Little Packages Ch. 03

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Ben

Montreal – One week until Christmas

I got off the train at Montreal Gare Centrale and there was no redheaded pixie throwing themselves into my arms. Which was to be expected. As far as she was concerned I was arriving at five o’clock tomorrow afternoon, where she would be waiting to pounce on me. Instead I was sneaking into town the night before.

I made my way through the station, rolling my suitcase beside me, heading in the direction of the taxi stand. I wondered exactly how pissed off she was going to be when she found out I did this. We hadn’t seen each other in three weeks and she was already pretty cranky with me. Even the patented “firm daddy voice” had only taken some of the edge off her bad mood.

It couldn’t be helped. She had final projects and exams. She had to do well on these things; it was a non-negotiable aspect of our relationship. But I was still worried. She sounded so miserable last weekend. School stress, I suspected those bitches in her class were still making her life difficult, and she relied so heavily on being little when she was stressed. I felt like the worst daddy in the world.

I got in the cab and gave him the name of the hotel I was staying in. I knew Ashley could be strong when needed; it was just a matter of remembering to tap into that at times other than when she thought I was being threatened.

My phone vibrated. I texted Ashley earlier this evening to wish her luck on her exam, so I doubted it was her. I checked my screen – Meg.

“Still on for Monday?”

After my weekend in Montreal, I was flying down to Toronto to see some friends before Christmas. From there it was a flight out of Pearson Airport to Vancouver to see my parents. Ashley, to her mild disgust, was heading back to Saskatchewan to spend the holidays with her mom. Neither of us was particularly happy about the situation. It was a lot of running around and we weren’t looking forward to it. If we were being honest and selfish, we both would have preferred to just spend the holidays at my house and ignore family obligations.

“That’s the plan. I arrive late that afternoon.” Meg was putting me up for a couple of nights, saving me from dealing with Toronto’s ridiculous hotel rates.

“The timing of your arrival is raising questions.

“People are curious why you aren’t coming in tomorrow to hang out for the weekend.”

God forbid any of them reach out and talk to me directly. But most of them were still nervous around me. I’d lost more than a few friends over the last two years because of my ‘behaviour’. I was probably about to lose some more. In the meantime, they were still nervous about chatting to me directly. Meg was acting as an intermediary, something she had mixed feelings about.

“Look at them, being all clever,” I replied.

“Ben, are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Which was Meg’s polite way of asking “Are you still a goddamn lunatic and having sex with that girl?” My trip to Toronto wasn’t about telling them who I was with, but it was about laying the groundwork so they wouldn’t be completely scandalized in a few weeks time. It was hard to turn back after I did that.

It sounded ok in theory. I had doubts the reality of it would work.

“Absolutely. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“How quickly you forget,” came the answer almost immediately.

Fair enough.

***

Near Kingston – Seven weeks earlier

I was dimly aware of bouncing happening on my bed. I’d taken a few painkillers the night before, which I hated doing. They made me groggy as hell the next morning. But if there was ever such a thing as an absolutely justifiable reason for hurting your knee, fucking my teenage girlfriend against the side of a church was right up there.

“Perfectly legitimate reason,” my doctor would say. “Here, have a crate of painkillers, just in case there’s a next time.”

The fact that sentence seemed funny to me made me aware that I was going to wake up silly, which happened with painkillers sometimes. But there are worse ways to wake up than having my cute little girl bounce on the bed to wake me up.

Right up until the moment she loudly whispered “Ben, you have to get up.”

Ben. Not daddy.

Shit.

I pulled myself slowly out of my coma to see Ashley kneeling on the bed next to me. She was wearing my apron and nothing else. If it wasn’t for the look of panic on her face, she would be good enough to eat.

“What’s wrong Ashley?” I managed to get out.

“Your friend Meg is here. In the kitchen. And, um, she might have seen my ass,” she said.

I’ve never had an adrenaline needle to the heart, but I imagine it feels something like being told by your half-naked teenage girlfriend that your late wife’s best friend is waiting for you in the kitchen. I can’t recommend the experience, but it’ll focus you in a goddamn hurry.

