Saturday, August 1, 2020

The F-Word, Chapter 12

 Blake

 

Andy and I spend the next hour playing games in the arcade. He’s a pretty good shot at the Jurassic Park game. I’m better, but I’ve been shooting dinosaurs on screens since before he was born.

The best part is I haven’t heard him laugh this much in… a while. He’s having a great time. With me. As much as I hate Patrick, I have to thank him for backing out on Andy, so we could spend this evening together.

“Shoot the boss!” Andy is shouting at me. “Come on, Dad! We almost killed him!”

I raise my gun and do my best to shoot the little tiny circles. My biceps are still pretty sore from climbing, and I know it’s going to be worse tomorrow. But it’s the good kind of sore. Not like the way my back feels when I’ve been in my chair for too long.

We manage to kill the giant dinosaur, but instead of going to the next level, Andy declares he’s hungry and wants to get some food. I’m pretty starving too. All that climbing worked up an appetite.

“What do you want to get?” I ask him. “Sushi?”

Andy makes a face. “I’m sick of sushi. How about pizza?”

“I thought pizza is stupid?”

“What? No way.”

I shrug. “Whatever you want. Let me just ask that woman for the adaptive climbing group information before we go.”

Andy giggles. “You should ask that woman out on a date.”

I nearly burst out laughing. “Oh, you think so?”

“She liked you! She said you were cute. And she’s… you know, really pretty.”

I’m surprised to hear Andy calling a girl pretty. Last time it came up, he seemed to think all girls were coated in a layer of cooties. “Yeah, well. She’s about half my age, so… I don’t think so.”

Andy doesn’t get it. We are all adults, so we’re all equally old, in his eyes. But Kim is really young. I would feel like a dirty old man if I went out with her. If I ever manage to get over Audrey—and it’s starting to look like I’m going to have to—I want to be with a woman my age.

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans, looking at me. “You still love Mom, don’t you?”

My jaw drops open. I can’t believe he just said that to me. “What? Why would you say that?”

“Dunno.” He kicks at the ground. “You went to help Grandma with her taxes. I don’t know why you would do that otherwise.”

“Because I’m a nice guy?”

He shrugs.

I adjust myself in my chair. “Look, I’ll always love your mom. But… she’s marrying Patrick, and I’ll… you know, eventually I’ll meet somebody else. Not that girl who works here—somebody my age.”

“Oh,” he says.

I chew on the side of my lip, trying to read his expression. “I thought you liked Patrick?”

“I guess he’s okay.” He drops his eyes. “It’s just… when you first moved out, Mom said you were coming back. She said you were just gone for a little while. So I thought eventually…”

His words are breaking my heart. I abandoned my family. I will never forgive myself for that. I deserve everything that’s happening to me right now. I deserve to lose Audrey.

“Maybe your mom and I will never be together again,” I say. And as the words come out, I realize the truth in it. Audrey and I have been divorced for four years. She’s marrying another guy. It’s over. I need to wrap my head around that. “But I’m always going to be in your life. I promise you that.”

He nods slowly.

“In fact,” I say, “I was thinking every other Wednesday, you and I could do something, just the two of us. Not Katie.”

His face brightens. “Could we come here again?”

“Sure. Whatever you want.” As long as it’s accessible.

He giggles. “We could see a movie she would hate. Like a scary movie.”

A movie. I could do that. “You’re on.”

Then to my surprise, Andy throws his arms around me. I hug him back. I feel like I just got back my son after five years. It’s a really good feeling.

It almost makes up for losing the love of my life.

 

 

 

Audrey

 

At around eight o’clock, I get a text from Blake: Heading back with Andy. If you want, bring down your tax papers.

I do have my tax papers ready, but I’ve been hesitating to give them to him. I know he’s a genius with the sort of stuff, but it still feels a little too personal. Patrick and I had a nice lunch today, and I decided I was being too hard on him. No guy is perfect. I lucked out when I first married Blake, but he wasn’t perfect either. Look how he fell apart in the face of adversity.

