The Last Thing He Told Me

3.5 Two Years Ago


“Bailey, I love your dress,” I said.
We were in Los Angeles, having dinner at Felix, in Venice. I was working with
a client on her house in the Venice Canals and Owen thought it would be a
perfect opportunity for Bailey and me to spend some time together. This was
probably the eighth time we’d met, but usually she tried to get out of doing
more than just having a meal together. Usually, it wasn’t the three of us for a
whole weekend. We took her to see Dudamel at The Hollywood Bowl, which
she loved. And now we were having dinner at the best Italian restaurant in Los
Angeles, which she also loved. The only thing she didn’t love? Doing it all with
me there.
“That shade of blue looks so pretty on you,” I said.
She didn’t answer, didn’t even o􀏦er a rote head shrug. She ignored me,
downing some of her Italian soda.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said.
And she was up, and gone, before Owen could answer.
Owen watched her go. When she disappeared around the corner, he turned
toward me.
“I was going to surprise you,” he said. “But maybe this is a good time to tell
you that I’m taking you to Big Sur next weekend.”
I was staying in Los Angeles for the week to 􀏯nish work on my project in the
Canals and then I was planning on 􀏲ying up to Sausalito on Friday. We had
talked about taking a ride down the coast to visit cousins of Owen’s. The
cousins, he said, lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea—a small, touristy town on the end
of the Peninsula.
“There aren’t actually cousins in Carmel-by-the-Sea?” I said.
“Someone’s cousins, probably,” he said.
I laughed.
“That’s a bene􀏯t of me,” he said. “I don’t really have any cousins anywhere. I
don’t come with family at all, except Bailey.”
“And she’s a boon,” I said.
He smiled at me. “You really feel that way, don’t you?”
“Of course.” I paused. “Not that the feeling is mutual.”
“It will be.”
He took a sip of his drink and moved it across the table toward me.
“Have you ever tried a bourbon Good Luck Charm?” he said. “I only drink it
on special occasions. It’s a mix of bourbon and lemon and spearmint. And it
works. It brings luck.”
“What do you need luck for?”
“I’m going to ask you something that you’re going to say is too soon to ask
you,” he said. “Is that okay?”
“Is that the question?” I said.
“The question’s coming,” he said. “But not like this, not when my kid’s in
the bathroom, so you can start breathing again…”
He wasn’t wrong. I hadn’t taken a breath at all, worrying he was actually
going to pop the question. I was terri􀏯ed if he did that I wouldn’t be able to say
yes. And I wouldn’t be able to say no.
“Maybe I’ll ask you in Big Sur. We’re staying on top of these cli􀏦s,
surrounded by oak trees, prettiest trees you’ve ever seen in your life. And you get
to sleep beneath them, you sleep in yurts, which look up at all those trees, which
look out on the ocean. One of them has our name on it.”
“I’ve never slept in a yurt,” I said.
“Well, you won’t be able to say that next week.”
He took his drink back, took a long sip.
“And I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but you should probably know, I
can’t wait to be your husband,” he said. “Just for the record.”
“Well, I’m not going on the record,” I said. “But I feel the same.”
This is when Bailey came back to the table. She sat down and dug into her
pasta, a delicious southern Italian rendition of Cacio e Pepe. It was a decadent
mix of cheese and spicy pepper and salty olive oil.
Owen leaned in and took a huge bite, right o􀏦 her plate.
“Dad!” She laughed.
“Sharing is caring,” he said, his mouth full. “Wanna hear something cool?”
“Sure,” she said. And she smiled at him.
“Hannah got us all tickets to see the revival of Barefoot in the Park tomorrow
night at the Ge􀏦en,” he said. “Neil Simon is one of her favorites too. Doesn’t
that sound great?”
“We’re seeing Hannah again tomorrow?” she said. The words were out of her
mouth before she could stop herself.
“Bailey…” Owen shook his head.
Then he gave me an apologetic look: I’m sorry she’s being like this.
I shrugged: It’s really okay, however she wants to be.
I meant it. It was okay with me. She was a teenager who hadn’t had a mother
for most of her life. All she had was her father. I didn’t expect her to be good
with the prospect of sharing him with someone else. I didn’t think anyone else
should expect that of her either.
She looked down, embarrassed. “Sorry I just… have a lot of homework to do,”
she said.
“No, please, it’s 􀏯ne,” I said. “I have a ton of work to do too. Why don’t you
two go to the play? Just you and your dad. And maybe we’ll meet up back at the
hotel, if you end up getting your work done?”
She looked at me, waiting for the catch. There was none. I wanted her to
understand that. Regardless of what I was going to do right in terms of her, and
what I was going to do wrong (and based on how things were starting, I knew I
was going to do a lot that she considered wrong), there was never going to be a
catch. That was a promise I could make her. As far as I was concerned, she didn’t
have to be nice. She didn’t have to pretend. She only had to be herself.
“Honestly, Bailey. No pressure either way…” I said.
Owen reached over and took my hand. “I’d really like us to all go together,”
he said.
“Next time,” I said. “We’ll do it next time.”
Bailey looked up. And I saw it there before she could hide it. I saw it in her
eyes, like a secret she didn’t mean to let me in on—her gratitude that I had
understood her. I saw how much she needed someone to understand her,
someone besides her father. How she thought it for just a second—that just
maybe that someone might turn out to be me.
“Yeah,” she said. “Next time.”
And, for the 􀏯rst time, she smiled at me.

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