Okay, so I was like 21/22 when I wrote it. Not wee, but it was the first time I let someone outside of family read my books. (I actually wrote it for a friend as “therapy” for something very similar he was going through).
I think I called this story, The One. It’s about a firefighter named Joshua who grew up having a wishy-washy relationship with his father. It’s not until he’s 19 that he finds out why his father never really tried to build a relationship with him—his father is a married man with children…and his wife doesn’t know Joshua exists.
(Although the friend is doing well now, I’m sorry he ever had to go through anything like this.)
I might rewrite and publish it one day.
“Josh, I’m tired.”
“I know,” I responded with a laugh. “Let’s go home.”
Ian dragged his feet behind me, tired, and was out cold five minutes into the car ride home. My phone vibrated wildly in my console and I picked it up to hear Cherise’s voice.
“Josh, we need to talk,” she said as if I hadn’t been trying to get in contact with her all day.
My response was dripping with sarcasm. “Really.”
“Can you come by later?”
“Of course. I have Ian for the day—”
“You can’t bring him.”
I released an exasperated sigh. “He’s my son. What am I supposed to do with him?”
“Find somewhere for him to go,” she argued. “You already know I don’t want him in my house. I don’t want to have to see him, hear him, or know he exists. I told you this the day he was born.”
“What do you want to talk about?” I redirected.
“You saying that you’re going to file a motion of contempt if I don’t let you see Ethan.”
“I am.” I’d threatened contempt in the past with no intention of going through with it, but times had changed. “We went to court, we agreed on time-sharing, and you’re not following that order.”
“But contempt? Do you know they could put me in jail for that?”
“Yes, I do.” I casually ignored the gasp that came through the phone. “I think you’re getting this mixed up. Everything and anything I do is for my son and if it means sending you to jail so he can live with me, I’ll do it.”
“You’ve…changed…so much.” There as a hint of hurt behind her voice.
“People change,” I said. “But this isn’t about us. It hasn’t been about us for a while. It’s about Ethan and I need to see him, Cherise. He’s my son. We need to talk. I know we do. But, you’re going to have to accept the fact that Ian is going to be with me.”
There was a brief pause and then a rushed, “Whatever,” before the line went dead.
I looked at Ian sleeping in the backseat, his head bobbing from left to right as his lips smacked, and hoped that I would have this issue with Cherise figured out before my date with Leecy. The last thing I needed in my life was unnecessary drama interfering with the new, interesting beauty that had entered my life.
The corner of my mouth turned up a little.
– – – –
Cherise swung the door open almost to the point of tearing the entire thing from its hinges. Her perfectly arched brows–which I’d learned later in our relationship had been expertly tattooed on–were creased, forming a divot the size of the Erie Canal on her face. She looked at me first and then at Ian, back to me and then back at Ian. Seconds later, she shook her head in what looked like resignation and retreated to the sofa without saying a word. Ian looked up at me, an unspoken question in his expression as we both entered the apartment.
It was the same apartment we’d shared years ago, but she’d made a few changes. The walls were now painted grey with white trim except for the dark wine color behind the dining room table. She’d gotten a black leather sofa set and her newest addition was a giant screen television that overlooked the living room.
She crossed her legs while Ian and I eased into the loveseat across from her.
“Where’s Ethan?” I asked, looking around.
Her gaze was still trained on Ethan. “He’s in his room doing homework.”
“Can Ian go see his brother because—”
“Because the last time I saw him was when we went to Sea World,” Ian interrupted. “I was kinda’ scared to go at first because my mom said one of the whales killed that lady, but Ethan told me they couldn’t get to us because we were too far away for them to jump on us.”
Cherise didn’t even crack a smile.
“Go ahead,” I told him, challenging her with my eyes. She didn’t object.
He cautiously made his way to his brother’s room.
“It’s the second door,” I yelled after him and when he opened it, I heard him yell Ethan’s name in excitement.
Ethan came running from his room and over to me.
“Daddy, I didn’t know you were here.” He squeezed me in a tight hug. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Mommy said you had to stay at the fire station doing overtime work all week. Is it over?”
I glanced at Cherise. She guiltily turned her head to look out the window.
“Yes, it’s over,” I told him.
