Books & Badges – Chapter Nine

NOT EDITED

Theodore stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom, one hand wrapped tightly around his cane. He’d been in a bit more pain that day than expected, but he was doing his best to manage. His boss had given him a chair to sit on behind the register, but Theodore had done his best to stand and walk around for as long as he could. Based on how he felt now, that had been the wrong decision.

His eyes roamed over the outfit he had changed into–a blue button-up and a pair of dark jeans. He didn’t think it looked date-worthy, which was the overall hope. He wasn’t going for date clothes. He was going for ‘I’m just not planning on wearing my beat up band tee from college to supper’ clothes.

Was it too late to cancel? Theodore turned to look at his alarm clock on the nightstand. Yeah… far too late to cancel. Unless he wanted to be a total asshole, of course. As it stood, being a complete asshole to the cop who had come to the house at three in the morning–off-duty–to check out a noise that had turned out to only be a raccoon wasn’t in his plans for the day.

“Daddy! He’s here!” Vera called from the other room.

He stepped away from the mirror, letting out a slow breath. “Coming, sweetheart!” Well, there was definitely no canceling now. Theodore walked out of his bedroom, flipping off the light. Vera waited for him in the foyer, her stuffed toy panda hugged to her chest. “Ready?” Theodore asked as he wrapped a hand around the door knob.

Vera nodded. “Are… you?”

Theodore smiled. “You don’t gotta worry about me, V. I’m okay.” He pulled open the door just as Russell climbed out of his car, parked in the driveway rather than on the street.

The detective smiled. “Look what I brought.” Pinning the tupperware containers to his chest, he held up Theodore’s travel mug with his free hand.

Theodore chuckled. “Impressive. Come on in.” Russell walked up the drive. Eyes on the ground, he made his way up the stairs and onto the deck. “Here, I’ll take the mug, if nothing else.”

Russell let go of it once Theodore had successfully wrapped his free hand around it. “So I kept my promise. I didn’t spend a dime. We’ve got chicken nuggets for the kiddo, and we’ve got chicken breast for you and me. Also mac and cheese to go with the nuggets, if Miss Vera is interested, and we have some real fancy cumin-citrus roasted carrots for you and me.”

Theodore’s heart practically melted. “You did… all of that for us?”

Russell’s smile faltered for the briefest of moments, and Theodore wasn’t even certain he’d seen it happen at all. “I did, yeah. You guys have had a rough go of it lately. The least I can do is make some great food for the both of you.” Chin resting on the lid of the top tupperware container, he reached back with his free hand to close the door. After dusting his hand on his pants, he held it out to Vera. “I’m Russell.”

She looked up at Theodore before grabbing the detective’s hand. “My name’s Vera.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Vera. You wanna help me carry some of these to the kitchen?”

Vera’s eyes lit up at the idea of being allowed to help an adult with something. She loved being included in everything there was to do in the world. Theodore loved that about her. “I’d love to!”

“Okay. The two on the bottom are yours. You can take those,” Russell said.

“Okay.” Vera took them from him and headed for the kitchen.

Russell lifted his eyes back to Theodore’s face and flashed a smile. “Come on. Let’s get supper ready.”

***

After supper, Theodore set Vera up with his iPad in the living room. “One hour of screen time, baby girl.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Ah, you’re very welcome.” He smoothed a hand over her hair and headed back to the kitchen. In the doorway, he leaned on his cane, head cocked to the side. Russell was… washing dishes. No one had washed dishes for him since… Christ, who knew. It certainly hadn’t been his husband, that was for sure.

“You don’t have to do that,” Theodore said. “I can do them later.”

“Do you want to do them later?”

Theodore snorted. “No.”

“Then I’ll take care of them. I don’t mind.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem, Theodore.”

“Theo’s fine.”

Russell nodded. “Do you prefer it?”

“Yeah, most of the time. I-I’ll let you know if that changes.”

