“Sam, you can’t do this again. You promised me you would pick her up today.”
My ex was supposed to pick up our daughter last night, but he called last minute to tell me he got stuck at work. He swore he would pick her up today, but it’s three-thirty and he just called to tell me he can’t get her tonight either.
“Yeah I know, Sook, but I can’t just blow off work. I need the money if you expect me to pay child support on time,” he argues.
“You know what, Sam, I think the better support would to be a real father!” I yell. I should’ve known, this happens almost every time he’s supposed to pick her up.
“Well if you would let me have her more during the week this wouldn’t be an issue! I’m a bartender, Sookie! We’re busiest on the weekends! I can’t just not go to work!” he yells right back. “Were you always this fuckin’ selfish?”
“You don’t ask to have her on your days off! I’ve offered, but you’re always too tired or busy doing other shit! Well you know what, I’m tired too, Sam Merlotte!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, same shit, different fuckin’ day with you,” he mutters.
“Fuck you, Sam. Call me when you give a shit about your daughter,” I growl and hang up on him. I’m over it.
Sam and I were high school sweethearts, but once we graduated we went off to different colleges. Of course as college kids do, he partied a little too hard sophomore year and he ended up cheating on me. I got pregnant with Josephine when he showed up begging for another shot and of course his damn puppy dog eyes sucked me in. One night of weakness and I’m stuck with his ass for the next eighteen years… fifteen now. That being said, I wouldn’t trade in my little angel for anything.
Sam thought getting pregnant was a sign that we should get back together. Fat chance. I had such a terrible time during my pregnancy I wouldn’t let Sam within twenty feet of me. So after Joey was born and I calmed down some Sam came back around. At first he was a good dad, and when he’s with her he’s good now, but getting him to spend any time with her is like pulling teeth.
Now I need to cancel my date with Eric.
Joey should be waking up from her nap any moment so I need to get this out of the way now.
I grab my phone, search for his number and hit send.
“Hello, Sookie,” he practically purrs.
“Hi, Eric,” I sigh. “I have bad news.”
This is not the first date I’ve had to cancel due to Sam’s fuckery.
“Uh oh,” he says. “What’s up?”
“I have to cancel tonight. Joey’s dad can’t pick her up,” I explain.
“Oh,” he says, and I can tell he’s disappointed. “That blows.”
“I’m so sorry. I should’ve known when he said he couldn’t get her last night. I was really looking forward to this,” I tell him honestly. Eric is a very attractive man and I was shocked when he started flirting with me.
He’s quiet for a few seconds before he says, “You know, you could always bring her with.”
I laugh and say, “Are you kidding me? Keeping her in a high chair is almost impossible.”
“Then we’ll go somewhere more kid friendly,” he says casually. “It’s not ideal, but I get it. I’d just really like to see you. If you’d rather reschedule, I understand.”
I walk into Joey’s room and I notice she’s stirring. I know she was looking forward to Daddy time, but maybe I can distract her with spoons and restaurant mac-n-cheese.
“Okay,” I agree. “Do you have another suggestion?”
“You mean for something more kid friendly, or for another night?”
“Sorry, something more kid friendly. I think Joey could use a night out too,” I tell him and she blinks her big green eyes open, giving me a gorgeous smile.
“You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve been meaning to scout out that Jungle Jim’s place to see if Jake would like it there. You wouldn’t mind me using your daughter for a little research project, would you?”
“Not at all,” I say with a smile as my baby girl reaches up for me. She’s always a snuggler when she wakes up from her naps.
“Excellent. Jake thanks you both already. How about we bump up the time a little so Miss Joey isn’t out past her bedtime? I know my son’s a bear when he gets overtired.”
“That would be lovely. She just woke up from a nap, so her energy boost will hit in about an hour.”
“Perfection,” he chuckles. “Then how about I meet you there at 5:30 instead of seven. Is that good?”
“That works for me. We’ll see you then,” I tell him and we hang up.
“Baby, do you want to go out tonight?” I ask my daughter as she nuzzles her face into my neck. Now I have less time to get ready, plus I need to get her ready, but we’ll be okay.
She makes an affirmative noise and I head into the bathroom to see if she has to potty. She’s potty trained, but still has accidents. She says she doesn’t have to go so I turn on the shower. Living alone with a three-year-old isn’t easy, so when I shower she comes with me so she doesn’t kill herself while I’m in here.
It takes us about an hour to get ready. I’ve mastered hair and makeup with her. I groan about her bad moments, but for the most part she’s out of her terrible twos, and she’s very inquisitive now. I’m a little nervous to take her around Eric since I don’t allow my dates to meet her. Eric having his own kid is helpful. When he flirted with me I froze because men as good looking as Eric do not flirt with girls like me. I know I look tired and I’ve given up on getting my pre-baby body back. So when he mentioned having a kid of his own I decided it wouldn’t be so bad to flirt back.
