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Authors: Jo Richardson

Cookie Cutter (19 page)

BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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How we got from there to here, baffles me.

I close my eyes and breathe in. I can still see her, just a little while ago, rocking with purpose, making those sexy ass noises she makes every once in a while; like a hum, only more like a song of some sort – and how it felt to be a part of her like that. To be a part of anyone like that. It’s . . . I don’t recall I’ve ever had the feeling of being so
connected
.

Iris stirs and adjusts so that she’s curled up into my side like a cat. She’s waking up.

“I fell asleep,” she mumbles and I graze my fingers along her arm.

“You did.”

“Sorry about that.”

I smile. “No problem.”

“What time is it?”

“Not sure. You have somewhere to be, Iris?”

She laughs quietly. “Just wondering if Ally’s home yet.”

I’m not sure what to do now. Under normal circumstances, in a normal house with normal furniture, I’d ask her if she was hungry and make us something to eat, but I’ve got squat in the fridge and even if I did, I’m not sure she would stay.

She’s fidgety like that. I never know when she’s going to run off on me and realize what a mistake she’s made by staying here tonight. Especially if her mind is on Ally.

Maybe she’s not sure what to do either.

My cell phone vibrates against the table and breaks the silence that just took over our mood. I check and see if it’s anything I might need to deal with immediately.

Like college tuition.

It’s not Spencer this time, but it
is
his mom. I sigh and answer it, hoping Iris doesn’t get offended.

“Hey.”

“Sorry to bother you, Carter.”

Iris sits up and I hold a finger up, hoping she’ll stay.

“No, is he okay?” I hop up off of the futon to take the rest of the call in the kitchen. I slide my jeans on as Betty speaks.

“Jus’ wanted to let you know the dean called today. They got your check,” Betty says with her New Orleans accent.

“Good. Good, alright listen, can I call you later?”

“No need,” she says. “I can tell you’re busy. I jus’ didn’t want you to worry’s all.”

“You sure I---”

“No, no, Carter, everything’s fine. Have a good night.”

She ends the call abruptly and I feel slightly shitty but secretly, I’m glad she didn’t want to chat. I toss the phone onto the kitchen counter.  When I turn to go back to Iris, she’s standing at the doorway, starting to dress and eyeing me hard.

“Who was that?”

I look back at the phone.

“That was . . .” I have a difficult time sharing Spence with anyone. Granted, Iris is different, especially now, but the words just don’t seem to be coming to me. “Not important.”

“It sounded important,” she insists. Her hands are on her hips now. Her tone is daring me to disagree with her. “In fact it sounded like it was a woman. Was it an important woman Carter?”

I take a breath and think about it.  I could just tell her it was my mom for Christ’s sake. But I won’t lie to her. “Yes.”

She huffs in disgust and starts gathering the rest of her clothes.

“Iris.”

“Are you some kind of . . . dead beat dad or something?  Because I have to be honest here, I have one too many of those in my life already.”

“What? No.” I chase her back into the front room.

She stops to study me.

“Come on, Iris, you just slept with me for Christ’s sake. You really think your judgment is that bad?”

Her expression softens. “No.”

“Thank you,” I say with a wave of triumph and a sigh of relief.

“So then, who was it?”

“I . . .” am still trying to come up with a way to tell her this story when she places a hand on her hip and drops her pants to the floor.

And damn she looks right standing there in nothing but a shirt.

“Fess up, Blackwood.” The way she commands me cuts my train of thought off at the pass.

“Have a seat?” I offer, as I take one myself, back on the futon.

Iris sits and curls her legs up into her like she’s getting ready to hear a bedtime story. I can’t help but smile.

“I was in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity during my second to last year of under grad.”

It’s Iris who breaks the tension. “And you knocked her up!”

“Iris.”

“Wham Bam, thank you for the kid but I gotta run?”

I cross my arms and wait.

“What?”

“Are you done?”

She straightens herself and takes a breath. “Sorry.”

“Spence used to come watch us build every day.”

“Spence?”

I nod. “Spencer; he was this kid. He didn’t talk much but he’d sit there and watch, all afternoon, from the time school let out, ‘til he had to go home and eat.”

Iris’s furrows her brow slightly, interested.

