Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 74
Jeff, the bartender, looks both of them up and down before answering, “Same as always,” with a shrug.
“Do you have any martini specials?” she asks.
Now Larson and I both laugh, and Jeff glares at her like she has three heads.
“We got well whiskey with a coke back for three bucks, or Bud Light for two bucks.”
The woman suddenly looks around as if realizing this bar isn’t the kind of place she thought it was. Her eyes take in the many current and former service members stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base who like to come here to unwind after a day of training, and of course, all the MC members who ride our bikes here.
“Should we go somewhere else?” she asks her husband, with uncertainty and a hint of fear plastered all over her face.
“Might as well have a beer,” he says, nodding at Larson and me and then sitting down at the bar.
“Great,” Larson mumbles. “I sure hope this fucking place doesn’t change too much.”
He wants Louie’s to remain exclusively a biker’s dive bar. But much to his dismay, ever since the city has decided to “gentrify” the area, more and more newcomers pop in, oblivious to the fact that this has been our turf for a long time.
“Don’t worry, it’ll always be our Louie’s,” I tell Larson, and Jeff gives me a thumbs up from behind the bar, as if he’s agreeing with me without being allowed to say so.
They probably gave Jeff some kind of talking to about being more welcome to newcomers. Last week he threw one of them out for asking where the bloody mary bar is. That was after he answered, “Down the street and two blocks to the left, at the Brunch Bar where all the Mommies are dining with their kids in toe. Isn’t that the hipster way?”
“Some bars will always be like a second home,” I tell Larson. “Especially when what’s going on at your own isn’t great.”
“Trouble in paradise?” Larson asks, lifting an eyebrow at me.
I shake my head.
“That sounded worse than it is,” I tell him, hurrying to clear things up. “It’s just that Riley is super pregnant and…”
“Has constantly raging hormones?” Larson guesses.
“Hey,” I tell him, upset that he’s disparaging my wife. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
“Sorry,” he says, shirking back onto the bar stool. “I was just trying to be helpful.”
“I know,” I tell him, instantly softening.
I should have realized he didn’t mean anything bad by his comment. Larson has had plenty of experience with a pregnant wife and was probably trying to offer his help in that department. Which is kind of him to do, since after everything that happened with Larson’s family, I know he rarely likes to even think about that period of time in his life.
“I appreciate the help.”
Larson shrugs. Knowing him, he’ll brood for a while and then get over it. He has a dark past and some skeletons in his closet but he’s a good guy at heart, especially considering the hand life has dealt him. He’s also a loyal fellow SEAL for life, and a good friend.
I think about elaborating on what I mean about problems at home but I’m regretting ever bringing it up to Larson. There’s nothing I could say that wouldn’t remind him of his own troubled past. Plus, I don’t think it’s really fair if I tell Larson what’s been up before I tell my own wife.
“Come on,” he says, as if reading my mind. “Spit it out. What’s the problem.”
I guess there’s no getting out of spilling my guts to at least some extent. That’s what’s so great about Larson. He’s always so fucking understanding and helpful, even though his own life is so shitty.
“Oh, it’s just… you know. Riley is nine months pregnant and about to have our first child. I’m so nervous of something happening, or of anything stressing her out, that I find it hard to…”
“Communicate?” Larson guesses.
“I guess so,” I admit.
It sounds silly when I put it that way. I know my wife isn’t some dainty flower just because she’s pregnant. She’s a strong, heroic woman— with gorgeous curves that have only gotten more beautiful throughout her pregnancy. Her body is capable of carrying and delivering a human being. Yet, I turn into a wimp about anything that could possibly upset her.
“Look,” Larson says. “Whatever’s going on, just talk to her about it. Sometimes people get anxious about stuff, I get that, but it doesn’t do any good. It won’t change the outcome except maybe to make it worse. Believe me. I know.”
“Thanks, Larson,” I tell him, seriously grateful.
Tragedy has made Larson wise beyond his years. I appreciate him sharing life’s hard lessons with me.
The woman beside us puts a hand on her husband’s arm and says in a high pitched, whiny voice, “Can we leave yet? Happy hour’s almost over and I want to grab a cosmo at Fig Bar before it ends.”
Larson rolls his eyes, as does Jeff, but her comment prompts me to look at my phone. It’s after five o’clock.
“I’m gonna head home,” I tell him. “You coming?”
Larson looks down at his half empty beer and shakes his head.
“Nah, I’ll hang out here for a while before hitting the road.”
Larson doesn’t really have a home, but I do, and I’d best be getting there. I’ll already be on my bike in rush hour traffic. One of the great things about teaching pararescue courses on the Base is that I start early and finish early, usually beating the bottleneck traffic if I want to go grab a drink after work. But today I’d been hesitating to leave, putting off heading home.
That’s really not fair to Riley. Larson’s right: I have to communicate with her so we can fight problems together head on. Plus, I miss her sexy ass and gorgeous face.
