Caring Christopher

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#52 That’s what friends are for

Abigail

It won’t be another ten minutes before Jagger’s curfew kicks in, but I already have a sinking feeling he won’t be home in time and I’ll have to tell him that he’s not getting his car anytime soon. I so don’t want to fight with him tonight. On top of that, Chris was supposed to be home by now, but he isn’t. He’s staying for one more day, and I hate that. I want him here with me, on the couch, watching TV while we wait for Jagger to get home from the party to see if he’s drunk or stoned.

Instead, I’m alone, worried sick about both of them. Chris hasn’t picked up his phone all night and only sent me two lame texts, which isn’t like him at all. When we talked earlier, right after the surgery, he sounded fine. Excited to get home. I don’t get why he’d be needed at the hospital tomorrow, and with him not answering my calls, I won’t find out.

My phone buzzes and I see it’s Caroline. We’ve kept in touch after that night she spent here earlier this week. She’s still up as well, complaining about Daisy waking her up with her loud crying, and Nathan snoring right through it all. I call her, wanting nothing more than a companion to share my misery with.

“Hey,” she says with a sigh. “If I sound tired or in pain, that’s only because I am.”

“In pain?” I ask, a little worried.

“Nauseous,” she corrects herself. “I’m pregnant again.”

“Oh, that’s great!” I cry out, shushing myself right after because I don’t want to wake up Yoah and Davy.

“Yeah, great,” she grumbled. “I found out yesterday. Trust me, I wasn’t planning on getting pregnant again this soon after Daisy, but Nate and I haven’t exactly been careful the past couple of months, so I guess it was just a matter of time before he’d knock me up again.”

“You don’t sound very happy about it,” I say carefully, not wanting to overstep.

“Nathan is so excited I think he’s going to hire one of those planes that writes words in the clouds to announce my pregnancy to the world,” she says with a smile in her voice. “Me… not so much. I mean, sure, I want more kids, but not this soon. Daisy hasn’t even celebrated her first birthday yet. I thought I’d get a little longer before I’d have a kid take over my body again.” She grunts. “I sound so ungrateful. I’m sorry. Shaughna told me about your struggle with your mother’s disease and passing on the gene and all that. You must think I’m so selfish. I know I should be over the moon right now.”

Oh. She knows. That surprises me, but maybe it shouldn’t. Chris told all his friends and I’ve been telling people too. I just didn’t realize that word would have already reached people who don’t even live in town, like Nathan and Caroline.

“It’s okay,” I assure her. “Just feel whatever you feel. I’m the last person who’s going to tell you that your feelings are wrong.”

“I’m sure I’ll be happy soon enough,” she says with a sigh. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone I’m pregnant yet, okay? I haven’t even been to the doctor’s office yet. The test said I’m only one week pregnant, so it’s way too early to tell people. Only Nathan knows. I haven’t even told Shaughna yet.”

I feel very special being the first one she’s told aside from her husband, even though the only reason is that I’m calling her late at night when she’s tried and feels vulnerable and emotional.

“What’s up with you?” Caroline asks, changing the subject.

“Chris isn’t home yet, and I think Jagger won’t make curfew, meaning that I’m going to be the one to discipline him.”

“Oh, and you were finally doing better,” Caroline says, sighing. “That sucks. Teenagers are hard. I’m glad that Daisy is still a baby and that the next one is just a tiny little peanut in my belly. Rose is turning 11 soon, so she’s still pretty sweet now. By the time she’s Jagger’s age she will surely be a raging bitch. No doubt about it.”

I laugh at her description of her stepdaughter. Even when she calls her a bitch, it’s clear that she loves the girl very much. “It’s fine, actually. Jagger is a handful, but he’s been doing better lately. I love the boy. He reminds me a lot of myself at his age, but I had too much going on to act out the way he is. I didn’t have any steady parental figure to piss off since I technically was the parental figure, so to speak.”

Caroline sighs sadly. “Yeah, I heard about that.”

“Car, is everyone…” I hesitate. “I mean, I don’t mind that you know, but surely not all of Chris’ friends and acquaintances sit around talking about me, right?”

“You told Aston,” she reminds me, laughing. “The guy is a sweetheart, but not exactly the best person to keep a secret. And Chris told all the guys. Dshawn always blabs to Shaughna, who can’t keep her mouth shut. She’s even worse than Aston. So no, we don’t sit around discussing your life, but we do all know the basics of what happened.”

