A girls guide to moving.., p.24
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.24

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  Leanne nodded as if she knew exactly the kind of person I was talking about. “In other words, he’s like Rocco but harder, with a mouth his mother should have washed out with soap.”

  “Exactly. He came over to where Rocco and I were sitting and started in. Right away Rocco took offense at Sam’s language. The thing is, Sam used the same swear words when we were playing pool and Rocco didn’t object then.”

  “There was probably a reason he didn’t.”

  I couldn’t imagine what it would be.

  Leanne answered, as if she’d heard my unspoken question. “Rocco might have been waiting to see your reaction,” she offered, “or…” She paused and a smile grew until it looked as if she was at the point of laughing.

  “What?” I pressed, wanting to know.

  “Or it could be that he cares for you more now than he did earlier.”

  I smiled, hoping that was the case. I didn’t mention what else Sam had said about how Rocco treated relationships with women. Like Rocco told me, that was years ago. I suspected that Kaylene had been the result of one of those one-night stands.

  “What happened next?” Leanne asked, drawing me back to the present.

  “Sam and Rocco exchanged words and I could see Rocco was angry.” I admired the way he’d held himself together, not only with Sam but with Jake, too. He wasn’t easily manipulated into a fight.

  “We left and went to a movie and he fell asleep. So much for my hot date.”

  I was disappointed he hadn’t come up to the apartment with me. I didn’t want to be treated like a fragile piece of porcelain.

  —

  I waited until I was back in my apartment before I sent Rocco a text.

  Me: You home?

  Rocco: Yeah.

  Me: Why didn’t you come up to the apartment?

  Rocco: You know why.

  Me: I wish you had.

  I waited and there wasn’t any response for several minutes.

  Rocco: UR not ready. Soon, baby, soon, and next time no beer.

  Me: Next time no popcorn and no excuses.

  Rocco: My pleasure and hopefully yours.

  I made an excuse to stop by Jake’s house on Sunday afternoon. I called ahead and offered to pick up Owen. Jake readily agreed, and I suspected he was looking to avoid Nichole, especially after he’d made such an ass of himself at Cassie and Steve’s wedding reception.

  When I arrived I found Owen sitting in front of the television, watching a movie. Happy to see me, my grandson leaped up and ran around the living room in his bare feet before racing into my arms.

  “Where’s Mommy?”

  “She’s at home,” I told him as I lifted him up and rested him on my hip. It wouldn’t be much longer that he’d let me do that. Owen liked to think of himself as a big boy, especially now that he attended preschool.

  “Did you have a good time with your daddy?” I asked him.

  Owen nodded. “He took me to see Santa and he let me dwive the golf cart.”

  I made eye contact with my son and gave him a thumbs-up sign. More often than not, Owen mentioned the sitters who looked after him on the weekends he was with his father. It worried me that Jake didn’t spend quality time with his son.

  “Can I get you anything, Mom?” Jake asked.

  “Water,” I said, although I wasn’t thirsty. I followed him into the kitchen and Owen returned to watching his SpongeBob movie, which I swear he should know by heart by this time. The toddler sat cross-legged in front of the television with his play tow truck at his side.

  Jake took two bottles of water out of the refrigerator and handed me one. His look was mildly defiant. “I suppose you’re here to lecture me about last weekend. If so, don’t bother.”

  “That wasn’t my intention.”

  “Good.”

  “I’m here to talk about your father.”

  Jake opened his water and took a swig. “What about Dad?”

  It occurred to me that Sean might not have told Jake his news. Seeing how close the two were, I found that hard to believe. “I’m worried about him.”

  “We all are, but there’s nothing more we can do.”

  I could hardly believe our son’s flippant reaction to the fact that his father was dying. “I think we should both do whatever we can to help him through the next six months,” I said pointedly.

