Over the next several days Celia had an ongoing debate with herself on how unreasonable Ian was being for insisting she prove herself to him. Shouldn’t he just accept her for who she was? Why should she have to change? Yawning she rubbed her aching feet. She hated waitressing at the diner. Having to play nice to people and their endless complaints about the food and service. Smiling at sleazy old men as they pawed at her. The tips were lousy but it paid the bills….barely.
With the tips she made she was able to catch up on what she owed on rent. Without that looming over her head she was able to breathe easier. She could do this. She could support herself and the baby. Did she really need Ian in her life?
Ian didn’t know what he expected but whatever it was this wasn’t it. Neither Beth or Celia had come to the house and neither had called. The silence from Beth didn’t bother him half as much as Celia’s. He had let himself believe, to hope she still had feelings for him. Why else would she have come to the hospital? Should he call her? Taking his phone out his fingers hovering over the key that would call her. Sighing he laid his phone aside as if it had scalded his fingers. He had offered her a way back. He had opened the door back into his heart. He was such a fool! At least he hadn’t been stupid enough to let her completely in. Katrina was still safe even if his heart was broken.
Beth was another story. She was older than him by at least four years. She had openly stated she wasn’t interested in him. Yet she never missed an opportunity to flirt. The way she was acting was more like a jealous girlfriend. They hadn’t even been on a date. He was better off without that in his life. He had already experienced what compulsive obsession could do to a person. His biggest concern was having to work with her once is suspension was over.
A plaintive cry and a high-pitched squeal from Katrina’s room announced his little girl was up from her nap. Shaking his head he wondered why he bothered putting down for naps when she often woke up in a worse mood then the one she had before the nap. “Hello sunshine,” he said upon seeing her screaming in her crib.
“Daddy,” she cried as a grin spread across her face. Lifting her arms up he couldn’t help but smile down at her. This was his little girl. His piece of sunshine. Lifting her out of the crib she snuggled into him. “luv daddy,” she kissed his neck and cheek as she wrapped her little arms around his neck.
“Daddy loves his little girl,” Ian told her comforted by her reassuring embrace feeling he at least got this right.
“Daddy down,”she pointed to the floor beginning to squirm in his arms.
Laughing he put his little ball of energy down. A noise by the door jerked him from his thoughts as he snarled at the intruder “what are you doing here?”
The ICU doctor entered the room attempting to be quiet so as not to disturb the couple dozing in the chairs beside his patients bed. He quickly checked the boys vitals making notes in his chart. Smiling as he read the numbers. definite improvement. The boy was out of the woods. He put the chart away noticing the father watching him closely. He smiled giving him a thumbs up sign and watched as the anxiety melted from his lean handsome face. Leaving the room he waited knowing the man would follow. “Mr Bennett” he said with a slight smile “your son is out of the woods.”
Sighing with relief Gene blinked back the sudden tears that popped up at the doctors statement. “When will be wake up?”
“Soon. We’re keeping him in an induced coma to help manage his pain,” the doctor explained. Gene nodded not surprised. The doctor continued “we’ll keep him under for another week and then bring him out once we transport him to the burn unit. I’m cautiously optimistic he’ll make a full recovery.” Putting a hand out he patted Gene’s shoulder “he’ll need extensive physical therapy but you’ll get you boy back.”
“Thank you doctor,” Gene looked towards his son’s room “you have no idea how good that it is to hear.”
“I did the best I could and Matt did the rest. He has a strong will to live,” the doctor told him smiling as he walked off to check on his next patient. He wished all his patients had happy endings but not all of them would.
Walking into the room Gene found Aimee anxiously watching for his return. Going to her he lifted her hand to his lips “he’s going to be alright,” he whispered. “Another week and they’ll transfer him to the burn unit. Then they’ll bring him out of the coma.”
Tears flowed from her eyes “he’s….he’s going to be alright?”
“Yes honey. Our boy is a fighter,” Gene told her holding her tight as she gave into deep wracking sobs.
Lifting her head from his shoulder she smiled. “Do you still have to host that show?”
“I signed a contract. I can’t get out of it. My manager already tried. We have a few weeks yet before I have to go and interview the applicants.”
“Can’t your dad do that?” Aimee whined.
