Chapter: 03

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I discarded the coat and leaned back against the couch. There had been a lot of work pressure since the last few days and topping that was Granddad's will that had me stressed. I had been pushing it for some months now.
"Daddy?" I opened my eyes to look at my daughter who stood there with a cup of coffee, Stacey close behind her.
"Yes, sweetie." I smiled at her.
"I brought you coffee." She carefully brought the cup forward, her eyes trained on them like splitting a moment of attention would spill the drink.
"You did? That's so sweet!" Taking the cup from her hand I placed it on the table beside me. "Come here." I picked her up and sat her on my lap. "I'll put her to sleep." I told Stacey.
"No, it's okay, son. I'll wait." Ava put her head on my chest and played with the shirt button. Stacey had been staying with our family for as long as I could remember. She had always been there for me, treated me like her own. If I trusted any person with Ava more than myself, that would be her.
"It's fine, Stacey." I insisted. "You should call it a night." Although very reluctantly, she nodded.
"Goodnight, Rylan."
"Goodnight." Nodding, she walked away leaving us alone in each other's peaceful company. Only Ava had the power to ease some of my stress simply by her presence.
"So will you tell me what happened at school?" I asked combing her hair with my fingers.
"What happens every day but today I made a drawing. Can I show you later?" She mumbled sleepily into my chest while I hummed.
"Daddy?" She spoke after a minute. She pulled back to stare at my face.

"Tomorrow is a holiday right ?" She asked hopefully that her Dad wasn't going to work on weekends too. I couldn't help but feel a little guilty that I wasn't giving her more time.
Her eyes, which were once sleepy, gleamed with excitement. "Can we go for milkshakes?" I chuckled.
"Sure, I will take you to the best place for milkshakes." I said but a frown came upon her face instead of the smile that I was expecting.
"No, Daddy. We will go to Tweats." Took me a second to get the actual word.
"Treats ?" I corrected her to which she smiled sheepishly. I had collected from Stacey that they regularly visited this diner.
"Yes. I want to meet Elena. I saw her last week." A smile broke out on her face as she mentioned some 'Elena'.
"Who's Elena?"
If possible her smile widened. "Elena is my best friend." The elation in her voice told me that she really liked this person, probably some waitress at the diner.
"Okay, we'll go and meet your friend. Now let's put you to sleep, yes?" She nodded before wrapping her hands around my neck tightly. I smiled when she put her face in the crook of my neck, waiting to be carried to her bed.


"Enjoy your meal." Quickly passing a polite smile to the ones seated at the last booth, I walked back to the counter.
The diner was quite full. I was about to grab my pad to take another booth when I heard Ava's voice.
The next few seconds were chaotic. I turned around and everything happened in a snap of fingers. She collided with the legs of Amy, another waitress who lost her balance and the glasses of juice she was carrying, crashed down on the floor.
"What the hell!?" A lady sitting in the adjacent booth shrieked. My eyes fell upon her dress which was a bit spoiled by the drinks. A moment of commotion before there was a second of complete silence.
"I'm sorry -" Amy was cut off mid sentence by the seething customer.
"Shut up! Is your stupid sorry going to get this stain off?" She glared at her before her furious glance settled on Ava and my heart skipped a beat.
"And you! Why are you running around?" Ava flinched at her tone and so did I. The way she was glaring at her, one would think she was about to get physical.
"I am sorry." Ava softly apologized, blinking through her tears but that did absolutely nothing to pacify the lady.
"You should be, stupid brat!" I was stunned at how rude she was being to a little girl. I did a quick glance over to find some camera. The way she behaved almost made me think that this was going to be an episode of What Would You Do? . Only it wasn't. Ava was a regular here and not some child actor.
"Miss, I would request you to not speak to a child like that." I pulled Ava to my side, exposing myself to the brunt of her anger.
She narrowed her eyes on me. "Yeah? And how should I speak to her!?"
"I understand you're upset but this was a mishap. You're scaring her." Bad investment! Every word was falling on deaf ears.
"And who might you be to tell me that?" She barked, almost and it pretty much snapped my control.
"A nice person? The same can't be said about you though." I stared right back at her while a group of teens sitting behind her snickered. Was I risking my job here? Probably. Was I impulsive? When was I not?
"How dare you talk to me like that!? And do you not see my dress? This brat just ruined it!" She pointed her finger, glaring viciously at Ava who flinched and clung to my side. I was irritated at how impudent she was.
I forced a breath out. "It was an accident, a mistake and she isn't a brat because she just apologized after which I don't think she deserves these rude words." It will be safe to say that this was the nicest way in which I could have put them together. The thoughts in my head weren’t this courteous though.
"Is this how you treat your customers? I will-"
"I will ask you to not finish that sentence."  A smooth, deep voice cut in, the kind that is used to command the attention of an entire room. As soon as I turned around, the air was almost stolen out of my lungs. I was no stranger to the likes of good-looking men but he would totally outclass them in an instant.
He was tall, his lean muscular upper body clad in a black button down shirt. The waves of dark brown hair accentuated his hazel orbs and his jawline looked sharp enough enough to cut through steel.
He extended a hand holding out a card. The sleeves were rolled up exposing his veiny forearm. "Call here and provide your details. Your loss will be compensated." His words were sharp yet his voice low as he looked down at her. The woman was intimidated. It was apparent by the way she struggled to keep her eyes on him.
"Oh no, you don't have to pay for what this unruly child did. And this lady here deserves to be fired!" I couldn't control the urge to roll my eyes.
"I do have to compensate because this 'unruly child' here is my daughter."
My eyes widened at the piece of information. Well that was some revelation!
I saw it in that woman's eyes. She was contemplating apologizing to him. I watched as he held her down with just an icy stare.
Must be nice to be able to assert such dominance on strangers!
"It's better if you accept the compensation and leave right now before I make you pay for harassing my daughter and this young lady here."
The conviction in his voice stated that he would live up to his words if defied.
"I- I'm-" She fumbled with her words.
"Leave." He gritted out. She looked between us, her face flush with embarrassment, before rushing out of the diner. The audience we had were now going back to their businesses. I remembered Ava and one look at her damp face really did upset me.
"Elena, I am sorry." Another tear slipped out of her eyes and down her cheek. I crouched down in front of her.
"No sweetheart, it's okay. You had already apologized." I wiped the tears off her face. "That lady was a big meanie." I made a face hoping that she would smile but the frown on her face was persistent.
"She scolded you because of me. What will she do to you? Will she hurt you?" It was warming to see how thoughtful she was. I was about to comfort her when her father beat me to it.
"Come here, sweetheart!" He picked her up in his arms while she gloomily stared back at him. I recognised a slight British accent. "She won't hurt Elena. I won't let her, okay?" Him comforting his daughter and Ava looking up at her father with so much, why was this so difficult to look away from?
Maybe because he didn't resemble the cold intense man I had witnessed just a few moments ago. His face seemed to have lost all that harshness the moment he looked at his daughter.
I was far too engrossed in observing what played out in front of me to note the alarm that had gone off in my head. It was too late.
He looked up only to catch me staring.
Should I explain myself? I panicked. I had no interest in experiencing how it felt to be on the receiving end of his icy stare.
But what I didn't expect was for his eyes to trail down the length of me. When his eyes finally came back up, something flashed in them and it definitely wasn't animosity.
What was it?
Before I could ponder a second longer, I took the initiative to break the stare and my eyes immediately found Ava's face.
"So, milkshake?"

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