“Ok,”I said, sitting up and getting out of bed. I began looking for clothes and quickly threw on a t-shirt and some pj bottoms. I looked at myself in the ata┼čehir escort bayan mirror. I looked like a wreck. But there was nothing to be done about it. Meg wasn’t going to patiently wait while I got a shower and got myself together.

I rubbed my face and then glanced over at the bed. Ashley looked stricken, like she had just turned me into the cops or something. I walked over to the bed and kissed her on the head.

“It’s going to be ok, Ashley,” I said. “It’s just Plan B.”

“Are you in trouble?”

The previous refrain went through my head – half-naked teenage girlfriend. Late wife’s best friend. Oh, I forgot to add she was a divorce lawyer, so she was absolutely getting her cross-examination all prepped while I was in here. I wasn’t in trouble; I was totally fucked.

“It’ll be fine, I promise. She’ll give me some shit, but I’ll explain things to her,” I said.

Ashley looked skeptical, probably because I wasn’t awake enough to lie properly yet. I told Ashley she should get dressed and hang out here while I chatted with Meg. I started to head towards the door when a thought hit me.

“Did you say my ‘name’ when she startled you in the kitchen?”

She shook her head. “I squeaked and then said I’d get you. I didn’t say,” and here she adorably staged whispered “The d-word.”

Small miracles, at least. I said that was good, grabbed my cane, and headed towards the kitchen to start my trial.

When I walked in Meg was sitting on one of the stools by the island in the kitchen. She’d thoughtfully poured herself a cup of coffee and was eating a piece of my sourdough bread with some jam. I said nothing and went over to get a cup myself. She was going to get the first shot in, I just had to be ready for it.

“You better hurry up. If you don’t rush you’re going to be late dropping her off at Sunday School,” she said.

There we go.

“It must have been hard sitting there waiting for me to get dressed knowing you had that zinger ready,” I said. I took a hard pull off the coffee hoping it would help focus me. I leaned back against the kitchen counter. My knee was throbbing so I’d like to sit, but I wanted some distance between the two of us. It gave me the illusion of being safe.

“Just tell me she’s legal, Ben. Please tell me that.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Meg. Of course she’s legal. She’s 19, almost 20. Do you want to inspect her driver’s licence?”

“When is she turning 20? Two years from now? She looks 17 if you’re lucky. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“You do not get to talk shit about her like that, Meg,” I warned.

“I am not talking shit about her. I am trying to figure out if you have yours together. And you don’t get to be indignant with me. You simply don’t. Two years of keeping you together and preventing you from doing something stupid. Two years of that, most of which wasn’t easy. Some of this gray is all yours, Ben,” she said, holding out a strand of her hair.

“So tell me what color hair dye you’re using and I’ll send you a monthly supply from my Amazon account,” I said. “Will that help pay off the debt?”

Damn it, damn it, damn it…this was going all wrong. I could see her seethe. I was grateful for everything Meg had done for me the last two years. I literally wouldn’t be here without her. But as soon as she snarked at Ashley, my hindbrain kicked in. I should be calming her down and trying to explain things. Instead I was escalating.

Escalating with Meg was always a bad idea. Because she always had a higher gear she could reach than I did.

She got up from the island, came around it and crossed the distance so she was standing right in front of me.

“I assume you met her at the comic con. We were all worried, Ben, that you were going to do something stupid going there by yourself. Some of us thought you might go blow all your money. I was worried someone would say something stupid to you and you’d try to beat them to death with your cane. But I can honestly say none of us had you coming home with jailbait on our bingo cards!” she yelled.

I was about to tell her exactly where to go when a quiet, firm voice came from off to the side.

“Enough,” Ashley said.

We both turned. Ashley was wearing yoga pants and my Batgirl t-shirt which almost reached down to her knees. She had her glasses on and her hair tossed back into a ponytail. Meg wasn’t wrong when she said Ashley looked younger than her age.

“Look kid,” Meg started. Ashley cut her off.

“My name is Ashley. You can start there.”

That threw Meg for a second. Only a second.

“Sorry…Ashley. But this is between Ben and I. I don’t know how much he’s told you, but he’s made some questionable choices the last few years…”

“I’m a ‘questionable choice’?” she asked. This was a new Ashley I was seeing. She wasn’t little right now. She was locked in and focussed and Meg had already underestimated her twice. I’d never seen Ashley mad, but I suspected I was about to see it. If I’d been more alert or on escort kad─▒├Ây the ball I would have jumped in, but I was not at my sharpest.