Chapter 2 – Riley
These sounds seem involuntary when looking at the tiny blue baby clothes spread out around Jensen’s and my living room. Monica and I can’t help but make them every time we pick up a little onesie or a cap and booties.
“These are all so cute,” Monica coos. “James, look at this!”
She holds up overalls featuring a cartoon dog playing baseball for her son James to see. But he doesn’t pay her any attention. He’s busy playing with Monica’s niece and nephew, whom she is babysitting. At nearly two years old, he has mastered the art of running around, or at least trying to although his legs are still sometimes shaky underneath him, giving me new insight as to why they’re called “toddlers.”
Periodically Monica has been showing him an outfit and saying, “James, this was yours when you were a newborn, and now it’s going to be your cousin’s.”
Her voice has had a bittersweet tone, as she’s no doubt remembering the tiny baby she used to hold before he became a squiggling, wiggly toddler. A few times, James has cooed as enthusiastically as his mother— but that was because he wanted apple juice or goldfish snacks, not because he shared her interest in his old baby clothes. Mostly, he has just scrunched up his nose and said, “Mama, I go play!” before heading back over to where Becky and Mason Jr. are stacking blocks and playing tag, in some weird sort of combination game they seem to have just made up on the spot, as children often do.
“Yeah, good idea, you just keep playing,” Monica tells James. “It’s nice that your cousins are helping to entertain you so I can help your Aunt Riley get all of these adorable clothes ready for… does he have a name yet?”
She looks at me with a twinkle in her eye when she asks this. Jensen and I had already told everyone we’re not naming the baby until we see what he looks like, but that doesn’t stop them from repeatedly asking us if we’ve changed our minds.
“No,” I tell her, resolutely. “And if I do, you know you’ll be the first to know. You deserve it, as Baby Room Preparer Extraordinaire. “Thank you so much for coming to help me sort all of this stuff.”
My baby shower had been a couple weeks ago. People from all different stages o
“No problem,” she says. “Isn’t it obvious how much I love going through baby stuff? I can’t wait to go hang all of this stuff up in his nursery, and put his tiny little sweatpants in the drawer of his diaper changing station…”
I laugh as she gestures at the piles of folded clothes on the couch, which are to be put away in drawers, as well as the outfits hung carefully on their baby clothes- sized hangers. They’re ready to be put in the baby’s room, and as I feel a not so subtle kick against my stomach, I realize that he’s pretty ready to be put there, himself.
Then I feel a tightening and a rumbling in my stomach, a strange sensation that at first I think must be a contraction. I tell myself it’s only Braxton Hicks. My doctor had told me they can seem alike but that I’ll know when it’s the real thing.
“Well, without you, I don’t know how I would ever do it,” I tell Monica, reminding myself to return to the task at hand as I pick up a flannel jacket and hang it on a hanger. “I’m no good at organizing.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” she says. “You’re a lawyer .”
“Yeah, but until recently I’ve had legal assistants to help me file and find things,” I laugh. “Plus, it’s just different…”
I shrug, and trail off.
All my life, I’d been good at preparing to be a lawyer, and then for trial. I’d gone straight from kindergarten through law school to my job at the law firm and I was used to putting in long hours for work and trying to anticipate and counter any arguments from opposing counsel or any question judges might have about why my client should win the case.
But when it comes to having this baby, I feel horribly unprepared. I’d never even really thought about having children or fulfilling domestic duties. It seems foreign to me, although I’m excited about it and I love the life I have with Jensen. Having this baby feels like the next natural step but actually getting there feels difficult. Especially with how Jensen has been acting lately.
“Riley, are you all right?” Monica asks, as if reading my mind. She’d lowered her voice after looking towards James and back to me. “I know that these final months of pregnancy are hard, but you seem a little… depressed, maybe?”
I shrug, embarrassed.
“It’s not that I’m depressed,” I tell her. “That’s not it. Overwhelmed and a bit fearful, maybe.”
“Well, that’s to be expected,” she says, pursing her lips resolutely.
“And something’s just been ‘off’ about Jensen,” I confide, wanting to cry almost as soon as I say it.
Oh shit .
Now that I voice my concerns out loud, I realize how worried I’ve been. I bite my lip, trying hard not to cry.
Tears fall down my face, involuntarily; I want to stop them, but I can’t.
I didn’t even realize how serious of a problem Jensen and I might be having, until I finally told someone. While I’m glad Monica is supportive, I almost wish she had never asked the question. Part of me doesn’t want to have to face the truth… not that I even know what the truth is.
Chapter 3 – Riley
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” says Monica, leaning over to give me a hug. “That is really too bad! Maybe you’re just…”
She clearly doesn’t want to finish the rest of her sentence.
“Overreacting because I’m stressed and hormonal?” I ask her.
“I don’t mean it like that,” she says, and then nods her head over to where the kids are playing. James is purposefully knocking over all the blocks that Becky tries to stack for him, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “I myself was pregnant not too long ago and I know how it is. Those last minute fears. Jitters. Worry. It’s excruciating. Enough to drive anyone bonkers.”
