A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.4Debbie Macomber
His gaze jerked toward me and then down at my hand on his arm as if my touch had burned him. I dropped my hand and stepped back.
“Do you realize how awful it would be for me if one of my friends found out my father went shopping with me?”
His gaze reverted back to Kaylene. “I don’t care what your friends think. If you want to go to that dance, then…”
“Rocco,” I said again, louder than before. This time I placed my hand in the middle of his chest before he turned to look at me.
“What?” he snapped, diverting his eyes away from his daughter.
“Do you trust me to find an appropriate dress for your daughter?” I asked, because if he didn’t, he shouldn’t have asked for my help. Otherwise, all I’d be doing was mediating between father and daughter.
He didn’t answer.
“Do you?” I asked forcefully.
“I guess.” His lack of confidence was almost comical.
“Leave,” I said.
At first I thought he was going to make a fuss, but then he snapped his mouth closed and slowly nodded. “How long do you think this will take?”
“Give us a couple of hours.”
He glanced at his watch. “Okay, fine,” he said, none too graciously. “I’ll meet you back here at six-thirty.”
I checked my own watch. “We’ll call if we’re going to be any later than that.”
“Later? You might need more than two hours?” He all but rolled his eyes as if he thought I was being ridiculous.
I gently patted his forearm. “These matters take time. Relax, Kaylene’s in good hands.”
Rocco plowed his fingers through his hair as if he was second-guessing his decision to ask for my help. I gestured with my head for Kaylene to follow me. We’d gone only a few steps when she whispered a heartfelt “Thanks.”
“No problem. I would have hated it if my father went shopping with me.”
“He wants me to dress like someone’s grandmother.”
I remember thinking the same thing when I was her age, only it’d been my mother. It took me a moment to recall my conversation with Rocco over coffee when he’d dropped off my cell and asked for my help.
“Where would you like to start?” I asked.
“I get to choose?” Kaylene sounded surprised. “You’re not going to drag me into any of those old-lady stores?”
I hated to think of which stores she considered “old lady” stores. I probably should have asked, but I was afraid she might mention the very department stores I frequented.
For the next hour and a half we flitted from one dressing room to another until we found an outfit we both felt was perfect. I was confident it would make Rocco happy, and Kaylene looked lovely in it. To sweeten the deal, the dress was on sale, marked down fifty percent. That gave us enough left over in the budget to find matching shoes.
“We have one more stop,” I said, glancing at my watch, noticing it was six-twenty-five.
“Dad doesn’t like to wait.”
“Tough. This is important.”
Kaylene looked confused. “I thought we had everything.”
“We’re going to Victoria’s Secret.”
Surprise showed on her face, followed by a huge smile. “Are you going to tell my dad?”
I shrugged. “Why should I? You can if you want. He gave us a budget and we stayed within that amount. The proper underwear is all part of the outfit.”
“Let’s go,” she said, giggling like the schoolgirl she was.
“Give me your phone and I’ll text your father and tell him to give us an extra fifteen.” She handed it to me and I did a quick text. When I finished, I found Kaylene inside the store, sorting through bras, searching out ones that were far too big for her. I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.
“A girl can dream, can’t she?”
We both laughed. We hadn’t gotten off to a great start. Kaylene resented the fact that I’d been asked to help. I can’t say I blamed her. When we first started shopping, she didn’t want me picking out the dresses. I gave her free rein, letting her make her own selections. I could quickly see that her father had a point.
My chance came while she was in the dressing room. I removed the rejects and brought in fresh outfits I felt were a good compromise. Once she saw that my choices were relatively close to her own, the first barrier went down. She quickly lost the attitude, and for the rest of the time it’d been fun.
With a bit of power shopping, we found what we needed at Victoria’s Secret: lace panties and a matching bra. Kaylene had to add a few dollars of her own money, but she did so willingly. We buried the recognizable bag in the one for the shoes and then rushed to the meeting spot. At that we were still five minutes late.
Rocco was there, pacing impatiently when we strolled up to him.
“So,” he said, looking between Kaylene and me. “How’d it go?”
“We found a compromise dress,” I said, not wanting to appear overly pleased. Kaylene had her pride and I was determined not to stomp over it.
“Nichole did a good job, Dad. I wouldn’t mind shopping with her again.”
Now, that was high praise.
Rocco caught my eye and arched his brows. “I have the final say.”
I cocked my head to one side and eyed him steadily, as if to remind him he had put his trust in me and needed to keep it there.
Rocco must have read me, because he quickly changed the subject. “I bet you’re hungry.”
“Starving,” Kaylene said. “Are you going to treat us to dinner?”
Rocco looked to me. “Care to join us?”
I hesitated. The offer was tempting, but I’d left Owen with Leanne and I hated to take advantage of her.
“Come with us,” Kaylene said, her eyes wide and appealing.
“Let me make a call first.” I felt guilty even asking, but Leanne was fine with keeping Owen.
“Go. Enjoy,” my mother-in-law insisted. “Owen and I will cook together. He loves helping me in the kitchen, you know.”
I did. My preschooler was a budding chef.
