69,250
07.03.2019

Oh my god!

That heavily accented voice demanding I open the door is my dad’s! A huge smile appears on my face, I chuckle while I open the door.

As soon as it opens, my dad yells, “Where is the fuck bastard?!”

Ah, okay.

Dad looks a little out of sorts. His hair is a mess, his eyes are bloodshot and he is spitting angry.

My brow furrows and answer, “Which fuck bastard, Tata?”

He pushes his way into the apartment and makes a show of looking around. Lifting sofa cushions, peering down the hall, checking under the dining table and going so far as to even check if I’m concealing someone in the kitchen cupboards.

He stands in the kitchen and turns to me, he responds, “THE fuck bastard. He no here?”

The fuck bastard. That could only be…

I answer softly, “Jace isn’t here, Ta. I haven’t seen him in years. Before Mia was born.”

Dads eyes flash and he tells me, “He call. He call me looking for you. He ask where you live, Valentina. I no tell him but he try find you.”

What? No way.

I shake my head and say, “Tata, you must’ve been mistaken. He’s not here so…”

I haven’t even notice I’ve left the door open til I hear, “Everything okay, babe?”

I spin and see Nik standing there staring holes into my father’s head. He has a pizza box in his hands and is dressed in sweats and a t-shirt.

Le sigh.

He looks amazing.

I spin back to my back and see Dad staring holes right back into Nik. The funny thing is that Nik is acting protective of me. Okay, so my father has his hands on his hips while wearing a scowl but if my father were a dog he would be a Chihuahua. All bark and no bite.

I ask Nik quietly, “What are you doing here?”

Nik continues to glare at my dad and answers, “Nat thought you might need some company tonight with her being out so she asked me to come.”

That little sneak!

Dad loosens up at this. He storms over to Nik, holds out his hand and says, “Nat tell you to take care my Tina? Natalia is like my own child. If she like you, I like you.”

I roll my eyes and introduce them, “Nik. Dad. Dad. Nik.”

Dad shakes Nik’s hand and replies, “You have longer name?”

Nik nods and replies, “Nikolai Leokov.”

Dad smiles and says, “Ahh, Ruski!” Then he looks at me and says, “Nije hrvatskom, ali on je okay.” Then he leans forward as if Nik isn’t there and whispers loudly, “But Ruski are communists, Tina.”

Oh my God, Dad!

I did not miss my father embarrassing me at all. Luckily, I hear Nik chuckle and he asks me, “Is there a problem? You looked anxious when I got here.”

But it’s my dad that answers a heavily accented, “Big problem, Niki. So big problem. The man try see Tina, she no want to see him. He call me today.”

Nik brow furrows as he asks, “Which man?”

Oh, crap!

I start, “Tata, nemoj!”

But it’s too late, dad blurts out, “The fuck bastard, Jess!” Dad can’t say Jace properly.

Nik turns to me, his eye twitches and he repeats, “Jace? As in, that Jace?”

Oh, Shit!

I don’t normally swear but this is an Oh, Shit moment! Nik looks about ready to kill someone, namely Jace, and dad seems to like this because he’s smiling like a loon.

I’m just about to answer when someone walks into the doorframe and I freeze.

Jace Weathers looks into the open apartment and freezes, too.

I choke out, “Jace, what are you doing here?” Nik steps forward to stand next to me.

Jace looks from Nik to me to Dad and greets, “Hi. It’s been a long time, Tina.”

You don’t say?!

Jace still looks good, a little more mature looking but still tall and handsome. He looks at dad and says in greeting, “Marko.” Then he looks at Nik and says, “I’m Jace.” He holds out his hand for Nik to shake.

Oh, no. I don’t want Nik to get arrested for assault so I quickly take Nik’s hand and squeeze it.

Nik utters, “I know who you are. I just don’t know who you think you are to come here today.”

I jump back in fright when Jace is pushed in the back. He flies forward into the apartment and there stands a fuming Nat behind him yelling, “GET OUT YOU FUCKER, YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE!”

Nat stalks in followed by Mimi, Lola, Trick, Ghost, and Max.

I ask a shrill, “What is everyone doing here?!”

