Caring Christopher

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#54 Not a fucking doormat


“Where the fuck is Chris?” Jagger hisses at me, his eyes searching the church.

“Don’t swear in here,” I chastise him, leading him, Celeste, Yoah and Davy to a pew in the back. I tell Jagger to watch the kids, and take off to find Edward, who is standing in the front with his mother and his brother. There are some kids there as well – probably Edward’s brother’s kids – and a guy in his early twenties, who is comforting Freddie. When I hear Freddie call him bro, I realize this must be the teenager that Edward fostered for a few years. He is now in college, but it’s nice to see he came here for the funeral of his foster grandfather, or whatever the term is.

“I’m glad you came,” Edward says, pulling me in for a hug. “You’ve been my rock this week, Abby.”

I shrug off his praise. All I did was watch Freddie and cook meals for Edward. That’s not a big deal. It’s the least I could do for Chris’ best friend.

“Where’s Chris?” Edward asks, looking around.

“His trip to New York went long, but he just texted me to tell me he will make it in time,” I say, hating how bitter I sound. I don’t want anyone to pick up the fact that everything is not okay. Today is about grieving and supporting others, not about whatever the fuck is going on between me and Chris.

I shake some hands and offer my condolences before making my way back to the kids. Aston and Annabel just arrived – without the kids – and they are sitting with my kids, chatting to them.

“Rough night?” Aston asks, gesturing at Jagger and Celeste. They are black and blue, wearing their band aids and bandages like medals of honor.

“The worst,” I grunt, sinking down next to him, glad that Annabel is making sure the kids behave. I can’t take much more. I’m spent.

“Where’s Chris?” he asks, looking around the church. “Is he with Edward?”

I shrug. “He’s not here yet.”

“He didn’t come with you?” Aston studies my expression. “Oh shit. What did you do this time?”

“Me?” I ask, forcing myself to keep my voice down. “I’ve been fucking perfect all damn week. Besides, how would me doing something stupid cause Chris to miss the service for his best friend’s father?” The burial was yesterday, close family only, and today is the service to remember him. The whole place is packed.

“Oh, did he screw up?” Aston asks, looking surprised. “Why isn’t he here?”

My phone buzzes and I see it’s Chris, telling me he arrived a moment ago, asking me if I can meet him at the car. I sigh and ask Aston to watch the kids for me, even though Annabel has it covered already. The service will start soon, but I have about five minutes to spare, I think. Just enough time to see Chris and drag his stupid ass in here.

The church is surrounded by greenery, almost like a park, so it takes a moment before I’m back in the parking lot, where Chris is leaning against his car that I borrowed to get here. He looks like shit, to be honest. Still in his outfit from the plane, his suitcase beside him. The blonde curls I love so much are so messy it almost looks like he’s been pulling at them all night long.

“Hey,” he says when I reach him, and I see his eyes are bloodshot.

Part of me wants to hug him close and never let go, but I can tell he feels guilty about something, so I’m not keen on touching him right now. I need to know what he did first. He talked to Jagger on the phone for over an hour last night, and then Jag handed the phone to me, but I hung up after about two minutes, refusing to speak to Chris about whatever is going on. I needed to focus on the kids, not on whatever he did.

Most of all, I wanted to make him suffer. Yeah, that’s childish and horrible, and all it did was make me suffer right along with him, tossing and turning all night while I came up with a million different scenarios of what happened in New York. I didn’t like any of them.

“Hey,” I say after a long stretch of silence. “Let’s go.”

“I need to put my suitcase in the car first,” he says, gesturing down at it. “I had a cab drop me off here and I don’t have my car keys.”

“Right.” I unlock the trunk and throw his bag in. “Done. Let’s go.”

“Abby,” Chris says softly while he follows me. “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, we do,” I agree. “Not now, though. The service is about to start. Edward needs you in there. We’ll sort out our mess later.”

“Okay,” he agrees, picking up the pace to keep up with me. “Just know that I’m sorry.”

“That doesn’t help when I don’t know what the fuck you’re sorry for,” I hiss. “Just tell me one thing, Chris. How mad will I get when you tell me?”

“Very mad,” he replies immediately.

Well, crap. I glance at him from the side and frown at his guilty expression. “It’s about a woman, isn’t it?”

He nods. “I ran into Gianna.”

“Your ex-wife Gianna?” I grunt when he nods. “Fucking hell, Chris. What the hell happened in New York? Did you kiss her or something?” To my surprise, his cheeks turn bright red. “You kissed her?” I ask, feeling all the blood drain from my face.

“Not exactly,” he says, “but I did fuck up.”

“Not exactly?” I repeat. We’re in front of the church doors now, but instead of pushing them open, I turn to him. “What does that even mean? Did her lips touch yours or not?”

“Yes,” he says, looking down at the floor. “Technically they did, but-”

“I can’t do this now,” I decide, knowing I will break if we have this conversation. Before he can protest, I push open the door to let us in just in time for the service.

