Title: Just The Way It Goes
Description: really really open!
Mark Conner - July 31, 2011 05:17 AM (GMT)
July 24th, 2011 – Afternoon
Fishing at the point sounded like the most relaxing thing he could think of doing on a Sunday afternoon. Mark wasn’t really busy with work and had found himself in a rather foul mood after the whole thing with Jamie went down. He didn’t understand it really. He liked her, they were really good friends and easily could have been more; she was the perfect mother figure for Ava and he honestly enjoyed having Taylor around. They all got along like one happy family but he was feeling like he was only there to pick up the pieces for Jamie. Anytime she got upset or needed someone to talk to, he was there. And he felt something stronger for her every time that happened but now that the woman’s husband had returned after his mysterious disappearance, Mark just felt used. To hell with her. Let her be happy with her new baby on the way and the man she loved back in her life and he would just float along with his little girl like nothing ever happened.
Because, truthfully, the man had begun to see that his daughter was pretty much the only person in his life that was always there for him, giving him unconditional love no matter what kind of mood he was in. He’d tried the whole Vow thing, if only to find a mom for Ava, and every time it blew up in his face. Being ditched at the altar wasn’t appealing to him anymore and once again he just didn’t understand it. Mark was a good guy, had a decent job, was loving and caring, and it wasn’t like his daughter was something to break the deal. She wasn’t a bad baby at all and with her first birthday coming up, he couldn’t really see one bad thing about the little girl. Overall he was content with the idea of being a single father. He made it this far, the next seventeen years couldn’t be that bad right? He could do it alone, didn’t need a woman in his life. But yet he did . . .
Something about being alone scared him. Maybe because he was the kind of guy who needed reassurance, and to know someone cared. Maybe because the social contact of other people was just a part of life he couldn’t be without. No matter what, he needed to think long and hard about the situation. And so with baby girl in tow, the young man found himself sitting by the riverside on a lawn chair, fishing pole in hand, trying his best not to fall asleep in the summer sunshine. The fish weren’t really biting, probably hiding from the heat, but it was actually quiet out here. Other than the mumblings of the toddler nearby whom he planted on a blanket with a bucket of toys and a sippy cup, thankful she wasn’t very steady on her feet yet. At one point with head rolled to the side, watching the dark haired girl thoughtfully sort through the bucket before knocking it over and dumping all its contents out, Mark was pretty sure this was the best day he had had in a very long time. And he hadn’t even said one word to anybody other than Ava in the last twenty-four hours.
Jean Turner - July 31, 2011 09:44 PM (GMT)
It was a beautiful day. No other word could describe the warm afternoon sunlight that lit up the forest. A light breeze brushed against Jean’s face as she stood at a fork in the road…literally. She was sitting on her black bicycle she’d bought a while back, staring at the sign that pointed the way back to Evergreen on one side and the way to a place called William’s Point on the other side. She wasn’t sure where to go. She felt like riding forever on her only mode of transportation but she also knew she had to get back to Evergreen to try and find some kind of work. She’d passed a few café’s on the way to the forested area. Maybe they were looking for waitresses?...Not likely.
Sighing, she pushed off from the ground and started her ride up to William’s Point. She felt like just getting out and feeling the wind against her face. As she rode, hearing the birds twittering and the river rushing beside the trail she was riding on, she felt finally free. She’d been so locked up while living with her parents and very worried when she was living on her own. Riding through this forest like she was flying made her believe coming to Evergreen might have been the best idea she’d ever had.
Jean followed the trail lazily, just breathing in the fresh air and listening to the sounds of wilderness around her. She didn’t encounter anyone else on the trail. Did no one in town know about this place? It was so peaceful and she knew she’d be returning to this place often to just get out of the busy town areas. She could just imagine riding her bike up here with a good book and settling down next to the river with the warm sunshine bright on her skin. What an experience that would be.
