“Eli? Would you like to hold your son?”
Eli swallowed, hard. The lump that formed wasn’t going down. Did Sam really just ask him to hold his son? All he could do was nod and wiped his tears away. He had no words. He walked around the counter staring at the bundle of joy, not sure if he really was ready.
Sam handed off the tiny little boy to Eli, and fixed his hands so that Eli had a good strong hold on the baby’s neck. “Support his neck.”
“O-okay.” Eli felt his heart pound rapidly while staring at the smiling ball of joy in his arms. “Hey, big guy. I’m your daddy.” Wow, Eli couldn’t believe it, he was actually a father. Him. He made this boy.
“His name’s Derek. Derek Wesley Williams,” Sam informed him.
Well, that was going to change. Derek was definitely a Ryder. “You’re going to be amazing, Derek. And, you’re going to win all the ladies hearts.”
Sam giggled. “Oh, he already has. He’s such a little lady’s man. Like father, like son.”
Eli had to remind his heart that Sam’s giggles were no longer his to enjoy. He wish it could be though. He had craved to hear her laughter and her small little giggles that she made. “As long as that’s the only thing he takes from me, that’s fine by me.”
Eli kissed his boy’s head, and whispered, “Don’t be like me, Derek. You mind your mommy. Don’t ever get into trouble.” Eli wanted more time with his son, but he knew that Sam’s car was more than ready. He also had a car he was supposed to finish fixing up before the morning. Reluctantly, Eli handed his son back to Sam.
“Thanks, Sam. Please, take care of him.” He couldn’t help himself as more tears broke. “Tell him I love him.”
Sam placed Derek back into his car seat. After, she patted Eli’s hand that was on the counter. “Eli, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Eli took a long deep breath to try to control his emotions. Everything came out though. He couldn’t stop the words that he had been holding in for almost a year. “I’m sorry too. I should have told you. I should have made sure you understood what I did before I fell in love with you. I should have met your dad, and I should have foreseen this. Every day I regret not telling you sooner, if only so my heart wouldn’t have to be this broken.
“I loved you. I loved you so much, Samantha. I wanted to marry you. I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life. I still have the ring. I was waiting, I wanted to be out of that place before I asked. I wanted to go house hunting or apartment hunting with you when it got close to that mark.
“I wanted to see you pregnant. I wanted to take care of you and go out and have to buy you the craziest of foods when you had a craving at three a.m. I wanted to be there for the birth of my son. Until today, I didn’t even know if you kept him or not. I didn’t even know I was a father.
“Dammit. I swore I wasn’t going to do this if I ever saw you again. I promised myself to stay away, and to act like there was nothing between us. I can’t, though. I still love you, and I will always love you. And the only reason I will never break my parole is because of him.” Eli motioned to his son. “I don’t want him to know his father’s in prison. Not ever.”
Eli stopped. There. He said everything he needed to say. He had been holding so much in for so long, it was refreshing to get it out. He loved her so much. Even after a year of dating, and a year of meeting women all around town, he still only ever wanted her. Now, the ball was in her court, and he hoped to hell she wouldn’t tell him to fuck off again. Not after meeting Derek.
Derek. He hoped that even if Sam left him right there and then, that he’d get a chance to be in Derek’s life again. He wanted to be in Derek’s life. He wanted to see the boy grow up. He wanted to teach him how to ride a bike, play basketball, and show him what it truly means to be a man—something Eli didn’t learn until after he went to prison and met Roy and Pops.
“You still love me?”
“I’ve never stopped loving you, Sam, and never will.” He glanced over to the back door that led to the garage and back at her. He didn’t want to go back and work, but he needed to. He also knew, judging by Derek’s fussiness, that Sam needed to get home and take care of him. “Look, we’re not going to solve all our problems here, but I want to see you again, Sam. Please. I want to be a part of Derek’s life, and if willing, I want to be a part of yours.”
“When do you get off work?”
“Soon as I finish this repair on this car, I’m closing up shop.”
Sam smiled and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen from the diaper bag. She wrote furiously and handed the paper to Eli. It was an address. “That’s my new address. Come over, and maybe we can figure things out.”
“Really?” Eli didn’t want to get his hopes up, but his heart was willing to risk it.
Sam’s smile radiated off of her. “Really. Eli, you’re not the only one here that’s in love.” She stroked his arm. “I still love you too.”
“Okay, I’ll stop by my apartment, get cleaned up, and head over to your place.”
Sam picked up the car seat and the diaper bag. “See you then.”
Before she got to the door, Eli stopped her. “Sam, wait.” Eli took the car seat out of her hands and set Derek down before sweeping her into his arms.
Even if he never got this chance again, he still wanted this memory. He kissed her. It wasn’t a long one, but it wasn’t a short kiss either. It was a promise, a promise to her that he still wanted her.
It was a few hours before Eli could leave. He closed up shop and headed for the subway station and made a mad rush to the half-way house. He signed in and headed up to his shit-hole where he showered. His heart pounded in his chest, and it wasn’t because he was rushing either.
Eli dug through his closet, and decided to go for the nice and polish look. If he was going to win over Sam tonight, he was going to go all out—and that included pocketing his grandmother’s wedding ring. He left the apartment and half-way house.
