The Funny Thing Is… I Never Imagined I Would End Up Alone
They say that earthquakes come in an instant. One second, you’re on solid footing and the next, the world is literally crumbling beneath your feet. Living in Texas, I never experienced an earthquake. Until one showed up straight from California and landed on my doorstep.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I had heard him just fine, but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate response.
“I said it’s nice to finally meet the man who’s been fucking around with my husband.”
I swallowed so hard I felt like my Adam’s apple might burst through my throat.
“Don’t you mean ex-husband?”
Morgan shifted his weight, balancing between the door and the door frame. The slenderness of his body formed a very seductive ‘s’ shape. His eyes narrowed and I swear he could have spit fire right into my face.
“What exactly did Chase tell you?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” I said, regaining my footing and fighting through my desire to run for the high heavens.
Morgan tilted his head and narrowed his eyes even further. I knew I had to answer his question, so I took a deep breath and ripped off the band aid.
“He didn’t say much other than that you were getting a divorce, and he was moving on with his life. He did, however, mention that you a are very specific kind of crack head.”
I knew it was a sharp dig, but I didn’t care. He had gotten aggressive first, and I wasn’t about to be taken down by a rehabilitated drug addict in a monogrammed bath towel.
His response to my insult was nothing more than an icy smile.
“Maybe you should come in,” he said, opening the door wider. He opened up his body to make a way for me to get in. I thought for a second. I could run from this. I could run as fast as possible, straight into another guy’s arms.
And I knew exactly who that other guy was.
But I didn’t want to. I wanted to fight for us, and this was my chance. I decided in that split second that I wouldn’t run until I got the explanation and knew exactly what was going on.
“Maybe I should I come back when Chase is here,” I said.
“What are you afraid of?” Morgan teased.
Nothing, I thought. I couldn’t say it out loud. Instead, I followed him into the suite and took a seat on the couch. While my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside the hotel room, Morgan dropped his towel and sat down opposite me on the bed.
It was clear why anyone would be attracted to him. He was svelte, but he was incredibly sexy. His body was hard, almost as if he were carved out of stone. I was glad he crossed his legs before my once over made its way down to his crotch. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing exactly what was dangling down there.
I took the brief moment while the two of us got situated to sort through my instincts. My first thought was that Chase had obviously called his ex into town as a sort of rebound ‘fuck you’ to me. It wasn’t the sort of bitchery that Chase was usually known for, but I had just told him I might still be in love with Kyle. I couldn’t blame him if he did call in a warm body.
And so what if he had? What would I do? I knew what I would have done in the past. In the past, I wouldn’t have even gone inside or entertained the thought of hearing him out. And yet there I was.
“Are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?” I asked finally, once the silence had become unbearable.
“You know, you look so different than I expected,” he said, his whispery voice barely making it to where I sat. His ‘s’ sounds had a definitive hiss quality to them, and every consonant was punched hard, almost as if he was acting in a soap opera at all times. “Chase has told me a lot about you.”
I knew he was trying to get under my skin, and I wasn’t going to let him. I was tipsy and on a mission.
“You aren’t what I expected either,” I replied with a curt smile. He raised an eyebrow.
“And what were you expecting?”
I smiled the bitchiest smile I could muster up.
Morgan smirked at me, stretched his arms over his head and lay back on the bed dramatically. I could see his entire form, smooth, hard, and tattooed. His pecker lay soft and to the left, dangling over a set of massive balls. If I wasn’t in love, I would definitely have entertained the thought of jumping his bones.
I shifted in my seat.
“I’m curious what exactly Chase told you about me,” he whispered.
“Not a lot,” I replied. “I guess there wasn’t much worth telling.”
“You’re a funny guy, you know that? Witty. Your readers must fucking love that,” he said, sitting up on his elbows. “But I’m the one he called, remember. Now, remind me. Are you able to say that?”
It was the first time since I’d arrived that his words actually affected me. The way he said it made it clear he knew the entire story, and I was suddenly embarrassed to be sitting there across from a naked stoner, waiting for someone who was clearly not interested in seeing me. I took in a deep breath, decided that as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have quite the fight that I thought.
“I think I’ll just call Chase in the morning,” I said standing and making my way towards the door, lying to myself that I did, in fact, intend to call him. If this was the kind of guy that he was attracted to when I was away, he could have him.
