Twice The Charm Ch. 01bycassandraharper©
She was having a hard day. A day that she wished would start over from the beginning so that she could get out of the right side of the bed. She pushed her dark framed sunglasses up on her head, being mindful of her thick afro that seemed to cover her scalp like a heavy woolen blanket. She should have cut it like she had planned, but she knew that her little girl would throw a fit if she saw her mother with no hair. It had taken her two weeks to convince her daughter to stop running away from her the first time she had shaved it off, but hey, what could she say, she loved the short look. It didn't take any effort at all to look presentable when all she had to do was jump out of bed and go. She rubbed her bronzed shoulders wishing that she had applied more sun block then proceeded walking down the sidewalk to her daughter's daycare center.
"Manni, is that you?"
She slowly turned around uncertain if she should continue walking as if she hadn't heard a word or acknowledge the stranger. Their eyes met and her stomach dropped. This couldn't possibly be happening. "Stark?" Her voice sounded weak to her own ears from the moment it slipped past her lips. It was him, she recognized that bright red hair and those translucent green eyes anywhere.
"I go by Scott now," he corrected running a hand through his thick hair. He couldn't believe that he was looking at a piece of his past that he thought he would never see again. It had been almost four years since they had last seen each other, or to be more exact shouted obscenities at each other with her throwing a blow dryer and iron at him. It was safe to say that they hadn't parted in the best of ways. She gave him a wide eyed stare from her big, brown puppy dog eyes that reflected her discomfort at their unexpected meeting.
"That's nice, Scott," Manni replied making sure not to use the nickname she had often addressed him by when they were dating. Some old habits died hard. "What are you doing back here? I heard that you moved."
"Well, I relocated back to my old place. My mom is sick and I don't feel comfortable leaving her in the care of an at-home nurse. So I transferred companies again. I even afforded to get a better position at my job," he told her nodding his head.
"That's nice," she told him for the second time unsure of what to say. "Welcome back, I guess." She scratched the back of her head trying to keep calm. It's just that every time she was around that man her body would react to him whether with love or anger and right now she wasn't sure what she feeling, but she knew that she didn't like the fact that she still responded to his presence.
"So what are you up to?" he asked extending his long, pale leg to step on an ant or two. She always told him that he needed more sunlight.
"I'm actually going to..." her voice died leaving him a bit confused as he waited for her to finish her sentence. She never did which increased the awkwardness between them. "I'm so thirsty," she said more to herself than to him.
"Really? If you aren't busy, would you mind grabbing a drink with me?" he asked not allowing the opportunity of a one on one with her to go to waste.
"Ms. Stanley, here you are!"
Her face cringed at the recognition of her daughter's care taker's voice. She was a nice woman, but she had the tendency to unintentionally let her lips run loose. "Mrs. Carmichael, I'm sorry that I'm late," she told her turning around in time to grab her overly excited daughter. She gave her a kiss on the forehead pushing back her brownish red hair from her golden face. Her hazel green eyes were droopy and Manni could tell that she had just awoken from her nap though she was full of energy.
"It's alright, you called and told us that your meeting was going to run late so there was no problem. She was a good girl today and she even participated with Bernadette, right Star?" she asked the little girl who was now shyly hiding her face in the crook of her mother's neck.
"Bernadette?" Scott asked with a smile.
"Oh that's her little friend, but I swear that they spend more time fighting than playing together," Mrs. Carmichael told him with a warm smile. "Will I see you tomorrow, Star?" she asked poking the little girl who began to giggle and hold on tighter to her mother.
"Thanks again, Mrs. Carmichael."
"No problem, Ms. Stanley. I'll see you tomorrow." She handed Manni Star's bag which Scott took upon himself to hold for her.
She waited until the teacher had disappeared back into the building to turn to the six foot man towering over her. "You don't have to do that. I can manage," she told him reaching for the sack.
"Manni, don't be ridiculous. My hands are completely empty," he said already walking off without knowing in which direction she had parked. That was one of his problems, he didn't know how to listen.
Manni increased her steps to catch up with him while her daughter busied herself with playing in her hair. "Really Scott, I can do it."
"So you have a little girl?" he asked ignoring her attempt to grab the bag and put some distance between them. "How old is she?"
"Three," she answered unconsciously kissing her daughter's temple.
"She's adorable. And those eyes are killer. I bet she's a daddy's girl."
"Star doesn't know her father," she told him a bit irritated by the heat and his lack of consideration towards her desire to be left alone.
"What?" he asked stopping in his tracks. "What kind of man would abandon his wife and daughter?"
"I'm not married, alright? Besides, it's a long story and I don't really feel as if it concerns you," she told him feeling her temper start to flare.
"I figured since we're old friends, I could get a little privilege here and there."
"Friends?" she asked on a laugh. "The last time I remembered, when you left we both vowed to never see or speak to each other again. Now here you are acting as if you have some sort of amnesia."
"I actually would like to apologize for the way things ended between us. Will you give me a chance to make it up to you?" he asked looking down at her then at her little girl. She seemed too content making a mess of her mother's hair to pay attention to his presence.