My little girl is a flirt too, so she may win him over for me. Who knows.
I’ve driven past Jungle Jim’s a few times and I know it takes about thirty minutes to get there so I grab Joey’s small bag and take her out to put her in her car seat.
“You excited, Jo?” I ask as her as I pull out of the garage. “We’re going to meet Mommy’s new friend.”
“No,” she says in her sing-song voice. “I want to go to Daddy’s.”
“I know, and I’m sorry baby, but Daddy has to work tonight. He called while you were napping.” Ugh, I hate this part of being a single parent. Giving her the bad news breaks my heart every time.
“After work he’ll come,” she says.
“You’ll be sleeping,” I remind her.
“He can wake me up.”
“I promise if he comes over when he gets off of work he’ll wake you up.” There’s no way he’ll show up, and I don’t want to give her false hope. Ugh again. “I can send Daddy a text message and ask him to come over after work, okay?”
“Okay.” She’s easily pacified and distracted.
I turn up the radio and she immediately starts dancing in her seat. She tries to sing along, but none of the words match. It’s adorable really.
We pull into the parking lot of Jungle Jim’s right at five-thirty. Eric is leaning against a black Jeep with one leg crossed over the other. He looks even better than I remember and my heart starts to flutter a little. He’s wearing a charcoal colored shirt with pants that look like they’re a similar color.
Here we go.
I open the car door as Joey unclicks her harness and waits patiently for me to come around. I look over and Eric is watching me like a hawk as I walk around my car so I give him a little smile and a wave. He waves back but waits for Joey and me to come to him.
I hold Joey’s hand as we walk around the car to get to Eric and at first I don’t see him. Then I notice he’s squatted down so he’s not so tall, and he’s definitely holding something behind his back.
“Good evening, ladies,” he says politely.
“Joey, this is Eric, can you say hi?” I prompt her as I smile down at him. She has one arm wrapped around my leg, being uncharacteristically shy.
Joey grunts and turns her head away from Eric.
“Strike one,” he smiles at me and produces a bouquet of flowers from behind his back. “These are for you. If you can get the little one to turn around…” he produces a smaller one for her.
“Thank you,” I say as I take them. Joey takes her flowers, and stares at him. “Say thank you, Jo.”
“Thank you,” she says quietly.
“You’re welcome. I’m Eric,” he tells her. “What’s your name?”
“Joey,” she replies just as quietly.
“Thank you for coming to play with us,” Eric says. He’s good.
“You’re welcome,” Joey says, proving that I have taught her manners.
“Should we head in?” I ask, reaching down to peel her arm off my leg.
“I’m ready when you are.” Eric stands up and Joey has to crane her head back in order to see his face.
I tug her hand as we head up to the door. When we walk in Joey’s face lights up and her head snaps up to look at me with so much excitement. Daddy is long forgotten.
“Are you ready to have some fun, baby?” I ask her.
“Yeah!” she nods and bounces a little bit.
“I’ll go get a wristband for her,” Eric says, and doesn’t give me a chance to argue with him before he takes off.
I pick her up and she wraps her legs around my waist. “Eric picked this place out. He thought you might like it.”
“I want to go on the horsies,” she says, her eyes glued to the little carousel to the left.
“Okay, we can do whatever you want once Eric comes back with your wristband,” I tell her. “Do you see anything else?”
“Swings and stuff to climb on… oh the balls!” Joey points straight ahead to the giant indoor playground.
Oh the excitement of a three year old.
She’s bouncing on my hip when Eric walks back over to us.
“Miss Joey is excited,” I smile at him.
“I can see that,” he replies. “Okay, Miss Joey, I need you to hold out your wrist for me.”
Joey holds out her arm and Eric wraps the wristband around her tiny wrist, making sure it’s on snug, but not too tight.
“Now you can go on the rides as many times as you want,” he tells her.
“Horsies!” Joey shouts and bounces a little harder.
“Hold it, little girl, we’re going to the horsies now,” I laugh. I love seeing her this happy. I look over at Eric and say, “Sorry, she’s really into horses.”
“It’s cool. Jake’s really into lizards right now,” he smiles.
I scrunch my nose. “Yeah, I’m pretty glad I have a girl now,” I say as we walk up to the carousel.
“Lizards aren’t so bad. I’m a little more worried about him being into girls.”
“Oh, Lord, if you’re worried about your son with girls, I can’t imagine if you had a daughter,” I giggle.
“If I had a daughter she would already be in karate classes,” he says seriously.
When we get to the carousel we have to wait for the next group of kids to get on. Eric stands next to us a little closer than I’m comfortable with, only because of my daughter in my arms. I rock from side to side and Joey has her eyes glued to the horses.