As if it were scripted for some Broadway play, just as I reached the door, it opened from the outside and Chase stepped in holding two non-descript paper bags that smelled strongly of soy and chives.
“Morg, they were out of—“ he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me. It took him a second to register the look on my face, but when he did, he dropped the take out and squared off in front of me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I asked him the same thing,” Morgan said.
“I came to tell you the truth,” I replied.
“I think we’ve had enough truth between the two of us.”
“Chase, I know that what I told you was hurtful and wrong. And I don’t even know why I said it. The fact is, I love you, and I have always loved you, and I would give up anything to be with you.” I turned around and saw Morgan standing behind me, towel once again around his waist. “And if I’m too late, I will live with that, but you deserve to know that I chose you. And I’ll do whatever it takes.”
I stepped around him and over the Chinese brown bags. I felt him reach for my arm just as I made it to the hallway. In one swift motion, he turned me around and kissed me like I had never been kissed before. It was like I was finally able to let myself go with him in a way that surpassed even our most passionate moments in college. There was no where in the world I wanted to be more than in his arms right then and there.
And then I was brought back to reality.
“Um, excuse me,” the whisper stunned me back to life. “Am I missing something here?”
“Shut up,” Chase said to Morgan without even looking at Morgan. “I brought your Chinese food. Eat it, and don’t leave the hotel. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Morgan started to shout something, but the door slammed in his face. Chase roughly pushed me against the opposite wall. I briefly wondered if the other guests in the hotel were prepared to see two grown men making out in the hallway like school boys against a locker. I barely cared.
I breathed in heavily when Chase finally let me out for a breather.
“Gamin, I’m never fucking letting you go,” he panted. He held my head with both hands and kissed me again. I pulled back an inch and looked him in his sincere and deep blue eyes.
“What about Morgan?”
“He’s okay. I’ll explain later,” he said. He cupped the back of my neck and brought me up to his face. I felt like a little girl being swept away by her much hotter, taller, and stronger lover.
Still the fact that his ex-husband was one unlocked door away left me uneasy. I pushed him back slightly against his rock hard stomach that once carried the sexiest eight pack I’d ever seen.
“Maybe we should wait,” I whispered.
He looked at me like a kid who had just been told Christmas was still another week away. He didn’t say it, but I got a definite ‘are you kidding me vibe’ from his expression.
“Chase, Morgan is right in there,” I said. “I feel weird.”
“And we’re out here.”
“Why is he even here?”
“I said I’d explain it later.”
“I don’t know if I can do this until I hear the explanation,” I said honestly. I took a step back.
Chase just shook his head slowly at me.
“Do you have any clue how fucking frustrating you are? You put me through every single ringer a guy could imagine.”
I could tell he was slightly joking, but very serious. We had been through it all and I was still playing games. He wanted me to fight for us. Here I was.
Instead of responding, I stepped into his frame, and lifted my head up to meet his. I ground my body into his and let him melt around me in a big hug. We kissed again, against the wall, for another few minutes. As soon as Chase’s hands traveled down my chest to my stomach and lifted my T-shirt above my beltline, I felt uneasy yet again.
“Okay,” I said, pulling back again. “We definitely can’t do that out here; are you crazy?”
He looked at me with a face of resignation for a second. And then a light bulb went off in his head.
“It’s a good thing we’re in a hotel then,” he said. It was the quickest I’d ever seen anyone move towards an elevator. I guess for someone like Chase being with someone like me, he wanted to consummate my decision before I changed my mind again. And I didn’t blame him one bit. I knew how I could be. If I were him, I’d want to seal the deal as soon as possible too.
I waited in the hallway, pacing back and forth for Chase to return with a new room key to a new room. I could have suggested we go back to my place, but I didn’t know how he felt about leaving Morgan.
And as soon as that creeper reentered my thoughts, any traces of libido I had in me vanished. I was still slightly tipsy from drinking with Spencer, and so all judgment and rational thought were floating somewhere overhead.
Instead of keeping cool like I’d done brilliantly to start, I knocked on the door and waited for the crack head to answer.
“Finished already?” he asked when he peaked his head out and saw that I was alone. “When he’s with me, he goes for so much longer.”
“I think you meant to say when he was with you. You should know that he’s with me now, and I’m not losing him again,” I snarled. I choked back a burp. “And I don’t know why the hell you’re here or what the fuck you’ve done, but know that he loves me and he always has. And if you try to get between that…”
“Are you threatening me?” he hissed, his speech pattern so slow.
