Billy looked up. “Sorry,” he said quickly, “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
Phyllis smiled, feeling oddly awkward in the moment with him. She stepped further into the kitchen. “No,” she said softly, “not at all—the sitter is gonna be bringing Grace by in a bit, so I was already getting up. I hope you were able to find everything okay.”
“Yeah-I was. I just wanted to make some coffee.”
“Did you sleep alright?” She smiled weakly as she looked at him. He was wearing the t-shirt and lounge pants she’d given him. A few weeks after the accident, she’d gone through most of his clothing, donating what she could to a local homeless shelter, but she’d kept a few things—things that reminded her of him. A white t-shirt and lounge pants were his staples for a lazy Sunday or any day really if he could convince her to stay home with him.
“It was great. I told you I’ve been in a hospital bed…the twin bed in Grace’s room was like the Hilton.”
“Good..Good,” she sighed. “It’s not great, but it’s the only place I had to stick a guest bed in a hotel suite.”
“Trust me, I was perfectly comfortable,” he smiled, “And now I’ve gone and made myself perfectly comfortable in your kitchen.”
“It’s fine.” She shifted a bit, drawing in a breath. “You don’t have to ask for permission to do anything here…these are as much your things as they are mine…I mean they would be if…” She looked away, feeling uneasy.
“Here,” he said quickly, desperate to break the tension in the room.
“Thanks,” she smiled, stepping into the living room and feeling him following close behind her. Her eyes fell on the photo albums scattered across the couch.
“I uh..I was just looking.” He reached over, stacking them back on the shelf. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.” He heard her shaky sigh and turned to face her, seeing her sitting on the bed, her head in her hands. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head, looking up at him and he could see by the sheen in her eyes that tears were coming. “I just hate that it’s like this,” she whispered. “We were never like this.”
“Like what?” he asked, honestly confused.
“Awkward, apologetic…like we’re walking on eggshells with each other. We could talk about anything. There was no judgment. There was nothing off limits and now….it’s like we can’t even be in the same room together without it feeling like someone has sucked all the air out.”
“That’s my fault.” Billy took a seat beside her. “I’m sorry.”
“Please stop apologizing. It’s not anyone’s fault. I just wish…” Her eyes stared into his for a moment. It still took her breath away and it seemed unbelievable to her that he didn’t feel the same. “I just wish you still felt something for me.”
He leaned a bit closer. Her eyes were so earnest, and there was something almost intoxicating about being next to her. He could feel the warmth of her body beside his.
Phyllis jumped as the knock on the door echoed through the silent room.
“That’ll be the sitter with Grace,” she said, already feeling the lump in her throat. She looked over at Billy. “You ready for this?”
He paced back and forth in front of the couch, wringing his hands in an effort to expel some nervous energy. Hearing the door shut, he felt a wave of nausea come over him. How was he supposed to do this? How was he supposed to step back into the life of his nearly-five month old daughter?
“How’s Mommy’s sweet girl?”
Phyllis stepped into the room, holding Grace close to her as she looked up at Billy. Tears stung her eyes as she struggled for words. “Grace,” she whispered, smiling as she looked down at her, “We have a visitor.”
Billy closed the distance between them, staring down at the baby girl for the first time. “She’s even more beautiful in person,” he whispered, reaching out and barely touching her.
“You can hold her,” Phyllis said quietly.
“No..she doesn’t want me to hold her. She doesn’t even know me.” Billy stepped back.
“She’ll get to know you. Here…take her.” Phyllis eased Grace into his arms and stepped back, taking a deep breath as she took in the moment.
Billy took a deep breath, struggling to relax as he stared into the wide eyes of the baby girl. “I know you don’t know me,” he whispered, “It’s okay…”
Her tiny face was still for a moment before scrunching up and letting out an ear piercing wail.
“You should take her.” His eyes looked up at Phyllis’ desperately. “She’s afraid of me. Please…”
Phyllis shook her head, reaching out and taking the baby girl back into her arms. A few whispered words and a practiced shuffle and the baby quieted, burying her face into her mother’s chest. “Billy,” Phyllis whispered, “she’ll learn to love you. It’s just new right now…that’s all.”
“I know.” He smiled. “She doesn’t remember anything either. We’re both meeting each other for the first time.”
Phyllis nodded, gesturing over to the swing. “She loves the swing,” she said smiling, “If we’re lucky, you’ll get to hear that sweet little laugh.”
Billy held the swing still as he watched Phyllis settle Grace into the harness. He’d missed so much time with his daughter. He didn’t want to miss anymore.
Phyllis walked back into the living room, removing the burp cloth from her shoulder. She smiled at Billy as he looked up at her with wide eyes. “Well, you’ve had about four hours of Grace—you ready to take over for me?”
“What?” He stood, his breath catching in his throat.
“I’m kidding,” she giggled. “I just meant you seem a bit overwhelmed by all this.” She paused, studying his face. “You don’t have to stay, you know. I know this must be kind of crazy for you. We don’t have to do everything at once. You can see her whenever you want and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Actually,” he said quietly, “If it’s okay, I’d kind of like to see that video now.”
“Oh, the uh…the video of her birth?”
“Yeah…” He saw the look on her face, the way her eyes shifted slightly as he’d said the words, “Unless you’ve changed your mind. I don’t have to watch it..”
“No..No. You’re welcome to see it. I just…It’s…” She swallowed, trying to force herself not to feel what she did. She wanted to be strong, to be content with what they had in the moment, but she couldn’t help but wondering what might have been different….
“Phyllis?” Billy said quizzically.
“I’ll get the video,” she said quickly, moving to walk towards the shelf. She stopped when she felt his hand on her arm.
“Forget the video for a minute.” His words were serious as he pulled her back in front of him. “What’s going on? What aren’t you saying? You said we could talk about anything, so why are you holding out on me now?”
“Damn,” she hissed under her breath as the tear crept down her cheek. “I just…Watching the videos and looking the pictures and telling the stories…It just reminds me of everything that we lost and when I think about the fact that even one day could have been given back to us because of….” She took another breath… “Because of Ronan. I’m just angry. That’s all. I’m really angry.”