What Was I Thinking? Ch. 04byKarennaC©
My phone rang just after my daughters and I got home from dinner with Charles. Charles's number showed on the caller ID. "Hello?" I said.
"Hello. Is this the beautiful lady with the beautiful daughters?" Charles said.
I giggled. "Yes, this is she."
"I had a really good time tonight. Even though you did leave me stranded all alone in the mall for a while."
"We had fun too. I'm sorry about the way Rosa acted, though."
"She was just being a kid. She was fine. Loosen up, mom."
"Okay, okay. So where are you now?"
"About halfway to the state line. I just wanted to call and tell you how nice it was to see you. And your daughters are beautiful, just like their mother."
"Well, thank you."
Anissa, my twelve-year-old, shook her head. "Mom's got a boyfriend," she chanted in a whisper.
I waved her away with a mock glare. "What was that?" Charles asked.
"Oh, Anissa's teasing me," I said. "She said you're my boyfriend. And Rosa called you my evil boyfriend thing."
"Evil boyfriend thing," Charles repeated slowly. "Okay. And am I?"
"You're not evil," I replied.
"Am I your boyfriend?"
"I don't know. That's kind of up to you, isn't it?"
"Oh, no, it's up to you."
"Well, we did agree not to see other people. So I guess you sort of are. If that's okay." What was I thinking? He probably didn't want to be considered my boyfriend. With his life, on the road all the time, I was sure he didn't want any kind of strings. But if that was the case, why had he been the one to suggest we be exclusive?
Sure enough, he said, "I don't want strings. It hasn't been that long since my divorce, I've been through two of them, and I don't want to get married again. But I am willing to see only you and see where things go."
"Same here. I don't want to get married again either." One unstable ex was more than enough.
"Then I guess we're looking for the same thing."
"So if Rosa calls you my evil boyfriend thing again?"
"Well, I guess she can call me that."
I'd heard the cliché "my heart soared", but I always thought it was just a saying till that moment. When Charles acknowledged that he was my boyfriend, my heart really did feel like it was soaring. I didn't let on to him, though. "Well, I'll disagree with the evil part," I said.
"Oh, no, I really am evil and horrible and just plain mean," Charles replied. "Ask my grandkids."
"Uh huh. Sure."
"I'd better let you go. I'll be coming to the barrier toll soon, and it won't look good if I'm yapping on the phone. I'll try to give you a call tomorrow, okay?"
He hung up. I closed my phone and plugged it into the charger. "Was that Charles?" Anissa said.
"You know it was," I replied.
"Ooh, he missed you so much after ten minutes he just had to call, huh?"
"It's been more than ten minutes."
"You're blushing, Mom."
"Evil boyfriend thing, evil boyfriend thing," my nine-year-old chanted.
"Yeah, yeah." Of course I was; I could feel how hot my face was. But I wasn't about to discuss my love life with my children. "Niss, did you finish unpacking yet?"
"There's too much to unpack tonight," she whined.
She did have a lot to unpack. She'd been living with her father for four months; most of her stuff had been at his place. Actually, at his girlfriend's house, which she'd thrown them out of the day before. For some reason I couldn't fathom, after spending the night on his parents' couch, instead of taking Anissa to school that morning her father had dropped her off at the girlfriend's on his way to work. The girlfriend had called me and told me to come get Anissa and all her things out of her house; I'd stood up to my ex-husband for one of the few times in my life and had told him Anissa was coming back to live with me, and if he didn't like it I would see him in court. He'd backed down.
But Anissa had been moved around a lot in the past few months, first to her father's parents, where he'd been living when she'd gone to him, then to the girlfriend's, and from what I understood she and her father had bounced back and forth more than once because the girlfriend kept throwing them out. I wanted her to understand that as far as I was concerned, this move back to my home was permanent. She wasn't going to live out of trash bags and suitcases. "You don't have to unpack it all tonight," I told her. "But by the end of the weekend, I'd like you to have it all set. So why don't you go unpack one more bag, and then you can watch some TV."
"Can I go on the computer? I want to tell my friends I'm back here now. A couple of my friends from school last spring are on my messenger list."
