Warning Signs

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The Hardest Part


"Okay pipsqueak, daddy should be here in two minutes. You just sit tight in your highchair, maybe daddy will help give you your dinner." I laughed as Henry let out a little grunt and banged his baby spoon on the tray of his highchair.

"Yeah, you're right, dessert first, just in case Daddy's not to good at this." I scooped up some bananas from the baby food jar and offered it to Henry, he opened his mouth happily to accept the food.

I couldn't help it, and I knew you could hear it in my voice. Matthew was going to knock on our door any second now, and believe it or not, my mind was racing on how this might turn out.

I glanced nervously at the clock. It was already ten after six. An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Maybe he wasn't going to come after all, maybe he forgot, maybe he found something better to do, maybe he was at a bar.

I grabbed a few stray magazines off the countertops on my way to the kitchen, my eyes purposely avoiding looking at the beautiful vase of red roses sitting there. Those roses were a gift from Clay and I didn't want to think about him right now.

Three short raps on my door made me spin around quickly. I forced myself to take a deep breath. Finally, he was here.

"I don't think I can go through with it." I didn't look Dr. Whitewater in the eyes. My fingers tangled up in my hair as I tried to ease my anxiety.

"Why not Mr. Steele? What's holding you back?" Dr. Whitewater's voice held genuine concern.

I hated to admit it. I wanted to run, run right out of that office and hide somewhere. Ever since last night I've been fighting those old demons. They made me toss and turn in bed, made me sweat, made me crave. And I hated that.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "I'm just not sure." I lied. I had no idea how to tell Dr. Whitewater about this. "I just don't think I am ready."

You see, I've been working so hard to get to this point. The point where I could be with Sarah and my son. I wanted to be back in their lives, but my moving forward would mean one more thing, one more thing I would have to do, and it was scaring me.

"You were ready last week." Dr Whitewater still didn't move, although his voice lowered a bit.

I finally looked up at him. He sat there watching me and I knew he could see right through me, he already knew why I didn't want to go.

"You promised her you would go tonight." He said pointedly, "You promised her, imagine how she is going to feel if you don't show up."

I blinked twice at him. She isn't going to feel anything, nothing, I wanted to say, except maybe relief. I just shrugged, diverting my gaze over to the windows.

"What's making you change your mind? You were elated the other day when you told me she invited you over."

I gave in, shifting in my seat with a small sigh. I didn't know if this was going to be the hardest part but it sure felt like it. "Cause I'm going to have to tell her." I paused not really wanting to continue.

"Tell her what?" Dr. Whitewater pressed.

"Tell her I'm an alcoholic." I closed my eyes, "Tell her that I spent more nights drunk than not, that my life is truly pathetic, that I am pathetic." And I really didn't want to admit to my wife that I was a failure, she already knew that, she knew what I was. But in order to ask for forgiveness, I needed to tell her kind of man I been then, and what kind of man I was now.

"Hmmm" Dr. Whitewater's soft hum made me open my eyes and look at him. He gave me a small sad smile. "Why don't you just start with telling her you're sorry?" He cocked his head to the side, eyebrows raised.

I was early. Like two hours early. I felt like a stalker, sitting in my car nearly a block away watching the house. I shouldn't be here like this but the talk I had earlier with Dr. Whitewater played over and over in my head.

Why was talking to her so difficult? Why was I trying to avoid it? I used to be able to tell her anything. What kind of man was I now?

So I sat there and watched the sun duck and hide behind the rows of houses and trees. I watched all the other vehicles drive up and down the block arriving from their hard day at work. I watched the children run out to greet their mothers and fathers and give them great big bear hugs.

Would I ever get a hug like that from Henry?

My thoughts jumbled and spun around in my head as I gripped the steering wheel. I wanted my life back so bad. I wanted to come home from work and pull into that driveway. I wanted Henry to run out and greet me with Sarah standing at the door. I wanted to walk up that walkway and pull her into my arms and tell her I loved her.