“One day, I was on break and I tried to get him to talk a little, you know, joking around and finally, I asked,
where’s your dad, kid?
And he looked up at me.” I pause at this part. I still remember that look on his face. “And without wavering or looking to upset at all, actually, he said,
the storm took him.

Iris is visibly hit with this. Just like I was. Her eyes tell me her heart is crushed. I know the feeling.

“Come to find out, he used to go to his dad’s construction site after school and watch him
work all afternoon. They’d go home together.”

“Oh my God,” she says. “What happened?”

“I started walking him home. He was only eleven then. I don’t know.  He seemed young. I guess some parents think that’s old enough to walk home alone. Maybe Spence was. Maybe I needed him more than he needed me.”

“What do you mean?”

I shrug. “I was kinda trying to find my way when I went down there. Instead, I found Spence.”

She tilts her head. “Trying to find your way about what?”

“My job, my life. Everything I guess.”

This part of the story, I wasn’t counting on but I figure, hell, why not take it all the way home?

“Not happy huh?” She notices and I confirm it for her.

“You could say that.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t understand how you went from walking this kid home to . . . what is it between you exactly?”

“Well, after I started hanging out at Bettys for a while, she started insisting on feeding me every night. Then after a few more days, I started staying later, helping Spence with homework, horsing around outside some . . . eventually I got their story – and it wasn’t pretty.  Spence’s dad’s income was their only
income and their insurance was super slow at giving them anything for the damages to their old house; they couldn’t afford to stay in the rental they were living in much longer.” I shrug. “I started helping them.”

She looks in awe of what I just said. Like a light just went off. “That’s why you take all the odd jobs.”

I nod. “Betty got a job but it just wasn’t cutting it, and I couldn’t stand thinking Spence might end up another statistic of New Orleans. I wanted something better for him.”

“This was how many years ago?”

I scratch at the back of my neck, thinking. “Seven?”

“Jesus, Carter.”

“He called the other night while we were at the carnival because his college tuition for the quarter hadn’t arrived yet but Betty just let me know it’s all good now.”

She sits back and leans against the window frame.

“I am so sorry I ever thought you were just a money grubbing house flipper looking for a quick buck.”

I laugh. “What?”

“Did you find it?”

“What?”

“Whatever it was you were looking for down in New Orleans.”

I let out a heavy sigh because I did and I didn’t. I went home after that trip and tried to tell dad about my hopes and dreams. The real ones. How I wasn’t too keen on being a lawyer for the rest of my life. He responded by telling me that I was going to assist him on his next case. “Mostly.”

“Well,” she says with a smile as she leans toward me. “Maybe that’s a story for another day.”

She places her lips against mine and yeah, still erotic.

“I need to get home, I want to make sure Ally’s there, safe and sound… and I’ve got---”

“Work to do,” I finish for her. “I’ll walk you home.”

Regrettably, Iris gets dressed the rest of the way and while we stroll across the street to her place, she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees the light on in her daughter’s room. Ally’s silhouette shows through the curtains. “That’s my girl.”

“She’s pretty smart, you know,” I say and Iris grins.

“Thanks for getting her the other night by the way. She has very reluctantly informed me that she does not hate you.”

I laugh at that and am not surprised one bit. “I wonder where she gets that stubbornness from.”

“Not me that’s for sure.”

At her front door step, we linger.

“I feel like I’m on a first date in high school or something.” I’m not ready for goodnight yet.

“Well that was some first date, Carter Blackwood,” she says with a blush rising to her cheeks. She pulls her bottom lip in between her teeth and lets it go, then she pushes up onto her tip-toes and I meet her halfway.

After a slow graze of her tongue with mine, I put my lips next to her ear. “We’ll have to do this again sometime.”

She dips her eyes to the ground then looks up at me, beaming. “Thank you for tonight Carter. I mean that.”

“Feeling’s mutual.”

I let my fingers run up and down her arm, lightly, to tell her this was more than just sex. She opens the door and backs into the house. She waves before closing the door and I pat the frame softly before heading back to my place. A familiar car pulls up to the sidewalk just as I’m about to cross the street and I find myself frowning. This is the guy who visits Meg.

Is he just waiting for me to cross? No, he’s not. He’s waiting for
me
.

As his window rolls down, I bend to see what it is he wants. Then a wave of nausea hits me when I realize that I know him.

