Sundays with Oliver (Hearts & Crafts, 1)
Two empty-nesters. Two bruised hearts. One chance to make things right.
Oliver expected to miss his daughter when she left for college, but he’s surprised by the size of the hole she leaves. Or maybe he hadn’t expected to spend his days watching grass grow and making sad cookies. Or to lose his job. Meeting Nick—the uncle of his daughter’s roommate—is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy forecast. Nick is focused, talented, and as beautiful as the dollhouses he builds. Being near him might bring light and purpose to Oliver’s life.
Nick expected to miss his niece when she left for college, but he’s still figuring out how to cope with her absence, when his brother reappears after twelve years, complicating the emotional puzzle. Then there’s Oliver, the sweet, calm, and competent man who looks at Nick like no one ever has. Spending Sundays in Oliver’s company is the balm he needs, though Nick is waiting for Oliver to decide their relationship is too much work.
But just as Nick begins to get comfortable, Oliver’s need to provide for all of the people he loves threatens to pull them apart. If their relationship is to survive, they will have to learn to let go. For Oliver, this means asking himself what he really wants, this time around. For Nick, it means letting himself grieve the people who can’t come back and love the people who always will.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Breakfast was Oliver’s favorite meal of the day. He would lie in bed at night considering recipes, already tasting melted butter or the crisp edge of a lightly browned biscuit. Last night, it had been the dainty texture of crepes and the sweet contrast of peach compote. Peach season was nearly done. But as August waned, along with summer, autumn would bring new fruits and new breakfast options.
Oliver preferred not to think about what else autumn would bring, but he’d done that too, lying there in the dark, flipping crepes in his mind. In just five short days, he’d be delivering his best recipe to college: his daughter.
With morning sunlight splashing through the kitchen windows, Oliver slid a second batch of crepes into the warming drawer, stirred the peaches, and nodded with satisfaction. Breakfast was almost ready. He flicked off the burners and unknotted the strings of his apron.
His footsteps echoed off the risers as he climbed the stairs, his tread deliberately heavy and noisy as he approached Danica’s bedroom. Waking a teenager could be like raising the dead; advance warning and preparation were always recommended. Oliver paused outside the door, listening for signs of life before he knocked.
Still nothing. He opened the door and leaned into the miasma that had developed roughly three years ago, only ever dissipating when Dani left for summer camp with instructions not to open her windows “because spiders.”
Oliver always ignored such instructions. He would lie in bed the night before she left, picturing her curtains rippling in a fresh breeze—right after he’d settled on what he would serve for breakfast in the morning.
Stacked plastic tubs formed a wall between the door and the bed. His ankle turned as he stepped on something soft and he stumbled into a tub before catching himself on a bedpost. Plastic lids slid off the desk chair and clattered to the floor. The chair squeaked and turned, knocking into the desk, and feathers from Dani’s latest costume design puffed up and began a lazy descent. Oliver spat one away from his lips and leaned sideways. The bed creaked as he adjusted his weight.
His daughter did not stir.
“Dear lord, Dani.”
Should he feel for a pulse?
Who would feel for her pulse next week when she lay comatose in her college dorm room?
Oliver laid a hand on his daughter’s sleep-warm head. “It’s time to get up.” He lifted his voice to match the bright sunshine seeping in around the edges of the curtains. “I made crepes.”
Dani curled tighter, the movement providing a much-needed sign of life.
“You love my crepes. You won’t be able to get them in the city.”
“They sell crepes in New York, Dad.” Dani’s voice croaked and cracked.
“Not like mine.” And if he left them in the warming drawer for too much longer, they’d suffer, and not in a way that made them stronger, faster, better. Oliver shook Dani’s shoulder. “C’mon. Up and at ’em. The crepes will get stiff if we don’t eat them soon. And the compote will get cold. It’s peach, your favorite.”
An inarticulate mutter drifted up from her pillow.
“We’ve only got five more breakfasts together.”
Oliver prepared to navigate a path back across the teenage minefield. “You’ll miss me at that fancy college of yours.”
“No, I won’t.”
Or, if not, he’d simply miss her enough for the both of them.
Smile fixed, Oliver paused by the door. “Yes, you will. Now get up. I don’t want to have to bring a bucket of ice water up here.”
