Paul righted his tux. He had borrowed it from Greg, his brother. His vest and tie matched Hailey's dress but he hadn't seen it. He felt like he was going to his senior prom again. Although, this time he wanted to go and he had a date.
Allan had forced him to go to his senior prom and had set him up with a girl who was interested in every guy other than Paul. She danced with Paul once, for the senior dance. Paul didn't see her the rest of the night. He didn't even remember her name. But Grace had danced with him. He'd always remembered that.
He knocked on the door with the bouquet of roses behind his back. Grace came to the door, breathless. "Hey. Hailey's almost ready." Paul chuckled and walked in. "Driving you crazy?"
Grace forced a laugh and pressed her hand to her forehead. "We passed crazy two hours ago." She looked up then…and really looked at him. Her breath caught in her throat. "You look great Paul."
He shifted his weight. "Thanks. It's Greg's." Grace smiled. "It looks great on you." Hailey called her from upstairs. Grace groaned and ran up the stairs.
Paul smiled and sat down on the couch. Andrew climbed into the seat beside him and turned on the TV. "Hey Paul, come here for a second." Paul stood and went to the stairs.
"Wow, Hailey, you look beautiful!" Hailey grinned down at him. She stood at the top of the stairs all dolled up. Grace smiled as her throat tightened. She wished Allan were here to see his little girl all dressed up but was so glad she had Paul.
Paul retrieved the roses. "These are for you." Hailey took them and took a big sniff. "They're pretty. Thanks." Hailey gave them to her mother and took Paul's hand. "Bye Mama." "Whoa! Wait, I want to get pictures."
Hailey groaned but Paul pushed her to the stairs. After a few snapshots, Grace was satisfied. "You two have fun. Paul, I want her home by midnight." Paul winked. "Don't worry Ms. Johnson. I'll get her home."
Paul noticed Hailey fidgeting with her hands as they pulled up to the school. "Are you nervous?" Paul asked. Hailey nodded. Paul took her hand. "Don't be. I got ya."
Hailey smiled then and he led her to the gym. Hailey froze as they stepped up to the door, waiting to be introduced. "They say my dad." Paul frowned. "What do you mean?"
"When they introduce us, they'll say Hailey Grace, escorted by her dad. You're not my dad. This was a dumb idea. I want to go home." Paul knelt beside her. "No. You look beautiful; you need to show all those girls you're not afraid. Come on. I'll handle the announcement"
All to soon, it was their turn. Hailey was shaking all over. Paul leaned in to talk to a lady and she smiled and handed him the microphone.
"Alright, ladies and gentlemen, we have a special little girl with us tonight." Hailey's jaw dropped as she recognized Paul's voice. "Now, this little girl no longer has a daddy. Many of you knew her dad and many of you know her."
Hailey felt like crying. Not because she missed her dad but because Paul was embarrassing her. "So, I'd like to introduce you to Hailey Grace Johnson, escorted by the lovely and talented Paul Brenner."
Paul winked at the crowd. "Hailey, I know you're daddy's here with you." Hailey smiled up at him. Now she wanted to cry because she missed her daddy.
As Hailey walked in, all around the room people began to clap. They began to stand to their feet. Hailey was in awe. She took Paul's hand and he spun her once. Her dress floated up and she felt like a princess.
Paul led her to a table as they continued with announcements. Cassidy hugged her neck. "You look so pretty." She cried. Hailey thanked her. After all the girls were introduced, the music began and Paul and Hailey danced the night away.
Hailey stopped to take a break just before the dance ended. Cassidy's father came up to Paul. "So, Hailey's dad died?" Paul nodded. "I'm sorry to here that. I haven't been her long."
"You're accent is funny, where are you from?" The man chuckled. "I'm from Maine, but my parents are full blooded Irish."
"Why doesn't Cassidy have an accent?"
"Her mother was American. I guess it didn't stick with Cass."
Brian Duncan nodded slowly. "Her mother left me. She took Cassidy's brother with her. And I got Cassidy."
"What's your son's name?"
"Brendan. He's perfect. Blue eyes and blonde hair. He was a baby when she left."
"Paul!" Paul whirled around. Hailey was stomping towards him. She looked like she was trying not to cry. "Come on. We're leaving."
"Hailey, what's wrong?"
