Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend: Chapter 2

Noah’s cabin isn’t as small as I feared it would be.  I expected some tiny little hut wedged between two trees where we’d all be forced to share one giant bed, but this cabin is more like a single-story house, with a large patio containing a porch swing and a rocking chair.  I catch a glimpse of the back porch, which seems to have a barbeque grill, as well as a table and chairs set up.  There’s a chimney, as well as a paved path leading to the front door.  It looks large enough that we’ll probably all be sleeping in at least two giant beds. 

True to form, the urge to use the bathroom has completely left Lily by the time Noah pulls up in front of the cabin.  I’m not sure of the mechanism behind how all the pee vanishes from her bladder the second we actually find a toilet.  Maybe Noah the Doctor could explain it to me.

Noah doesn’t even offer to take my bags this time.  I heave them out of his trunk and he waves a hand to lead us inside.  There are two small steps to get up to the patio, and I watch him hold onto the railing as he carefully climbs the steps.  Again, it’s not anything anyone would notice if they weren’t looking for it.

Thank God, it looks like this cabin has all the comforts of home—there’s a fully stocked kitchen, a sofa, a loveseat, and at least one indoor bathroom.  I had been seriously worried I might be squatting in an outhouse.  I think I can deal with being here for a week.

“Gwen!” Dad calls as the woman I recognize as Noah’s mother comes out from a room in the back.  She looks mostly as I remember her, although slightly older.  The lines on her face are deeper, but she still has the same strawberry blond hair pulled into a messy bun. 

“Hi, Lenny.” Gwen’s face breaks into a smile.  “How was the trip in?”

“Long,” Dad admits.

Gwen bends down next to Lily. “And you must be Lily!”

Lily nods shyly.

“I’m so glad to meet you,” Gwen says. “I got you a little present, if that’s okay.”

Lily nods more eagerly this time. Is it okay?  When has being given a present not been okay with a six-year-old?  What planet does she think this is?

Gwen straightens up and comes eye to eye with me.  She has blue eyes—Noah’s eyes.  None of the warmth that was in her voice when she spoke to my daughter is in her expression anymore.

“Hello, Bailey,” she says stiffly.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Yes,” I murmur. “Good to see you too.”

Gwen glances at Noah’s grim expression, then back at me. “It was quite a surprise to realize who you were, but…” She shrugs helplessly. “It will have to be water under the bridge, I suppose.”

“Yes,” I say again. “Water under the bridge.”

Ha.

“Come on, Bailey,” Noah says to me.  “I’ll show you your room.”

I follow him down a short hallway to a set of closed doors.  He indicates the first door, “That’s the bathroom.  We’ve got one and a half bathrooms, so we’re all going to be sharing a shower for the week.”

That’s fine.  Lily can go a shower-free week without blinking an eye—actually, it would be her preference.

He opens the second door to reveal a room with a small queen-sized bed and a cot on the floor next to it.  There’s a small dresser and a window that gives us a great view of the woods.

“This is great,” I say as I drop the duffel bags on the floor.  “Perfect.”

Noah doesn’t say anything for a minute.  He leans over and shuts the door to the bedroom, closing the two of us inside.  I suck in a breath, staring at those blue eyes, terrified of what he’s about to say to me.  Preemptively, I say, “I’m sorry.”

He raises his eyebrows.  “Oh, are you?”

I take a deep breath. “If… if it helps, I’ve spent every moment since then regretting it.”

“It doesn’t help.” His blue eyes flash and I cringe.  “You think I give a shit that you feel a little bad about the whole thing?  Are you aware what you did to me?  You have no fucking clue, do you?”

I squeeze my fists together. “Why did you invite us here? To berate me for a week?”

Noah snorts. “Please, Bailey.  Don’t flatter yourself.  I invited you here for my mother’s sake.”

“Why? Does she want to berate me for a week?”

“No, but she wants to marry your father.” He shakes his head. “Despite the fact that I told her it would be a huge mistake to get involved with anyone from the Chapin family.  But she doesn’t want to listen to me.  She’s in love.  So you and I need to get along.”

“Right,” I mumble.

