Tracy had been home less than two days when her boyfriend John showed up. She had pulled into the apartment complex in her Mustang she had just gotten out of storage, as she had flat out refused to let her mother drive it in her absence, when Tracy saw him leaning against the hood of his car. There was no way it could be anyone other than John, she would recognize his tall frame, broad shoulders, and screaming red hair anywhere. She groaned, and looked at Simon, sleeping peacefully. She was tired, too, she just wanted to get home, so a hero lap around the neighborhood was out of the question. It really didn’t look as if John was going anywhere anytime soon. She was just not in the mood to deal with him right now, but she had no other choice, so she pulled up right next to him.
She returned his smile as casually as she could as he approached, his arms opened, ready for an embrace. Tracy pushed through it.
“So, when were you gonna call?”, he asked, the hidden edge coming through loud and clear, to familiar ears. His southern accent rolling off the harsh consonants, sounding almost sweet.
“I’m so sorry,” Tracy replied, trying to get to the passenger side door to get the car seat. She saw John’s reaction reflecting in the window, realizing he had shaved his ridiculous mustache, which would make it easier to talk to him, what a distraction that thing had been. He had let his hair grow out a little since she had been deployed, his banged flopped a little in his eyes, but the sides were shorn to military standards.
“Hao,” he uttered. “What the heck is that?” He was visibly shaken, and crossed his arms across his chest. “When Mick told me you were home early, I didn’t believe him, I couldn’t think of a single reason.” He let out a nervous deep breath. “But, now it all makes sense. You weren’t even gonna tell me?”
“Tell you what?,” Tracy said, putting a hand up to stop him. “John, this is my brother.” She grabbed the diaper bag on the front seat with her free hand, and slammed the door with her hip. “I’m home because of a family emergency.”
She began to walk towards the apartment, and John followed close behind, but not offering to carry anything. She juggled the diaper bag and her keys, and John helped by turning the door knob, but then stood outside until she invited him in.
“So, what was the emergency?” he asked, looking around the apartment.
“My mom had a baby.” Tracy set the carseat down in front of the couch, Simon was still sleeping, so she just let him be. She opened the diaper bag, and began sorting papers on the kitchen counter. She had a pile for doctor receipts, pharmacy receipts, and forms to fill out for WIC, and other programs that would keep her mother afloat.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied, sarcastically. “How was it an emergency?”
“Ugh,” Tracy groaned, aloud. She really did not want to get into this with John, not now, not ever. John was the kind of guy that was fun to be around for a few weeks, but the novelty of his rugged good looks, and neanderthal like mentality wore thin very soon. Tracy figured, his raw masculinity would take the low road while she was gone on her ship’s six month Mediterranean Cruise, and she would come home to no boyfriend. This didn’t really upset her, in fact she was kind of hoping for it. Tracy found herself ignoring his question, and wondering when he would be leaving on his Med cruise, she smiled when she realized there was indeed hope.
“Women have babies all the time, how did you manage to get out of your cruise?” he asked again, louder, starting to light a cigarette.
“Wait, wait,” she said. “Not in the house.” She pulled him off the couch and pushed him towards the sliding glass door. “Not around the baby.”
John took the cigarette out of his mouth, as she began to shut the door behind him. He stuck his hand out and stopped her.
“Tracy,are we going to talk about this?”
She looked at him quizzically. “What is there to talk about?”
“Like the fact that you ditched a Med Cruise to babysit, for starters.”
“John, I have been home, for like two and a half days,” she stated. “My mom handed me Simon, and I haven’t seen her since. I have two weeks to figure everything out, before I have to go meet my ship, and I really don’t know if my mother is coming back. I really have better things to do than to try to explain this mess to you, you were supposed to have a new girlfriend by now.” John raised an eyebrow, as she sunk to the floor, tears streaming down her face. Her whole body was bawling, tears were dripping from her chin, leaving dark wet spots on her jeans, but she wasn’t making a sound.
