“Did you see him when he picked her up? What did he look like?” I asked my brother sounding more curious than a cat.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Not really. He’s tall though. Like really tall.”
“That’s cool. Daddy isn’t very tall.”
“Maybe she wanted something different this time around,” Joshua said with a snicker in his voice.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“Nothing,” he said barely able to contain his growing laughter.
“What is it?” I asked nearly pleading for information.
“It’s just—well, think about it. Mom and Dad split up how many years ago? Four? Five? And she’s gone on how many dates since then? Maybe seven? And every time she goes out with the same kind of guy—barely taller than her, dark features, shy, way too eager to impress her with pathetic gestures. And then she comes back from a first or second date with the same depressing spiel about how they just weren’t what she was looking for and she’s going to be alone forever. But then she meets this guy at some single parent support group and he’s unlike any of the other guys she’s taken out and suddenly she’s on her fourth date in less than two weeks with him.”
“Well, true love isn’t easy to find. Maybe this is her chance to be happy.”
My brother looked at me like I was a pathetic naïve child—which, in his eyes, that is exactly what I was.
“You believe in all that true love crap?”
I nodded furiously. “Of course, I do. And I think Mom is going to find it. Or maybe she already did.”
“Maybe. I’m just not holding my breath. Fourth date or not, she won’t convince me of anything until I can meet him face to face.”
Before I could make another defense to my brother, we were both distracted by the bright reflection of headlights against the living room window. Mom was home from her date—on one hand, Joshua and I enjoyed seeing her happy enough to date again. But, on the other hand, there were moments that it felt like we were losing our mom to these men she was going out with. Ever since her split with our father, she’d been all we had besides each other.
When the headlights outside the window shut off, Joshua and I made our way toward the front door to greet our mother. Although this was the fourth time she’d been out with this man, she had yet to introduce us to him. In fact, she had made it a point not to introduce us to any of the men she went out with. She claimed it was an effort to protect us but Joshua and I knew it was more about her not getting anyone’s hopes up.
We made our way over to the front door and waited for her to come through the door with her usual goofy grin on her face.
But that didn’t happen right away. Instead, we heard footsteps approach the door—more than one set. And then we heard two voices on the porch.
“Just give me a second to prepare them.” “I recognized my mother’s voice as the first one to speak.
“Prepare them? For what? I’m not some monster, you know.”
The other voice clearly belonged to my mother’s impatient date. I already didn’t know if I liked him.
“Joshua? Cassie?” I heard my mother call as she opened the front door.
“The man who was standing behind her was scary more than anything else. Josh was right. He was tall. Very tall. He had a full head of dark blonde hair and big eyes that were visibly blue even in the low lighting offered by the porch lights.
“Stand behind me,” Josh whispered as he placed himself in front of me.
I peeked my head around him to see what was going on.
“Kids, there is someone I would like the two of you to meet,” my mother said as she knelt to our level.
I noticed that she smelled different than when she went on her other dates. Fancy perfume? She must really like this guy. She also had on a different dress than she normally wore. It was all black with an open neckline and came down almost to her knees. She even had on her special pink pearls.
“Who?” Josh asked with anger.
Anytime Mom tried to introduce someone new to us, he got upset. He wasn’t close to our dad—neither of us was really. We were both too young, seven and five when they split, to truly understand what happened. We just knew that Mom was taking us to live with her for a while and Dad was staying back in North Dakota.
It wasn’t like she did this often. Of all the dates she’d been on in the years since she and Dad split there’d been only one other guy she attempted to introduce us to. Needless to say, it didn’t go well and we never saw him after our first encounter at the park. He turned out to be more into lying to our mother about his “passion for children” than actually proving it when he was within ten feet of us.
But with that guy, she didn’t break out any kind of special perfume or wear a fancier dress than normal and I’d only seen her wear her special pearls when she was gunning for her last big promotion at work.
Something about this guy on the porch was different. She saw something in him that she hadn’t seen in her other first or second dates. She saw something. I didn’t know what. And to be honest, I didn’t care much to know. I liked the way things had been between Mom and Josh and me lately. We’d made a home for ourselves in Ohio with Mom’s family all around and I liked that a lot. I wasn’t ready for something to interrupt that balance. I wasn’t ready for things to change again.
But judging by the look on my mother’s face as she started to explain who this man was, I knew that my wish wasn’t going to come true. In fact, the opposite was about to happen.
“I really think you two will like him if you just give him a chance. He’s a good guy,” she began.
“And let me guess,” Josh continued for her. “He’s so handsome and so sweet and he’s just dying to play daddy dearest to a couple of kids he’s never met before? Just like what was his name? Sean? Jason?”
“He is sweet and if you can just give him a chance, I think he will prove himself to you,” our mother insisted with pleading eyes turned toward Josh.
He sighed heavily and I felt his body start to relax in front of me. If he was willing to let his guard down, I supposed I could too.
“Fine. Show me this knight in shining armor,” he said with reluctant sarcasm.
Our mother stood from kneeling and opened the screen door for her mysterious date to come into our living room.