He frowns at me. “I’ll be cordial, okay?  For her sake, I’ll pretend that…”

He doesn’t complete his sentence, and for that, I’m glad.

“But let’s get one thing straight,” he says in a low growl.  “I don’t forgive you.  I will never forgive you.  We will never be friends.” 

I bite my lip.  “You really hate me, don’t you?”

Noah is quiet again, as if really thinking about his answer.  “‘Hate’ doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about you,” he finally says.

I wince.  Somehow in the time since I’d last seen Noah, I’d thought maybe he… well, maybe not forgave me, but at least didn’t think back on me with feelings of loathing.  I figured he’d moved on—got married, had a couple of kids, etc.  But that’s obviously not the case. 

“I’m sorry,” I say again. 

He shrugs, like he couldn’t care less about my apology.  Which I guess is true.

If Noah Walsh murdered me, I don’t think he’d go to jail.  There would be a trial, of course, because there would have to be.  But if the judge and jury heard the entire story, I think they’d let him off scot-free.  They’d decide he did the world a favor by getting rid of me.

*** 

I catch my father unpacking alone in the bedroom he’ll be sharing with Gwen.  He’s pulling out a pair of boxer shorts and whistling to himself. 

When is the last time I’ve heard him whistle like that?  When is the last time I’ve seen him smiling that wide?  Especially while unpacking underwear.  Some of his hair even seems to be growing back.

He looks up at the sound of my footsteps and his smile falters.  I don’t take it personally.  He knows why I’m here. He doesn’t seem any happier when I shut the door behind me.

“What the hell, Dad?” I snap at him, forgetting my age-old rule about never cussing in front of my parents.  If there’s ever a time to cuss, it’s now, damn it.

“I didn’t know,” he murmurs.

“No kidding.”  I take a deep breath, trying to control my anger.  I don’t want to yell at my elderly father, especially when he looks the happiest he’s been since Mom died.   “How could you not know?”

“Well, she told me she had a son named Noah,” he says.  “But… I didn’t realize he was that Noah.  Noah Walsh isn’t an uncommon name.  It’s not like he’s called… Benedict Cumberbatch.”

I wring my hands together.  “Did Gwen know?”

Dad shakes his head.  “No, she didn’t.  When I talked about you, I always called you Bee or just said ‘my daughter.’  She never put it together until… well, apparently Noah told her while we were on our way here.”

I bow my head and rub my temples.  “This is really awkward.”

He shrugs helplessly.  “I know, Bee.  I’m sorry.  I would never have brought you here if I realized…” He sinks down on the bed.  “But we’re here now, and I think you should make the best of it.  Gwen promised me Noah is fine with the whole thing.”

Fine with the whole thing.  Right.  Aside from despising me with every fiber of his being, he’s totally fine with it.

“Obviously, he’s doing really well for himself,” my father points out.  “He’s very successful.  He’s got an apartment up in the city, and this cabin down here, and he’s a doctor like he wanted to be, so…”

“Yeah,” I mumble, looking away.  I wanted Noah to be successful.  I wanted him to have everything he ever dreamed of.  But for some reason, now that I’m faced with it, it stings.

His brows knit together. “Bee, if you feel like you need to go back, I’ll make something up to Gwen.  Do what you need to do.”

I look at my father’s face.  It’s been less than ten years since Mom died, but Dad looks at least two decades older.  I forget how hard it’s all been on him.  He deserves happiness.  I don’t want to mess anything up for him by throwing a tantrum over something that happened a long time ago. 

Noah says he’s willing to try to put this behind him.  I guess I’ll stay.

***
 
Lily spends some time in the living room playing with her new Barbie doll while I hide in my room.  I get my sketch pad out from my bag and attempt to draw a picture of the cabin from memory.  I want to go out and take a look to see what details I’m missing, but I don’t dare leave the room.  I don’t want to risk another confrontation with Noah. 

A couple of hours later, Lily comes into our bedroom, holding her new Barbie doll.  It has blond hair and an impossibly skinny waist.  I’ve shied away from buying Lily too many Barbie dolls because they’re expensive and also because I feel like it would be nice for her to have a doll that looked more like a real woman. Of course, now there are all these dolls from other television shows like Monster High that look just look Barbies. I mean, it’s not like I’m overweight or anything—being destitute is a great diet.  But it would be anatomically impossible for me to have a figure like this doll that Lily is fawning over. 