“If I was threatening you, you’d know it,” I bluffed, raising an eyebrow. “For example, I would say something like this. If I were you, I’d get on the next plane back to L.A. and forget Chase Pallendrino ever even happened to you.”
A second later, I saw the door fly open in a swift motion. A hand shot up and grabbed me by the neck, propelling me into the wall behind me. I could see the visceral hatred within his eyes as he held me firmly, not quite choking me, but rendering me unable to move.
“You listen to me,” he whispered. “You know nothing about Chase and my relationship, so if you plan on keeping your little Ken doll down here, you’d better play nice. He may love you, for reasons I will never understand, but he trusts me. And I could make this whole thing a living nightmare for you. Understand… gamin?”
He loosened his grip and shook off his hand, looking me up and down as he did. I looked up and down the hall, wondering if anyone had seen this lunatic attack me.
When his once over was complete, he looked me in the eye for a burning second and spit on the wall right next to me.
That was definitely the last and final straw.
As he turned around to reenter the hotel room, I pounced on his back, and wrapped my arm around his neck in a vice grip. Almost immediately, his knees buckled under my average weight, and we both went tumbling.
“You’re a fucking two bit replacement card!” I shouted like a girl in a cat fight as I straddled him and dug my knee into his back. With all my might, I pushed his head down into the ground. I knew anyone who left their rooms right then would see nothing but his legs squirming right outside the door, trying to break free.
He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, so I lifted his head up by a clump of hair.
“What was that?” I asked calmly.
“You’re a fucking midlife crisis, you washed up piece of shit,” he snarled, raising his voice for the first time. I loosened my grip for just a second, enough time for him to slither around and grab my neck from below.
This time, he wasn’t trying to scare me. He was trying to injure me. I flailed, landed a hit across his chin, and before I could place a second one, I felt someone lift me up like I was a rag doll from a pile of dirty clothes.
Everything sort of swirled around me as my head refilled with air. I watched in slow silence as Chase set me aside and stepped between Morgan and I. He was in definite attack mode, with his hand in Morgan’s face. I caught every few words as I tried to ring out my ear.
The shouting was mostly about Chase being unreliable and Morgan being an ingrate. As it unraveled, every other word for every other word, I learned that Chase hadn’t called Morgan to come all the way to Dallas for a cross continental booty call. He’d put him on a flight because when Chase called to check up on him, he was clearly drunk and quite possibly stoned. A little bit of investigation, and Chase found out that Morgan had missed two weeks worth of meetings and was on an epic bender.
“On my fucking dime! I’m paying for you to be here, you’ll respect me and my friends.”
“If I’m such a burden, send me back,” Morgan said. He turned around in his usual saunter, gave Chase one more challenging look, and then closed the door.
“Are you okay?” he asked me, moving quicker than I’d ever seen him do. He was usually so laid back and relaxed; it was jarring seeing him so worked up. As sexy as he’d been defending me before, this time, I was too high strung to be turned on by his behavior.
“I’m fine,” I said, shaking it off. My ear was still ringing, but with less commotion going on around, I could focus a lot better. “Take me home?”
He nodded. As we walked down the hallway, Chase took my hand and pulled me close. I realized right before we got to the elevator that we were walking in perfect step.
“What the fuck were you doing getting in a fight with a drug addict?” Chase asked in the elevator. He had a hint of humor in his voice and I looked up and smiled at him. I shrugged weakly and he pulled me in to a soft hug.
“What the hell am I going to do with you, Cooper Carpenter?” he asked himself.
Twenty minutes and one returned hotel room later, Chase and I finally made it to my apartment. There was a tentative half second where he motioned to come in and I turned to say goodbye. I assumed he had to go back and tend to his detox patient.
“Are you staying?” I asked.
“I can. I never want to leave you alone again.”
“What about Morgan?”
Chase stepped in, closed the door and sighed. “Morgan is on his last piece of rope with me.”
I could tell he was aggravated. I led him through the house to the bar area where I poured tonic water for myself and started a pot of coffee for the two of us.
“Is he ever going to be okay?” I asked, my head still throbbing. I sat down next to Chase and tried my best to simply listen.
“Probably not. He has this thing, I don’t get it. He could literally have everything in the world. He’s gorgeous. He modeled a little after Rio, you know that? He’s insanely smart. He’s the biggest manipulator I’ve ever seen. He can get people to do things they’d never dream of in a million years. And yet he wastes it on fucking drugs and hookers. It’s… disappointing.”
