Authors: Ahren Sanders
“That’s what I’m scared of. Giving you that time. You may finally come to your senses and realize I’m a dumb jock that isn’t good enough for you.” He continues to kiss and suck on the sensitive flesh and I drop my head back enjoying the heat starting in my body. He knows what he’s doing because I feel him grin against my collarbone.
“Reed, I thought we covered this. I’ll go with you as long as you want me. You’re not a dumb jock; you’re one of the smartest people I know. I’m the one scared you’ll change your mind. Once you get a taste of the finer things in life, you may decide—”
“Don’t, Ari; there is nothing finer in life than being with you. I love you.”
“I love you too, Reed, so much I’m scared.”
He stops kissing me and stares into my eyes. His body language is so serious I want to cower, but I don’t. I gaze up at him and wait for him to speak.
“Don’t be scared, Ari, I plan on taking care of you for the rest of our lives. You never need to be scared with me. I’m not going anywhere.”
Even though it’s painful, I smile at the memory and he growls.
“Did you just growl?”
“Ari, I’m not sure if you have been in this room tonight, but we just found out we were both manipulated, someone broke us up on purpose and in doing so, kept one of the biggest things in my life a secret. What the hell are you smiling about?”
“I was thinking about the night you found out about the four teams. You acted the same way.”
His lips raise in a slight grin and his face softens. “I can’t believe you remember that.”
“Reed, I remember every minute with you.”
“I feel like such a fool. I should have demanded you talk to me. I should have been the man I promised you.”
“Whoever did this to us, played on both our insecurities. Mine especially. I always felt you were too good for me.”
“Oh, Ari, please tell me it’s not too late for me.”
“I’m not going to tell you anything. I want you to think about something, Reed, and when you make up your mind and I know you’re sincere, we’ll see about the next steps.”
“Davis is a child. He’s three years old and doesn’t understand the lifestyle you lead. The travel, the fame, the money, the women, any of it. To him, a big day is the park
ice cream. We live modestly, but our home is filled with love. I try not to spoil him and we’re currently in the process of learning not to pee in the bed at night. Our lifestyle isn’t glamorous, and I won’t allow you to try and change that. I don’t want him to get hurt either. He has one male figure in his life and that’s Luke. If we introduce you, we’ll need to take it slow.”
“No, Reed, think about it. I need to know you’re serious.”
“There’s nothing in the world—not one thing—more important right now than me getting to know my son and be a part of his life.”
My head is spinning. The revelations in the last hour have me feeling confused, hurt, and angry. I want to yell at him, scream about letting me go so easily, but then I think about how I did the same. I didn’t stay and fight. I let my humiliation and pride get in the way. Immaturity and devastation kept me from confronting him and demanding he talk to me. I’ve never been a bold person, but I should have listened to Sophie and Luke. I should have been the bigger person since another life was in the equation.
Guilt overwhelms me. Not for Reed, but for the child in the other room. My parents taught me to be a kind person, but Grandma Katy instilled compassion and forgiveness. Reed may have hurt me but Davis should not suffer because of my pain and mistakes. I would never forgive myself. I stare at Reed for a minute and watch the emotions across his face. His mind is made up. He wants this.
“Alright then, have a seat. Let’s go over some of your questions. First up, birthday is September 15th.”
He relaxes and sits waiting for more.
“In case you’re wondering, he’s a Sugar Bowl baby.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“He was conceived the night FSU won the Sugar Bowl.”
A smile lights up his face and his eyes twinkle. “Guess I was really on my game that night.”
“You’re an idiot.” I say playfully and settle back to answer his questions.
“I can’t believe this shit! What sort of conniving bitch would do that?” Sophie spews. “Sorry Ms. Katy.”
“It’s alright dear; I was thinking the same thing.” Grandma pats her hand.
I’ve invited Luke, Sophie, and Grams over to tell them about Reed showing up last night. We made it through dinner with general chitchat because I wasn’t ready to talk to Davis yet. As soon as he was in bed, I opened the wine and told them everything.
No one spoke for a few minutes when I was done with the story until Sophie blew up.
“It’s surreal. You can’t imagine the things going through my mind. The most important though is I think he’s being honest about getting to know Davis.”
“Ari, of course he’s being honest. But you still need to be careful.” Luke grabs another beer and sits next to me. “Take things slow, see how it goes.”
“I will, I have a short term plan to see how they interact.”
“Sweetheart, I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about you.”
“Why would you be talking about me? This has nothing to do with me.”
Three sets of eyes stare at me in silence.
“You’ve got to be kidding! There is no Reed and Ari anymore. That boat has sailed. This is about the father of my child wanting to be a part of his life.”
“You sure about that?” Grandma asks me softly.
“Are y’all crazy? Of course I’m sure! I was destroyed by that man one time, not going back for seconds. Besides, we didn’t discuss us at all. The conversation was strictly about what tore us apart and Davis.”
“Girl, I don’t want to make you mad, but there’s a huge gaping hole in your heart that has his name all over it. You’ve never gotten over him. Don’t try to fool us, we know you best.” Sophie gives me a look of sympathy.
“Change of subject! Davis is the number one priority here.”