“Do you know which one you want to ride?” I ask her. I don’t really know what to say to Eric that isn’t about toys, Hello Kitty, horses, or potty training.
“The pink one,” Joey answers without hesitation.
“Why am I not surprised?” I smile as I look over at Eric. He has his eyes on us and my cheeks start burning.
“Pink’s her favorite, I’m guessing.”
“Yep, she won’t let me put her in anything that doesn’t have pink on it. Her room is all pink. I personally hate pink, but she usually gets what she wants,” I explain and kiss her head.
“With any luck she’ll outgrow it,” he says.
“Hopefully, but with my luck she’ll jump right into a goth stage,” I giggle.
It’s our turn to get on the carousel and I ask Eric, “Can you come with us or is there a one adult rule?”
“One adult per kid,” he says. “It’s fine, I’ll wait here for you.”
“Thanks, we’ll only be a minute.” As I walk away I kick myself. Of course we’ll only be a minute, it’s not like the horse it going to come to life and take off with us.
“Alright, are you ready?” I ask Joey with excitement in my voice as I place her on the pink pony.
I show her how to hold on to the bar and a few seconds later we start to go around. She’s beside herself and I have to hold onto her so she doesn’t bounce off of the horse. As we go around I see Eric watching us and I give him a little wave, earning a very handsome smile and a wave back. The second time around I point him out to Joey and have her wave at him. I think after today he’s going to be her favorite person.
I allow Joey to walk off, but I keep her hand in mine as we rejoin Eric.
“She might want to go again, but I think she was eyeballing the ball pit,” I tell Eric when we stop next to him.
“Then let’s go,” he says. “Did you like the horsies?”
“Yes!” Joey jumps up to slap Eric’s hand when he holds it out for a high five.
We walk over to the ball pit and I see it’s at the end of an elaborate jungle gym that looks pretty safe, but I’m nervous about letting her go in without me since it’s built for kids and I’m wearing a dress.
“I don’t know,” I say, eyeing the entrance.
“We’ll be right here,” he says. “I’ll even go in with her if you’re want.”
“Can you fit in that?” I chuckle, pointing at to the maze.
“I am surprisingly nimble,” he wiggles his eyebrows.
“Do you think she’ll be okay alone? I mean, I know there are other kids in there, but…”
Eric looks at Joey and asks, “Are you a tough guy?”
“You have to take your shoes off,” I relent. She’s growing up too fast.
“I can do it,” Joey says. She lets go of my hand and plops down right where she is to untie her shoes.
When she’s done she hands them to me and I nod before I watch her scurry off to the jungle gym.
“Thank you,” I say to Eric again, but I keep my eyes on my daughter.
“You’re welcome. Your daughter’s adorable,” he says.
“Thank you. I’m trying. Her dad is around, but not as much as he should be.”
“That’s a shame,” Eric says. “I don’t know his story but I know I wish I had more time for Jake than I do; I figure it’ll pay off once I’m done with school and all that. Better job means a better life for my son.”
“If I could be at home with her all the time I would. I have the one job, and I thank my lucky stars for my neighbor. Mrs. Fortenberry watches Joey while I work, which saves a ton on daycare. I could’ve asked her to watch her tonight, but I didn’t want to ask her last minute and I sometimes I feel like she’s with Mrs. Fortenberry more than she’s with me.”
“It’s a lot harder than our parents made it look, isn’t it?” he gives me an understanding smile.
“Oh yeah,” I laugh. “My mom was stay at home and I was homeschooled so I was with her all the time. I don’t think I’m going to have that luxury with this one.”
“I don’t think I could handle homeschooling Jake,” Eric shakes his head. “I love him and I love spending time with him but yeah… the boy needs to make friends.”
“I had plenty of friends, and an older brother, so that helped. I was only homeschooled until I hit high school and they put me in public school with the other kids,” I tell him.
“Which did you prefer?”
“Homeschool. I was never good with people,” I admit.
“I don’t know if I would agree with that. You helped me and all with a pretty smile on your face.”
I blush and look down for a second trying to hide it. When I realize there’s no hope for me I look back up at him and say, “You looked so lost… it was cute. Plus the other girl was in the back so I was the only option.”
“I’m glad you were,” he winks at me.
To try to save myself from bursting into flames I start to look for Joey. I catch her eye toward the top and she gives me a little wave. She’s having a blast.
“You know, I’m glad I was the only option too,” I tell him after hiking my big girl panties up.
“So I was going to ask what you like to do for fun in your spare time but I’m willing to bet your answer is the same as mine.”
“Precisely,” he grins.
“Sorry I’m overdressed,” I say out of the blue. “This is what I was planning to wear and I didn’t have time to find something else when plans changed.”
“I don’t mind. You look beautiful,” he says sincerely.