As hard as it seemed I was determined to apologize to Sarah tonight, and Henry too. And I would tell her anything she wanted to know.

"Doesn't he look so peaceful?" Sarah's soft voice drifted up around us as we both stood over Henry's bassinet.

"He's just beautiful." I half whispered back, still in awe of this precious miracle that was given to us.

"He looks just like you." She giggled quietly, starting to tug at my hand to pull me away from Henry's nursery.

"He looks like you." I stressed, "Beautiful, nothing like me at all." I let her lead me out into our living room.

Henry was eight weeks old yet Sarah still had this amazing glow about her, just like she did when she was pregnant.

"I talked to Amy today, she said she can start next month." Sarah smiled at me, that perfect sweet smile.

But suddenly the air in the room shifted, grew tighter, and I found myself struggling with what I wanted to say.

"What?" That was the only thing that came out of my mouth, "Who?"

"Amy, remember? I told you last week, she said she would babysit for us. I need to go back to work."

I could feel my eyebrows furrow and I pushed back my annoyance, yes Sarah had told me about Amy last week and I ignored her. Pretended not to hear her. The truth of the matter was that I didn't want Sarah to go back to work. I wanted her to stay home with Henry.

I shook my head at her, "I don't remember anything." I pulled up abruptly from the sofa to avoid continuing the conversation. "We don't need a babysitter, besides I haven't even met her yet."

"I told you," Sarah stood up also, I could hear the strain in her voice. "Amy comes highly recommended, and highly sought after. If I don't give her an answer by the end of the week she'll go to someone else."

"Then let her." I shrugged, "We don't need her."

"Yes we do Matthew. I'm supposed to be back in my office beginning next month. We need someone to watch the baby while I'm gone. It's only part time so far." Now she sounded just mad, it made me angry in return.

"She can't be the only one," I walked down to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and grabbing a bottle of water. "So what if she gets hired by another family, we can find someone else."

"But Matthew, I really want her, my coworker said she was the best and I want the best, for Henry."

I was suddenly tired of this conversation, didn't she realize that she was the best for Henry? I turned my body away from her, I didn't want to continue this with her. "I have to go." I glanced down at my watch, "Joe is waiting for me."

Sarah just nodded, her eyes full of sadness. She quietly moved out of the way letting me pass. I didn't look at her anymore, it was too hard, and that guilty pit in my stomach was making me queasy.

I was glad that Joe was home when I reached his place, even more glad that Roxy wasn't there.

"What are you doing here Matt? It's late." Joe was surprised to see me at his doorstep.

"I'm glad you're home. Can I come in?"

Joe eyed me with worried eyes. "Sure come on in. What's up?"

I walked over and threw myself down on his recliner, the one he loved to watch all his basketball games in. "Sarah wants to go back to work."

Joe just raised his eyebrows at me, lowering himself onto his sofa. "Okay," he said, his voice held a hint of confusion, "Sarah's job is important."

"More important than Henry?" I stared at him.

"Oh I see," He leaned back into the sofa, "You don't want her to go back to work?"

"No." Wasn't that clear? Hadn't I made that perfectly clear to Sarah?

"Did you tell her that?" Joe crossed his arms in front of him, shooting me an accusing look. I rolled my eyes at him.

"Of course I told her that." But even as the words came out of my mouth something in the back of my head was telling me that no, I hadn't told her anything.

"What did she tell you when you told her you don't want her to go back to work?"

"Nothing. She didn't say anything. She won't even listen to me." I shook my head at him trying to shake that nagging feeling.

"But you guys talked about it right? Not fight, just talk?" Joe was frowning at me as if he could see something in me that I couldn't see.

"Sort of." I just shrugged, not really sure of the answer. We had talked, there were no angry words, that meant talking, didn't it?

"What do you mean sort of?" He gave me this exasperated look, it kind of ticked me off.