Anissa's computer time was a big concern. She spent hours on it, sometimes to the exclusion of even talking to her family. I knew she hadn't had as much time on it at the girlfriend's house, since there had only been one computer there for the use of eight people, but I was sure she'd spent more time on it than was probably good for her. On the other hand, I wasn't much of an example, given how much time I spent in the chat room of the group through which I'd met Charles. And I knew Anissa's online friends were important to her and some of them were helpful and supportive to her when she was having a hard time. "Okay, you can go on the computer for a little while," I agreed. "But you have to unpack at least one bag first, and I want the stuff put away, not just shoved under your bed."
"There's nothing under my bed, Mom."
"Yeah, right. So if I go up and look right now, I won't see a single thing on the floor under there?"
A guilty expression came over her face. "Well, maybe a few things."
I laughed. "Go unpack. And no more stuff under your bed."
"Rosa, come help me," Anissa said.
Obediently, Rosa followed her sister upstairs. After a moment, the sounds of their acting out one of their favorite Japanese cartoons mingled with the sounds of Anissa's CD player. I sat down at the computer and relaxed. I'd spent four months worrying about where Anissa was and what might be happening to her, given that her father seemed to think she could take care of herself. Now, finally, she was back where she belonged.
* * *
I spent the weekend with my daughters; for once, I was barely in the chat room. While Anissa had been with her father, I'd had both girls every other weekend, and had gotten into the habit of taking them out somewhere fun, preferably free or inexpensive. This weekend, I let Anissa choose the place. "I don't want to go anywhere," she said. "I have to unpack. I want to stay here and just get used to being here again. Am I really going to live here now?"
She sounded almost frightened, as though she thought I would say no. "You're here at least until school gets out in June," I reminded her. "Daddy agreed to that. If she threw him out again, he doesn't have anywhere to live, so he can't take you right now anyway. Maybe by the time school lets out, he'll have a place of his own and he'll be able to take care of you again."
"He can't even take care of himself," Anissa muttered. "I want to stay here."
"You're here till June," I repeated. "If you want to stay here after that, we'll make it happen, I promise."
"Okay. So can I go on the computer?"
"I thought you just said you were going to unpack."
"I am, but I want to go on the computer for a little while first. I couldn't find a couple of my friends online yesterday, and I want to see if they're on so I can tell them that I'm living with you again."
After what she'd been through, I didn't have the heart to say no. "All right. But only for an hour, then you unpack."
"Okay. Rosa, come out to the kitchen with me." The girls' computer was set up at a desk built into the kitchen counter. There, I could see it easily to make sure that neither of them, Anissa especially, was sneaking onto any inappropriate sites.
Rosa followed Anissa to the kitchen. I had the feeling she was so happy to have her sister back that she would follow her into traffic if Anissa asked. I got to work on some housework while I listened to them joking and talking about an anime site Anissa had found.
For the rest of the weekend, Anissa unpacked, I cleaned, and the three of us watched DVDs. It was calm and relaxing, despite a few minor bickers between the girls. It didn't occur to me till Sunday night that I hadn't heard from Charles all weekend.
Monday morning, I called work and let them know I'd be late. I wanted to get Anissa enrolled at school as soon as possible. She'd missed so much school while living with her father that she was listed as truant, and I wasn't going to let her miss any more if I could help it.
My ex-husband was supposed to meet us at the local middle school. According to him, since he was listed in the divorce papers as having primary custody of Anissa, I wouldn't be able to enroll her without him. He wasn't there, of course. So Anissa and I went inside, and half an hour later left with her re-enrolled as a seventh grader. She'd lived with me the previous spring, after her father and I had separated, and had attended that school as a sixth grader; not realizing that she would be moving, the school had scheduled her seventh grade classes back in August, and the schedule was still in the computer. "She'll be able to start tomorrow," the guidance secretary told me. "I'll call the bus garage and let them know so they'll let her on the bus."
"Thank you." I'd have to leave Anissa home alone today so I could go to work, but at least she wouldn't miss too much school.
When we got out to the parking lot, her father's pickup was parked behind my car. He got out and came over to us. "Okay, let's get this done so I can get on with my life. It's my day off, and I have to get back to my girlfriend."
"It's already done," I said. "I asked you to meet us at seven thirty, and it's eight now. I have to get to work. And I thought your girlfriend threw you out."
