“So what are your thoughts on getting a security system installed on the house?”
Like the reason behind me questioning his maybe circumcision, the topic of conversation came out of left field.
“You’re really taking this whole Captain America thing to heart,” I chuckled. “But Steve is still adapting to the twenty-first century. I don’t think he would know what ADT is.”
He’d be more apt to choose Slomin’s Shield anyway.
For obvious reasons.
“Oatmeal Raisin,” he said, turning to give me the stink eye from where he was standing in front of the grill.
But that could have been due to the smoke getting into his eyes, from the steaks he was cooking. With the way it rose up and circled his head, it made him look almost sinister.
God knows my ovaries were quivering from the sight of him.
But that was from a fear of a different kind.
One me and my leashed libido weren’t going to explore.
So I hoped I’d wiped my face clean of any lingering lust and used the baby’s arm to give him a jaunty salute, while I said, “Apologies, Captain. As for a house alarm, I’d meant to look into getting one when I first moved in, but it kind of slipped my mind.”
There’d been a lot going on then.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked, while thankfully still looking at the steaks he was cooking on the grill.
So he didn’t see what I was sure was written all over my face, when I cleared my throat and replied, “About six months.”
There was a reason I’d bought a house.
He was sitting in my lap.
But the length of my homeownership wasn’t a state secret – or even an office one – so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to share it with him.
Realization dawned on him almost immediately, with him turning to ask, “You moved at the same time you were having a baby?”
“Well, not on the same day,” I argued back.
More like the day before, if you wanted to get technical.
But knowing where our conversation had the potential to lead to, I hoped to change the subject by adding, “But…house alarm. I’m all for it.”
Then grabbing my phone from the patio table to at least look busy, while I pulled up Google, he went on to say, “I think I remember Pam mentioning something about that.”
Not that she would’ve had any reason to not talk about me to her brother back then – or even now, really – but still.
Petulance wasn’t always rational.
I was the personification of it in that moment.
So I only acknowledged his words with a slight humming sound of agreement, that turned into a cough of surprise, when he whipped around and pointed the spatula in his hand at me, accusing, “You moved in the day before you gave birth!”
“And?” I shot back. “It’s not like due dates are an exact science!”
Even knowing the exact date he’d been conceived didn’t mean he would be born exactly forty weeks later.
Because he wasn’t.
Ignoring my words, I could tell he was flipping through his mental Cookie Brick Shithouse file, until he landed on a bullet point he felt worthy of repeating by saying, “She said no one in the office had even known you’d given birth, until you showed up at work obviously not pregnant anymore.”
“And?” I repeated, with a lot less bite.
I’d had my reasons.
Mostly awful ones.
Perhaps sensing he was treading on emotional ground, I could see him filing my reactions away for the time being, and he merely shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the grill saying, “I just thought you and Pam were close, is all. I figured you would’ve told her.”
Pam had only been working for me for a little less than a year, so she hadn’t been around for…everything. And by the time we’d gotten to know each other better, I hadn’t seen the point in dredging everything up. Pam didn’t do emotions.
It was a trait I admired about her.
By the time she started working for me, I was a little more than six months along and obviously pregnant. She’d had no reason to question the explanation that had already spread around the office like wildfire about how Jason came to be. Or question why my Margaritas on Mondays were virgin.
By the time I felt close enough to her that I could tell her the truth, I hadn’t seen the point, when it really didn’t change anything.
He was here.
He was mine.
End of story.
Keeping him was the most selfish decision I’d ever made, but I was the only one who knew that.
The only lies I’d ever told Pam were mostly ones of omission.
She made assumptions about my life based on my responses to certain questions.
And I didn’t correct her.
It was a sturdy enough house of cards I’d built up that it should last, barring any unforeseen storms.
But knowing he was waiting on some kind of response from me, I only said, “We are close, for you know…Pam. But babies aren’t really her thing. I guess you got all of those genes.”
He really was good with the baby. He’d make a great father one day.
Of course that would likely mean he would leave us behind to be with his own family.
Then Jason and I would be back to square one.
Where my round peg wouldn’t fit into his square hole, no matter how hard I tried.
Hopefully the Cesar Milan of babies in front of us would put off having that family until Jason was in school.
Taking care of older kids had to be easier than younger ones, right?
“You can’t use Pam as the standard,” he chuckled. “Shoes are her babies.”
Then turning to face me, he teased, “And even she puts hers away.”
He couldn’t have known.
I knew it wasn’t fair.
It didn’t matter that we’d joked about it already.
In this context, fair or not, his teasing words didn’t stop me from equating his words to the fact I was a horrible mother.
Nor did it stop the tears from filling my eyes, as I stood up and turned away from him – hopefully before he could see them – and forced out in a shaky voice, “I’m going to give the baby a bath.”
“Hey,” he called out softly, with his hand gently grasping my elbow from behind. “I’m sorry, I was just teasing.”
“I’m fine,” I lied, refusing to turn around and pulling my arm from his grip, as I resumed walking towards the house. “It’s time for Jason’s bath.”
The tears really started to fall once I’d said his name out loud. It was proof positive of just how bad I was at being a mom. So I quickened my steps until I finally reached his room, hugging him to me and softly chanting over and over how sorry I was.
He deserved so much better than what he ended up with.
Thy name is Sookie Stackhouse.
By the time I’d gotten myself under control, we were both sopping wet. A mixture of my tears and his constant drool had made us clingy from more than just me hugging him.
But I ignored my wet shirt and went about stripping him down before carrying him into the bathroom, where I filled his little tub with warm water and set him down inside of it.
“We’re doing okay now, right?” I softly asked him.
His responding grin tempered the fact he managed to soak me even more by splashing water in my face.
“You’re helping to wash me too?” I asked with a small smile.
God knows my face likely needed a good scrubbing after The Ugly Cry.
The last thing I wanted to do was face Captain Made Me a Crybaby, but since I’d had the awesome idea of having him live with us, there wasn’t much I could do to avoid him.
It wasn’t his fault. He’d done nothing wrong.
As usual, I’d been the one to ruin everything.
Maybe we could pretend nothing had happened?
Where was Debbie Pelt when you needed her?
Finding her sprawled out on his bed wearing a ring and not much else would go a long way towards avoiding the awkward I was sure would be filling the rest of the night.
And the day after.
Plating up our dinner, I set them down on the patio table on autopilot, with my mind focused on our conversation that had gone horribly wrong.
We’d only been talking about Pam and her shoe babies and then…
It all went to hell.
It had taken everything I had to not follow them inside, if not to find out what I’d said that had upset her so much, then at least to make sure she was okay.
But I’d gotten the distinct impression she wanted to be alone.
Because I was an asshole.
The how was still a mystery, but that was the crux of the matter just the same.
Staring at the food, I began to wonder if she would even come back outside.
Should I go in after her?
Put the Captain America movie back into the DVD player and agree wholeheartedly Steve and Bucky were meant for each other?
Before I could resort to pulling up Steve and Bucky fanfiction on my phone, I heard the slide of the patio door opening and turned in my seat, just as she stepped out with the baby.
Strapped into his car seat, she set him down on the table next to her plate and took a seat, calmly saying, “Dinner looks good.”
We were going to ignore the giant elephant in her backyard?
Or the fact her red and puffy eyes were all the evidence I needed to know just how big of an asshole I was?
When her innocuous statement was met with nothing but silence, she ignored that too and cut up her steak into bite sized pieces, then using one hand to handle her fork, she used the other to hold a bottle in the baby’s mouth.
“Cookie,” I began, wanting to call a halt to the ridiculous game we’d been playing.
Now of all times I wanted to be able to use her actual name.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
To her plate.
Her eyes had yet to meet mine.
“That can’t be true,” I gently argued in return.
Clearly, I’d said or done something to upset her.
“It is,” she argued back. “This,” she absently gestured to the air around her, “is all me.”
Not really understanding what she was getting at, I asked, “What is?”
“This,” she repeated. “Let’s just say I have more issues than Reader’s Digest, so really. You didn’t do anything wrong. This is all me.”
“What is?” I repeated, unwilling to let it go.
Not after the reaction she’d had earlier.
Dropping her fork down onto her plate – she hadn’t touched her food other than to cut it anyway – she seemed to square her shoulders before looking up at me and saying, “I’m a horrible mother and I know it. I’m just…just…sensitive about it, I guess.”
What on earth…
My eyes widened realizing my teasing comment about Pam taking care of her shoe babies had shot way off from its intended course and I opened my mouth, only for her to hold up her hand to halt me as she said, “Not your fault.”
Letting that go for now, but still flabbergasted at the thought, I asked, “How do you figure you’re a horrible mother?”
She led a busy life, yes. But I’d seen for myself the way her eyes lit up whenever she looked at the baby.
And he absolutely adored her.
“It’s a long list,” she laughed without any humor. “But I know my faults. Trust me on this one.”
I could tell I was getting her pissed off, but if that’s what it took for her to finally say whatever was on her mind, then so be it.
“No?” she asked incredulously. “Well then, let’s start with the most recent on the list of ‘What in the hell is wrong with me?’ which would be you.”
“Yes, you,” she argued back.
A small part of my mind noted her chosen profession as a lawyer was a good fit.
In that moment it was clear as day that she was naturally argumentative.
