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|Music of the Soul(Runaway Train #2.5) by Katie Ashley|
I raised my brows. “Is there a f**king difference?”
AJ snorted. “I sure as hell think so. It was out of desperation that Mia handcuffed me to that shower. She doesn’t have a spiteful bone in her body.” He gave me a pointed look. “And neither does Abby.”
Holding up his hand, AJ killed any argument I had with his next words. “Wasn’t it desperation that drove you to say the hateful things you said to try to drive Abby away when Susan was dying?”
“Yeah,” I croaked.
“Then I rest my case.”
“Would you forgive Mia if she had done the same thing?”
AJ didn’t even hesitate before replying. “Under the circumstances, yes, I would.” He then narrowed his eyes. “And then I would f**king man-up and stop denying the love of my life what she wanted most in the world.”
I gave a defeated sigh. Maybe AJ was right. Maybe I needed to be the man and husband Abby needed and give her what she wanted. Wasn’t marriage supposed to be about compromise and sacrifice? Abby had been doing a hell of lot of that, but I hadn’t gotten with the program yet. “How do you do it?”
His brows furrowed in confusion. “Do what?”
“The father thing. How do you do it now, and how did you not totally lose your shit when Mia got pregnant?”
AJ shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, sure, I freaked out when I found out Mia was pregnant. I couldn’t sleep for worrying how much having a baby was going to change my life. Did I really want my life to be changed? Did I really want the responsibility of some little person? But in the end, the answer was yes, I did. Maybe deep down, I always knew I wanted kids. Then at the same time, I had to put my fears on the backburner because I was fighting for Mia. I wanted a life with her and my child so much that I guess it took away some of the fear. Yeah, there were days where I’d wake up in a sweat, scared to death that I was going to fail Mia and Bella. And once Bella was born, I began worrying about her constantly. But that’s what being a father is about.”
“How do you know if you’re ever ready to be a father, though?”
AJ laughed. “Most guys never do, and even if you think you’re ready, you’re really not.” He cocked his head at me. “Why are you so scared of being a father?”
“Too many f**king reasons,” I muttered.
“Yeah, well, hit me with some of them.”
I threw up my hands. “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I seem to hurt the ones I love, so I’m afraid of something bad happening to my kid.”
“That’s not true, Jake. Bad things happen every day. You can’t help who they happen to. Susan dying of cancer wasn’t your fault. Abby getting beaten and then having the cyst, not your fault either. Your kid may have asthma or break his arm falling off of a bike, but that isn’t your fault either.”
I wrung my hands in my lap, afraid to voice to AJ my ultimate fear. Under his intense stare, I finally caved. “I’m afraid I’ll become my father. I’m afraid Abby will be so consumed by the baby that she won’t care about me the same way, and when I don’t have her undivided love and attention, I’ll look for it elsewhere.”
AJ shook his head. “Damn.”
“Yeah, pretty f**ked up, huh?”
“How did you ever get something like that in your head?”
I glanced down at the table and prepared to tell AJ something I hadn’t even told Abby. “One night after my parents divorced, my dad was drunk. Really drunk. It was one of the first nights I’d ever stayed with him at his new apartment. He and Nancy weren’t married yet. When I went to get something to eat, he cornered me in the kitchen.” I closed my eyes as the memory that had haunted me for years overcame me. “He said, ‘I know you hate me because of what I’m doing to your mom. But everything was fine between Susan and me until you came along. She always loved you more and put you first. I always came second, so I went to find someone who would put me first’.”
When I dared to look up at AJ, his eyes were wide with shock. “That’s f**king…ball-busting.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“But damn, man, he was drunk when he said those things.”
“Isn’t there a little truth behind every drunken statement we make in anger?” I countered.
“Maybe.” AJ scratched the stubble on his chin. “But for the most part, Mark isn’t a major douche. I doubt he seriously felt that way. The man was drunk, and his whole life was imploding around him.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, wishing for a bottle of Jack right about now.
“Have you ever talked to your dad about it?”
“I think you should.”
I snorted. “You think if I have some magical Dr. Phil chat with my dad, that all my fears about being a father will just go away?”
“No, but I think it’s a good place to start.” He rose out of his chair. “I’m going to go back and lie down with Mia and Bella. That’ll give you the privacy you need.”
“AJ, I don’t think this is the kind of conversation you do over the phone.”
“I agree, but I think you’ve waited too long to do it in person. Might as well do it now.”
I watched his retreating form go down the hall and into the bedroom. I warily eyed my phone on the table. With a ragged sigh, I picked it up and scrolled through my contacts. When I got to my dad’s, my thumb hovered over the send button as I debated my decision. Finally, I manned up and pressed the button.