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|Music of the Soul(Runaway Train #2.5) by Katie Ashley|
Her dark ponytail bobbed up and down as she nodded. Leaning over, her tiny hands came to my cheeks. Her fingers gripped my flesh before she pushed my face up. “Smile, Unca Jake.”
I laughed through my smushed cheeks. “Okay, okay. I’ll smile instead.”
A pleased little grin spread on her face. Grabbing a piece of paper off the table, she waved it at me. “I dwawed u a picture.”
As I stared down at the scratchy, multicolored drawing, I knew better than to make any assumptions about what was on there. I’d made that mistake when Jude was little and caused him to burst out crying when I suggested the drawing of me was a dog. “So tell me about the picture,” I urged.
Her little finger stretched out to one of the stick figure/semi blobs. “Dat’s u and Dat’s Aunt Abby.”
“I see. Oh, you did a really good job.” She had managed to give the Abby blob yellow hair and mine brown. My eyes honed in on the yellow and brown blob beside us. “Is that…Angel?”
She giggled. “No.”
“Oh, is it your kitty, Jack Sparrow?” At the mention of his name, the one-eyed Siamese cat lifted his head from his perch over the table and eyed me contemptuously.
“It’s u baby,” she said, as if it was the most obvious choice in the whole-wide world.
I sucked in a harsh breath. After today, Bella’s comment was like a double roundhouse kick straight to the groin. “But I don’t have a baby, sweetheart.”
“But u will. Evewy night before I go to sleep when I say my pwayers, Mommy and I pway for you and Aunt Abby’s baby.”
I cut my eyes from the drawing to stare at Mia. An unapologetic smile appeared on her face before she quickly looked at Bella. “Come on, pumpkin. It’s time for your nap.”
“No,” Bella protested, burrowing down in my lap. Her fingers twisted into the material of my T-shirt as if I was her lifeline to keep her out of naptime hell.
AJ crossed his arms over his chest, looking seriously parental. “You know the rules, mi amor. If you don’t take a nap, you don’t get to see me at the show tonight.”
Bella squirmed in my lap. She, along with Jude and Melody, loved nothing more than to put on their noise-blocking headphones and stay backstage, watching us perform until their bedtime. Leaning over, I whispered into her ear. “Go on and take your nap. I’ll need to see you at the show so you can make me smile,” I urged.
“Okay,” she said. Before she hopped down, she gave me a smacking kiss on the cheek. “‘Mon, Jack,” she instructed. Although the cat hated me and AJ with a passion, he had a special love and patience for Bella. He rose up and stretched before hopping down. Once Jack Sparrow was at her side, she put her tiny hand in Mia’s and started down the hallway to the bedroom. Glancing at me over her shoulder, she said, “Love u, Unca Jake.”
“Love you too, princess.”
Once the door was shut behind them, I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. As AJ eased into a seat across from me at the table, I gave him a shaky smile. “Your daughter is far too smart for her own good.”
He laughed. “Tell me about it. It’s like she’s two and a half going on twenty-two.”
An uncomfortable silence then passed between us. I could hear Mia reading Bella a story. Finally, I cleared my throat. “So Abby was pretty upset when I left, huh?”
AJ grimaced. “I’d say emotionally obliterated.”
My chest ached at the prospect, and I sighed raggedly. “She f**king blindsided me, man. To find out she’s been lying to me these past few months. That she ended up doing what I feared the most—what she swore she would never do.” Gritting my teeth, I shook my head. “How can I ever trust her again?”
“Look man, I know that it all seems pretty desperate right now. But you have to sit back and think for a minute. Abby has stood beside you through some pretty heinous shit—times when you were hard to love and did things that she didn’t understand or maybe approve of. But she stayed right by your side, man.”
“I never openly deceived her like this,” I protested.
“Would you just take a second to think about it from her perspective? She goes through a pretty horrible surgery, she’s worried to death about having a baby, something you know she wants more than anything in the world, so what does she do? She cracks and does something that goes completely against her character.”
I stared down at Bella’s drawing, taking in AJ’s words. “I’m not saying what she did wasn’t wrong, Jake. It’s a hard pill to swallow when anyone lies to you. But at the same time, you have to look at the bigger picture. She wasn’t cheating on you or stealing money from you. She wanted a baby—something she said you gave her hope for after her surgery.”
“I wasn’t thinking straight that night. I didn’t want to hurt her after her surgery, so I lied.”
AJ’s brows rose up. “Oh, so it’s okay for you to lie, but it’s not for her?”
“Fuck,” I muttered, rubbing my hand over my face.
“You have to talk to Abby. I know she’s sorry for what she did. She loves you so much that she would never, ever do something to hurt you.”
“But she did.”
“You lied to save your own skin. She lied because she was so incredibly scared. When she did, it wasn’t out of spite, but desperation.”