Reggie squeezed a dab of Old Spice body wash into his palm, rubbed his hands together, reached up to scrub his blonde high and tight hair, and slammed his elbows into the walls. He closed his eyes against the pain, and took half a step back so his naked ass pressed against the cold shower wall before lathering his body. He missed his spacious bathroom off the master bedroom, but he’d chosen the tiny guest accommodations when Olivia entered his life. He’d bought the house as a bachelor, when the housing market was in a downturn. Those first years of homeownership were dedicated to renovating the house to accommodate his single, carefree lifestyle rather than making the guest bathroom more comfortable. The tiny shower stall tiled in shades of yellow and brown best described as shit and piss. As he rinsed the suds from his body, he dreamed of selling this place and the next move. They needed room for Olivia’s growing imagination, a bedroom for Grammy to stay on babysitting nights, and space for his sanity.
“Daddy!” Olivia called from outside the bathroom door. “Imma play in my house.”
Reggie stepped out of the shower and reached for a beach towel. He sniffed at the stiff and funky fabric. Been too long since he’d washed it. He tossed it back to the floor and pulled a small hand towel down from the rack towel above the toilet. It smelled marginally fresher. He dried off in a hurry not letting the towel linger on his skin too long.
He pulled on a pair of boxers and peered out his bedroom window. Olivia was setting up a plastic tea service on a table in front of her playhouse. He’d bought the old shed from a local storage place going out of business last summer and spent a weekend with a couple gallons of paint and transformed the shed into a fairy tale cabin worthy of Snow White or Cinderella with shuddered windows and gabled roof. Reggie reached to the back of the closet, grabbed his suit, tossed the jacket onto the unmade bed, and put on the rest of the suit. The jacket was reserved for court appearances not mandatory overtime.
Reggie grabbed a mug of coffee from the kitchen, and joined Olivia in the front yard. He sat down on the bench of the miniature picnic table outside her playhouse while she was inside singing a song from Enchanted. Or was it Frozen? The deep front yard allowed for plenty of play space for Olivia. Without trying very hard, he’d raised her to play outside and use her imagination in her cottage rather than hiding inside in front of a screen, other than the weekly Sunday night Disney movie. For the past two months they’ve been watching “Brave” every Sunday night. Olivia loved the girl’s spirit and uncontrollable hair, but it inevitably led to questions about her mama.
Roz was the only time he’d broken his own rule about not dating within the payroll. She was a part-time dispatcher, but they’d hit it off and spent one drunken weekend together fishing and fucking down by the lake. She was gone the next week. He’d thought of their weekend together as a bit of good luck and moved on. Three years later she showed up during a sheriff’s department staff BBQ with Olivia tucked in a car carrier. He might have contested paternity had it not been for the same birthmark at the crown of their heads. The rare birthmark caused the top of his head to grow in bright blonde among his strawberry blonde hair. Roz claimed she wanted her life back from “the impossible child.”
Ever since that day four years ago, Olivia had been the apple of his eye and far from impossible. She was polite and outgoing and yet precocious.
“Daddy,” Olivia called from inside her house. “Can we go to the lake today?”
“Grammy’s coming over in a bit. Daddy’s gotta work.”
“I wanna feed the fishies.”
“Maybe Grammy’ll take you.”
“I wanna go with you,” she started to whine. “You make the fishes talk.”
It was true. Reggie made the fish talk or made up voices for the fish as they rose to the surface to eat the fish food he bought in bulk from a pet store in Des Moines. They’d go down to one of the docks along the Possum and feed the rising catfish. She loved it and he loved watching her delight.
“We’ll go tomorrow.”
She screeched and ran back into the playhouse and returned with a dolly which she sat across from Reggie and set up with a cup and saucer from the tea set. Olivia fussed over the dolly’s hair and her posture.
Reggie sipped his coffee when a large moving truck, belching diesel fumes rumbled down the quiet street, and backed into the driveway of the old Sullivan place. Reggie knew the place had finally sold after being on the market for two months,but he wasn’t atwitter with gossip and conjecture about the new owners like the rest of his neighbors. He watched as a man, presumably the new owner, hustled around the expansive lawn directing the movers to unload into the garage, not into the house. Odd. The man caught Reggie’s eye and waved. Reggie lifted his mug in a mock salutation. Years ago, before Daddy days, Reggie would’ve wandered over to welcome the new neighbor with a bottle of top shelf booze or a sixer of a local brew. Today he pretended to sip from a plastic teacup.
At the top of the hill, he watched Stella drag two large trash bags out and load them into the back of her Subaru. Good thing he wasn’t one of those nitwits addicted to true crime podcasts or he’d be convinced that the agoraphobic chef at the end of the block was loading her abusive ex-husband’s dismembered body into the back of her SUV.
The radio on his waist crackled. “Unit 1022, what’s your twenty?” Van Dyke asked.
“See you in ten for shift change.”
Their small town department worked twelve hour shifts four days a week. Shift change meant it was nearing eight am and still no calls from the media. He knew he wouldn’t be so lucky for the evening news.