Mark

I released Parker as I stepped off the last stair. I remained unsure what had just happened while I walked back to the rented car. Parker sang a kids' song that he learned in school or from a CD. My mind kept churning at the tempo of Parker's ditty. His voice spiked in volume and I began to shake my head.

I refused to leave it like that. A slammed door wouldn't be the end. It couldn't, there was a reason we saw each other again. At this particular moment of clarity and bravery I had no clue what that reason was, but I knew there was one. I was damn near, one hundred percent positive about that fact. Everything happens for a reason, even Dee believed in that; she said as much all the time.

"No," I said out loud. Parker stopped standing outside the back seat.

He looked at me, "What?"

"We're not leaving. Go ahead and close your door." I grabbed his hand and walked back to the apartment. There was no way in hell I was going to leave it like this.

As my fury grew, my pace quickened. I practically dragged Parker the last five steps. I banged on the door.

Keiran answered, again. Why is it that the person you want to talk to is never the one to answer the door? He didn't seem fazed seeing me again. He just stood there shaking his head.

"Stop shaking your head. Let me talk to her." I demanded. I wasn't playing games. I wasn't going to be nice. Dee was my friend before Keiran the painter ever thought about meeting her. I would talk to her.

Keiran stepped onto the top stair with me. He was half a head shorter than me. Even though he had to tilt his head, Keiran looked me dead in the eye. He wasn't nearly as intimidating as he was trying to be with his multicolor hair and paint smeared on his face. The guy could dream, I guess. I vowed if he didn't let me see Dee I would gladly punch him in the nose.

"Look, Mark," Keiran raised a callused hand. "I don't know the whole story between you two. I only know snippets. But I do know that ever since you walked away three minutes ago Dee hasn't smiled."

"You think that might be because she didn't actually want me to leave. She wanted me to stay here and demand that she be with me. That's why I'm back."

Parker stood mute on the bottom step. I hoped in the back of my mind that he learned to always fight for someone he loves. Even if I didn't walk away with Dee, I hoped Parker would take this experience of his dad losing his mind over a girl and use it for his benefit.

"Please, just let me see her again. If she sends me away again I won't come back but I just want one more chance." I put my hands together in prayer, a sign of begging. I wasn't beyond that at this point.

Keiran started shaking his head, "Do you know how many chances you've already used? Why are you doing this to her? If you really love Dee why do you keep hurting her?"

I noticed the change in his tone. Apparently too many chances struck a really bad chord with Keiran.

"I've had way too many. That does not mean I don't deserve one more. Just tell Dee I'm back and see if she comes to the door." I watched Keiran fight with the suggestion. "Or are you scared that Dee will see that I'm back and leave you?"

Keiran scoffed in my face and walked into the apartment. I looked down to see strength in Parker's new, five-year-old eyes. He gave me his little boy, toothy smile. I wanted him to know Dee. A boy that beautiful deserved to know her.

The door opened. I smiled back at Parker before I turned my head to see who walked outside. I could not have been happier when Dee stood across from me.

"You remember this?" Dee held up a shiny silver ring.

It was just a band with some embellishment all around, nothing special though. It was actually not so shiny when I gave it to her the summer before I left for school. I took it from her and felt the engravings. We had traded when Dee come over to say goodbye. She gave me some brownies for the trip. Dee made the best brownies. A small part of my stomach started to clench as I couldn't remember what happened to the ring I'd gotten from Dee.

"We traded rings. You gave me brownies. I left for school." I held the ring back out to Dee. She took it and flipped it on to her index finger, without looking.

"I wore this every day my freshman year. I wore it every day after you gave it to me. One day, in my sophomore year, I had to clean the drain in my dorm. I set the ring on the sink like a stupid person. Without looking, I was trying to find the wrench, also on the sink." Dee shook her head, like she did when she thought something was idiotic. "I knocked the ring into the sink, found the wrench two seconds later. I unscrewed the pipe, found the ring, cleaned the drain, and tried to wash of the ring.

"It kept the nasty smell from the drain. I don't know how because it is metal but it did. I had to take it to the cleaners. I was in the mall one day and I just walked right by one, so I went in. Now it sparkles. The guy said it would only take fifteen minutes. I didn't have anything better to do so I went to one of those ceramic painting places; it was right across from the ring store.

"Keiran was teaching a class to a few kids, just basic stuff about paint. I watched for a few seconds as one of the boys painted the finger of the girl next to him and how Keiran handled it. I picked out my own piece and sat down to paint. I took my time because I wasn't sure if fifteen minutes to a jeweler was the same kind of fifteen minutes as take out.

"Keiran walks over as I'm painting my gnome's hat a lovely shade of green and asks if I know the time. He's wearing a watch and there is a clock behind him. I tell him and he says 'Great, that means I can take a break and talk to the prettiest girl in the mall'. He sits down opposite me and asks my name. We talked so long that I asked if his boss was going to be wondering why he wasn't working. He asked if anyone was going to be looking for me.

"I finally remembered your ring. I said 'No, but I do have to go pick something up from the jewelers'. Keiran took off his apron and asked to walk with me. We've been dating ever since. When I picked up the ring Keiran was at a different counter, he didn't see this hyper-masculine, flame-engraved silver band. And I have not shown it to him yet. But this is the first day I've put it on since Keiran and I started dating."

Dee finally looked down to push the ring off her finger with her thumb. She never waived her gaze through the course of her story. Dee could be so fearless when she wanted to; she never remembered her strength. She held the ring in a fist.

Dee crossed her legs at the ankles as she leaned against the railing of the stairs. She stopped looking at me to smile at Parker. I wondered if this was one of those moments where I had one shot to say exactly what she wanted to hear that would mean she would leave with me. We could have just been having another conversation about my falling short of promised expectations.

"Dee, I don't know what you want me to say. This is what I'm going to say. I have never been as idiotic as when I lied to you. You didn't deserve that. And if this torture of you making me fight for you is my penance, then I'll pay it. I have never been as sure of anything as I am that I want you to leave with me right now." I blinked and held my breath. It was her ball now. I could nothing but blink and hold my breath.

Dee smiled and lunged at me. She kissed me for longer than was appropriate for a girl with a boyfriend just a doorstep away, on the mouth no less. It was very unlike Dee. She hated cheating and had a very strict rubric as to what qualified. I wrapped my hand around her neck and put one on her waist. I started to move my hands to cup her face and Dee pushed away from me using both hands.

I stood holding my invisible orb again as I stared, confused, at Dee. She put the ring in my hand without touching my skin. I stared at where her form had been when she bent down to hug Parker. Dee kissed the top of his head. When she stood back up all I got was a weak smile and wave. It was a very disappointing farewell compared to five seconds ago.

"But…" I started.

Dee shook her head and opened the door.

"Goodbye. I love you." And once more Dee closed the door in my face.

I didn't like it any more the second time. Something told me that if I knocked again Keiran would come out swinging. Something also told me that Dee was crying.

I shoved the ring in my pocket and nudged Parker's shoulder to start him moving. In a year, Dee might text me. I expected it would be to alert me to the wedding invitation I would be receiving. If she had changed her mind about marriage as she had children.

I imagined a whole future for her. The pit of my stomach clenched as it donned on me that I wouldn't be a part of it.

"Damn it." I whispered.