Theodore leaned back against the front door, letting out a heavy breath. Tonight wasn’t a date, not in the slightest, but his sudden onslaught of nervousness made him feel like it was. He hated that feeling. Theodore had no real plans to start dating again anytime soon. He had more than enough to deal with from his last relationship first.
Theodore’s eyes snapped open. He tilted his head down to meet his daughter’s eyes. “Hey, baby girl.”
“Hi.” She tilted her head to the side. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, of course. I’m fine sweetheart. Went out for a little bit of air, is all. And then I needed a little break.”
“Are you in pain?”
“Not anymore. I just needed a break from the cane for a moment.”
Theodore cleared his throat. “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”
“Anything sound good to you?”
“Umm… we can do eggs.”
“Okay, I’m good with that. Fried or scrambled?”
“If we do scrambled, can I help?” Vera asked.
Theodore smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. I’m always happy to have your help in the kitchen.”
Vera returned his smile. “Awesome.” She held out one little hand. “Come on. I’ll help you to the kitchen, Daddy.”
Theodore grabbed her hand, touching his cane to the wall as he pushed himself away from the door. “Thanks, Vera.”
“You’re welcome, Daddy.”
Gina set Theodore’s coffee on the counter before he even made it up there. “Are you going to let me pay for this one?” he asked.
“Ugh. You’re such a pain in the ass.”
Gina grinned. “You love me.”
“Some days more than others.” Theodore grabbed the coffee cup from the counter, leaning on his cane a bit heavier than before. “When are you going to let me pay for them again?”
“After you get your first paycheck.”
“Okay, I guess I can live with that”
“Great.” Gina leaned down, crossing her arms over the counter. “I was babysitting for my brother last night. Couldn’t get the baby to sleep, so I took her for a drive, ended up going past your house. There was a cop car sitting out there. I mean… just one of those unmarked Dodges, but it had the lights on top. Was everything okay?”
He let out a harsh breath. “Yeah, everything was fine. I heard a noise outside and I called the detective that I met once before after he spotted my ex after the… thing. Umm…” He cleared his throat. “He came over to check out the noise for me. It was a racoon, so now I’m getting nice and paranoid, too.”
“You have every right to be paranoid, Theo.”
“He didn’t beat me because he snuck into the house, Gina. He beat me because he’d been doing it for years, living inside my house, sleeping with me in my bed.”
“I know,” she said, her voice soft. “But where he was or how he was inside doesn’t change the fact that you have every right to be paranoid. It’s understandable why you are or… or why you were. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Well, thank you. I think.” He set the coffee cup back on the counter, leaning forward slightly. “I… I felt guilty about making him drive out there for a damn raccoon, and I felt even worse for asking him to stay, but I just… Whatever, it doesn’t matter. I gave him coffee when he left, and he asked if he could make me and Vera supper when he returned the mug.”
“What’d you say?” Gina asked.
“Yes, so long as he didn’t spend any money.”
“Does that make you nervous? Not the money thing. The supper thing. Because you look like it makes you nervous.”
“I know it’s not a date, but my mind keeps telling me it is, and it puts me on edge. It… it, like, activates my fight or flight, and I’m not much of a fighter,” Theodore said.
“Believe it or not, you’re more of a fighter than you could ever imagine. Just because you didn’t physically attack that bastard doesn’t mean you aren’t a fighter,” Gina said. Theodore offered a shrug. “Maybe you should give the detective a call and tell him you aren’t up for supper right now.”
“I can’t cancel on him. He’s been nothing but kind to me. He drove over to my house at three in the morning for a raccoon, Gina.”
“He didn’t know it was a raccoon. Neither did you.”
Theodore sighed. “Still. He’s too nice for me just tell him not to come back. I already told him we could do supper.”
“Right, but if it sets off your flight or fight response, canceling is the best option you have. If not that, you could reschedule. That’s not canceling. It’s promising it’ll happen on a different day,” Gina said.
“Maybe. But, umm, I already told Vera we’d be having supper with a detective at the house tonight. I wanted to give her time to prepare for that. She’s not as nervous for that as I am–she was pretty excited–but I can’t reschedule on her,” Theodore said. “She’s my baby girl. She needs and deserves stability.”
Gina nodded. “I could be there, if you think another person would make it… easier for you. Less nervous energy or something.”
“Would it be weird to let him know I had invited a friend?”
“Uh… I don’t know. Maybe.”
Theodore let out a breath. “I’ll make it work. Thanks for letting me talk, though, Gina,” he said.
She smiled. “That’s sorta what friends are supposed to do, Theo. But you’re welcome. You can always talk to me.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind, now that, uh, now that I don’t have anyone in my life telling me who I can and can’t talk to.”
“Yeah,” Gina whispered. “I hate that it took that… very bad beating to get you there, but I’m damn glad you aren’t chained down to that bastard anymore.”
Theodore nodded. “Me, too, Gina…. Me, too.”
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