Authors: Kathryn Thomas
“Where do you want to go for lunch?” Cain asked as we waited our turn to pay.
We stepped up to the pay window when the woman in front of us moved away. Cain handed her the clipboard with my information on it.
“It will be twenty-five today,” the pretty woman said behind the desk.
I was reaching into my purse when Cain laid a pair of bills on the counter.
“Do you need a receipt?” the girl asked.
“No. Thank you,” he said as he prodded me along.
“Why did you do that?” I demanded as we stepped outside.
“People were waiting.”
“That’s bullshit. Would you just stop?”
“Are we going to lunch or are we going to stand out here so you can bitch at me? I haven’t had anything since dinner last night, I have a long ride ahead of me, and I’m hungry.”
“You’re going back today?”
“Yeah. Why? Do you want me to stick around just so you can bust my balls some more?”
The bitterness in his voice stung me. “No.”
“Okay then. I would like to have lunch with you before I leave, but, if not, just tell me so I can go.”
I thought about sending him on his way, but I didn’t. He looked exhausted. “No. Lunch first. How about Italian? There is a good place not far from here. If you will leave your bike, you can ride with me.”
He relaxed a little. “Okay. Thanks, I would like that. Sorry for being so…pissy.”
The restaurant was only about fifteen minutes away, and Cain went to sleep in the passenger seat almost as soon as the car started moving. That worried me. I didn’t want him in my life, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him spread all over the highway either.
He must be a light sleeper because the moment I jerked the handbrake up he opened his eyes and looked around. “Did I go to sleep?”
“Yeah. How are you going to get home if you can’t stay awake?” I asked as I opened my door.
“It’s a lot easier to stay awake on the hog with the wind in your face.”
We stepped into the little Italian bistro and had our choice of tables. I ordered fettuccine and asked them to go light on the sauce, along with water to drink. Cain went all in with the sampler platter of lasagna, veal parmigiana, manicotti, and ravioli. Just the thought of all that food was enough to make me turn green.
“No beer? Or wine?” I asked when he completed his order.
“No. Having a beer as tired as I am, and with as long as a ride as I have, doesn’t seem like a good idea.”
I nibbled at the bread as we waited, breaking it off in bite sized chunks that I slowly chewed. His answer surprised and confused me. Just like the last time he was in New Orleans, he seemed so…sincere…in his desire to help me and more responsible than I gave him credit for. Why was it that every time he was with me, I was so conflicted?
“I don’t want to fight about this again, but why aren’t you cashing the checks? I thought we agreed that if you didn’t need the money, you would just put it into a savings account. A college fund or something,” Cain said quietly. “Can’t you give me even that? Do you hate me that much?”
My lips pulled down into a pout and I poked another piece of bread between my lips. “I don’t hate you, Cain,” I mumbled, unable to meet his eyes.
“Then what? Why won’t you accept my help?”
“I don’t know. I’m afraid of what might happen if I let you get close.”
He sighed. “Leaving that for a moment, what has that got to do with accepting my help? Day before yesterday was the first time I had spoken to you in a month. I’m doing as you asked. I’m staying away. Isn’t that enough?”
“You can’t buy your way into my life, Cain.”
He said nothing and I finally looked up. His eyes were boring into me. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
to provide for my child. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“And you don’t think I can’t do it alone?”
“Alex…” he said then stopped. “What do you want me to say? Can you do it? Probably. But why do you want to struggle? Is it some pride thing with you? Do you want to scrimp and save and wonder how you are going to pay this month’s rent? Help me to understand, Alex. I want to know.”
Now it was my turn to sigh. “I can’t explain it, Cain. It’s just a feeling that you are trouble, that if I let you get close to me, to our baby, that something bad will happen.”
“But I have been staying away. I’m not trying to get close. You’ve made your feelings about me abundantly clear. But I don’t understand why you can’t accept my financial help. That’s all I’m asking for, Alex. Let me help the baby. Don’t deprive him, or her, of the things they need.”
I looked up at him but had to turn away, unable to hold his eyes with the hope and pain I could see there. “I’m sorry,” I said softly, and I meant it. “I don’t mean to hurt you.”
He took my hand. “Alex, I would like to get to know the mother of my child. And it does hurt that you won’t even give me a chance. But all that I’m asking is that you don’t punish our child. Please. Have you told your boss that you’re pregnant yet?”
“No. Not yet.”
“How’s it going at work? Still doing okay?”
“It’s hard some nights. The smells, they get to me sometimes.”
“I’m sorry,” he said as he gave my hand a tender squeeze. “Have you had any luck finding anything else?”
