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AN: HAPPY VALENTINES DAY! A huge thank you to my pre-readers, Beth, Maryann, Erin and Carla, and my amazing beta, who is working on editing this chapter as we speak! I'm posting unbeta'd so be warned… it's sort of a hot mess, but I wanted to give y'all a lil something for heart day :D
"A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again." - Enid Bagnold
The crack of the bat and the thudding balls helped me clear my head. The girls had been at it for over an hour, but they were still going strong.
Tanya was still unfocused. I could tell there was something weighing on her mind, but she wasn't giving anything away. I just hoped it had nothing to do with that stupid kid. If it did, I didn't really want to know.
He'd been too much of a distraction for too long—one she couldn't afford. Just like I knew he would be. The season was in full swing and they had to eat, sleep, and breathe ball. She'd worked too hard for too long to screw around. If I had to come down hard on her to make it happen, I was ready to do it.
I knew from the very first time I watched her thwack a ball off the tee that she was going to be a ball player. She had the look in her eye, and at one time in my life, I'd had it too. I was stupid back then, and it hadn't been as important as hanging out and partying. I could've done pretty well with it, and who the hell knew what I could've done with my life if I hadn't given it up.
I hated thinking about the "what if's" in life. Ultimately, I was right where I belonged. Had I taken another path, I might have missed out on the best thing in my life. Bella. It gave me pains just thinking about it, so I tried to just… not. But, watching Tanya and knowing what was in store for her if she kept going… I had hopes for her. Dreams that I couldn't let her shit away on some dipshit boy that wouldn't be around to see any of it anyway.
That kid was going nowhere, and I didn't think he even cared. He was pacified with the way things were, and I knew how that was, too. He was young, and maybe he'd grow out of it, but I wasn't willing to let my daughter wait around and throw her future away on some waste of space.
"Lean into it, T. You're stepping back again."
She huffed and glared over her shoulder. "I know what I'm doing, Dad."
Sure she did. She'd missed three out of five balls already. "Get your head out of your ass. You have a game Saturday. You need to pay attention."
She shook her head and her long ponytail swung to and fro underneath the helmet. She was getting sick of me, but that's what I was there for. She needed the reminder that she was there to work, not daydream and fart around.
Irina, on the other hand… she was tearing it up. I wondered how it was that I'd gotten lucky enough to be blessed with two jock daughters. They may have looked like little debutantes, but those girls were badass.
Beauty from their mother, and their balls from me.
I decided to give her some space since I was obviously getting on her nerves, and went into the shop to grab some coffee. When I returned the two of them were trying out new bats and talking, so I stood back to listen. It was all shop talk, and I felt like an eavesdropper. I laughed, thinking about how Bella would get caught spying on them all the time. It used to drive me nuts, all the yelling and screaming about privacy, but I finally got it. That was one of the only ways she had to know what was going on.
I finally cut in. It was getting late, and Bella would have my ass if we were late. "Come on you two. Get back on it and finish it up. Mom's waiting on us."
Irina nodded and went back to her cage to finish up. Tanya on the other hand, dropped her bat and came out of the cage, holding her helmet under her arm.
"Dad, I need to talk to you."
I didn't like the sound of that. My jaw tightened and I motioned for her to sit. "What's going on, kiddo?"
She sighed and sat next to me, bowing her head. "You know how I decided to go to school here in Washington?"
I nodded. "Yeah, it's great. Full ride, close to home. The team's great, and the coach is really good."
Her finger went to her mouth and I knew she was about to drop a bomb on me. One I wasn't ready for.
"I don't want to. I know we talked about it, and you looked over the other offers, and they're good, right? So, I think I want to consider going somewhere else."
My breath came out in a rush, my cheeks puffed and my eyes pinched. "What are we talking, here, Tanya? I thought we had that all settled? What's this about? Is this about Sam?"
She looked up at me with wide innocent eyes. "No, not at all. I just want something new. Somewhere new. Dad, I'll be fine away from home. I know mom will freak…"
I barked out a sarcastic laugh. "Freak? She'll likely drop dead, Tan. She's having a hard enough time with you graduating."
She sighed, defeated. "I don't want to upset her, but I'm serious about this. I want… more."