"How the hell did you enroll her without me? She's mine, according to the court. You don't have custody of her."
"We have joint custody," I reminded him. "According to the court, she lives with you, but we both have custody. Anyway, they didn't even ask to see the divorce papers, even though you'd said they would."
"So what did you tell them, that she lives with you? She doesn't."
"She does until June," I said. "And that's what I told them, that she's back with me until the end of the school year."
"Whatever. So where are you going now?"
"I just told you, I have to get to work. I said I'd be there by eight thirty. And what do you mean, back to your girlfriend?"
"She and I worked things out. Thank god, because I can't stand living with my parents. My mother is such a bitch. You have no idea what it's like there. Come on, Anissa." He started toward his truck.
"Wait just a minute," I said. "Where are you taking her?"
"Back to your house," he spat. "Isn't that where she lives now? You said you have to go to work. Excuse the fuck out of me for trying to do you a favor."
"Anissa, do you want to ride home with Daddy?" I asked.
Anissa nodded, but I got the sense that she was agreeing more to mollify her father than because she actually wanted to go with him. I gave her a hug and kiss and said, "Okay, call me if you need anything. I'll be home at the same time as last year, right around three, before your sister gets home."
"Okay. Bye, Mom."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
She got into the truck with her father and didn't look back at me.
The entire way to work, I worried that he might not have taken her back to the house. After all, legally she did live with him; if he decided to take her back with him, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on other than applying to the court to get the custody decision changed. Just as I pulled into the parking lot at the high school where I worked, my cell phone rang. It was Anissa, calling from our home number. "Hi, Mom, I just wanted to let you know I'm here," she said. "Daddy asked if I wanted to go to his girlfriend's with him, but I said no, I have unpacking to do."
"What did he say to that?" I asked.
"He wasn't happy about it, but he dropped me off. Can I go on the computer?"
"No. No computer when I'm not there. You know that."
"Okay. I figured you were going to say that. Can I watch DVDs?"
"Yep. But I'd like you to finish your unpacking before I get home. You were supposed to have it done over the weekend, remember?"
"I know, I know. Fine, I'll do it."
"Thank you. Have a good day, babe, and call if you need anything. I love you."
"I love you too."
* * *
That night, Charles called. "Hey, sexy, sorry I didn't get back to you this weekend. I was driving at night, which means I was sleeping when you were awake."
"That's okay," I said. "I'm glad to hear from you now."
"It's good to hear your voice too. I'm sitting at a truck stop in Pennsylvania right now. I'll be heading back to Massachusetts in a little while, then back to New Jersey, then back to Massachusetts again by the end of the week so I'll be able to see you at the party. We're still going to the party, right?"
"Of course." Though with the events of the weekend, I'd almost forgotten about the chat room's holiday party. "I have to talk to Melinda; I think she and I are going shopping that day, so I'll be heading down early, and then I'll meet you at the hotel when you're able to get there."
"Do we have a room at the hotel?"
"Yes. Derek's reserving us a room at the hotel where he's staying." Though that reminded me that I hadn't talked to Derek in a few days. He was my closest friend on the site, but sometimes disappeared for days or even a week or more. I needed to get in touch with him and make sure the room was all set.
"Derek. He's the one you were talking to at the bar at the Halloween party, right? The one who kept telling you to go after that young guy?"
"The one who introduced us, yeah."
"Okay. So we'll be staying at that hotel? Where's everyone else staying?"
"Where they always stay. But the hotel Derek stays at is nicer, and the rooms cost less. There are a few others staying there too."
"Not in our room, I hope."
I laughed. "No, not in our room. You'll have me all to yourself for at least part of the time."
"Well, that's good, because I have a few plans for us. Like tasting you, and fingering you..."
"And making love to me?" I said softly so the girls wouldn't overhear, though I was upstairs in my room and they were supposedly downstairs.
"Oh, definitely that. I'm hard just thinking about it."
"Oh, really? Too bad you're so far away. We could do something about that."
"Guess we'll just have to wait till Saturday."
"Guess so. Did you get your dress?"
"Not yet, but I'm sure it will come tomorrow or the next day. If I don't have it by Saturday, I'll buy something when Melinda and I go shopping."
"You don't even know if the dress you ordered will fit, do you?"