“Come on, Ian, I have a new game to show you.” He made his way back to his room. Cherise called out, “Homework first,” before they disappeared down the hall.
Eager to hear her explanation about why she’d been keeping my son away from me, I relaxed my hands on my thighs and waited for her to speak for about a minute, but she continued to stare out of the window.
“You wanted to talk, Cherise,” I said, keeping my voice calm and even. I knew that if I approached the subject with caution, the conversation might be able to get somewhere.
She remained silent and I urged no further. We both sat there for a few minutes before her eyes fell to her fingers and she began flicking at her fingernails.
“I’ve been dating and stuff since we split up,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve been going out with a guy that I’m really starting to like. I didn’t tell him about Ethan right off the bat, which I should have. I waited until our third date to tell him. After I told him I had a son, he said he didn’t mind, but it made me realize something. If we hit it off, there’s a possibility he could want to get married.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” I asked, confused.
“Yes and no. With the way that I grew up, without my father, you know I always wanted a family. If I were to try that with him, my children would have two different fathers.”
I was still confused. “And, what’s wrong with that?”
“That’s not what I want!” Her voice rose sharply, but then she took deep breaths to regain her composure. “I always imagined all my children would have the same father.”
“And I always imagined I would be married before I ever decided to have children,” I shot back. “Life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to.”
“Why are you telling me this, by the way?” I asked.
“Because,” she took another deep breath, “I want you to consider trying to be a family for Ethan’s sake.”
I had to physically stop my mouth from falling open. Four years ago, I tried everything in my power for us to work. I did everything and anything she asked, but Cherise had been positive she would never be able to forgive me for what I’d done. I didn’t protest because I was the one who’d messed up, but why was she asking now? So much time had passed since we were together I never even thought it was a possibility anymore.
I’d thought about asking her to take me back on multiple occasions; the urge hit me most whenever we both spent time, together, with Ethan. I knew he deserved more than what he was getting, but she’d made up her mind. She wanted to move on and take her chances on being a single mother and over the years, I’d also grown to accept living apart from Ethan for half the time, but still being an active part of his life.
“Why now?” I asked, leaning forward. “Like I said, sometimes things don’t always work out in the ways we want them to. If this guy likes you and wants to be with you, what’s wrong with that?”
She snapped her fingers next to her ear. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? I don’t want my kids to have different fathers. I think, above all else, Ethan deserves to have both his parents in the household.”
“I agree it would help. But, would you still be unable to accept Ian?”
She immediately shook her head. “I’m sorry, I just can’t accept him.”
“Then, it will never happen.”
She stood with her fists clenched at her sides. “You’re just using him as an excuse. What difference would it make if I accepted him or not?”
I stood with her, towering over her medium-sized five-foot-six frame. “Because my father had an entire other family,” I explained. “His wife didn’t even know I existed until I was nineteen years old. She couldn’t accept the fact that he’d kept me a secret all those years but, unwilling to give up on thirty-nine years of marriage, she didn’t leave him. All she told him was that I was never allowed at the house or around her children, and he listened to her. My son is not going through that same kind of hell.”
She returned to the loveseat, but I remained standing.
“That’s just one reason,” I went on. “The other one is, as much as I would love for Ethan to have a family like the one I wish I had growing up, it’s not practical for him. You and I don’t love each other anymore. We haven’t even taken a chance on a relationship in over four years and he’s still a wonderful, well-adjusted little kid. As much as we’d love to live a fairy tale, it’s just that…a fairy tale.”
She folded her arms and returned her gaze to the window.
“Give the guy a chance,” I urged. “He likes you and wants to be with you in spite of you neglecting to tell him you had a child the very first time around.”
She said nothing else. I stared at her, but she refused to meet my eyes. I could see the glimmer of tears in their corners and it tugged on my heart a little, but I didn’t budge on my decision.
I called Ian so that I could take him home and gave Ethan a tight squeeze, promising him I wasn’t going to be gone so long again. Cherise watched our interaction and hung her head a little, still without words.
“Bye, Ms. Cherise,” Ian called as we headed out the door.
She made eye contact with him and forced a smile. I hoped this naivete was strong enough to write her expression off as genuine. When he smiled back, I knew it had.