  “What can I do?” Jake asked, stretching out his arms palms up in question. “First off, I’ve got my own life. I work fifty hours a week and then I’ve got Owen every other weekend. I don’t have time for myself as it is. I’ll do what I can, Mom, you know that, but there really isn’t much I can do other than check up on him.”

  “I was hoping you’d be able to look into finding a caregiver for him.”

  “What?” Jake demanded. “Dad would hate that.”

  I knew Jake was right. Sean would intensely dislike having someone wash and feed him. “Not right away, but, you know, later.”

  Jake shrugged. “Let Barbara handle that.”

  Barbara. I didn’t know any Barbara.

  He must have read the question on my face, because he added, “She’s one of Dad’s special friends.”

  He didn’t need to elaborate; I knew what he meant. I wouldn’t say it, but I strongly suspected that once Sean’s health deteriorated to the point he needed a caregiver, Barbara would be long gone.

  “Have you seen the house?” I asked. “He definitely needs a housekeeper.”

  “Then let him hire one. I’m not his babysitter.” He rolled his eyes and reached for the water bottle, taking another long drink. “Mom, I don’t mean to sound callous, but the fact is I’ve got my own life and my own problems. It hasn’t exactly been easy for me. I’ll do what I can for Dad, you know I will.”

  This conversation was an eye-opener for me. I hadn’t realized how self-centered and self-absorbed my son was. In many ways Jake was indeed his father’s son. “Maybe hiring a housekeeper is something else I should leave to Barbara,” I suggested with a hint of a smile.

  “Not a bad idea,” Jake said, grinning. “But you should know that woman is a slob.”

  That helped explain why the house was such a disaster. “I cleaned the house for him when he was in the hospital. The skimpy underwear I found in the sofa cushion must belong to her.”

  “Or Candace or Susan.”

  Oh. I held up my hand. I didn’t need to listen to a litany of names. I decided it was time to get serious. “Your dad asked me to help him select a casket.”

  “What?” Jake nearly spewed the water from his mouth. “That’s a bit macabre, isn’t it?”

  “Perhaps,” I said. I had trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that Sean had cancer. “It might seem premature, but he asked me to help and I didn’t feel I could refuse.”

  Jake rolled his eyes. “Dad always has been something of a drama queen.” He hesitated, then added, “I guess in his case it would be drama king.”

  “I promised I’d go with him.” It was plain now that Jake was in denial and couldn’t accept that his father had only six months to live.

  My son slouched down on a kitchen chair. “Have you told Nikolai about this?”

  I hadn’t. “Not yet.”

  He screwed the cap back on the water bottle. “I heard about him and Dad squaring off. Dad said Nikolai made it clear he was your man now and that Dad had had his chance. Apparently, he told Dad that he was a fool.” Jake snickered. “I thought that was low, seeing how weak Dad was, just home from the hospital.”

  “I don’t know what they said. Nikolai asked me to wait in the car.”

  Jake kept his head lowered. “Seems you’re not the only one who’s moved on. Nichole certainly has.”

  “It looks that way,” I said.

  Jake ran his hand down his face. “It was stupid of me to make a scene at Cassie’s wedding,” he murmured, and sounded genuinely regretful.

  I purposely didn’t respond. He didn’t need me to confirm what he already knew.
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  “I don’t like this man she’s seeing,” he said, and his jaw tightened.

  I had the feeling Jake would feel that way about any man who was interested in Nichole. “Rocco’s a good guy.”

  “He isn’t, Mom.” He looked up and his eyes were intense. “How well do either of you know him?”

  “Only what Nichole has told me.” It wasn’t like I’d paid for a background search on him. “I know he’s a single father. He owns Potter Towing and works long hours.”

  “Were you aware he’s got a record for assault and avoiding arrest? Plus, there’s a bunch of other issues with him that are a matter of public record.” Jake said it as if he was proud of it. “That isn’t the kind of man I want hanging around my son.”

  “How long ago was that?” I asked, because that didn’t sound like the Rocco I knew.

