I open the oven and check the turkey’s temperature. “Are you nervous about today?” Caroline walks into the kitchen and startles me. “No, why would I be?”
“Oh, I don’t know, your boyfriend is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.” She smiles and raises her brows.
“Thanksgiving was Yesterday,” I remind her and stick my tongue out at her. “Come over and sit with me while I mash the potatoes. Tell me how you and Oliver got along this week. Are you two communicating?”
Caroline, Oliver, Max, Drew, and Elliot arrived this morning after spending the night in Roseway with their dad. “Yeah, we’ve had a good week. He’s been sharing more about his problems at the stores.”
I’m surprised to hear about problems. “What’s going on with the stores? Are they having problems with a supplier?”
“Something like that.” She stops speaking, and I watch her face blush.
“What’s going on? What supplier?”
She looks over her shoulder, and I walk over to the kitchen island and lean on the counter. “What’s going on, Caroline?”
She sighs, “Oliver doesn’t want you to know, but things at the stores are not going well.”
My forehead crinkles, “It’s a well-oiled machine, how could things not be going well. Are they having employee problems?”
She looks over her shoulder again. “Caroline!” I snap my fingers, “Tell me please.”
“Willow, Jake and Amanda haven’t been paying bills on time. Suppliers we’ve had for years are starting to complain and threatening to quit doing business with us unless we are more prompt with our payment.”
My back snaps straight, “What?!”
“Mom, where do you keep the extra towels? Elliot spilled shit all over the basement floor,” Oliver walks up from the basement and comes into the kitchen. He takes in my expression, and poor Caroline looks down and starts picking at her nails. “What’s going on up here?”
Oliver looks between the two of us. “Oliver, have a seat, please. I want to ask you some questions about the stores.”
Oliver swings his green eyes to Caroline. “You didn’t?” he says.
“Oliver, please sit. Don’t be angry with Caroline, I asked questions, and she is obviously not comfortable lying to me like my children. What suppliers are we having problems with?”
He sits by Caroline at the island. I’m happy to see him pat her leg softly before he took his seat. “Mom, I don’t mean this the way it will sound, but this is none of your concern. It’s my job, and I have everything under control.”
“I do not doubt that you can handle things. I also realize that I am no longer apart of Nelson’s IGA stores, but I am your mother, Oliver, and I put many years into both. Tell me what’s going on. Why is your dad not paying his bills on time? There is no way he doesn’t have the money to pay his bills, so what the hell is happening?”
“It’s simple, Mom. Dad would rather make his new wife happy. He’s building a new mini-mansion to live in and funding two new clothing boutiques in Shelton County. The grocery stores are no longer his top priorities.”
I take a big deep breath in through my nose and blow it out and count to ten. “What the hell are you talking about, Oliver? What clothing stores? What mansion? What the hell is going on in Roseway?”
“Mom, settle down. I have everything under control. Caroline and I have talked, and we are going to try to buy the store in Roseway from Dad.” He takes ahold of Caroline’s hand, “Dad isn’t making sound decisions, and I will not let him piss away our future to try to please his spoiled child bride. I had a meeting at the bank last week.”
“I’ll call your father, and I’ll buy the store—”
“No, Mom, we are buying the store.”
“I’ll loan you the money, and you can pay me back with one percent interest.”
They share a look.
“Oliver, do your brothers know what’s going on at work?” Fucking Jake, just when I think I can’t hate him anymore, he goes and proves me wrong.
“No. Well, Max knows, but I haven’t gone there yet. I was hoping to get everything organized then talk to everyone over Christmas when Henry is home.”
I’m shaking with anger. “Okay, Oliver. I agree this should be discussed between you boys since it’s your family’s name and inheritance from your grandparents.” God, I fucking hate Jake. I hate him, no, I despise him. I have only spoken to the snake four times since we signed our divorce papers. All four times have been at celebrations for our boys. I was so hurt and living in a blur for so long that I let him off easy for what he did to our family. He now is going to fuck up what I worked hard to give to them what his fucking parents were proud to pass down to him and our boys. I won’t let him fuck up my sons’ futures.
“Mom, you’re scaring me, you are too quiet. Don’t let this upset you; I have it under control.”
“I said I know that, Ollie!” I snap.
“We’ll take the loan,” Caroline shouts.
“Caroline,” Oliver scolds.
“I don’t care, Oliver. I don’t want to upset your mom any more either, but this is serious.” She squeezes Oliver’s hand. “Willow, I’m pregnant.”
“What?” I holler.
“Mom, shhh, we are not telling anyone.” He shakes his head at Caroline. “I knew you would never make it to twelve weeks to tell her.”
I lean on the island. My legs, mind, heart, and lungs can’t handle any more surprises. “Are the two of you stable? Last week, last week Oliver, you showed—”
He interrupts me, “Mom, we are fine. We are better than ever.”