Granted, it was a lot of adversity. Still. It took him less than a month at home to turn into a drunk.

Katie has been especially challenging tonight because she feels hurt that Blake took Andy out without her. We had to make it up to her by getting her McDonald’s. That seemed to calm her down, and Patrick is reading her a bedtime story. It’s very sweet.

When Blake sends me a text that he’s downstairs, I call to Patrick that I’m going down to get Andy. Just as I’m going out the door, I tuck my tax return under my arm. May as well take advantage of my ex-husband being a tax genius.

Andy is climbing out of the car when I get downstairs. He’s smiling, and I let out a breath of relief. After what happened yesterday, I was certain I wouldn’t coax a smile out of him for at least a week or two.

“Did you have a good time?” I ask him.

“Yeah!” He’s almost levitating with excitement. “We went rock climbing! I made it up the wall twice. And Dad got up the wall too.”

I duck down my head to look at Blake in the driver seat while Andy goes back into the building. Blake doesn’t usually get out of his car when he drops off the kids. I know it’s a hassle for him. “You climbed also?” I ask him. “How big was the wall?”

I brace myself, half expecting him to explode at me for asking what he perceived to be an insulting question. But instead, he flashes me a lopsided smile and says in his Maxwell Smart voice, “Would you believe… a hundred feet high?”

I laugh. “Probably not.”

“Would you believe fifty feet?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Was it?”

“Nah. It was fifteen feet. But hey, you try pulling yourself up fifteen feet using just your arms.”

He’s got one of his arms resting on his open window, and for the first time, I realize how incredibly muscular his arms have gotten in the last few years. I can totally believe he would be able to pull himself up a wall just using his arms. And it’s, in fact, very sexy. So sexy that for a moment, I feel a little breathless looking at my ex’s upper body.

“Is that for me?” he asks.

“What?” I say.

He jerks his head in the direction of the papers tucked under my arm. “Is that your tax return?”

“Oh!” I forgot I even had it. I pluck it out from under my arm. “Yes, but you don’t have to… I mean, I’m sure you’re incredibly busy.”

“I don’t mind,” he says quickly.

I finally hold out the papers to him and he takes them from me. “Thanks, Blake.”

“No problem.” He hesitates. “And thanks for letting me take Andy out tonight. We had a great time.”

“I’m really glad.”

I stand there for a moment, outside his car, and we’re just staring at each other. I miss him so much.  Blake—the love of my life, the father of my children, my soulmate. My heart is pounding, and I realize that more than anything, I don’t want him to go. I want to invite him inside. Upstairs.

Into my bedroom.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. Blake and I are divorced now. I’m going to marry another man. The past is the past.

I can see Blake’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. “I’ll get you your tax papers in a few days.”

“Okay. Thank you again.”

He nods. “Bye, Audrey.”

“Bye, Blake.”

He hesitates another moment, as if there’s something more he wants to say. But then he shakes his head and drives off.

_____

 

I can’t sleep tonight.

Patrick is lying beside me in bed, snoring softly. He dropped off to sleep almost immediately after we shut off the light. We didn’t make love tonight. He didn’t try to initiate it, and I was glad. Truthfully, it feels like we don’t have sex much anymore. When is the last time we did it? I’m having trouble remembering.

It was last Sunday. We had a quickie right when we woke up, then Patrick jumped right in the shower.

Blake was always a light sleeper, and whenever I woke up during the night, he would end up getting up too. Sometimes we would stay up together, watching old sitcoms. Or we would fool around until we tired ourselves out and fell back asleep.