“Not on his own,” Gene sighed “he’s too old to do this all on his own. That’s why I agreed to do it with him.”
“I thought it was because they needed a well-known celebrity to hook in the viewers,” Aimee said “I just don’t know if I can cope with everything without you.”
“Of course you can,” Gene kissed her forehead “Ian will be here to help and I’m only a phone call away.”
“It’s not the same,” she pouted “I don’t want you to go.” A stubborn edge crept into her voice.
Gene recognized the tone and knew her unreasonable side was making an appearance. “Aimee I’m not going to argue with you on this. There’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my control. There was no way I could have predicted this going to happen when I signed the contract.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Aimee clung to him “I’m such a mess.”
Wiping her tears away Gene smiled “I love you. That’s all that matters. We’ll get through this. Matt will recover. So how about giving me a smile?”
“Daddy who dat?” Katrina pointed towards the strange lady in the doorway. She crawled in between Ian’s legs.
Ian felt her little hands gripping his pants legs. “Why are you here?” he demanded.
“I came to talk. You said to prove to you I meant what I said,” she explained giving the appearance of being reasonable.
“I didn’t say to break into my house.” Ian crossed his arms “how did you get in here? The door was locked. I’m sure of it.”
“Don’t be so naive,” she laughed at him “what’s a little a lock to a determined thief?” She stepped forward closing the gap between them.
“Bad lady daddy,” Katrina cowered between his legs clinging to him “help daddy.”
Ian worried about his daughter and the intent of the intruder as he eyed the pink-haired girl stopping in front of him. “Beth you need to leave.”
“Why? I’m only doing what you told me to do,” she protested smiling.
“No I never said to break into my house. Scare my little girl half to death.”
“Don’t be silly,” Beth laughed “she just doesn’t know me yet.”
Shaking his head he repeated “Beth you need to leave.”
Beth took a step closer reaching her hand out to him “after we talk.” Something about her didn’t feel right and
Katrina started low keening wail sensing something was wrong.
“Bad lady. No touch.” she began to scream “daddy help.”
Taking his eyes from Beth long enough to scope Katrina up he was shocked to her standing barely a hands breadth in front of him. He took a step backwards bumping into Katrina’s crib. “Beth what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” she growled losing her patience “you told me to come over. When I do you tell me to leave. I don’t get it.”
“You broke into my house. Look at my daughter. She’s scared to death. What don’t you understand?” Ian asked wondering if Beth had become unhinged somehow. If she had, was she a danger to him and his daughter? “Maybe you should have knocked.”
“This is so not how I saw this going,” Beth said appearing to be talking to herself. “I’m sorry,” she cried suddenly “you must think I’m some kind of crazy stalker girl. I’m not. I just though you’d see how much I liked you if I didn’t let a little lock stand in my way.” She took a step away muttering “This was a mistake. Please forgive me. I didn’t mean to be so creepy.” Tears spilled from her eyes as she turned and fled from the room.
Ian called after her “Beth wait,” he tried to put Katrina down only to have her cling to him like a limpet. “No daddy. Scared,” she whimpered crying again.
Sighing Ian knew that by the time he was able to calm Katrina down Beth wold be long gone. What possessed her to break into the house? Carrying Katrina as she refused to be put down Ian went to inspect the house to make sure she was gone and not lurking in a closet somewhere.
“Daddy what doin?” Katrina asked in his ear.
“Checking that Beth is gone,” Ian told the little girl.
“Bad lady gone,” she said “make her go way.”
After searching the house Ian called the police explaining what happened. Feeling a little foolish Ian felt he had no other choice not when it came to protecting his child. His dad’s experience was enough for Ian to realize that male or female was no match to a determined obsessed crazy person. Sighing in relief with the police agreed to drive by and heck on things.
Pacing the small confines of her kitchen Celia tried to calm down. She felt restless and had nothing to do to fill the empty hours ahead of her. Today and tomorrow she didn’t have to work and she had nothing to do to fill the hours. Twisting her hair between her fingers she smiled recalling the offer to go to the beach last night. They guy was really cute in a dorky kind of way. Why had she declined his offer? Sighing as she remembered why. His wife had come out of the restroom. She had no intention of getting involved with a married man.
