Madison’s enthralled from the very first moment. I’m sitting on the blanket, my legs stretched out, while Kennedy lays down, her head in my lap. I cringe my way through the movie, absently stroking Kennedy’s hair.
I glance down at her after a while, realizing she’s not watching the screen, her attention fixed on me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she says. “It’s just strange.”
I caress her flushed cheek. “Being here with me?”
“Yes,” she says. “Just when I was starting to doubt I’d ever see you again.”
“You didn’t think I’d keep popping up every so often?”
“Oh, sure, but that’s not you,” she says. “I knew that guy would keep coming back. I thought I’d be dealing with him for the rest of my life. Drunk, high, out of his mind… but I never thought I’d see you again, real you, yet you’re here. I thought it would always be him.”
I know what she means as she motions toward the screen. I can tell I was strung out. It’s painful.
“I’m here,” I say, “and I’m not going anywhere.”
“I want to believe that.”
She smiles, and I don’t know if she believes it yet, but she looks content in the moment. I brush my thumb along her lips as they part, and I want to kiss her so fucking bad right now, but I know I’ll catch hell from my daughter if I try.
“Ohhhh, Daddy!” Madison says, grabbing my attention, catching me off guard as she launches herself my way. Laughing, Kennedy sits up, moving out of the line of fire as Madison damn near tackles me, leaping on my back and trying to cover my face with her hands from behind. “You’re not supposed to do that!”
“What?” I laugh. “I didn’t do anything!”
“You’re kissing her!” she says as I pull her hands away from my mouth when she tries to cover it. I playfully pretend to bite her, making her squeal. “Stop, Daddy!”
She flings herself on me, falling into my lap, as I glance up at the screen, realizing Breezeo is kissing Maryanne. I scowl, tickling Madison. “It’s just a movie. It’s not real.”
She giggles, slapping my hands away. “You didn’t really kiss her?”
“Well, yeah, but it doesn’t count.”
“Because it’s Breezeo, not me.”
“It’s still yucky,” she says, making a face.
“You think kissing me is yucky?”
I tickle her again, and she struggles, laughing, trying to get away, but I’m not going to let it go that easy. Grabbing ahold of her, pinning her to me, I nuzzle against her cheek as she shoves my face. “Help, Mommy!”
“Oh, no, you’re on your own there,” Kennedy says. “You got yourself into that one.”
“Ugh, no fair!” Madison says, slapping her hands over my mouth. “No kissing ‘till the end!”
“Fine.” I let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “You win.”
She sticks her tongue out at me.
The girl seriously sticks her tongue out, gloating, as she leaps at her mother and kisses on her—planting big, sloppy kisses right on Kennedy, making sure I see it. She’s gone again then, right back to her movie now that the love scene is over.
“Unbelievable.” I shake my head. “I get no love.”
Grinning, Kennedy lays back down with her head in my lap. She stares at me, reaching up, her fingertips brushing across my lips. “You be good, and I’ll make it worth it for you later.”
I cock an eyebrow at her. “Is that right?
J.M. Darhower (Ghosted)