Both Kaylene and Rocco looked toward me as I disconnected. “No problem.”
Rocco let Kaylene choose and she wanted pizza. Not the best choice for me, calorie-wise, but I wasn’t going to complain. Besides, it’d been months since I’d last indulged myself with something other than frozen pizza.
We headed out in separate cars and met up at the restaurant, which was only a few blocks away. I couldn’t help wondering what Jake would think if he saw me with Rocco. No two men could be any more different.
Rocco looked as if he’d walked out of the Alaskan woods. He had the physique of a lumberjack and the tattoos of a biker. By contrast, Jake was a suave businessman who dressed like he’d stepped off the pages of GQ. The contrast had me smiling.
I met up with them at the pizza parlor. By the time I got inside, they were sitting in a booth. Within minutes we ordered. A meat lover’s pizza for Rocco and a veggie pizza for Kaylene and me to share. Rocco asked for a beer and I had a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
“Dad, one of the kids from my school is here. Give me some quarters, okay?”
Rocco dug in his pockets for spare change and gave what he had to his daughter. Within minutes Kaylene disappeared into the arcade. I felt a little weird sitting in the booth with Rocco like the two of us were on a date.
“Kaylene said it went well and that you were super-cool.”
“She’s a great kid, Rocco. You’re doing a good job with her.”
“I try. She doesn’t make it easy.”
“No teen does.”
Our drinks were delivered and I took a sip of wine. It was crisp, cold, and refreshing. I leaned back against the booth and looked down at the wine.
“She can be difficult,” Rocco said, continuing our conversation. “That girl finds the stupidest stuff to argue about. I want her to be smart and strong, but
“You’re a man, Rocco, and Kaylene’s a teenager. What do you expect? Give her time.”
“The thing is, I gave my parents hell, so I expect my daughter will do the same to me.” He drank down a third of his beer and set the mug aside. “So what’s your story?” he asked.
“I take it you’re divorced.”
I lowered my head. “Soon to be. We’ve been nitpicking over the details for the last two years. I got word on Saturday that Jake has agreed to the settlement offer. We’re ready to sign the final papers.”
“The day you backed into the ditch.”
“Yeah.” My fingers curled around the wineglass stem. “I was so sure I’d made the right decision to leave Jake. In the beginning I was strong. I mean, it hurt like crazy, but I refused to stay in a marriage when my husband’s brains and sense of honor shifted below his belt.”
“He cheated? On you? Is the man blind?”
His words were good for my ego. Rather than go through the gory details, something I preferred not to discuss, I turned the question around to him. “What about you? What’s your story?”
“It isn’t pretty,” he said, focusing on his beer. “I knocked a woman up one night when I was too drunk and horny to care about using the proper protection.”
Rocco was nothing if not blunt. “Kaylene was the result?” I asked, seeing what he meant when he said it wasn’t pretty.
“I didn’t believe the baby was mine until Kaylene was tested. It shook me up, being a father and all. It wasn’t the way I saw myself. Up until then I’d pretty much done as I wanted, but this kid was a responsibility I couldn’t ignore. Her mother wasn’t much of a mother, and so I took her as much as Tina would let me. By the time Kaylene was three, she was living with me about seventy-five percent of the time. I worked for old man Potter, and we got along good. Then Tina got herself killed in a car crash, so Kaylene came to me full-time.”
“Potter sold you the business?”
“No, I couldn’t afford it. He never had a family, so when he got cancer, I helped him as much as I could, taking him in for treatments and doctor appointments. I lived with him for a while there toward the end, caring for him. When he passed, he left the company to me. That’s the reason I never changed the name.” He took another big swallow of his beer. “Told you my life wasn’t pretty.”
I appreciated his honesty. “You’re a good father and a good person.”
He shrugged. “I try. Don’t think Kaylene will sing my praises, though. I don’t want her making the same mistakes her mother and I made.”
The server delivered the pizza, and as if she had pizza radar, Kaylene immediately appeared. I reached for my fork and knife, and spread the paper napkin on my lap. Rocco held a thick slice dripping with cheese halfway to his mouth and then he paused. He set the slice down and stared at me aghast. “You don’t eat pizza with your hands?”
I hadn’t realized using a fork would make him uncomfortable. “Not generally, but I can, if it bothers you,” I said, and set the utensils aside. Reaching inside my purse, I pulled out a small bottle of hand sanitizer and gave it a little squirt, then rubbed the liquid into my hands. When I finished I took a slice of vegetarian pizza.
“Do what makes you most comfortable,” he said.
“Okay.” I reached for my fork and knife. It was the way I always ate my pizza.
Rocco grinned and I had to say his whole face brightened. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as classy as you, Nichole.”
I smiled back at him. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I meant it as one.”
I ate two slices of pizza and it tasted like heaven. Rocco consumed his entire pie.
Kaylene was up and down for most of the meal and complained when it was time to go.
Rocco walked me to where I’d parked my car and leaned over the top of the door after I slid inside. “Thanks for everything.”
“Any time,” I said, and to my surprise I meant it. I liked Rocco and I liked Kaylene.