“No. Not even a call back.” When he didn’t say anything I look up at him. “What?”
“I have been asking around in Dallas,” he said softly. “I have a friend that would like to talk to you, if you are interested.”
“I know you don’t want to move to Dallas but —”
“I don’t know. Some kind of lab work for a medical testing lab. It’s entry level but…”
“But you found it for me?”
“I asked around, yes.”
“This is the kind of stuff that you do that pisses me off,” I whispered, then sat back as our food arrived.
“Trying to help you?”
“Doing everything for me. I’m not incompetent, you know!”
“I never said you were. But job hunting is all about connections. I haven’t gotten the job for you. You still have to do that. All I did was found you an opportunity. If one of your friends said, ‘Hey, give this guy a call,’ would you be pissed off at them?”
“No,” I mumbled.
“So why are you pissed off at me?”
“I don’t know! You just do that to me!”
He sighed again. “Do you want the contact information or not,” he asked, his voice brimming with annoyance.
“Yeah. Give it here,” I said as I turned and dug in my purse for pen and paper. When I turned back, he was sliding a business card across the table. I picked it up. “Cheryl Atkinson?”
“She’s the lab manager.”
“What kind of friend is she?” I asked just to be snotty. I didn’t like myself very much right then but I couldn’t help it.
“Does it matter?”
I slid the card back across the table. “I don’t want the help of some bimbo that you’re banging.”
I saw his lips narrow. “It’s Thad’s, the President’s, sister.”
I burned in embarrassment. “Sorry,” I mumbled as I pulled the card back to me. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, but he didn’t sound pleased at all. And who could blame him? I was being nothing but a bitch, and for no reason other than I could. I sat picking at my noodles, feeling terrible. Cain was trying to help me, asking for nothing in return, and I couldn’t even be civil.
“If I offer to pick up your lunch, are you going to bitch at me?” he asked when the waitress dropped off our ticket. The lunch had been a tense affair, neither of us talking much. And it was all my fault.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said with a feeble smile.
He looked at the ticket and tossed a ten and a twenty onto the little tray the ticket was in. “Are you ready?”
I rose as he stepped back, waited for me to pass in front of him and then followed. When we stepped outside I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Cain… I’m sorry. I’ve been acting like a harpy all afternoon…and I’m sorry.”
“No!” I said as I stepped in front of him, turned, and placed a hand in his chest, forcing him to either stop or knock me down. He stopped. “It’s not okay. I shouldn’t be treating you like this. You deserve better. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Hormones, maybe. But I feel terrible about it.”
He stared down at me a moment then softened. “Apology accepted. Will you just cash my checks? If you will do that, and try to be pleasant the once or twice a month you see me, we can get through this with a minimum of pain for both of us. I don’t expect you to be thrilled to see me, but it would be nice if you weren’t twisting the knife every chance you get.”
“Twisting the knife?”
“Yeah. You don’t know what it has like for me. I want you. Or at least, I want a chance to get to know you, but you stiff-arm me at every turn. You’re the mother of my child, yet you don’t want me around. That’s a hard thing for me to accept. It’s a hard thing to let go. And it hurts, Alex. It hurts to be this close to you and know that you don’t want me.”
I looked at my shoes. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t mean to hurt you, Alex. I really don’t. But I’m afraid for you. What happens if you lose your job? You won’t have insurance. You won’t have any income. How will you survive? I’m afraid you think this is going to be some grand adventure. But it’s not. It’s going to be hard. I understand you not wanting to leave home, but I wanted to give you an option. I am just asking for peace of mind in knowing that you are okay and that my child will be properly taken care of. I think you are going to be a terrific mother. I just want to make it a little easier for you and help make sure that the baby has what I never did: a future.” He looked at me a moment and I saw his eyes become shiny with tears. He took my face in his hands and kissed me, as if he were saying goodbye forever, before he stepped back. “Will you give me a ride back to my bike?”
I felt such shame that I wanted to cry. “Yes. But don’t leave for Dallas. Come home with me.”
“Why? The last time you invited me to your house we ended up making love then you sent me away. I don’t need that again.”
“You’re tired. You can sleep on my couch for a few hours before you leave.”
“Why do you care?”
That stung. “I don’t want my baby’s father to become a smear on the interstate because he fell asleep on the way home.”
He stared at me a moment. “Thank you.”
I dropped him off at the clinic for his bike and he followed me home. As I exited my car in the garage, I saw him staring at my yard before he entered the garage and I shut the big door behind him.
“I’ll try to be quiet,” I said as we entered the house. I had to be at work in four hours anyway.