Page 20 of Mr. Fixit Next Door

I nodded slowly. After removing the chain from the door, I opened it wide. Chris stepped in and immediately circled his arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug. I remained stiff and didn’t willingly melt into his touch.

“You won’t regret this,” he told me. Chris got down onto his knees and pressed his ear to my belly, balancing himself with a gentle grip on my hips. “I promise, I’m going to make everything right. For you and the baby.”

In a weird way, this felt comfortable. Chris was the missing piece to this entire puzzle. Now that he was here, everything seemed complete. But a tiny voice in the back of my head argued that it didn’t feel right. I shook my head in an attempt to rid myself of the thought. Chris was here now. The fact that our child was going to have bother parents in its life surely mattered more than anything.

I tapped Chris on the shoulder and got him to stand. “What’s the plan, then?”

“I’m going to drop out of college,” he explained. “I’ll got get a job and start helping to save money. Maybe later we can discuss my moving in with you. Actually, maybe not here. It’s kind of… Well, we can talk about that later.”

“What’s wrong with the apartment? I just got settled.”

“You don’t think it’s going to be too small?”

“Well, space wasn’t really a concern when you weren’t in the picture.”

Chris raised both his hands in mock surrender. “Again, we can talk about it later. We don’t have to make any big decisions right now. I just want to make sure you have everything you need in the meantime.”

“Okay,” I mumbled.

“How about I take you out to brunch? There’s a little place just down the street that serves the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had.”

“I can’t have raw–”

“Come on,” he spoke over me, ushering me toward the bathroom. “How about you go get dressed? We’ll make a whole day of it. Catch up, you know?”

Reluctantly, I trudged back toward the bedroom. “Alright, alright. I just… I need to make a call first.”

Chris took a seat at the kitchen island, resting his elbows on the counter’s surface. “You take all the time you need, beautiful.”

After closing the bedroom door behind me, I immediately snatched up my phone from its charging station. I knew it was really early, and I wasn’t sure if Joe would even answer, but I didn’t want to string him along. Now that Chris was back in my life, the father of my child, Joe deserved to know the truth. I didn’t want to hurt him if I could help it, so severing ties as soon as possible just seemed like the right thing to do.

He picked up instantly.

“Terri?” he said gruffly, voice groggy and low with sleep. “Is everything okay?”

“Hi, Joe,” I mumbled, “I’m sorry to bother you. Did I wake you?”

“I just got up. Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I just… I needed to talk to you.”

“Okay?”

“I need to cancel our dinner plans.”

“Oh,” he breathed. “Um, sure.”

“Chris showed up a little earlier,” I explained gently. “He said he wants to get back together.”

“Oh,” he said again, sounding even more crushed than the first time. “I see.”

“You’re not upset, are you?”

“Don’t worry about me, Terri. I think that’s great.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Your kid’s lucky to have both parents.”

My heart twisted in my chest. I could tell Joe was trying to disguise his disappointment. An immense amount of guilt started to eat away at my gut.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. I’m really happy for you.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

“Goodbye, Terri.”

11

Joe

I drowned myself in work. It was the only way to ignore the burning humiliation I felt. I wanted nothing more than to cave in, to be angry with everything and everyone. I’d never put myself on the line like that, never felt so ready to open up than I had been with Terri. I’d been cautiously optimistic that maybe Terri and I could have been something great. I just couldn’t understand why her ex-boyfriend decided to show up out of the blue, especially after he’d been the one to dump Terri. I’d never met Chris, but he was worse than scum in my books. What kind of asshole abandoned their woman after learning she was expecting?

Chris, that was who.

I found myself building up an image in my head. He was usually faceless in my daydreams, but I always made him out to be some greasy, pathetic excuse of a man. I silently prayed that he would at least prove to be a good father. Did he know what foods made Terri ill? Was he the kind of guy who’d willingly leave the house at two in the morning to buy Terri something to eat when her cravings got particularly bad? Had he read up on all the pregnancy books Terri had collected to prepare for the child’s arrival? When the day arrived, would he hold her hand and coach her through the process? If he flaked out once, what was to stop him from ditching Terri all over again?

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