I don’t want to sit next to Christopher right now, but I know I have to. There is no way I can make him sit somewhere else without drawing attention to our fight. He says a quiet hello to the kids, Annabel and Aston when he sits down.

“Why does he look like he wants to lie down and die?” Aston whispers in my ear when I settle down between him and Chris.

“Aston,” I grunt, shaking my head. “Inappropriate.”

“Oh, right,” he realizes, not fazed at all. “My bad.”

The service starts, and we all fall silent. It’s a beautiful celebration of the life of Edward’s father, and when we’re half an hour in, I have to wipe away a few tears, as do most of the others in the church. Christopher’s hand finds mine and I squeeze it before I realize that we’re fighting and pull back like he burned me. I can’t believe this is happening right now. Chris was the last person I expected to ever hurt me, but he’s doing a damn good job right now.

After an hour, all the kids in the room are getting antsy, so it’s a good thing that all the bible verses, poems, fond memories and songs are finally over. It was getting hard to keep Davy quiet, and he’s way better behaved than some of the other kids I already heard complaining out loud. I’ve got the good kids for once.

When the service is over and we’re all invited to light a candle, I tell Chris to go talk to Edward while I take the kids up front where the candles are. He agrees and takes off without even looking at me.

“What did he do?” Aston whispers, still sticking close to me while I heard the four kids to the front of the church.

“Not now,” I hiss back, not wanting to get into this before I’ve talked to Chris.

“Don’t break up with him, okay?” Aston pleads in a low tone. “He’s a great guy, Abby. I don’t know what he did, but men fuck up sometimes. Even perfect men like Chris. Cut the poor guy some slack.”

Oh. My. God. Why can’t he just shut up? And why does he assume that I’m being too hard on Chris? For all I know he cheated on me in New York. I think I’ve got every reason to be flipping mad.

“Hey!” Brittany and Jaxon join us, and her high-pitched voice carries through the large space. “What is up with you and Christopher?”

“Shut up,” I breathe, giving her a hard look. “I don’t want the kids to catch on.”

“Oh no, what did you do?” Jaxon asks, shaking his head.

“Okay, I’m done,” I decide, throwing up my hands. “You guys watch the kids. I’m out. I need… I don’t know what I need. I can’t do this.”

Before anyone can stop me, I turn around and storm out of the church. I go straight to the car, where Celeste and Jagger left their coats. I need a smoke right now, and they always have a lighter and some cigarettes on them, even today. With a sigh, I light one and put the others in my own coat. It’s been years since I last had a cigarette, but boy, does it feel good to give in to the urge right now. If this isn’t a moment to release some stress, I don’t know what is.

“Abby?” Jagger is right in front of me, looking at me with wide eyes. “Why the fuck are you smoking?”

“Funerals are hard for me,” I lie. Sure, I don’t like them, but that’s not why I’m flipping out right now. “I’ll buy you a new pack, don’t worry. Wait… no I won’t. You shouldn’t smoke.”

“Neither should you,” he counters with a small smile. “Light one for me, will you?”

I hand him the one I was smoking and get a new one for myself. We lean against the car in comfortable silence, enjoying our cigarettes together. When I light myself a second one, he holds out his hand and I give it to him, grabbing another one and lighting it while I place it into my mouth. Damn, I missed this. Why did I ever stop smoking? Oh, right, cancer and stuff.

“Are you guys seriously smoking?”

We both look up to see Edward standing in front of us, smiling slightly.

“Want one?” I ask, holding out the pack.

“Hell yeah,” he grunts, grabbing it and holding it out so I can light it. “My mom will kill me if she sees me. Good thing she’s still in the church, I guess. I didn’t know you smoked?”

“I don’t,” I say, taking another drag. “Haven’t had one in years.”

“Same,” Edward replies, closing his eyes while he enjoys his first drag. “Damn, I missed this.”

“I’ll leave you two pathetic losers alone,” Jaggers decides, pushing off the car. “You okay, Abby?”

“Yeah, sure,” I say, trying to sound like I mean it.

“Want me to send Chris out?” he asks.

“No!” I say a little too loudly. “I mean… no, he should spend some time with Yoah and Davy right now. And you. I’m sure he wants to see you.”

“Right…” Jagger gives me a strange look, and then he’s off.

“Are you fighting with Christopher?” Edwards asks at the exact same time I say: “That was a beautiful service, Edward.”

We both laugh softly.

“Yeah,” he says after a heartbeat. “It was beautiful, wasn’t it? I know I need to get back in soon, but I just… I need a moment. It’s been a weird week and I need… I don’t know.”

“To feel normal,” I finish for him. “Yeah, I get that. Same here.”

“What happened?” Edward asks, raising his eyebrows at me. “I thought you’d be happy to see Chris after being apart for a full week?”

I shrug. “Yeah, well… I don’t know, Eddy. This isn’t something we should be talking about during your father’s memorial service.”

