Books & Badges – Chapter Forty-One

NOT EDITED

Theodore sat down beside Gina on her couch, eyes landing on Vera. She and Boyd had taken immediate interest in a dance game for the Xbox 360 the very moment they stepped foot in Gina’s living room.

Gina elbowed him in the side. “How’re you doing today, Theo?”

“Not terrible. Though sleeping on a couch doesn’t serve me too well, I like being at Russell’s.”

“He’s… a grown adult without a bed?”

Theodore nodded toward Vera. “He sacrificed the bed for Vera to sleep in. And he apparently sleeps on the couch most nights anyway. Comes home late, grabs a snack, and falls asleep on the couch.”

“Because of work?”

“I think so, mostly. He puts in a lot of hours, and he’s exhausted when he gets home. Since he doesn’t want to wake himself up with a shower and doesn’t want to go to bed without one, he settles for the couch.”

“You gotta tell your man that his back can’t handle that forever.”

“Oh, he already knows. He’s had back problems from when he was still in school.” Gina smiled rather than responding. “What?”

“Nothing. But you didn’t object to me calling him ‘your man’. I like to think that’s progress. At the very least, a step in the right direction.”

Theodore couldn’t help but smile. “It did feel nice not to feel obligated to disagree with it.”

“That’s great. It should feel nice. You should get to feel nice and safe and comfortable.”

“Comfortable,” Theodore echoed. He chuckled. “I let him sleep in my bed. I’ve hugged him and cuddled with him. I’ve spent the night at his house, he’s spent the night at mine. He’s given me rides, we’ve officially had all three meals of the day together. He’s shared some of his bad experiences, I’ve shared mine.” He shook his head. “Is it comfort if, despite all of that, I can’t kiss him?”

“Yes. You don’t have to kiss someone to prove you’re comfortable with them. You don’t have to have sex with someone to prove you love them. Same concept, different extremes.”

“Yeah, I guess that… makes sense.” Theodore cleared his throat. “I feel… bad that I can’t get over the odd feeling the very idea of kissing him gives me.”

“Well, what’s the feeling like?”

“It feels like I’m violating some contract with Shane.”

“You’re divorced. I know it’s not that easy to process that, but you have legal proof that you’re divorced. You have proof that you’re not tied to any man, Shane included.”

“I wish it was that easy to process, though.”

“I know, Theo.” She patted his knee. “What about feeling bad about it? Why is that?”

“I don’t know. I guess… it makes me feel like there’s a part of me that still feels like it belongs to Shane, a part of me that still feels as though it should be controlled by Shane. It makes me feel like I love him, care about him. A-and I hate that.”

“That’s pretty common, feeling like you love them. People like Shane manage to charm us with their ‘good’ side, the side with the dazzling smile and wonderful sense of humor. It’s what they’re good at. There’s nothing wrong with you for still loving that side. It’s hard to let go of the good parts. You’re not bad for that.”

“Thank you.” Theodore leaned his cane against the end table and clasped his hands between his thighs. “Another reason it makes me feel bad, though? I feel like I’m robbing Rusell of the relationship he wants.”

“And what kind of relationship do you think he wants?” Gina asked.

“I don’t know. One where he can be even remotely intimate with his partner?”

“Intimacy doesn’t have to be sexual, Theo.”

“It… doesn’t?”

“No. You already said you guys have been sleeping in the same bed. Or couch. If you’re touching at all when you’re falling asleep or waking up? That closeness is intimacy. Holding hands, touching his cheek, rubbing his back–even briefly–while you’re watching TV, sitting close enough that your arm touches his… Those all count.”

Theodore dropped his head to her shoulder. “Thank you.”

“No problem, Theo.” She touched a hand to the side of his head. “I know it’s hard, but if Russell didn’t want an actual relationship with you, he’d be gone already. If he just wanted sex, he’d be gone already. That man is nothing like Shane, and I have it on pretty good authority that he’ll wait for a kiss from you, no matter how long it takes.”

Theodore smiled. “I like the sound of that. Him… caring about me enough to be willing to wait until I’m ready.”

“You already know it’s true, deep down. You told me he wouldn’t even sleep in bed with you the first time you offered because you seemed hesitant and unsure about it. That man cares about you being comfortable in the pace of your relationship more than anything else.”

“Yeah… He’s a pretty good guy, huh?”

Gina smiled. “He is, and you deserve every damn bit of that niceness he’s willing to offer.”

“You think so?”

“Theo, I know so.”

