Free Spirit

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Chapter 25

Paddy

“Good morning, neighbour!” my mother called out.

“Good morning, Mom!” I stopped my car halfway down the driveway when she approached.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Paddy.”

“Me too, Mom.”

“Have you convinced Alexis to move in with you yet?”

“No,” I said with a frustrated sigh. “She started helping out in the bakery, and I get the feeling she doesn’t want to leave. I’m glad she’s bonding with her sisters over their mother’s dream, but it’s not helping my cause.”

“She’ll come around, Paddy.”

“I hope so, Mom. I really want her here. I’m missing out on all the pregnancy stuff because I hardly ever see her.”

“Did you tell her that?”

“Not since the day I asked her to move here. I don’t want to pressure her.”

“Do you want me to talk to her?”

“No. She’ll know I put you up to it.”

“Let me know if you change your mind. I sure would like to see her. Why don’t you invite her for a visit?”

“That’s actually a great idea, Mom.”

“I know.”

“Have a good day,” I laughed, putting the car in reverse.

“I love you, Paddington!” she called, waving as I drove away.




I stared at the invoice on my computer screen. Prices had skyrocketed on everything since the pandemic.

How were people on a fixed income surviving? Wages weren’t increasing to offset the rising cost of living. If they put up the minimum wage again, businesses would be forced to raise their prices even more.

Alexis and Hannah were extremely fortunate that Miles came along when he did. Otherwise, they would’ve been living with me. There was no way they could afford to live in Vancouver anymore.

I cringed at the sound of Christie’s voice. Why did I leave my office door open? And why was that woman still working for me?

Because you don’t have the balls to let her go.

“I’m going out to Timmie’s,” she informed me, her whiny voice grating on my ears. “Can I bring you anything back?”

“We have coffee here, Christie.”

“It’s not the same, Paddy.”

“I’m good. Thank you for offering.”

I listened to her heels click down the hallway to the front door of the funeral home.

“Can I help you?” she asked curtly.

I wasn’t expecting anyone. But sometimes people dropped in unannounced to ask about funeral planning or make donations. When I heard Heather’s voice, I considered sneaking out the back door.

What was she doing there? I made it crystal clear I wasn’t interested the night I ran into her at the hospital. That was almost a month ago. Why would she show up at my workplace?

“I’d like to speak to Mr. Wallingford-Yargey about making a donation.”

“This way, please,” Christy directed.

“What are you doing here, Heather?” I asked. I kept my office door open and remained standing, hoping she would take the hint. But she didn’t.

“To invite you to dinner.”

I glanced at her attire. She was dressed in a short black skirt and a skintight, red blouse, the top four buttons undone to reveal her breasts.

“Just as friends,” she clarified sweetly. “Not a date. I know you’re taken.”

Not a date, my ass. And you couldn’t care less whether I’m taken or not.

“Maybe another time,” I said politely, glancing at my watch. “I have a lot of work to finish up.”

“Paddy, you’re the boss,” she chuckled. “You can go out to dinner. The work will still be here tomorrow.”

“I really can’t, Heather.”

“I understand,” she said. “How about I give you my number, and if you change your mind, you can text me?”

“Sure,” I agreed, with no intention of ever calling her.

After she left, I returned to my desk with a heavy sigh. Heather was right. The paperwork would still be there tomorrow. Maybe I could surprise Alexis with her craving of the week.

Hawkins Cheezies and Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy.

Together.

With the gravy poured over the cheezies.

I almost gagged just thinking about it. When she told me, I didn’t believe her until Hannah confirmed it with the video evidence.

I decided I better check with Hannah first. Alexis was probably craving something different by now.

Hannah answered my text a few minutes later.

Hey, Paddy. What’s up?

I was thinking about coming out to see Alexis. I want to surprise her though, so don’t tell her. Is she still craving cheezies and gravy?

Nope. This week it’s ramen noodles with hot sauce and ranch dressing.

That sounds revolting. Are you having weird cravings, too?

Not as bad as Lex. I’m really craving fruit. Especially peaches. Or anything peach flavoured.

I guess I’m off to buy some noodles, hot sauce, ranch dressing and peaches.

Alexis isn’t here.

What? Where is she?

Her friends picked her up earlier. They were going shopping and out to dinner.

Oh. She didn’t mention she had plans when I talked to her this morning.

I think it was a spur of the moment thing.

