“Lee why aren’t you at work?” Amanda asked coming down the stairs.
“Someone has to stay here and protect you,” he mumbled.
Shaking her head she pointed at the expensive alarm system they had just installed “I thought that’s what that thing is for.”
“I…” he lowered his gaze “I worry about you and Michelle here alone all day.”
“I know but I doubt that man will be back” she told him.
“You don’t know that for sure,” Lee countered “that man was looking for something. Something the cartel wants bad enough they sent someone to collect it. They’re not going to just give up.”
“Don’t you think I know that,” she shouted back at him “it’s my fault the man knows the woman he’s looking for is in prison. It’s my fault Alex has to face that woman. Ask for the ledger she stole. Find out where she hid it. My fault the man attacked Drew, kidnapped her son.”
“What are you talking about?” Lee stared at her appalled at the things she was telling him. Why didn’t he know about any of this?
“Drew called this morning…”
“That was her?” Lee asked quietly sitting on the couch. He remembered hearing the phone ring as he got up to shower. He hadn’t thought anything of it. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you were at work,” she cried “I wanted time to block out all the emotions…”
“Is it getting bad again?” he asked moving towards her. He took her into his arms feeling the tremors that shook her small frame. “What can I do to help?”
“Just…hold me,” she told him as she clung to him.
“Is there anything we can do to help your sister?” he asked.
“No she asked that we stay here,” she sniffed “she knows how I get and didn’t want to overwhelm me. I shouldn’t have told that man anything. It’s my fault.” The sobs overwhelmed her as she buried her face in his shoulder.
“Shh it’s not your fault,” Lee murmured “do you even know it’s the same man?”
“My description fits the they have. It’s the same guy. Asking for whatever that woman took. What kind of evil monster did my dad marry?” She looked into his eyes “and will I turn into that?”
“No of course not,” he told her “just because she’s your mother doesn’t mean your destined to become just like her. Your dad raised you. You’re step-mom helped him. You’re a product of their love and support. Don’t forget that.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly “sometimes I wonder. It gets hard to think when I’m picking up on everyone else’s emotions around me. Sometimes all I want to do is scream. I just want to be normal.” She looked up into his patient blue eyes “is it to late to get a lobotomy?”
“Yes,” he smiled reassured that she was trying to joke despite her pain “no ones going to mess with that beautiful brain of yours.”
Time went as time does. Amanda kept in contact with Drew offering what help and support she could until the crisis was over. The baby grew bigger and stronger which Amanda was thankful for. Constantly worried that the assault earlier in her pregnancy would have caused some unknown damage.
She woke up in the middle of the night a sharp pain in her side. This is it she thought. Baby number two is about to be launched. Another contraction followed by a third confirmed her thoughts. “Lee” she shook his shoulder “honey the baby’s coming.”
Rubbing his eyes it took a moment for her words to register in his sleep deprived brain. Blinking he looked at Amanda saw her smile, saw the pain as a contraction hit. “The baby…the baby’s coming” he cried jumping from the bed.
Laughing at his antics Amanda calmly got up gathered the things she had packed in preparation. She glanced over at Lee “get dressed “she told him. Shaking her head she had no idea why he was so nervous “it’s not this is our first baby.”
“Michelle” he cried stumbling for the phone “what’s the number for the baby sitter?”
“Take a deep breath and it’ll come to you,” she panted finding it increasingly more difficult to think past the pain.
Breathing deeply Lee closed his eyes willing himself to calm down. He listened to his heart beat. The number came to him. “Come on let’s go,” he said when he was assured the next door neighbor was on her way over.
Helping Amanda down the stairs he opened the front door as an older woman came running up the porch steps grinning. “Congratulations Mr and Mrs Grayer.”
“Thank you,” he murmured as they passed.
A few hours later Lee cautiously approached Amanda. Glancing up she smiled “come and meet your son.”
He looked down into the tiny bundle holding his finger out for the tiny flailing hands could latch onto it. “He’s perfect” she said looking into Amanda’s eyes “He needs a name” he thought of all the arguments they had over names and never deciding on one “he can’t be baby boy Grayer forever.”
“How about Vincent Lee Grayer?” she suggested.
“That’s my dad’s name” Lee said surprised “I thought you didn’t want to follow that tradition.”
