Little Miss Perfect
By M.E. Carter
With my hands on my hips, I look around the room and nod at my progress.
“Not bad,” I say to myself. Especially since I’ve only lived here for just over twenty-four hours. There are only a few boxes left to be unpacked and the house has been deep-cleaned. I have to give Greg and Elena credit for that, though. There wasn’t much dirt left after he moved out. It was just the icing on the proverbial cake that was this house.
Grabbing the empty boxes, I drag them out to the garage and begin breaking them down for
recycling pickup tomorrow. Yet another perk of the move. I’ve never lived in an
environmentally conscious neighborhood before.
Just a month ago, when my daughter’s mother told me they were relocating here, I panicked. No, my daughter doesn’t live with me full-time and no, San Antonio isn’t that far away. But I’m hardly a part-time dad. I’m the guy who has coached all the pee-wee sports. The dad that shows up at every school orientation. The man that coordinates doctor’s appointments. Sure, Chrissy and I were way too young when we had Abigail, but that didn’t stop either of us from making her a priority, even when we realized we would never make it as a couple. The reality hit us about a hot minute after I dropped out of college to provide for them.
No shock there, right? That was sixteen years ago, and Chrissy and I still work together to give Abigail the best life we can, and that meant uprooting when Chrissy’s job transferred her here. It’s not like anything was really tying me to San Antonio anyway.
Even before Abigail was born, I’ve never been one to live to work. It’s always been about
experiencing life to the fullest. That’s probably why quitting college at twenty-one years old
didn’t really bother me. Sure, it meant the end of my football career and frat parties. But in my mind, there was no other choice. Regardless if their parents are college graduates or not, a baby needs diapers and food. It was hardly a sacrifice.
So, I ditched my scholarship, got forklift certified, and went to work for a distribution
warehouse. The work pays relatively well, being that I’ve continued to get certified on various machines. And I’ve been promoted several times because of my work ethic and ability to be a team player. It works for me, and I’m happy with my life.
Plus, it meant finding a decent job here before even putting in my two-week notice in San
Antonio. Finding a place to live, however, was a much more stressful process. Well, until I called Greg.
Carrying the official red recycling container down to the curb while balancing several broken-down boxes on top, is no easy feat. But I’ll gladly do it, grateful I’m not having to haul all my trash across a parking lot to a dumpster. Easy access to my own trash cans is yet another benefit of living in an actual house.
Greg’s house. It should be weird, but it’s not.
Greg and I knew each other when I lived with his ex-wife and daughter for a short period of
time. I really liked Libby and was hoping things would work out, but almost immediately upon them moving in with me, I realized it wasn’t going to last for long. Libby was nice at first, but she was more interested in having someone provide for her than being in an actual relationship. Plus, she was a bit of a drunk. I’m all about drinking a beer or two while watching a football game or going to a barbecue, but I draw the line at being smashed daily.
The only reason I didn’t cut things off sooner was because of their daughter Peyton. That little girl was just a baby, and Libby barely paid attention to her. It didn’t bother me that I was doing most of the care for someone else’s kid. I’d already raised one, so it was almost like second nature. Libby never noticed I was suddenly the parent, but Greg did. The last time I saw him before they all moved away, he shook my hand and thanked me for taking care of his daughter when he couldn’t be there.
That spoke a lot to me about the kind of man Greg is. I have a lot of respect for him being able to recognize I was part of the village surrounding that child, even if it was only for a short time.
So, when I found out where my little family and I were moving to, Greg was the first person I
called. Not knowing anything about the area, I wanted an opinion I trusted to help me figure
out the safest places for me to live. I’ll have a sixteen-year-old over on a regular basis. Need to make sure she’ll be safe here.
As fate would have it, Greg was just back from his honeymoon, and they were trying to decide what to do with his house. Now, here I am, moved into the nicest home I’ve lived in since I left my mother’s house almost twenty years ago, and I’m leasing to own it within the next year or two.
As an added benefit, I’ve seen Peyton a couple times as well. It took her a second to remember me, but once she did, the hugs began. Man, I love that little girl. It seems like everything is finally falling into place.
Catching my second wind, I turn back to my house, determined to get the last of the boxes
unpacked. Movement on the front stoop of the house next door catches my attention.
Sauntering over to check it out, I realize it’s Deborah, Elena’s oddball friend. I’ve only met her once briefly when they had a barbecue shortly after I moved in, but it was a memorable
meeting. She brought veggie hot dogs and gluten-free ketchup or something for her kid. When her back was turned, Greg gave him a real hot dog. I’ve never seen a child sneak behind a bush to eat a hot dog with real ketchup before.
The scene in front of me is almost as odd. Deborah is half standing, half crouching in front of Greg and Elena’s door, sliding slowly to the ground. And I mean sloooooooowly. It’ll probably be another hour before she makes it all the way down. I’m surprised her legs haven’t given out yet.
“Deborah?” I ask gently, trying not to poke the proverbial bear. She looks surprised when she notices me standing in front of her. “Deborah? I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Aputi, Greg’s neighbor. Are you okay?”
The words are barely out of my mouth when her face crunches up in a very odd-looking
grimace and a long-winded shriek comes out of her. It’s like a cross between a deflating balloon and that sound your car makes when the fan belt is getting ready to go out. A single tear slides down her cheek.
