“After you leave your parents’ house tonight, do you want to come back to my place?” asked Ranger as he loaded the last of my laundry baskets in the car.
“No, thanks. I am going to go to my place to take in the laundry while it is still light out, and to look after Rex before going to my parents. After my parents I am going to go home and clean Rex’s cage, and clean the apartment. It hasn’t been done for a while, and after I clean Rex’s cage I always clean the bathroom. Then, because it is going to be an early morning tomorrow, I am going to bed. You arranged for all staff to meet at the office at eight o’clock, right?”
“Yes. Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to sleep over at my place? Then you wouldn’t have to wake up so early. You could do everything you need to do at your place and then come over later.”
I paused. See, that is the thing. I really wanted to stay over at Ranger’s place and I wasn’t sure how much I was arguing for the sake of arguing and how much I was arguing because I really thought it would be better for me to stay at my own place. Ranger, seeing that he was gaining an advantage, said “think about it. I am around the building and don’t have plans if you change your mind.”
“Thanks”, I said, and gave him a kiss that let him know how close I was to changing my mind.
He pulled back. “You need to get going to your parents or you are going to be late. And you know what that means. Dried out pot roast, and all the evils of the world attributed to you being five minutes late for dinner.” And that was so true. If I was even just five minutes late, my mother was listening for sirens and waiting for the phone to ring reporting me being in an accident. It was not advisable for anyone’s mental health to be late.
I showed up – on time – to dinner. My mother was welcoming and complimentary on my dress, my hair, my makeup, and that was when I noticed it. An extra place setting at the dinner table.
“Who did you invite for dinner?” I asked.
“Miles Monowski. Do you remember him? He is older, Valerie’s age. He is divorced now, and he needs a new mother for his three little children. They are the cutest things. You couldn’t help but love them. I saw them at the grocery store the other day with Miles, and they were running in circles all around him. They were dressed in the same shirt, and they all looked the same. Miles said they were triplets.” I shuddered. “They have to be no more than four, and I thought that having a premade family would be perfect for you. Then you wouldn’t have to put up with the ‘not sleeping through the night’ thing, they come already toilet trained, and you don’t lose your figure being pregnant.” My mother’s eyes were getting that golden glow about them, that special glow that was brought on by being a grandmother.
“Mom, I told you before and I will tell you again. I. Do. Not. Want. Kids. No babies, no premade family, no dependents other than Rex.”
My grandmother walked into the kitchen as I finished saying this. “This might be a good one. I approved this one. He has a big package, if you know what I mean. And if he has three kids at a time, he must be pretty good in bed to have had sex three times in one night.”
“Having triplets doesn’t mean that you have had sex three times in one night, Grandma. It means the egg split into three when it was in the womb. It means that you could theoretically create your whole family with one sexual incident. And could you imagine if his next partner has triplets again? He would have six kids!” A shudder ran over my body as the doorbell rang.
“Get the door, Stephanie. I’m busy”, said my mother as she stood there doing nothing.
I sighed and thought longingly of the simple saneness of Ranger’s apartment. I walked through from the kitchen to the front door and let in Miles and his three children. They were all dressed alike and all looked the same, and although I was introduced to them I could not keep the three of them straight.
My mother came forward with a huge smile on her face. “Miles, it is nice to see you again. I don’t know if you remember Stephanie”, she said, nudging me forward, “but she is my daughter. She is just a little younger than you. You might remember her from her baton twirling days.”
“I was the one that twirled the baton into the tuba during one of the pep rallies. It was one of my shiniest moments in high school”, I said.
My mother, tucking an errant piece of hair behind my ear, said “Stephanie always did have a wicked sense of humour. A sense of humour is so important these days, is it not? I have always found it especially important as a parent. I didn’t know you were going to bring your darling children to dinner as well. I will set three extra places at the table.”