"I'm not asking for you to give me another chance so that we can start over, I'm only asking to get to know you as a friend and to be like how we once were. Is that asking too much?" he asked unconsciously touching her arm. His hand burned into her skin through her light summer vest and she shivered.
"Maybe it is," she told him walking ahead and turning at the end of the sidewalk to get to her car.
"The way I see it is that you need a friend. Especially taking care of a child by yourself."
"Who said that I was doing it by myself?" she asked opening the back door of her car to strap her daughter in her car seat while she played with the keys.
"Then I take it that your boyfriend helps you?" he asked not sure why he needed to know whether she was available or not. It must be because he was still very much interested in her even after the way they had called it quits. "ummm Manni."
"I don't have a boyfriend either and don't think that I don't know what you're trying to do," she told him making sure that the child lock was on before closing the door.
"You think that you can see me in the street then randomly--"
"What?!" she asked aggravated as she yanked on the driver's side door.
"You locked your keys in the car."
"What!" she yelled becoming panicked when she saw the car keys in her daughter's hands. Her daughter looked up startled by her loud exclamation and became scared.
"It's alright, you need to calm down," Scott advised.
"Calm down! How am I supposed to calm down? I didn't even crack the window because I was too busy trying to get rid of you to do that!" she told him hearing her voice break.
"If you stay calm you won't scare the baby," he told her smiling at Star through the window. She shyly hid her face as she smiled back kicking her little legs to and fro.
Manni took a deep breath nodding her head in agreement. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Just stay calm and let me handle it," he told her dialing Triple A on his cell. He hung up a few minutes later with a smile. "They're sending someone out and said that he should be here within the next ten minutes max. You really lucked out. The operator told me that he was just about to get off the clock and head home, but when I told her there was a baby in the car she told him to come straight over."
She looked at him frightened. "What would we have done then?"
"Bust your window and get it fixed later," he told her as if he was talking about the weather. He waited patiently with her until the technician came and opened the door for them making sure to leave it as wide as possible. He gave Manni a look that evidently showed his disapproval of her parenting skills then drove away shaking his head.
"I'm not a bad parent," she mumbled finally feeling her heart rate steady in her chest.
"No one ever said that," Scott told her trying to calm her before she bursted into tears. She did anyway making him pull her into his arms. It was so second nature for her to wrap her arms around him which she did and cried until she couldn't anymore. "You had a bad day?"
"That's an understatement," she responded embarrassed that she had cried in front of him so easily after years of not speaking together.
"I guess now you'll take me up on that drink?" he asked soothingly caressing her back.
"God knows the last thing I ever wanted to do was see you again," she told him with a heavy sigh.
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Perhaps another time, but what I will do as a thank you is make you some dinner. Would that be a good enough exchange for you?"
"I'll follow you in your car," he replied waiting until she had the keys in the ignition this time before he closed the back door.
"Just hop in and I'll take you to your car."
"I didn't bring it," he told her resting his hand on the inside of her car door.
"Then how did you get all the way downtown? And how did you expect to follow?" she asked confused.
"I biked it."
"What?" she asked him incredulously. "Are you crazy? Why would anyone in their right mind want to ride a bike in this Florida heat?"
"How do you think I stay in shape?" he asked with a smile.
"By going to the gym you crazy nut! Hop in and I'll bring you back to get your bike."
He couldn't wipe the grin off of his pink lips. Manni was never one to tell him outright when she was worried about him. She preferred to make a big fuss instead. Somethings just never change. "It's not that far from my house. I live near the beach, remember?"
She nodded her head in understanding. She had forgotten that he had a house on Miami Beach. "Are you getting in or not?" He closed her door walking around the other side of the car to strap himself in then directed her to his bike. They didn't speak much on the ride to her place. She had a nice little condo not so far from the beach itself and on days when she wasn't working herself to death she would bring her daughter to splash around in the ocean. She loved it.
"Sea Coast Condos," Scott announced nodding his head in approval. The place didn't look all that bad.
"Thank you for announcing to the entire world where I live," she told him taking her keys out of the ignition. He was already out of his seat and ready to take Star out of the car by the time that she noticed she'd made a smart remark to the air. "You really shouldn't do that. She doesn't take too well to strangers," she warned him when she saw him reaching for her daughter.
"Don't be ridiculous, kids love me," he told her lifting the toddler from the car seat. Star began to wail as soon as he lifted her reaching for her mother with tear filled eyes.
Manni rushed to grab her heaving child frowning intensely at him when he wouldn't release her. "I told you that she's not used to strangers. Won't you listen to me when I talk sometimes."
"I'm not going to kill her," he told her lifting her bag from the back seat to throw on his shoulder. "Star," he called over her screams finally getting her attention when he stuck his tongue out at her. She looked at him confused then reached for it. He pulled it back into his mouth and she began to whimper again. He stuck it back out making a hideously bizarre noise that scared the tears out of her. She stared at him then at her mother who could only laugh and shake her head.
"It's ok," she assured her.
