Authors: Drew Elyse
I disappeared in the morning before Sketch woke. He’d always been a heavy sleeper, and I was glad to see that hadn’t changed. I knew we’d have to have the confrontation that was coming at some point. He thought we were getting back together. He thought we were going to be a family.
God, that sounded amazing.
But it wasn’t going to happen.
He’d fight me on that. He wasn’t just going to take no for an answer. He was going to get pissed. Eventually, we’d probably be back at him demanding a paternity test. I had no idea how I was going to deal with that. What I did know was I wasn’t prepared to deal with any of it first thing in the morning.
Roadrunner was expecting me at nine to pick up Emmy. I was out the door of the clubhouse before seven. I drove into town, picked up a few necessities, then got a cup of coffee I was less than interested in, and sat around for almost an hour pretending for whatever reason to drink it.
In all honesty, I should have used that time to figure out what to say to Sketch. I should have been making plans. Instead, I picked the avoidance method. I watched customers come in and out. I tried to guess what they would order as they approached the counter. I allowed myself to become invested in a conversation between two women at a nearby table while they discussed how one wanted to talk to her husband about having a baby. I wondered how long their friendship would last when the other friend changed the subject to how she wanted to go clubbing and find a guy for the night. They were in different places in life, and the hopeful future mom knew it. I decided I needed to call Jasmine. She was the only female friend I’d ever really had. She was also the only one who knew my whole story. Maybe she could help.
Finally, when my hundredth check of the time told me I could go get Emmy, I left.
I was distracted with trying to keep my mind occupied and missed that the bike parked in Roadrunner’s driveway wasn’t his.
The minute Roadrunner opened the front door, I heard my girl was in seventh heaven. The distinct sound of
by Fall Out Boy told me
Big Hero 6
was on. She wouldn’t listen to the song for no reason, and I imagined Roadrunner was not trying to convert her into a fan. She was probably watching Honey Lemon and imagining she had a purse that helped her fight crime.
“Mornin’,” Roadrunner greeted, leading me inside. “I’ve got pancakes on the stove. Put on that movie for her while I got them ready.”
“I’m surprised she waited until this morning.”
He grinned at me. “She didn’t. We watched it last night, too.”
That, I absolutely believed.
Then, I heard another male voice. “Fred? What kind of superhero name is Fred?”
“I don’t know,” Emmy snickered.
“At least he breathes fire,” Sketch returned.
Emmy caught sight of me. She had on princess pajamas with a matching thermal shirt and pants, and her curly hair was everywhere. Such was the curse. Curls couldn’t be slept on. It was the knowledge of all women in the club.
“Mommy!” My baby beamed up at me, but didn’t come running. This was a surprise. Apparently, she was perfectly happy to stay on the couch beside Sketch. I told myself that shouldn’t sting. I was being ridiculous.
“Hi, sunshine. How was your sleepover?”
“So-o-o amazin’! I want to sleep over with Roadrunner every day!”
Roadrunner’s voice carried in from the kitchen. “You can sleep here any time you want!”
I was starting to wonder who would be more upset when we went back home, Emmy or the guys.
“Guess what, Momma?” Emmy asked on an excited yell.
“Sketch said he’s takin’ us to the zoo!”
Sketch said what to my daughter without talking to me?
“He did?” I asked, my gaze leveled on the man in question.
He gave me an unrepentant grin in return.
“Emmy,” Roadrunner called, “your pancakes are ready.”
“Pancakes!” With her typical little-girl enthusiasm, she took off, leaving Sketch and me alone.
“So, you’re taking Emmy to the zoo?” Sketch didn’t reply, just kept grinning. “Did you think of talking to me before deciding that and telling Emmy?”
“Did you think of waking me before you snuck out of your own bed this morning?” he returned. “Or how about taking someone with you seeing as you’re here so we can protect you?”
Oops. I hadn’t really thought about the safety side of my running around this morning. Well, nothing happened. All’s well that ends well, right?
“We’re not talking about that.”
“Too bad. That conversation is far more interesting to me.”
God, he was so infuriating. How had I forgotten that?
“Well, I’m more interested in the fact that you just decided you’re taking my daughter somewhere without discussing it with me.”
Sketch got to his feet and started moving toward me. I might have been pissed, but I couldn’t deny it was a sight to behold. His tall, muscled body in battered jeans, a tight white t-shirt, and his cut. The heavily tattooed arms making him all the more intimidating. The lithe way his body moved that could make any woman think of sex, but especially me, seeing as I’d been reacquainted with his prowess the night before. It was almost enough to drive me to distraction.
“First, I’ll say it now and I expect you’ll take it to heart. You need to have someone with you when you’re out. You definitely can’t just disappear like that. That’s not anything about the issues you and I have to sort through. That’s about your safety. You came here for the club’s protection, so I think you get it’s important. I’m also thinkin’ you had shit on your mind this morning and didn’t think of it, so I’m not going to keep pushing. Just remember next time, yeah?”
I thought, but didn’t say. He was right on. I hadn’t been thinking straight and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
“Second,” he went on, “I’m not taking
somewhere without discussin’ it. I’m taking
to the zoo, and we’re discussin’ it right now,” he replied.
His words from the night before came back to me.
“You’re mine, Ash. I waited five years for you to come back to me. Now, you and Emmy—you’re mine.”
