Just Not Mine(132)

By: Rosalind James

“Helping,” he said. “I always thought I was helping. Paying the bills, being there—when I was able to. But not fronting up, not really. Somebody needed to step up.”

“And you did.”

“I’d say that Aunt Cora and I each took a half step up. That’s not fronting. Not even close. You were right. I’m not good enough, I know it, but I’m what they’ve got. So it wasn’t the game plan. So I have to readjust. Doesn’t matter. It’s what’s here. It’s what they need. It’s what I need. Because I’ve realized, in the past couple days, what if Aunt Cora had rung to say that she wanted the kids with her in the UK? What if she’d said, put them on the plane, and I’ll meet them, and I’ll love them, and you’re done? I thought about that, and I realized I’d have said no. I’d have fought to keep them. I realized—that I could love them, I guess. Both of them. That I may not be their dad, but in a way … I am, now.”

“Of course you are,” she told him, and she couldn’t believe she had ever doubted it.

“I’m the closest thing they’ve got, anyway,” he said, “and even if Aunt Cora came back, it wouldn’t matter. They need one person who puts them first. That person’s going to be me. Because that’s what’s in front of me, and because that’s what I want. To take care of my family.”

“I know it’s going to be hard, though,” she said, “half the time away.”

“The other boys do it. I can find out how. There must be a way. A nanny, or whatever. But also—give them what they’ve been missing. A brother who’s willing to step up and be a dad. Whatever that means, and however rubbish I am at it at first. I can get better, and that’s what I mean to do.”

He looked at her again. “And you know the other thing I realized, all this time I’ve been thinking?”

“No,” she said, and her heart was pounding now. “What?”

“I realized that I want you, too. That if this isn’t what loving someone is, I can’t imagine what more it’d be, because what it is—it’s knowing that I’d do anything I could to keep you from hurting, but if you are, I want to be there to soften the blow. I want to know that I’m there for you, and I want you to know it too. I need you to trust that if you need me to come pick you up because it’s raining, I’ll do it, no matter what, no matter how angry you are with me, no matter how angry you think I am with you. And if that isn’t love,” he repeated, “I guess it’s close enough for me. I hope it’s close enough for you.”

“I can’t …” Her chest was tighter than ever, the tears pricking behind her eyelids, and she couldn’t have kept from showing him how she felt if the most important role of her life had been riding on it. “I can’t have children,” she managed to say.

“That’s all right,” he said, and he was smiling. “I’ve already got children.”

“Your own children,” she insisted.

“You told me,” he said, “that children were yours when you cared for them, and when you loved them. I reckon you were right.”

“So you don’t want … babies?”

“Maybe I do,” he said. “Maybe I do, if you do. But aren’t there other ways to have babies?”

“You’d do that?”

“Don’t you know by now,” he asked her, “that I’d do just about anything for you?”

“You may change your mind, though,” she said, wanting so much to believe him, wishing so much that she dared to trust that he meant it. “It happens. It’s what happened with Derek. You can say it doesn’t matter, but you may get older, and in the end, it will.”

He sat a minute, thinking, and she waited, hardly managing to breathe. She waited, because his answer mattered. His honest answer.

“You said once,” he told her at last, “that you weren’t planning on moving. That the two of us weren’t likely to live in domestic bliss next door to each other, forever and ever.”