Page 21 of Mr. Fixit Next Door

I leaned back in my office chair and ran a hand through my hair. These were all hypotheticals, things that I couldn’t prove. But it was eating me alive to know that Chris was with Terri when it should have been me. The thought of him being with Terri, holding her when it should have been my arms around her, left me sick to my stomach. It should have been me going out with her to buy baby supplies. It should have been me going to Lamaze classes with her. Who cared if the kid wasn’t actually mine? Chris got to touch her, kiss her, be with her. And then there was me, self-banished to the garage because I couldn’t stand the fact that Terri was literally in the next building over, living her life without me.

There’d only been a handful of appointments that day at the garage. After a simple oil change and a brake replacement, I found myself mulling about the office. I rarely looked at the business’ finances. I’d hired an accountant for that. Numbers and me, we didn’t really get along. I liked the more technical side of my job, the part where I could work with my hands and get them dirty. But it was an understatement to say that I was in a weird headspace today. I was distracted with thoughts of Terri, memories of our night shared together popping up at the most random moments. I was in the middle of sorting business emails–mind-numbing work, in my opinion– when someone knocked on my office door.

“Come in,” I grunted.

Max poked his head in. “Hey, buddy,” he said slowly, like he was talking to some crazed animal trapped in a corner.

This was the first time I’d seen Max since our conversation over the phone over a month ago. We’d texted a few times in between, but between our work schedules and the fact that I just didn’t want to fucking deal with a Cato right now meant we hadn’t been in the same room together in a while. There was an edge about him, like he was tiptoeing on a wire, afraid to move too quickly or speak too loudly. I recognized the pity in his eyes in an instant, the same eyes he shared with his sister. When he looked at me, I felt like Terri was the one carefully approaching me, afraid to do anything that might piss me off.

I knew it was wrong to be angry. I cared for Terri enough to respect her decision. To a certain extent, I understood where she was coming from. I couldn’t hold it against her to want the biological father in the picture. But I was frustrated. I was frustrated because there was nothing that I could do. If I told Terri how I really felt, if I somehow convinced her to break things off with Chris, that meant I was the asshole. I would be the selfish one, and I couldn’t do that to her. Her happiness meant more to me than my own, and there was no denying that that fucking sucked.

“What’s up?” I mumbled, barely looking at him. “Shouldn’t you be at work?” I shuffled papers around, trying to look busy. Maybe I could convince him to leave if I looked swamped with work.

“It’s Sunday,” he answered simply.

“Firefighters get Sundays off? Aren’t you a twenty-four-seven kind of professional?”

“I booked the day. I texted you about it, remember? Gave you details and everything.”

“No.”

Max finally stepped in and shut the door behind him, remaining where he was with his back pressed to the wall. “It’s Terri’s baby shower.”

“And?”

“Come on, man. Don’t be like this.”

I finally looked up from the work computer, a terrible pressure behind my eyes. I’d been nursing an awful headache for literal days. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Terri told me she called you. Like, a lot. Said she left you messages. You ever going to respond?”

“Probably not, no.”

Max scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I can’t believe you. One second you’re into her, and now you want nothing to do with her.”

“She’s with Chris now, Max. What am I supposed to do?”

Max scratched behind his ear, appearing as disgruntled as I felt. “I’ll admit it’s a pretty shitty situation.”

“That, sir, is the understatement of the year.”

“But you can’t just not speak to her ever again. She’s been asking about you.”

“Tell her I’m fine. I’ve been busy.”

“You’ve been hiding,” he corrected.

I stood up, sending my office chair flying with a forceful shove with the back of my knees. “I’m not hiding,” I hissed through clenched teeth.

“How long have we known each other, Joe?”

“Years.”

“And in that time, I’ve come to learn you’re a shitty liar. That’s why I always insist on bringing you to station poker nights. Your tell is shit.”

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