"I want to go home."
Paul caught up to her. "Hailey girl, come on talk to me."
"Don't call me that! Only my daddy can call me that."
Paul followed her to his truck. He had no idea what had happened, only that it had upset her deeply. She stormed into the house. "Hey, how was the dance?" Grace asked. Hailey raced upstairs. "Hailey?" Grace called.
Paul came into the house quietly. "What happened?" Grace growled. "I don't know. We were having fun and she stopped to take a break. I was talking to another father when she came up to me and said she wanted to leave."
Grace raced up stairs to her daughter's room. She eased the door open. "Hailey, what's wrong baby?" Hailey was crying on her bed. "Go away." Grace sat on the edge of the bed. "I can't do that honey. Tell me what happened."
"I don't want to talk to you." Paul came into the room then. He'd shed his coat, vest, and tie, and had rolled his sleeves up half way. Grace hated to admit how good he looked.
"Hailey, what's wrong sweetheart?" Hailey sniffed and buried her face deeper into her pillow. She mumbled something. "What'd you say baby, we couldn't understand you." Again she mumbled into her pillow. "A little louder." Paul coaxed.
"I said, Amber-Lynn said you two were falling in love and you were gonna get married and forget all about Daddy. You're gonna forget!" Hailey cried. Grace's heart ached. "No, baby, that's crazy."
It was Paul that felt the ache now. Was it so crazy? Was it even possible that she could fall in love with her husband's best friend?
Paul pushed those thoughts aside. Hailey came first. "Hailey listen, I would never, ever want you to forget about your dad. I don't want to forget about him either." Paul wiped away the tears on her cheek.
"Yeah baby, and I'm not ready to date right now anyways, I still miss Daddy too. I'll always love Daddy and I'll never forget him. That's a promise." Hailey sat up. "Really?" "Yes baby. I don't want to forget Daddy. But even if I did, I wouldn't be able to. I see Allan everyday just by looking at you."
Hailey smiled. "Really?" Paul nodded. "I see it too." Hailey hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry I yelled Paul." He kissed her forehead. "Its ok, baby." Hailey hugged her mother. "I'm sorry Mommy." Grace smiled and held her daughter. "Me too, sweetie."
"Are you okay now?" Hailey nodded. "Okay. Hailey, I had tons of fun tonight. But I'm going to go on home. I have to work tomorrow." Hailey nodded. "I'm tired too."
"I'll help Hailey get settled and then I'll come walk you out okay?" Paul nodded.
He waited downstairs, coat and tie in hand. Paul extended his hand as she came down the stairs. She took it and walked him to his truck.
"Paul, I can't describe how grateful I am to you. Really." Paul shrugged. "Don't mention it. I had fun." Grace stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "Thanks." Paul smiled and nodded. "Anytime."
Tabatha walked up onto the construction sight. She saw Paul on top of the roof with his nail gun. Tabatha smiled and stopped a man.
"Hey Paul, I think there's a girl here for you." Paul looked up. Tabatha smiled and waved. "Yeah kid, there is." Paul climbed down the ladder. "Hey. How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks." "So, I hope you don't mind me asking but what are you doing here?" Tabatha laughed. "I'm here to steal you away." "What do you mean?" "I mean, let's go have lunch." She took his hand.
"I don't know if I can leave right now." Tabatha pulled lightly. "They can stand to be without you for an hour. Come on." Paul smiled and followed her to her car. Somebody catcalled as he was getting into her car. He chose to ignore it.
They drove to Duke's Café. Paul was a little hesitant to walk in. And what rotten luck he had, Grace was their waitress.
"Hi, what can I get for you?" Grace had gotten much better at waiting tables. Paul told Tabatha of her first day. Grace caught the end of their conversation and laughed. "Thanks Paul. I'm so glad you feel like sharing my troubles with the world."
"I also said you'd gotten better. How many drinks have you dropped today?" Paul teased. "None, butthead. Now will you go ahead and order?" Paul chuckled and ordered; Tabatha did the same.
"Okay, I'll be right with you." As soon as she'd walked off, Tabatha took his hand. "I'm really enjoying this Paul." He smiled. "Me too."
Maybe it was crazy to think he and Grace had a future. Maybe his future lay with the girl in front of him now.