Little Miss Perfect

By M.E. Carter

Copyright 2018

CHAPTER FOUR
APUTI


As wary as I was about moving here, the last couple of weeks have actually turned out to be pretty great. My new job is about thirty minutes away, but the drive isn’t terrible. I’m up early for the morning shift, but I’m home by mid-afternoon. It works perfectly because Abigail already tried out for and was added to the junior varsity softball team at her new high school. Working early means I can be at all the games as soon as the season officially starts.


Turning into my neighborhood, though, all I can think about is how beautiful of a day it is.
Perfect for starting the yardwork I’ve been wanting to get to. I’ve spent the last however many years enjoying the perks of apartment living. And by “perks”, I mean sharing walls with loud neighbors, scrambling for parking, and generally living at the mercy of when maintenance can make it out to fix whatever breaks. The freedom to do things on my time is the only explanation I have for being excited to mow my lawn.


As I pull into my driveway, the to-do list running through my head comes to a halt. What is
Deborah doing hanging out at Elena’s door again? And this time with the hot dog kid.
I could pull right into the garage and pretend I don’t see her, but I’m not that kind of guy. Plus, I like Deborah. Just with the small amount of interaction I’ve had with her, I can understand why other people can find her overwhelming at times. But that’s not how I feel around her at all. I suspect she has high standards for herself and puts one hundred percent into everything she does. I’m not sure I personally could maintain those kind of expectations all the time, but I admire her for always putting in that much effort herself.


Climbing out of my Ford F-150, I shout her direction. “Hey!”


She startles, and as I walk toward them, I put a smile on my face to try and put her son at ease. The closer I get, the wider his eyes and mouth both get. If I hadn’t pegged her for being flustered by something and trying to keep her emotions on an even keel, I’d probably be laughing at his reaction to my size. I’m used to it, but it always gives me a good chuckle when it happens.


“Trying to ding-dong ditch Elena again?”


Deborah’s eyes look back and forth like she’s listening but not exactly hearing me, her mind on other things. “What?”

I chuckle to myself. “Nothing. Are you okay?”


“Yes,” Deborah answers a little too quickly. “I mean, no. I mean…” She takes a breath and I’m starting to realize she does that when she’s agitated. Probably to slow her heart rate andthoughts. “Elena was supposed to watch Trevor so I could go to the gyn…uh… dentist.”


“The what?”


“The dentist.” Her neck flushes because she’s lying. Interesting.


“You mean the gynecologist.”


Her eyes widen, and she throws her hands over the boy’s ears. “Aputi! A lady never speaks of such things.”


I really should have known better than to call her out like that, especially in front of her son. Next time, I’ll have to filter my responses a little more if I want to stay friends with her. Still, I can’t help but rib her just a little. She’s cute when she’s flustered. “I have a daughter. I know where babies come from.”


“Be that as it may,” she says sternly, leaving no question where she stands, “just pretend it’s the dentist.”


“Yes, ma’am.”


She opens her mouth, then closes it. Then opens it again. “Are you making fun of me?”


“Maybe a little,” I say with a smile. “Did it get your mind off whatever crisis you’re having?”


I can’t be sure, but I think her eyes soften and her whole body relaxes. She even removes her hands from the child’s ears. It’s as if she understands my intentions are not to be mean, but to help her refocus, and that changes her entire perception of me. Also, she’s surprised it worked.


“Oddly, yes.”


Mission accomplished. “Well good. And since Elena’s not here, why don’t you leave him with me? What’s your name?” I ask the boy, who seems to have gotten over my size already.


Bummer. It’s always a bit of an ego boost when little boys look up to me. 


“Trevor,” a very timid voice responds. “My name is Trevor, and Maura is my friend.”


It takes me a second to remember Maura is Elena’s middle daughter. She’s a couple years older than Peyton, but these kids are still growing faster than I can keep up with. And man, they have a full house. I don’t know how I’m going to keep track of everyone. I may need to pass out name tags at the next gathering.

“Why would you want to watch him for me?” Deborah is eyeing me skeptically. Not that I
expect her to jump at the chance to have me babysit. She’s less of a “dive right in” kind of
person and more like a “first dip your toes. Then get used to it. Then dip your foot. Then get used to it. And continue,” type person.


“Because I’m off for the rest of the day, and Greg gives me a good deal on rent. I might as well help them out by helping you out.”


“But… what experience do you have with kids?”


“Well, I have a sixteen-year-old daughter, and I haven’t killed her yet.”


Deborah’s eyes widen. “You do?”


“Why is that so surprising?”

 

She blinks several times, probably trying to figure out the answer herself. “I don’t know. I guess because you never mentioned her before.”


“Yes, I did.”


“You did?”


“Yep. But we weren’t exactly talking about me last week when you were here. Unless you count finding out about my onion allergy.”


Her neck flushes prettily again, and I realize the color stops as soon as it reaches her face. Wow. That’s some thick makeup for a blush to not come through at all. I can’t help but wonder why she wears so much. She has such pretty eyes and nice full lips; it’s a shame they’re covered up so heavily.