Theodore shook his head, though a smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. “Thank you, Gina.”

“No problem, Theo.”

***

While Gina and Boyd shopped for new shoes, Theodore and Vera simply walked around the mall, hand in hand. Though his hip was a little tender from spending another night on the couch, his shoulder felt great. Russell had done a damn good job on the follow through of his promise of ‘fixing’ it.

“Daddy?”

“Hmm?”

“Am I gonna have more playdates with Boyd?”

“If you want to, yeah, definitely.”

“Awesome. Boyd’s cool, and I like his name.”

“He has a pretty nice one, huh?”

Vera nodded. “He says that you helped Aunt Gina pick it out when he was born.”

“That’s right, I did. She had chosen a list of names she liked, and I helped her narrow them down.” Theodore squeezed her hand. “Aunt Gina did the same to help me name you.”

“Really?”

“Mmhmm. In the beginning, before Shane… came into the picture, Gina and I wanted to do just about everything together for the two of you.”

“Why did he keep you guys apart?” Vera asked.

“People like Shane want to make sure you’re dependent on them, that you only have them. Making sure I didn’t have family or a best friend to tell my problems to was part of that.”

“Dependent?”

“Sorry. Umm… it means you need someone, like, for everything. You’re dependent on me because I pay for the roof over your head, the bed you sleep in, the clothes you wear, the food you eat. That sort of thing.”

“So… like how Russell’s dependant on us for supper tonight?”

Theodore chuckled. “Yeah, sorta like that.”

“So it’s not always a bad thing? Like it was with Father?”

“Right. Sometimes it can be good or healthy. Right now, I’m dependent on Grandma and Grandpa to pick you up from school, to babysit you while I’m at work. I’m dependent on Gina for rides to and from work. It’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it just means having good parents, good family, good friends.”

“Is Russell a good friend?”

“Very much so. And a good boyfriend to me.”

Vera smiled. “Yeah.” She tugged on his hand, pointing to one of the shops in the mall. “Will you ever let me do that?”

Theodore looked over at the window, where a little boy was getting his ears pierced. “Yes, but not with a piercing gun. It’s safer and more sanitary at a tattoo shop.”

“When?”

“How about… for your birthday?”

“Which one?”

“Number six.”

“But that’s next year.”

Theodore chuckled. “Yeah, but it’s also the next one you have.”

“In February.”

“Oh, you’ll be fine. Besides, come February, we’ll already know everything about it. Which shop we’re going to, what color of jewelry you want, what our other plans are for your birthday… We’ll have the whole thing planned out by then.”

“That… is pretty cool. I like knowing plans.”

“Me, too, baby.” Theodore smiled down at her. “Next year, we can do whatever you want. We can have a party, you can have a sleepover. We’ll finally be able to do whatever you want.”

“Awesome,” Vera whispered. “Daddy?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you think you’ll still be dating Russell when it’s my birthday?”

“I don’t know, but I hope so.”

“Me, too. He makes you happy.”

“Oh, does he now?”

Vera nodded. “Duh. You smile and laugh more now that he’s around, even when it’s just you and me.”

“That’s probably true. I feel safer now than I did before. Not the way I did before Shane came along, but… I feel safer.”

“Me, too. You always kept me safe and made me feel safe, but Russell has a whole badge that shows he fights bad guys.”

Theodore chuckled softly. “Yeah, that he does.”

“What do you think it’s like to fight bad guys?”

“Stressful, even more so if you’re one of the good guys like Russell is. I also hear those bad guy fighters work long hours.”

Vera nodded. “Have you been to where Russell works?”

“The police station? Yeah, a couple times. Not always to see Russell, though.”

“Is it nice?”

“It’s nowhere near as cool as the bookstore.”

Vera laughed. “Yeah. I like the bookstore.”

“Me, too. Heck, I just like books.”

A smile crossed the girl’s face. “Me, too. Or three.”

Theodore chuckled. “For you? Either works.”

“Awesome.” Vera swung her father’s hand back and forth, eyes wandering over the shops they passed. “Are we gonna go in any of ‘em?”

Theodore pointed ahead of them with their joined hands. “There’s a little bookstore up here I thought we’d visit. You can pick out a book or two if you’d like.”

“I’d like that.”

He chuckled. “I thought you might.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze. “After this, we’ll go see how Gina and Boyd are coming along. Sound like a plan?”

Vera nodded. “Sounds good to me, Daddy.”


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2 thoughts on “Books & Badges – Chapter Forty-One

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