“I can imagine.”
Chase shook his head. “Not unless you’ve seen it first hand.”
“Hello, I think I just did. I need a hepatitis booster shot from seeing it first hand.”
“Gamin, it’s been so much worse. There were times when I was afraid to be in the room with him because even I couldn’t calm him down.” Chase took a big pause and I noticed a rare tear form at the edge of his eyes, making the blue that penetrated me so much deeper. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared and Chase was back.
“I’m afraid that if he’s left on his own for too long, he’ll die. Or even worse, he’ll hurt someone to get money or something.”
I knew what Chase was implying. Instead of responding, I stood up and checked on the coffee. As he told me more about the dynamic, me sobering up slowly and listening to someone I cared about tell me their biggest life burden, I couldn’t get one nagging thought out of my brain. After two cups of coffee and an hour and half of listening, I finally found the perfect moment to ask it.
“I’ll see if there’s an in-treatment program around here, maybe down south a little. He won’t like it, but if I’m paying for it, he’ll go.”
“Chase, I have one question for you. And I don’t want you to take this the wrong way; and this isn’t me conjuring up another reason to leave. I just need to know something.”
“If he wasn’t how he is… if he was clean and sober and the great guy that you knew when you met him, would you ever have come back?”
I saw the wheels turning in his head as he contemplated an honest answer. I knew I was treading dangerous territory asking it, but I had to know. It had gnawed at me for almost two hours. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with either answer, but I knew that one response wasn’t driving me away again.
“I think so.”
It wasn’t the three words I wanted, but it wasn’t the three words I’d expected, either. I think so was better than no and more honest than yes. And for the time being, I think so would do.
There was no appropriate response to that, so I simply leaned in, kissed Chase, and changed the subject.
I was brought back to reality when I stepped on campus the next morning, reminded of the fact that I had to do something about keeping my job. I gave my students the best lectures I could under the circumstance, but for the entire day, my mind was elsewhere.
I asked Kyle about my options over the phone during lunch and he told me that when it came to fighting the academic world, I really didn’t have any.
“They have exceptions built into your contract left and right. You fail the wrong student and their father complains by donating a new wing to the science center, and you’re done.”
I was perplexed that pre-tenure teachers had such a microscope over them, but it wasn’t worth stressing out over, especially considering I had a million other things to stress out over. I had a few weeks to come up with a plan before the book went to print.
The other thing Kyle had to say was much more important.
“The judge emailed us this morning. He explained the procedure to the kids. They’ll have two weeks to come up with a decision. He told them that it was per your request that they both choose the same thing. In two weeks, he’ll schedule a hearing with them. Franklin and I will attend that meeting and they’ll give the judge their choice.”
“It’s that simple? Like ordering off a menu?”
“I’m afraid it is,” Kyle said. I could tell he was reading something while he talked to me. His voice sounded fast and distant. “You’re coming Saturday, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I wouldn’t miss it. I’m assuming its adults only?”
“Look, I know Ceej is staying with you for the weekend, but yes. It’s adults only.” I frowned for a second, but I understood. This was a life changing announcement for Kyle and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“Last thing and I’ll let you go,” I said. “Can I bring a plus one?”
I saw it clearly in my mind. Kyle sat up, took his glasses off, and moved the phone from one ear to the other.
“Yeah, I don’t see why not. Who do you have in mind?”
I could tell he was trying to be breezy and nonchalant about asking me. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe Spencer hadn’t already told him I’d broken up with Chase for a moment… literally, a moment. But I hadn’t even told Spencer how my night had gone, so none of them knew that we had essentially gotten back together.
“Chase,” I said as if it was common knowledge.
“Oh. Of course.” It was the only response I got from Kyle. The rest of the conversation involved me telling him I’d talk to him later and to keep me posted on anything the judge said.
Within minutes my phone rang with Spencer on the other line.
“Nope. No way. You’re not doing it,” he said before I even said hello. I looked at the clock and realized I had to endure him for twenty minutes before my next lecture was set to start.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re taking Chase to Kyle’s event? That’s like taking Barack Obama to dinner at Crawford Ranch.”
I rolled my eyes and wondered if Spencer had watched a lick of news since taking Current Events in college. I’d bet on no.
“It’s not a big deal,” I replied.
