Page 17 of Mr. Fixit Next Door

“Why is everything so fatalistic with you two?” I demanded. “Single parents raise babies all the time. They’re more than successful in both their personal and professional lives.”

“But you,” growled my father, “are not them. I know you, mija. You’ve always been headstrong. Too stubborn. But you’ve always relied on others. Me, your mother, and your brother, we’ve always been there for you. But this child will be your responsibility, and yours alone. Especially no thanks to that pandejo Chris.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

Max placed his hand on my forearm, trying to calm me, but I pulled away. I was too furious, too numb to calm down even if I wanted to. I couldn’t hear anything over the rush of my heartbeat in my ear, couldn’t see anything past the tears that blurred my vision. There was no point in arguing with my parents. They were set in their ways, were adamant in treating me like a little girl rather than the young woman I really was. I slipped out of the booth and grabbed my purse, slipping the strap over my shoulder.

“Where are you going?” asked Max.

“I’m leaving,” I said flatly. “I’d rather hang out with people who actually believe in me.”

My mother opened her mouth like she was about to speak, but I turned on my heel and left before she could utter a word.

I had to walk home from the restaurant since it was Max who gave me a ride, but I didn’t mind. I braced myself against the chilly evening breeze, the cool whisper of wind against my red-hot cheeks a welcoming sensation. My head was still spinning, my parents’ words still echoing around in my mind. Disbelief gripped at my heart while doubt settled in my thoughts. They didn’t think I could do this. They didn’t think I could handle the baby. My father thought –in his words– that I was ruined, worthless because I’d made a decision contrary to his own. This entire time, I thought I could prove them wrong. I thought that I could show my parents that I was independent by moving out into my own apartment, but sticking up for what I believed in. But now I knew the truth. They didn’t believe in me, and that somehow made everything a million times worse.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I checked the caller ID and discovered that it was Max.

A pinch of annoyance ate away at my chest, the muscles in my neck tensing upon seeing his face. I wanted to blame him. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t insisted on meeting up with my parents to speak in person, maybe none of this would have happened. Maybe I could have been spared my father’s harsh words and my mother’s pitiful expressions. I ignored the call and turned my phone on silent. After the whole fiasco at the restaurant, I didn’t want anything to do with my family. I needed to cool down, not just for my own sanity, but for the sake of the baby. High levels of cortisol weren’t good for its development.

Just as I approached the front steps of my apartment building, I spotted Joe rounding the corner. The moment our eyes locked, I knew I couldn’t avoid him. His handsome smile quickly faded when he saw my distress, which was probably written all over my face. He approached me, leaning down a bit.

“Terri, what happened?”

I shook my head and bit my lower lip. I felt like I’d start crying if I spoke a word.

“What’s wrong?” he asked again, gingerly placing his hands on my shoulders. He smelled a little like car grease, obviously just having come back from work. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell. If anything, it was comforting. That was just the way he smelled, and I liked that about him. It was proof that he was a hard worker, someone who was admirable in every way.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m just… I’m just tired.”

“Why don’t I believe you?”

“It’s nothing, Joe,” I insisted, words sounding frail. God, I just needed to sleep. I needed to block out the last hour with whatever dreams I managed to conjure up. “I just want to go to sleep.”

“Do you need anything? I can grab you something from the store if you’re not feeling well.”

I shook my head again. “I just need some space. Thank you, though. That’s really sweet of you.”

“You know you can text me if you need anything, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Just say the word and I’ll be right over.”

I forced a polite smile even though I felt like I was seconds away from bawling my eyes out. “Thank you, Joe. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

The concern in his eyes was heartbreaking.

9

Joe

I didn’t like being lied to. I was pretty sure most people felt that way. But when Terri lied to my face about something being wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to be furious. She was hiding something, there was no doubt in my mind, but I didn’t think it was the right time or place to press her. Whatever had happened clearly shook her to the core, and prying for more information probably would have upset her further. The last thing I wanted to do was to cause her or the baby any undue stress.

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