At least, I think she’s fawning over the Barbie.  Then I discover it’s not Barbie she’s fallen in love with.

“Noah is going to cook us dinner tonight,” Lily informs me.

“Oh, is he?”

“Uh huh.” Lily nods excitedly.  “He said he’s going to make stuff on a grill.  Like with a big fire.”

“Ooh,” I say.  I wonder how old Lily will be before she can recognize my phony enthusiasm.  I hope that it doesn’t happen until her artwork gets a lot better.

“He went out this morning and bought lots of hot dogs because Grandpa said I like hot dogs,” she says.

“That’s nice of him.”

“And he said he’s going to take us to a movie this week!” Lily says.  “Maybe Dogcat.”

I grit my teeth. “We already saw Dogcat.” We saw it, it’s done, and we never have to see it again.  Never.

“Oh.” Lily’s excitement seems dampened.

“Maybe he can take us to another movie?” I suggest. 

“Okay!” Lily agrees, and before I can stop her, she runs out to find Noah, who is apparently her new hero.  Lord knows, she doesn’t have a father to be her hero.

A minute later, Lily bursts back into the room breathlessly.  “He says he’ll take us to see anything we want.”

Despite everything, I feel a rush of affection toward Noah for being so kind to my daughter. 

“Also,” Lily adds, “he’s going to take us out on his boat and we’re going to catch fish!”

I imagine being stuck out in the middle of the lake with Noah on a tiny boat while we wait for fish to nibble on our bait.  Lovely.

“I like Noah,” Lily says, her little face beaming.

“I can tell,” I say.  I grin at her. “Do you think he’s handsome, Lil?”

She giggles and hides her face in her hands.  “Mayyyyybe.  A little.”

I can’t exactly blame her.  I was certain that if I ran into Noah by now, he’d have been long since snatched up. 

“Is he married, Mommy?” she asks me.

“I don’t think so,” I say.

“How come?”

I shrug. “I guess he hasn’t met the right woman yet.”

Lily nods solemnly. “Do you think he’s looking for a woman to marry?”

“I…” I really don’t want to have this conversation with my child.  And I really hope Noah isn’t able to hear us. “I don’t know.  Maybe he doesn’t want to get married.”

 She thinks about this a minute.  “I think he should get married,” she decides.  “He’d be a good husband.”

I swallow. “You might be right.”

I look down at my sketch pad, down at the likeness of the cabin.  I’ll focus on my art this week.  Try not to think too much about the past.  I can’t change it, after all.

“Mommy?” Lily says.   

God, I can’t talk about Noah anymore.  “Uh huh?”

“Why is there a chair in the bathtub?”

I look up at Lily’s wide blue eyes.  “A chair?”

She nods. “When I went to the bathroom, there was a white chair!  In the bathtub!  And a bar sticking out of the wall!”

I bite my lip. “I don’t know, sweetie.  You’ll have to ask Noah.”

I don’t dare tell Lily that I know the answer to her question. 

***

By the time I emerge from the bedroom, Noah has already fired up the grill, and the tantalizing scent of grilling meat wafts from the back patio into the cabin.  They’ve got a table out on the patio, and Gwen is instructing Lily on how to set the table.  It’s such a homey scene.  I imagine an alternate universe in which the man grilling the meat is my husband, and the woman teaching Lily to set the table is my mother.  Instead, the cook hates me and my mother is dead.

“Smells good,” I comment as I emerge onto the patio.  I hope the food is close enough to done that I don’t have to make awkward conversation for too long.

Noah lifts his blue eyes briefly to glare at me as I take a seat.  He doesn’t seem quite ready to be cordial with me.  It’s a good thing we’ve got a whole week out here.

“I want a hot dog!” Lily calls out.

“Right, I got it,” Noah says.  “You want a hamburger.”

Lily giggles. “No, I said a hot dog!”

“Two hamburgers for Lily, coming right up!”