“I’m just kidding with you, Deborah. Seriously. Trevor will have a great time. And I’ll text Elena to let her know he’s with me. He can go play with her kids at their house when they get back.”


Worrying her lip, I can tell she really needs me to help her out but is battling her own anxieties about leaving her child with a strange man. Understandable, I suppose.
“I don’t want to impose on you,” she finally says quietly. “I seem to be doing that enough as it is.”


I wave her off, hoping she begins to understand that helping her is really not a hardship for me.


“It’s no imposition at all. I was only going to do some yardwork. I’m dying to get my hands on my new lawn mower. Her eyes flash over to look at my garage, as if the machine is going to come out by itself and attack us all. The visual image of people running through the neighborhood streets screaming like in a 1950s black and white horror flick almost make me laugh. Almost.


“Are you sure?”


“I’m positive. You don’t have to worry. Like I said, I have a daughter, and I haven’t killed her
yet.”


My attempt at joking falls painfully flat. But does that stop me from continuing? No. No it does not.


“And remember Greg’s daughter used to live with me. She’s not dead either.”


Deborah sighs, which I take as her coming to a decision. Either way, it makes me finally stop word vomiting everywhere.


“Okay. That would be very helpful. I’ll just put SPF 70 on him before I go. I have his hat in the car. And rubber boots. You don’t have any children-sized work gloves he can borrow, do you?”


Man, this woman is always prepared for anything. I like it.


“I’ll see what I can do.”


~


I am hot. I am sweaty. I am proud of a job well done.


Trevor and I have spent a couple hours doing yardwork and it looks great. Especially when you consider the fact that Trevor is six years old, less than four feet tall, and insisted on learning how to push the lawn mower. I followed closely behind and guided him but let him do all the pushing. Consequently, the lack of symmetry of the lines are going to make some people crazy when they drive by, but it was worth it. The look on his little face when he saw his accomplishment was nothing more than well-deserved male pride.


We celebrated with turkey and salami sandwiches and Gatorade. I’ve never seen a kid down his lunch so fast. His comment about never having eaten processed meat before may have tipped me off as to why he was so excited over that extra piece of salami I put on his sandwich. Oops. I probably should have asked about food allergies before Deborah left. I assume he’s fine, though, since he hasn’t broken out in hives.


As Trevor holds the black plastic garbage bag that is three times his size, I attempt to dump the grass trimmings inside. It’s slow going, only because I’m making sure not to dump it all over him. He’s really enjoying doing manual labor, so there’s no reason to rush. What in the world has this kid been doing all his life to be having so much fun doing yardwork? Does he not play outside? Regardless, taking my time is a small price to pay for how much he’s enjoyed today.


I pour the last of the trimming into the bag as Deborah’s stark white SUV comes to a complete stop in front of the house. As I help Trevor learn how to tie the tops of the bag together and push all the air out, I simultaneously watch Deborah carefully make her way toward us. She’s always so put together, part of me is praying her black pants and matching flats won’t get dirty by walking through the yard.


“Trevor,” she singsongs to her son.


He jerks his head up and when his eyes find her, a toothless grin immediately breaks out across his face. “I mowed the lawn, Mama!” He sounds so proud of himself, it’s hard not to smile along with him.


I pluck the floppy garden hat Deborah insisted he wear off his head and ruffle his hair before dropping it right back on him. “He sure did. See what a great job he did?”


Deborah looks around, clearly concerned as to the safety of Trevor using a blade-wielding
machine and probably more than a little wigged out by the lack of pattern in the yard. But she’s also trying not to burst his bubble.


“Don’t worry,” I quickly interject to calm her fears. “I walked right behind him and kept my
hands on the handlebar. Trevor did all the work, but I was his safety net.”


My words seem to help her relax just a bit.


“You did a wonderful job,” she says with delight, then her eyes go wide as she takes in his
appearance. “My goodness, you are filthy.”


“A little dirt will put some hair on your chest, right my man?”


Trevor nods his head, hat flopping as he moves. “I’m gonna have hair on my chest and be big like Aputi, Mommy.” As if he’s trying to prove his point, Trevor uses all his might to try and move the bag, which is now about four times as heavy as he his. Neither of them is going anywhere despite how much he groans with effort.


“I’m sure you will be. Just don’t grow up too fast on me.” Deborah beams lovingly at him while he continues to grunt and strain.


Turning back to her, I ask, “Did Elena ever text you?”

Her eyes widen a bit. “I can’t believe Greg got his front tooth knocked out at work! I knew
gymnastics was a dangerous sport, but it never occurred to me it would be dangerous for the coaches.”


I chuckle lightly, thinking about the picture of toothless Greg that Elena sent me. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen lately. Partly because there was the giant hole in Greg’s mouth.


Partly because Elena made sure he was good and drugged before she snapped the pic.


“I don’t think he’s normally in harm’s way. Maybe they were working on a new trick.”