Then there was Ian. He had been in her dreams. Every night his violet eyes pleaded with her to come back to him. Why couldn’t she let go of the past? Why couldn’t she be what he needed her to be? It’s who she was…why was she fighting so hard to be what she wasn’t? She had spent a year living a fantasy, pretending to be a carefree school girl. What did she have to show for it? Multiple failed relationships. A daughter who didn’t know her. A baby on the way whose father didn’t want anything to do with it. Then there was the debt with no way out.
Contemplating her life she wondered if she had become her father. How was she any different then the man who refused to take his own daughter in? Nothing she’s done for the past year had made her happy or very proud of herself. It was time to change. To quit pretending this was what she wanted her life to be. She was a little wiser and frayed at the ends but she was ready to get her life back. The first thing she needed to do was apologize to Ian. Ask for permission to see her daughter. She was ready to make the changes that were needed to get her life back.
Ian was sitting comfortably on the couch with Katrina snuggled on his lap when he received a call. Smiling as he answered “hello?”
“Ian,” Celia sighed into the silence that followed. “Ian can we talk?” she finally asked biting her lip anxious to know his answer.
“About?” he asked wondering if this was the day every crazy person was going to come out and bother him.
“About us. Katrina. Ian I …”
“Now isn’t a good time,” Ian said looking down at his little girl. He had just gotten her calmed down enough to stop talking about the bad lady. He didn’t want to introduce another stranger into her life, at least not today.
“I’m sorry I thought….” her voice drifted off “I thought you were sincere about giving me a chance to prove…never mind I lost my chance,” she mumbled.
The defeat in her voice had Ian yelling into the phone “Celia it’s not that.” Katrina jerked at the sound of his raised voice and started to cry. “Oh honey daddy’s sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Ian is something wrong?” Celia asked picking up on the stress in his voice.
“I’ll tell you later,” Ian told her “I honestly didn’t think you’d want to get together. I’m a little shocked. I’m not interested unless you’re in this for the long run.” Ian sat frozen on the couch listening to her breathe.
“Ian it’s what I want. I want to be part of my daughter’s life. I don’t want her growing up thinking I didn’t want her.” She gulped in air feeling like she was suffocating. “I’m so sorry I made such a mess of everything.” After another minute of two of silence she continued “If I can’t come over there. Can’t you come over here? Please Ian I need…I need you.”
Her plea went straight to his heart but he couldn’t dump Katrina on a babysitter and his parents were camped out at the hospital. “Celia I wish I could but I can’t.” Hearing her sobs knifed through him “it’s not that I don’t want to but something happened today that frightened Katrina and I don’t feel comfortable leaving her with a sitter.”
“But she can come with you.”
“No Celia it’s not that easy. She doesn’t know you. Another stranger coming into her life at this moment would really be upsetting for her. Tomorrow once she’s calmed down we’ll meet” Ian leaned over and kissed his little girl while he waited for Celia’s response.
“Alright,” she agreed “what time tomorrow?”
“How about lunch? I’ll make a picnic basket and we’ll eat outside,” Ian suggested.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she disconnected wondering what happened and if they were safe.
“Gene?” Aimee called his name.
The corners of his mouth quirked up “yeah honey.”
“I was just wondering. There’s not gonna be any girls on this show are there?”
Chuckling softly “no dear my sister is straight. So there’s only going to be guys except my sister of course.”
“Good,” she said satisfied.
Eyeing her Gene smiled unable to resist the urge to tease her “what’s the matter jealous?
Shaking her head “nope not at all. There’s no reason to be”
“Why not? don’t you think a guy might find me attractive?” he cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m sure they do but it’s you who don’t find them attractive.” She stared at him for a moment “or have you been hiding that side of you from me?”
“Now who’s being ridiculous?” Gene pulled her close and devoured her lips with his. “You’re the only one for me Aimee Vera.”
“Bennett, Aimee Bennett,” she corrected.
“I’m going to miss you,” Gene whispered in her ear.
“I’ll miss you more,” Aimee giggled as he pulled her close “I love you.”
He kissed the top of her head content to hold her in his arms forever. He cherished these moments they’ve learned to appreciate through the years. Sometimes clinging to them through the storms life threw at them. He hoped his sister would find that kind of happiness and love. He of all people knew you could find love in the least likely of places even on a reality TV show. He and Aimee were proof of that.