Long after Jimmy’s taillights disappeared down the driveway, Dan remained on the patio, nursing his beer for liquid courage. It wasn’t that he feared Stacy, per se. He just didn’t know if it was safe to be in the same room with her yet. She was tiny, but she was feisty; and she owned a lot of knives.
Dan had known Stacy since they were both two-years old, sporting diapers and drinking out of sippy-cups. Even then, her temperament had tended toward explosive. It came from the volatile mixture of Polish and Czech heritage coursing through her blood—one side inherited from her Gram, the other from her Gramps—her red and white cells hopelessly in love but habitually feuding, just as the couple had done every single day of their lives. Minor disagreements over stupid things, like which road to take through town, had exploded into battles rivaling the seven-day war for control of Cieszyn Silesia.
That spunk, that spark, that fire in her soul, was what Dan loved so much about Stacy. It didn’t scare him. The recent influx of hormones streaming through her tiny body, distorting her already warped sense of logic, on the other hand, terrified the hell out of him. Ever since she’d become pregnant he felt like an overly cautious, war-battered, world weary soldier traversing a minefield. One wrong step and—kaboom!—no more Dan.
On the flip-side, one right step, like coming home with a quart of Chunky Monkey ice cream, and she’d be apt to wrap her sexy, little legs around him and whisk him away to the glorious land of multiple orgasms. The problem was the line between the right step and the wrong one was so fine Dan was beginning to think it didn’t exist at all. What was once exquisitely right could easily become horrifically wrong. The quart of Chunky Monkey she spoon-fed him in a bubble bath one night might be a frozen projectile aimed at his head the next. She kept him on his toes, that was for sure.
“Well, mutt, should we go see which one of us is sleeping with Stacy tonight?” Dan asked Willie, who had curled up on Jimmy’s chair as soon as he’d left.
At the sound of Stacy’s name, Willie’s ears perked up like sails on a schooner. He cocked his head to the side and whined.
Dan drew a breath for courage. “Do or die time.”
Blissfully ignorant of imminent danger, Willie hopped from the chair and started for the door. The dog was getting too big to be carried, but Dan scooped him up and tucked him against his chest, for protection. His, not Willie’s. Stacy wouldn’t go for Dan’s throat with her precious baby in the way. She might still bust his kneecaps, but his jugular would be safe.
When he stepped inside, the first thing Dan noticed was the thick, heavy silence enveloping the house. No late show on the television, no George Strait on the stereo. The air conditioner wasn’t even running. Darkness intensified the quiet. Every light on the main floor off, deep shadows filled the corners, chilling him to the bone.
He walked faster through the house, peeking into the kitchen as he passed, looking for Stacy, but also double-checking all the knives were still safely tucked into their slots in the block beside the stove. They were, but the kitchen had been freshly scrubbed, polished to a high shine, gleaming in the moonlight.
“Rut-row,” Dan whispered to Willie. He whined in agreement. Rut-row, indeed. A clean house was never a good sign. Stacy only cleaned was when she was pissed.
Feeling like the chicken-shit Jimmy said he was, Dan climbed the stairs and walked the plank, cautiously traveling the long hallway to the master bedroom. The door closed tight, a stack of neatly-folded blankets and his pillow sat beside it on the floor. Too stupid to take the hint, Dan knocked on the door.
“Go away, dupek.”
“I thought you said you were going to quit cursing now that you’re pregnant,” Dan reminded her. “It’s still cursing if you call someone an asshole in Polish.”
“Oh, now that one really wasn’t nice. I can’t believe you talk like that in front of Willie.”
“Willie’s not in here,” Stacy said in the melodic, snotty-little-girl voice she always used whenever she punctuated a sentence with sticking out her tongue. For some reason, it made him horny whenever he heard it.
“I know… He’s out here with me.”
The door flew open and Willie was snatched from his arms. Before he could react, the door slammed in his face and he heard the lock click solidly back into place. Damn, she was fast.
Dan knocked softly. “Come on, Stace. Let me in.”
“No. I don’t want to see your face right now. Go away.”
Dan rested his forehead against the door. “I didn’t look, Stace.”
“Yes, you did!”
“I swear I didn’t. I was too damn busy wiping the stupid tears out of my eyes to see anything at all.”
After a long pause, he could hear her press against the door. “You really cried?”
“Yeah, Stace, I really did. But for the sake of all honesty, I really, really wanted to look.”
“But we agreed no looking! You said you wanted to be surprised.”
“I know I did, but I lied. I don’t want to be surprised. I want to know right now whether we’re having a boy or a girl. We have to have a boy, Stace.”
“Why do we have to have a boy? What’s so bad about having a little girl?”
“Nothing.” Truth be told, having a daughter sounded like absolute perfection. If he closed his eyes he could clearly picture a wild-haired, pixie-faced miniature Stacy running around, giggling and laughing, raising holy hell, singing to her baby dolls, wrapping him around her little finger. Just the thought of it brought a fresh tear to his eye. “It’s not that I don’t want a girl. I’d love to have a dozen of them, but I know how the boy mind works—”
“Girls can fish and hunt and play football and swing a hammer, just like boys can, and they can do it better! If Gram were still alive and heard you talking like that she’d kick your ass into next Tuesday, you big, fat, stupid dupek!”
Dan let out a grunt of frustration. “Stace, you don’t understand. Me wanting a boy has nothing to do with playing football or fishing.”
“Then what does it have to do with?”
“Jimmy?” Stacy asked, her confusion evident. “What does Jimmy have to do with anything? I’m not having his baby.”
“Think back and picture Jimmy when he was sixteen years old, and then picture me sixteen years from now, standing on the front porch, watching as my precious baby girl climbs into sixteen-year-old Jimmy’s pickup truck…” Dan flushed hot in anger just thinking about the scenario. “I own too many guns and am too good a shot to ever be the father of a little girl. Not when there are Jimmys in the world who’d want to date her.”
The door cracked open and Stacy peeked out at him.
“Do whatever you’ve got to do, Stace—look, don’t look, I don’t care—but if you love me even the slightest bit you’ll channel Gram up in heaven, whip up a great, big batch of her Polish magic, and make absolute certain our baby has a wee-wee and not a who-ha when it comes out of your belly. I’m too damn pretty to go to prison.”
Her eyebrow arched in skepticism, Stacy opened the door all the way. “You’re too pretty, huh?”
“I am,” Dan confirmed. And then he smiled.
She rolled her eyes, but she must have agreed he was pretty gosh darn good looking. With a surprisingly strong and fiercely determined hand, she grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt and yanked him into the bedroom.
A heartbeat later, Willie got the boot.