I leaned back in my chair, turning my phone over in my hands. Alexis was out with her wild friends from Gastown. What was she thinking? That she could go clubbing and pick up a man? She was four months pregnant and showing quite a bit. There was no outfit that could hide that belly.

I considered texting her, but decided against it. Nothing good would come of it. We’d argue, and I didn’t want that.

The sticky note with Heather’s number caught my eye.

Don’t do it. Do not call her.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I dialed her number anyway.

“Paddy!” she gushed. “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”

“Are you still interested in getting some dinner?”

“Absolutely.”




I parked my car in the lot next to the restaurant. It wasn’t too late to back out of this ill-advised dinner. I could text Heather and tell her something came up at work. But I didn’t.

She was already seated when I walked into the Italian restaurant she chose. It was too cozy and romantic for a casual dinner between old acquaintances.

“Hello, Paddy,” she said, greeting me in a husky whisper.

“I’ve never eaten here before,” I said, hanging my jacket on the back of my chair before I sat down.

“I recommend the cheese cannelloni,” she suggested, flashing me a sultry smile.

Oh boy. This dinner was definitely a mistake.

I picked up the menu, perusing it until the server returned to take our drink orders.

“How have you been, Paddy?”

“Good. You?”

“I got married right out of school.”

“Oh. Where is your husband tonight?”

“Probably at home with his new wife and their baby.”

“Ouch.”

“Yes. He left me when we found out I couldn’t have children.”

“That’s,” I paused as I searched for a polite response. We hadn’t even started the appetizer course, and she was already oversharing. “Unfortunate.”

“I hope you don’t think I’m overstepping, but I heard some snippets of conversation the night you were in my ER with your baby mama.”

“Look, Heather,” I said sternly. “I think maybe this dinner was a mistake. I’m totally committed to Alexis. Whatever you think you heard, I’d rather not discuss it.”

“You need a mother for your baby. I want to be a mother, but I can’t have children. We were destined to be reunited. Everything happens for a reason. There’s a higher power at work. Fate brought us together. It’s not a coincidence that I was on duty the night that girl came in.”

That girl is the mother of my child, and my lifelong best friend. I love Alexis. I’m not interested in starting anything up with you.”

“Don’t you remember the night we spent together?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I gave you an awesome blow job, and then you refused to fuck me. Why?”

My phone rang, rescuing me from a very awkward conversation. I fished it out of my suit jacket pocket, surprised to see Alexis’s name on the screen. She never called. She always texted.

I broke out in a full-body sweat, terrifying images flashing through my mind in the split second before I accepted the call.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart trembling with fear while I waited for the worst.

“I kinda need a ride!” she yelled.

“Where are you?” I demanded, the loud bass in the background leaving no doubt that she was in a bar.

“The Dandelion Club.”

“You’re at a bar?!”

“Yeah. My friends picked up, and they ditched me. I don’t have enough cash for a cab back home.”

“Where is this club?”

I cursed under my breath when she gave me the address. What the fuck was she doing in that neighbourhood?

“I’m on my way. Stay inside, close to a bouncer.”

“Okay. Text me when you get here. Just pull up front and I’ll come out. Don’t try to park your car.”

“I’m sorry, Heather,” I said after I hung up. “I have to go.”

“What’s wrong?”

“My baby mama needs me,” I said, throwing some bills on the table.

I dashed out of the restaurant without looking back. I heard her calling my name, but I kept going. I realized as I ran across the parking lot that I forgot my jacket. But there was no way I was going back inside. I had to get to Alexis before something bad happened to her.

My GPS led me through the streets of the downtown eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. Why would Alexis put herself in that kind of danger?

She grew up down here, dumbass. Remember?

I pulled up in front of the bar and texted Alexis. She came out a minute later with some rough-looking dude. I jumped out of the car and approached them.

“Let go of me, Jordan!” she cried, trying to wrench her arm out of his grip. “I said no! My boyfriend is here to pick me up!”

“This is the joker who knocked you up, baby?” he sneered, his eyes scanning my expensive suit before glancing over my shoulder at my car.

“Let the lady go,” I said calmly.

“And what are you gonna do if I say no?” he challenged.

“We don’t want any trouble. Just let her go. She’s pregnant.”

“I can see that, rich boy. I got eyes.”

Alexis yanked herself free and bolted for the passenger door. I turned to walk away, rounding the hood of my car when I felt a searing pain in my left shoulder.

I was bleeding.

My vision went hazy.

Alexis was screaming.

My knees buckled before I collapsed into a heap on the cold pavement.

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