Nat looks at me and says, “Your dad called me. I left dinner and called for backup.”

Dad storms over to Nat, kisses her cheek and puts an arm around her shoulder. Dad loves Nat. Always has. They have the similar abrupt personality and bond over it.

My face falls and I ask, “You left your date for me? Honey, you shouldn’t have done that.”

She smiles and pats my hand, “Don’t worry, I’ll reschedule.”

Jace stands, straightening his jacket. He looks at Nik and says loudly, “I’m the father of Tina’s child. That’s who I know I am.”

A long silence follows.

Nat is the first to react. She steps forward and whispers, “You dare call yourself that?”

Rage fills me. I look at Jace and ask slowly, “Do you even know when Mia’s birthday was?” Jace looks down at his shoes. I continue quietly, “Or the first word she ever said?” The rage builds and I yell at him, “When did she cut her first tooth, Jace?” I close my eyes and breathe deep before saying calmly and quietly, “All you were was a sperm donor. Mia didn’t have a father.”

I burst into tears and croak, “I needed you so badly when she died. My dad had a breakdown mourning my mom. When he needed me the most I couldn’t be there for him because I was organizing Mia’s funeral as well as my mom’s. And you didn’t even come to her funeral.” I nod my head and state, “Twenty five fucking messages, Jace. That’s how many I left. If it weren’t for Dad and Nat, I don’t know where I’d be. But I’m good now. No thanks to you.”

Max looks disgusted as he asks, “You didn’t go to your own daughter’s funeral? What kind of man are you?”

Ghost looks livid, he steps forward and spits, “You need to leave right fuckin’ now.”

Trick growls, “You forget you ever knew Tina.”

I’m suddenly surrounded by warmth and the love of my friends. And it’s nice.

Nik doesn’t say anything for a while then, “Money.”

Jace avoids my gaze when Nik states, “He needs money, Tina. That’s why he’s here.”

My mouth drops open. I don’t believe it. But Jace doesn’t deny it.

Nik gets right up in Jace’s face and says with frightening calm, “I swear to God, you ever come near her again and I will gut you and use your intestines to decorate my Christmas tree. You’re nothing to Tina. Just somebody she used to know.”

Lola hold Trick’s hand and boasts, “Tina has something good here. She doesn’t even think about you anymore.”

Mimi steps forward and states, “If I were you I’d get going. These guys are former gang members. I wouldn’t push ‘em.”

Jace’s eyes widen and his face pales. My dad actually smiles harder.

Jace clears this throat and tells me, “You look good.” Then he turns on his heel and leaves.

Pandemonium breaks out with everyone talking at once. I’m getting questions from all sides and anxiety fills me.

I step back and shout, “Can everyone shut the fuck up?”

My dad gasps and says, “Valentina, you no be rude you friends like that!”

I nod my head in agreement and try again, “Can everyone please shut the fuck up?” My dad nods his head in a that’s better motion. I continue, “I know you must all have questions but I’m in no mood to answer them. So please excuse yourselves because all I want to do right now is go to bed.”

I kiss my father’s cheek and ask, “You need a place to stay or are you heading home?”

He utters, “I go home. Look.” He points to my friends and whispers, “You no need me.”

I take dad’s hand, squeeze it, and I tell him, “I’ll always need you, Ta. Always.”

Then I head down the hall to my room, leaving everyone behind.

I lay on my bed ten minutes before my room bursts open. Nat, Meems, and Lola bring in the pizza that Nik brought and sit on my bed.

Mimi says, “The guys left but you must be out of your mind if you think we’re leaving, doll.”

Nat asks, “Is tonight a ‘Night at the Roxbury’ kind of night? Or more of an ‘Uncle Buck’ kind of night?”

Lola replies, “I thought it was more of a ‘That Thing You Do’ kind of…”

I cut her off with, “You’re all wrong. It’s a ‘Zoolander’ kind of night.”

They all laugh and clap. I sit up on the bed and bow my head regally. I’m glad they didn’t leave.

We spend the night eating pizza and watching ‘Zoolander’, quoting the movie and laughing our heads off.

