The front door opened and Max shuffled in, hair disheveled. Her fingers twitched with the desire to run her hands through that hair, to try to tame it. Part of her wanted to know why he was home from his paper route later than usual, though.
Shoving her questions down, she wiggled the phone at him. “Guess who just called me?” Her lips broke into a wide grin.
Lifting a shoulder, he ambled past her toward the coffee pot on the counter.
Grabbing Chloe’s breakfast, she moved to the side so he could make his coffee. Savannah put the fruit and waffles in front of the little girl and practically danced to the refrigerator. “I submitted one of my paintings to a gallery.” She leaned toward Max, hands clasped, ready for his reaction.
He measured coffee grounds, his back to her.
Face falling, she inched closer until she stood next to him. “Did you hear me, papi?”
“So?” He turned the coffee pot on and reached for a mug amidst the dishes drying in the drain.
“I got in.” She waited for understanding to dawn on his face. It didn’t. Rocking back on her heels, she mumbled in Spanish to herself about how men were so oblivious to everything. “They’re going to sell it, for money. My art is being displayed to people!” There. Sometimes, she had to break things down for him. Men and women truly lived on different planets.
He gave her a nod and headed for the refrigerator.
“That’s it?” She lurched into his path. “You’re not going to congratulate me?”
His eyebrows knit together. “Why?”
She shook her head and moved to the side. “Never mind.” As he opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the half and half, she tried again, from a different angle. “Mira, the showing’s gonna be early in the day. I kinda have to show up. I was thinking, maybe we could enroll Chloe in a day care. Maybe I could start painting again, a couple hours a day.”
Max slowly turned to look at her. The half-gallon of creamer slipped from his grasp. It crashed to the floor, splashing against the cabinets and Savannah’s feet. “Day care?”
Grabbing the dish towel, she knelt to sop up the mess. “Yeah. Probably just one of the ones where they socialize, you know? Not one of the accredited ones.” She steeled herself for the argument. She knew they couldn’t afford childcare for the whole day, but if she could bring Chloe just a couple of times a week, it would be the perfect compromise.
“Are you serious?” He crossed his arms.
He glared down at her. She grimaced. “Do you want me to say I was kidding?” Meeting his eyes, she smiled. “Just think about it. I know we don’t have the money, but—”
“You want to just dump my kid with strangers?” His words cut into her like shrapnel. At the table, Chloe burst into tears at her father’s sharp tone. Max never yelled.
Lifting Chloe from her seat, Savannah rocked her back and forth. She shot Max a glare. “It’ll only be a few hours a week. Besides, the interaction with other kids her age will be good for her.”
“Will be?” Max’s hands balled into fists.
Ignoring him, Savannah brought Chloe into the living room. The little girl’s favorite cartoons were on. Reaching for the remote, Savannah turned the volume up. Max followed her, though, and she sighed. So much for drawing attention away from their fight.
“You’re not putting my kid into some kind of baby farm.” He pointed a finger at her.
Taking a deep breath, she moved back into the kitchen, hoping that he’d follow. He stomped behind her, and when she turned, he looked even bigger than usual. Huffing, he reminded her of the Hulk. She took a step back, eyes darting for a way around him—just in case. Lifting a hand, she searched for a way to calm him down. “I’m just trying to make us all happy.”
“So you’re not happy?” He bristled and appeared to grow another few inches.
She rubbed her temples. “That’s not what I’m saying.” Glancing at the clock, she tried to change the subject. “Aren’t you going to be late?”
Max looked at the clock, too. Deflating, he nodded. “I had to cover someone else’s route on top of mine, and I got lost.” Stepping over the still-wet spot on the floor, he grabbed the pot of coffee and poured it into a thermos. Spinning away from her, he moved into the living room. He kissed Chloe’s forehead. She looked up at him, cheeks still wet. He turned away. Without another word, he left.
Blinking back tears, Savannah sank to the floor. The Max she knew rarely even raised his voice. If Chloe did something he didn’t like, he merely redirected her. She had never seen him angry, never been afraid of him. She pressed a hand to her lips. Both of her hands shook. Forcing her shaking legs to still, she stood. She needed to figure out what was going on with him. There was no way she could live in a home with so much negative energy swirling around.
Her gaze landed on the cell phone on the counter. She bit her lip. Arguing with Max was one thing. Going behind his back was another thing entirely. Though she would never let him run her life like she was some kind of Stepford robot, she hated to break his trust. When it came down to it, he had a certain parenting style, and she usually didn’t try to undermine him or work against him in any way. He relied on her to take care of his daughter.
She sighed. Missing the gallery wouldn’t kill her, but it would probably hurt her chances of selling the painting. It wasn’t as if she didn’t trust the little girl to behave. No matter how good she normally was, though, Chloe was only four. She had her moments. It could be embarrassing.
She reached for the phone. All she had to do was email Zachary. She could figure out the rest later.
Hands shaking, she opened up the email application. She started to type out a message, then deleted it.
She couldn’t do it, even if it meant giving up her dream. Chloe and Max were her dream instead. They had to be.
She put the phone down on the table and made herself walk away.
In the living room, Chloe sat in front of the television.
“Hey, baby girl, let’s go to the park. Come on, let’s get you dressed.”
Chloe ignored her, her eyes fixated on the screen.
Savannah chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Chloe.” She made her voice slightly sterner and marched across the living room. “Come on, cutie.” Even as Savannah plucked her from the floor, Chloe’s eyes remained on her cartoon.
Pausing, Savannah watched the characters. There didn’t seem to be a plot, and the things they said hardly made sense. When they did say something logical, it was completely inappropriate for a four-year-old.
She put Chloe down, her mind made up.
In several long strides, she was back in the kitchen. She retrieved the phone from the counter and opened the email app again. Taking a deep breath, she sent Zachary a simple message: I’ll be there. Then, closing her eyes and hoping she wouldn’t regret it, she pressed send.
When she opened her eyes, she wished she could take it back. She could only move forward, though.
Squaring her shoulders, she went into her and Max’s bedroom. Throwing open the closet door, she searched for the box that contained all of their personal records. Max hadn’t done much to organize anything back in Waterbury. When they moved to Boston, the first thing she did was bring order to the mess.
She found the box underneath a box of winter clothing. She hoped she wouldn’t regret her next move.
She tucked Chloe’s folder underneath her arm and pushed everything else back into the closet.
“There’s no going back, girl,” she told herself in Spanish. Her grandmother would say that she needed to give it to God. Savannah couldn’t remember ever believing in a higher power, but she could believe in herself. Still, she whispered the phrase her abuela often used. “Vaya con dios.” She suspected that her abuela was actually referencing an old Western, but Savannah liked to think she had been as pious as she always claimed to be.
She dressed quickly then, in the living room, tugged clothing onto Chloe.
“Wanna go to school?” she asked Chloe.
The little girl’s eyes lit up. “School? Like, where you play?”
“Basically.” Savannah held out her hand. “Come on. Let’s go sign you up.” She just hoped that, when the time came to explain, Max would understand.
Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.
Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.
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