How could I argue with her? I felt it in my bones, that drive and the desire to reach for things beyond my reach. I'd been her. I'd wanted those things at one time, too. My path changed, sure, but I couldn't argue with her. A part of me wanted that for her—for all of my kids. I wanted them to see things and do things I hadn't had the chance to do. I knew Bella did, too, but the kids were her life. It was probably the most beautiful thing about her, that fierce dedication to her family. It was going to hurt her like a motherfucker, but she'd eventually accept it and encourage Tanya. It was the initial blow that worried me.
"So, you've decided then, I take it."
She looked up at me with misty eyes. "I have. I'm scared, but it's like… a dream, you know?"
I ran my hands through my hair and groaned. "Where?"
"Arizona State is my first choice. It's not that far…"
"Jesus," I moaned. "Far enough that you're mother will have us packed up and moved there within two months of you being gone, Tan." I laughed. "It's good, though. At least it's not Alabama. She would flip her shit if you went across the country."
She giggled. "They're number one, though."
I looked up and raised my eyebrow. "Don't even bring it up. It just ain't gonna happen."
Shrugging, she pulled her hair out of the ponytail she had it in and shook her head. "They didn't offer a scholarship, Arizona did. I think I'd like it there. It's warm. I could wear shorts every day!"
I stretched my legs out and folded my hands behind my head, staring at the sky. "Not pushing your point, sweetie. That's just what a dad wants to hear… his daughter thousands of miles away in short-shorts."
"Dad… I'm sure," Irina laughed. "Besides, Arizona is my first choice, too. If I get a ride, I'm going there, and then we'll be there together."
I tugged at my hair. "You know, I like your mom warm and alive. She's going to have a heart attack. Who'll feed me if you both leave her and kill her off?"
"Lottie?" Tanya teased.
"Dad, Lottie will probably live with you and mom until she's forty, or forever. She's such a daddy's girl, she'll never leave you."
I nodded. "That's why I love her the most. You two are terrible daughters."
Tanya tossed her hair tie at me and laughed. "Seriously, Dad. What do you think? You think it's okay?"
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before replying. "I do. I hate to say it, but I think for your career, and for your education, it's good. Mom is really proud of you both. She'll be upset—you know how she is—but she only wants the best for you, and this is the best thing for you. Just… give it a day or two. I'd like a couple more days with your sweet mother before her head starts spinning around and I'm on the couch with Angus."
Tanya threw herself at me, hugging me around my neck tightly. "I'll make you guys so proud of me. I promise. I won't let you down, Dad. I won't."
I knew she wouldn't. She never had. I couldn't have been more proud. My daughter had a full ride to one of the best schools in the country to play ball in one of the best programs around. That was all a father could ever want for his kids. And I did. She made me so fucking proud… I was sure she'd never know just how proud of her I was. I'd miss her though, and as much as I teased about Bella, it was going to kill me just as badly not to have her around.
"Let's get out of here, girls. Now I just want to go home and have a beer and go to bed."
I walked out of that park like a broken king. My two girls on my arm, and my heart heavy. Life was fucked up that way. How something so good could hurt so much was beyond me. The lump in my throat choked me up the entire ride home. The swell of pride in my heart contradicted it. It was one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments. I wanted to give the girls the world, and in my quest to do so, they were going to go get it.
It scared the shit out of me.
As soon as we walked through the door, I could tell Bella was in a mood. I could hear her yelling from the back of the house, so I walked back to the family room to see what was going on.
The room looked like a tornado hit it and the two tiny terrorists behind it all stood at attention as she gave them the riot act.
"What's going on?" I asked.
She spun around to face me with both hands on her hips. "Good! You're home. You deal with this because I'm losing it… fast. They've been awful since you guys left!"
I peeked around her and crossed my arms over my chest, leveling Riley and Jane with a stern look. "You two get this crap picked up by the time I come back in here… or else. What got into you?"
They started jabbering and pointing fingers at each other and Jane started to cry. I took that as my cue to drag Bella from the room. She looked frazzled and stressed, and Jane was a smart cookie. She knew Uncle Edward's weakness, and she was using it to her advantage.
Bella ran her fingers through her hair as we walked through the room. "I was ready to kill them! I was upstairs for like… thirty minutes helping Lottie fix up her closet and I come down stairs and those two completely destroyed the house!"