Of course, it was different after we had kids. And after Blake was injured, it was really different. He could never sleep—he would toss and turn in bed, complaining his back hurt. And as for fooling around…

We tried a few times when he got home. He couldn’t get it up at all without a pill, and even after taking the pill, it was a struggle. He couldn’t do much aside from just lie there. The last time we tried, I spent nearly an hour trying to coax his dick into getting hard enough to penetrate me, and then the second I climbed on top of him, he lost it. He dropped his head against the pillow, his features etched with frustration. Just forget it, Audrey. It’s not going to happen.

My guess is he’s figured it out by now. In fact, when Blake broke up with that girl Eliza, Katie commented to me, I knew they were going to break up! I always heard her screaming in their bedroom at night, so I bet she was mad at him. And of course, my brain went into full imagination mode, wondering what my ex-husband did to his girlfriend to make her scream like that. (And also kind of pissed off that she couldn’t be quieter when my children were in the house.)

Anyway, it’s obvious Patrick isn’t going to get up with me tonight, not that I would ever expect him to. I slip out of bed and go into the living room. I’ll watch TV for a little while, and hopefully, I’ll get sleepy.

I flip through the channels, but it’s mostly infomercials and an Everybody Loves Raymond marathon. I flip through my DVD collection and find the episodes of I Dream of Jeannie that Blake bought for me all those years ago. For my birthday. And then we watched them together.

I can’t help but think about how it was a much better present than this stupid fortieth birthday party. Plus it only cost about thirty dollars on eBay, instead of maxing out my credit card.

I pop the second DVD in the player and get it started. I really love the show. Especially the early episodes, when Jeannie was just so in love with Tony. It makes me think of Blake. Again.

I take out my phone and check my email while I’m watching. To my surprise, there’s an email from Blake, which came only twenty minutes ago. Apparently, I’m not the only one having trouble sleeping tonight.

You didn’t take the expense from the kids’ camp as a deduction.

I stare at his message for a moment. It’s after two in the morning, but I take a chance he’s still awake and shoot him a text message:

You gave me a check for the camp. I wasn’t the one who paid for it.

I hold my breath, and right away, I see the three little bubbles appearing on the screen. He’s awake after all. And he’s writing back to me:

I didn’t take it as a deduction though. You should.

I write back: Okay.

More dots on the screen. What are you doing up so late?

I should ask you the same thing.

It’s April. I never sleep in April.

I smile because I remember those days. April was always crazy for him. I can’t sleep. I’m watching Jeannie.

Color or black-and-white?

This is something Blake and I used to talk about. I Dream of Jeannie switched from black-and-white to color midway through the series. The earlier, black-and-white episodes are better. In the later episodes, the plots become more outlandish, like Jeannie has this sister, also a genie of course, who happens to be evil. But on the earlier episodes, it’s a lot more about Jeannie and Tony flirting together and being sweet.

Black and white, I type.

Remember we watched all of them together?

How could I forget? It was my birthday present.

I can’t believe my fortieth birthday is around the corner. Moreover, Blake isn’t going to be there. He isn’t invited. But I wish he could be there. I’m beginning to feel like he’s the only one I want to be there. Well, him and the kids.

This is crazy! I can’t think this way. Blake and I are long over. I’m engaged to another man!

Tony is lucky, he writes. All Jeannie has to do is blink her eyes and he gets anything he wishes for.

Sounds nice.

What would you wish for?

I inhale sharply. Right now, there’s only one thing I would wish for. One thing I can’t stop thinking about. I find myself typing the words:

Can I come over?

Four little words on my screen. My thumb hovers over the blue send button. If I send this text, it will change everything. My whole life.

If I ask him, he’ll say yes. I know he will. It’s what he would wish for—he’s made that clear. But is it what I want?

I move my thumb from the send button. And I delete the message.

 


Blake

I’m exhausted today.

I was just drifting off to sleep when Audrey texted me. She was awake at two in the morning, and I was the one she thought to talk to. There was no way I wasn’t texting her back.