“Maybe. I’m just glad this happened before I ever considered enrolling Trevor.” Speaking of, he finally gives up and drops the bag which hasn’t moved at all. As he turns toward his mother, panting heavily, Deborah’s eyes go wide again. “Oh no! I put you in dirty pants?”
Confused, I furrow my brow. “I think he got dirty doing yardwork. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize he was supposed to stay clean.”


“No, that’s not it. I never did get that grass stain out of his pants.” She leans down to inspect the spot on his pants I didn’t even notice as if it’s a terrible travesty. “Maybe if I mix bleach and spot remover and let it sit. Darn it.” Suddenly her hands go over her eyes. “And on the same day I didn’t leave a healthy bento box. I am falling down on the job as a mom.”
“Deborah, it’s okay. We had lunch after we mowed.”


She gasps. “You did?”


I shrug. “Sure. A man’s gotta eat. Feeding him was no big deal.”


“It’s a big deal to me. The only job I have is being a mom, and if I can’t do it to the best of my ability…” Her face changes to an unreadable expression, but she takes a deep breath and nods her head once. “Well, I guess I have to try harder next time.”


Suddenly, it hits me. Whether she recognizes it or not, Deborah doesn’t need to try harder.
She’s probably the best mom I know. A real Pinterest mom. What she does need is validation for all her hard work. Just like Trevor felt pride in mowing the lawn, she needs to feel pride in the fact that she tries so hard in the first place. She needs to know people see what a good mom she is.


“You’re right. I’m sorry.”


She opens her mouth but pauses before responding until her brain catches up to my attitude shift. “Wh-what?”

“I said I’m sorry. Just because I didn’t think it was a big deal to make him an extra sandwich doesn’t mean I can dismiss the importance to you.”


Deborah blinks a few times, clearly stunned at my words. I seem to do that to her a lot.

“Oh. Well, thank you for that. No one has ever said that to me before.” It makes me wonder what kind of people she’s been hanging out with for, oh, her entire life, if no one has ever recognized her need for validation. That’s about to change.


“I think maybe no one has ever understood why you do it before.”


“What do you mean?” she asks so quietly, it almost comes out as a whisper.


“I don’t think you’re striving for perfection.”


“You don’t?”


“No. I think when you decide you care about someone, you put your all into it. You want them to know how important they are to you, and this is your way of showing them. Packing Trevor lunch isn’t about being the perfect mom. It’s about him knowing you love him and haven’t forgotten to meet his needs. Am I onto something?”


A blush creeps up her neck, only this time it’s so strong I can actually see a bit of it through her makeup. Or maybe I just know it’s there because I’m beginning to know what makes her tick, and I’ll be damned, but I really like it.


“No one has ever figured that out before.”


“I think maybe,” I take a deep breath before going for the gusto, “no one was looking at you
before the same way I do now.”


Her jaw drops. “How do you look at me?”


“Like your beauty comes from inside you. Not from what your outsides look like.”


If it was possible, I swear her jaw drops even more. I know she isn’t divorced yet. Hell, her
husband left last week. She’s probably still counting it as hours since his departure. Like parents who tell their kid’s age in months. But for as uptight as Deborah is, she intrigues me. She excites me. In a way, she reminds me of my mother, which could signal an underlying Oedipus Complex. But more than likely, it’s just the similarity of both their deep love for their children and a desire to put others first, no matter the cost.


“Mom.” Trevor begins pulling on Deborah’s pant leg, breaking us out of the moment. She and I both shift on our feet, grateful for the reprieve. She didn’t need to respond to my words. She just needed to know I felt them.

Pulling the garden hat off his head, she begins stroking her fingers through his sweaty hair.


“Yes, my love.”


“I wanna go watch PBS Kids. Can we go home?”


I resist sniggering in humor and appreciation. Even Trevor’s TV watching is nothing less than the best in educational television. Such a Deborah thing to do. There can never be any doubt that her love for her son runs deep.


“Of course. I’m sure you’re tired now.” Turning toward me, she digs through her purse until she finds a small packet of hand sanitizing wipes. “Well. Thank you again for helping me with Trevor. Especially at the last minute,” she says while wiping the sweat and grime off her hand.


“It really was no problem.”


“I know. But it meant a lot to me.” She smiles shyly and places her hand on Trevor’s shoulder to guide him to the car. “Anyway. Bye.”


“Bye.”


“Bye, Aputi!” Trevor yells, tripping on his own feet as he walks. Thankfully, Deborah steadies him before he faceplants in the middle of the yard.


“See ya, Trevor.” As they walk away, I realize I never asked how her appointment went. But I know she won’t appreciate me yelling across the neighborhood about the gynecologist, so instead I call out, “I hope everything went well at the dentist, Deborah.”


She turns back around, eyes wider than they were, seeming like she’s considering her words. 


“I…I don’t know yet. We’ll see what all the test results say.”


I nod in understanding. “I’m sure everything is just fine,” I reassure. “And if not, I’m still here. To help. Whatever you need.”


She smiles a little bigger, still very much unsure of how to respond. Which is okay. I don’t need her to say anything, just know that I’m here. For her. And I’m not leaving.


Not even when she finally gets Trevor loaded up and drives away.

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