“I changed my mind,” she told him “I think we need some family traditions. Just don’t call him Vinny.”
“How about Vince?” he suggested smiling. His eyes misted as he thought about how happy his father would be to know they had kept the family tradition going. He hadn’t done that with his first marriage and he thought for sure Amanda wouldn’t relent. He looked up feeling her tough is hand.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” he said clearing his throat he continued “I’m just happy that’s all.”
“Good” she said closing her eyes as she felt him take the baby from her arms. She knew it had been the right thing to do. It had meant so much to him. She didn’t like the name but she liked knowing it meant something. Family. It meant family. That’s all that mattered in the end.
Lee walked past the new hotel in town. Glancing into the windows this heart dropped. In the lobby was a slot machine. He hadn’t thought about gambling for almost two years and here he was a staring at a slot machine with longing. His hands itched to pull the lever. Watch the slots spin with heart racing hoping they’d come up a match. The heady feeling he had whenever he made the jackpot.
He tore his eyes from the machine forced his feet to keep walking. It required more effort then he thought it should. It had been over two years since he had gambled. Why did it still feel like yesterday?
Walking into the house Amanda smiled at him “did you get it?” she asked.
“Get what?” he asked confused.
“The cake,” she said “the birthday cake for Vincent’s birthday.”
“Oh” he said dumbfounded “I…I forgot.” He turned “I’ll go get it now.”
“No don’t worry about it. I think we have cake mix. I’ll whip one up.” She turned to the cupboard to look for the mix she thought she had seen earlier.
“Are you sure?” he asked by the door.
“No this will be fine,” looking up she smiled “don’t look so guilty. It’s ok. It’s not like he’ll remember it anyway. He is only a year old after all.”
He gave her a sheepish grin. If she only knew the the reason why he forgot. His mind had been on the slot machine then on his son’s first birthday.
“Daddy” Michelle tugged on his pants leg “up” she demanded holding her arms out to him.
He scooped to pick her up a delightful mix of both her parents. She had her mothers red/gold hair and her fathers blue eye and freckles. The freckles he knew would be the bane of her teenage existence. She’ll try to cover up their existence with makeup only to fail. For now he found them adorable.
“Lee” Amanda called from the kitchen “would you mind giving Vince his bath once he’s up from his nap?”
“That I can do,” he agreed catching Michelle after he tossed her in the air.
“Don’t over do it,” Amanda cautioned “we don’t want to clean up vomit before the party do we?”
“No we definitely do not,” Lee agreed putting Michelle down to her disappointment.
“More daddy more,” she begged.
“No honey daddy’s done” he told her while she started to pout.
“Don’t” Amanda cautioned form the kitchen seeing Lee bend to pick her up.
Masking the move by running his hand through his hair Lee laughed self consciously. “I better go and check on Vince” he moved towards the stairs.”
Amanda watched him go with a worried expression. What had he been up to? Why did he act so guilty? Something was wrong she was sure of it.
That night Lee laid awake, his mind in turmoil wondering what he was going to do. He couldn’t keep on pretending nothing was wrong. Amanda was already looking at him sideways, suspicious of his behavior. Turning over he wondered if he was making too much of it. What was a one slot machine to the hundreds he had been surrounded by in Lucky Palms. Surely this feeling would go away on its own? Given enough time, right?
Towards dawn he fell into an uneasy sleep. He woke to the alarm bleary eyed and exhausted. He downed two cups of coffee still feeling sluggish and as lively as a slug. He felt Amanda’s eyes on him as he kissed her goodbye and left the house.
On his lunch break he walked past the same hotel telling himself he was only going to the park and he had to go past it to get there. His feet slowed as he neared the door coming to a stop. His hand hovered on the door handle he knew he shouldn’t but one pull of the lever wouldn’t hurt anything, would it? He could handle it now that he wasn’t bombarded with it everywhere he went. One lonely slot machine. One pull of the lever. It could be the jackpot they needed to pay off all their debt. Debt free from one pull of the lever. He’d never play again.
He stepped aside as another coupled walked into the hotel lobby. He watched as they went to the slot machine and pull the lever. He glanced at his watch knowing he had just enough time to get back to work without being late. He knew he shouldn’t linger outside. He should just walk away. He stood transfixed to the spot unable to move.