Jamie and Peter’s house is warm and glowing, as only the happiest of houses can be. It is a modest, two bedroom cottage with mismatched furniture. The wood stove crackles with satisfaction.
We sit at the yellow formica table in the kitchen. Large black and white tiles cover the floor like a checkerboard. The refrigerator is covered with drawings by Peter. Crayons seem to be his medium of choice.
All three of us have huge red mugs filled with hot chocolate, marshmallows and green sprinkles. This all feels very domestic and homey. I like feeling this way. This is our secret hot chocolate drinking club. It is very elite and there are exactly three members.
“Peter, you were great as Tiny Tim. How did you memorize all those lines?” I am bewildered at how someone so small could perform so well onstage.
“Well, dad helped me. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s a professional, you know.”
His matter-of-fact tone is so endearing, it makes me want to pinch his cheeks, but I’m sure that would be crossing a boundary of some sort.
Jamie laughs at Peter’s answer.
“You didn’t need much help, buddy.”
Jamie smiles contentedly and nods. He slurps the warm, chocolatey sludge at the bottom of his cup.
“Ok, it is way past your bed time, kiddo.”
Peter looks distressed for a moment. Then he looks at me.
“Will you tell me a bedtime story?”
“Oh, I don’t know if she wants to do that, Pete–”
“Oh, I don’t mind, Jamie, I’d love to.”
Jamie takes Peter through his bedtime routine and shortly after, he is pajama-ed and snuggled under his Star Wars covers.
“Dad, you need to leave. This is Dorothy’s story.”
Jamie smiles and turns to leave.
“I’ll be out in the living room if you need me.”
He walks out, all shoulders and swagger.
I go to the bookshelf.
“Well, Peter, what story would you like me to read to you.”
“Oh, I don’t want one of those. It needs to be a story you make up. Special, for tonight.”
I am not the best storyteller, but I decide to try for Peter. Plus, I work in a library. I’m surrounded by stories all day. I can make this work.
“Well, once upon a time, there was a girl. And her name was Fiona. Fiona didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so she was very lonely most of the time. She spent most of her time with books. As soon as she was old enough to have a library card, she went to the library everyday. She would have slept there, if they would have let her. She began to teach herself things. Mostly about far away countries where they spoke different languages and ate spicy foods. She decided that she wanted to build herself an airplane so she could fly to other countries whenever she wanted to. But she didn’t want to have to use gasoline. So she figured out a way to build a plane that was fueled by laughter. And Fiona took her plane all around the world. She made so many friends in the different countries and was never lonely again. The end.”
Peter looked up at me with wide eyes.
“That was a really good story. I hope I get to meet Fiona in my dreams.”
He yawned, which I took as my cue to exit.
“Good night, Peter.”
“Good night, Dorothy. I hope you get to come back and tell me more bed time stories.”
“Me, too, Pete, ” I murmured under my breath as I turned off the light.
I walked into the living room with apprehension. I was kind of upset that Jamie hadn’t told me that he had a kid. And where was Peter’s mom? This whole situation had gotten exponentially more complex.
Jamie sat on the couch. He had lit a few candles and was pouring red wine.
“I thought we would have a more adult beverage. You’ve certainly earned it.”
I sat next to him and stook a sip of wine. I waited for his explanation.
He took a deep breath.
“Listen, I’m sorry that I didn’t bring up Peter last night. I usually save the ‘I have a kid’ talk for the second or third date. Normally, I wouldn’t want someone meet Peter until way later. Until I was sure that–”
“That the relationship was really going somewhere.”
Jamie looked at me with guarded hopefulness. I had not idea what to say. I just nodded.
“Peter’s mom left when Pete was less than a year old. She got an offer for a TV pilot that she couldn’t pass up. I was ready to pack up everything and go live in LA as a family, but she didn’t want that. She wanted to be on her own.”
“That must be rough.”
“It was at first, but now I’m kind of glad that it happened. Peter and I have gotten so close, and now he loves to act, too. He loves kindergarten. There are always a couple of interns at the theatre who are ready to watch him at a moment’s notice. We’re really happy here.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, Jamie. I just wanted to surprise you. If I would have known there was a kid involved, I would have used way more caution.”
“I understand. But maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s trial by fire–better to get the introduction over with right away. You two seem to get along famously.”
“He’s a great kid.”
“Let me make it up to you. Next weekend, I’ll take you on a real date. But tonight, let’s try to make the most of the rest of the evening. I’ll make some popcorn and we can watch a movie? Anything, you name it.”
“That sounds nice.”
We both smile.
“Um, the movies are over there, on that bookshelf. I’ll get to work on the popcorn.”
I wander over to check out the selection. I don’t want to choose anything too romantic or kid-themed, but I also don’t want to pick something cheesy. Decisions, decisions. Finally, I settle on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I place my selection on the coffee table.
Jamie comes back in with a big bowl full of popcorn.
“Hey, nice choice.”
“Well, I figure you can’t really go wrong with Monty Python.”
“I take it I’m not dead yet, then?”
“It’s a line from the movie.”
“I know, but–”
“I mean, you haven’t decided to chuck it all because I have a kid?”
“No, of course not, Jamie. If anything, it makes you even more endearing, if that’s possible.”
We share another smile.
He pops the movie in and then sidles up to me on the couch. Over the course of the movie, we melt into each other until my head is resting in the crook between his neck and shoulder. I feel warm and safe. Before I know it, I fall asleep.
I am vaguely aware of Jamie pulling a blanket over me and kissing my forehead, but I am too tired to protest or say thank you. I just drift off to sleep, thankful for the way this day has ended.