Drew was mindful of every tick of the clock as he impatiently scanned the morning crowd of New York, looking for the familiar halo of golden curls that he would recognize anywhere.
She was late, more so than usual.
He wasn't surprised. He had fully anticipated some kind of a silent rebellion when she had finally, if not somewhat reluctantly, agreed to this date last week. She wouldn't be her if she did not find some way to one-up him in every situation. It was one of those habits of her that amused him and ticked him off at the same time - the two feelings being mutual companions when it came to her. And yet, after everything that went down between them, he could not really blame her for trying to steal back some of the precious minutes she had agreed to gift him with. It was more than he deserved really.
Drew stood outside the cafe, watching intently as men and women walked by the sidewalk in suits of grey and black, ready to start the day behind the confines of their cubicles. Starting next week, he would be one of the many faceless people waiting for the bus to take him to a duty he did not enjoy.
He lost the right to complain when he chose to drown his sorrows at the bottom of the bottle. After his latest drunken stint at work, his dismissal had been less than surprising, despite the lengthy string of projects he had been involved in. He was easily replaced though, by someone more competent, more present and most importantly, by someone somber.
He had lost a lot to alcohol. But the loss of his job did not even compare to the loss he felt once he found himself all alone in an empty house, the door slamming shut on his only shot at happiness.
He was stone cold sober now though - alert and aware of every mistake he had made that had led him to this moment - to an arrangement of sixty minutes each week, to show her that he was better, that he was ready to come home.
He stole a glance at his watch and wondered if he should call her. The doorman at the cafe, who he had become well acquainted with over the past couple of weeks smiled at him sympathetically. He would have returned the sentiment if the cold edge of fear and disappointment had not begun to settle heavy in his heart.
What if she had changed her mind? What if she had decided that he was not worth a second chance after all? Would she be able to live with that decision? Would he?
Questions swam around in his mind, the burden of their possibilities making his throat dry and itch for a single sip to calm his nerves. But he knew that if he even approached a bottle this time everything would be over before it even had the chance to begin. It did not matter if she found it within herself to forgive him again, for he would never be able to forgive himself.
A single high pitched laugh broke through the rush of the panicked thoughts in his mind, the familiar sound instantly warming the ice that had begun to settle in his heart at the thought of never being able to hear it again. For a second, he almost hesitated to lift his head up, afraid that his ears had deceived him and that the resulting disappointment would crush whatever remained of his soul these days.
But the second passed when he realized he would rather risk disappointment than waste a single moment of the remaining minutes he got with them.
He looked up and a huge smile took over his face even as his heart broke once again at the realization of what he had lost.
For there she was, her golden curls spilling out of the bun her mother had somehow managed to twist on top of her head. Her tiny hand clutched tightly in a larger one did nothing to hinder her pace as she skipped over the pavement, bumping into strangers and nearly drawing her mother's arm out of her socket as she tried to keep up with her.
Just a few more steps and then the incoming ball of energy exploded into him as she curled her tiny arms around his leg, with a huge grin and a high-pitched squeal.
His little Lisa. At six years of age, she was almost unstoppable.
"Daddy! You are here!"
He picked her up in his arms, feeling more complete than he had in the seven days since he had last got the chance to hold her like this.
"Of course, I am sweetheart. Where else would I be?"
"But we are late!" She rambled worriedly into his shoulder. "I woke up quick, I promise! I even brushed my teeth and changed my clothes like Mom asked me to! But then she burnt the toast while she was scolding me for running down the stairs and we had ice cream with cereal because she spilled the milk while trying to get the bread out." She then leaned in with a huge conspiratorial grin, "It was yummy!"
"It is also the last time that happened," Beth said with a scowl, "So I am glad you enjoyed."
Lisa pouted but her mother just rolled her eyes, being fully aware of her daughter's many skills when it comes to getting something she wants.
She then turned to him and he was sure the stupid, dopey smile was still stretched wide across his face as he held his daughter in his arms and looked at his beautiful wife in her staple hoodie and jeans.
"I am sorry we are late."
She did not sound sorry at all, but he helpfully did not point that out.
"You had a busy morning."
"You don't say," she grumbled under her breath. There was a moment of silence in which their daughter continued gawking through the glass pane of the cafe while Drew simply stood and watched his wife shift her weight from one foot to another.
"You don't have to worry," he said quietly.
She huffed a laugh. "Sure."
Drew released a breath. "Listen, if you are not sure about this, we can reschedule and you can come with us today. I don't want to push you if you're not-"
"No," she interrupted, "we both need this. You need to be able to spend time with her without me hovering over your shoulder." She paused with a sigh, "And I need to be able to trust you with our daughter again."
For the last few weeks they had been meeting there, she had always referred to Lisa as her daughter. It had been an unconscious move on her part and that had hurt him more because he'd realized she really did consider Lisa to be her daughter, delegating him to the corner of the picture, an almost incomprehensible presence. And he could not even blame her, for that had been his role for longer than he would care to admit.
Not anymore though.
"Okay, then. We'll meet at 11 here or maybe you can join us for a dessert? Not another ice cream, of course," he added cheekily.
The corners of her mouth turned up in amusement but she replied with a simple nod. She then rose up on her toes to kiss Lisa who turned towards her mother with a grin that was surely larger than the sun.
"You be good for Mommy now, okay?"
Lisa frowned. "But Mommy, I am always good!"
Beth laughed. "Yes you are."
With his daughter still tucked into his arms and his wife stretching up to hug her, he realized in that moment that this could have been his life. This warm, fuzzy feeling that filled his heart to impossible extents could have always been his had he learned to ask for help when he actually needed it.
It was different now. He was different. He knew what it was to have lost everything and he knew that he would never lose his hold again.
"Hey, Andrew?" Beth called even as she took a few steps back. "Please don't let us down again."
"Never," he promised, holding Lisa just a little bit tighter.
She nodded solemnly and left. Drew watched her walk away for a few moments, the morning sun making her golden shine like a halo around her head. She was an angel for giving him a second chance, for allowing him to try a second time and atone for all his mistakes. He would not take it for granted.
He smiled at his daughter as they headed into the cafe.
"You ready for some real breakfast sweetheart?"
"Ooh, can we have a milkshake please?"
He laughed, "Of course."
The doorman pulled open the door with a huge smile, as though he was aware of the significance of the change in their weekly routine.
"A table for two, please."