“No!” Lily is laughing so hard now that her face is turning pink.  “I want!  One!  Hot! Dog!”

Noah nods. “Got it. Ten hamburgers for Lily.”

“Be careful,” I say to Noah.  “You’re going to end up playing this game with her for the next hour.”

He winks at my daughter. “At this rate, I’m going to be grilling hamburgers for Lily for the next hour.  So you want twenty hamburgers?”

It’s sweet.  He’s good with her—I have to give him that.

The hot dogs are done first.  Noah grabs a paper plate, opens up a hot dog bun, and drops her hot dog inside. He asks her if she likes ketchup and she says yes. And before I can warn him, he gives the hot dog a spritz of ketchup.

He wouldn’t know.  He doesn’t have kids of his own, so he probably has no idea that you never add a condiment to a child’s food without asking exactly how it should be added first, because omg, you could ruin it.  Lily likes ketchup, but is very clear about the fact that you never, ever put the ketchup directly on the hot dog.  It’s the eighth deadly sin, in Lily’s eyes.  Hot dogs can only be dipped in ketchup, never slathered.  Now it’s ruined.  If we were at a restaurant, I’d be sending back the hot dog as we speak.

Lily looks down at the offending hot dog on her plate, then back up at Noah.  I would have bet my life’s savings that she wouldn’t have touched that hot dog, but to my utter shock, she sits down and starts eating it.  I can’t believe my eyes.  She must really love him.

“What do you want, Bailey?” Noah asks me without looking up from the grill.

“A cheeseburger, thanks,” I say.

Noah finishes grilling burgers and hot dogs for everyone else.  When he grabs the bag of hamburger buns off the table next to him, and they slip from his fingers and fall to the floor. He looks down at the buns on the ground and lets out a barely audible sigh.  I open my mouth, ready to offer to grab them for him.  But I suspect doing so will only make Noah hate me more.

 I pretend to look away, but I can’t help but watch him out of the corner of my eye as he holds onto the table for support as he gets down on one knee.  He picks up the buns, then hauls himself back up, still gripping to the table for dear life.  Once he’s back on his feet again, he looks in my direction, but I’ve busied myself by staring out at the lake in the distance.

“These hamburgers are amazing,” Dad says to Noah once we all have our plates of food.

“Thanks,” he says.

“Noah loves the grill,” Gwen says.  “He buys charcoal by the truckload.”

The cheeseburger in front of me smells so amazing that my stomach rumbles, reminding me that my lunch consisted of a bag of Doritos on the train.  I pick up the burger and take a bite and…

Ugh, this is terrible!

The burger Noah served me is charred to a crisp.  I feel like I just ate a mouthful of somebody’s incinerator. 

I look at my father and Gwen, who are happily munching on their burgers.  There’s no way their burgers taste like mine.  This is practically inedible.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Lily asks.  “Don’t you like your burger?”

I notice that Noah is watching me, a tiny smile playing on his lips.  “Yeah, Bailey, is something wrong with the burger I made you?”

I swallow hard.  “It’s just…” I notice that everyone is staring at me. “It’s a little bit burned.  That’s all.”

Dad seems aghast at my comment. Gwen glares at me.  “It’s from a grill.  They have a char to them. It’s not going to taste like the burgers at McDonald’s.”

“Right.” I feel my cheeks growing hot.  “Actually, it’s fine.  Just… you know, a tiny bit burned.  Not even.  I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

I take another bite of my burger.  It takes superhuman effort not to spit the damn thing out.  I glance over at Noah, who is chuckling to himself.  Asshole.

“If you don’t like it, Mommy,” Lily says to me, “Noah says we’re having more for dessert.”

I frown. “More?  You mean, more burgers?  For dessert?”

Lily nods eager. “Yeah, Noah says it’s the best dessert. More!”

Noah grins at her. “No, that’s s’mores.  We’re having s’mores for dessert.  We can make ‘em right on the grill.”

“I don’t think she knows what s’mores are,” I tell Noah.

His eyes widen.  “Lily, you’ve never had s’mores before?”

Lily shakes her head solemnly as she always does when she knows she’s going to experience something really meaningful or delicious.

