“You don’t get to say who watches my child. You’ve crossed a line this time.” I look at Deloris and ask, “Is there any way I could get you to stay a little while longer?”

She looks confused. So does Sam. “I suppose I can,” she says.

“Thank you.”

I press my lips against Bailey’s cheek and blow ‘kissy bubbles’ against her cheek. She loves the sound and tickle of it, and is always good for a guaranteed laugh. When I’m sure she’s happy and won’t cry, I hand her off to the sitter. As I walk toward the door, Sam calls out, “Where are you going?”

I slam the door without answering.

I’m on the phone, dialing Remy’s number. She doesn’t pick up. Fear and anger surge through me. What if Sam said something to ruin things between me and Remy permanently. This relationship is new and already full of drama. Remy is smart and beautiful and could have any guy she wants. It’s not like she needs to stay and take this kind of abuse. She might think she’s in love with me after having this crush for years, but how long will it take for her to see this broken life of mine isn’t what she signed up for?

I dial the number again, and again she doesn’t pick up. I want to throw my phone in the street and watch it shatter.

I march across the street. Her mom’s car is out front and once I go to her house and Remy’s mom sees how upset I am, she will know there’s something going on between me and her daughter. I doubt she will approve. Her daughter is barely out of high school and I’m twelve years older with an infant and an ex-wife. I don’t exactly have a great track record with women, but that would’ve been different had I ever known anyone like Remy.

Remy probably won’t want her mom to know about us this early in the game either, but I have to see her. I need to know she’s all right.

I knock on the door. Each second that ticks by without it opening feels like an eternity. I’m about to knock harder when it opens. Remy stands in the doorway wearing a summer dress with no bra. Her pert nipples are hard beneath it. It takes all my self-control not to scoop her up and carry her away with me. Her long blonde hair cascades over her sun-kissed shoulders. The skin around her eyes is puffy and red, as though she’d been wiping at them. Had she been crying?

“Did Sam hurt you?” I insist. She won’t look at me. I take her chin in my hand and turn her head so our eyes meet. “Tell me.”

A tear slides down her cheek. I swear to god there’s a bull inside of me about to break out of my skin and go next door to pummel my brother into the ground. I should’ve known better than to move in with him. He’s always been a control freak and always will. But then again, if I hadn’t moved in with him, I never would’ve connected with Remy. That makes dealing with all of Sam’s bullshit worth it. Still, I would love to hit the guy right now.

“Sam thinks I’m going to ruin your life,” she says in the most fragile voice I’ve ever heard. It brings out the protective instincts in me, wanting to protect what’s mine. I want to wrap my arms around her and make sure no one ever hurts her again.

She continues, “He hired someone else to watch Bailey and told me to leave. He wants me to stay and away and think about all the reasons I’m wrong for you.” Her chin trembles and more tears fall from her eyes. “But I can’t think of a single one. I care about you and Bailey. I would never do anything to hurt either of you.” She pauses, then shakes her head. “But maybe he’s right. How will this ever work between us when your brother already hates me?”

I take her by the shoulders, holding her firmly in my hands. “Fuck Sam. He doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know what I want or what I need in my life.”

I lean forward, kissing her on the lips. She hesitates, then pulls away. “I can’t. My mom’s upstairs.”

I take her by the hand. “What are you doing?” she asks.

“You’ll see.”

I pull her into her backyard. There’s a row of bushes near the fence that separate our two houses. I know that between those bushes is a little clearing where she used to hide. Once, years ago, when I’d bent down to scrub the tires while washing my car, I saw her there, watching me. That was the first time I suspected she had a crush on me. I watched her the entire time through the reflection of the car while I washed it. She never had a clue that I noticed.

The bushes are overgrown compared to how they were back then. No one will be able to see us. Not even from a higher vantage point.

“Remember how you used to watch me wash my car from here?” I say, teasing her.

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