“Maybe that wasn’t the best…”

Ashley walked up to Meg. She was in her bare feet and Meg was wearing those boots that she loved so much. So there was a good seven inches of height difference going on. Having said that, I noticed Meg took an involuntary step back.

“The second day, when I was trying everything I could think of to get him to see I was crazy about him, he told me about Beth and that the last two years had been a horror show and that he was probably still a big mess and that I should run away.

“But I didn’t, because I could tell the first minute I met him that he was a kind and decent man. He defended me from some bullies and made sure I was ok. I knew that maybe he was banged up and hurting, but under that, he was just a good person trying to remember how to do that again. You’ve got a few decades on me and I don’t see a ring on your finger. Tell me, how much luck have you had finding one of those?” she said.

Jesus. Christ.

Meg looked shell shocked. I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time I saw her look like this. Ashley kept going, not giving Meg a chance to recover.

“He spent part of yesterday figuring out how he was going to tell you we were dating. And I told him he didn’t have to do that. It was ok if he wanted to keep me a secret because I can imagine how some people might react to our age difference. But he wouldn’t have it. That our relationship was nothing to be ashamed of. He told me that if people were upset that he was happy that said more about them, than us.

“But you already knew he was dating someone. I heard him on the phone with you yesterday. He thought he was being careful, but he was so happy and you could hear it in his voice. I was so thrilled to know I was partly responsible for that. I bet you knew there was only one thing that could do that. If you were really worried about him you would have been here yesterday afternoon. Instead you waltz in here this morning hoping to catch him in the act.”

Ashley walked away from Meg and sat down at the island. Meg being speechless was a whole new thing for me to absorb.

“He says you’re his best friend. Maybe try being happy for him.”

The defence rests, your Honor.

Meg looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. I’d never seen this side of Ashley before so I had no answers for her. It was blowing my mind. She shook her head and walked out of the kitchen. I heard the door slam.

“Nobody messes with my daddy,” I heard her say, and then bite into a piece of bacon. I started laughing.

“Where the fuck…”

“You were doing a shitty job defending yourself, I guess, because you just woke up and I know you’re still hurting. And she pissed me off,” she said.

We needed to talk about this more, but I also needed to get out and talk to Meg before she drove off and committed vehicular manslaughter all the way from here to Toronto. I walked over and kissed Ashley on the head.

“Never stop surprising me, Ashley,” I said.

“Princess,” she said, her voice softening, as if whatever fire that had been powering her was ebbing away. I suspected there was some aftercare going to be needed. “Go. I know you need to talk to her. But don’t take any shit from her.”

I moved with some speed down the hall and out the back of the house, hoping she wasn’t gone. She wasn’t. She was standing next to her car, smoking a cigarette, trying to figure out what had just happened. I was mildly shocked as I knew she had mostly quit. She saw me and shook her head.

“You know,” I said, “Beth told me you confided in her one time when you were both drunk that even though you quit smoking, you still liked having one after you’ve been well and truly fucked.”

Her eyes got wide for a second, then she smirked, did a little nod and flip gesture with the cigarette. It was her little way of saying we were even and she knew the Sunday School quip was a cheap shot.

“When I saw her in the kitchen, Ben…Jesus Christ I really did think you’d finally lost your mind. I believe you when you say she’s 19, but you know she doesn’t look it. I was just so mad you had screwed up like this. I really thought this was going to be our breaking point,” she said. She was upset. I knew she would be when she found out I was dating someone, but this was a shitty way to find out.

I walked around the car and hugged her. She accepted it, reluctantly at first, but then settled into it. Only the very best of friends could upset you to the point where you were ready to kill them one minute and hug them the next. I pulled back.

“I swear to God, I haven’t lost my mind. I know it doesn’t make sense, but it honestly works between the two of us. She makes me happy. She’s just such a…joyful presence that it’s hard to stay down or depressed around her. And, believe it or not, I make her happy as well,” I said.

She just shook her head. “You could maltepe escort have tried online dating, you know?”

“Oh yes, me using Tindr. That’ll work. How about Christian Mingle?” I said.

She snorted a laugh. “Ok, maybe not.”