We ended up chatting by text messages for about an hour.  She was watching the DVDs of Jeannie that I bought her years ago. I was lying in bed, struggling to keep my eyes open. It was starting to get a little flirtatious a few times, but I tried not to get my hopes up. After all, Patrick was right in the next room, presumably. She wants to be friends. And that’s all she wants.

I ended up sleeping in a bit this morning, and now I’m finishing up with Audrey’s tax return. I’m glad she trusted me with her financial stuff—most people wouldn’t hand over their financial paperwork to their ex. But this is what I do. I’m fairly sure I spared Audrey not only the money she owes, but I’m going to score her a nice refund.

And she needs it. I thought she was doing better than she is. I feel a flash of guilt as I look through her papers and realize I should be giving her more money. When we first were negotiating, I had zero income. But now it turns out I’m doing a lot better than she is. I pay child support, and on top of that, I give her money for the kids’ camp and afterschool program. I hope it’s enough—she’s never asked me for money, but I would never have fought her if she did. That’s one thing we never argued about.

Of course, soon she’ll have Patrick’s income to contribute to her own. If I were paying her alimony, it would end when they get married.

I just have a few more questions for Audrey, but I decide to take a break and grab some lunch. I live in a part of the city where I’m surrounded by tons of restaurants. There’s this great Chinese restaurant with dim sum food that I ate nearly every single day for six months, but I haven’t been there in weeks. They take forever to deliver, so I call in the order and wheel myself over there.

You don’t realize how damn uneven the pavement is in New York until you’re wheeling on it. These days, I’m good at anticipating the gaps in the pavement where my casters might get stuck, so I can just do a small wheelie over those spots. It wasn’t always that way. A few weeks after I moved into my current apartment, I hit this large defect in the sidewalk and got thrown from my chair onto the pavement. I was fine, but it knocked the wind out of me. Within five seconds half the people on the block were surrounding me, including a cop. I wanted to crawl into the sidewalk and disappear. Short of that, I wanted everyone to leave me alone so I could get back in my chair in peace.

One thing that hasn’t changed though: people still stare at me. A forty-year-old guy in a wheelchair—yeah, fascinating. I’ve learned to ignore it.

It takes me about five minutes to wheel down to the Chinese restaurant. There’s a ramp to get inside, and the door isn’t super easy to open, but I can manage it. If you can’t handle a door, you’re really out of luck.

“Blake,” the hostess, Min, greets me. I’m memorable. And like I said, I nearly lived here for six months. Min holds up a small paper bag with my food. “We got your order right here.”

“Thanks.” I take the bag from her, instinctively putting my hand under it to make sure the bottom isn’t too hot before I rest it on my legs. Since I can’t feel my legs at all, I won’t know if it’s burning me. I learned that lesson the hard way. “Here’s my card.”

I hand over my credit card and wait for Min to ring it up. I scan the restaurant, which seems to be doing fairly well for lunchtime. They have a good crowd in here. And then my eyes freeze on one familiar face.

It’s Patrick. And holy shit, he’s with a woman.

Min hands me my credit card, but instead of leaving, I back up a bit, trying to see what he’s up to without him noticing me. That’s hard to do since I’m always a bit of a spectacle. But I don’t think he’s seen me. His attention seems to be entirely absorbed by the woman he’s with, who is much younger than Audrey and very attractive.

They’re sitting at a two-person table, but they’re not across from each other. He’s right next to her. And he’s leaning in very close to her. Much too close. His lips are close to her ear and he murmurs something, then she throws her head back and laughs.

Then he leans in and kisses her.

Instinctively, I back up a bit more. That was entirely the wrong move. My left wheel knocks into some sort of pedestal, which goes crashing to the floor with an impressive amount of noise. I curse under my breath. Everybody’s eyes are suddenly on me, including Patrick Prescott’s.

Shit.

Although I enjoy the panicked look on his face, I wish he hadn’t seen me. My stomach sinks when he rises to his feet. I want to make a quick exit, but Min and another employee are now picking up the pedestal, and they’ve completely blocked me in. Slipping out discreetly is hard to do when you’re in a wheelchair.