Dani moaned and burrowed and Oliver left the room. He had actually hauled a bucket upstairs once, half-excited, half-afraid she’d make him go through with it. That much water would have ruined her mattress and mattresses weren’t cheap. Her screams would have been good currency, though; coin he could pull out and reminisce over for years.
Downstairs, he assembled two plates and took a couple of photos of the finished product. It’d been a week or so since he’d posted to his mostly cooking but sometimes other stuff blog, Out with Ollie.
He hadn’t really considered the title when he got started. He’d meant out and about. He’d meant to post about being a single dad. Cooking, parenting. More cooking. Making costumes with Dani for conventions. Who knew the gay-dad perspective would make the mundane seem interesting? Now that he had a following, he tried to keep up with it.
Ten minutes later, Dani sat opposite him at the breakfast table, poking her fork through a fan of carefully folded crepes, now drizzled with shiny cinnamon peaches and dusted with sugar. She looked like the wicked witch of the west with her dark hair snarling across her forehead, leaving only her little nose and tiny mouth visible.
How was his daughter eighteen and about to leave home? How was she going to cope with being in New York? No, how was he going to cope with her being in New York? Thank goodness she’d only be ninety miles away.
“What’s on your agenda today?” he asked.
Dani shrugged. “I’ll probably finish packing this afternoon.”
“Was there anything else we needed to get? Aside from food.”
“They do sell food in the city, Dad.”
This had become Dani’s favorite refrain, the word food substituted for everything Oliver wanted to pack and ship to Manhattan with his only child.
“I know, but—”
“I want to finish up my Jingwei mask before I go.” Her summer project and perhaps the most ambitious mask she’d made to date. “Mom needs pictures.”
“Maybe the three of us can video chat toward the end of the week.” He and his ex-wife, Tai, got along well. They didn’t talk often but tried to stay in touch with each other’s lives.
“Sure, and I promised Adam that I’d sketch out some ideas for his Comic Con costume.”
Oliver liked Dani’s boyfriend, Adam, who was already in the city studying journalism. He’d been amazed that their relationship had weathered the past year, with his daughter a senior in high school and Adam tackling college, but it had. This coming year would be another test of a sort, with them both having to balance their course load with new living spaces, new friendships, new everything.
Oliver suppressed a sigh. He wouldn’t be a part of it; nor would he have the pleasure of seeing Dani wear her Jingwei mask at this year’s convention. He couldn’t afford the tickets. Between getting her ready for college and paying the first semester of tuition, cash had been tight. They’d had to secure a loan for the remainder of the year.
He had saved what he’d thought would be enough. Tai had chipped in what she could, but Oliver was responsible for the bulk of it. He’d been proud of the balance—and had imagined it would cover more than it actually did. His daughter had chosen what was, quite possibly, the most expensive school in New York City.
A hollow feeling opened up in his gut, and he imagined his half-digested crepes tipping over the edge and into an abyss.
“What about you?” Dani lifted her chin. “How come you’re all dressed up?”
Oliver glanced at his pressed shirt and trousers. Sugar dusted his pant leg beside the napkin he’d carefully placed in his lap. He flicked at the powder and watched in dismay as it formed a wispy white line across his thigh.
“I’ve got a meeting in Philly.” He usually worked from home, but every now and then had to head down to Philadelphia to coordinate with his team or meet with a client. He stopped fussing with his pants. “You know how our company was recently acquired by Altostratus?”
“The cloud people.”
“Right. Well, the deal has been finalized, and today we’re all meeting to determine which departments will merge and which won’t.”
“Ours will merge. I’ve actually got some really good ideas for how to integrate our product with Alto’s services. That report I was working on at the beginning of the summer?”
Dani offered a dutiful nod as she shoved a forkful of crepes toward her mouth.
“Rich”—his boss—“was pretty excited about some of my suggestions. We’ll discuss that and where I’ll fit in.” He was the product manager, after all.
“What time will you be home?”
Oliver checked his watch. “My first meeting is at ten, which means I need to get going. I’ll be home midafternoon. Want anything while I’m out?”
“Nah. I’m going to work all day.”
“Okay. What do you want for dinner?”
Oh, the curse of having a child who didn’t really care what she ate. Dani could muster excitement for a new dish when she sensed he needed the encouragement, but she could also exist on macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles—and likely would this coming year.
Oliver stood and made another attempt to brush the sugar off his pants. “Can you stack the dishwasher?”
“Right. Love you.” He rounded the small table to drop a kiss onto the top of his daughter’s head.