“James.”

He gives me a one-time nod. “Thanks for walking Izzie home, Carter, she’s kind of confused right now, I guess.”

“She doesn’t seem confused to me.” I look back at Iris’s house, then at James again.

He holds my stare for an eternity before turning and looking out at the road before him, pondering something. “Yeah, well . . .”

“So uh, you just get this one?” I search for some hint that maybe this isn’t even his car. Maybe I’m wrong about him.

“What? No, this is just my favorite from the lot.” He pats the dash of the car sweetly, as though it’s his most precious asset.

I try for some more info. “I thought you rented cars out for a living?”

“I borrow them from time to time,” he says. “It’s a perk.”

My mind races but I try to remain calm because if this is James’s car, that means . . .

No! He’s a dick but surely he wouldn’t do that to Iris. Would he?

And Meg. She definitely wouldn’t.

Would she?

“What are you doing here, James?” I ask him, in an attempt to get something. Anything, to explain this situation away.

“Oh I just . . . circled around until I saw you two come out. She must really need someone to talk to huh?”

Where does he get off keeping tabs on Iris?

Dick.

“That is
all you were doing, right Carter? Talking?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, James.”

He studies me. Maybe even sizes me up. I’m not worried.

“Well, I sure hope you two know what you’re doing; this is a small town.”

Like I haven’t already thought of that. “I’m sure we do.”

I refuse to give the guy the satisfaction of knowing he might be right about something.

Fuck him. He gives me a nod as he watches a street sign. Then without another word, he pulls away. I watch him leave. Surely, it’s just a coincidence James is driving the same car that pulled up to Iris’s best friend’s house the first week I was here. That it was not, indeed him, getting out of that car and heading into Meg’s house that day.  And that there’s no way in hell they’ve been screwing each other behind Iris’s back.

The only problem is, I know that’s complete bullshit.

Chapter 15. Iris

 

The day after James moved out a couple of years ago, I took all the sheers down from my bedroom windows and replaced them.  For years, I let him leave those sheers up because he liked the way they let the light in, but the fact was, my side of the bed faced the window and every day the sun would wake me up long before I was ready.  

James sympathized, of course, but he wasn’t willing to replace them with something darker. He had to get up anyway, why would he care?  And he always said I should get myself up and going so I wouldn’t become lazy like all those other stay at home moms who sit around and watch talk shows or soap operas all day long. For some strange reason, as distraught as I was when things ended between us, the first thing I wanted to do was tear those sheers down and get black-out curtains. For the longest time, I thought I was simply doing it to defy him for ruining what he had together. But now, as I stare at the beam of light that’s found its way through the crack where I failed to pull the drapes closed last night, I think maybe I bought them so I wouldn’t have to see what was outside, waiting for me.

My own life.

The alarm goes off and reminds me that I need to get up and get ready for work. I hit the snooze button, then continue to watch the sun sneak in.

Last night, over at Carter’s, his body made mine sing a song I thought I’d forgotten. Will it happen again? Do I feel like this because I’ve been suppressing that side of me for so long? Was it ever even there to begin with? Did Carter feel it too or does he get this kind of action from a mom in every town he visits?

Will I over think
every
thing today?

“Mom?” My bedroom door opens and Ally peeks her head in.

“Are you feeling alright? Why are you still in bed?” She steps inside but stays by the door.

“I’m fine honey, just being lazy.”

She laughs. “Right, you haven’t been lazy a day in your life.”

I peek up at her. “Maybe it’s time I was.”

Ally feels my forehead with the back of her hand. “You sure you’re not sick?”

“Go get dressed, goofy girl, I’ll be out in a while.”

“Okay,” she says. It feels too easy – the lack of attitude and sarcasm has me making note of the small but meaningful change in my daughter since the weekend. I hope it’s a long term change.

 

* * *

 

“Mom!” Ally screams from downstairs as I push my second earring through the hole and clamp the backing to it on the other side.

“Coming!”

The woman in the mirror tilts her head.

Carter’s lips are on her neck.

My skin tingles.

I close my eyes and breathe him in.

“Mother!”

Dammit. Slowly, I set the bottle of perfume down as I answer my daughter. “I’m coming, Ally, settle down.”