"I don't know." I threw up my hands, my voice tight, "She kept bugging me about this Amy person, she wants to hire her to watch Henry. I don't even know who she is! Why can't she just stay home with our son? Why does she even want to go back to work?"

"Whoa, hold on little brother." Joe was half rising from his seat, "You know Sarah's an independent woman. You knew that when you met her, you knew that when you married her, and you knew that when she got pregnant. Her job is important to her, she worked really hard to get where she is, you can't take that away from her."

His words sank in, he was making sense, even back in college Sarah was always determined and hardworking. She knew exactly what she wanted out of her life, and she knew how to get it. She loved her job and was damn good at it. She worked with so many foster children, trying to change their lives, those kids depended on her and her boss loved her.

I was at loss for words as I watched Joe shake his head at me.

"Matt you need to talk to her, don't forget, her feelings are important too, and the only way you will figure out what she is feeling is if you talk to her."

A little before five I saw a bright red convertible Mustang pull up into Sarah's driveway. I knew who it was before I even saw him. He slid out of the car with ease, his dark hair slicked back. He was always so smooth, even back in high school, flashing that million dollar smile to the people around him. It usually got him anything he wanted and I fought with my annoyance as he excited his vehicle. He was wearing a crisp black business suit and holding this enormous bouquet of red roses in his hands.

He didn't knock, or use a key either, Sarah was at the door even before he reached it. He was grinning at her and pressed a kiss to her cheek before they both entered the house.

Anger coursed through my veins at the sight and my imagination went into overdrive as the door closed. What the fuck was going on between them? I gripped the steering wheel tightly, I didn't want Clay anywhere near Sarah. I always thought he wanted her, even back when Sarah and I first started dating. The first time Clay met Sarah was at Joe's place.

Sarah and I had gone over to Joe's for his birthday. All of Joe's and Roxy's friends were there including Clay. The minute I introduced Clay to Sarah I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his tone that he was attracted to her. His smile was to bright, his eyes all lit up, he literally tried to maneuver his body between Sarah and me just to talk to her.

She was polite to him of course. She shook his hand and made small talk. It bothered me to no end, and now I sat in my car wondering how long he'd been coming around. If he just been waiting in the sidelines all along until I screwed up, so he could take my place.

Unless, he already taken my place.

So I fumed for a while, fighting the urge to drive away. Trying to control my imagination from conjuring up pictures of what was happening behind those closed doors.

I was entertaining the idea that Sarah actually invited me over with Clay there until I saw the door open again. Clay was leaving. He gave Sarah a quick hug, got in his car and drove off. She leaned against the doorway until his car was out of sight and then went back inside.

I tried not to let it confuse me, telling myself she could do as she well pleased, she was no longer tied to me. But I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing was just wrong, that I was missing something, some little piece to the puzzle that would make perfect sense.

I also wanted to kick Clay's ass.

I purposely waited ten minutes after six before ringing the bell, just to see if I could read any reaction in her eyes when she answered the door. I shouldn't be playing games, I knew better than that, but just once, just this once I needed some little sign that would tell me it would all be okay.

Sarah opened the door. She looked beautiful, and I immediately regretted being late, losing those precious minutes with her. Her eyes washed over me worriedly and I hated myself for making her worry.

"Hi, sorry I'm late." I quickly apologized, looking up into her eyes.

She gave me a quick small smile and opened the door wider to let me in, "Oh that's okay, I didn't realize it was after six."

I struggled with defeat, trying not to let her see it.

"Come on in, Henry is just finishing up his dinner. It's always easier to feed him first, that way we can eat in peace." She let out this forced laugh, her eyes darting at me quickly. I smiled at her to show her I understood and made my way over to Henry's high chair, purposely avoiding looking at the brilliant red roses sitting proudly in their vase near the kitchen.

"Hey little guy." I gave Henry a bright smile and watched as he banged his spoon on the tray of his high chair. He gave me a toothy grin and shoved a small piece of what looked like bread into his mouth.

