Trenton grinned. “She’s a cool little kid.” He stood, pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and dialed a number.
“Hey, Trenton,” Taylor began, but someone had already picked up the other line.
“Shane,” Trenton said. “What’s up, buttercup? No. Yeah. Yeah. What’s Ew doing today?”
I looked at Taylor and mouthed the word, Ew?
Trenton nodded. “Yeah, my brother’s in town with his girlfriend. Taylor. Nope, he’s still selling insurance. They both are. Up in Colorado. Pussies.” He shot a smug grin at his older brother.
Trenton continued his conversation with Shane, “You wanna meet us at the park? Or do you have something going on?”
As Trenton listened to Shane’s response, my stomach sank. Shane and Liza would recognize me. If they came to the park, I wasn’t sure how they would react that I’d shown up unannounced.
“Okay, that’s cool. Later.” Trenton set his phone on the table. “Shane’s at work, and Olive is at home with Liza. He’ll call Liza, and he said we could go pick Olive up in twenty.”
“Sounds good,” Taylor said. “Is Bagby Park still her favorite?”
“All right. I’m going to pick up some smokes, and we’ll meet you there.”
“Hey,” Trenton said, suddenly serious, “no smoking around Olive.”
“I know, fuckstick. See you in a bit. See you later, Dad.”
Taylor and I stood, and Jim waved good-bye. We walked outside to the car, fingers intertwined. It wasn’t the first time Taylor had reached for me, but this felt different. He wasn’t just holding my hand. He was offering to be a witness to the day I’d change my future and my past.
I pulled the seat belt across my chest, watching as Taylor twisted the key in the ignition.
“Did you bring your phone?” he asked.
“Because you’re going to want to take pictures. That’s okay. You can use mine.”
I shook my head. “No. No pictures. Just memories.”
I nodded and took a deep breath as Taylor backed out of the drive.
We stopped at the convenience store at the end of the road. Taylor hurried in, bought two packs of cigarettes, and rushed out with them in hand.
He pleaded with his eyes. “I guarantee you, tonight’s poker night.”
“So, you’re going to smoke both packs?”
I wrinkled my nose, and he chuckled. He kissed my hand before pulling out onto the road and heading for the park.
The drive to Bagby Park was a short trip, just two miles away. Taylor pulled into the small gravel parking area, and I pushed out the door, feeling the small rocks crunch under my feet until I reached the grass.
“Damn, I haven’t been on one of those in a while!” Taylor said, pulling me to the seesaw. He straddled one end, waiting for me to sit on the other.
“Don’t buck me off this thing. I don’t want to waste the day in the ER instead of spending it with Olive.”
His expression was one of disappointment, but then he laughed. “You know me too well. Glad there is at least one adult in this relationship.”
That caught Taylor off guard. “Um … well … yeah. Aren’t we?”
“I still have until Monday. You said we were friends until after the weekend.”
He arched an eyebrow, unimpressed. “I don’t do to my friends the things I did to you last night. Our friendship is officially over.”
He sat down, letting his weight take him to the ground as my feet left the grass.
“Fair enough,” I said, coming back down to earth.
A slow grin crept across Taylor’s face until he was beaming with victory. He popped a cigarette into his mouth. “Holy fuck. Dad said it would happen, but I never believed him.”
A shoddy red Dodge Intrepid parked next to our rental, and the driver’s side door flew open, revealing Trenton. He jogged around the front and opened the passenger side, reaching into the backseat and then plopping a small platinum beauty onto her feet.
My heart leaped the moment Trenton stepped aside, and her angelic face came into view. Liza had braided her hair to the side, and she wore a pair of Mary Janes with thick rubber soles, pretty but also functional for a playdate with Trenton at the park.
She took off at full speed toward the playground, breezing past us as she made a beeline for the swings. I walked with Taylor and Trenton to the nearest bench, and I watched her situate herself. In her sweet tiny voice, she called for Trenton to push her, and tears stung my eyes. The day I had been waiting for was here.
“I’ll do it,” I said, jumping up.
“How high?” I asked as I pulled back on the chains before releasing her.
I pushed her once and then again.
“That’s good,” Trenton called. “She says higher, but then she gets scared.”
I pushed her, careful to push her enough only to keep her happy. I looked past her to Taylor, who was watching us like a proud father.
Olive let me push her for another ten minutes, and then she asked me to swing with her, so I climbed into the swing next to her. Once I got myself going, she reached out for my hand. We swung back and forth together, giggling at nothing and everything.
She threw back her head, the most wonderful laugh flitting through the air. The whole world fell away, and in that moment, it was just her and me, making the memory I’d dreamed of since she was born.
“Slide!” Olive jumped off the swing to the ground, her little feet already in motion.
Together, we climbed up the ladder, and then I followed her across the bridge to the double slide. We sat side by side, and I looked over at my daughter, her face almost identical to so many of my childhood photographs. Olive pushed off, and I did, too. Our feet hit the ground at the same time. Our eyes met, and we raced around again.
As the hour passed, I chased Olive around the playground, and a peace came over me that I had never felt before. She was happy, and even though I had missed it all, we had that perfect little moment of time, one of just her and me that would hide away in her memory.
All too soon though, Trenton called for her, “Ew! Your mom’s home from the store! Time to go.”
“Aw!” she groaned. She looked up at me. “Want to come to my house and pway?”
“I wish I could,” I said. “I loved spending time with you.”
She opened her arms wide, waiting for me. I bent down and gently held her, feeling the strands of her hair in my face and her pudgy little fingers pressing into my shoulders.
Trenton swept her up into his arms and carried her to the car.
I tried not to cry as Trenton buckled her in, saving my tears until he pulled away.
“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Taylor said. “Was it what you wanted?”