We eat lunch—pizza—and I don’t even look at the hot dog cart. My days of chili dogs are over.

Dee buys Mackenzie a polar bear balloon and they have a long discussion about how many balloons she would need to be able to fly, like in the movie Up. Dee—because she knows about gases like helium—was actually able to figure out how many on her calculator. Mackenzie was totally impressed.

I just hope she doesn’t get any ideas.

At the moment, we’re eating popcorn and watching the penguins. And Mackenzie asks no one in particular, “Did you know the girl penguins got the boy penguins by the balls?”

Dee chokes on a kernel.

Mackenzie doesn’t notice. “Uncle Drew say the girl gets ta pick any boy penguin she wants—they has ta dance for them. Then, the boy penguin has ta carry the egg on his feet for a long time.”

“Those girl penguins are some pretty smart cookies,” Delores comments. And Mackenzie nods vigorously.

Next we move on to the monkeys. I’m not sure of their breed, but they’re small, white little puff balls that can only seem to sit still if they’re trying to mount each other. Delores snorts and Mackenzie says, “They wrestle a lot.”

I chuckle. And talk low in Dee’s ear. “These horny little guys are giving me ideas. We should go before I embarrass myself.”

Mackenzie—because she obviously has dog hearing—asks, “Uncle Matthew, whas ‘horny’ mean?”

I’m quick with the save. “Excited.”

She nods . . . and files it away in her adorable, unpredictable mind.

The three of us climb out of the cab back at Alexandra and Steven’s. I hold Mackenzie on my shoulder—she’s half asleep. Dee carries Mackenzie’s balloon and her bag and about a dozen small gift shop items I couldn’t not buy her. Alexandra lets us in, and Mackenzie perks up, trying to rub the weariness from her eyes. I set her on her feet, and she hugs us both, thanking us without being told.

Alexandra tells her, “There’s a package on your bed—it came while you were out. I think it’s the Elizabeth American Girl doll Grandma bought for your birthday, the one that was back-ordered.”

Mackenzie’s mouth forms a precious O, and she practically vibrates with excitement. “I been waiting for dat! I’m sooo horny!”

Then she scampers out of the foyer to her room.

Alexandra turns stormy eyes on Dee and me. “Care to explain that?”

I rub the back of my neck . . . and then completely throw Steven under the bus. “You should really talk to your husband. He needs to watch his language around Mackenzie.”

I’ll make it up to him, I swear.

Dee joins in. “Yeah. Kids are like sponges. They just suck up everything around them.”

From the look on Lexi’s face, she’s not buying it.

“We should go,” Delores tells me.

“Yes, we should.” I yawn. “The amphibians really wore me out. Bye, Lexi.”

“Bye, Alexandra,” Dee says.

Then we run.

Chapter 11

That night, I blow off clubbing with the guys. Dee and I order Chinese takeout and spend the evening fantastically f**king in every room of my apartment.

I’ll never look at my pool table the same way again.

We pass out in my bed, and I sleep the sleep of the exhausted damned . . . until the rustling of clothing and footsteps wakes me up in the middle of the night. I crack my eyes open to find Dee not next to me in the bed but bustling around the room, searching for her clothes and pulling them on hurriedly when she finds them.

“Dee? Are you all right?”

Her voice is wide awake and tense. “Yeah, I’m fine. Go back to sleep, Matthew.”

Bleary-eyed, I glance at the clock: 3 a.m. “What are you doin’?”

“I’m going home.”

I force myself to sit up, shaking the fog from my head. “Why?”

“Because that’s where I live, remember?”

I don’t know what bug crawled up her ass while I was sleeping, but I’m really too tired to argue with her. I throw the blankets off. “Okay. Jus’ give me a minute and I’ll drive you.”

Her eyes scan the floor, spotting her purse in the corner. “Don’t bother. I’ll take a cab.”

Sensing my time is short, I pull on a pair of sweatpants and grab a T-shirt that landed on the nightstand after it was ripped off of me earlier. “Then I’ll take the cab ride with you.”

Delores stops and pins me with a sharp frown. “It may come as a shock, but I am capable of getting myself home, thank you very much.”

“It’s three o’clock in the goddamn morning, Delores.”

She shrugs. “It’s not like you live in a bad neighborhood.”

“It’s Manhattan—any neighborhood could be a bad neighborhood.”

She doesn’t respond. And she doesn’t wait for me. I clutch my sneakers in my hand and barely remember to take my keys as I jog to keep up with her. Wide awake now, I slip into my shoes on the elevator.

“So, are you pissed off at me about something specific, or is this a more general ‘all men suck’ kind of thing?”

She folds her arms. “I’m not pissed off.”

Translation? You’re an ass**le, but you have to figure out why on your own, ’cause I’m not telling.

We walk out of the lobby. I wave the doorman off and hail a cab myself. The ride to Dee’s place is strained and silent. I sneak sideways glances at her—because the quickest way to get your throat ripped out is staring a skittish dog in the eye.

She sits stiffly—not exactly angry looking, but anxious—like a cornered animal waiting for the chance to bolt. When we pull up to her building, Dee is out of the cab before the driver comes to a complete stop. I ask him to wait for me, then I hop out after her.

As she slides her key into the locked outer door, I put my hand over hers. “Could you, please, give me a hint about what’s going on in your head right now? ’Cause I’m . . . kinda lost here, Dee.”

She stares hard at our hands, then she faces me with a sigh. “This is just . . . you’re moving way too fast for me.”

I lean my shoulder against her building. “If you wanted me to go slow, all you had to do was say so. Hard, easy, fast, slow—I always aim to please.”

“Don’t be cute, Matthew.”

Can’t help it.

She wiggles her hands, fanning herself—like she’s on the edge of a panic attack. “I woke up in your bed and . . . it’s just too much. I feel like I’m suffocating. I need . . . space.”

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