"Henry loves pumpkin break for dessert." Sarah's voice was still a bit strained, she walked over to the other side of the high chair and moved some of the food around on Henry's tray.

"Pumpkin bread." I couldn't help but give Sarah a smile. "That's my favorite too."

She sort of pressed her lips together, I wasn't sure if she was suppressing her smile or what, but she said, "I know."

Dinner started out a bit rough. We ate in near silence. Sarah began making small talk about Henry's day, their walk to the park, how he was fascinated by the birds. I stared at her the whole time, trying to listen but not really. I wanted to come right out and ask her what Clay was to her, if he was living there, in our house. If she was sleeping with him, if she loved him. It pretty much took over my brain, didn't let me concentrate on what she was talking about.

"We're going on Saturday, I think it will be fun for him to see."

I finally forced my brain to focus on Sarah's words. She was talking about the weekend. I nodded my head at her pretending to know where they were going.

"Do you think he would like it?" She asked, tilting her head to the side with a knowing look. She knew me well, even after all this time, she could tell when I wasn't listening.

"I think he would." I tried to play it off, wondering if she was pissed that I hadn't been paying attention.

"You don't think he would be scared?" This time her voice held a hint of playfulness. I could feel my heart jump at her tone, it made me nervous. I wanted to hear more of it.

"What could possibly scare him?" I asked, letting my own voice indicate that I was playing along. She giggled, and when she did that I was catapulting back into time.

"You mean you don't think anything there could frighten him? Maybe startle him?" She smiled at me, mocking me, and this time I could see it. Her smile was real, it was the smile of the woman I married.

"Not off the top of my head, no." I joked. I had no idea what I was talking about.

She laughed out loud, "What about the animals?" She questioned, raising her eyebrows at me. I just wrinkled my nose at her. "Or the loud noises?"

Could she be talking about the zoo?

"And I'm worried that the clowns could scar him for life." More laughter came from her voice.

Okay now she was teasing me. She knew I had a thing with clowns. She was messing with me. My mouth was open but nothing was coming out. She baited me and I walked right into it.

Her laughter echoed all through the dining room and when Henry joined in I had to laugh with them. Her face was totally relaxed and she let her hands rest on the table. That beautiful face ignited a spark in me and I knew I wanted her.

"Really Sarah," I pretended to frown, "Clowns? That's just wrong."

She laughed again and shook her head at me, "I'm talking about the carnival, that's what you get for not listening to me." She scolded.

I raised my hands in defeat. "I think he would love the carnival."

"It would be his first time." She said almost softly. The look in her eyes was making me feel a little lightheaded.

I was at a loss for words there and almost glad when Henry started complaining in his baby babble to be let loose from his high chair.

I watched as Sarah cleaned him up, wiping his face with a wet cloth. He complained some more, waving his tiny hands in front of his face, trying to shoo her off of him. She turned to me as she was about to remove the tray. "Would you like to hold him?"

I didn't know what to say but I realized what she was offering. "Do you think he would come with me?" I asked as she lifted him up.

"We'll find out." She turned and placed him in my arms. He was stiff at first, watching me with those wide eyes. I gave him a smile and tried to bounce him a little. "There are some toys in the living room, why don't you offer him one? I'll finish up here."

I tried to move quickly before Henry could burst out crying. It seemed like he was going to cry any minute now, and I was relieved when he accepted the stuffed monkey I held up to him.

With my son and his monkey safe in my arms I moved past the furniture and over to the fireplace. Along the mantle were some pictures of Henry, two round candles, and a small gold figurine. It was some sort of trophy, it caught my eye and I moved closer to get a better look at it. The figure was a man, he was holding a baby. Inscribed on the base were the words World's Best Dad.

A lump formed in my throat, that wasn't mine. I never owned a trophy like that. And if it wasn't mine, then that meant it was his, it was Clay's.

