don’t care,” I brought my cold stare up to meet her eyes. “I need to know that you haven’t filled her head with crap.”
Lydia went to protest, but it was my turn to cut her off. “She needs to know that she has one responsible parent in her life, and it certainly isn’t the cheating trash I see in front of me.”
The next minute went by in a blur. Todd apparently had had enough. He jumped from his spot on the first stoop, arms swinging. He clocked me pretty good, cutting my lip in the process. But that was the only connection he made. I had him on the ground in seconds, pummeling him until my fists were a bloody mess. I’m not sure when Barry came out to pull me off of him. I only remembered Barry telling me the cops had been called, and if I weren’t gone in five minutes, they would be hauling me downtown. I was about to lose my only chance at getting my daughter back. I laughed and stumbled away down the street.
“I’ll pick Charlie up from preschool, and she had better be there. Don’t get any funny ideas!” I yelled.
I walked up to Sunnybrook preschool the following day without even calling Lydia. I knew Charlie would be here. The police hadn’t come looking for me, so I figured she was able to calm her stepfather and her lover down. Maybe I’d get off without any charges being laid. I was up most of the night; my nerves were too shot to relax. I had put a pack of ice on my face, hoping to prevent a fat lip, but I had no such luck. I wondered what kind of shape Todd was in this morning. The very thought made me chuckle. I still couldn’t believe Lydia had slept with him. Furthermore, Miles wasn’t mine. But the more I had thought about it, the more everything made sense, and if I was honest with myself, I never had the connection with Miles that I had with Charlie. Charlie. My bright golden star. I just wanted my daughter. I smiled, looking up at the school as I walked into the schoolyard. It must be lunchtime. The kids were scattered everywhere. I tried looking for her curly blonde head.
“Excuse me, but can I help you?”
A soft, warm voice came from behind me. I turned around and was stunned. I was at a complete loss for words. The gorgeous woman from my dreams was standing in front of me. Only it wasn’t her. This woman had long blonde hair, but there was no mistaking those eyes. I could never forget those eyes.
She smiles while folding her hands in front of her. “Are you lost? Looking for someone? I know the new school layout has a lot of parents confused.”
I tried my darndest to stop staring, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t go away. My brow furrowed, and I felt like I had lost all control of my motor functions. “I…I was just looking for my daughter. Charlie, I mean Charlotte.” I gave my head a shake and looked around the playground. But it was one of those glances where you’re not really looking. I was too distracted. My eyes go back to the lady in front of me. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
She snickered. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I swore she was giving me a familiar look as if she had the same feeling. Her eyes traveled down my body to my hands, where she spotted my wedding band. Damn. I looked down at my hand. With all that had taken place in the last 12 hours, I had forgotten to take my ring off. Was it just me, or did she seem disappointed? It’s definitely just me.
“No, I don’t think so, but I feel like I know you from somewhere. Do you and your wife attend the PTA meetings? Maybe there?”
“Uhh, no, definitely not. My wife, a soon-to-be ex-wife, basically kidnapped my kids and moved them here. Charlie is new here. I’ve come to take her home.” I scratched my head in confusion. I was so drawn to her; there was no mistaking it. And yet, I couldn’t place it. “But, I swear, I’ve seen you before… Maybe in another life?” I chuckled nervously.
She smiled softly. “Yeah.”
The bell rang, jarring both of us out of our haze of confusion.
“That’s the bell. I need to get my kids. Have a great day Mr…..” Her voice trailed off.
I reached forward to shake her hand. “Derrick, Derrick Horton.”
I couldn’t explain it, but when our hands touched, something electrifying happened, and when she pulled her hand away, my hand felt emptier than ever. A lump formed in my throat that I didn’t understand. “It was nice meeting you, Miss…?”
Her brow furrowed. “I…I don’t remember.” She gave her head a shake. “I have to go… My kids are waiting.”
That same minute, Charlie ran into my arms, excited to see me. “Daddy! You came!”
I watched the beautiful teacher walk away, not knowing if I’d ever see her again and feeling completely lost. That night, even though Charlie was snuggled into my side and all was right in the world, something wasn’t sitting right with me. Charlie looked up at me with a sheepish look. “Daddy, I’m happy you decided to stay here.” She let out a giant yawn and blinked her tired eyes.
I rubbed her head. “Of course, peanut, I couldn’t stay away from you.”
“I love you, Daddy, even if it isn’t all real.” And with that, she scooted her butt down and fell asleep. I gave her a funny look. What did she mean? What’s not real? I squeezed her tight and kissed her forehead. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
I was standing in the middle of a warehouse decorated with lights and sashes, big curtains of silk wrapped around poles and draped loosely to the ground. High cocktail tables were scattered everywhere. Men walked around with plates of hors-d’oeuvres and glasses filled with a red liquid I didn’t recognize. Where in the world was I? I stepped further into the warehouse, a group of people had their backs to me, but for some reason, I knew who they were without seeing a single face. I immediately felt anxious, and the need to get out of there was intense. But I couldn’t leave without her. Where was she? I searched around for her long blonde hair, but wait, the woman I loved had black hair and mesmerizing eyes.
The crowd of people parted, and I watched myself across the room. I was having an out-of-body experience. No, no, I couldn’t be over there if I was here. What was going on? I tried screaming, but nothing came out. And then there she was, she entered the room and walked right by me, her arm brushing against mine.
I reached out to her, that electrifying feeling passed between us. My hand sifted through hers, not touching like we were two ghosts passing one another. Something terrible was about to happen, and I couldn’t stop it. I watched as the glass mirrors dropped from the ceiling. I stepped forward, trying to tear everyone away from their mirrors. I called out to them, screaming and pulling on their arms. I went to her and begged her to leave with me. I watched helplessly as, one by one, my friends and family disappeared through the mirrors. I watched as the love of my life vanished before my eyes.
“Atë!” A strangled cry finally escaped my lips. But it was too late.
I woke on the floor of the warehouse with a start. Had it all been a dream? What the hell happened? I looked down, and Charlie was no longer beside me. It wasn’t real. Immediately, I searched for Atë.