I chuckled and swung my arm over her shoulder. After my conversation with Tanya and Irina, I was pretty much at full max as far as stress went. Seeing Bella the way she was gave me an idea.
"What time is Rose coming to get Jane?"
She plopped down at the kitchen counter and sighed. "She's not. Jane's staying over tonight."
"Hmmm. Well, I have an idea. What do you say we blow this place and go grab dinner?"
She looked at me like I was crazy. "Hell, no. Look at me! No, I'm not taking these kids anywhere. I'll order pizza or something and we can hide in our room."
That idea wasn't that bad, I decided. "Good idea. You order the food, and then meet me upstairs."
She lifted her lip into a smile. "O-kay. Any requests?"
I bend down and kissed the end of her nose. "Yes. Be naked."
She gasped and I walked away, laughing under my breath. I was ready to use my babysitters up before they all left me high and dry.
I looked up from my monitor toward the door that had just slammed and saw Jessica hugging Bella. Something had to be up for her to come on site to see me.
"Jake, I'll have to call you back. Bella just walked in."
"Gotcha," he said. "Talk to you later."
I hung up and walked toward her, panicking when I saw that she was crying. "Cookie, what is it?"
She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. "What isn't wrong today? I'm freaking losing it."
I wrapped her up in my arms and looked over her head at Jessica, raising an eyebrow. She simply shrugged, obviously as clueless as I was.
"What happened? The kids… are they okay?"
She nodded. "Yeah, they're fine. We um… well, I don't have a job anymore." Her chin quivered and she took a deep breath. "She's selling the shop to some cow that wants to put a woman's gym in there, and that's just so stupid because there's a 24-Hour Fitness down the damn street!"
"Ahhh," I hummed and hugged her tighter. "Don't worry, okay."
She laughed and shook her head against my chest. "Don't worry he says. I need that crappy job!"
I sighed. "Maybe you can get a job at the gym."
I knew the moment the words left my lips it was the wrong thing to say, and cringed when she smacked my chest.
"I was kidding! Just trying to lighten it up a little."
She stepped out of my grasp and sat on the sofa in my office. "It just sucks, you know? I hate this! I mean… it's not like this town is crawling with beauty salons and I've been giving granny perms and shit for too many years. I can't imagine starting over again somewhere else. Where the hell am I gonna go?"
I sat down next to her and took a deep breath. "Nowhere. You stay home. Be a stay-at-home mom like you've always wanted to. Be with the kids. Things are going really good now. We're back on track. Your job was always just the little extra. We'll be just fine with one income."
She wiped her nose and sniffled. "It's been a rough year. "I'm afraid."
I wasn't. I knew we'd be okay. "You can clip coupons and… I don't know Bella. I'll take care of it."
She laughed. "I clip coupons now. Your hungry kids are like bottomless pits!"
I laughed with her, and couldn't disagree. Our grocery bill looked like the Declaration of Independence.
"I just feel useless and I'm probably making more out of it, but I just had to let it out. I needed to see you."
I was glad she was letting it out. I didn't want her worrying and holding it all in. After learning my lesson about doing the same, I never wanted us to go back to holding back from each other.
"I'm glad you came to see me, baby. Why don't we go grab some lunch and go home so you can relax?"
"What about work?" she asked, sniffling.
"If anything comes up, Jess can handle it."
Jessica peeked into my office and smiled. "Go on, Bella. I've got it under control here."
We both looked at each other and laughed. "I should've known you were spying on us, weirdo," Bella said.
Jessica huffed. "Please! Of course I was. You can't come in here crying and then expect me to ignore it. I was worried."
Bella nodded, got up and hugged her again. "I know, and I love you. You might want to call Rosalie. She's a freaking wreck."
I ran my hand through my hair and sighed. "They'll be fine, too, Bella. Emmett makes a lot of fucking money. She doesn't need to work, anyway."
She sighed. "I know that, but out of all of us, Rosalie loved doing hair. She loves working there. I just loved working with her and Leah."
I smiled. "Leah's not a bit upset, is she?"
She laughed. "She was leaving us anyway. She's glad, sure."
I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and started leading her out, grabbing my jacket and my keys on our way out. "Come on. Let's get you out of here."