"Manni, I noticed that she doesn't speak much. She isn't mentally disabled or anything, is she?" he asked so genuinely concerned that she couldn't be offended by his question.
"No, she only starts to talk once she's gotten used to you and when that starts there's no stopping it," she told him closing the door then clicking the alarm button. She took him to the fifth floor unwillingly allowing him access into her condo though it had been her idea to invite him in the first place.
"You're acting as if I forced my way into your place," he remarked after noticing her expression. He placed her daughter on the carpet watching as she ran away to play with some toys.
"Don't get too comfortable," she told her with a risen eyebrow. "It's close to your bath time." Star frowned picking up a book and holding it up.
"This one," she mumbled.
"Ok, I know I promised to read it to you before your bath. I will so just give me a few minutes."
"Would you like for me to do it instead?" Scott volunteered bursting into laughter when the toddler shook her head. "I see that you're just as honest as your mother."
Manni smiled clearing her throat uncomfortably. "I'm going to start dinner."
"How about I make dinner and you get her ready for bed time," he suggested already walking into the kitchen and searching the cabinets. He was taking up too much space, she wasn't ready to be this close to him, but it had been her idea.
"I couldn't ask you to do that."
"Yet when we first met you had me wash and vacuum your car just for one date?" he asked with a sloppy grin.
She smiled shaking her head, "fine you do what you want. It's not as if you ever really listened to me any how." She smiled watching her daughter pop her head up from her barbie fun house to rush to the sofa. She pulled herself up waiting for her mother to join her. "Do you know that you are the highlight of my day?" Manni asked her kissing her forehead.
"Is it readn' time?"
"Yeah, it's time to read," she told her opening the story book. "The Swan Princess and her Ducklings," she began reciting the title then helping her daughter to pronounce the words.
Scott popped his out of the kitchen in amazement, "she can read?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't she be able to?" Manni asked confused.
"It's just that she's only three years old. Most three old years spend more time playing than...reading."
She smiled shaking her head. "She won't be three for too much longer. Besides, Star is a bright young lady. She can count to 25, she can recite her colors, fruits, and shapes, and she can say her ABC's forwards and backwards," she proudly boasted.
"Wow," he said shocked. "Let me guess, she'll be writing her first dissertation at the age of five?"
"Please, she likes chewing on the pencil too much to write her own name, but I'm working with her. She'll write to about M before she starts going crazy."
"Momma, read please," she told her tapping on her arm.
"Ok, I'm sorry," she told her smiling at Scott once more before picking up where she left off.
"That is crazy," Scott told her setting the table for their dinner once she'd successfully tucked Star in for the night. "Your child is a super genius," he praised. "I wish that I had a daughter like that." Manni took a big gulp of the wine she had only seconds ago poured into her glass pounding on her chest when she choked on it. "Are you alright?"
"Fine, let's enjoy this wonderful spaghetti and meatballs that you made."
"You don't have to act like that. You know that I'm not the world's best cook," he told her holding out her chair. It was good to see that he hadn't lost his sense of chivalry. "I hope that you will enjoy the meal."
She smiled taking a bite of the spaghetti and almost choking on the overly salty spaghetti sauce and meatballs, at least he had tried and that was enough to warrant a bit of praise. "You did a good job."
"Please, don't lie to me. This tastes like crap. How about we just order in some Chinese and call it a night?"
She laughed nodding her head. "I thought you'd never say that sooner." She left him to throw away their supposed dinner while she called in an order for them. "They'll be here in thirty minutes. Do you think you can hold out until then?" she teased helping him dry the dishes. "You may not make a good cook, but you'd make one heck of a man servant," she told him with a smile then shook her head and threw down the dish towel.
"I'm not supposed to be this at ease with you. This isn't us. We fight and yell and jump at each other's throats. You do remember that you told me I was the biggest, most naive idiot in the world, don't you?" she asked watching him dry his wet hands after placing the last of her plates in the drying rack.
"And you did call me the worlds most fake Hugh Hefner," he reminded her. "The thing is that we never really got to the bottom of the issue. I was too busy ducking from an iron to really try to resolve everything."
"So it was my fault?" she accused waiting for an answer. She shook her head walking away. "Well, Stark, it doesn't matter anymore because everything between us has already ended. It was for the best."
He scoffed in disbelief, "Manni, do you expect me to believe that it's really through between us?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" she asked dropping down into a love seat.
"For one, you invited me to your place and for two, you still haven't launched anything at my head yet. So if you still had an issue with out breakup I would be on my way to the hospital because of your horrible temper. I had to get five stitches on my head because of that encyclopedia you threw."
"What? Where?" she asked genuinely worried. She stood up lifting herself on tiptoes to see his scar. He pulled back his hair from his forehead and she saw the obvious pink mark just beneath his hair line. "I'm so sorry. I've calmed down a great deal since I've had Star," she told him as her fingers traced the smooth line. "I'm really sorry."
"Don't be, because of this damn thing I haven't been able to get you off of my mind for three years," he told her pulling her into his big strong arms and planting a smoldering kiss on her lips.