"It's my size. It should fit." I'd taken a chance by buying the dress from an online auction site, but for sixteen dollars including shipping, it had been hard to resist. And it was silk; I'd never had a silk dress before.
"Well, I hope so. And what are you going to wear with it?"
"You'll just have to wait and see."
"Nothing underneath, I hope."
"Wait and see," I repeated, though that was my plan: thigh high stockings and no underwear. I'd never in my life gone commando, but the idea intrigued me, especially with Charles there to reap the benefits.
"Can't you give me a hint so I have some sexy thoughts to help me fall asleep?"
"Oh, all right. There probably won't be anything underneath."
"Cool! So I'll be able to play with you while we're at the party."
"Um, no, not with people around!" Though the idea was arousing. "Everyone doesn't need to know that I don't have anything under my dress."
"Oh, come on, you don't want to be watched? Maybe one of the guys would want to join us in our hotel room afterward."
"Or not. No sharing, remember?"
"True, true. But if we both agreed..."
"No sharing." Even though being with two men was one of my fantasies, it was one I wasn't sure I ever wanted to really fulfill. Especially not with Charles. I didn't want him to think anything bad about me, and I wasn't sure what he'd think of me if I was with another guy.
"Oh, all right. No sharing. But still, you didn't seem to mind people watching us at the house party we went to."
"That was a house party." It had also been our first date, strange as that seemed. "People act like that at house parties. The holiday party is at a public bar, and sex doesn't happen there. You know that."
"I know." He sounded annoyed. "It was just a thought. I'd better let you go, so I can get some sleep and get my run finished when I'm supposed to. I'll talk to you later this week, okay?"
I put my phone back on the charger. Why had that conversation bothered me so much? Charles was just teasing about fooling around at the party and about sharing me with another man. I knew he wasn't serious. So why was I so irritated by it?
* * *
The next day, I finally got hold of Derek. "The rooms are all set," he said. "You and your guy are right next door to me, so you'd better not be too loud."
"No worries," I said.
"How are things going with him? Okay? I don't have to bust heads, do I?"
I smiled. Since the months since we'd met, Derek had become very protective of me. I liked it; he was the kind of guy who'd give you the shirt off his back along with some of the skin if you were his friend, but if you crossed him or one of his friends, watch out. I had a pretty hefty crush on him, one that I'd never acted on and probably never would, because I didn't want to risk the friendship. He and I'd talked about maybe dating eventually, but now we'd settled in to a comfortable, close friendship with occasional innuendo. "No, you don't have to bust heads," I said. "Things are going well. He took my kids and me out to dinner Friday."
"Ooh, he's met the kids, huh? Sounds serious."
"I don't think so," I said, remembering what Charles had said about no strings. "It was just because he happened to be in town and I couldn't get a sitter. It was kind of a celebration, too; Anissa's living with me again."
"Congratulations. That jackass father of hers doesn't deserve her."
"I agree. I think he tries, but he doesn't quite make it."
"She should be with you. Okay, honey, I have to get going, but I'll see you Saturday. Or maybe sooner; I'm spending Friday night in Andover. You could ride down from there to the party with me, save yourself some gas money."
"I'm actually going early so I can go shopping with Melinda, I think. I have to confirm that with her. But actually, since Andover's halfway between here and there, that would be great. I could see you, and I wouldn't have to leave my house at six in the morning to meet Melinda."
"There ya go, then. I'll talk to you Thursday and make sure that's what you're going to do, okay?"
"You're welcome. Talk to you later, sweetheart."
"Was that your evil boyfriend thing again?" Rosa asked when I got off the phone.
"No, that was Derek."
"I like Derek," Anissa said. "I'm not going to that hotel again, though." The previous summer during a major heat wave, Derek had invited the girls and me to the Andover hotel where he seemed to spend most of his weekends. We'd spent a night in air conditioning, and had had a chance to swim in the indoor pool, without a penny coming out of my pocket except for gas. Derek had gotten us a room.
"You don't have to," I said. "I am, though, Friday night. You guys are with Daddy this weekend."
"Do I have to go?" Anissa said.
"Yes, honey, I'm afraid you do. It's his weekend, so I have to let him take you. Besides, you know I'm not going to be here. But after this weekend, I won't be going to Massachusetts for a while."