I let her chose where to eat since she was the one having a bad day, and wasn't surprised when she chose greasy burgers. I wasn't complaining, either.
We got home and I laid the food on the counter while she picked up the mail and put her things away. I'd just grabbed the bottle of ketchup from the refrigerator when I heard her gasp. Slamming it shut, I turned around to see what the hell was going on, and the look on her face punched me in the gut.
"What the hell is this?" she cried.
She held up a large envelope and then immediately started tearing into it. Her hands were shaking and she started crying harder.
"What is this?"
I grabbed it from her hands and took a look. Groaning when I saw that it was the paperwork from Arizona, I sat it down and put my hands on her shoulders.
"Calm down. This is something Tanya needs to talk to you about. I think she's changed her mind about UW."
She shook her head and gritted her teeth. "No… she's not. Arizona? That's just… I can't deal with this right now. Wait until she gets home. I mean…" she barked out a laugh and it was starting to feel like she was about a minute away from a full-on meltdown. "She's not leaving me. Oh, hell no. No."
I laughed softly. "Can we go sit and eat and talk about this. I think you need to give her a chance to talk to you about it. She mentioned it to me, but I asked her to give it more thought and stuff before she talked to you—for obvious reasons."
She grabbed her soda and the bag of food. "Obvious reasons? Are you saying I'm unreasonable?"
I couldn't help but smirk a little. I tried to hide it, but she was so predictable. "I don't know… you're screaming at a piece of paper. What do you think?"
"Ass," she muttered under her breath as she left the room. "This whole day can just go to hell."
I snorted and followed after her.
A short while later, Bella's cell phone chirps, waking me up.
We'd fallen asleep after we ate, her from exhaustion and stress and me from the comfort of just being with her alone in the quiet house. Those moments were few and far between and even though the situation was pretty shitty, I liked it. We needed the down time once in a while.
I picked up the phone, answering in a groggy voice. "Hello?"
"Dad?" Irina answered. "Why do you have mom's phone?"
I rubbed my eyes and sat up. "She's asleep. What's up?"
"Oh," she said, confused. "Well, I'm waiting for her to pick us up. Is she coming?"
I looked up at the clock and cursed. "Crap. I'll be there in a minute. We left her truck at the site. Are you out front?"
"Yeah, we're here. Is everything okay?"
"Yes," I assured her. "She had a hard day. We'll talk when you get home. I'll be there in ten."
I slid my feet back into my boots and shook Bella gently. "Bella, I'm going to get the kids."
She rolled over and looked up at me with a confused look on her face. "What? Oh shit," she cursed. She jumped up, alarmed and worried. "Oh my God! Riley!"
"It's Tuesday," I told her. "He's with my mom, remember? It's cool. I'll go get the girls. You rest."
She washed her hands over her face and huffed. "This is ridiculous. I need to snap out of it."
Kissing her on the forehead, I pulled the afghan back over her and smiled. "I've got it. We'll be back in a little bit. Just relax."
She did, grudgingly and I took off in a hurry to get the girls.
The school was empty when I pulled up and I felt like shit. Seeing them waiting bothered me, and it just instilled the idea of Bella staying home. She needed to be there for them. She'd feel better, I'd feel better, and the kids would be happier. I hated the idea of them waiting around for a ride.
I smiled widely, trying my hardest to put on a face of calm under the ever growing storm. I didn't want them to worry, even though I knew they would no matter what. As long as I pitched things in a positive way, they'd be okay with it. I was sure they'd prefer to have Bella around more, anyway. I just didn't want the negative aspects what was going on to affect them. They'd had enough drama for a lifetime.
"There's my girls. How was your day?"
Irina chucked her bat bag in the back and Lottie climbed in the front. "Why are you picking us up? Is Mommy okay?"
I pointed at my cheek for her to kiss, smiling when I felt her little warm lips on my skin. "She's fine. She had a crappy day. Aren't you glad to see me?"
She giggled and sat back in the seat, pulling her seatbelt tight. "Always, Daddy. Just worried."
Irina climbed in and asked the same question as Lottie. "You girls are just like your mom. You'll get wrinkles if you worry. Don't you listen to your grandma Renee when she tells you that?"
Irina laughed. "Granny Renee says all kinds of crazy things."
