The Escape

By: Alice Ward

“Thanks.” I met her gaze, the wrinkles like parentheses on each side of her otherwise smooth face. “I appreciate it.”

She nodded and headed toward the door, stuffed dog and bracelet in her arms. “Anything else you need?”

“Yeah. When the gift is wrapped, will you bring it to me?” I glanced at the clock. “I want to FaceTime Kenz, tease her a little.”

Joyce smiled. “Of course.” The smile slid from her face and she looked at me seriously. “You’re a good father.”

My heart squeezed because I knew the truth. I wasn’t.

Sure, I was good when I was with them, but that wasn’t often enough.

The door clicked softly behind Joyce as she left me to my thoughts. I wasn’t always this morbid or self-deprecating, and I wasn’t completely sure why I was feeling that way now.

I picked up the picture of Kylian and Kenzie from my desk. I’d snapped it at Disney on my last visit. Kenzie was smiling brightly while Kylian just looked annoyed and bored.

“A guilt vacation,” as Danielle called it. She would also call the charm bracelet a “guilt gift” as well as anything else I bought the kids. Nothing I ever did was good enough, and if it was good enough, I was doing it for selfish reasons, according to my ex.

Maybe she was right and everything I did was based on guilt. It was hard to tell anymore.

Guilt or simple obligation. After all, I’d taken over the helm of Armstrong International, even when it was the last thing I’d wanted to do. Business hadn’t been my dream, but here I was, sitting behind this desk for sixteen hours a day.

I swiped a thumb over Kylian’s face then set the photograph down on the corner of my desk.

Scrubbing my face with my hands, I scratched at the beard that was getting a little too long, a reminder that I needed a haircut and trim before heading to Los Angeles on Friday.

I worried about Kylian the most. At seven, he had been getting in trouble in school the last few months. The fact that his behavioral problems began just when his mother remarried wasn’t something a shrink would need to unravel. Kylian hated the rocker. Well, he hated everything.

He hated California.

He hated his mother. His school. His little sister. He hated me.

Did all seven-year-olds hate so many things? I didn’t know.

Danielle assured me that he was fine. That he was just going through a phase. When I learned that he spent most of his time sitting with an Xbox controller in his hands, playing war games that were intended for kids much older than him, I told his mother of my concern.

She’d gotten angry. “Don’t you dare tell me how to raise our kids,” she shouted. “It’s easy for you to say ‘do this or do that’ because you live in New York. You’re not here. You—”

“And why is that? If I remember correctly, it’s because you took them away!”

It had only gone downhill from there, and as a result, Danielle had taken the kids’ iPads away from them, meaning I couldn’t FaceTime them or them FaceTime me. It wasn’t the first time she’d punished me — them — that way.

But when I’d spoken to my attorney about it, Leslie had only shrugged. “Is she stopping you from talking to them on the landline?” When I shook my head, she shrugged again. I really hated when she shrugged. “Then she’s fulfilling her side of the agreement. If you’d wanted unlimited FaceTime access, we should have added that to the parenting plan papers.”

But I hadn’t thought.

Dammit. I hadn’t thought of anything.

For someone with an IQ of one-forty-two, I was an idiot.

My phone rang, pulling me out of my head and into the real world of business, and by the time I hung up, Joyce was back with the wrapped present.

It made me smile. Joyce did everything right. The pink and white striped paper was secured with a wide, gauzy looking purple bow, with silk flowers tucked in for extra flair.

“Are you sure you won’t marry me?” I asked my assistant.

She rolled her light blue eyes. “I changed your diapers, so that would feel a little odd.” Her brow lifted. “I thought you were never marrying again anyway, so the whole topic is moot.”


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