He entered slowly and knelt right down in front of both Josh and me with a warm, friendly smile on his face. I noticed that he smelled good too—maybe he liked my mom as much as she liked him.
“Hey, kids. My name is Jim. How do you do?” He asked and held out a hand for either of us to shake.
Josh cautiously reached his hand out and accepted this man’s offer. His eyes seemed to light up at Josh’s careful acceptance.
And then he turned his gaze toward me.
“What is your name sweetheart?” he asked with a gentle smoothness to his voice. He sounded as though he was trying to make himself sound smaller and softer so as to gain more of my trust.
I looked up at Josh first. Now that Dad wasn’t around, he was the one I looked up to the most. He always had my best interest at heart and did anything he could to protect me.
He nodded slightly as if to tell me it was okay to step forward and shake this stranger’s hand.
I took in a deep breath and stepped a small stretch forward with my hand held out before me. He was more eager about taking my hand in his than he was when he took Josh’s. His smile grew even wider than before and he pulled me close to him for a big hug.
I stiffened up immediately at the shock of being pulled into an embrace so suddenly—but after a moment, a sense of peace came over me and somehow, I felt it was okay to relax in this man’s arms. He hugged even tighter when my body relaxed in his arms.
I didn’t keep track of how long he held on to me, but it seemed like a long time before Josh finally had enough and interfered. This man set me down gently on the floor and moved toward our mother. He put a strong arm around her shoulders and it looked as though she melted under the pressure of his strength.
If I didn’t know any better, I would say that she was already in love with this man. I didn’t know how it could be possible—but I’d also never seen my mother look at anyone like that except for Josh and me.
The awkward silence that filled the room after our introduction was tangible. Finally, Mom couldn’t take it and broke it.
“Well kids, it’s getting late. Run off and brush your teeth and I’ll be in soon to tuck both of you in.”
“Can I sleep in Josh’s room tonight? Please?” I asked with my pathetic voice.
Mom usually let me sleep in Josh’s bottom bunk on the weekends and tonight of all nights, I felt the need to be close to him so we could talk about this man.
“Sure honey. As long as you two aren’t up all night.”
“Thank you!” I shouted and ran toward the bathroom.
Josh silently excused himself from the living room and followed me. Before we brushed our teeth, we hid behind the wall separating the living room and bathroom in hopes of hearing something good between Mom and her new man.
“So? What did you think?” she asked with hope.
Her date let out a deep breath before answering. “They seem like good kids. You’ve raised them well. They’re polite.”
“Who is he to judge us?” Josh muttered under his breath.
“Shh. I can’t hear with you talking,” I hissed.
“So, does that mean you liked them?” My mother asked with more hope.
The silence clearly made my mother nervous as I could hear her pacing back and forth.
“Yes. Yeah, I like them,” he said with heaviness.
“But?” My mothered sounded terrified.
“But…I’m not so sure they like me.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked in near panic.
“Well, you saw how they acted. They were terrified to even come near me.”
“That will change with time. They’re cautious. That’s a good thing,” she insisted.
“Yes, cautious,” he replied quietly.
“Hun, I promise you. They will come around. Just give them a chance to get to know you. I know my kids.”
“And how long am I expected to wait for them to decide I’m not some monster trying to steal their mother away from them? If we are to g through with this plan—”
“We are,” she stopped him short. “Our plan stands. I will talk to the children again tomorrow. You just worry about going home and packing your things. We only have a week before you move in.”
That comment was enough to send Josh and I barreling into his room. Shock was the easiest word to describe what covered our faces. But his melted into anger before mine changed to anything else.
“How could she do this to us?” Josh asked as he started pacing with fury in every step.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” I said with caution. I never knew how to handle Josh when he got angry like this. He reminded me of our father in that way.
“Won’t be so bad? She’s letting that guy, that, that stranger move in here with us! How can this possibly not be bad?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we just need to give him a chance. I trust Mom. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt us.”
“Cassie, you are so young. You don’t see what’s happening here?”
I looked at Josh. He stopped his pacing across the room from me and stared back at me.
I didn’t have an answer to his question, nor did I know if he was searching for one.
“Cassie, I can’t explain it. I don’t know how or why. I just know. There is something off about that guy. Something bad. I don’t know what it is.”
He let out a deep breath and sat on the bottom bunk. I walked over and sat beside him.
“Josh, I trust you. So, how about we make a deal. We stick together. We can’t stop Mom from doing whatever she’s going to do with that man—but we can stay with each other and if things get bad, we can handle them.”
“Handle them? What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. I just mean maybe we need to trust Mom like we have since we left home. She would never do anything to hurt us.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’m just saying that something doesn’t feel right about this guy and I don’t want him to come in and ruin what we have here.”
“I don’t want that either. But I also want Mom to be happy. She’s been miserable since she had to leave Dad. Don’t you want her to be happy too?”
“Of course I do!” Josh snapped fast.
“Then,” I said and placed my arm around him, “we stick together and let her have her happiness.”
He sighed again but looked at me with a smile forming.
“You are hopeless, you know that?”
I smiled and nodded. “But you love me anyway.”