“Willow, he never shared with me his problems at work. He pulled away, and I knew—”
Oliver puts his arm around Caroline and pulls her into an embrace and kisses the top of her head. “Never again, baby,” he says into her hair.
I smile, thank God they are good. And then, it hits me. “OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO BE A NANA!!!”
I knock on the door. You can hear music and laughter coming out of Willow’s home. I look over to Ryan, “Try not to be an asshole tonight.”
Ryan ignores me. I’m embarrassed to admit I’m paying the little fucker to come with me tonight to Willow’s Friday night Thanksgiving dinner. Four of her five sons are here for the weekend. I’m a little nervous about having dinner with four young males, who I’m sure, are all overprotective of their mom. Christ, one smile from Willow, and I’ll agree to just about anything.
“I don’t plan to talk to you, so don’t worry about me being an asshole.”
I roll my eyes at Ryan.
A young man answers the door; I know from pictures this is her youngest son Drew. He smirks, “Hi, can I help you?”
Ryan chuckles under his breath, and I nudge him as I extend my hand to introduce myself. “Aiden Markley, your mother is expecting us.”
He smiles and looks at my hand before he shakes it. “Nice to meet you, Adrian, come inside.”
Fucking Ryan laughs out loud, and walks in front of me, in through the door. Another man child walks into the foyer, “Ah, this must be Adrian. I’m Elliot, nice to meet you.”
He walks his lanky boy’s body over to shake my hand. I squeeze, making it known I get the joke. “It’s Aiden.” I pin him with my courtroom stare, and I’m surprised when he isn’t intimidated and smirks a smug little smile and laughs.
“Aiden got it.” He looks to Ryan and holds out his hand, “Elliot Nelson, beer and video games are in the basement.” He scans me up and down. I widen my stance, letting him see all six foot four of me as he checks out my suit.
I smile, take off my coat and hang it in the hall closet, letting him know I know where shit is around here. I’m sure his older brother has filled them all in on me being here overnight.
I look towards the kitchen when I hear a woman giggling. I see a pretty young woman walking down the back staircase and a beautiful, smiling Willow behind her. The angelic beam she aims at me when she sees I’m here is worth all the bullshit I’m sure to take today from her sons. “You’re here!” she yells excitedly.
She joins us, takes my hand, and squeezes it. “Let me introduce you to everyone, but first, you must be Ryan.” She releases my hands and surprises the shit out of Ryan when she embraces him in a hug. “It’s nice to meet you officially; I hope there have been no more wrestling matches lately.”
She giggles, raises her eyebrows at me, questioning me if there has been.
I chuckle, “Not with me.” I elbow Ryan.
“Nice to meet you,” he mumbles.
One of her children clears his throat; I don’t know which one. “Aiden, this is Caroline, you met her husband, my oldest Oliver already.” The pretty girl with long, long straight brown curiously checks me out.
I smile, “Please to meet you, Caroline.” I look at her oldest, “Oliver.” I nod, but Oliver doesn’t nod back or acknowledge me.
“This is Max, Elliot, and Drew,” Willow introduces proudly.
The kid I haven’t met yet comes over and offers me his hand, “Nice to meet you, Adrian.”
“Maxwell,” Willow says over the laughing of her children.
“Come on, Ryan, let’s go to the basement until dinners ready,” Drew says, and the boys laugh their way down to her basement.
Ryan smiles a downright joyous smile, “I can’t believe I’m making bank for this shit. Happy Thanksgiving, Adrian.” He walks away.
I lie in bed and giggle about all of the mischiefs the boys put Aiden through tonight. They were thrilled when Vi arrived not only to play with baby Sage but to add another layer of torture onto Aiden.
I’m proud of Aiden, he made it through the night, and no one scared him away. I think he broke out in a sweat at the dining table. Drew and Elliot started grilling him about everything. From his favorite sport’s teams to his view on social issues that my boys are passionate about, like global warming. Once climate change was brought up, and Aiden went on a fifteen-minute lecture concerning the climate and weather patterns. He’d won over Drew and Elliot. They are both scared and worried about the planet’s health.
I giggle, Caroline made it until dessert until she told Vi she was pregnant. By the end of dinner, we had Skyped Henry, and they, Oliver and Caroline… He was right, she was never going to make it to twelve weeks to share their news. They shared with everyone that Caroline was nine weeks pregnant.
I shake my head; I can’t say that I liked the teasing that Aiden had to endure about “dating a grandma.” My goodness, I’m going to be a Nana. I smile, thinking about holding and loving a little baby again; I can’t believe my baby is having a baby. Oliver and Caroline will be great parents. They are both loving and giving people, and I’m not worried about them being ready for this change. They are plenty old enough to know what they are doing. My lands, Jake and I were done having our family by the time we were Oliver and Caroline’s age.