“Beth was a 100-to-1 longshot. You know that. Dating was never going to work for me. Blind dates and set-ups…god, I was dreading the thought of it. I pretty much figured that being single was just going to be the way it was going to work for me. And then, literally, bam…she ran into me,” I said.

“Your parents are going to have kittens over her.”

I shook my head. “Oh no. I thought that too. Then I had one of those terrible, terrible revelations. They’re going to be shocked for about five minutes and then they’re going to figure something out. And then they’re going to love her,” I said.

Meg looked puzzled for a few seconds, and then it dawned on her. She looked horrified.

“She can give them grandchildren…”

Beth and I couldn’t have children. She had health problems when she was a kid and the doctors told her when she was 16 that trying to have children would likely kill her. As she didn’t want any, she was ok with it. So was I when we first started dating. But I had to admit, there were times over the years I had a pang when I saw friends playing with their kids.

My parents, on the other hand, were crushed when they realized there were no grandchildren forthcoming. I was an only child. They were counting on grandchildren to spoil. They loved Beth, but were always disappointed by her ambivalence towards kids.

“Ashley’s on enough birth control to prevent three women from getting pregnant and she’s 19, which means she’s not interested in having them,” I said, conveniently omitting our roleplay where she begged me to get her pregnant. “But she gives them hope, so that buys me some grace.”

“And Helen?” Meg asked. Beth’s mom. A kind, decent woman who lost her husband eight years ago to cancer, who lost her daughter two years ago to a drunk idiot, and her son five years ago to a different kind of idiot when he moved to the States and started wearing MAGA hats.

“I have no earthly idea,” I said, truthfully. I hoped I wasn’t about to break her heart for a fourth time.

Meg offered no suggestions and not much sympathy. Fair enough. I had to figure this out and deal with it. Asking Meg for advice wasn’t fair.

“So what now?” she asked, shivering slightly in the chill. She dropped the cigarette on the ground and crushed it out.

“Now,” I said, “we’re going to go back into the house, apologize to each other like good Canadians, and start over because you’re both awesome and I’d like for the two of you to be…ok with each other. I’m not asking for you to be friends, but I’d like for you to be ok with me being with her and for her to not think my best friend is a bitch.”

She took a deep breath and nodded her head. We started back to the house.

“You never do anything easy anymore, do you?” she said.

“Oh Meg, this is the easiest thing I’ve done in years.”

***

Montreal – Six days until Christmas

There’s only one sane thing to do when you wake up in Montreal and it’s December. It’s cold, there’s snow, and you’d swear the massive icicles barely hanging onto buildings have been deliberately planted there to get skewer unwary Anglophones. The solution to this cruel reality is to get a half dozen, just out of the oven bagels, good cream cheese, drink a litre of coffee, find a quiet place to sit and enjoy it all, and hope all of that jumpstarts your brain.

So far, it wasn’t working.

Today was supposed to be simple. Once I finished breakfast I’d head to the fabric store and pick up Ashley’s Christmas gift. Then it was a couple of comic stories to grab some stocking stuffers. And then a brief meeting with the owner of the business I was taking her to tomorrow afternoon, just to make sure the place looked legit. Surprise her at the College, get hugs and yelled at, and then take her and Gillian out to supper this evening. The finale was getting the one thing we’ve both been craving the last three weeks.

Sounds like a perfect day. But it was also the beginning of our transition. For the last two months, with one dramatic hiccup, we’ve been able to just enjoy each other. We could run away to my house and just relax and have fun. The rest of the world was outside the bubble.

And it was a damn fun bubble to be in.

So instead of getting motivated and getting my ass in gear, I was daydreaming about what it would be like to be alone with her again, and remembering the last time we were together.

***

Two weeks after the incident with Meg, Ashley came back to Kingston. While I was dragging supplies out of the car, she marched into the house. By the time I got through the door, she had shed her boots, coat, socks, and was pulling her dress over her head. She tossed it at me and I discovered she’d decided to forgo both bra and panties this trip down. She gave me a very determined look for a naked woman.

“I decided that I am getting in your bed and not leaving for the rest of this weekend except when I absolutely have to, like to use the bathroom or get clean,” she said, and then bolted for the bedroom before I could say anything.

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