The EscapeBy: Alice Ward
I stroked my beard, enjoying the banter. “Well, for your information, it doesn’t.”
The blue eyes went heavenwards again. “Well, I’m not ‘pose to say ass, so I say butt instead. And butt means donkey.”
I made a barking sound that was essentially me cutting off a laugh. I forced my eyebrows into a frown. “You’re right. You’re not supposed to say that.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, Kylian does.”
I sat back and crossed my arms over my chest too. “Well, he shouldn’t.”
Her eyes grew wide and she leaned closer to the screen. “I know, but he’s doing bad boy stuff. A. Lot.”
I didn’t have to fake a serious face now. “Like what?”
She looked over her shoulder. “I’m not ‘pose to say.”
I leaned forward. “Who told you that you weren’t supposed to say?”
She looked over her shoulder again, causing water to splash onto the screen as her long dark hair whipped around. “Mommy,” she whispered, her mouth just about the only thing I could see. “Shhh, don’t tell.”
I took a deep breath and forced my jaw to relax. “I won’t tell, honey. Where is your mommy?”
Kenzie pulled back until I could see her face again. “She’s taking a nap with Jet.”
I gritted my teeth. I remembered when Danielle and I used to take “naps,” but that wasn’t what concerned me now. “Honey, who is at the pool with you?”
She looked over her right shoulder, then her left. Then she shrugged. “Nobody.”
Fear became ice in my belly. “Kenz, you know you’re not supposed to swim by yourself.”
She rolled her eyes. “That was when I was a baby, but I’m big now.”
Stroking a hand down my face, it took all of my effort to remain calm. “Honey, I know you’re big, but it’s not safe for anybody to swim with no one else around.”
She sighed, reminding me again of her mother. “But I was bored.”
“Well, how about you and me keep talking until Mommy wakes up from her nap?”
Her face brightened. “That sounds like a good idea. I miss you.”
My heart squeezed. “I miss you too.” The door to my office opened and Joyce peeked around the corner. She pointed at the package and then her watch. I smiled at her and nodded, pushing the present to the other side of the desk.
“Who’s that?” Kenzie asked.
I turned my iPad around until Joyce filled the screen. I couldn’t see her face, but Kenzie screamed, “Joyce! Hi. My birthday is tomorrow!”
Joyce took the iPad from my hands, and the two chatted for a few moments before saying goodbye. Joyce picked up the present and was gone as silently as she’d arrived. Not for the first or even the millionth time, I wondered what I’d do without her and silently begged her not to retire. Ever.
When I was looking into my daughter’s sweet face again, I searched for a new topic to fill the time. But before I could think of one, Kenz cocked her head and looked back at the house I paid for. “Mommy’s awake.” Then Kenzie frowned. “She’s yelling.”
Sure enough, after a few moments, I could hear yelling too. It was muffled but two voices screamed at each other. Danielle, and a lower one. The fucking rocker.
“Stay where you are, sweetheart,” I told my daughter, but she looked worriedly between the screen and the door. “Have they been fighting a lot?”
Kenzie gazed back into the camera and very slowly raised a little finger to her lips. “I’m not ‘pose to tell.”
“You look beautiful, little princess,” Prince Vitalievich said to me, his mouth close to my ear. He told me to call him Pavel, but I wasn’t yet able to think of him so intimately. I wasn’t sure I ever could.
“Thank you.” My voice was icy in its politeness, but I wasn’t able to warm it up. My entire body had grown cold as I waited for our cue to enter our farce of an engagement ball.
It didn’t seem to bother him. All that appeared to matter to him was that I was wearing the long silk ballgown he’d chosen for me. Once again, I was covered from throat to wrist to ankle, even though the bodice of the dress was so tight it nearly cut off my ability to breathe. Its color was its only salvation… a gold that very nearly matched my hair.