“Great.” Whatever, it’s not like they’re treating me differently and I was technically the one who told Chris it was okay to discuss our private stuff with his friends. Still, it’s a little weird that so many people know about my past. I’ve never had many friends and my only family member has Alzheimer’s, so I am far from used to have anyone up in my business.

“Wait, did you say Chris isn’t home yet?” Caroline asks suddenly. “I thought he was coming come tonight?”

“Yeah, he was needed at the hospital for another day, but I don’t get why he won’t pick up his phone. Besides, Edward’s faster passed away and the funeral is tomorrow. It’s not like Chris to not be here for his friend. I have this gut feeling something is up, but I can’t figure out what.”

“Sure it will-”

Before she can finish her sentence, my phone buzzes with a waiting call. I frown at the number. It rings a bell in my head, but I must be wrong. Surely that can’t be… No… Surely not…?

Quickly, I tell Caroline I have to go and tap the screen to pick up the call that makes my heartbeat faster – and not in a good way.

“Hi,” I say breathless, unable to get out more than the one word.

“Am I speaking to Miss McCaulin?” a deep voice asks.

“Yes, this is Abigail McCaulin.”

“This is officer Tyson, and I’m calling to-”

“Fuck,” I mutter, my worst fear come to life. “You arrested Jagger, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” the officer confirms. “We wanted to reach his foster father, but Mr. Pillar told us that his Dad is out of state and that you’re the only person who can come pick him up. So I’m calling you first and then your…”

“Boyfriend,” I fill in, knowing that will sound better than boss. “What happened? Is he okay? Is he facing charges?”

“That remains to be seen. He’s alright though. A little banged up. Are you coming to pick up Mr. Pillar?”

“Yes, of course,” I say quickly. I want to know more, but Jagger needs me there as soon as possible. “I just need to find someone to watch the other kids. I’ll try to be there in twenty minutes.”

“Drive safe,” officer Tyson says, and then the line is dead.

Cursing, I run upstairs to get dressed, calling Aston first, since he lives closest. He doesn’t pick up, so I try his wife next. Luckily, Annabel picks up after only a few rings, sounding groggy. When I explain what’s going on, I hear her waking up Aston and telling him to hurry to our place. Five minutes later, the big broad black man is already on my front porch, pulling me in for a hug.

“It’ll be okay,” he assures me. “I’ll take care of the kids. How many do you have in the house tonight?”

That’s a fair question, since it seems like I hardly ever get to take care of just the three I get paid for. “Davy, Yoah and Freddie,” I say as I pull on my coat. “So sorry to wake you up and make you come over.”

“That’s what friends are for,” he says dismissively. “Now go, Abby.”

“Right.” I hug him one last time and them I’m off, jumping in my car and pulling out of the driveway faster than I ever have. I try calling Chris when I need to pause at a stop sign, but he doesn’t pick up. He better have a bloody good reason to ignore me tonight, or I will whoop his ass.

When I run into the police station, I spot Jagger right away. He is sitting on a chair in the small reception area, one arm around Celeste. She’s got a black eye and a band aid across her eyebrow, but Jagger looks far worse. His face is black and blue, the arm he bruised a while ago looks like it got hurt again, and the knuckles of both his hands are bleeding.

“Jagger,” I breathe, dropping to my knees in front of him. I pull him away from Celeste and into my arms.

“Abby,” he replies, sounding relieved. “You came.”

“Of course I came, you dipshit,” I mutter, pulling back to look him in the eye. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“It wasn’t his fault,” Celeste says softly, and I move my eyes to hers, surprised to see tears in them. “He was trying to defend me. I swear this wasn’t his fault. Don’t kick him out.”

“Kick him out?” I repeat. “Of course not.”

When Jagger lets out a haggard breath, I realize he and Celeste were worried that Chris and I wouldn’t want him anymore just because he got arrested. Poor kid. I’m pissed as hell that he got arrested, but I refuse to jump to conclusions. Besides, he’s sitting here in the front hall and not in a cell, so things can’t be too bad… right?

“Miss McCaulin?” a deep voice I recognize from over the phone says behind me.

I get up and turn around to shake the officer’s outstretched hand. He’s a few years older than I am, and he’s got the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He’s quite buff and his dark hair is slicked back, exposing his angular features. His smile is kind and reassuring.

“I’m officer Tyson,” he says, motioning for me to follow him to the front desk, a few feet away from Jagger and Celeste. “I reached Mr. Davids a few minutes ago, and he-”

Right on cue, my phone rings, and it’s Chris. I tell officer Tyson that I’ll be a minute and pick up. “Where the fuck have you been?” I ask angrily, letting out my frustration on him.