And then, just as quickly as she crumbles, she pulls herself right back together.
Pushing off the door, Deborah stands up, straightens her clothes, and wipes away the wetness from her face. “Sorry for that emotional display. It’s been a hard day.”
That was an emotional display?
“No. No it’s not okay,” she commands, nodding once for effect. I’m not sure if she’s trying to
convince me or herself of, well, whatever she’s adamant about. “It’s highly inappropriate for
me to bring people into all my drama. Except Elena. She’s been divorced before, so she’ll know what to do. Plus, she’s my elder, so she’s wise or something.”
Shaking my head, I’m struggling to keep up with whatever she’s talking about. “Hold on. Are
you getting a divorce?”
Her face contorts again and yet another long-winded noise comes out of her mouth. I’m still not quite sure what’s happening, but I think this might be her version of going into hysterics..
Once again, it lasts just a few short seconds before it’s over. “I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to keep myself pulled together. Yes. It appears I am about to be a divorced woman, and I’m not sure how to navigate this.”
Somehow, the fact that she’s very clearly trying to remain rational during what is obviously a very trying time, is kind of endearing. Strange, yes, but I learned years ago we all deal with life differently. Unless I’m reading this all wrong, I think Deborah just needs a supportive friend.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“Nothing to talk about.” She smooths the front of her pants again of invisible wrinkles. “I was looking for Elena. She’s been divorced before, and she revamped her entire self, and now look at her. I thought she’d know what to do. I have exactly,” she pauses to look at her wristwatch, “one hour and forty-three minutes to put together a solid plan on how to live as a single mother.”
I chuckle and her eyes snap up to mine, obviously unhappy at my outburst. “Sorry. I’m not
laughing at you. It’s going to take longer than an hour and forty-three minutes to figure this
out. Maybe you need to talk some of this out first. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come in for a bit? I know I’m not Elena, but I have a teenage daughter, so I’m not completely inept at
dealing with female emotions.”
I say that last part with a smile, hoping it warms Deborah up to me, but she remains stoic as she takes me in, probably trying to figure out if this is a “stranger danger” situation. At six four and two eighty, I’m a pretty big guy. I know my size can be intimidating, especially to women. But Deborah doesn’t seem afraid. More annoyed that I’m trying to make her smile.
This isn’t going well so far.
“Okay,” she finally says with a shrug, shocking the shit out of me.
I falter and blink a couple times, before pulling myself back together. “Okay? You’ll come inside and talk for a bit?”
“You already saw me cry. Twice. Maybe you can help me put those emotions aside and forge
Huh. I did not see that coming.
“Well, okay then.” Pointing toward my new house, I add, “I just moved into Greg’s old place.”
Then I lead her across the lawn and through the front door, heading straight for the kitchen
while she takes in the details of the front living area.
“Would you like something to drink?” I call over the half-wall that separates the two rooms. “I don’t have much—some bottled water and Gatorade. But it’s all cold.”
Still looking around the room, she sits on the couch. “No, thank you. Did you just move in? It
smells like bleach and Lysol.”
Smiling as I twist the top off my favorite Blue Ice Gatorade and making my way back to the
living room, I’ll take that as a win. It wasn’t what I was going for, but I suppose that’s better
than the house smelling like dirty socks and man stink. “Yeah, I officially moved in yesterday.”
She nods. “I can tell. You really should skip the bleach and look into non-toxic cleaning product options. They are much better for your respiration. I have a lot of recipes that use vinegar as a cleaning agent. It works magic on your windows, and don’t get me started on the benefits of using it on your kitchen counters…” Suddenly, she stops and closes her eyes, taking a breath.
“I’m so sorry. I’m not trying to sound critical.”
Her apology strikes me as odd, and I have the overwhelming need to reassure her. Furrowing my brow, I try to put her mind to rest. “Why are you always apologizing? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“I think I do more things wrong than I realize,” she grumbles.
I don’t think we’re talking about cleaning products anymore.
Leaning forward, I put my bottle down and clasp my hands together. “I take it you didn’t know the divorce was coming?”
She looks dejectedly at her hands on her lap. “I don’t really want to talk about that part. It’s
over and done with. Rick has made his decision and moved in with his girlfriend. But I always have a plan and right now, that’s what I need to come up with. A plan on how to move forward.”
My heart breaks when she looks up at me, the pain so very evident in her eyes. Her entire
world has been upended sometime recently, and she’s doing her very best not to crack under the weight of her grief. I’m not sure she realizes she’s doing it. But she’s very aware of what she needs to get to the next step.
Order and control.
I don’t fully understand that, but I can respect it, and I think I know how to help.
Crossing the room to the small desk that houses my laptop and important papers, I snatch a notepad out of the drawer and turn back to her.
Checking the time on my phone, I give my best guestimate and say, “We’ve got one hour and
thirty-nine minutes until school pickup. Let’s get this plan written out.”
The look of relief that radiates from her just about knocks me over, and I can’t help but wonder how many times her soon-to-be ex made her feel this way.
With a smile like that, I’m willing to bet it won’t take long for his loss to become someone else’s gain.