I take a deep breath in and try to let thoughts of Carter go as I let it out. As I make my way down the stairs, I nearly trip laughing at the expression that’s plastered across my daughter’s face. I’ve never seen her so annoyed.

“You know I’m going to be late now, right?”

I shake my head and adjust the band of my watch. “The late bell doesn’t ring for another twenty minutes. This I know.”

I kiss her cheek as I pass her to get my purse and keys.

“Yeah but all my friends will already be on their way to class by the time I get there. I was supposed to meet up with Christina today.”

“Who’s Christina?”

“She’s just this girl, from my theatre class.”

I close the door behind me and lock up. “What happened to Karen?”

“Nothing.”

I stop. “Ally?”

She pauses but then finishes her trek to the car. “Nothing, mom. We’re just sick of each other right now; no big deal, things are fine.”

I should grill her to see what’s really going on. Nah. I don’t want to ruin the morning we’ve had together. Besides, she’ll tell me when she’s ready. Ally hops into the car and gets on her cell phone. I’m about to do the same when I see Meg grabbing the paper from the end of her driveway.

“Hey, Meg!”

Normally, I would be done and know that I’ll see her later, but today I stop and do a double take because she doesn’t acknowledge me right away.

“Meg?”

I turn to Ally. “I’ll be right back.”

Then I take a stroll down the sidewalk to my friend. Her face is blotchy and her eyes are puffy. And they’re still wet so I know she’s been crying.

“Hey,” she says with a sniffle and a wipe of her nose.

“You wanna talk about it?” There’s no need to make sure something’s wrong. It’s clear there is.

“Not really, Iris.” She grimaces.

“I don’t have to go in right now, if---“

“Iris, I said I don’t want to talk about it – especially with you.”

“What?”

She shakes her head and wipes her eyes. She looks away. At first it seems like she’s going to say something but then she just walks away.

“Meggan!”

You’d think her full name would stop her but I get nothing. Not a wave of her hand or a shake of her head, which is very not like her.

I watch her go back inside and I stand there. What could be bothering her so bad she doesn’t even want to talk to me about it? I walk back to the car where Ally is becoming impatient.
Welcome to my world.

“Looks like someone’s universe is about to implode,” Alex hollers from her door step, across the street.

I look over and laugh at her example via animation. I have no idea what she’s talking about. Then I wave. “It’s certainly not the universe I remember from last month.”

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” she says.

What is she insinuating? She doesn’t like Meg much but she doesn’t know her like I do. Something must really be upsetting her for her to act like that. I’ll find out later, when it’s just the two of us talking.

“Have a good one, Alex.” I smile and wave and she throws her hands up.

“Is there any other kind?”

I laugh a short laugh then slide into the car and head off to take my daughter to school and me, to another fun filled day at the Maximum Copy store.

 

* * *

 

“I forgot to tell you I need another hundred cookies for Wednesday’s pep rally,” Ally says as she’s about to close the door.

“Allison Rose!”

“I forgot, Mom, I’m sorry.”

I sigh. “I’ll get the ingredients tonight after work.”

It is literally impossible to say no to her. Plus, I like baking.

“Thanks, Mom.” She beams. It’s rare so I enjoy it despite the situation. “See ya later.”

She shuts the door and runs off to catch up with who I’m guessing is Christina. Then she’s gone; lost in the crowd.

 

* * *

 

Despite the fact that I’m a few minutes late to work, I find myself enjoying the elevator ride up to the third floor. There is no muzak playing, there never is, but today, I hear a song by the American Authors inside my head, which makes me think of Carter. I hum it as I wait for my floor to arrive. When the doors open, Mark stands there, staring at me as though he’s been waiting anxiously for me since the clock struck seven-forty-five.

I give him a grin. “Morning boss.”

I bounce past him, into the bull pen filled with cubicles and head toward the one I call home for eight to ten hours a day.

“Where have you been, Iris? I needed you to get on that presentation first---”

“The presentation is fine, Mark.” I take a nice, cleansing breath. “Everything’s fine.”

“F . . . what?”

“I’ll print a clean copy for you but you’ll never make it perfect if you keep nit picking every little detail. If you keep looking, you’ll keep finding more things to fix and the next thing you know, you’re late to your meeting.”

He stares blankly.

