He sighed, trying to shove aside the uncharacteristic surge of melancholia. He needed to shake this off. He needed a beer and time with a friend. The only person who sprang to mind was probably the last person he should contact. How the hell was he supposed to look Lucius in the eye after learning that Cleo was pregnant with his baby? She had inexplicably attempted to preserve his friendship with her brother, and Dante supposed he could be grateful for that. Still, facing Lucius on the same day he’d received the paternity-test results wasn’t something Dante was prepared to deal with just yet.
He mixed himself a strong drink, indulging himself with a couple of fingers of twenty-year-old single-malt scotch on the rocks. He carried his tumbler out onto the balcony and sat down in one of his comfortable patio chairs with his bare feet propped up against the railing. The sky had gone a deep, velvety blue, with just a few hints of magenta still bleeding into the ocean on the horizon.
He dug his phone from his pocket and scrolled through his messages and e-mails, and after replying to a few of the semi-important ones, he gave in to temptation and Googled week-by-week pregnancy guides.
He was fascinated to learn that peeing and making faces weren’t all that week fourteen had to offer. The baby had also developed a pelt of hair all over its body. Dante couldn’t help but visualize a weird simian-looking thing curled up in Cleo’s womb. He shuddered and continued to read. He wondered if she could see any difference in her body yet? She still looked exactly the same to him, and the top of that leotard had been quite form-fitting, so surely he would have noticed any swelling in her midsection. Maybe her breasts had been a little bigger? He couldn’t be sure; the leotard had unfortunately flattened them a bit too much for his liking.
And why had he even been looking at her breasts in the first place? Why was he thinking about them now?
His thoughts drifted to her ultrasound and wondered what the baby would look like.
He tilted his head back and imagined a little girl with black hair and snapping emerald eyes like her mother’s. He had no experience with kids, and for some reason he couldn’t quite picture an infant. In his mind the child was a toddler, two or three, wearing a little pink tutu and white leggings. He could see her clumsily twirling until she got dizzy, and when she inevitably lost her balance, he was there to . . .
He sat up abruptly, feet hitting the deck and drink nearly spilling.
Mierda! What the hell was he doing fantasizing about some kid who would have no place in his life?
He tossed back his drink and hurried inside to change into his loose training shorts. He needed a good workout. He needed to straighten his head out.
He padded, on bare feet, into his private gym and warmed up with a vigorous jump-rope session and a few stretches before dragging on his boxing gloves and proceeding to beat and kick the hell out of the heavy punching bag suspended from the ceiling. Less than half an hour later, he was too mentally and physically wrung out to think about anything other than the abuse he was putting his body through, and after his workout was complete, the only things on his mind were shower and sleep.
Not Cleo and her inconvenient pregnancy.
He was done with that.
“Heeey!” A super chirpy voice screeched into Cleo’s ear and she cringed slightly. “Guess who’s back in town?”
“Hi, Coco,” she said faintly, one eye still defensively squeezed shut as her brain tried to adjust to the sugar rush Coco’s high-pitched, syrupy voice always sent screaming through her bloodstream. “When did you get back?”
“Last night! Did you miss me?”
“I did.” And she meant it. Coco had been one of her best friends throughout dance school, and even though they’d drifted apart after Cleo’s accident, she always made a point of visiting whenever she was in town. She was a member of a well-known dance troupe and had even been doing a few solos on their international tours. Cleo had always been a better dancer than Coco, and they both knew it, so Cleo couldn’t help feeling envious of her friend, which made things awkward between them, so it was probably a good thing they rarely saw each other these days.
“Well, I’m back, and so’s Gigi,” she squeaked, while Gigi’s equally high-pitched voice screeched a hello in the background. Gigi was another former classmate of theirs, a ditzy girl who was happy just being in the corps de ballet. She simply wanted to dance and receive a regular paycheck. She was also one of the nicest people Cleo knew. “Want to come out for a drinkie?”
“How long will you guys be in town?” Cleo asked, glancing at the clock. It was nearly eight in the evening, and she had her ultrasound in the morning. Not the best time to be going out.
“For a couple of weeks,” Coco replied.
“Great, then can I take a rain check? I really can’t make it tonight. I have an important appointment tomorrow,” she said, genuine regret deepening her voice.
“What about tomorrow night?” Coco asked.
“That’ll be cool. Sure.”
“Yay! I’ll text you the deets! See you then!” Coco always spoke in exclamations; it was a little draining chatting with her sometimes, especially without any forewarning.
Cleo headed into the living room, where Cal was stretched out on the sleeper couch. His glasses, which he was too vain to let anyone but her see him wear, were perched on his nose as he read one of the gory thrillers that he loved. He peered up at her over the top of his glasses as she went to the kitchen to get herself some juice.
“Coco and Gigi are back in town,” she said after sitting down at the kitchen table and taking a sip of her drink.