He was nervous on the ride over toward Uptown. It wasn’t exactly Uptown that Sam moved to, but it was just on the outskirts of the Downtown San Myshuno and Uptown. Eli’s foot bounced on the subway train while he chewed the inside of his cheek. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this nervous.
Eli got off the subway station and hailed a taxi. The apartment complex was no where near the subway station, and it would take another five minutes in a taxi to get there. He paid the driver once he arrived and headed for the apartment building.
Outside the door he buzzed Sam’s apartment.
Sam’s voice cracked over the intercom. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Eli.”
“Come on up!” The door unlocked and Eli pushed it open and headed for the elevators. She was located on the tenth floor. Eli wasn’t sure how he felt being so high. He was never a fan of heights. As long as there wasn’t any balconies he was going to be okay—at least that’s what he told himself.
Sam met him at the door, and he quickly stole a kiss on her cheek before moving inside. The apartment blew his mind. It was huge, bigger than even his mother’s place. The place was even nicer than Sam’s old studio apartment.
“Wow, just wow, Sam. This place…it’s amazing.” Eli absolutely loved the apartment and was thrilled that his son would be raised in this kind of environment.
“Thank you. Dad helped me with the deposit, and some of the furnishings. I can’t really pay for it all on my own, but he wants me to live in a far safer neighborhood than the one I was at. He’s helping out with rent too, when I need it.”
Eli nodded, hating that she never even asked for help. He would have, even if it meant he’d lose the money he saved for his own place. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything, fearing she might take it wrong. “So…where’s Derek?”
“Asleep in his room,” Sam whispered, but pulled him over to the bedroom so Eli could have a peek. He went over to the crib and smiled down at his son. Eli still couldn’t get over the fact he had a son.
As he headed out of the room, Eli spotted the photos on the wall. He missed so much in such a short time. He grinned at the cute photos of his boy growing up. He pointed to the photos of Sam’s father in the few photos. “Are all of his photos with Derek like that?”
Sam chuckled. “You mean of Derek always screaming his head off when Dad holds him? Yes. He’s more your son than you realize, Eli. Dad grumbles about it every time too.”
Eli cracked a laugh, and winced when he heard Derek’s whimper. He and Sam stilled and when Derek didn’t scream, they both sighed. Sam pulled Eli out of the room.
Eli laughed. “That’s priceless, Sam.”
“I thought you’d like that,” Sam said and giggled.
Sam led Eli over to the living area where Eli noticed Sam had kept her knick-knacks and room divider. Eli joined Sam on the sofa, and took her hand into his, squeezing it. He wanted this so much.
“Sam, you know, if you had asked, I would have helped you out. I’m not a dead beat dad, and I don’t intend on being one.”
“I know, and I would have taken the help, except…” she bit her lip and looked to Eli. She held his hand. “I’m really sorry, Eli. I should have stood up for you when it came to my father. I should have stood up for my self. Dad doesn’t want you in our lives. When I thought about contacting you at the hospital, and to tell you about Derek, he flat out told me no. I’m so sorry.”
“I get it, Sam. I do. I just need to know if you want me in your life? Fuck what your dad thinks, just tell me what you want.”
“I do want you in my life. I just don’t know how we can be together, Eli. I don’t know if I can trust you. I love you, Eli, but you’re a criminal.”
That wasn’t what Eli wanted to hear. Eli lowered his head and shook it. He fought the tears that threatened to pour. How could she think so little of him? “I’m not that person anymore. I never lied about going to prison. I never gave you a reason to not trust me. I’m not a danger, and I would never hurt you or Derek.”
“You didn’t lie about going to prison, but you weren’t exactly forthcoming, either. Eli, how can I trust you if you hide those types of secrets from me?”
Eli slid off the couch and knelt in front of her. He held her hand. If he was going to win her back, he was going to beg and grovel, and hope to hell she could learn to forgive him and trust him again.
“Sam, I am not eighteen anymore. I’m not that boy that decided to rob a few liquor stores and gas stations. I’m responsible. I have a steady job; a job that I love and I’m great at. Yes, I’m out on parole, and yes, one mistake I can end up going back to prison. But, Sam, I’m never going to make that mistake. I love you and Derek too damn much to make those types of errors.”
Eli kissed Sam’s fingers. “You can trust me, because I’m the same guy you fell in love with. In fact, I think I am a better man because you left me. Not that I was happy about it. I was crushed, but it made me work harder to prove to you and everyone else that I am not that stupid eighteen year old punk with a gun.”
Eli took out the ring from his pocket and showed it to Sam. This was it. This was either going to win her over, or it was going to be the end of them.
“Marry me, Sam. Please. Give me a second chance to prove to you that I am a better man. That I can be a better man and father to Derek. I don’t want to start over. I want to continue our lives. I want to marry you, and be the best damn husband you deserve. I know I don’t deserve you or your trust, but I will work my ass off if I have to, to be that man.”
Sam wiped Eli’s tears from his face. He hadn’t realized he had been crying. He wanted this so bad. “Okay,” she whispered.
Eli knew he didn’t hear her right. But did she just… “Was that a yes?”
She giggled and Eli’s heart melted at the sound. Oh man, but she was giggling and that was the most beautiful sound he ever heard. “Yes.”
Eli stood after sliding the ring on her finger and crushed her lips and pinned her to the sofa. He was getting married. He was finally going to be with Sam, and be the family man he wanted to be.