“Blake.” His eyes lock with mine. “Hey. Funny running into you here.”

What the fuck? Does he think I engineered this situation to catch him with his little girlfriend over there? “Yeah. Funny.”

“That’s Sasha over there.” He gestures at the woman sitting at the table he vacated. “She’s the party planner for the big bash I’m throwing for Audrey’s fortieth. I want to do something really special for her.”

“Uh-huh.” I glance over at the pedestal, which is still blocking my goddamn exit. “Great.”

He tilts his head to the side. “I’m not sure what you thought you saw…”

“I know what I saw.”

“You’re mistaken though.” His tone is light, but his eyes are hard. “Sasha and I were just talking, that’s all. I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

“Uh-huh.” Jesus Christ, why aren’t they picking up the pedestal? I want to lift it myself and hurl it across the room at this point.

“You aren’t going to mention it to Audrey, are you?”

I push my hand against my left wheel to turn slightly and look him in the eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“There’s no reason to, like I said.”

I shrug. “Maybe.”

His hand balls into a fist. “I know you still have a thing for Audrey. She knows it too. She’ll see right through this stunt of yours to make her jealous.”

“In that case, what are you so worried about?”

Patrick narrows his eyes at me. “You know, I’m going to be married to the mother of your kids, so it’s in your best interest to be nice to me. I know how much money you make, and that you don’t pay Audrey any alimony. We could easily take you to court for back pay.”

Does he think that scares me? I was the one who came to Audrey as soon as I was back on my feet (figuratively) and told her I wanted to start giving her some money for the kids. She never had to take me to court for that. I’d happily give her whatever she and the kids need.

Patrick realizes I’m not bothered by his threat. A muscle twitches in his jaw. “You know,” he says, “it doesn’t matter what you say about me. She’ll never take you back. She could do so much better.”

That one hits home. I glance over and see the pedestal has been righted and my path is clear. Hallelujah, I’m free. “Goodbye, Patrick.”

“Hey!” His voice is low but sharp. “If you think I won’t kick your ass just because you’re in a wheelchair, you’re wrong.”

“Good to know,” I mutter.

And that part doesn’t bother me either somehow. Well, I don’t love the idea of Patrick coming after me and trying to beat me up. But I don’t think he would do that. And even if he did, if I could get even one good punch in, it would be worth it.

Somehow I’ve lost my appetite for dim sum though. I don’t know what the hell to do about what I just saw. I want to tell Audrey, obviously. I would like nothing more than to tell her how I saw Patrick getting cozy with some younger woman and have her lose her shit. That would be great. Especially if it meant I might get another chance with her.

But on the other hand, Patrick made some good points, even if he was a dick about it. She won’t believe me. She’ll think I’m desperate and heartsick and I’m making things up. We’ve become friends again and I don’t want to screw that up for anything.

And if she does believe me, will she then blame me forever for being the messenger of bad news? Will she associate me with the heartbreak she’s going to experience when she finds out the guy she’s engaged to has been messing around on her?

I don’t know what to do. But she’s got to know this is happening. Even if I blow myself out of the water, she deserves to know her fiancé is a cheating asshole.

To be continued...

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6 comments:

  1. Ahhhhh what an amazing turn of events! I had been waiting for this :,)
    I have your book preordered and I’m so excited for the release!
    Thanks so much as always for providing the best content xx

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  2. How on Earth can this story get better and better with each new chapter?! :) Can't wait to read the whole thing!
    Thank you so much, Annabelle!

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  3. Yes to the story of Blake doing the climbing!!! One of the YA stories I wrote that has a para character also has a couple of rock climbing scenes. Such fun and a nice variety from some of the typical wheelchair based sports! Already pre-ordered my copy!

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    1. Thanks! I thought about it and I think I'm going to hold off on writing more this for now. Maybe in the future someday.

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