“Thank you.” We go silent for a moment and I finally say, “I think she’s going to be in there a while. Do you want to sit?” There are some benches right behind us we can sit and watch.
“Sure. Have you had dinner already? I can go get that ordered since it’ll take a while,” he offers.
“That would be nice. I would go with you but…” I motion toward my little monkey scurrying across one of the mesh things.
“She’s like a little spider monkey,” he smirks. “Don’t worry about it. What does boss lady like on her pizza?”
“She’s a cheese girl,” I smile at him.
“Got it. What about you?”
“I’m good with combo, no mushrooms.”
“Okay. I’ll be back,” he says, and then heads to the little restaurant area to order our dinner.
I think I like him. I don’t know a lot about him, but he gets where I’m coming from. I doubt he would be the kind of guy to get upset because I have an emergency with my daughter. He’s also good with her. I don’t know what his relationship with his ex, but from the way he talks about Jake I can only hope it’s civil. Sam and I only seem to yell at each other, which sucks. I hide it from Joey when I can, but she’s caught one or two arguments in the past.
I stand up and make my way to the ball pit when I see Joey at the top of the slide. There is a worker up there that gives her the okay to go. I wish I had my camera with me because the look of sheer joy on her face makes my heart melt a little. She’s a happy girl, but she’s wearing my favorite smile right now. It’s stuff like this that makes me want to punch Sam for being such a dick when it comes to spending time with her.
I’m pulled out of my thoughts when I feel a large, warm hand on the small of my back.
“Pizza should take about twenty minutes,” he says, and then hands me his phone so I can see the picture he took. “I think that’s a Christmas morning smile.”
I put my hand up to my heart and I have to hold back the tears. He caught her on the slide.
“Thank you, that’s my favorite smile,” I say, looking up at him. “I was just kicking myself for not having my camera on me. I left my phone in my center console.”
“I’ll text it to you so you have it.”
“You’re… thank you,” I smile and I look at the picture again.
Just then Joey comes bounding out of the ball pit toward us. Her hair is all over the place and her cheeks are flushed.
“Having fun, kiddo?” I ask her when she reaches us, breathing heavily.
“Yes! Can I do it again?” Joey asks.
“Of course you can, silly,” I laugh. “Just once, though, Eric got a pizza for us.”
“Okay!” she says and then takes off running for the little playground again.
“She’s getting so big,” I sigh as I watch her dive back through the entrance.
“I’m sure she just rolled over for the first time three days ago,” Eric says.
“She did,” I giggle. “Okay, she’s going to be there a while. Want to try that sittin’ thing again?”
“Sure,” he nods.
We walk over to the bench and I sit first, leaving ample room for Eric to sit next to me. He sits a respectable distance away, but I can still feel the heat from his body. I just might be heating up because I actually met a man I like, that seems to like my daughter.
“So… I guess you’re a mechanic?” I ask, trying to get to know a little more about him.
“For now and for fun,” he says. “It’s a good way to support myself until I’m done with school.”
I nod in agreement. “I’m full time at the candle shop. I’ve been working there since before I got pregnant with Jo. I got pregnant with her at the beginning of my junior year of college, and I made it till about my fifth month before I had to leave. I was real sick when I was pregnant with her.”
“That’s rough. I was only nineteen when Jake’s mom got pregnant so it’s been an interesting couple of years.”
“How old are you?” I ask him. I have a feeling he looks older than he is.
“Twenty-one. I’ll be twenty-two in September,” he answers.
I smile and say, “Now I feel like a cougar.”
“Nah, you’re what, twenty-four? You’re twenty years too young for that. A cradle robber, maybe…” he teases.
“Yeah, twenty-four. I like the sound of cougar better than cradle robber,” I giggle.
“Puma works,” I agree.
“And it’s strange because I don’t usually have a thing for older women…”
“Well, I’m glad you made an exception for me. I kinda like you.”
“I kinda like you too,” he smiles at me.
We’re smiling at each other like idiots when my three-year-old smacks into my knees.
“Done already?” I ask her, using the same smile I was just giving Eric. I pull her up on my lap and say, “Tell me all about it.”
“First I climbed up the net,” she says as she pushes her hair out of her face. “Then I went in the tunnel. I crawled on the bridge and then I went whoosh,” Joey moves her arm fast, “down the slide!”
“That sounds like so much fun. I wish I could get in there with you. Are you ready to eat?”
Joey nods and then leans closer.
“Mommy I have to pee,” she says too loud to be a whisper.
“Well then I’ll take you to the potty,” I whisper back, just as loud. “Excuse us,” I say to Eric and I get up to take my little girl to the restroom.
“I’ll go grab the pizza and find us a table,” he tells me.
Joey talks my ear off all the way to the bathroom, also while she’s going to the bathroom, while she washing her hands and still when we find Eric looking as handsome as ever sitting in a booth just big enough for the three of us.