1. All characters engaging in sex are 18

2. No characters resemble real people

3. Enjoy the fiction

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CHAPTER 2

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The next weekend, I dropped Immy off at Emily's house. The instant the door opened, the two girls hugged, and ran off to Emily's room, leaving me in the doorway. I was turning to walk away, when I heard a voice from inside. "Hi? Are you Immy's dad?"

I turned back to see a brown-haired woman, nice-looking, wearing a hoodie and sweatpants. "Hi, yeah, I'm Wes Carson."

"Elaine Wells. Nice to meet you," she said, offering her hand. I shook it. "Immy's quite a girl. Very well-mannered."

"That she is," I agreed. "Emily's really nice too. It was nice to see them together at her birthday party."

"If you don't mind me saying so, Immy told me about her family and the accident. It's so great that she's got you."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm glad I've got her too. Though sometimes, it's a little awkward, especially around this age."

She laughed, brushing her hair back. It rested just behind her shoulder. "I get it. She's starting to talk about boys and stuff?"

"Not so much boys. More like the... growing up stuff." I didn't want to say the word 'puberty' in front of a woman I'd just met. Elaine nodded her understanding anyway. "My parents are helpful, and my mom is great when I need help with girl stuff, but it would be nice to have someone a little closer to Immy's age, you know?"

"Sure, yes. I completely understand. My experience with Emily's the opposite. I can handle the girl problems. It's her recent fascination with boys that makes me crazy. I think she wants me to start dating again, just so there would be a man around."

"Where is Emily's father? If you don't mind me asking, of course."

Elaine led us into the living room and we sat to talk. "Dan passed away a little over eight years ago, almost nine now. He had cancer. It was rough on Em, we had to watch him slowly dwindle away. Em was so young and didn't quite understand what was going on at the time. Dan and I had been high school sweethearts, we'd gotten married right after high school."

"Ah. Yeah. How do you handle being a single parent? I could always use some tips." I tried to put a smile on my face.

Elaine smiled back. "Well, for one, we have family to support us. You said you've got your parents. I've got mine too, and my two sisters. I can usually count on one of them to come watch Emily when I need a hand."

"That would be nice. I wish I had siblings to help me too."

She said, "Well, if you want, call me. Emily and Immy are close friends. I don't mind taking her for a couple hours if you need it." She jotted down her number on a piece of paper, and handed to me.

I took it, giving a little sigh of relief. "Thank you. That would be amazing." I stood up and headed for the door. "I have some errands to run, but I'll be back around 3:00."

"Sounds good Wes. Nice to finally meet you."

----

That night, Immy spotted the paper as I cleared out my pocket. "Whose phone number is this?"

"Elaine's. Emily's mom."

"Are you going out with her?" Her voice was curiosity mixed with a little excitement and maybe a hint of confusion. Or was it concern? It's funny how you get to know the tone of your kid's voice.

"No, nosy pants. She offered to help with you if I needed it. Maybe you'll get to spend more time at Emily's house."

"Oh. Cool." She handed me back the phone number. "I thought maybe you found another date."

"Not yet," I told her. "I'll let you know."

----

A few days later, I did let her know. I told Immy another friend was trying to set me up with a woman named Eva. Unlike Erica, who was younger, Eva was my age. I tried not to put too much hope into a first date, but I hoped that things would go a little better for me.

Eva and I worked near each other, so we met for lunch. Her brown hair had some red in it, and she kept it in a long pony tail down her back. She was down to Earth, understanding, and patient. Less fun and outgoing than Erica. She was interested in hearing about Immy, and thought it was great that I adopted her. "I work in family law," she explained. "I've seen some bad situations. It's always nice to see things going well for unconventional families like yours."

"Thanks," I said. "Eva, what about you? Never married, no kids?"

She shrugged a little. "Well, I didn't have a lot of time for boyfriends in law school," she told me. "Then I was all about getting the right job. Now that I'm settled there, I want to find a nice guy to settle down with."

"Sounds like a good plan," I said. "I haven't really dated for a while either. So it sounds like we're looking for similar things in a relationship. Although, I hope my twelve-year-old doesn't scare you off."

"Not really. I like kids that age. I have a niece that's twelve. Maybe they'll get along."

I thought things were going along really well. But it turned out that our desire for long-term companionship was one of the only things we had in common. She and I disagreed on movies and music. I liked sports and she had zero interest. She liked to go on wine and beer tastings, but I hadn't had much interest in alcohol since I adopted Immy. To top it off, she'd sworn off red meat, and I couldn't picture going a week without a good juicy cheeseburger, and I knew Immy enjoyed them too.

In the end, though we enjoyed each other's company and stories, we agreed that we weren't a good pairing. I told Immy about it later, and she got frustrated. "What is wrong with these women?" she said. "The first one is fun but not ready to commit. The second one wants a relationship, just not with you."

"I know, right?" I said, laughing at her display. "Welcome to dating. This is literally the world of dating in a nutshell."