“Really?” Noah is incredulous.  “But your mom and I used to…”

He cuts his own thought off mid-sentence.  I wonder if he’s remembering the same thing I am.  The two of us, cuddled together by a campfire, roasting marshmallows on sticks we found in the woods.  The woods used to scare me, but with my head resting on Noah’s broad shoulder and his arm around me, I felt completely safe and warm and happy.

I used to love s’mores.

“Hasn’t your dad ever taken you camping?” Noah asks Lily.

Lily crinkles her nose. “He doesn’t like that.”

“Theo isn’t what you’d call the outdoors type,” Dad volunteers.  “He’s more the lazy, deadbeat musician type.”

And then everyone laughs.  Ha ha, my ex-husband is a big loser and I’m a loser for having married him.  Real hilarious.

“Well, I’ll have to show you some cool outdoorsy stuff this week then,” Noah tells Lily. “Starting with s’mores, okay?”

Lily nods eagerly. “What are s’mores?”

“Basically,” he says, “you melt some marshmallow on a piece of graham cracker, then you cover that with chocolate.”

I think he had her at “some marshmallow.”

To be continued....
 
P.S.  I've been debating how much of the flashbacks from Noah and Bailey's past to include here.  There was one that's in the original that I cut out to keep the flow and get to the devvy parts faster.  But what do you think?  Include flashbacks or no?

21 comments:

  1. Yeah, I really like this story, might be my favourite....thanks for writing and posting. Some flashbacks will be very much appreciated.

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    1. Thanks! I was debating about it, because this segment was supposed to include the flashback of how Noah and Bailey first met, but I ended up cutting it.

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  2. Love the mystery in this :)
    The cat dress is hilarious! I think I had a similar school bag with cats on it when I was young.

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  3. Yes on flashbacks. Painful, painful! He really gave her a burnt hamburger? I guess you gotta get your licks in... But kinda petty. See I gotta know what happened so I can be more sympathetic! Update soon!
    Tc

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    1. It's gonna take a bit to find out what she did, so there are definitely some *required* flashbacks :)

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  4. I like flashbacks. It's kinda my thing when I'm writing. Definitely petty with the burnt hamburger LOL. I love it so far. And I'm not an amp dev. Can't wait for next week.

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    1. I'm not really an amp dev either, but this story just came to me. I'm trying to mix things up.

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  5. Thank you for the new chapter! It's such a tease - to be able to read just a bit and then wait for the next week!! It's a major lesson in patience! :)
    I would really appreciate flashbacks because for me it's not just the devvy parts - I'd love the backstory to make the whole story more meaningful!
    Can't wait for the next Sunday!

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    1. I generally love backstory, but if I included all of it, I bet I would have lost a ton of devs by now. It will all be in the book when it comes out.

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  6. I love this. The whole story is captivating, but this line made my day:

    "I wonder how old Lily will be before she can recognize my phony enthusiasm. I hope that it doesn’t happen until her artwork gets a lot better."

    You toss the best details into your writing. Can't wait for more!

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    1. Haha, thanks! I love it when you point out things you liked.

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  7. Yes on the flashback.Need to understand why he is being such a jerk .

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  8. Yes— YES! Yes for the flashbacks (I think you don't understand how pleasant to read your writing is. I could read tons of non-dev content from you never ever get tired of it, I swear. And I believe I'm not the only one). Yes for how great this chapter is. You have a way of making your male characters seem soooo wantable! I love them all sooo sooo much. And the women too, of course. I just wanted to be an Annabelle character *sigh*. But anyways. Great as usual. Just so you know, I've read it three times already, and will probably do more during the week. I just regret not being able to buy the book when it comes out. I'll be dreaming about the next chapter during the week, I'm sure.

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    1. Aw, thanks! Comments like this totally make my day!

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  9. I definitely like flashbacks-- they fill out the characters a bit more and add depth to the story.

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  10. Yes on flashbacks here too. I'm really enjoying it!!

    I know his disability now, by the way.

    Shape

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  11. I love how you write so for me more it's better, I like that you show us the background of Noah and Bailey's relationship, so please more flashbacks... I definitely need this book!!

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