Sketch came right up to me, his hand settling on my neck. “Our girl.”
Him claiming Emmy that way shouldn’t have gotten to me. Nothing good was going to come of that. I couldn’t say it didn’t impact me, though. I’d always wanted that for her. Emmy deserved to be loved that way by a father. I just couldn’t provide that. And, despite how much I wanted him to, Sketch couldn’t either.
“You don’t know that she’s yours,” I whispered.
His eyes were determined. “Yes, I do.”
He leaned in closer to me. “I can. I know it down to my fuckin’ soul. That girl is mine.”
I had no clue what to say, but Sketch didn’t wait for me. He laid a quick kiss on my unmoving lips and went to the kitchen.
Just after he disappeared, I heard his voice. “Eat up, princess. You need your energy for the zoo.”
“Zoo!” Emmy cheered.
Right. Apparently, we were going to the zoo.
The Oregon Zoo was back in Portland, a two-hour drive. We had lived less than twenty minutes from it all of Emmy’s life, but I’d only been able to take her once. Now, with that distance so much greater, she was getting her second chance.
Emmy slept for about an hour of the drive, which was beyond awkward for Sketch and me. The other hour was spent telling Sketch how excited she was, how she couldn’t wait to get there, how she wanted to see everything, how she’d only gotten to go the one time before.
Her joy drove the pain that I hadn’t been able to provide that more often deeper. I knew Sketch noticed, and the concerned way he looked over at me told me he wasn’t judging me for it. I filed that away into the ever-expanding folder of things I wasn’t going to think about.
Sketch bought our tickets, something he had laid down the law about before we’d even left. Seeing as I had no job and the funds in my account were going to dry up fast, I wasn’t exactly going to argue with him about it.
Once we were in, I unfolded the map we were given, and asked, “Where should we start?”
Sketch, who had been carrying Emmy on his shoulders since we got out of the car, patted her thighs. “Princess, what’s your favorite animal?”
“Which way to the otters?” he asked me.
“They have two types. We’ll go left up here first,” I instructed.
“Which otters come first, Momma?”
“River otters, sweetheart.”
Emmy proceeded to tell Sketch everything she knew about the difference between sea and river otters. This was really just that river otters were smaller and “not as fluffy”. Still, she explained this distinction like it was the height of scientific knowledge.
We walked through the crowds, looking like many of the families wandering about in some ways. Mom, dad, child, just a normal family outing to the zoo—except the picture wasn’t necessarily ordinary. Emmy in her pink windbreaker—there was still a bit of a chill in the spring air—was the quintessential three-almost-four-year-old in her exuberance. Sketch was anything but the typical dad. The Disciples’ logo on his back, the tattoos on every visible bit of skin aside from his face, and the way they contrasted with the innocent girl on his shoulders, were garnering him a lot of looks. Some were merely curious, some appreciative, and others openly wary or judgmental.
I hated that. Growing up with the club, I’d experienced it plenty. People used to judge my dad for the way he looked. Dad was not completely covered in ink the way Sketch was, but he’d had more than a few. His arms were clearly inked, even from a distance, and he always wore his cut.
People were writing a narrative in their head of a dangerous man, a man unfit to raise a little girl. They were probably wondering what I was doing with him, if he treated me well. They were likely even casting their judgments my way for making a family with such a man. They had no idea Sketch was one of the most caring people I’d ever known. They didn’t know he was an artist. They had no idea he was sweet enough to plan the trip to the zoo for Emmy.
They had no idea we weren’t a real family, and that was in no way Sketch’s fault.
We came upon a little children’s play area between two exhibits and Emmy begged to be set loose. She took off while Sketch and I stood a bit away with the stroller we’d rented for the day.
“Don’t let them get to you,” he said. He read the question on my face. “The assholes who keep looking at us. I know it’s bothering you. Just ignore them.”
He seemed very nonchalant about the whole thing. “It doesn’t bother you?”
He turned to me and I saw the irritation he was containing. “Of course it does. I hate that they’re judging you, judging Emmy, who’s just a child, because of the way I look. But do I care if they judge me? Not a fucking bit. I got these tattoos knowing I would face this shit. I don’t give a fuck what they think of me.”
Of course he didn’t. He’d never been bothered by what people thought of him unless the person mattered. “I envy that.”
His arm went around my shoulders and settled me into his side. He lightly kissed my head. “I know.”
He did. I’d envied that about him most of our lives. He learned just how much after he discovered Tori and her group of friends had been bullying me for years.
“You just have to ignore it,” he went on. “We’re here to have a good day with Emmy. Don’t let narrow-minded assholes ruin it.”
I stood there for a few moments, until it occurred to me that he was still holding me. It felt so right, so natural to be there. For years, I was rarely near him and not touching him, but I wasn’t doing him or myself any favors by falling back into old habits.
Before I could even step away, his grip tightened.
I looked up to see his stony face focused on Emmy.
He looked down at me, his expression not fading. “No pulling away.”
“Felt you tense.”
Sketch sighed, then shifted to wrap his other arm around me until I was held tightly with my back against his front.
“Give me today. You wanna fight me, fine. I’ll fight for you both if I have to, but just give me today. One day with you and Emmy, okay?”
How could I say no?