Friendships like these are hard to come by. I believe if you can count your true friends on your one hand you’re blessed. I’d rather have three true friends than three hundred acquaintances.

Mimi and Lola leave after the movie. I’m back in bed and think about tonight. I was so worried about seeing Jace but now all I can think is Jace who?

Just as I’m falling asleep, my phone buzzes on the bedside cabinet. I read the text and chuckle.

Nik: Would rather be in your bed tonight but don’t want another freaky sleepover with Nat.

Me: Haha… I’m glad you were here tonight.

Nik: Me too, baby. I would tell you I love you but I’m trying to give you time…

Me: I love you, Nik. Goodnight.

Nik: Love you more, Tina. Sweet dreams.

I smile and put my phone back on the side cabinet.

No denying it. I love Nik.

Seeing Jace tonight brought back the same old memories yet somehow they felt different. There isn’t as much pain associated with them anymore. Just a mild sting.

You’re healing.

The likelihood of a person finding true love is few and far between.

Who am I to deny it when I find it?

Tomorrow is a new day.

I wake with a spring in my step.

I get ready for work and am so excited about seeing Nik today.

Put the past where it belongs and move on is what my mom always told me. You see, when dad first met my mom they were just kids. My dad was a mean little sucker and called mom fat.

Yep.

Ever the charmer. So, dad meets mom for a second time later on in life and was floored because my mom was gorgeous. Dad shadowed her like a lost puppy, begging for a date. Mom refused. Dad followed her everywhere til she said yes. He would camp out in front of her work and walk her to her car when she came out. He would randomly show up with an umbrella when it was raining and leave sweet notes on her car window.

I call this stalking. Dad calls this romance.

The point of this story is my mom may never have fallen with my dad if she didn’t move on from the hurt he caused her as a young girl. So that’s what I’m doing. Moving on.

I drive to work with the intention of going straight to see Nik. I park my car and step out.

I’m caught off guard when hands grab at me. Someone strong has a hold on me with one hand tight around my mouth and another arm lifting me by the waist.

I shriek into his hand but it sounds small and muffled. I’m pulled back into a van. I lose a shoe on the street. The man holds me still as I screech and scratch at his hands. I can’t see him but he’s tall. I push my head forward a little and slam it back into his chin. He yells, “FUCK!”

I know that voice.

He covers my mouth with cloth. A huff and puff from exertion and I’m suddenly weaker.

So tired.

I feel sleepy.

Lights out.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The beginning of the end

The morning has been great so far.

I’m waiting on Tina to get into work so I can go squeeze her a little.

She told me she loved me last night and I gotta say it was the first goodnight sleep I’ve had since the misunderstanding about Omarr.

I’m amazed that her douche ex-boyfriend had the nerve to show up at her place. I wasn’t sure why he was there at first but as soon as I mentioned money, he blanched.

Stupid asshole.

Just as I get up and make my way down the hall to the security room, Nat bursts into the hall holding a shoe. She looks shaken. Her eyes are red and puffy. She sees me and runs down the hall crying.

I pull her into a hug and say, “Whoa, there. What’s happened, babe?”

She sputters her response, “Tina was really l—late for work so I w—went to ch—check for her car. Her car was th—there and it was open, Nik. Her shoe was on the floor and her b—bag was still in the car. She’s gone, Nik.”

My stomach drops.

No. God, no.

I ask, “Her cell?”

She responds, “Still in her bag. It looks like she struggled, Nik. There was a little blood on the ground and her shoe was on the road. I don’t think it was Tina’s blood because it was only a few drops, if it were Tina there would’ve been more. I’ve seen her bleed from the smallest cut. She bleeds like a faucet.”

Two options here.

Jace the asshole snatched her up to get money out of her or Omarr has her.

I really hope it’s Jace. I don’t think he’d hurt her, he doesn’t look the type. Omarr, however, would get sick satisfaction out of torturing Tina.

I tell Nat, “I need Jace’s cell number.” She goes through Tina’s phone and gets it. I hope he hasn’t changed his number. I call from her cell.

I’m stunned when Jace answers, “Tina?”

I bark into the phone, “If Tina is with you, you better tell me you piece of shit.”

❮❯