“Which one of you is Denver?” The woman looks between me and my brother.
I’m not ashamed to admit that relief envelops me like that heavy blanket Savannah bought for herself last month.
The relief is bone-deep that I have no idea who this woman is and with a quick calculation of her daughter’s age, it’s easy to figure out I was in Europe when she was conceived.
Win for me.
Not so much for my brother.
My brother glances back to me, slowly standing from the chair and steps in her direction like he’s about to be sent to jail with no chance of parole. “I’m Denver. You are…”
She cocks her hip farther out, raising an eyebrow. The baby tugs at her hair, but she absentmindedly lowers her hand without a complaint. “Really?
“I know we’d both had a few that night, but I thought you might remember my name. It’s Harley.”
Harley? The name rolls around in my head. Nope. Not the baby daddy.
It’s clear the way Denver keeps turning in my direction with his pleading stare of ‘it’s yours, right’ question, he has no idea what the hell is going on either.
If neither of us recognizes her than maybe we’re both in the clear. Maybe we’re being set up. This is totally something Liam would do.
My eyes shift to him. He’s leaned back with both arms resting along the back of the chairs.
The life-is-great grin splashed across his face says he’s enjoying this, but there’s still a note of surprise in his features that tells me this isn’t an early April Fool’s prank on his part.
By the time I scan the room to make sure no other assholes in my family thought it’d be funny to play a prank, I cross-examine G’Ma D twice because this would be up her alley.
Asking a woman to come in and pretend and then lecture us about safe sex and how if we don’t start settling down, this day will likely come.
“Rome,” Denver’s soft plea brings my attention back to him.
Shit, he wants help. What am I supposed to do? He knocked her up.
“Listen,” I say, stepping forward. “I think maybe you have the wrong person.”
Harley’s eyes narrow and her head whips in my direction. “And you are?”
“Rome Bailey. His twin brother.”
“I’m not blind,” she murmurs.
I refrain from reminding her that she’s the one who asked. This is a stressful situation all around, so I keep my sarcasm to myself. “If he thought he was this cutie pie’s father, he’d say so.”
The baby interrupts all the dramatic tension by patting the woman’s face over and over again, saying, “Mama. Mama.”
“Would you like me to take her so you can—” Brooklyn rounds the end of the table with her arms out.
Harley swivels so the baby is as far from her grasp as possible.
“Or not.” Brooklyn puts her hands up in the air and sits down in an empty chair. She’s closer now and I watch her scour the little girl’s face for any resemblance to the Bailey features.
The little girl is adorable and I’m totally on board to play favorite uncle. Her hair isn’t blonde like her mother’s, it’s a light brown, but her eyes are the same green color as her mom’s.
Her chubby cheeks are pink from being outside. She throws one of her mittens off and tosses it across the room, hitting Savannah in the face.
My family laughs and Savannah picks it up, slowly approaching Harley like she’s a hungry tiger wanting to feast on us all.
“Thanks,” Harley says, holding the mitten in her hand. The little girl takes off the other one and throws it, so it lands in the cream sauce I put out earlier.
“I’ll go clean this up.” My soon-to-be sister-in-law, Holly, picks it up and heads to the kitchen.
“It’s no—” Harley’s words die on her lips because Holly’s going to do it no matter what.
“Where were we?” Harley grabs a hold of the baby’s hand from her face, kisses her palm and places it by her side then lasers those green eyes my way.
“Since your brother Denver is playing dumb, let me fill everyone in. We met in Seattle a little over two years ago. He had a layover and came into the bar I worked at.
“He stuck around after closing time. One thing leads to another and this is the result of our one-night stand.” She nods at the baby who’s now looking at me with rapt attention.
Denver raises his hands up in the air like we’re in the principal’s office in high school again. “I wasn’t in Seattle two years ago.” He looks around for a witness or someone to agree with him.
What are we on Maury Povich here?
“You sure you’d remember?” Austin asks.
Denver turns to our eldest brother with a scowl like he’s losing his man card once we figure out this situation.
“Because I think I could remember if I took a trip to…” Denver continues on, stating facts about how he couldn’t have been down in the lower forty-eight when the baby was conceived.
We all know he rarely leaves Alaska since his schedule can be grueling and busy. The man makes his living as a bush pilot and ninety percent of his business is in Alaska.
As my family starts arguing about it and the woman grows quiet, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Seattle? Layover? Two years ago?
Denver might not have been in Seattle, but I was. I had a layover right before flying to New York and then on to Florence.
There was a snowstorm out east and I remember being pissed about it because I had to call my new mentor in Italy and tell him I’d be a day late.
I examine the woman in front of me again. Her green doll-like eyes had to be what captured me first. I’d remember those, wouldn’t I?
The thought triggers something in my mind and déjà vu hits me like a brick to the head. I’ve said that to someone before—doll eyes.
My mind was all over the place that night. The fear that my mentor would say the hell with you. The fear of leaving my family for so long.
The fear of my dream being only a few flights away but being delayed once again.
Denver’s head whips around with wide eyes and blanches when he sees my expression. “You?”
The sound of a chair scraping across the floor breaks my trance. Austin stands, walking over to us. “I’m sure we can figure out what’s going on here,” he says, taking control.
I’m surprised Savannah hasn’t demanded a paternity test and kicked her out before any further talks commence. And I haven’t heard this much silence from G’Ma D since our parents’ funeral.
“Can I talk to you in the back?” I ask Harley.
“It’s admirable that you want to help your brother out here, but Denver is the father.” Her eyes narrow on Denver and he coughs like he might vomit all over my new floor.
She tilts her head, waiting for me to fill in the blanks. “I saw him on the news.
“He’s the pilot and unlike him, I remember his face and his name,” she finally says when she gets tired of waiting for me to speak again.
“Well…” I run a hand across the back of my neck, gripping tight enough to spur me to speak the truth.
Denver stares at me, his eyes conveying that he’s not taking one for the team this round.
“I gave you his name in Seattle.” I blow out a breath again. “It’s this thing we used to do when we were younger. He’d tell girls he was me and I’d do the same. It’s stupid, I know.”
The entire room groans. Whispers commence between all of them questioning when I’ll grow up.
She blinks a few times staring between the two of us. For a new mother, she’s sure got the disappointed look down already. “Unbelievable.”
“I didn’t think we’d see each other again.”
“So why give me your twin brother’s name then?” She swings the baby around to rest on her other hip like a pro. Of course, she’s a pro she’s been doing this for a while now.
It’s then that the realization that I’m a dad and my daughter is right in front of me hits me.
A heavy feeling invades my chest and before this moment if you’d asked me I’d have told you it’s because I don’t want to be a father.
But instead it’s the fact that I’ve missed out on a helluva lot in my daughter’s life.
A million questions rattle my brain. Why is Harley here now? Why not before? Is she here for money? Has she been looking for me for two years and does she want a relationship? Like an instant family.
I’m not one to settle down. Regardless, we need to clear some things up now and the last thing I want is my family more involved than they already are.
“Can we talk?” I step forward toward Harley and the baby.
Holly rushes over with a cleaned mitten and Harley thanks her with a tentative half smile.
“There’s no need for that. All I need from you is a swab of your DNA.” She shifts the baby again and digs into her purse, handing a business card to me. “Go there. They have the instructions.”
“WAIT!” I call out.
She stops but doesn’t turn around.
“What’s her name?”
The room silences and she pauses for a moment as though she’s not going to tell me.
“Calista,” she finally says and leaves like she didn’t just up-end my life.