Miles, on his side, looked shell-shocked. He was trying to keep control of his children, and they were running all around the house in bratty abandon. I took pity on Miles and my own rapidly fraying nerves. “Kids!” I bellowed. “There is a toy box here filled with toys that you are allowed to play with as long as you put them back after. These toys are my nieces’, and I know they won’t mind sharing them with you.” Like a mother duck, I led them to the toy box that was hidden in the corner of the living room.
Meanwhile, my father was trying to watch the ballgame on the TV. Miles realized what he was watching and said “hey, I love baseball. Who is winning?” With that question Miles abandoned looking after his children and left me to supervise.
I looked at my mom in horror. Things One, Two and Three ran around the living room like little cyclones. My mother smiled, a beatific expression on her face, shooing me over to the children to play with them. “Stephanie”, said my mother, “why don’t you look after the children and give Miles a break while I finish getting dinner on the table?”
Trapped, my father looked over at me and gave me one of his rare commiserating looks. Sometimes I think my father is oblivious to what is going on around him and he likes it that way. At other times I realize he is much more aware of what is going on than you would suspect. He just chooses not to comment on it. I guess it is a good way to be. It certainly seems to work for him.
Dinner was served as soon as the toys had been distributed over every surface in the living room. Pried from the TV, Miles became a functioning adult again, remembering that he had children. He supervised washing the children’s hands and pushed their seats into the dining room table. My mom still had a glow about her as she looked at the children, and I could see her envisioning Christmas mornings with the whole family around.
“So, what happened to your wife?” asked my father. I could’ve kissed him. I also wanted to know, but didn’t want to ask. My mother would have cut me off of dessert if I had.
“My wife died last year. She was in a car crash. That is why I moved back to Trenton, to be close to my folks so they could help with the children.”
“I am sorry to hear about your wife”, said my mother. To her, Miles had just become more attractive as a potential husband for me. Her attitude screamed “see, he was a good husband. He didn’t do anything to screw the marriage up. He didn’t lie, cheat or do drugs. Already he’s looking good.”
“We were in the process of getting a divorce, so it wasn’t any great loss.” My mother looked deflated.
Taking pity on her, I said “what do you do for a living?”
“I am an accountant. What do you do, Stephanie?”
“I work at two jobs. I am a bounty hunter part time and a researcher part time.”
“Do they pay well?”
“Marginally. As a bounty hunter you only get paid when you bring the skips in, so there is no pay stabilization with that job. You are either struggling to pay your bills at the end of the month, or you are overworked beyond believe. My job as a researcher pays all right, and there are benefits. I am paid by the hour and, because the company I work for is so busy, I have been working full-time hours there as well. So basically, I have two part-time jobs that I have been working full-time hours for each of them. This is the first evening I have had off in two months.”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as that. Don’t listen to Stephanie. She’s exaggerating”, said my mother.
“No, I’m not. With being a bounty hunter you are always looking for skips, searching faces wherever you go. I took the evening off last Sunday to spend with a friend, and ended up chasing a skip down the road.”
“And she gets hurt all the time at her job. She needs someone with a good job to take her away from her job as a bounty hunter.”
“You get hurt?”
“Not all the time. My latest was a dog bite when I found a skip on the floor in her kitchen, dying of a heart attack. Her dog took offense as I looked after her while I waited for the ambulance.”
“Not all the time? She has been shot, stabbed, beaten up, and kidnapped. Her cars have been firebombed, vandalized, stolen and exploded. Her apartment has been vandalized, firebombed and stink bombed. Can you see why I worry about her? Can you see why she needs to have someone take her away from her life?” My mother was getting a glow about her face that I suspected had nothing to do with the children in the room and everything to do with the proof of the “ginger ale” that she had in the tumbler in front of her.
“My mother and I disagree on many things, and this is one of them. In all honesty, I like my jobs and I wouldn’t want to change them for anything.”
“Are you chasing anyone interesting right now?” asked my grandmother with bloodthirsty relish.
“Yes. I caught someone on Friday and another today, but I still have a long list of nine skips.”