Rocco stepped back, and I was prepared to close the door when he said, “If you don’t mind me saying so, I think your husband is an idiot.”
I smiled, soaking in the balm of his words. “I don’t mind in the least.” The truth was, I agreed with him. Jake and I could have had a good life together.
“Come golf with me,” Kacey Woodward, my best friend, encouraged me.
“I can’t,” I told her, pressing the phone to my ear as I wiped down the kitchen countertops. Owen and I had enjoyed our evening together, but we’d made a mess.
“Why not?” Kacey pressed.
“Golf and the country club aren’t part of my life anymore.” I’d gladly given that up. Sean was the one who yearned for the country-club life. That had never been me. Rule number two applied. New friends. For the most part, I avoided the women I’d once considered friends except for Kacey. We’d been close, and she knew me better than just about anyone.
“You aren’t afraid of running into Sean, are you? That man is such a sleaze. I don’t know how you stayed married to him all those years.”
Kacey had never been a fan of Sean’s, which may have been the very reason she’d remained my best friend. I’d never know how many women at the club Sean had slept with, and frankly I preferred it that way. The one woman I trusted not to fall under my ex-husband’s charismatic spell was Kacey.
“I’m teaching tonight and I need to prepare for class,” I explained.
“You’re seriously enjoying that, aren’t you?”
“I am.” More than Kacey would ever know. I loved my students’ eagerness to learn and how freely they shared during class time. They told me about their lives and how much they appreciated the opportunities available to them in America. It wasn’t unusual for them to bring me gifts to show their gratitude. Just that morning I’d made toast from the bread Nikolai had given me and it’d been delicious.
“Okay, then we’re going out to lunch,” Kacey said.
“At the club?” I’d prefer we didn’t. The women there were more Sean’s friends than mine. It would be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.
“Any place you say,” Kacey clarified.
“We can decide that later. Come into the city.”
After agreeing, Kacey hesitated, which could mean only one thing. Something else was on her mind, something she was reluctant to say over the phone. I waited, weighing if I wanted to know what she had to tell me. No doubt it was a matter involving Sean. Sensing her hesitation, I said, “I know you called about more than golf or lunch. Just tell me.” She’d be uncomfortable until she did.
“Tell you what?” she said with a hint of defensiveness.
“About Sean’s latest flavor of the month.” I knew Kacey all too well. “You aren’t going to rest until you do, so spill it.”
“Oh Leanne, that man has everyone talking. He’s got this woman living with him and I swear she can’t be a day over thirty-five. He’s parading her around the club, and I’d be shocked if her brain was any bigger than that of a hummingbird.”
I smiled because when it came to beautiful women, I was convinced Sean’s brain wasn’t much larger. But actually, when it came to cheating, he was a Mensa member with the clever lies he told.
“We’ll do lunch and you can tell me more.” We set a date and I disconnected.
I finished wiping down the counters, turned on the dishwasher, and checked the time. Nichole got a substitute-teaching job for the day and I was scheduled to pick up Owen from his preschool class at two. I didn’t have nearly as much time to dedicate to my lesson as I wanted.
The dishwasher went into the washing cycle when my phone rang. Thinking it was Kacey again, I reached for it and held it to my ear. “Now what?” I asked cheerfully.
It was Sean.
This was the first time
“How are you doing?” he asked in that caring, sincere way of his. At times he could be charming and gracious, which was what had made it so hard to leave him. His ability to be tender and loving was equal to his capacity to be deceptive and underhanded. He could rip out my heart and then be the first one to pick it up and hand it back to me.
“I’m doing well.” With effort I resisted the urge to add that he appeared to be doing all right himself. “What can I do for you?” I asked, wanting to send the message that I had no intention of wasting time on idle chitchat.
“Could we meet?” he asked.
“I need to talk to you about Jake. I’m worried about him and could use your advice.”
That he would reach out to me couldn’t have been easy. Still, I hesitated.
“It would be just the two of us. Let me take you to dinner.”
My hand moved from my throat to my forehead. “When?”
“Tonight, if you’re available.”
“I’m not.” That seemed to surprise him, and so I added, “I have class.”
“You’re taking a class. Leanne, that’s wonderful. I’m glad to hear you’re looking for ways to expand your education.”
“Actually, I’m teaching a class.” I smiled, gratified to have surprised him further.
“Oh, okay. Tonight works best for me. How about after your class, say around nine-thirty? Or is that too late?”
“No, that should work.”
He picked a popular bar not far from my apartment. If he hadn’t mentioned our son I wouldn’t have agreed. I wasn’t uneasy about meeting Sean—well, maybe on some level I was, and really, who could blame me? We shared a long history and a child. I couldn’t ignore either. I assumed when we divorced that there would naturally be some contact between us.
“See you then,” Sean said, and we disconnected.
Nikolai met me in the parking lot the same way he had on Monday evening, and true to his word, he had baked me another loaf of bread. I thanked him and he walked me into class, taking the same prominent seat he had before. Everything about him spoke of eagerness. When I told him he was my star student, I hadn’t been exaggerating.
A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes