We learn a little bit more about the ex girlfriend. Patrick meets Jeremy....
Once lunch was over, we headed toward the exit to go back to the bakery. Almost automatically, Jocelyn clutched her mother's hands and then looked up at me expectantly with her arm stretched out. My gaze shifted from the child to Charlie, who tilted her hand and grinned. I took Jocelyn's awaiting hand and smiled as her little fingers attempted to wrap around mine. Once she realized grasping all five was impossible for such tiny hands, she settled for just the pinky and ring digits. A warm feeling sunk into my stomach as I walked down the street, hand in hand with Charlie and her daughter. I couldn't describe it, nor did I want to.
"Thank you for lunch, Patrick." The little girl beamed.
"You're very welcome."
"Joce, how about you go inside and help Uncle Jonas?" Charlie warmly touched her child's cheek before she skipped into the bakery.
"She's adorable." I said as I leaned against the brick building. The woman bowed her head, smiling widely.
"So how hard do you have to hit her?" She laughed loudly and gave me a playful shove.
"Fairly hard," she tucked some unruly hair behind her pierced ear. "Ya know, my eldest nearly went ape-shit when he found out Joce was meeting you before he could." I shrugged.
"Really? That's odd. Normally the kids aren't so eager to meet mom's new boyfriend." She arched an eyebrow and attempted to look serious.
"Who said you were my boyfriend?" The corners of her lips twitched as she fought a smile. "I don't recall you proposing any sort of commitment." I sighed and stared at the concrete below my dirty Chucks.
"You have to be difficult, don't you?" She nodded, still grinning at me.
"Don't pretend you don't like it." My hands found their way into my jeans pockets as I fiddled with words in my head.
"Would you...consider being...exclusive? With me?" She giggled slightly and nodded.
"I'd like that very much." I gave her a small peck on the cheek.
"I'll let you get back to work. Call me when you're done, OK?" She nodded and turned to go back into the store.
"Did you want to take anything home? I think Jonas just made some pumpkin cake." Despite the hamburger that sat in my stomach, I couldn't say no to that.
With my goodie bag in hand, I headed up the driveway and into my temporary home.
"Is that from Charlie's bakery?" Joe immediately met me as I walked in through the foyer. Without a word, I handed him the sack.
"Help yourself." I mumbled as he hurried away with my treats.
"I love this woman. If you don't marry her, I will." Joe called out from the kitchen, his voice slightly muffled by the goodies he presumably shoved in his mouth. I grinned and sat down on the sofa. Marriage was definitely far off, but certainly not impossible. Friends I had grown up with were committing their lives to that special person, having kids, domesticating themselves. I felt like I was somehow marooned on a stagnant island, left to shrink in the distance as my peers sailed on to the next level of adulthood. As badly as I wanted to settle down and pop out of few kids, my lifestyle wouldn't allow for it. But when I witnessed the way Charlie interacted with Jocelyn, when I saw the unconditional love in the young mother's eyes, my dream of being a husband and dad didn't seem so farfetched.
"Hey, you're back." I turned to see Andy. He had a distressed look on his face.
"What's up?" I asked, twisting my body to get a better view of the male.
"Tina called. She wants you to call her back. She said it's important." I frowned as a metaphoric cloud cast an angry shadow over my bright day.
"Oh." Was all I could manage to choke out.
"Is everything OK?" He sat next to me on the couch. I shook my head at his question.
"Not really. No. She says she's pregnant." I watched with amusement as he rolled his eyes.
"Where have I heard this before?" He was right. She claimed she was pregnant before. Immediately after the first time I broke up with her.
"I know, I know." I removed my hat and ran a hand through my hair.
"T is just a junkie looking for a hit. She'll say anything to get it." I nodded and sighed.
"I know all that. It's just hard." I stood to go up to my room to face the inevitable.
"Be strong, man." He smiled meekly. I returned the gestured and climbed the stairs. I plopped down on my bed and pulled out my cell phone. Though her number was deleted a long time ago, it was still engraved into my brain. It rang a few times before the line finally clicked, indicating someone had picked up.
"I didn't think you were going call me back." Her voice was low, but still hinted at her excitement.
"I didn't think I was either." A long silence seemed to stretch on.
"Have you thought about what I told you last time?" She finally asked. I sighed and closed my eyes.
"Tina," I paused, not sure what to say to her. "I don't believe you."
"I don't believe you. I'm not coming back to you." I said as sternly as I could manage.
"I know what I've said and done in the past. I can't change that. But this time is different. I'm clean now. For the baby. I'm not the same person anymore." I shook my head, feeling my face get hot. There was just something so infuriating about her voice, the tone she used, the lies being spewed.
"And neither am I! I'm not the same fucking idiot anymore! It may have taken me awhile, but I realized what you're about! You feed on people's emotions and vulnerability to get what you want and you don't care what it costs! Well, fuck you, Tina! Fuck you! I'm through with this conversation and I'm through with you!" At that point, I was screaming, my chest heaving with uneven breaths. With a flick of my wrist, I shut my phone, ending the call.
"I'm guessing you got her message?" Pete was standing in the door to my room. He sent a wounded look my way and sat down on my bed.
"Yeah. I got it." I placed my head in my hands. Telling her it was over was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was in my nature to help, to try to make everything better. But I couldn't. Not for her. Not anymore. She made her bed, now she has to lie in it.
"You're doing the right thing. Tina was only bringing you down. I mean, you're lucky you didn't fall into her habits too." I nodded, but his words weren't making me feel any better. A sharp vibration, followed by a generic ringtone, pulsated through my hand. I looked down at the device. A corner of my lip began to curl slightly.
"Hey!" Charlie's raspy voice echoed through the earpiece.
"Well, I was just wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner one night. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow?" I repeated. Pete shook his head.
"Studio." He whispered, leaning in to listen to my call. He was never one to respect my privacy.
"Tomorrow is bad."
"Band stuff?" She asked, amusement apparent in her tone.
"Yeah. How about on Saturday?"
"OK. We'll be having rigatoni in a creamy cheddar sauce." I grinned.
"I love mac and cheese." She chuckled.
"Must you ruin my fun?"
"I'm sorry. I meant I love rigatoni in a creamy cheddar sauce."
"That's much better. So I'll see on Saturday. Five o'clock sound good?"
"Sounds great. I'll see you then."
"Alright. See you later, Patrick."
"Bye Charlie." I flipped the phone closed. Though my stomach was still churning from the previous phone call, a smile nipped at my lips.
"Meeting the kiddies, are we?" My friend asked. I nodded.
"Yep. And I'm not really all that nervous." He began to laugh.
"And why not?" I shrugged.
"Charlie said Jeremy was excited to meet me." His laughter continued. What could possibly be so funny?
"How did you feel when your mom brought home some new guy?" I felt angry, betrayed...
I sat in my car stationed in front of a quaint little suburban house. No matter what side of the country you're on, suburbia was the same. I was clad in a black polo shirt with thin white stripes running across it. My jeans were worn and faded, but still looked presentable. I had intended to get a little dressed up, but the guys vetoed that idea. They said I wouldn't seem approachable...or whatever. So after three or four wardrobe changes, I settled on the ensemble I had on.
"Don't be nervous, Patrick. She likes you. So what if her kid doesn't." I mumbled to myself as I grabbed the humble bouquet of daisies that sat on the passenger's seat. I headed up the walkway. With a quivering finger, I pressed the doorbell. The faint melody announced my arrival as tiny feet stampeded toward the entrance. The wooden door swung open, revealing the little girl clothed in a pink sundress.
"Patrick!" She squealed and charged at my legs, hugging them tightly.
"Hey Joce. I brought you something." Her gray eyes lit up as I handed her the flowers.
"Thank you! They're bootaful." She dramatically smelled them. "Come on in." She grabbed my hand and led my inside. Immediately, I was met with the living room. It was neat, but still felt cozy. A delicious aroma wafted through the house, signaling dinner was still being cooked.
"My mommy's in the kitchen." She dragged me through the living room, via a few of my fingers, and into the kitchen. Charlie was at the sink, draining some hot pasta, sending plums of steam into the air. Her dark hair was in a messy bun stationed on the curve of her scalp with a few wild curls escaping its confines.
"Patrick's here! And he brought me flowers!" The child announced, causing Charlie to jump at the sudden noise.
"Did he? That's very sweet of him." The woman smiled as she shook the colander, ridding the rigatoni of water. She hurried to the stove, where a pot was sitting, and poured the noodles right in. "How about you go get a vase and we'll put them in water." The girl seemed pleased with the idea and bounced off to retrieve a container.
"It smells great in here." I approached the woman from behind and placed my chin on her shoulder. She giggled slightly as I placed a small kiss on her neck.
"Why thank you." She stirred the creamy sauce over the pasta, coating it with the thick light yellow concoction.
"So, where is the little guy?" She snorted with laughter.
"Little guy? You mean Jeremy?" I nodded, not seeing why it was funny. "Jere's no little guy. He's taller than you." Perhaps I was in way over my head.
"Are we talking about a couple inches here?" She shrugged.
"He's almost five foot eight, Patrick."
Jesus...how did such a small woman spawn such a behemoth of a son?
"Listen, it's been a lovely evening, but I should be heading home." I turned to mock run away, but she grabbed my arm.
"He's a nice kid. I promise he won't hurt you." She swatted me away with an oven mitt before putting it on and reaching into the oven to retrieve a golden brown batch of homemade bread sticks.
"Is this one OK, mommy?" Jocelyn reentered the kitchen, holding up a glass vase with simple flowers etched into its smooth surface.
"That's fine, babydoll. Maybe if you ask Patrick nicely, he'll help you fill it." The woman grinned at me over her shoulder as she added seasoning to the pasta.
"Will you help me, Patrick?" Jocelyn shifted her gaze to me, showcasing her round gray eyes. I chuckled at the tot before lifting her up over the sink. With careful hands, she placed the vase in the basin, turned on the faucet, and let the tap water rush into the container. Once she was satisfied with the level of liquid, she twisted the knob and asked me to put her down. She plopped her flowers into the glass vase and beamed at her accomplishment.
"Miss Joce, will you go tell your brother that dinner is ready?" The child grimaced at her mother's request.
"I don't like Jerm right now. He's being a jerk face." Charlie laughed as she placed the pot of pasta on a plate adorned kitchen table.
"You don't have to like your brother all the time. But do you want him to starve?"
"I think we'd all be better off if he did." I covered my mouth with my hand, hoping to stop the laughter. Charlie's lips quivered slightly, but her face remained serious.
"Go tell Jerm it's time to eat, please." This was not a request or a question. Jocelyn sensed that and hurried away, calling out her brother's name.
"She's a live wire, isn't she?" Charlie nodded.
"I never know what's gonna come out of that mouth." Moments later, the little one returned. Behind her came a lanky teenager. His dark curls and freckles were reminiscent of Charlie, but his brown eyes and angular face hinted at whom I could only assume was his father. His mouth opened slightly, but quickly shut. His icy gaze shifted from me to his mother.
"Jeremy, this is Patrick." Her tone was even and calm. Nervously, I extended my hand. He glared at my outstretched palm, convinced I was undeserving of his mother.
"I can't believe this." He mumbled before turning on his heal and heading out of the kitchen. A door slam somewhere within the house soon followed. Charlie sighed and gave me an apologetic smile.
"I'm gonna go talk to him." She briefly placed a warm hand on my shoulder before leaving to go talk to her son. I peered down at Jocelyn, who wore a slight frown on her round face.
"I think that went well. What do you think?" She shrugged at my question.
"We shoulda just let him starve." Amen to that.