“Who do you have? Is there anyone of interest that I can help you out with?” My grandmother turned to Miles. “I’m like an assistant bounty hunter. I listen to the gossip in the Burg. Then, if Stephanie needs to pick up a Burgite, I can pass on the gossip to her to help her capture the skip.”
“That’s fabulous. It’s like a family business.”
“It’s funny you should say that, because the person who manages the bail bonds office is my cousin. It really is the family business in some ways.” I smiled at him. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom start to tilt just before she fell face down, ker-plop, on her dirty plate.
“What happened, Daddy?” asked Thing One.
“I don’t know”, he replied.
“She just worked really hard getting dinner ready tonight and is really tired. She fell asleep. I’m going to take her to bed now”, I said. “That seems like a good place for a tired person to go, don’t you think?”
Thing One, Thing Two and Thing Three all nodded their heads solemnly.
“Do you need help?” asked Miles.
When I shook my head no and thanked him, Miles resumed eating his dinner. “Okay then. Could you please pass the carrots before you take your mom upstairs?”
Grandma and I cleaned up the kitchen after Miles and his three Things went home. “All in all, not a bad evening”, said my grandmother.
“The only thing good I can say about the evening is that Miles didn’t run away screaming, and the dessert was good.” And it was. A homemade coconut cream pie, I enjoyed the dessert even though Thing Two thought that it made an excellent medium for finger painting, using the tablecloth as her canvas. I did a full body shudder again. “Why does mom insist that I want children? I really don’t. I love Val’s kids because they are hers, but I don’t love to be with them. I like them better from afar, hearing stories about them rather than interacting with them. I am just not a kid-oriented person. Val? She’s like Mom. She loves kids, all kids, and being a mother is important to her. I would be a terrible mother because they would not be important to me.”
“I know. Your mother just gets so much pleasure out of you and Val, and now Albert and the kids as well, that she wants to share that type of pleasure with you. She just wants you to be happy, and she thinks that kids will make you happy.”
“But they won’t. I’m happy the way I am.”
“Being single? Do you have anyone in your life right now?”
“Yes, there is someone, but we are going slowly. I went fast with Dickie, and then with Joe, and look where those relationships ended up. I want to go slow this time, Grandma. I don’t want to take the chance that this will get screwed up as well.”
“Your relationship with Dickie was doomed from the beginning. I saw it, but didn’t know how to tell you when you seemed so happy. I thought I would let it ride and hope that I was wrong. Morelli was a keeper though. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong with the two of you.”
“It was his lack of support. Sure, he supported me in many things, but he did not support me in my job and that is a big and important area of my life. I couldn’t take him yelling at me anymore when things went wrong. I didn’t yell at him when things went wrong, so I don’t understand why he yelled at me.”
“Maybe your mother is right and you should get a new job. If someone cares about you, they are going to be worried and upset when you put yourself in danger.”
“This new guy knows about my job and is willing to accept me for who I am, and for what I do. He is willing to support me in all my choices.”
“Personally, I always envisioned you settling down with Ranger. He had a good package and I bet he’s good in bed.” I could feel my face turn red. “That’s it, isn’t it? Ranger is your new guy.”
“We aren’t telling anyone yet, so please keep this on the QT. I want there to be a little space between breaking up with Morelli and going out with Ranger for a couple of reasons. For one, I think it is only fair to Morelli rather than have everyone know that I immediately jumped into bed with someone else. And secondly, I want this more than I think I have ever wanted someone before. And that scares me. He is ready to start a relationship, and that scares me. I’m worried about what happens with our friendship if things go belly-up, and that scares me. I’m just a whole pile of being scared and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“How was it?”
“That is something good then. Do you love him?”
“Yes. I’m just not sure if I love him in the way that I need to love someone in order to have a successful relationship. I’ve never had a truly successful relationship before, so I don’t have anything to compare to.”
“Look, sweetheart, sometimes you have to jump in with both feet, even if it scares you. I know you have been hurt in the past. Protect yourself as much as you can but remember, sometimes to be truly happy you have to jump.” I gave her a big hug. “Now, you don’t need to hang around here. Go see your man.” I kissed her on the cheek and, saying goodbye to my father, left for my apartment.