  “A few years, but it’s on his record. If he didn’t own that company of his he probably wouldn’t be able to get a job. Not with an assault conviction and jail time.”

  “Owen loves him.” The minute the words were out I knew it was the wrong thing to say.

  “That’s another thing,” Jake flared, angry now. “All Owen talks about is Rocco this and Rocco that. How do you think that makes me feel? I’m Owen’s father.” His voice rose with each word until he was close to shouting. “It’s like Rocco is stealing my son away from me. I was out in my golf cart driving around in the friggin’ cold and rain this morning because I felt the need to compete with a jailbird. There’s something wrong with this picture.”

  “Owen loves you.”

  “Sure he does, but I had to tell Nichole to leave that stupid jumpsuit at the house because that was the only thing Owen wanted to wear. Not only that, it’s the friggin’ tow truck he plays with constantly. I buy the kid an iPad mini and instead he plays with this plastic truck.”

  I knew the coveralls Rocco got him had been a source of contention as well. It was a battle every other weekend for Nichole to keep them at the apartment, for fear Jake would make them disappear.

  “Owen is going through a truck phase. Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”

  “I’m not letting that man steal my wife and my son away from me. I’m telling you right now, it ain’t happening.”

  I didn’t argue with him. It wouldn’t do any good and it might well put an additional strain on our already rocky relationship.

  The rest of our conversation went fairly well, although Jake’s cavalier attitude toward his father’s cancer disturbed me. Jake had yet to accept that this was real and that his father was dying.

  In many ways Sean and Jake were a lot alike, certainly in temperament. When they were on the outs I’d always been the one to smooth over their differences. Mostly I was gone from the picture now and they’d been left to their own devices, which led me to think there might be a misunderstanding brewing between them.

  “Everything okay between you and your dad?” I asked, on the off chance I was right.

  Jake shrugged. “We’re fine. Don’t worry about it, Mom.”

  But I did worry, despite the fact that I was no longer married to Sean and my relationship with my son was on shaky ground.

  —

  Monday afternoon I stopped by the deli at about the time that I knew Nikolai would finish his shift. As soon as he saw me, his face lit up with happy anticipation. I’d never had this sort of loving reaction from a man before and found it addictive.

  “My Leanne.” I loved the sound of my name in his strong accent. Sometimes, when Nikolai wasn’t around and I found myself missing him, I’d close my eyes and hear the echo of him saying my name in my mind.

  Nikolai grabbed hold of my hands and gave them a gentle squeeze before he leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “I am happy you here.”

  “Do you have a few minutes?” I asked.

  “For you all time every day, always.” He wrapped his arm around my waist and led me out of the deli. “What you need tell me? You be at school tonight, yes?”

  “Yes.”

  “This not wait until class?”

  “I thought it best for us to talk before class.”

  “What is this about?” he asked, and then he stiffened, as if he’d guessed the subject. “This have to do with that man who not love you, right?”

  “Sean called me last Monday…”

  He released me and took a step back. “You wait a whole week to tell me?”

  I could see he was upset. “Nikolai, I have no obligation to tell you who I talk to and who I don’t. If you think I do, then we need to have a serious discussion.”

  I could tell he didn’t like it, but he slowly nodded and admitted, “You right about that. All I want is to protect you.”

  I wrapped my arm around his elbow as we continued walking, no real destination in mind. “I heard you told Sean that I’m your woman now.”

  Nikolai exhaled harshly. “That make you want to have serious discussion with me, too?”

  “No.” Knowing he felt that way made me want to kiss him senseless. “I’m rather happy you told him.”

  His smile was as wide as the Columbia River, but then he sobered. “Why Sean call you now? He want you clean for him again? I put my nose down if he ask you that. No way my woman clean for that man.”

  “Sean is dying, Nikolai. He has cancer.” I didn’t feel the need to soften the truth.

  Nikolai stopped walking. “Cancer?”

  “The doctor set him up with a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation that they hope would prolong his life.”

