Luiz stood at the back, allowing all the parents to take front and center. He didn’t even know why he was here. The last time he’d visited Christie, Xander had taken him aside and asked if he’d be coming to Raine’s graduation. He’d not cared about his own graduation. Sure, he’d been there, but it wasn’t exactly something he would rave about either. Luiz had also given Xander a warning as well. He’d watched the way Raine and Xander were together, and there was an intimacy between the two that he really hadn’t liked. Of course, he’d been wrong. Xander had told him he didn’t fuck little girls, even if Raine was getting to the age that meant she wasn’t so little anymore. His friend saw Raine as a daughter, nothing else.
“She has no one, Luiz. No one, and she’s going to be there without any of us.”
So, instead of staying well away, he’d come to see Raine graduate. She was a beautiful woman, no denying that. In the past three years she’d matured in ways he didn’t think was possible. Xander adored her, and they were standing together with Christie in between them watching as Raine walked up the steps. Luiz wished there had been a better future for her. One where she didn’t have to take care of his little girl but in his world right now, he didn’t have that luxury. There were more pressing problems.
“She’s worked so hard for this,” Xander said, leaning in close to whisper.
“She didn’t have to do this. I could have made sure she passed.”
“Nah, Raine isn’t the kind that cheats. She loves to do everything properly. For the last year she’s barely slept so that she can graduate today.”
“Any boys you’ve had to worry about?” Luiz asked. He had expected Xander to complain a lot more about her.
“None. I’m a little worried actually.”
“Well, she’s a girl heading into a woman. I expected some kissing, or some sneaking around. Nothing. I’ve even tried to make her date.”
“You know, arrange for her to go on dates.”
Luiz didn’t like that. In fact, he found it really annoying. Why was he even worried about Xander being a problem when he was more worried about her being with someone else? “Did I ask you to make her date? She’s got a job to do, and it’s not screwing random guys.”
“You wonder why you’ve got a problem with her dating?” Xander asked, raising a brow.
Luiz glared and picked his daughter into his arms. Another ten minutes and the ceremony was over. Raine made her way toward them.
“Auntie!” Christie squealed.
“Hello, sweetie, did you see me? I’ve finally got it.”
Christie giggled and slapped Raine’s hand. Christie tried to pull out of his arms, so Luiz let her go into Raine’s arms.
“She stopped her from calling her ‘Mom’,” Xander said.
Luiz frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“Christie kept trying to call her mom, but she wouldn’t let her. There have been moments when it has been hard without … Lora.”
“I can imagine.”
They all turned around at the question.
Raine turned, and the smile on her face was like a kick to Luiz’s gut. “Todd, hey, congratulations.”
“Thank you, and to you.”
“This is Christie, my niece,” Raine said.
Luiz was getting angry. Did she really want this fucking loser?
“Of course. So was my sister.” The smile disappeared from her face, and the reality came in.
“We’ve got to head out,” Luiz said.
“Right,” Raine said.
“Wait, I was wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with me?” Todd asked. “You know, to celebrate.”
Before Luiz could shut him down, he listened to Raine do it.
“I’m really sorry, Todd. I can’t. I’ve got to get going, and I’m sure the invite doesn’t extend to Christie, so I’ve got to go.”
“Maybe another time?” she asked.
“I’ll keep you to that.”
Raine still held his daughter as they made their way toward the car.
“You could have gone with him,” Xander said.
“No, it’s not possible for me to.”
“Why not? You’ve got a life, too.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve got to take care of Christie. It’s what my sister would have wanted.”
Luiz didn’t say anything. He used the mirror to stare at Raine. She stared out of the window, and he recognized the yearning in her eyes. He wished that he knew what was going on in her head.
Later that night while Raine was having a bath, and Luiz was playing with Christie, Xander sat on the chair.
“What?” Luiz asked. Xander’s gaze was full of judgment.
“Are you going to let her go through life always passing up opportunities?”
“She doesn’t need to go on dates and shit like that. They’re a waste of space.”
Xander sighed. “She’s eighteen years old. Other girls her age are out dating, messing around. She’s taking care of her niece, and she’s losing every chance she can.”
Luiz didn’t want to think of Raine dating someone else, or worrying about that shit. “She’s not missing out.”
“You’re blind, and for whatever reason, you’re determined not to see.”
Raine came into the sitting room an hour later. Her brown hair was curled, and her face was nice and red.
“Are you heading out soon?” she asked.
“Yes.” He watched as she took a seat across from him. Christie wriggled away, and sat between Raine’s thighs, picking up toys, and shaking.
“I don’t want you to bring boys back here,” Luiz said.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Good. I expect you to put Christie first in everything.”
“I do, Luiz. You don’t have to worry. I’ll always protect Christie. She will always come first.”
Guilt swamped him, and he hated this. He didn’t want to take from her, and yet he didn’t want her to find someone else.
“I’ve got to go.”