I phoned Ranger from my apartment. “Do you want some company tonight?” I asked.
“I thought you’d never ask. How did it go with your family?”
“It was a good thing you didn’t come. It was a train wreck of an evening. My mother invited a potential spouse for me, and although the kids hadn’t been invited he came with his four-year old triplets. I couldn’t tell them apart and quite honestly, Things One, Two and Three were terrible. I have never met brattier kids. The father, Miles, abandoned me with the children to watch a ballgame with my dad while my mother and grandmother finished getting dinner ready. My mom had already married me off to him in her head, and was planning out Christmas activities that she could do with the kids. Then, my mother got shit-faced during dinner – somewhere about the discussion about my job and how I was refusing to quit – and she fell face down on her dirty plate. I had to tell the Things that my mother had fallen asleep. We had a most excellent coconut cream pie for dessert, which one of the Things used to finger paint all over my mother’s tablecloth. When we finally got Miles and the Things to go home, I cleaned up the kitchen with my grandmother. I was so thrown off from Miles that I told my grandmother that I was seeing someone. She guessed that it was you. You will be pleased to know that she was supportive. She said that you had a good package and she thought you had the potential to satisfy me in bed. So, as you can hear, a train wreck of an evening. How was your evening?”
“It wasn’t as eventful as yours. I did telephone interviews with each of the potential applicants that Eduardo and Miguel found for me, and I was impressed with each of them. I have scheduled face-to-face interviews with Tank and myself for later this week. Two of the applicants I will be flying in from other parts of the US. It is an expensive way to interview but, if it works out, it will be well worth it. I also talked with my sister, Maria. She and Alex, her husband, are flying up for the weekend next weekend, I think partly to meet you. Would you be available to get together with my family for dinner on the Saturday? I wouldn’t subject you to my family so soon after meeting them normally, it is just that we have to take advantage of Maria being here while she’s in Newark. If you don’t want to, perhaps I can take you with me when I fly down to Miami the next time and introduce you then. She’s feeling a little left out that she has not yet met you.”
“That’s fine. I can be available.”
“I know you were nervous last time, but everybody loved you which is why Maria wants to meet you so badly. Don’t worry. Maria will love you as well.”
“They didn’t mind that I ended the evening by chasing a skip down the street and then walking back all bloody from skinned knees?”
“Do you know how many scrapes I got into as a child? I think that cemented their love for you. I think that is when they decided you were the perfect spouse for me.”
“Oh, no. You had one of those conversations as well?”
“Yes. How did your conversation go?”
“I spoke with my grandmother, as I told you. I told her I was scared to get involved again in another relationship and that I was scared as to what would happen to our friendship if the relationship went belly-up. She told me that sometimes you have to jump in with both feet in order to be truly happy. As I said earlier, she was supportive.”
“Where was your mother in all this?”
“She was upstairs passed out. What about your conversation?”
“Fairly similar, actually. Maria said that I was always a bit of a daredevil, and I needed someone who would be able to support me in what essentially is a dangerous business. She also said that I needed someone who I could be open with, and the fact that you knew about me jacking the car when I was a teenager seemed to mean something to the family. It seemed to mean to them that you accepted me, warts and all. She said that I found it difficult to share my life with others and it seemed like I was able to share with you. And she said the family thinks you understand me in ways that Rachel never could. So, she also was positive. I can only imagine how much more positive she will be once she meets you.”
“I hope so.”
“Don’t worry. Now, how soon do you think you can be here?”
“Soon. I just have to pack some clothes. I am going to clean Rex’s cage and do the cleaning another day.”
“Can you pack for a few days?”
“You know how you were unsettled after doing that last rescue mission, and you just needed a chance to settle?”
“Tonight is my baby step and then I need a chance to settle. I will stay the one night and, if I change my mind, will come back to my place and pick up more clothes for another night.”
“I will take whatever baby steps you are willing to make. I’ll see you soon, Babe.”