Second book in the trilogy
written by Catherine Micqu
Home. It felt weird to walk through the familiar streets. Nothing had changed. A lot had changed. Old buildings were gone and new modern buildings were domineering the street. I hadn’t been home in ten years. Nothing had been waiting for me here. No one. When I left for college fifteen years ago, I had kept in touch with Cody and Cameron and Scott, but as life turns, we drifted apart until all that was left were Facebook friend requests and a sporadic message on Christmas or on birthdays. My family had shunned me when I came out. That relationship had never been mended. I had learned to live with the loss of them. Still, my unconscious want to see them must have been immense because when I looked around, I was standing in front of my old home. It hadn’t changed at all. I had the urge to push the stroller up the driveway and introduce my little girl to her grandparents. But again, I didn’t give in to any urges that were set to get me hurt.
I am sure you want to know how I ended up being a single parent. The story is short and uneventful. I met Dobson Dawson - yes that was his real name, during my last year at college. I fell for him hard and quick. He reminded me of my first love. Maybe that had amplified those feelings. We moved in together and we married the same year. Everything happened very fast. And we were euphoric. Dawson became the first man with whom I had a real adult relationship. We had our own apartment, we shared the bills…. We were the perfect couple. He made me laugh with his dry wit and he made me angry with that too. There were times when he couldn’t be serious and real problems seemed to be a joke for him. Still, after having been married for a couple of years, we decided to try out adoption. By then, I worked as an interior designer and Dawson worked a steady job as an accountant. Sounds grown up, doesn’t it? Well, he wore his suits to go to work, and he looked good in them too, but the moment he came home, he morphed into a belching slob who was wearing tank tops and ratty sweatpants. At the adoption agency, we didn’t stand a chance. The primary concern was our age. We were too young. Oh, we were devastated. I think me more than him. More determined than ever, we decided to save up all our money to pay a surrogate. I ended being the sperm donor because… I don’t even know why, but I preferred it that way. We had several tries, but it never went well. It put a strain on our marriage, to say the least. I was preoccupied with the thought of a baby and I think that during that time, Dawson began to retreat and have enough of it. He didn’t say it out loud, but I think that somewhere along he realized that he didn’t want to have a child and the costs to have that baby were growing more and more. We didn’t fight at all. We still slept together and we still had sex, but the passion was gone. Maybe I had grown bored too. I don’t know. But everything came together. I quit my job to be a stay at home husband and dad. I didn’t feel valued at all and Dawson kept going like always. Going to work in his suits that I had ironed for him. He went to after work parties and I stayed home, dreaming about a more fulfilling life. Somehow I had the idea, that a baby would change all of this.
Then came that day when our surrogate went into labor and she gave birth to a little girl. Ava. I had my first ever girl crush. Needless to say that our lives did change drastically with the baby. Dawson was a loving father, but he never got up at night and he never changed a diaper. He rarely fed her, but he sang to her all the time. I think he hadn’t realized that a newborn can’t actually interact and he became frustrated with the whole situation. I didn’t see our relationship going wrong back then, but now, in hindsight, I know that I was ignoring the facts. Up until the day when Dawson took my hand over dinner and said the dreaded words “We need to talk.” He told me that the situation was too much for him to handle and that he didn’t feel that he was ready to be a parent, after all. We screamed, we cursed and we cried. Then we hugged and agreed that our marriage was over. We were both thirty-one by now. Young enough to have a future. Old enough to have a past. It was Dawson’s idea that I should have sole custody of our girl. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her. I am sure he did, but he didn’t have a relationship with her and he worked full time while I was her primary caregiver. Within a couple of months, we were divorced. It had been easy because we had split amicably. Dawson paid monthly child support, he still does. I looked for a job that allowed me to take care of little Ava as much as possible, but I couldn’t find anything in our area. In my desperate state, I checked out the job offers back home. And that’s how I ended, here again.
I found a job and a home at Ritchie’s café. He had a small apartment above the café and he offered it to me and Ava. Gratefully we took it. Ritchie allowed me to bring Ava to work and it wasn’t a rare thing to see me with my little girl strapped to my front, serving coffee and pie to customers. And that was how I glided back into my old life. With a baby and a low paid job.
My story sounds sad, but it wasn’t that bad. I had my baby girl and I had a job. We had a home and it was only a matter of time until I would meet old and new friends again. Ava was only four months old when I started working at the café. Most of the time, she slept contently on my chest and when she wasn’t, she stared at me or at the world with her big blue eyes. With her pink hat, people recognized that she was a girl and it was easy to get to talk to customers with her.
I was changing her diapers in the back of the storage room one day when I heard an unusual commotion in the café. Ritchie was cursing and I heard people laughing. I went back outside with Ava on my arm to see what was happening and I smirked. Scott was there. A glass lay in shards on the floor. It was as if no time had passed. Some things never change. He hadn’t changed much either. His hair was longer and there were a few more lines on his face, but the blush was still the same and the words he used to apologize sounded familiar too. It made me feel that much more at home.