“I know,” Chris breathes. “I know. I’m so sorry. I just booked the next flight out. I’ll be home late in the morning.”

“In time for the funeral?” I ask, fearing the answer.

“Funeral?!” Chris asks loudly, sounding panicked. “I thought Jagger was arrested?!”

“Edward’s dad’s,” I remind him. “Focus, Chris. What’s going on with you today?”

“I’ll explain when I get home,” he replies, sounding desolate. “I fucked up. I’m sorry. How’s Jagger?”

“He seems… okay. Banged up, but okay. The officer is about to tell me what happened. I need to go. Get your ass home, Chris.”

“I will,” he vows. “I love you. Tell Jagger I love him too and to call me when you guys are home, okay?”

“Will do,” I bite back before hanging up. What does he mean he fucked up? I knew the hospital thing wasn’t true, but I can’t figure out why he would risk missing the funeral and stay away from his family longer than needed. It sounded like he forgot all about the funeral, which is so unlike my Chris. He’s got some explaining to do when he gets back. Right now, Jagger needs my full attention, so I turn back to officer Tyson and lean forward, my hands on the desk. “Okay, sorry about that. Tell me what happened.”

The officer nods. “My colleague and I responded to a complaint about noise nuisance from a party, and when we arrived, Mr. Pillar and another young man were fighting. They wouldn’t stop when we asked them multiple times and one of them fought back – not your boy – so we had to arrest them.”

“Where is the other boy?” I ask, looking around and not spotting anyone.

“In a cell,” Jagger says from behind me, sounding bitter. “Where that motherfucker belongs.”

“Language!” I shoot at him. “Is Jagger charged with anything?”

Officer Tyson shakes his head. “Not unless the other boy’s parents are pressing charges.”

“Which they won’t,” Celeste speaks up. “They’re drug addicts. I doubt they will ever show up to get him. Besides, he threw the first punch.”

“Yeah, at you,” Jagger grunts, his arm going around his girlfriend again, rubbing her arm. “Abby, I swear I wasn’t looking to get into a fight. I didn’t even drink tonight. Celeste and I were heading out to get into my car, in time for curfew and everything, and then this fucker showed up and he hit her, and I just…”

“He defended me,” Celeste explains, looking proud of Jagger.

“Why were you arrested?” I ask with a frown. “And where are your parents?”

“I hit an officer when he arrested Jagger,” she explains with a shrug. “My parents are in Dubai. Officer Tyson called my aunt, but she doesn’t live close, so I was hoping that I just be allowed to go home alone.”

“Can I take her?” I ask the officer, not sure what the rules are when teenagers get arrested.

“If her parents agree with that,” he says, already looking up the number so he can make the call. He steps into the office behind him, closing the door while giving me a reassuring smile.

“I’m so sorry,” Jagger says, his shoulders sagging. “I know I fucked up.”

“Fucked up?” I repeat, shaking my head and sinking to my knees again so we’re eye to eye. “Let me get this straight… You went to a party, didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, and was going to make curfew. A guy hit Celeste and you jumped in to defend her, right? And when the police showed up, you didn’t resist arrest, even though Celeste and the other guy were fighting with the cops?”

“Right,” he confirms. “But I-”

“That doesn’t sound like fucking up to me,” I decide, patting his knee and getting up when I hear officer Tyson behind me. “So?” I ask, realizing belatedly that I sound rude. “I mean… How did your talk with Celeste’s parents go?”

Officer Tyson smiles at me, his blue eyes sparkling. “They’re okay with you taking home Celeste.”

“Do we need to do something for the other guy as well?” I ask Celeste and Jagger, wanting to make sure I’ve got all bases covered.

“No!” they said in unison, looking angry for me even suggesting it.

“Who is he anyway?” I ask while I sign some documents officer blue-eyes hands me.

“My ex,” Celeste explains, looking down at the floor. For the first time since I’ve met her, I feel sorry for the girl. Truly sorry. Her parents are never in town, she basically lives alone, her ex is some kind of horrible guy with addicts for parents, she got assaulted tonight, and her current boyfriend is… well… Jagger. I love the kid, but he’s hardly a prince.

Officer Tyson motions for me to come closer and his voice drops to a whisper. “I think the girl is intoxicated,” he says quietly. “I didn’t do a drug test on her, because I think they’ve all been through enough for one night, but just so you know… I could smell the marijuana on her when we arrested her.”

“Oh God,” I murmur. “And Jagger?”

“I don’t think so,” he assures me. “He’s been perfectly calm and reasonable from the moment we put him in cuffs, and he calmed down his girlfriend as well. That’s not a bad kid you’ve got there.”

