“Paulie, tell me where he is!”
“I can’t tell you. I don’t know,” Paulie replied.
“But you have to know!”
“They left their phones. They’re incommunicado.”
“They?” Her ire was rising.
“Yes, he and Talulah. I have no way to get in touch with them.”
“I don’t believe you and I’m not leaving until you tell me.”
“Well, shit Brianne. I hope you enjoy starving on the couch because classes don’t start for a week and that’s the only deadline they have to get back in time for. So I hope you enjoy waiting and watching me play on the Xbox.”
She crossed her arms and glared at him. “You don’t have any way to get in touch with them? What if it was an emergency?”
“No. I’m not going to give you shit, Bree. I wouldn’t tell you even if I did know where they are, so get used to not knowing.”
“What if I told you it was an emergency?”
“What’s the emergency?’
“I can’t tell you that!”
Paulie shook his head. “Then you’re just wasting our time then, aren’t you?”
Muffled laughter could be heard through the door. They both turned to look at it.
“No, Laszlo, that’s cheating!”
“Well, you’re the one who wanted to stop in Oslo of all places!”
She laughed again, a punchy, drunk sound. “Well, I’d never been. Now you can say you’ve tried rakfisk.”
“Lord, Lu.” Their voices got louder until Laszlo opened the door and they tumbled in, tanned and dirty from the month of living out of their packs. “Hey Paulie! I—” He saw Brianne and froze.
“Laszlo, I have something to tell you,” Brianne started to say.
Laszlo’s face was instantly serious and disgusted. “Let me guess, I should go get checked for herpes.”
Talulah peered through the doorway at Brianne, staying just behind Laszlo.
“No! Nothing like that,” Brianne said quickly. “I— you have a daughter.”
“I— you— what?” Laszlo finally said. “All this time and you—” He shook his head. “Why did you keep this from me?”
“I don’t know. I was scared you wouldn’t want her, you would try to talk me into getting an abortion. Then I was scared you would try to take her from me.”
“Where is she?”
“With Chris.” Laszlo looked at Paulie in disbelief.
“My Chris?” Paulie finally spluttered out.
Brianne nodded. “I told her not to tell you.”
“You— what?” Paulie said. He looked at Laszlo. “I’m sorry man, I didn’t know. I would never have kept that from you.”
“I know,” Laszlo said quietly. He turned to Brianne. “So, why now?”
“It’s expensive,” she shrugged. “She’s going to start asking about you. I might as well come clean to her.”
“What’s her name?”
“Of course she’s yours! Do you think I would put myself through this if she wasn’t?”
Talulah pushed Laszlo to the side a little and came into the room, putting down her pack. “What is your ideal outcome?” she said with a tired tone.
“I want him to pay for back child support and support him and be a dad.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Talulah said. “He had no notice of child support until now and it isn’t retroactive. You should have worked this through better.”
“Don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t have done,” Brianne snapped.
Talulah shrugged. “If you were dumb enough to wait this long, then—”
Brianne started darting forward at Talulah. Laszlo stepped in front of her and Paulie grabbed her from behind. Talulah gasped and Brianne said, “Don’t try me!” She struggled against Paulie and said, “Let go.”
“Are you going to start shit?” he replied.
“Only if she does,” Brianne spat.
Laszlo put his arms around Talulah protectively. “I want a blood test before I meet her. If I’m not her dad, I don’t want to give her false hopes.”
Brianne scoffed. “How old do you think she is? Jesus. She’s sixteen months.”
“When can we do the test? Not that I’m so eager to take on all this responsibility. I just want it out of the way before classes begin again.”
“Classes?” She scoffed again. “Jesus, Laszlo, you’re almost thirty. Why don’t you just grow up?”
“Says the woman who had a secret baby,” Talulah sniped.
Paulie tensed to grab her again and Laszlo wrapped Talulah in his arms again.
“At your convenience. I guess you just got back from wherever you were, so when it’s convenient for you. I’ll take Finnegan and they’ll have her sample. They can take yours and compare.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow. What’s the turnaround?”
“A week or two.” She turned to leave, then said, “I don’t want her around Finnegan.” She gestured to Talulah.
Talulah tossed her hair. “You don’t get to dictate terms.”
“I am her mother.”
Brianne walked out the door and shut it behind her.
Paulie immediately said, “I had no idea. I would never have—”
Laszlo put his hand on Paulie’s shoulder. “I know.”
“I am righteous pissed at her.”
Talulah crashed down on the couch. “I’m sure once I’ve slept a little bit, this will all make sense. Or, it probably won’t have even happened.”
“Yeah, what timing,” Laszlo said, sitting down next to her. “I can’t believe she kept this under wraps like this. I just— I have a daughter out there?”
He leaned over, putting his head in his hands. Talulah rubbed his back. “How can she do this to me?”
“Once you’ve slept a little, it will be easier to figure out. We’re so jetlagged. The last thirty six hours have been ridiculous, Laszlo. Let’s eat, then rest. We won’t do anything until we’ve had a chance to reset. Ok?”
“I can’t rest knowing that she’s—”
“You just want to take on responsibility for this person without knowing you’re her dad? Is that what you’re saying? That she is such a deplorable person that any child shouldn’t be left with her?”
“I— no. You’re right. I’m not thinking straight.”
“Nagymama Konyhája?” Paulie asked. “I want to hear about your trip. I know this news has really thrown you for a loop, but before that starts, I want to hear all about it. Then you guys can shower and go to bed.”
“I can go for that,” Talulah agreed. She pulled her wallet from the pack, then they filed out the door and down the stairs.