“That’s my professional advice. Of course, but you’re the boss, and if you really want to fix every tiny detail leading up to the time you have to be on the call, leaving you no time to review and prepare, I’ll do it.”

He furrows his brow and blinks his eyes for a total of about five minutes and then, as though he’s let all my words absorb into his brain finally, he straightens himself, pats me on the shoulder and says, “Agreed, Iris. We’re good to go; I’ll look for that copy on my desk as soon as you can print it off. Thank you.”

I won’t stand here and tell you his reaction is anything I expected. It’s not. But I can say, I walk the rest of the way to my cubical with the world’s largest grin on my face. After I print things off for Mark, my work days drags. He’s on his conference call,
not to be disturbed
, and I have absolutely nothing on my plate for the remainder of my time here.

I offer some assistance to a few of the other women on my floor. I stock up on supplies. I pretty much clean my whole entire workstation, even though it doesn’t need it; probably because I can’t get that song out of my head now and I’d like nothing more than to go home, walk straight over to Carter’s house and take him up on that offer he made me last night when we kissed goodnight.

I stop wiping my keyboard down and sit very still. I close my eyes and imagine his lips on my shoulder again. I tilt my head to give him better access. A satisfied sensation runs down my entire body as I remember the way his hands felt along every inch of my body, the way he was needy yet gentle. Hasty but purposeful. Like he was constantly fighting a battle with himself over . . . me. I can just about taste his tongue against mine if I just . . .

“Iris.”

“What?” I jump and my eyes fly open. “I wasn’t . . . I was just cleaning.”

“What’s the matter? Are you feeling alright? You look flushed.” Mark seems concerned but impatient. Something must have gone wrong in his meeting.

I reluctantly push thoughts of Carter’s body out of my mind and force myself to focus on work. “I’m fine, what do you need?”

As my boss prattles off some numbers he needs to give to his meeting attendees, I write it all down but I’m not paying much attention. Inside my mind, I’m on Carter’s futon, curled up next to him, with the American Authors playing in the background.

 

* * *

 

The day finally ends when Mark’s estranged wife calls and wants to talk things over with him. The way he gathers his things enthusiastically after he hangs up the phone tells me, although he’s a jerk, he loves her. Did James ever act this way after getting off the phone with me in the early days of our break up? I doubt it. His actions this week are very unlike him and I still can’t believe I almost fell for his sweet talk.

On my way home, I stop at the store and pick up the things I need to make the sugar cookies for Ally.  When my mother first taught me how to make them, we’d have so much fun together, baking for Christmas. The first time I made them for Ally’s Kindergarten class the kids gobbled them up and thought Ally was a rock star for having a mom that made cookies, “that good.” She’s asked me to make them for every occasion possible ever since and the recipe has evolved little by little with each year that passes.

As I check out, Rosie, a cashier I get from time to time, shakes her head as she rings me up.

“I’m surprised that daughter of yours doesn’t weigh a thousand pounds as many cookies I’ve seen you bake for that girl over the years, Iris.”

I laugh. “Luckily she knows how to share.”

“Ya got that right.”

She pulls the receipt out of the register and hands it to me. “You have a fun night, now, Iris. Don’t eat all the cookie dough!”

She winks and I push my cart toward the exit.

“I’ll have to bring you some one of these days, Rosie.”

“You better!”

She laughs, I laugh, but on the way to the car, I repeat something she said to myself.

As many cookies I’ve seen you bake for that girl.

And it gives me an idea.

Despite my run in with the law, recently, I find I have a lead foot the rest of the way home.  And to my surprise, I also find my daughter, already there.

“What are you doing home so early?”

“Dance was canceled today.”

I set the groceries down onto the counter. “Oh yeah? How come?”

Ally flips the channels but she’s not paying attention to the shows that flick by. Her zombie like glare tells me, she doesn’t really care about what’s on T.V.

“Mrs. White was called into some meeting. She said to take the day off. Some of us wanted to stay but . . .” She shrugs. “I guess majority rules.”

“Well.” I clap my hands together. “That’s good, because I have an idea.”

She twists around to look over at me, curious.

“You’re going to bake the cookies tonight.”

“What?” She looks panic stricken and it’s only all my fault she feels like she can’t do it. I should have been baking with
her all these years. Not for
her.

BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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