Jake the snake. I sit up in my bed and look at my alarm clock; it’s after midnight. I don’t think this decision through, I pick up my cell and dial a number I haven’t dialed in over two years.
Jake answers the phone, “What wrong?”
“Good evening Jake, your children are fine, and nothing is wrong with them. The one with whom there’s something wrong is, is you, you fucking asshole.” I listen to the rustling of him getting out of bed and walking.
“What is this call about Willow?”
“This call is to warn you, Jake Nelson. If you fuck up my children’s inheritance and future for your child-bride, then you better be prepared to lose everything this time around.”
He’s quiet on his end of the phone line. My heart is pounding in my chest. If I could get my hands on him, I think I would seriously consider killing him, that is how much hurt and hate I have towards him. I’m over the loss of my husband and my children’s father. Still, I will never get over how my best friend since childhood could so easily walk away. He walked away from everything we have experienced growing up together and doing it all with a house full of boys while we grew up ourselves. To be someone’s everything and then turn into a complete stranger, one whose whole way of thinking changes almost overnight. That is what I have a hard time getting over.
“What have the boys told you, Willow? I’d never put their futures in harm’s way, what are Ollie and Max bitching about?”
“God, your voice makes me cringe. You are so stupid, Jake. Ollie and Max would never bitch and complain to me; you know that—”
“Ah, so Caroline is filling your head with whatever shit Ollie comes home and bitches over—”
“Why are you not paying your bills?” I demand, cutting him off. “Why are we on the verge of losing suppliers? A few of them we have used since your dad opened the second store. Why are you building a new house and opening two clothing boutiques if you can’t pay your current bills for fuck’s sake?!”
He doesn’t say anything; I can hear him pacing back and forth. I guess somethings are still the same with him. “Jake, I don’t give a flying fuck what you invest in or whatever you do, but I won’t stand back and be quiet while you fuck something else up for my babies. Who the hell have you become?”
“You want to talk about cringing, Willow! I cringe every single fucking time someone even mentions your fucking name; the sweet, simply-fucking-nice Willow. I can’t stand to hear your fucking name! You need to quit saying ‘we’ when it concerns the stores, sweetheart. You have nothing to do with them anymore. If you want to know why some bills aren’t being paid, it has more to do with you. You sold off our two most profitable stores and made me buy one of MY own family fucking store from you. You’re rolling in it, living in some fancy assed house you bought with your children’s future. Do you want to talk about that, sweetheart? Get off your ass and go look in the mirror-”
“Stop it, Jake, I won’t listen to this stupid bullshit and the lies spilling out of your mouth. You couldn’t have forgotten I ran our finances for twenty-four years, there is no way the stores could be struggling to pay bills. The economy is booming, and let us not forget the stores I sold were the stores I pushed to open, asshole. You should thank your lucky stars. I thought about my children, or I would have wiped the floor with you.”
His sarcastic laughs grate down the line. “You might as well; you took everything important anyway.”
“What the hell did I take away from you, Jake? You took everything I had worked and known my whole life and tore it away from me—”
He yells, “You took my goddamn life and ran it, managed it, fucking controlled me. You treated me like a goddamn child! I never did or decided jack shit about the direction MY LIFE would take because you constantly were breathing down my back like my parents.”
“My God Jake, to think that I worked six days a week, raised five children, attended thousands of games, school events, community gathering, and sucked your dick anytime you wanted me to. You mean to tell me I did all of that and worried myself nearly to death, and all along, I could have sat back and done what? Baked more pies, stop by your dad’s two stores daily to say hello and be content not ever to try to grow and learn—”
“I use to think if we wouldn’t have gotten pregnant with Ollie and I wouldn’t have married you, you would have been a flighty drifter like Violet. I convinced myself that I saved your flighty ass from that kind of life. I always felt some sick pride in how you handled the responsibility of young motherhood. It wasn’t until I met Amanda that I realized that the pride I felt for you would turn into a dislike of how you stole and controlled most of my goddamn life—”
“Enough, stop, please stop talking, Jake. I didn’t call to tear one another down. I don’t need to hear any more shit spew out of your mouth. I won’t call you again. There’s no need to any longer. The nice, smart, handsome boy I loved and respected, the man your father raised you to be, is so far away from what you’ve become. I’ve lost the last little bit of hope I had left that some small ounce of decency and respect is still inside you. You need serious therapy, and to do some soul searching. I’m disappointed in you not for only what you are jeopardizing for my sons, but what about your future daughter, Jake? Do you want to wreck forty years of your family’s name before you even meet her? I don’t know you at all, and I don’t want to ever again.”
I hang up the phone and lie back on my bed. I wait for the tears to come, but they don’t. I feel ready to fight any battle I have to for my children and grandchildren.