“I’ll write it on your tab. One of these days, you are going to have to pay for all the damage you have made in here.” Ritchie threatened, but I saw that he was smiling. Scott bowed and shook his head and went to take a seat. It was the same seat he and Cameron always took when they came to Ritchie’s café. My eyes darted to the door and then to the windows. I didn’t know if I was ready to face Cameron. I wanted to see him, but the way we hadn’t kept in touch made me feel uncomfortable. Ritchie grabbed a broom and a rag to clean up the mess. It shook me out of my stupor. I strapped Ava back in the baby carrier and I took a fresh cup of coffee to Scott.
My heart was racing. I wasn’t sure how he would react when he saw me. Even more so, because of little Ava blissfully looking out into the world, strapped on my chest. I sat the cup down in front of him and cleared my throat. Scott looked up, but he didn’t react at first. I had become a stranger. Then he looked at me again and gave me a once-over. I saw the recognition in his face.
“Noel? Is that you? With a beard?” he smiled and got out of his seat. The little table shook, but nothing happened. I scratched my bearded chin and before I could even react, I was engulfed in his arms. He was careful not to crush Ava, but there was a lot of affection in that hug.
“What are you doing here? Since when are you back? You should have called. And who is that?” he caressed Ava’s head and she smiled at him and made a squealing sound. “Don’t tell me you’re straight now. You never had a straight bone in your body.” Scott babbled and I laughed out loud.
“Yep, it’s me, and this is my daughter. Ava. I’m not straight. Been back for a couple of weeks now. I work here. Live upstairs and I didn’t get in touch because…”
“You thought we didn’t want you anymore…” Scott cut me off. I laughed again. It wasn’t entirely true, but it wasn’t entirely untrue either. I had been gone for a long time and although a lot of things had changed, many things had stayed the same. As if proving a point of my thoughts, Scott’s spoon hit the floor and he blushed.
“I’m as clumsy as ever. It’s a wonder Cam still puts up with me.” He shook his head, retrieved his spoon and sat down.
“You should come to dinner sometime. We should catch up.” I knew Scott would never extend an insincere invitation and yet, it felt weird to agree to it. I avoided answering his question using deflection as my tactic of choice. Another customer called me and I left Scott. I wondered if I should have asked about Cody. Would it have appeared too desperate? It wasn’t meant to be. I was just interested in an old friend. This sucked. I didn’t have a manual that helped me get through this situation. There wasn’t a guide for dummies that was split into neat little chapters and told me step by step how to deal with this. From behind the counter, I watched Scott but avoided going back to his table. When he left, he hugged me again. I tried to remember if he had hugged me before today, but I couldn’t remember. It felt nice though. As if another missing piece of the puzzle was put back in place.
After my shift, I walked up to my apartment and put Ava in her bed. The days at the café were long. For her too. She fell asleep as soon as her little body hit the mattress. I ran my hand over her head and put the cover up over her legs. She didn’t stir.
It gave me enough time to take a shower and wash off the sweat from my tired body. It felt good, but I had never been the kind of guy who spent more time than absolutely necessary in the bathroom. Ten minutes later, I ran a towel through my damp hair and put on my comfort clothes. A faded pair of jeans and a red T-shirt that had seen better times. I made myself a sandwich and, grabbing a drink, I flopped down on the couch. I put my naked feet up on the coffee table and opened my laptop. The only mail I had was spam or unimportant newsletters. I worked myself through several social media sites and spent some time stalking my favorite celebrities and liking their funny or not funny status updates. On Facebook, it took me a while to decide what to do, but then, like the stalker I was, I clicked my way through Cody’s pictures again. He hadn’t lost any of his appeal. His eyes still held a sparkle, but his hair was dyed and cut short. It was blonde now. It suited him. He seemed to have quite some tattoos now too. When we were kids, he used to say that he wanted to wear something on his skin that would remind him of the important parts of his life. I used to reply that I’d rather have scars than tattoos and he laughed about it when I told him that both things hurt, but only one can’t be prevented. He made fun of the way I was looking at life. I guess he was right. Maybe I had been naïve or overly dramatic at the time. His pictures showed a man who lived his life to the fullest. A man who had travelled too. A man who I didn’t know anymore. I sighed. A habit I had adopted when I had lived with the Matthews in my late teens. Sighing and coffee. Steady reminders of the past. I sighed, put the laptop next to me on the couch and went to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I took a sip and winced, realizing that I wasn’t in the mood for coffee.
“Welcome home Noel Baker”. I poured the contents of my cup down the drain and decided to go to bed instead. It was still early, but Ava had yet to learn to sleep through the night.