“Sure thing, Theo.”

Theodore leaned back against the island, simply watching Russell. If he had been Shane, he would’ve been washing dishes to use it as ammunition later, a reason to throw back at Theodore to excuse his own behavior.

But Russell was just… washing dishes in a house that wasn’t even his own, for a person he had no physical reason to wash them for. But that couldn’t be right. That wouldn’t make sense.

“Russell?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I ask you a question… without offending or harming you?”

“Uh, probably.”

“And… you’ll answer truthfully?”

“Yeah, definitely.” Russell set the last fork in the dish drainer, turned off the water, and grabbed a towel. After drying off the sink, he turned to face Theodore, drying his hands. “What’s up?”

“Why did you want to make supper for us?”

“Because you and your daughter have had a pretty tough go of life so far. Supper isn’t much, but it’s… something.”

“And… dishes?” Theodore asked. “Why would you do them?”

“You were with your daughter, and we both know you’re in a lot more pain this evening than you were this morning. Standing doesn’t seem to be treating your hip too well today.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“You winced every time you stood up or shifted on your chair.”

Theodore sighed. “Yeah, that, uh… Yeah. It’s not treating me well today,” he agreed.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. I just wanna help, Theo. I’m not here to… Well, I guess you think I’m gonna hurt you or Vera. I’m not. I understand the weariness, and I’ll never stand here and tell you to just get over it, but I’m not… your ex-husband. I didn’t come here to hurt you. I came here to make sure you both ate good food and had a good night. That’s it.”

“And you… promise that?”

“Do you actually believe in promises?” Russell asked.

Christ, it was like the man could read his mind. Finally, Theodore shook his head. “No. Shane promised never to do it again a million times. Promises of no more pain, a better life, a better job, a better father and husband…” He shrugged. “None of those promises were ever carried out. Promises are BS.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. What can I say that would make you more willing to believe it?” Russell asked.

“Who’s someone that’s important to you? Someone who… means the world to you.”

“My niece,” Russell said. There had been absolutely no hesitation there. His niece definitely meant the world to him.

Theodore nodded. “You could swear on her.”

“I swear on my niece’s life that I am not here to hurt you or Vera. I’m just here to make sure you both eat a good meal and have a good night. That’s it,” Russell said.

While Shane had the eyes of a charming, practiced liar, Russell had the eyes of a caring and genuine man. Theodore had seen the same care in his mother and father’s eyes, the same genuine expression in Gina’s.

“Okay. I believe you.” Theodore pointed at him. “For now.”

“For now works. I’ve definitely had people say worse.” Russell cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose I’ll get outta your hair and head on out for the night. I hope everything was okay.”

“The food was great, Russell. Thank you.”

The detective nodded. “Yeah, no problem.” He reached out toward Theodore, hand freezing before he dropped it back to his side.

Theodore’s brow furrowed. “What was that?”

“I was gonna squeeze your arm, but… I’m not a big fan of surprising you or startling you.”

“Believe me, an arm squeeze is the least of my concern,” Theodore said.

Russell smiled. He gave Theodore’s arm a quick squeeze as he walked past him. He grabbed the tupperware containers from the island, holding them to his chest with one hand. “It was good to see you… less scared tonight, Theo, even if you were in pain. If there’s ever a, uh, next time for me bringing supper for you guys? Doing the dishes? All that? Umm, feel free to cancel if you need to, even if I’m already in the driveway. If you’re in too much pain to be around people or if you’re too on edge to be around people. You can cancel. If there’s a next time.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you again, Russell.”

“No problem.”

“Want me to walk you out?”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. You go ahead and sit down, relax. I’ll see myself out. Goodnight, Theo.”

“Night, Russell. Uh… don’t let the raccoon bite.”

Russell chuckled. “I’ll watch myself, promise. Take care, Theo.”

Theodore nodded. “You, too.”


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8 thoughts on “Books & Badges – Chapter Nine

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