“Hey, hey,” John said, crouching beside her. “Hey, come on now, it can’t be that bad?” He had dropped his cigarette and wrapped his arms around her. “Is it that bad?”
Tracy wiped her arm across her nose, met his gaze, and nodded silently.
“It is,” she moaned. “John, it is so bad.” She looked up into his rust colored eyes and saw he was really listening to her. “I have managed to avoid anything and everything that would interfere with my plans.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I have avoided long term relationships, and all that goes along with them, security, dependence, and love, and all that, mostly because the biggest interference would come from a baby, or a family, having to be concerned about other peoples needs and desires.. And, look, for all my good choices, I still get strapped with a baby that is going to interfere with my plans.” She started to bawl again, her shoulders shaking.
“When is your mom coming back?” John asked, gently rubbing her shoulders.
“When?” Tracy asked. “More like, if?” She laughed to herself, tears still coming. “That woman is like...is like...” Tracy growled. “I never know when she plans on coming or going. She just shows up whenever she feels like.” Tracy looked up at John. “She showed up two weeks before I left, she was pregnant then.” Her eyes blazed with anger. ”She never told me, she could have told me she was pregnant. She knew I was going away, she just wanted to crash a few days, she said.” She slapped the palm of her hand on her forehead. “She totally played me, she planned this. She didn’t plan Simon would be sick, but she planned this!”
“Calm down, Babe,” John said. “You don’t know what she was thinking.” He looked over at Simon, still sleeping peacefully. “Simon is sick?”
Tracy got to her feet, she needed a tissue, and the realization that her mother had planned all this was sobering, and she began coming to her senses. She did not want to be some ultra feminine crumpled mass of tears, and she certainly didn’t want John to be a part of this whole break down. She didn’t want to feel indebted to him, for his concern. She splashed water on her face, and tried to compose herself. He was having an affect on her she had not anticipated, his strong arms around her, his reassuring glances. John was actually listening to her, thinking about what she was saying, she needed him to go.
Tracy had spent enough time in the bathroom for John to finally smoke his cigarette. She grabbed a large glass of ice water, and began making a bottle for Simon, who would be awake anytime now.
“So,” John said, hesitantly. “Your brother is sick?” He leaned against the archway separating the kitchen from the living room. He was six inches away from Tracy. He was gazing down at her waiting for an answer, his eyes full of concern. He made her feel so small, so fragile. His snug t-shirt was spotted with her tears from pulling her tightily into his chest. He looked like John, he sounded like John, but he wasn’t acting like John, he demeanor had changed dramatically when her water works had started.
“We were at the doctor’s most of the morning,” Tracy explained. “He isn’t sick, he was born with cerebral palsy.” She peeked around John to check on the baby, he was awake, starting to wind up with his hungry cry. “Listen, John, I really need to take care of this.” She walked past him. “You really just need to go. I’m sorry, I would have called you eventually to let you know I was back, but as you can see things are just really weird here right now. “ This was mostly a lie, she probably never would have called him, however things here were really exceptionally weird, she had a baby to take care of, and she had nearly melted into a heap when she had realized how crazy things actually were.
He turned and watched as she unstrapped Simon. He leaned against the arch again. Tracy had to look away. The shirt, the thumbs looped on to his front pockets, the jeans hugging his body, his hair dangerously close to being out of military standards hanging in his eyes, it was all too much for her. She doubled down on focusing on Simon. “You really should just go.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding his head ever so slightly, his thinking nod. “I’ll be back in the am, help you get things together.” His nod became more determined, as his thoughts were coming together. “I’ll give you a hand for a few days.” He walked towards the door, but stopped and walked back to the couch where Tracy sat, trying to get Simon to take his bottle.
“That’s really not necessary,”Tracy said. “We’ll be fine.” Simon thrashed and refused the bottle.
“You might want to change him first,” John answered, kneeling down watching Simon. Tracy stopped and looked at John, and he leaned over and kissed her. She stared at him unblinking. “I know you’ll be fine, but I wouldn’t be your friend if I let you do it alone.”