“I kind of feel bad leaving Loralee with Hadley. Three kids running around with no help sounds like a nightmare.”
I wrapped my arm around Shirley’s waist and gave her a squeeze. “It’ll only be for a few hours.” I kissed her ear. “No more bad thoughts. This is our night to celebrate.”
She smiled broadly as we walked into the restaurant. “I still can hardly believe it. I thought it’d be another five or ten years at least.”
“He knew you were the best thing for the place now,” I said, taking a seat out-looking the pool. This place was gorgeous. Shirley and I would definitely be coming back here often.
Shirley laughed softly. “More like, he knew his wife was done putting up with his crazy doctor hours.”
“That too,” I laughed. I smiled as I looked into her eyes. “I am so proud of you, Shirley. You’re going to make an amazing Chief of Staff.”
“Watcher, I hope so.”
We each placed our order with the waiter and my mind fell back to the phone call I’d gotten a few hours ago. “I can’t believe Huy,” I muttered. “He’s hardly seen Loralee in three years, but now he wants sleepovers? He’s insane.”
“Darling, we said we weren’t going to think about him tonight. Or anything bad, remember?”
I sighed softly. “I know, I know, but can you really believe it? I can’t remember the last time he asked to see her and actually showed up at the meeting. Who does he think he is?” Thinking about it was starting to get me angry, so I forcefully pushed all thoughts of Huy away. “You’re right, you’re right,” I said apologetically. “No letting you-know-who dampen our night. When’s the last time we actually had a date-night?”
Shirley laughed. “Oh, Watcher, I don’t remember. Probably when Hads and Houston were still together.” They had been our go-to babysitters until they split up. Now Shirley and I both felt kind of bad asking Hadley to babysit. I hoped that she would find someone new or at least get out into the dating world. It had been over a year since the divorce was finalized; even though Shirley and I had offered on numerous occasions to babysit, she didn’t seem remotely interested in trying to have a social life. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose.
I looked over at Shirley, thinking how different my life would’ve been if I’d never met her, if she hadn’t taken me back. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”
I watched Joshua play on the monkey bars, smiling gently. He was growing like a weed. Nora was, too; now three, she was at that age where she was getting into everything. It wouldn’t be so long until she was going to school with her older brother. It wouldn’t be so long until she was spending weekends with Houston. I hated to think of her not being with me all the time – it had taken no end of cajoling from Joshua to take him to the park to finally make me leave her with Shirley and Camille.
Watcher, Houston, why did you have to go and ruin everything?
I wanted to stop thinking about him all the time – it had been two years, for Watcher’s sake – but how could I? He was the father of my children, the man I had planned to spend my life with. Even if I wanted to cut him out of my thoughts, I couldn’t. I had to see him at least two times a week, more if he had to drop off Joshua. He still made my heart squeeze in my chest, and his absence made me ache.
Shirley told me to move on, find someone else. She didn’t understand. She’d never found anyone else. I’d never heard of her dating even one person after she broke up with Camille. I couldn’t very well end up with Houston again. The last I had heard, he was happily living with his newer, younger girlfriend, Monica.
“Excuse me, could I sit here?”
I blinked and looked up to find a young man standing by the bench. “Oh, sure.”
He smiled and sat down. “Thanks. I’m Carter Harrison.”
“Hadley Yuen.” I smiled a little. “So, do you have a first name to go with your last names?”
He laughed. “I know, it’s awful. Carter is a family name.”
“Well, awful might be a strong word.” The look he gave me made us both start laughing. It felt good to laugh. When was the last time I had? “Are you new to Willow Creek?”
“Oh, no, I just don’t get out to the park that often. When I do, I’m usually playing for tips. I’m a musician.”
“Really?” I said, interested. “Guitar or violin?”
“Guitar, mainly. I took violin when I was a kid, but that was about it. I can pound out a few songs on the piano, though.”
I smiled wistfully. “I’ve always wanted to learn piano, but there was never anywhere to put one in the house.” And no time to learn either. “I’m an artist, but I don’t even have a real studio, just an easel on the second floor landing.”
“You’re an artist? That’s great.” His smile was dazzling. “What do you paint?”
“I sort of flip flop between abstract and classical. A lot of my abstracts end up making their way to my sister. She and her girlfriend live in this great modern house.” He was looking at me so attentively. I couldn’t remember when someone besides Shirley had paid so much attention to me.
“That’s wonderful. I’m sure you’re a brilliant painter.” His praise had my cheeks pinking. “My sister wants to paint. She spends hours at her little craft table drawing. She’s really good for her age.”
He nodded and pointed over to a little girl who was playing on the monkey bars. “That’s my little sister, Alison.”
A feeling of unease settled over me. “How old are you?”
His smiled dimmed. “Twenty-two.”
Twenty-two??? He didn’t just say twenty-two! As soon as I’d seen him, I’d known he was young but not twenty-two young. While calling myself a cradle robber, I got to my feet. “Oh, I just remembered, I need to go.”
Carter frowned and got up. “Hadley, what’s wrong? Did I say something?”
“Yes – no, no. It’s nothing you can help. It’s just, you’re twenty-two, and, well, I’m not.” I sighed. “I’m thirty-seven, Carter. And I’m divorced with two kids. I’m sure you’re really great, but I have to go.” I turned to the playground. “Josh, come on. It’s time to go.”
I ignored Joshua’s pleas to stay and ushered him away from the park. Twenty-two. Watcher, help me.