I haven’t done one of these in a while and when I woke up I remembered today was Thursday, so…
“I’m so sorry about this,” Chance told Freddie as he pulled the car into traffic. “Nothing short of coming down with the bubonic plague was going to be a good enough excuse to get out of today. And if I told her I was sick she would have come straight to my apartment to check on me. Probably would have sent her private doc to visit you if we’d said you were afflicted. I’m so sorry,” he said again.
A quick glance across the front of the rental car showed him she wasn’t showing any signs of being angry or put out. In fact, he ventured to think it was the opposite. She looked resigned to it and content.
“Don’t worry about it.” She turned to glance at her daughter who was secured in the booster seat behind them, holding an iPad and with earphones in place. “I wasn’t doing anything today buy baking for tomorrow anyway, and I already got a head start on that this morning.”
“Still, I feel, well, guilty about all this. If I’d never asked you to pretend to be my girlfriend in the first place you wouldn’t have been ambushed into coming along today. My only hope is that after this they’ll leave me, us, alone.”
He remembered saying the same thing after the anniversary party and look how that had backfired.
“It’ll all be fine,” she said. “Where’d you get the car, by the way? I thought you didn’t keep one in the city.”
“I don’t. I rented it for the weekend. It was easier than depending on car service, plus, this way we can leave as soon as we want without having to wait to be picked up.”
Freddie’s laugh filled the cab. “We haven’t even gotten there yet and already you’re planning your escape.”
“It pays to plan ahead,” he muttered.
Why wasn’t she angry? Or at least put out by the situation? He was. In spades.
But saying no to his family wasn’t something he could do. He felt obligated to abide by his aunt’s wishes no matter how much they inconvenienced him.
Freddie, though, had no obligation to his family. And yet, here she was, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, going to a dinner that was sure to be emotionally trying, her daughter in tow, and acting like it was no big deal at all.
The more he came to know the woman the more intrigued he was by her.
Traffic, unfortunately in his eyes, was sparse and they made it over the bridge to his aunt’s Brooklyn brownstone in record time.
When he found a parking spot on her street he started to feel like some cosmic force was conspiring against him, making everything easy today so he’d be forced to stay longer than he wanted.
Freddie took Dawn out of the booster seat and once the child was on the sidewalk between then, she slipped her tiny hand into his, the other in her mother’s. Something shifted in his chest when he looked down at the little redhead and she smiled up at him.
“Mommy,” she said as they made their way up the stoop steps to his aunt’s front door. “Did you make enough cupcakes for me to have two?”
“We’ll see,” Freddie said. “It depends on how many people are here and how well you do with eating your dinner.”
“I’ll be good. Promise. I just hope they don’t have carrots.” She looked back up at Chance. “I don’t like carrots. I don’t like any orange food.”
He pressed her hand and said, “Me, neither.”
Her wide, blue-eyed wonder, made him laugh. “Can’t stand them.”
“Wow. I thought all grownups ate carrots.”
Chance rang the doorbell. “Not this one.” He took a deep breath when the lock shifted.
“Relax,” Freddie said.
The door was thrown open wide and his aunt pulled him into her arms, then pushed him away to do the same to Freddie. When it was Dawn’s turn to receive the exuberant welcome, he felt her body press against his leg, her little hand still holding tight to his. In a heartbeat, he picked up her so she wouldn’t have to be engulfed in his aunt’s killer grip and said, “It smells great in here. When are we eating?”
He caught Freddie’s dramatic eye roll as she presented the box filled with the cupcakes she’d baked to his aunt.