“I know,” I say with a sigh. “Just a really difficult teenager. Thanks for everything, officer Tyson.”

He holds out his hand again. “Call me James.”

“Abby.”

“I checked out their injuries,” James Tyson tells me. “They seem alright, but I think you should take them to the hospital just in case.”

“Definitely,” I agree, hating that Chris isn’t here to check them out himself. What the fuck is so important in New York that he’s not here when he needs to be? Sure, he couldn’t possibly know that Jagger would get arrested, but still. He should be here.

With everything taken care of, I get Jagger and Celeste into the car and drive them to the hospital, where they get checked out in the ER. To my surprise, Francesca is already there waiting for us, her bright pink hair pulled into a messy bun on top of her head and her scrubs looking worn.

“Chris called,” she explains, pulling me in for a hug. “I’m here for a night shift, so I decided to pop down to see how you’re doing.”

“It’s not me you need to worry about,” I grunt, pointing at Jagger’s arm and Celeste’s black eye.

Francesca nods and she and a colleague start checking their vitals, doing a concussion test, and cleaning and dressing their wounds. I sink down on a chair next to the examination stretched Jagger is sitting on. He winces when Fran moves his arm. Luckily, it’s only sprained, not broken. Still, it looks like it hurts.

“I’m so sorry,” he keeps telling me. “I swear I didn’t start anything.”

“I know,” I assure him. “Officer Tyson told me you were calm and polite. You were defending Celeste. It’s okay, Jagger. I’m not angry with you.”

“You’re not kicking me out?” he asks, still wounding worried. “And Chris? Is he mad?”

I’m not sure what the fuck Chris is right now, but I can’t tell Jagger that. “Chris told me that he loves you and that he wants you to call him. He will be home tomorrow. I know he is not going to kick you out either, Jagger.”

“And the adoption?” he asks softly, tears in his eyes.

“Still on track,” I assure him. “Stop worrying, Jagger. Our love for you isn’t conditional.”

He nods, relieved. “Thanks, Abby.”

“Did I just hear you say officer Tyson?” Fran asks, her eyes finding mine when she’s done bandaging Jagger’s sprained and bloody wrist.

“Yeah,” I say, surprised she is latching onto that bit of information. “James Tyson.”

Her face lights up with a fond smile. “Jagger and Celeste are very lucky that he was working tonight.”

“You know him?”

She nods and laughs softly. “You could say that. He’s my ex-boyfriend.”

Before I can ask her about that, Celeste steps up to us. The nurse is done with her since she wasn’t banged up as badly as Jag is. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers, sitting down on the edge of the stretcher. “This is all my fault.”

“No,” Jaggers says in a kind, caring voice. “It’s not. That asshole never deserved you. A man that would hit a woman isn’t worth shit.”

“Celeste?” I ask, putting a hand on her knee. “When are you parents coming home?”

She shrugs. “In a week or so? But I’m sure they won’t be here for long. They never stick around for more than a few days.”

“How about you stay with us for a while?” I say, even though I know that will make life in our house even more difficult. I don’t feel right sending hurt teenage girl home to an empty house when she was just assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. “At least until your parents are home?”

“I’d like that,” she says, putting her hand over mine. “Thanks, Abby.” With her this close, I can clearly smell the pot on her, just like officer Tyson told me. I need to discuss this with Chris to figure out what to do about her. We need to talk to her parents as well. This is getting out of hand.

Franny finishes working on Jagger and smiles at me. “You’re good to go. No concussions or broken bones. Just a few sprains, some cuts and bruises. Give the kids some painkillers before they go to bed and have them drink lots of water. They should be fine. I’m sure Chris will give them a check-up the moment he gets home.”

“Yeah,” I agree, getting up and stretching my sore limbs. “Thanks, Fran. It was good to have you here.”

“That’s what friends are for,” she assures me, pulling me in for a tight hug. “Chris wants me to tell you he’s sorry,” she murmurs so quietly that the kids won’t be able to overhear. “He said he will explain everything and to ask you call him the second you get home.”

I break free from her and nod, not in the mood to talk about this. I already know Chris and I are going to have a fight. I don’t know what’s going on, but the fact that he keeps apologizing, on top of him not answering his phone and the gnawing feeling in my gut that something is wrong tells me that it’s his turn to beg for forgiveness and my time to be mad.

I can’t even begin to guess at what’s going on. Maybe he got a job offer in New York and wants to stay there? Or maybe he got drunk and slept with someone? Surely that can’t be it… right?

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