Part 4

Hailey stood at the gate waiting for the flight attendant to bring her daughter. Beside her, Daniel fidgeted. She chuckled as she glanced at him. He offered her a nervous smile.
“Relax, Daniel. You would think you were meeting the queen,” she teased, slipping her hand into his. He squeezed it gently, and she looked at the gate again. She caught a glimpse of the four year old with the flight attendant. Hailey dropped Daniel’s hand and stepped forward. Rae saw her and took off running. Tears filled Hailey’s eyes as she dropped to her knees in front of her daughter. Rae threw her arms around her mother, clinging to her tightly. Behind her, Hailey heard the flight attendant speaking to Daniel. He wordlessly signed the release form for Hailey. Finally the two girls stood up, and Hailey picked up Rae.
“We should head down to baggage claim,” he suggested gently. Hailey nodded and followed him out of security.
Standing at the baggage carousel, Hailey watched as Rae interacted with Daniel. The little girl was mesmerized by Daniel’s green eyes which matched her own. Hailey chewed on her lip, wanting to tell him. She was brought back to the present by Rae’s voice.
“Are you my daddy?” she asked Daniel, clinging to his leg. Hailey’s breath caught in her throat, and Daniel’s eyes met her.
“I wish I was Rae, but I’m not,” Daniel answered.
“Oh.” Rae was quiet for a moment before she perked up again. “Can I pretend you are my daddy? I’ve never had a daddy. We were always moving and then I got sent to Grandma’s.” Hailey cringed at Rae’s rambling and glanced around the airport baggage area. She met the gaze of a man in a dark suit, and he nodded before walking in the opposite direction. Hailey’s heart pounded in her chest as she alternated glances between the man in the suit and her daughter with Daniel. The weight of her secret was slowly crushing her, but telling her secret would mean uprooting her life once again.
Rae’s bright laughter focused her back on the pair to her side. Her chest ached as she watched them interact, giving her a glimpse of the life that she could’ve had if she had been in a different place at a different time.
***
She drove slowly, peering through the windshield and the rain to see the road ahead. Beside her, Daniel clutched one of the armrests, but he tried to look at ease when she glanced at him. Perhaps they both had their demons that visited during the rain. She glanced in the rearview mirror to check on the sleeping girl in her booster seat.  The storm clearly didn’t bother the little girl, and Hailey let out a sigh of relief.
“Thank you for coming with me,” she broke the silence in the car. Daniel reached forward and fiddled with the heat.
“She’s a very special little girl.”
“She is. She’s been so resilient with everything she’s gone through.”
“She said you guys moved a lot. What did she mean?” he asked. Hailey tried to keep her heart rate and breathing calm, just like they had taught her. She switched lanes, making sure to be extra cautious and trying to avoid the question.
“You’re avoiding the question, Hailey. Your eyes are darting around, looking anywhere but at me. You’re tapping your fingers on the steering wheel. You do the same thing at work when you are nervous about something.”
“Are you profiling me?” she asked, startled by his accurate words.
“No, I’m just being observant,” he answered quickly. “You’re still avoiding my question.”
“We just moved a lot. I had to keep a job, and sometimes that meant moving,” she lied, focusing on keeping her eyes from darting down.
“Did I ever tell you how my wife died?” he asked, and she sighed in relief at the subject change.
“I don’t think so.”
“It was a day much like this, storming and wet. She loved this weather, and she said she had an important errand to run. I was busy with work so I let her go alone. The roads were slippery, and she ran headfirst into a telephone pole. I should’ve just gone with her, but I was too busy on the phone. I didn’t even get to say, ‘I love you’ before she left. Now, whenever it rains all I can think about is that day,” he whispered. Hailey jerked the wheel at his words, and his grip of the armrest tightened. She pulled them over to the curb and flicked on her hazards.
Breathing heavily, she dropped her head onto the steering wheel and closed her eyes tightly against the memories. A hand on her back anchored her to the present, and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. A squeal of tires, a scream, the gunshot, the police sirens, being told she had to leave. Her body shuddered as the memories overwhelmed her. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she lost it. An arm reached across the center console and pulled her towards him. Her arms wound around his neck as she cried against him. He rubbed her back and whispered words of reassurance in her ear. A bitter laugh caught in her throat as she thought about the irony of the situation. He had just told him how his wife died, and she was the one falling apart.