“You didn’t just get a text from Kyle saying that it is in fact a big deal.”
“This is the thing. Let’s say I don’t take him to this event. There will be events that he comes to. He’s in my life and he’s in it for good,” I said, getting slightly agitated. I don’t know why I thought things would be easier now that I was solid in my decision. I still needed my friends to be on my side, and it was looking like that would be an uphill climb.
“Yeah, Coop, but this isn’t about you and Chase. This is Kyle’s day and he doesn’t deserve being stressed out by having you and your boyfriend there.”
“You guys will have to see him at some point. You’ll have to bury the animosity.”
“We can bury it at a party at your house. At least that way people can leave.”
“We’re adults, Spence,” I replied. “If Kyle really has a problem with it, he’ll call and tell me. Besides, Britney’s coming, right? No one can stand her.”
“Britney is bringing a check with enough money to repave Loop 12,” Spencer replied. “Money trumps brand new boyfriend.”
I sighed, said goodbye, and hung up. Maybe it was a bad idea to take him to the party. But after what Bass had said, minimizing my relationship because it hadn’t received the stamp of approval from the other three Musketeers, I thought this time I’d do it right and show him off.
I thought about pitching a fit. If Chase couldn’t come, then I wouldn’t go. I could make it that simple. That catty. But then I had the brainstorm of all brainstorms.
I recited my last lecture of the day with a different tone. I was hopeful and excited, and I couldn’t wait to get out of class and set everything in motion.
I called Devon from my office and asked her if I could have CJ for dinner. She was reluctant at first, until I reminded her that she couldn’t keep me from seeing them for fourteen days until Judge Sizemore called them back into his chambers. She said I could pick him up from school, but he had a big science test the following day, so she’d prefer it to be an early dinner.
“I’ll have him home by eight,” I said, annoyed that I had to coordinate with her in the first place.
His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw me round the middle school pick up at 3:25. He left the bus line and came to my open window.
“Hop in, we’re hanging out,” I said. He gave me a quizzical look.
“Does mom know?”
“Yes, she knows, killer, now get in the car. It’s cold,” I replied.
“Can we take Chris home? He hates riding the bus and he lives by your place.”
I nodded and CJ ran back to the line to get his friend. We drove around the northern part of the Village until we found Chris’s house.
“Thanks Mr. C,” he said as he stepped out of the Audi and into an expansive driveway that led to an immaculate brownstone. CJ slid back into the front seat.
“So what’s the occasion?”
“What? I can’t kidnap my own son for no good reason?” I asked with a smirk.
“So mom doesn’t know?” he had a worried look on his face that actually pained me.
“Your mother knows I have you, son. And that’s not something you have to worry about ever. You understand me?”
“Yes,” he said as I pulled out and down onto Fitzhugh Avenue. My plan was to pick up some steaks from the Whole Foods on Park Lane and grill them out with CJ. “But she’s been super weird lately.”
“Weird how?” I asked, not intentionally trying to pry, but curious at the shift the kids had obviously noted.
“Well she’s like super excited about going to Chicago. She keeps hinting at what a wonderful start it’ll be for the whole family.”
It made me upset that she considered her and the two kids the whole family, but I didn’t show my disdain. I simply nodded, agreed, and listened.
“Is she trying to coerce you?”
“The judge said you both would in your own way.” CJ looked at me with a raised eyebrow. He was probably contemplating how he could get me to bribe him with something expensive.
“I’m sure that’s not all he said, kiddo.”
“Yeah. He said that we should ignore all the presents we’re about to get and think about which one of you two would provide the most comfortable and stable life.”
I wanted so desperately to ask him where he was leaning. I could have and it wouldn’t have mattered. But the truth was, I knew it wasn’t fair to him. I knew he would struggle with disappointing one of us, that one could very well end up being me, and to put undue pressure on him would just make that worse.
“Well, you still have plenty of time to decide. And I assure you this dinner is not about bribing you to stay,” I said. I pulled into the parking lot at Whole Foods and found a spot towards the back with the other luxury cars too pretentious to park next to a Ford pickup that could haphazardly put a ding on the detailing.
“Do you not want us, Dad?” CJ asked as I pulled into the spot. I was so taken aback by the sentence that my foot actually jerked off the break. I turned to him slowly.
“What in the world gave you that idea?”
I turned off the car, undid my seat belt and faced him square on.