“I’ve thought of that,” I tell her. “That I could be over-reacting. Thinking something’s there when it’s not. But, I know my husband, and something seems… weird.”
I let out a deflated sigh. She takes my hand and pats it.
“Okay, well, maybe he’s just experiencing the same feelings,” she suggests. “Since he’s about to be a new parent as well.”
“Yeah, I figure it’s something like that,” I tell her. “But that’s scray too, you know? Because, what if he’s scared like I am? Or even more so? Who is going to look out for this baby if both of us are so damn afraid ?”
“Have you tried talking to him about this?” Monica asks.
“Of course not,” I say, shaking my head. We both burst into laughter. “I mean, it’s just not something I know how to say. ‘Hey, I’m having a lot of doubts and worries about all of this. Are you feeling the same way?’ What if he says ‘No, what are you talking about?’ I’ll feel like such an idiot. And a bad parent already, before the baby has even come!”
I put a hand on my stomach, which is still tightening and rumbling quite strangely. I’ve never been anywhere close to being in labor, before, but I don’t think this is it. I expect something stronger, more ferocious and overpowering.
“I can understand that fear,” Monica says. “But maybe Jensen is having the same one, too. One of you have to bring it up.”
“That’s very true,” I tell her. “I’ll try to talk to him.”
“Good,” she says. “Glad I can be a relationship counselor today.”
I laugh and tell her, “I seriously appreciate it. You have no idea.”
She shrugs and says, “To tell you the truth, I’m a little jealous. Ramsey and I weren’t together while I was pregnant, so, it’s nice to remind someone who is part of a couple not to take these things for granted. He’s here, so you might as well talk to him.”
“Good point,” I tell her.
Then, looking at the clock on my phone, I add, “Hmmm, he’s usually here. But I wonder where he is now.”
I look at her in shock, realizing Jensen is usually home by now. What if he’s staying away out of fear, or what if he’s sick of my sulking? My mind races with possibilities, but Monica steadies it by patting me on the back.
“I’m sure he just had a second beer and he’ll be home soon,” she says. “Let’s get this stuff put away. Becky, can you watch your brother and cousin while your mom and I go up to the nursery?”
“Sure!” Becky says, patting James on the head. He looks up and smiles at her from where he’s sitting on the floor.
“Thank you,” Monica says, as she begins picking up some of the clothes to carry upstairs to the nursery.
I follow suit. As we gather the tiny items, Monica mentions, “Have you talked to Whitney lately?”
“No, not really,” I tell her. “Although she brought over some of these clothes the other day. One of her friends’ babies had outgrown them and she wanted to pass them on.”
“That was nice of her,” Monica replies, but she sounds thoughtful.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, speaking of people being distant… Whitney has seemed that way to me too lately.”
“Hmm,” I say. “I wonder why.”
“Yeah, it’s obviously not as worrisome as what you’ve been going through with Jensen and your pregnancy, so I almost didn’t say anything,” Monica continues. “But I just worry about her. She and Harlow have been trying for a while to have a baby and it doesn’t look like it’s working out.”
“She’d mentioned that to me,” I say, nodding. “That’s too bad.”
“I just hope she’s not depressed or something,” Monica says. “Maybe we can take her out and cheer her up or something.”
We both look down at my large stomach and laugh.
“I’m sure Jensen will watch the baby after he gets here,” Monica says. “And we can go celebrate you becoming a mother.”
“I’m not sure that would make Whitney feel very good if the problem is…”
I stop, the word just hanging between us.
Chapter 4 – Riley
“True,” Monica says, as if kicking herself for not thinking of that. “Well, we’ll figure out something to do to make her feel better.”
“Yes, let’s,” I agree.
Our arms are full so we start to head upstairs to put the clothes away. But when we reach the stairwell, we see a scary sight. Jensen’s mom, who has been living with us for the past year or so, is sitting on a stair, with her head in her hands.
“Are you all right?” I ask, rushing to her side.
“Here,” Monica says, taking the clothes I’m carrying out of my hands and adding them to the pile she’s precariously balancing in our own hands. “Let me get these while you attend to Mrs. Bradford. I hope everything’s okay.”
She walks up the stairs, giving us some privacy. It’s her mother in law too, but Jensen and I get along with her better than anyone else in the family. That’s not saying much, though. For a while after she first moved in with us, it had gone much more smoothly than we’d imagined. But lately she’d become cantankerous— angry, deviant, and moody for no reason we could decipher.
“I’m fine!” Jensen’s mom says defiantly.
Her doctor had told us that she was becoming senile from both old age and her history of drinking and taking drugs. He said to expect some docile, sweet moments from her, followed by raging, unpredictable ones, and that this cycle would continue. He’d urged us to move her to a home and Jensen and his brothers have been looking for one and even found a good one. But even though her health and emotions have been a roller coaster ride to put up with, we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to do that.