“Love you too.” Dani’s attention was mostly on her phone.
Oliver grabbed his jacket and tie, filled a travel mug from the coffee maker, and whistled his way to the car.
The fact his daughter was leaving still felt somewhat unreal. Maybe he could do a blog series about it. Out with Ollie attempting to feather his empty nest. His nest didn’t have to stay empty, though. It’d been a while since he’d cooked for his friend Gray. He could visit his parents more often. Maybe even start dating again.
Or maybe he’d be too busy for all that, what with the merger happening and all of the opportunity alongside.
Three hours later, Oliver leaned forward in the chair facing his boss’s desk. Richard White regarded him with what could only be described as professional sympathy.
Oliver had been late to the meeting and had spent the past ten minutes trying to catch his breath. “Huh?” was about all he could manage.
“I’m sorry, Oliver, but they have their own people at your level who have more knowledge.”
“About their product, sure. But what about ours? I know more about Agile Backup than anyone on the East Coast. It’s my product. I’ve been selling it and managing its sales for fifteen years.”
“Agile is a dead product. No one does backups anymore. It’s all on the cloud. That’s why we agreed to this merger.”
“Right, so we could integrate our product with theirs.”
Rich was shaking his head. A shift in his expression had Oliver collapsing back in his chair, trousers burping against the leather.
He let out a defeated breath. “You suspected I wasn’t going to be a part of this new setup, didn’t you?”
Rich steepled his hands and said nothing.
“Why did you ask for that report if you knew my product was going to be retired?” Oliver asked.
“I didn’t ask for the report. You submitted it and I didn’t stop you.”
“But you were excited about the possibilities.”
“I did think we might be able to do something along the lines of what you were suggesting, but it didn’t pan out.”
“When were you going to tell me this?”
“I’m telling you now.”
Oliver stared at the large white envelope on his side of the desk. His RIF package. He didn’t think of it as a Reduction in Force, but a reduction in life. An RIL package. How the heck was he supposed to finance a second year of college without a job?
A bitter peach flavor stole up the back of his throat. Swallowing, he squared his shoulders and looked at his boss, a man he’d thought was his friend, in the eye. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. Shook his head.
His questions might have answers, but what difference would they make? He was out of work, period.
“You’ve been with us for a long time, and if there had been any way to keep you, I’d have found it. I want you to know that,” Rich said quietly.
Oliver grabbed the envelope. Then he stood, tucked what remained of his career beneath his arm, and left the office.
Nick stilled his hands as the music rose in volume, the story of Edward Elgar’s friend and mentor, Jaegar, extending out of ruefulness and into acceptance. As always, the calmness of the piece spread through Nick’s limbs, subtly pulling his spine straight as he waited not only for the moment of triumphant understanding but the quiet measure beyond. A space of almost nothingness that whispered and caressed.
He then hit a perfectly timed pause, halting the transition from “Nimrod” to “Dorabella.” Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” formed some of his most treasured listening experiences, but each piece was short, and he often wore himself out straining for the unifying threads. Exposing himself to music like that helped him appreciate change, though. Or so he liked to think.
Emma waited in the doorway to his workroom. His niece was showered and dressed, her hair pulled back into a neat braid, makeup skillfully applied, clothes crisp—as if she’d ironed them. Had she ironed them? Nick was still wearing his pajamas and wouldn’t change until he showered sawdust, paint, and glue from his hair that afternoon. Since he didn’t leave the house on Tuesdays, clean pajamas would cover the evening shift as well.
He pulled a small smile out of his stock. “Breakfast?” It was only 7:21 a.m.
“Yeah. I wanted to get into work early, so breakfast is early.”
“Okay. Let me straighten my tools.” He always needed about fifteen seconds (almost always exactly fifteen seconds) to make the adjustment from work to not-work, even though breakfast was a regular part of his schedule. Because Emma was pressed for time, he settled for checking that none of his blades were about to fall to the floor and that he’d put the lid back on the glue.
The miniature bookcase he’d just finished gluing together would probably be dry by the time they were done eating. The early breakfast wasn’t really an interruption.
Nick followed Emma up the basement stairs. The aroma of coffee enticed, as did the prospect of sitting with his niece, the young woman who was like a daughter to him. It had been her idea that they should breakfast together as many mornings as they could manage. A part of Emma’s “Socialize Nick” plan back when, well . . . back when things had been a lot more awkward than they were now.