I smiled. "That she does. Speaking of grandma… I think we should drive up there this weekend and visit, don't you?"
"Yes!" Lottie answered. "That'd be so fun. I thought you were going fishing with Uncle Jake and the boys, though?"
I cursed under my breath. "Well, we can do that next weekend. I think your mom would like to see your grandma."
"I miss them," Irina said. "It feels like we haven't been there forever. They always come here."
I agreed. "Sounds good. So… where's your sister?"
"She went with some of her friends to mall."
That didn't surprise me. The kid could shop every day. "So, since mom had a bad day, what do you say we make her dinner tonight?"
Lottie laughed. "Yeah, you mean why we, meaning me and Irina don't."
I threw her a grin. "You're a smart girl."
"We will dad. You're sure everything is okay?"
I turned onto our street and sighed. "They're closing the beauty shop. She's really taking it hard."
Irina clucked her tongue. "Good! She hates it anyway."
I couldn't disagree, but it was hard to explain to kids how it felt to feel helpless when something was taken away—even if it was something you didn't like. "Well, she liked having a job, so she's feeling down. No fighting tonight, either."
"Tell it to Tanya," Lottie mumbled. "She starts it all."
I leveled her with a glance. "Fine, but she is always yelling at me."
"That's because you're always in her room." Irina—always the voice of reason.
I pulled up into the driveway and turned off the truck. "Okay. Be sweet to her. I mean it."
I didn't really have to remind them. They always were, but she needed a little extra. I'd been in her shoes, feeling helpless and useless, like I was letting the family down. I didn't want her to feel that way, though. We'd make it no matter what.
What I found when we got inside was not what I expected. Tanya was home, and the two of them were huddled on the couch crying.
"What happened Dad?" Irina asked, taking in the scene in the family room.
Bella turned around, wiping at her eyes. "I'm okay you guys. Come in for a minute."
We walked in, and I could see that Tanya looked torn up for making Bella cry. I was proud of her, though. She was confronting it. I was behind her, no matter what. Like I'd told her before—Bella would get over it. She'd be angry and hurt, but she was proud of them no matter what. She'd accept it, even if she never liked the idea.
"So, Tanya told me that you all know about her plans. I feel completely blind-sided, but I'm going to respect her decision. This is her life, and I've told you girls every day your entire lives that all I want is for you to be happy and successful. Am I pissed?" she asked, turning her gaze toward Tanya. "No. I'm just in shock. I'm scared. You're my baby, Sissy. You're my very special girl, and you know it. If you want to move away and have your mom cry herself to sleep every night, well…"
I laughed and shook my head. "Cookie…"
She held up her hand. "I'm kidding. But really… not being able to get in the car and drive to see you is going to kill me. I'll live, but only because this is your dream. I want all your dreams to come true, and I'm so proud of you."
Tanya sobbed and covered her face. "I know, Mommy. I know you're proud. I'm going to miss you guys, too. Even Reenie and Lottie."
"Hey," Irina complained. "Thanks a lot. I kept your secret all this time and you throw me under the bus. Nice!"
"So… we're all good here?" I asked. I was glad it was going so well, but with my girls… it was hard to tell.
"Yes. We're good. You might want to find a night job, though. I'm going to need a lot of plane tickets to Arizona, so…" Bella said, narrowing an eye at me.
"Anything for you, my love."
"And girls… I have some bad news. I lost my job today, so things are going to be tight again for a while."
"Dad told us, Mom. We'll help out, and I'm glad you're going to be home."
"Me too, Lottie. Honestly, now that I have all the crying out of my system, I think I'm relieved that I don't have to go into work every day."
I smiled. "See? Nothing to worry about."
She rolled her eyes. "You're just the bearer of all kinds of positivity and joy lately."
I shrugged. "That's what I'm here for. To make my girls smile."
Lottie hugged me around my back. "You do, Daddy. We love you."
At that moment, I knew we'd be okay. We'd been through the worst. We'd gotten through it, and we were happy. There wasn't much more I could ask for as a man.
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!
I hope you all enjoyed our little family! I missed them!
So… we're so close to wrapping this up. Final stretch folks… I've got the sads for reals.
Thank you so much for all your patience waiting for this chapter!
Loves and kisses and hugs XOXO