  “I am so sorry, my Leanne. So sorry.” He hugged me close, as if to absorb the shock of this. I felt warm and safe in his arms. Eventually we broke apart and continued our stroll.

  “I’m sorry for him, too. Sean called to tell me that he’s decided against receiving any of the treatment.”

  “Why would he do that?”

  I had the very same question. “The chemo and radiation would only prolong his life. It won’t cure the cancer. His doctor told him he has six months to live without treatment and a year with treatment. Sean chose to live the last months of his life to the fullest.”

  “He live only six months?”

  “I promised you that I wouldn’t cook or clean for Sean.”

  “No way. I don’t care if you be mad. You have serious discussion and it not change my mind.”

  Oh, how I loved Nikolai. He made me so happy that it was hard not to love him. “I talked to my son yesterday about his father. Something is going on between the two of them, but I don’t know what it is. Jake is angry with his father, but he is refusing to discuss it with me.” It hurt me that Jake felt the way he did.

  “I am sorry to hear,” Nikolai whispered.

  “This morning I talked to Sean and asked if he’d like me to hire a cleaning service for him. He said he would greatly appreciate if I would.”

  “You not clean?” he clarified.

  “No, but I’ll find a company who can come in and see to it.”

  “Sean not able to do this on his own?”

  The truth was Sean could, but he hadn’t to this point. Rather than admit that, I subtly changed the subject. “He’s returning to work in a few days and he asked that I not let anyone in the office know the diagnosis.”

  “If it happen to me I not want people to know,” Nikolai agreed.

  I was grateful for his understanding.

  We walked a short distance before he asked, “That all you do, right? Find cleaning person?”

  “Later I might need to hire a caregiver.” I didn’t trust that task to Jake or to the elusive Barbara.

  “When the time comes, I help. Okay?”

  “Okay.”

  My arm tightened around Nikolai’s. “There’s one last thing Sean asked me to do for him this week.”

  “Whatever it is I go with you.”

  “Not this time, Nikolai. This is something Sean and I need to do alone.”

  “Whatever it is he ask you I not like.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What it is he want you for now?”

  “Sean wants me to help plan his funeral and pick out his casket.”

  Nikolai went still and quiet. “I not like. I not trust this man, but if you feel you need to do this, then okay. I not keep you from your promise.”

  “Thank you, Nikolai.”

  “He not love you.”

  “I know.”

  “I am the one who love you.”

  “And I’m the one who loves you.”

  Nikolai beamed me another one of his beautiful smiles and then walked me to my car. I would see him later that evening and I looked forward to it.

  Jake asked to see me on Tuesday afternoon and I agreed. We hadn’t spoken since Cassie’s wedding and I assumed he wanted to apologize. His behavior at the reception was completely out of character for him. I knew, given time, he’d regret making a scene.

  We met at a Starbucks close to the high school. He was waiting for me by the time I arrived and was sitting at a table in the corner by the window. I saw that he’d bought me a drink. He stood as I approached, his eyes dark and serious.

  “You look”—he paused and cleared his throat—“beautiful, as always.”

  “Thank you.” I saw the regret in his eyes as I took a seat. How different our lives might have been if he’d taken into consideration the consequences of his cheating.

  “I got you a skinny mocha latte,” he said, scooting the drink a little closer to my side of the table.

  He remembered that was my favorite. “That was thoughtful.” It would forever remain a mystery how my ex-husband could be considerate and kind about the small details of life and disregard the most basic.

  Jake sipped his coffee. “I thought it was time we talked.”

  “I agree.”

  “First off, I’m sorry about showing up at Cassie’s wedding. That was stupid of me.”

  “I agree,” I said, echoing my earlier comment. “I appreciate the apology, Jake. I don’t want us to be enemies. We’re Owen’s parents and it’s important that we treat each other with respect.”

  “I want that, too.” He shifted and leaned slightly forward. “There’s another reason I asked you to meet me this afternoon.”

 
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