They nod their heads at me, but I know this is not the end of the subject.
What the hell am I doing? Why am I so nervous? It’s only a kid. Kids love me. I do charity and sports sponsored events all the time. Little kids flock to me for autographs and hugs.
But they aren’t my kid. Even after spending an hour Tuesday night with Ari learning about Davis, there are so many more questions. He doesn’t know who I am because Ari felt he was too young to explain. He’s also never seen a pro football game. That’s gonna change. At least Luke and Ari have the decency to still watch college football.
After our talk, we decided I would meet them at the park, and then we could get ice cream. It’s an easy few hours that won’t confuse him. I asked if I could bring him a toy but she said I should wait. Something about spoiling him too much. Well, I’ve got news for little Miss Ari, spoiling him is going to be my mission. He’s almost four years old and I’ve never bought him a thing.
I look at the address one more time to make sure I’m in the right place, and then get out of the car to wait for them. Ari parks a few places over and helps Davis out of some sort of contraption. There are so many straps and clicks; I wonder why she doesn’t have him in a helmet too.
When she looks at me, I see she’s as nervous as I am. Her face is strained like she could cry any second.
She walks over to me holding his little hand and smiles slightly. Looking at the two of them together makes my heart skip a beat. They are beautiful.
“Davis, I want you to meet someone. This is Reed and he’s our friend.”
The word friend cuts me to the bone and I try not to react. I kneel down to his eye level and smile. “Hey there, little man.”
He puts his small hand in mine and looks between his mother and me with confusion.
“Fis man!” he squeals.
Ari shakes her head and giggles and I laugh with them. “Yep, buddy, I’m the fish man.” Otherwise known as your dad, I want to add. But maybe his enthusiasm about me being the fish man is better.
“Will you push me on the swing?” he asks.
Whoa, talk about subject change! I look to Ari for approval and she nods slightly.
“Sure, lead the way.”
He lets go of our hands and takes off running towards the swing set. I start to run after him, but Ari puts her hand on my arm to stop me. “Let him run it out. He’s safe here. The more energy he exerts, the better his nap will be.” My arms burns where she’s touching but I can’t think about the sting right now.
We walk behind him and I go to the swing while she sits on a bench. I start out slow, scared to death he’s going to fall, but he’s fearless. After about five minutes of me pushing too low, he jumps off and runs to the slides.
There’s not really anything I can do at the slide, so I sit by Ari and watch him playing with the other kids. He squeals in delight every time he gets to the bottom of the slide and we cheer him on.
The feelings swirling through my body are foreign. There’s happiness but also sadness. Tears threaten so I look in a different direction to try and calm down.
“It’s amazing huh?”
“You have no idea.”
We sit in silence for a few minutes until Davis runs over, hopping in a circle.
“Hold on, baby. Let’s get you to the bathroom.” Ari gets up but it’s my turn to stop her.
“Let me take him.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Babe, I’m pretty sure I can handle him going to the bathroom. I may not know about children, but that’s one thing I have down pat.”
She sits back down and points to the public restrooms. Davis puts his hand in mine and we walk away with him squirming. Then I think to myself. What the hell do I do if he pees all over himself?
The whole experience was comical. Everything went well until he twisted and peed on the wall of the stall and then screamed in excitement. I tried to wipe it down and then realized why moms carry hand sanitizer everywhere they go.
Ari is waiting for us on the bench with an amused expression. I tell her what happened and she goes to her car and gets me a wipe.
Davis asks me to play tag with another little boy, and I chase them for as long as they stay interested. The two leave me after a while and hit every piece of equipment in the park. The other child’s mother is talking to Ari when I get back to the bench. She’s a pretty woman and obviously very pregnant. She thanks me for playing with them and then goes to the other bench.
“Oh, I feel her pain, she’s due in a month and has a very energetic child.”
“What do you mean?” I ask stupidly.
“Well, for starters, it’s almost June and she’s carrying an extra twenty pounds. She has a little boy, which means constant energy and mayhem. She’s tired, swollen, sleep deprived, and probably emotional.”
“Wow, how did you handle it?” I’m genuinely interested and in this moment, I hate every fucking person and myself who had a hand in breaking us up. I never got to experience Ari’s pregnancy.
“I had support. I also didn’t have another kid running around needing everything from me. I only had to take care of myself.”
“What about after he was born?”
“I’d already made the decision to take the fall semester off, so I didn’t stress about having to go back to school so soon. He was a really good baby. I breastfed and had him on a schedule at seven weeks. Luke and Sophie were godsends. Katy had a stroke before he was born so both of our mobility was limited for a while. We had other friends bringing by food and helping, but my best friends took turns helping with the major errands. Once I could drive again, it was better. I didn’t have to go to work until he was almost fifteen weeks. I worked weekends at the resort in town and had weekdays home.”
Watching my son, I digest Ari’s words. She was always hard working, but she just confirmed her strength. Her fingers close around my wrist and I feel the familiar sensation run though my body. She could always turn me on with just her touch. Nothing’s changed.
I think of sweaty linemen, nasty locker rooms, running statistics, anything to help the swelling in my pants. Damn, Reed! You’re at a playground, control yourself.