Rewrite the Stars, стр. 2

hoping to hold on to the contentment enveloping me as I went about the rest of my full day.

“I’ve got this.” Theo craned his neck to look at me as the children began another round of assaults on his back. “You’re overworked and underpaid. Go do what you need to do.”

“But it’s Father’s Day. I can’t do that to you.”

“Do what? Leave me with my children? I’m right where I want to be.” Theo—in one swift move—flipped his body over, grabbed the children, and clutched them to his chest. The move surprised me and gave me hope that Theo still existed. He did have this.

A mental check of my to-do list: most of the day consisted of tasks to be accomplished at home—doing laundry, decluttering the mud room, sorting old toys for the Vietnam Vets pickup scheduled for the next week—except for grocery shopping. “Okay, but at least let me take Lexie to the store. She loves to see her grocery store friends. Plus, Charlie and Delia have been complaining about their lack of Daddy time.”

A year ago, when Lexie turned six months old and Theo had been struggling with PTSD for eleven months, we called it quits. Somewhat. Theo and I as a unit didn’t work, mainly due to his symptoms. He’d turned inward, and nothing I had tried brought him back. At that time, we stopped sharing our day, stopped touching one another, and eventually stopped sleeping together. Theo refused to see a therapist with me on a routine basis, claiming we’d be “better off with different expectations of our future together.”

After much thought and debate, and because we still both respected one another, we decided to be frank and tell the kids of our separation. The PTSD made sure Theo needed our help, so he still lived in an addition at the back of the house. But with the older kids at all-day summer camps and school the rest of the year, Charlie’s and Delia’s time spent with Dad was at a premium.

He didn’t hesitate. “All right. Take Lexie and go get the grub. It’s Father’s Day, and I’m not doing the cooking!” He convulsed with laughter as the kids’ fingers found their way into his armpits.

“Ha! Like you ever do.” I winked at him.

Not wanting to waste a moment, I pried Lexie from Theo’s legs and nuzzled her belly with my nose, drunk on the scent of my eighteen-month-old daughter. She giggled and squirmed and, like an inch worm, wriggled to the floor, then caught my hand in hers. With a quick swipe of the car keys and diaper bag and a check that a snack was accessible in the refrigerator, we wound our way through the back hallway to the garage.

“Do we know what we’re getting?” I asked Lexie, who held the paper between her thumb and forefinger. She lifted the list in the air and waved it like a flag before crumpling it in her tight, gooey grip. When I pried the list from her hands, her grin stretched as wide as her face.

Once I’d buckled Lexie into her car seat, I grabbed my favorite cotton sweater from the seat beside her. “Okay, sweetie, to the store we go!” I tugged my sweater onto my arms and adjusted the buttons across my chest. It wasn’t until later, as I hung the sweater on the drying rack in the laundry room, I noticed the loose thread at the bottom hem.

.    .    .    .    .

“Lexie, please. Sit still. We’re almost finished here.” I handed my stack of coupons to the cashier, then rummaged in my purse for my shopper’s card.

A sharp squeak of a cart’s wheels fought for attention with the piped-in music streaming from the store’s speakers, and I threw a quick side-glance to the offender behind me. Too concerned my grocery order was holding up the line, I noticed nothing about him.

The cashier took her time scanning my coupons. Swipe. Bing! Swish. Swipe. Bing! Swish. Thankful we’d saved a good deal of cash on this trip, I turned again toward the man behind the cart, hoping my face held a silent apology for the delay. This time, I saw all of him: warm brown eyes sparkling under the fluorescent store lights, perfect bow lips curving upward, and a dimple flickering on his right cheek.

“Hey, no worries,” he said. “It’s Sunday, and I don’t have anywhere else to be.” A slight drawl clung to his words—a simple protraction that drew me in and made me want to hear more. Butterflies collected in my stomach as I stared at him.

Lexie’s babbling helped me focus on the task at hand: squaring myself in front of the cashier and sliding my credit card through the reader. With a single, piercing gaze of his eyes, this man had rattled me. What was that all about?

“Happy Father’s Day to you!” the cashier said to him, interrupting the spinning inside my head. She gestured to the belt that he should empty the cart of its items. “You should take the day off and spend time with that sweet daughter of yours.”

The man nodded and moved his squirmy child away from the edge of the almost-full grocery cart before looking at me.

“When you have kids, there is no day off, is there?” The words escaped before I could think better of it, and a current of heat ran through my body, from my stomach to my heart, then to my neck. I averted my eyes: partly to mask the blush, partly to look at the credit card reader as the need to ground myself overwhelmed me.

“So true, so true,” the man replied. “How many do you have?”

“Three. She’s the youngest.” Lexie reached for the receipt, which I gave her. Much to my chagrin, words continued to flow. “The others are eight and eleven. What about you?”

“This little bug is three, and I have a son who’s seven. I’d have liked more but...”

“You get what you get, and you don’t get