“I don’t know. It kind of seems like you do want us to pick mom. I mean, you left and then started a different life. And now you have the chance to keep us, and there’s no gifts, and you tell the judge that you’d rather us pick together than separate. It just seems like you’re trying to get rid of us.”
“Okay, we’ll start from the beginning on this one,” I said, my brain swirling at how to make him understand why I had done what I had done. “When I left, I didn’t leave you and Liz. You got that? Your mom and I were struggling for quite some time, and if you had grown up in that… you would have seen two roommates and not two people in love, and that would not have been healthy for you. I repeat, I didn’t leave and listen, got that? I never want you to feel like I was leaving you guys. You mean everything to me. Understood?”
“Dad we don’t have to have this conversation in the middle of a grocery store,” he said with a hint of attitude.
“Except that we do. I want you to understand that I love you, and I would never try to hurt you.”
“I get that,” he replied.
“And the reason I want you and your sister to do this together is because you two are going to hurt because of this for a very long time. I get that. It’s something that I’ll have to live with for causing you the pain of seeing your mom and I split up. You will have to take care of Lizzy, kiddo. She’ll need you more than you know, and you have to be there for her.”
I saw him roll his eyes.
“Listen to me. Listen. I can live with you coming to visit me once or twice a month. I wouldn’t be able to live with you not seeing your sister every single day. Get that, please.”
He nodded. I wasn’t sure if he sensed just how serious I was about the whole thing, but I couldn’t sit there in the parking lot and harp on it forever.
“For the record, I want you to pick me,” I called as we got out of the car. I pulled him into a side hug and ruffled his hair.
“Yeah, yeah. Put your money where your mouth is, Dad,” he joked. I punched him in the arm and ran. He chased me to the front of the store trying to get me back.
Four angus steaks, a bag of leaks and potatoes, and a bottle of Mountain Dew later, we loaded the car and drove downtown towards my apartment.
“Is Chase coming to dinner?” CJ asked out of nowhere as I prepped two of the steaks and set water to boil on the stove. He sat on the bar texting.
“I didn’t ask him,” I replied. “Why?”
“I dunno. I just thought maybe he was.”
“Do you want him to?” I asked. CJ did what I hated most about any kid. He shrugged, not giving me any indication of his preference. “I can call him.”
“I’ll do it.”
“You have his number?”
“Yeah.” He didn’t even look up. I was so confused that I put the meat down and walked to the opening in the bar.
“Okay, explain,” I said.
“I got it when I had lunch with y’all on Saturday. After karate practice.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get that. What? When?”
“I dunno. I guess you were in the bathroom or on the phone or something. I told him to come to my showcase on Saturday if mom wasn’t going and he said sure. I said I’d call him and we bumped phones.”
My face must have been some special sort of bewildered. I had no idea what to make of the fact that my son and my ex turned present boyfriend had bumped phones and exchanged numbers.
“He’s coming. He asked what kind of wine he should bring.”
“Tell him red,” I said. I shook it off and pulled a third steak out to prep. “This should be easier than I thought.”
“I was going to ask you if you’d be cool staying with Chase this Saturday night. I’ll be at your Uncle Kyle’s little party or whatever. I thought it’d be fun if he came over to watch you.”
“Dad, I’m almost fourteen. Why do I need to be watched?”
“Are you kidding me? You? You will turn this place into a rager while I’m gone. I know you, mister.”
“Dad, come on.”
“Okay. Not watched, watched. Just… y’all can hang out. Get to know each other better. Even though you already text, evidently.”
He looked up from his phone for a second and flipped his shoulder again.
“It’s fine,” he answered. And that was that.
Chase showed up forty-five minutes later with a bottle of merlot. He gave me an awkward kiss on the cheek when he rounded the corner into the kitchen and I knew it was because CJ was sitting right there.
“Thanks for inviting me to dinner CJ,” he said looking at me pointedly.
“Well, if I had known that you and my son were texting buddies, I would have invited you a long time ago.”
“Mmmhmm,” he said with a smirk. He shook CJ’s hand and took of his coat. I noticed how fluidly he moved around my apartment, almost as if he already lived there. He sat down on the love seat with a huge sigh and a stretch of the arms.
“Very,” he said. “I had my orientation meeting at St. Mark’s this morning. I start observing the other coaches at the beginning of the month. In January, I take over varsity swimming full time. It’s crazy fast how this is moving.”