Holding up her hand, she began ticking off her fingers one by one, naming off, “I don’t even know your name and yet I’ve invited you to live with me and my son. I’ve left him in your care. Hell, I let you drive away with him in my own fucking car within minutes of meeting you! A good mother wouldn’t do that. Jesus, a good mother would know how to take care of her own baby. But not me. I need to hire other people to do it, so he doesn’t end up wasting away!”
Even watching her wiping the tears from her face, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “What are you talking about?”
He wasn’t wasting away.
He was all chubby cheeks, with the build of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
“I was starving him,” she harshly – if not brokenly – spit out. “And I didn’t even know it! It took the nurse calling from the pediatrician’s office to confirm his two week old appointment to find out my attempts at breastfeeding him were an epic fail. Turns out my milk never really came in, so for all of that time, he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed. And I didn’t know it until she asked a few questions and didn’t like my answers. That’s why I went back to work when he was two weeks old. He was better off having someone else looking after him. And that was something I could actually do for him.”
She visibly deflated, as she curled in on herself in her seat and began to quietly cry in earnest. But as stunned as I was hearing how hard she was on herself, I couldn’t have physically stopped myself from going to her if I’d tried.
The baby was crying by then too, but it wasn’t surprising given the tension surrounding us. But I let him be for the moment and picked up his mother instead.
Taking the seat she’d been sitting on, I held her on my lap and wrapped my arms around her, ignoring how well she fit in my arms and said, “You’re not a bad mother.”
“You don’t know that half of it,” she choked out in hitched breaths.
Be that as it may, I wasn’t about to go digging deeper into the weeping wounds of her psyche.
“You love him,” I argued instead. “And he loves you.”
“Love isn’t enough,” she eventually sighed out. “Loving him is what got him stuck with me in first place.”
There was more to her words than she was letting on, but now wasn’t the time for me to ask any questions. It might never be the right time, much less my right to know, but what I did know was that she was doing a hell of a lot better than she thought at being a mom.
If I thought for one moment she didn’t care about the welfare of her son, I wouldn’t have started to feel the things I knew I had for her.
But it also wasn’t the time for that, so I shifted her in my lap only long enough for me to free the baby from his car seat and then held him in between us.
When he reached and squirmed so that he was draped over her chest instead of mine, I smiled, “See? He only wants his mom.”
“Only because faulty boobs still make for good pillows,” she sighed in defeat.
“Coo…” I began, before shaking my head and saying, “This is ridiculous. My name is…”
“NO!” she whisper shouted and slapped her free hand over my lips. “I know I’ve ruined dinner, along with a whole lot of other things, but even if it does make me a bad mother, I…I like guessing. You’ve met Bill. I don’t get a lot of levity in my day and this…this has been fun for me.”
Like I could tell her no.
Wondering how in the hell she’d managed to pussywhip me, when the closest I’d gotten to seeing hers was when it had been covered in her Captain America under…
“Fun, like you wearing your Captain America underoos has been for me?” I gently teased, hoping I wasn’t making the wrong move.
I didn’t want to diminish everything she’d shared with me, but she did say she wanted levity in her life.
So I hoped she would take it for what it was when I playfully nudged her, as I said, “You must really like him to be walking around with his claim all over your ass.”
“We weren’t going to mention it,” she playfully bit out, while pinching me at the same time, which let me know she was all for moving on from the emotional maelstrom we’d just weathered.
And then, as if to prove she was feeling better, she added, “And what’s with your terminology, huh Captain Caveman? Claim? If you’re gonna go Neanderthal on me, then the rules clearly dictate you have to wear a loin cloth.”
“Is that your way of telling me you want me to drag you back to my cave by your hair? Or are you still wondering if I’m cut,” I accused playfully.
And – alright – flirtingly.
“I’ve been to your Cave of Requirement,” she replied with an eye roll. “My cell reception was for shit. But I am still wondering if your fiancé knows you stem from the age of the dinosaurs, although her last name makes a lot more sense now.”
“Hey,” I griped, ignoring the pelt of her reply. “I’ll have you know Stan the Stegosaurus was a good pet. I had to get rid of him because Pam was allergic.”
“Did he do feelings?” she laughed. “Pam’s allergic to those.”
“He emoted like a mofo,” I smiled, feeling relieved now that she was back to laughing again.
“Well, if you’re going to emote, like a mofo is the way to go,” she nodded with a grin.
My stomach chose that moment to growl, which she of course noticed and had to comment on by laughing out, “Uh oh. I think I know where you stashed Stan.”
Seeing her reach over to pull my dinner plate closer a second later, I subconsciously tightened my hold on her worried she was about to stand up.
Instead she handed the now quiet baby over to me only long enough to cut up my steak into bite sized pieces before trading the baby in my arms for my fork.
Making no moves to get off of my lap, I relaxed watching her take a bite of her now cold steak, and felt my lips match the small smile that formed around the fork in her mouth, when I softly said, “And you thought you were a bad mom.”