"Is it really, Dunk?" she asked, and I nodded. "That's stupid. Why's it so difficult? Maybe an app is easier after all."

"I doubt it."

Immy sighed and flopped backwards on the couch. Her blonde hair splayed out over the cushion. "I have to say, Dunk, you're making me not look forward to my own dating."

"Well good, because you can't date yet anyway." I patted her forehead. "I need at least five years to before I'll be ready for that."

"Dunk..." she groaned, rolling her eyes.

"Okay, maybe four and a half years."

----

Life went on for a couple more weeks. I didn't have any more dates, but I chatted with Elaine when we let Emily and Immy visit with each other. I was glad to have a kindred spirit in another single parent.

Things came to a screeching halt early one Saturday morning. I was just sitting up in my bed when I heard Immy scream "DUNK!" from her room. I ran in, thinking she was injured somehow.

She wasn't, but there was blood. A spattering of red on her pink bedsheet. Immy stood nearby, still in her nightgown, holding her middle, crying. I ignored the bed and ran to hug my daughter tightly. "It's okay, it's okay," I told her, over and over. "We knew this was coming. Remember?" She nodded but still cried. We sat there without speaking for a while. Sometimes the best medicine is just a dad hugging a child.

After a while, she whispered, "Dunk, I miss my mom."

"I miss her too. And your dad, and Laura, and your grandma."

"Me too. But, I need a mom. I love you, but I don't think I can talk to you about this."

"I get it." Then I got an idea. "Could you talk to Emily's mom?"

Immy considered it, then nodded. "Okay."

"Okay. Want me to call her?" Immy nodded. "Okay," I told her. "I'll call her now, and then we'll clean up your sheets, okay?" Another silent nod. I kissed her on the forehead. "Okay. I love you."

----

Thankfully, Elaine was up, despite it being early on a Saturday morning. I quickly explained the situation, and she was more than willing to help. I passed the phone off to Immy, who took the phone into the bathroom and shut the door. I took the opportunity to strip Immy's bed and throw the sheets into the wash.

When Immy emerged a half-hour later, she was in better spirits. She handed the phone back to me, and headed back to her room to change. "Hi, Elaine?"

"Hi Wes. I think she's fine now. We had a good girl-to-girl talk."

"Thank you. Thank you so much. I'd had the talk with her before, but I think it still shocked her."

"Yes it did. But she's better. And you don't need to know this, but Emily's had hers too, so they'll probably swap stories later."

"I owe you. How can I pay you back?"

"How about dinner?" Elaine asked. "Immy says Sunday night is burger night. I'll bring Emily over tomorrow night, and you can cook for us?"

"It's a deal. Thanks again. I will see you tomorrow night at 6."

When Immy came back out of her room, she was dressed and much happier, which I was glad to see. She handed me a piece of paper with some things she'd jotted down. It was a shopping list. I guessed that Elaine had told her to buy a few things. "Come on, Dunk, it's time to go shopping." I happily got dressed and took Immy shopping. The list was comprehensive. Obviously, Elaine had given Immy advice I wouldn't have thought of. I was incredibly glad to have that kind of support for Immy and for myself.

----

My apartment is tiny, but it does have the benefit of having a small balcony, mostly sheltered from the elements. And on that small balcony, I keep a small propane grill. We use it every Sunday, even if it's cold out, to grill burgers. I cook the meat and Immy prepares the buns and condiments. We also bake some fries in the oven - I prefer crinkle-cut and Immy likes waffle fries, so we alternate each week. This week was a waffle fry week; Immy never lets me forget.

Our kitchen table usually seats only two of us, so we packed in a little closer to fit all four. Emily and Immy sat next to each other, avidly discussing how great waffle fries are, but they disagreed with dipping sauce, as Immy likes to dip hers in barbecue sauce, and Emily prefers traditional ketchup. I chimed in that some people dip their fries in ranch dressing, which both girls agreed was just gross and wrong.

After dinner, the girls ran off to talk in Immy's room. "It's a nice place," Elaine told me, sitting on the couch.

"It's too small," I said. "I've known that for years. But I can't afford anything else." I told her about my job. "At least I can flex my hours and spend more time with Immy."

"That is something," Elaine admitted. "What about the accident? Did you get any money from that?"

"From the accident?" I was lost.

"You know, like, lawsuit money?" she asked. Seeing my dumb expression, she explained. "You said a semi truck hit your van, right? Did the trucking company ever give you a payment?"

"You mean, like insurance?" I finally found my brain. "I... I guess I never thought about it. We were out of state, so at the time, I just... thought about getting home with Immy."

"It's been a few years, Wes, but maybe you should look into it. One of my sisters is an attorney. Maybe she can help."

I was so awed. "That, I mean, wow. That would be so great. Even if we got a little money, it would really help us."

"Let me make a call and we'll see what we can do."

----

Sorry for another short chapter. Please bear with the story, I promise it's worth it.

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