I moved away from it as fast as I could. I took a few steps back wishing I hadn't seen it, hoping it wouldn't make me crave later. I spun around trying to shake the feeling and nearly collided into Sarah. Her eyes went wide and she took an awkward step back at my sudden movements.

"Oh!" her arms reflexively flung out as she stumbled backward.

Before I could even think about what was happening, my arm shot out and wrapped itself around her, pulling her towards me. Her body sprung forward and she reached out gripping onto my shoulder as she collided into me.

I was so focused on not letting her fall and not letting Henry get hurt in the process that my brain didn't realize she was pressed completely against me. It wasn't until I heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers digging into my shoulder that my own heart began beating wildly at her closeness.

Neither of us moved. Sarah's eyes remained focused onto my chest as she breathed heavily. The top of her head was right under my chin and I could smell the sweet scent of shampoo in her hair. It swirled all around me, reminding me of the past and promising me a future.

My chest tightened painfully, it was all so close, we were all here the way we should be.

Henry did what I wished I had done. He reached out with his baby hand and placed it softly on her hair. She looked up then, first at me and then at Henry. When he saw her looking at him, he stretched his arms out to her asking to be held.

She reached for him and I let him go, letting my other arm fall away from Sarah's waist. There were a few more seconds of silence until Sarah finally spoke.

"Thank you." Her voice was low and she averted her eyes, keeping them off my face.

"Sarah," I wanted to tell her now. I'm not sure why, maybe just having her close to me gave me enough courage. "I'm sorry." There was more I wanted to say but my voice was catching in my throat.

She looked up at me trying to blink back tears. It just made me all more choked up, but still I tried, "I'm really sorry."

She didn't let me finish, she turned her body away from me, squatting down to pick up the monkey that had fallen out of Henry's arms.

"It's okay," She said, her words were slow and careful. "It was my fault, I'm such a klutz."

She was trying to avoid it, and I couldn't let it go. Maybe it was the fact that another man's trophy was up on that mantle, or his roses sitting in a vase in our kitchen, or just the fucking fact that he even existed in our lives made me squat down beside her and place my hand on her arm.

"No." My voice was strong. I felt strong. "That's not what I'm talking about. I need to apologize to you Sarah, to both of you, and I need to do it right now."


The look in those beautiful green eyes was making me shake. His fingers rested on my arm and I wanted to pull away, not because I didn't want him to touch me, but because I wanted him to touch me. And it hurt so much, to have him so close but at the same time so far away.

I'm not sure what made him so scared up on that fireplace. Maybe seeing Henry's baby pictures and how fast he was growing made him realize all that he was missing. There was nothing else up there but candles and a figurine that Matt's dad had given me on the first Father's day Henry had, it was supposed to be for Matt, but Matt wasn't there.

Now all I could see was him spinning around so fast his eyes full of what looked like pure fear. The same look I seen on him when he was drunk. I just took a frightened step back and lost my balance.

But he caught me, and when he touched me again my heart just wouldn't listen to my brain anymore. I knew I already lost this battle, perhaps I never even won.

He probably saw that in me, even though I wouldn't let him see my eyes. I did the first thing I could think of to avoid looking at him. I reached down and picked up Henry's stuffed monkey. I was still scooping up the little thing when Matthew's hand was on my arm. His voice was clear and determined. His skin felt so warm against mine and his finger slid up to my shoulder. It forced me to look at him. I held my breath so he wouldn't be able to tell what I was feeling. Those eyes pierced right into my heart and I couldn't look away anymore even if I wanted to.

"No," He kept his gaze fixed on me, "That's not what I'm talking about. I need to apologize to you Sarah, to both of you, and I need to do it right now."

But I wasn't ready. Even though my heart was pounding out of my chest and my ears were aching to hear those words. I wasn't ready.

So I did what felt like the hardest part. I pulled away from him, making up some excuse about how I needed to get Henry ready for bed, thanking him for coming tonight, trying to usher him out the door.