He appreciated it, just as he did most of the other holes Emma poked into his schedule. If not for his niece, he’d rarely leave the basement. Nick loved his work, but he did understand the importance of getting fresh air. Seeing the sun. Interacting with other humans, though he tried to limit that to Wednesdays when he got lunch at a café by the river, and Thursday night trips to the supermarket when the aisles were blessedly unpopulated.
After washing his hands in the sink, he sat at his place at the table—the chair facing the kitchen and putting his back to the windows—and picked up his spoon. “What’s going on at work today that you need to get in early?”
Emma swallowed a mouthful of her eggs and reached for her coffee. “I’ve only got two days left to train my replacement. She’s nice”—it was typical of her to find something good to say before she delved into the bad—“but her organizational skills could use work.”
Emma worked as the assistant to fashion photographer Maria Clemente, a woman who expected to put her hand out and have the correct item placed in her palm within seconds. Nick had admired the symphony of movement between Maria and Emma on the two occasions he had watched them work together.
Nick sipped his coffee, noting the similar effect the bitter taste and promise of caffeine had to listening to the swell of agreement in “Nimrod.”
“I’m sure a single day of handing Maria the wrong lens will organize her.”
“I hope so! I feel bad for leaving Maria like this, but—”
“Emma.” Nick slid his free hand across the table to grip his niece’s forearm. Emma’s quiet exhale told him it had been the right thing to do. “The next four years are yours, exclusively. You can’t be Maria’s assistant forever.”
He met her gaze, briefly, before returning his attention to breakfast, releasing Emma’s wrist to pick up his spoon. The mouthful of oatmeal caught in his throat, something that had been happening a lot recently, as if he’d suddenly developed a swallowing problem. Nick forced the lump down and winced over the burn in his esophagus. He should set aside a few minutes this afternoon for some internet research. He was only seventy-eight percent confident his difficulty wasn’t related to a lung disease.
He swallowed again and swirled some more of the remaining syrup through the cooling oatmeal in his bowl. Although eating wasn’t going well, he persisted, washing every second mouthful down with bitter coffee. After eight swallows, he noticed Emma wasn’t talking.
When he risked a peek in her direction, she was watching him eat. Nick concentrated on finishing his breakfast. Whatever Emma wanted to say would have to remain unsaid because he didn’t know how to talk about whatever was going on with his digestive system, except to note that it probably wasn’t emphysema. More likely, it was related to an emotive situation he hadn’t figured out yet.
Given time, he would.
“Can we talk about the lawn?” Emma finally asked.
Through the windows behind him, Nick could feel the sun on his back, reminding him of all the summers gone past. He could picture the green of the grass and imagine the buzz of a lazy bee, conjure the scent of flowers from the planters lining the patio. Remember how the various heights of the stakes in the vegetable patches resembled a green graph at the edge of the lawn. The irregular line of trees at the very end of the garden that thickened into a twelve-acre preserve running behind all the houses on this side of the street. Rebecca—his sister and Emma’s mother—would be on her knees in front of one of the beds, digging, humming, a large floppy hat shading half her face.
If he turned around, he’d have to face the reality of a backyard that no longer looked quite like that. Of Rebecca being not there.
“Billy is leaving for college this weekend too,” Emma said, her tone careful, “so he won’t be able to do the mowing anymore. Do you want me to ask him if there’s someone else, or—”
“I finished one of the towers,” Nick spoke over the top of his spoon.
“For Grey Towers?” Emma brightened. “Really? Can I see it?”
“Well, it’s not quite done. There’s no roof yet.”
Grey Towers was one of the few aspects of Nick’s life that didn’t have a detailed plan beyond: finish one day. The ancestral home of Gifford Pinchot, former governor of Pennsylvania, Grey Towers had been open to the public for about twenty years and Rebecca had loved going there. She’d loved the garden more than the house, but had always told Nick he should build a dollhouse just like the mansion.
He’d dismissed the project as too complicated (how would he replicate all those bricks?) until the day he’d had to carry his sister back to the parking lot from the store because she couldn’t walk and breathe at the same time. She’d died twenty-three months, two days, seven hours, and thirty-one minutes later—measured from the time he’d had to scoop her into his arms.
Nick cleared a new obstruction from his throat. “Want to go visit your mom this afternoon?”