“Sounds like it,” I said as I put food on to serving plates. We talked over CJ and he couldn’t be bothered to look up from his phone.
“Yeah. And all that, coupled with Morgan being ridiculous. It’s a lot.”
I nodded my understanding, not trusting what I’d say if I tried to say something.
“CJ, can you help me set all this stuff on the table while I open this wine?” I asked. He slithered out of his stool and came into the kitchen.
“Can’t we sit in the living room? This isn’t family dinner or anything.”
I thought for a second. Technically, he was right. I didn’t want to push something that wasn’t there, and I hadn’t even thought about the association of eating at a table. It was a very intimate thing to do with one’s family, and it wasn’t something he was ready to do with me and Chase.
“Yeah, for sure,” I replied. “Make a plate.”
While he stuffed his plate and poured a huge glass of Mountain flavored soda, I made a plate for Chase and I.
“If you grab the wine glasses and silverware, I’ll get the plates,” I said. We teamworked our way to the living room where we sat on couches and ate, not like a family. Apparently kids absorb the things adults talk about even when they’re fingers deep in their phone.
“Did you say you were getting a job at St. Mark’s?”
“Mmm, at the high school,” Chase replied. “Swim teacher.”
“Cool,” CJ replied, stuffing his face with potatoes and ignoring the English peas that danced around untouched.
“Do you swim?”
“Some,” my son replied. “My focus is on karate, though. I’m gonna move up a belt class on Saturday, I can feel it.”
“I can too,” Chase said.
“You’re coming, right?”
“If it’s okay with your dad.”
I smiled and raised a shoulder.
“I have no problem with it,” I said with a smile. I didn’t have a problem with it at all. As surprising as it was that I didn’t have to work at all to get them to get along, it was one thing I was thankful for. Mine and Chase’s relationship would have been dead on arrival if they didn’t.
“It’s pretty early, so you should probably sleep here on Friday.”
“Again, only if your dad’s okay with it.”
“Umm, newsflash. He’s obviously okay with that.”
I almost choked on a piece of meat. Not sure how far he’d take it, I cut CJ off by changing the subject.
“Speaking of, I was also hoping you’d do me a favor Saturday night. Kyle is having a shindig, I tried to get you in, but my friends are… reluctant. I was hoping you’d stay here with CJ that night. Y’all can hang out or whatever.”
“Are you asking me to babysit? Does he really need a babysitter?”
“See!” CJ exclaimed. “I told you. Fourteen years old.”
“Practically fourteen. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“So now you two are teaming up against me?” They both backtracked at the same time and I found it amusing. “Just, spend the night over here and hang out. No boys after midnight and I’ll pay you ten bucks an hour.”
Chase gave me a cutting look. I noticed that he didn’t confirm either way. I didn’t ask him about it until dinner was done, the kitchen was cleared, and CJ was dropped off at his mom’s house.
While I drove to Highland Park, Chase drove back to his hotel to get clothes for the next day and check in on Morgan. We returned to the apartment for another glass of wine and some much needed R&R that was anything but R&R.
As we lay in my king bed with Chase’s arms wrapped tightly around me, I asked him what he thought about spending the weekend with my son and me.
“I don’t know, gamin. I’m not really the stepdad type of guy.”
“But you two get along amazingly,” I said, not buying it for a second. “Really, you just make sure they don’t die.”
“I don’t know.” He squirmed in my arms and I turned to face him.
“You’ll be fine, I promise. Taking care of a teenager is the same as taking care of a drug addict, only one eats and the other doesn’t.”
He winced when I said that and I instantly wished I could take it back.
“No, don’t be. I’m just… I don’t know how this is going to go with the two of you.”
I mustered up any compassion I could find and decided that the supportive boyfriend route would get me more flies than the bitter boyfriend route. Chase’s commitment to Morgan was one that I couldn’t understand, but that I would have to try to.
“It’s just like tonight. I want to be here for you and with you. And the same for this weekend. But the idea of leaving him alone for two nights in a row… I just don’t know what to expect.”
And at that moment, as if fate was out with the sole purpose of fucking me over, his cell phone rang. He looked at the screen and I knew exactly who it was.
“Gamin,” he said.
He looked at me, answered his phone, listened for one minute before responding.
“Okay. Don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be right there.”
A minute later, he was out of bed, dressed, and kissing me goodbye. And just when I thought I was done being alone, there I was. Alone.
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