“We’re not, this is fifteen minutes after,” he jokes. “Come on, distract me. I can’t take another person giving me their condolences, however well they mean it. Tell me about you and Chris. What’s going on?”

I grunt and finish my third cigarette. “I think he may have cheated on me in New York.”

Edward lets out a startled laugh. “No, he didn’t.”

“Yeah, he did,” I bite out.

“Did he actually say those words?” he asks, giving me a knowing look. “Did he say: Abby, I cheated on you?”

“No, but-”

“What did he say?”

“He said that another’s woman’s lips touched his.”

Edward laughs again, sounding like he’s enjoying this way too much. “Abby, that doesn’t mean he cheated on you. You know as well as I do that Chris doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. So, someone kissed him, and he feels guilty about it, probably more than he should. Big deal.”

Hmm. Maybe, he’s right. But then why did Christopher say that I will be very mad when I hear what happened? “It was Gianna,” I say softly.

“Oh shit.” Edward looks a little shaken now. “His ex-wife Gianna? What the fuck was she doing in New York?”

I shrug. “Hell if I know. All I know is that Chris lied to me about having to stay in New York. He forgot about the funeral, which isn’t like him at all, and now he’s acting all guilty, and he thinks I will get mad at him when he tells me what happened between him and his ex.” I light another cigarette, knowing fully well that I shouldn’t.

Edward motions for me to give him another one as well. “I don’t know what happened, but I do know that Chris would never cheat on you, Abby. Surely you know that as well.”

Tears make my vision blurry while I blow out smoke. “Maybe.”

“Abby…” he sighs, putting his arm around my shoulders. “Don’t do this to yourself. Talk to him. Whatever you’re imagining right now is bound to be worse than what actually went down. This is Chris we’re talking about. He shits rainbows and unicorns. He’s the male reincarnation of holy mother Mary.”

I smile through my tears. “I know. I just… I don’t trust men. Ever. Not before Chris.”

“You trust me.”

“Yeah, because you’re Christopher’s best friend. I don’t trust easily, Edward. And friendship is not the same as being in a relationship. It hurt like a motherfucker to tear my walls down when I allowed myself to fall in love with Chris.” I have to fight not to start bawling my eyes out. This is so stupid. Edward’s father dies, yet I’m the one turning to him for comfort. “I thought he’d be the one person in this world to never hurt me,” I breathe, wiping at my eyes. “Guess I was wrong.”

“No way,” Edward insists. “He didn’t cheat on you, and I know you guys can work through this, whatever it is. And to expect someone to never hurt you… Abby… of course he’s going to hurt you from time to time. You gave him a key to your heart and even Chris isn’t perfect. It’s not like you never hurt him.

“I know,” I agree. I knew he was going to bring up me almost leaving. “I know what I almost did was way worse. But at the same time… I didn’t actually end up doing anything, did I? And Chris got very upset with me, and I had to work to regain his trust. I’m still not completely back in his good graces. Not the way I used to be. I just… I thought…” Oh God, I’m crying now. “I’m so fucking weak.”

“You’re not weak,” Edward says, throwing away both of our cigarettes so he can hug me. He rubs my back in gentle circles while I bawl my eyes out. “Loving someone doesn’t make you weak, Abby. It makes you strong and brave.”

“No,” I insist, pushing away from him. “I’m weak. This is pathetic. I don’t want to be, though.” I wipe my eyes and take a deep breath, pulling myself back together.

“Abby,” Edward says in a serious tone. “Don’t shut down, okay? Talk to him. I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think. He will work for his forgiveness just like you did, and you guys will be just fine.”

That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. Already, I can feel a pull to Chris. I want to be near him, hug him, kiss him. I want to forgive him before I even know what he did. Deep in my heart, I know that even if he truly did cheat on me, a part of me will want to give him another chance. That’s so fucking sad. What kind of woman forgives a man for cheating on her? That’s not me. I’m not someone you can walk all over. I’m not a fucking doormat.

“How about this,” Edward says, squeezing my arm in support. “Drop Davy and Yoah off at my place after dinner. Send the unruly teens upstairs. And have the fight of your life with Chris without any interference. Yell at him, talk to him, cry with him, I don’t care. You need to get this over with. Today.”

“I can’t do that,” I say immediately. “Your dad just died, Eddy. You should be leaning on me right now, not the other way around.”

“Abby, I’ve been leaning on you all week,” he says with a smile. “Freddie has basically been living with you for seven days. I need some kind of distraction anyway, or I will spend the whole night skulking and crying. Again. Plus, I know Freddie is a little upset about all of this as well, and he could use Davy and Yoah with him right now. They’re his best friends.”

“Are you sure, because I-”

“I’m sure,” Edward insists. “In fact, I will even take the teenage fuck-ups. I will play Abby for the night. If you can handle all those kids all at once for a full week, I’m sure I can last one night. It’ll be the best distraction ever. Send them all over to my place after dinner, okay? You and Chris will have the house all to yourself. Have the fight of your life.”

I laugh without humor. “Oh, I think we will.”

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