Emma offered a sober nod. “Yeah. Thanks. I wanted to go before Saturday.”
Nick didn’t enjoy visits to his sister’s grave, but he went for Emma. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for Emma.
“So . . .” Emma abandoned her attempt to scrape up the last crumble of scrambled egg and set her fork across her plate. “Did you want me to talk to Billy about someone for the yard? It’ll be October before you know it and the gutters will need doing.”
Nick jammed his spoon into his bowl and it hit the side, producing a ring of metal against porcelain. Across the table, Emma flinched. He exhaled slowly. Be the adult, Nick. Be the one who handles shit.
“I’ll handle it. I’ve just been busy this past month.”
“Work’s going well, then?”
Emma’s smile was hesitant, and Nick had to remind himself to consider her feelings. Just because he had difficulty processing his didn’t mean he got to ignore those of others.
“I’m going to miss you when you go away,” he said, “and not only because you’re the one who reminds me to leave the basement.”
Emma’s smile warmed. “I’ll try not to call every day to ask if you’ve been outside.”
Nick allowed a grin. “Exercise is Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at three. Bike rides on Wednesdays, weather permitting.”
“Mowing the lawn could be exercise.”
Nick poked at his remaining oatmeal. “I’ll do better. I promise.”
A quiet thump traveled through the house, the sound similar to the morning paper delivery, except heavier. Nick glanced toward the front hall right as a sharp knock sounded. “Was Maria picking you up?”
Emma shook her head. “No.”
Nick followed his niece to the door, hoping whatever the interruption was, they could deal with it quickly. He needed to get back to his basement workshop.
Emma pulled open the front door and sunlight slashed across the hall, raising dust. Wincing, Nick shaded his eyes against the glare and peered at the silhouette on the front porch until his eyes adjusted.
It was his brother, Cameron, and he would not be dealt with quickly.
“Nicky! Emma!” Cameron barreled forward, arms outstretched. He caught Emma first. “Oh my God, girl, you’re all grown up! What are you now? Sixteen, seventeen?”
“Uncle Cam!” Emma squeaked. She was hugging Cameron just as tightly as he hugged her.
“Emma is eighteen,” Nick said to their backs.
Emma had turned eighteen two weeks and three days ago, which Cameron would know if he hadn’t been off wherever he’d been for the past however many years. It was a testament to Nick’s unsettled mental state that he couldn’t calculate the length of his brother’s absence more specifically.
Cameron turned to Nick, arms still held high, giving off a whiff of stale sweat and unwashed clothing. “Got a hug for your big bro, Nicky?”
Nick stiffened. “I prefer Nick.” Nicholas worked too.
“Still got that pole wedged firmly up your ass, I see.” Cameron dropped his arms. “Or have you got a whole two-by-four up there now?”
“There is nothing wedged in my ass. What are you doing here?”
Cameron directed his chin toward the large and well-worn military-style duffel sprawled across the porch. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say hello.”
“You were in Milford, Pennsylvania, at seven forty-five on a Tuesday morning.”
“Just got off the bus.”
The earliest bus from New York didn’t arrive in Milford until 12:05 on weekdays. Nick narrowed his eyes. Where, exactly, had his brother come from?
“It’s great to see you, Uncle Cameron, but I have to get going.” Emma was edging out of the door. “Will you be here this afternoon?”
Judging by the size of Cameron’s bag, he’d be here next month.
“Sure will. Where are you off to, little lady?”
“I’ve got work.”
“Well, look at you. Where are you working?”
“I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. Bye!” Folding her fingers into a wave, Emma scooped up her backpack, stepped off the porch, and practically ran for her car.
Nick quickly identified the swirl in his gut: betrayal. But he couldn’t blame Emma for leaving. She had a legitimate excuse.
He turned to his brother. “You can’t stay here.”
Over the sound of Emma’s car coughing toward a start, Cameron moved his lips, probably in a cajoling platitude.
Nick waited for Emma to back out of the drive before restating his position. “You cannot stay here.”
“Then where am I supposed to go? This is my home too.”
“Not anymore, it’s not.”
Their parents’ will had left the house to the three children, equally. Ten years ago (four months, two weeks, one day) Cameron had sold his share to Rebecca and Nick, citing a need for cash to invest in a business venture.
Rebecca had left her share to Nick, and he had promised to take care of Emma for as long as necessary. To him, that included making sure she always had a home, as Rebecca had done for him after their parents had died.