Still he kept at it. Moving in front of me, trying to get my attention. He made me look at him again and I kept avoiding him, all while pleading with God to forgive me, to give me strength. It was like a dance in slow motion, we maneuvered all around each other, him trying to catch me, and me dancing out of reach.

When the knock came at the door I froze. It was late, that knock could only mean one thing, and I didn't know how I was going to deal with it all.

She was scared. I scared her. I could tell by the look in her eyes, the way she kept turning away from me, trying to avoid me. But I was suddenly more determined than ever to make her listen to me.

"Sarah please," I made my way around her. She was trying to get to the front door, making up some excuse about how Henry was tired.

"Thanks for coming Matthew, Henry enjoyed it, but he's really sleepy now." Her voice shook, she brushed past me her eyes fixed on the floor.

"Sarah, I just need a minute. Sarah, please look at me, just for a minute." I got in front of her, trying to cut off her path to the door. She just shook her head, her arms securely wrapped around Henry. She turned her body slightly and tried to slip past.

"He gets really fussy if I don't get him to sleep on time." Again she moved quickly, shifting Henry in her arms. He was gurgling happily at all the movements, clearly not sleepy at all.

The knock at the door startled both of us. Sarah half jumped at the sound and I twisted my head around at the noise and then back to her.

The minute my eyes met hers I knew who was at the door. I could see it all over her face. She probably wasn't expecting him back so early. I bet he didn't even know I was here.

My first instinct was anger, but that quickly faded into panic. If I didn't do it now then I wouldn't get my chance tonight, so I did the first thing that came to mind.

I reached out with both hands grasping her by the shoulders and encircling her and Henry in my arms. I didn't give her a chance to react, I leaned my body into hers and tilted my head.

Her eyes went wide at my nearness but that didn't stop me. The second our lips met everything faded into the background. My whole world went blank. I couldn't see or hear anything except the woman in front of me.

Her body was stiff at first, and I was sure she was going to pull away from me and scream, but when a second or two gone by and she was still there, standing in my arms, I felt her respond, just a little bit, but it was more than enough.

Her mouth felt so soft, just the was I remembered it. I wished I could trace the curve of her cheek, but instead I tried to soften my kiss as much as I could, hoping she would remember how good we once were.

We both ignored the knocking and eventually it stopped. It was Henry who made us break apart. He began protest our nearness. He didn't like me so close to his mother.

She gave out this tiny sound, it sounded like a half gasp, half sob as we stepped away from each other. She was looking at me though, she didn't break our gaze.

"Please baby." I whispered to her, begging her for a chance. "I'm so sorry for everything I did to you and Henry. I know I hurt you."

Sarah was frozen in place. A few stray tears escaped her eyes and she didn't bother brushing them away. I needed to keep going, to keep trying to make her understand. "I promise you, that from here on out I will do everything I can to make it up to you. You two are my whole world and it kills me knowing that I hurt the people who I love the most. I was just so lost, losing Joe, it hurt so bad. I'm so sorry Sarah."

She was sobbing now and I wanted to pull her into my arms again and just keep begging her for forgiveness, but I knew that the only way Sarah would believe anything I had to say was to prove it to her. I placed my hand on Henry's backside rubbing softly, he was resting his head on Sarah's shoulder, his expression somber, as if he knew just how important this conversation really was, how much was riding on this.

We stayed that was but this time the silence wasn't quite so scary or threatening. It was almost peaceful, with just a hint of promise that we could have a future together once more.

When we heard the knocking on the door again it pissed me off. With an abrupt turn I stalked over to the door and flung it open.

I was done staying out of Clay's way. If he wanted Sarah he was going to have to go through me. And he was going to have to start tonight because there was no way I was letting my family go without a fight.

I didn't know if this was going to be the hardest part of the night, but it was time for me to find out.

Because he was gone, the old Matthew, he was gone.

And he left me.

Smarter. Stronger.

And for that, I was grateful.

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