10/14/16 – Friends With Daughter Benefits
“And then this is us.” Layla concluded the house tour in front of her half-open bedroom door. She’d taken Mark through the whole place – unimpressive as it was – and walked him into Mick and Wes’s rooms, shown him her garden, detailed all the renovations they’d undertaken so far. The house was more remodeled than not, these days.
But for reasons she’d only just thought of, she didn’t really want to take her father into the bedroom she shared with her husband. Especially considering said husband was one of her dad’s best friends.
Shit, this was weird.
Prison had aged Mark in ways that time never could. He stood before her with heavy gray streaks in his hair, and a deeply lined face. She could see the sharp points of his shoulder beneath his shirt. The Lean Dogs inside had protected him, as per the agreement, but jail was still jail.
“Aren’t you going to show me?” he asked, and his tone was so hopeful – he was reaching so hard to engage with something beyond what he’d endured – that she couldn’t refuse.
“Sure.” Her palms felt clammy as she pushed the door wide and stepped inside.
It was just a bedroom. Plush white coverlet and pillows, blue quilt folded down at the foot of the bed. Sly’s closet door stood open a fraction, sleeve of a denim shirt peeking through. A pair of Layla’s boots stood at the end of the bed. Her jewelry box sat open on her dresser, and in it she could see the necklace Sly had given her for their anniversary. Just a bedroom…but it so obviously belonged to two people. Mark had been nothing but supportive of their relationship, of their kids…but that had been when they were separated, when it had been abstract. A large part of her worried that her dad would finally see the evidence of their cohabitation and rethink his approval. It was one thing to think something, another to have it shoved in your face.
But Mark looked around with obvious approval. “Y’all have lots of space. You redone the bathroom?”
“Yeah.” And she showed him that too.
Sly got home at six, and Layla watched her husband and dad exchange back-slapping man-hugs. Apparently, she was the only one experiencing the weirdness.
They had spaghetti for dinner, and Sly helped her bathe the boys and put them to bed. She lingered a moment, assuring Mick there weren’t any monsters under the bed, and when she walked back into the living room, she found it dark, only the TV as a light, and she waited a moment, in the shadows, listening.
“She looks happy,” Mark said, a smile in his voice. “She was never happy as a little girl.”
“You think she’s happy now?” Sly asked in that emotionless voice of his that meant he was searching for an answer he didn’t already have.
“Yeah,” Mark said, without hesitation. “I thank you for that, brother.”
When Mark was gone, and the house was dark, Layla eased down onto the sofa beside her husband, tucking her body into his warm, strong side. His arm went around her waist right away, instinct. He smelled like smoke, and axle grease, and the great Georgia outdoors.
“I am happy,” she said, quietly. “Dad was right.”
His hand curled, warm and strong and comforting, around her ribs. “I know that, sweetheart.”
“I still kinda can’t believe,” she admitted, “that Dad isn’t bothered about us being together.”
He leaned his head against hers, breath ruffling her hair. “When you love somebody, all you care about is the happy part.”