Home > Lost Love (Arrowood #1.5)

Lost Love (Arrowood #1.5)
Author: J.R. Gray

 

One

 

 

AVERY


“Daddy there are no seamen down here,” Ellie said from the floor on the far side of the room. “You told me there would be seamen.”

I scrubbed a hand over my face. “I must have been thinking of another hotel…” I still didn’t have the hang of eight-year-olds and how they took everything literally. When I’d screamed ‘Get off the floor it’s probably covered in semen’ I hadn’t expected her to roll around on it for the rest of the afternoon expecting battleships, but I couldn’t exactly explain what I’d meant now, could I?

I found myself stuck in a loop of spirling thoughts.

Could I live here again?

Could I raise my kid here?

Would my family forgive me for running away?

I didn’t have any answers, so I watched snow drift down from the sky through the motel room window, coating everything in a lovely white dusting like all the postcards promised. That was what people loved about this place. It was Instagram perfect and a lot of my friends from California came up to ski, with no knowledge I’d spent the first eighteen years of my life here.

I didn’t dare leave the room though. If anyone saw me gossip would spread faster than some Gilmore Girl circle jerk.

The only person who knew my secret was my wife —ex-wife— the word tasted like the ash of love burned to the ground and I still hadn’t reconciled myself with the fact that she never wanted to see me again.

“I’m so hungry I could die!” Ellie flopped onto the bed.

“Die? You really think you could die?”

“Absolutely. It’s a real possibility, father!”

“Uncle Aiden will be here soon and he’s bringing dinner.”

She stopped her flailing and hopped up to peer through the window with me. At least no one in town knew about her existence, besides Aiden, so no one would see her and know I was back. I shouldn’t be scared to face them, but I was really worried about what my other brother Adam and my parents would think about my presence here. About both of us being back in Arrowood.

California felt like an empty shell with nothing worth returning to. Neither place was home anymore. I couldn’t afford the private school Ellie used to attend, so it was public and new friends for her. It wasn’t like I’d had actual friends to begin with anyway, they were all husbands and boyfriends of Fiona’s friends. None of it felt real. Whether it was back in California or here, we had to start over.

“I think I see him!” Ellie exclaimed.

“You don’t know what he looks like.”

“Yes I do, you have pictures of all of them in your iPad.” She wore a coy smile.

“Is that what you’ve been doing when I thought you were playing games?”

She nodded eagerly.

I sighed then there was a knock on the door, and I pulled it open.

“What’s got you all weird?” I asked when my brother didn’t say anything.

“Nothing,” he said, swallowing hard.

I didn’t believe him but who was I to press? The last time I’d seen Aiden he was ten years old. Not much older than Ellie. We were as good as strangers aside from chatting for the last few months.

“Where is Ellie?” he asked.

I glanced around and her head popped out from behind the bed. “I’m building a fort.”

“On the floor?” Aiden asked, staring at me disgusted.

“Dad said there was seamen down here, but I’ve looked and looked and have not found a single submarine.”

I closed one eye and shook my head at Aiden who stared open-mouthed. I made a cutting gesture at my neck so he wouldn’t question it. “It was a slip and I do not want to talk about it.” Parenting is hard and little kids were a lot like terrorists and I was not a good negotiator.

“Hello, Ellie, It’s so nice to meet you,” Aiden said, tearing his attention away from me and plastering a smile on his face.

“You aren’t what I pictured an uncle to look like.” She wrinkled her nose like she hadn’t just been going through pictures on my iPad.

I blinked but didn’t get in the middle.

“What did you expect me to look like?” Aiden asked, giving me a side-eye.

I gave him the ‘I don’t know what my kid is saying’ look most parents master shortly after their kids learn to babble.

She gestured at me and mouthed. “Old.”

“Thanks, kid.” I rolled my eyes. What else could you do when your kid called you old?

“You're balding.” She looked at me over her shoulder. “Why are we staying at this place?” She’d only asked me that a hundred times.

“We came back to where I grew up to see family,” I said exasperated. I held my tongue. I didn’t want to be short with Ellie because I was having a mid-life crisis in my thirties.

“You mean we are moving here since mommy moved out.” It wasn’t a question.

“I didn’t say that.” I hadn’t said anything. Why did it feel like sometimes kids could read your mind? I turned towards my brother who probably hadn’t been prepared for any of this conversation. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should come back. It doesn’t feel like we belong anywhere anymore.” I smiled at Ellie and she nodded.

She must have felt it too. It had been a month since her mother had even tried to see her. She was too busy with work but I bit back all those comments too. I swore I would never put Ellie in the middle and I was keeping to it.

Aiden put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve missed you and I hope you do stay. I think Mom and Dad will want you to as well.”

He was right. Our parents would fawn over Ellie. They didn’t have any other grandchildren. Adam would never have kids, not because he didn’t enjoy them, but because he didn’t enjoy relationships, in my opinion, and Aiden was gay. I didn’t see him adopting anytime soon. He was still young. Twenty four. It made me cringe when I realized that was the age I’d had Ellie at. But Aiden seemed so much younger.

I stared at my feet. “I guess we’ll see. We still need to figure out how we are going to do this.”

“Come to dinner tomorrow like we planned. We are doing our normal Christmas Eve thing.”

I snuck a look up at my brother. The family had Christmas Eve dinner every year together but I didn’t want to be the reason it was ruined.

“I don’t want to just show up unannounced and I’m having second thoughts. I shouldn’t have come, but I need to stop running away when things get hard.” It was the reason I was estranged from all of them in the first place.

“That’s what she said,” Aiden said with a grin.

“Really dude?”

We both looked at Ellie who didn’t seem to notice—thankfully.

“What’s left for you back there?” Aiden asked.

He knew the answer was nothing. We’d spoken about it at length when we’d started talking again. I realized in the middle of my divorce I had no one left so I’d reached out. He’d talked me through a lot of long nights. I shouldn’t have put it all on his shoulders but Aiden was slowly becoming the best friend and brother I’d missed out on.

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