“What do you mean?” Cam asked.
“The house is Emma’s. I’m holding it for when she finishes college.”
Nick’s plans for after then fell into the same category as his plans for Grey Towers—occasionally pulled apart and reconstructed, but generally left vague.
“I’m pretty sure Emma won’t mind me staying.” Cameron collected his bag and swung it over his shoulder before pushing into the front hall. “I just need a couple of days, then I’ll get out of your hair.” Annoyingly, he flipped Nick’s hair on the way past. “I won’t even bunk with you. I’ll camp out in the basement.”
Nick tucked his hair back behind his ear. “You can’t use the basement. That’s where I work.”
“Our room doesn’t still have two beds, does it? That’d be tragic, Nicky. Tell me you’ve traded up to a big boy bed.”
Gritting his teeth, Nick followed Cameron down the hall. “Where have you been, anyway?”
“Everywhere, man.” Cameron hummed a quick tune as he bounced into the kitchen, dropped his bag, and claimed a seat at the table. Nick’s seat. He leaned back with a long, growly sigh. “Something smells good.” Picking up Nick’s spoon, he poked at the remains of Nick’s oatmeal. “Got any coffee left?”
“Lighten up, little bro. We’re family. And Emma’s expecting me for dinner.”
Emma hadn’t said anything about dinner.
Relaying that fact to Cameron wasn’t likely to shift him out of Nick’s chair, though, or stop him from eating the remains of Nick’s breakfast or leaning over the spread-out newspaper to lift a page. Nick stood there for a handful of seconds, wishing he could measure the outrage spilling through his body.
“I’m going back to work.”
Without looking up, Cameron flicked a hand in his direction. “You do what you got to do.”
Nick dug his phone out of his pajama pocket and checked the time: 8:03 a.m. He was only three minutes off schedule, but as he walked with deliberate calm toward the door leading down to his basement workroom, the floor threatened to tilt beneath his feet.
He hadn’t had time to adjust to Emma leaving for college, yet. Now he had to deal with another person in his space. Nick ignored the tremble in his fingers as he shoved his phone away and pulled the basement door closed behind him.
“There are only two elevators and one just broke down,” Dani explained when Oliver returned from parking the car to find his daughter, all her possessions stacked inside a huge plastic wheelie bin, somewhere near the end of a long, long, very long line snaking down Broadway.
Instead of succumbing to the protest building in his throat like the squawk of an old rocking chair, Oliver flipped a mental switch, the one to cue acceptance of a long and difficult day. The Tisch School of Arts was Dani’s dream, as was living in Manhattan.
An approximate eon later, they reached the front of the queue. The cramped lobby of the residence building was dark and hot. Thankfully, the elevator arrived promptly. But when the doors opened, Oliver contemplated the interior with consternation. Surely they wouldn’t fit the bin, and Dani, and him, in there. And how high was this building? How long would he have to exist in such a tiny space?
They fit, with little room to spare. He wouldn’t be doing any deep breathing on this ride. Just as well: the small space smelled like sweat and bubblegum. Also, the cables creaked, and something banged against the wall as they passed the fifth floor.
He nearly fell through the doors when they opened and had to resist the urge to kiss the vinyl flooring. Supporting himself against the far wall of the corridor, Oliver concentrated on breathing normally until Dani finished wrestling her bin out of the death trap.
“You okay there?” She didn’t even try to hide her smile.
“I think I’ll take the stairs down.” And back up, if required.
Room 1008 was light, bright, and half-occupied. With a restrained squeal, Dani pushed past Oliver to hug her roommate. They’d been making friends all summer via text and video chat. After a few seconds, Dani released her new bestie and grabbed her hand to drag her toward him.
“Dad, this is Emma. Emma, this is my dad.”
“Nice to meet you, Emma,” Oliver said.
“You too.” Emma gestured over her shoulder. “That’s my uncle Nick.”
Oliver followed the gesture and wondered how he hadn’t noticed the other man in the room. Then again, Uncle Nick appeared to be doing all he could to disappear into the wall beside his niece’s bed. Longish hair hid most of his face, and his shoulders turned inward. A bulge to either side of his denim-clad hips indicated the hands shoved deeply into each pocket formed fists.
“Uncle Nick?” Emma called.
Nick glanced up, as though startled out of deep thought, and Oliver’s breath caught as the c