With a heavy heart, I pull up to the daycare. Putting a smile on my face, I look in the back seat at my girls. "You guys ready for school?" Looking at me with big smiles and crystal blue eyes that match mine, Emma and Mia, dressed in pink skirts and white tops, couldn’t be more princess if they tried. I’m hoping at least one of them might want to skate.
I get out of the SUV and open the back door to unbuckle Emma, who is four. "Sit tight until I unbuckle Mia," I instruct her as I slide my phone into the back pocket of my blue jeans.
"Okay, Daddy," her sweet voice says. Walking around the SUV, I open the passenger back door. Mia is trying to unbuckle herself, her patience very much like mine.
"Can I help?" I ask, and she looks up, nodding. She’s wearing her short strawberry-blonde hair in two tiny pigtails to be like her big sister. The only reason she is letting me help is that it gets her out.
I grab her in my arms, putting her on my hip, walking around the car for Emma. I pull open the door and hold out my hand. "Thank you, Daddy," she says, smiling up at me. I notice her pigtails are a little off, but at least I tried.
"I have to grab your bags." I walk to the passenger side and grab their pink backpacks. "Do you want to put them on and walk into school?" I have to ask because I made the mistake of assuming last week, and Mia was fit to be tied.
"I want that," Mia says, pointing at her bag. I look around, making sure no cars are coming before putting her down. I squat down in front of her and put the bag on her shoulders. "I’m a big girl, Daddy," she says with a huge smile, and all I can do is nod, swallowing over the lump stuck in my throat.
Emma grabs her bag and puts it on herself. I grab their hands as we walk into the daycare. Once I punch in the code to open the door, I hold up my hand to the secretary as I walk first to Mia’s class. "Give Daddy a kiss." I crouch down, and she comes into my arms. "I’ll see you in two days," I say. The ache in my heart is the same as when I knew I wouldn’t see them every day. I fight back the disappointment and pretend it’s fine, even though it’s not fine. Nothing about this is fine. I’m the first one in the family to get divorced, and it’s killing me.
"Okay, Daddy," Mia says, not understanding what any of this means. She walks in to her teacher and waves at me.
The routine with Emma is a little different. She clings to my side, and I squat down in front of her. "Give me a kiss." She wraps her arms around me. "I’ll FaceTime you tonight."
"Okay," she says softly. "Will you come tuck me in?"
Everything in me breaks. "Not tonight, honey, but in two days, you get to sleep over for five days." I try to be upbeat. "Now, give me another hug." She hugs me, and then her teacher comes to get her, and I watch her walk into the room. I peek into Mia’s class on the way out the front door. I make no eye contact with anyone as I head back to my SUV with my head hanging.
Once I get in, I take a deep breath, calling the one person who has been by my side since, well, forever.
"Good morning, sunshine," Erika says, and I can hear her moving around. I look at the clock and see that it’s just past eight, so I know she’s getting ready for work.
"Hey," I say, my voice low as I put my head back on the headrest. "I just dropped the girls off at daycare."
I hear her stop moving. "Are you okay?" she asks, knowing that I’m not. "Do you want me to come with you?" I close my eyes. She’s not only my agent but also my best friend. We’ve grown up together, and she knows me better than I know myself, which used to piss off Julianne.
"Nah," I say. "You have work."
"I can catch up later." I get a FaceTime notification and know that it’s her calling me. I accept the call and see her face fill the phone. Her long brown hair is tied on the top of her head as she sits cross-legged in the middle of her bed in a sports bra and yoga pants. Her cheeks are pink, so I know she just worked out, and she’s holding a protein shake in one hand.
"You look like shit," she blurts out, and I laugh. I bring the phone closer to me to see what she sees. In blue jeans and a T-shirt with a baseball hat, I’m in precisely what I wear on my days off. It hasn’t changed since I was sixteen, and it’s not going to change. Except for the addition of circles under my eyes since I didn’t sleep much last night.
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