As she rode around a corner, she noticed something out the corner of her eye. She saw a person sitting next to the river…a man? She’d been so concentrated on finding out who this person was that she didn’t notice her bike going off the trail until it was too late. With a squeal of surprise, she bumped straight into a tree. The jarring stop threw her off the bike and into the grass.
She couldn’t move for a moment, still a little shocked about what had happened. Finally she managed to push herself to her knees. Looking down, she noticed her hands and knees were a little bloody. “Shit,” she hissed, rubbing at the scrapes. They stung and she couldn’t stop the tears from filling her eyes. She let out a quiet cry of anguish. The adrenaline high was going down and she felt the pain hit her like a bulldozer. Sitting in the grass, she wiped at her eyes, trying hard to stop the tears from falling.
She looked up suddenly and noticed the mangled metal that was her bike. “No, no, no,” she muttered, pushing herself to her feet and pulling her bike up. It was ruined. The whole front tire was bent until it looked like a half moon and the handles had actually snapped off. No! This was her only mode of transportation. What the hell was she going to do now?
Mark Conner - August 1, 2011 02:51 AM (GMT)
Completely unaware of anyone else around and half asleep, Mark was brought to a full consciousness by what he thought was a pull on her reel. Finally! It seemed a fish was hungry enough to leave the shady confines of its hiding spot and take the bait . . . and then a noise. A noise disturbed the peace and quiet of the point and the only thing Mark could attribute it to was his daughter, whom he’d just about forgot was nearby. Seeing the Ava had crawled her way off the blanket a few feet, chasing some bug or caterpillar, it was the sight just past the image of the little dark haired girl in the grass that caused some confusion to issue in his mind.
The squeal, apparently, had not come from the toddler but rather a woman, who it seemed, crashed into a tree. Setting the fishing rod safely by the chair, he rose and for a moment just stared across the pathway while said woman righted herself with a few mumbles and rubbed at her knees and hands. Deciding it was only polite to go see if she was ok, he scooped his daughter up and started off across the grass. “Well, what do we have here, Miss Ava?” he asked the wide eyed baby, who first replied with a toothy grin and a ‘ dada’ before turning her gaze across the pavement path and voicing ‘ow’.
With a chuckle, Mark nodding and smiled right back at his daughter. “Yeah, ow is right,” he responded coming up to the strange woman just as she hissed a choice word he really hoped Ava never picked up. “Looks like you drifted a little off the road there,” he voiced, noticing how teary eyed she looked. The bike was a mess and he would bet she wasn’t going to be riding anywhere on it anytime soon. With a sigh, he took a step back as she hoisted herself onto her feet and took a good look at her bike. Shifting Ava on his hip as her little arms wrapped around his neck and her head nuzzled into his shoulder.
“You need some help?” he asked next, reaching a hand out before meeting the woman’s eyes. Really he was trying not to smirk or grin or laugh when she looked like she needed a real good cry but he would have to say it was kind of funny. How hard was it really to ride a bike down a path? It wasn’t really the narrow of a road and it wasn’t like the tree jumped out and stopped her. The thought did leave a little look on his face which he forced away with a look to his daughter in his arms. “You are ok right?” was the next remark he could offer because, once again, it was only the polite thing to do. Maybe he hadn’t been in a good mood lately but that didn’t mean he just didn’t care about anyone anymore.
Jean Turner - August 1, 2011 03:41 AM (GMT)
Jean was still mumbling angrily to herself when she heard the crunch of approaching footsteps. Squeezing her eyes shut, she really wished she hadn’t made such a stupid little squeal. Better yet, she wished she hadn’t just careened off the trail like that. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Where was her brain? Not in her head, apparently. And now she had to talk to some guy she didn’t even know, out in the middle of the deserted forest. Damn. Why did she have to crash?
Jean wasn’t exactly easy to warm up to when it came to men. She’d known some pretty disgusting male specimens in her lifetime, one such person being her own father. He had been the one to put her off flirting openly with men and just being good friends with the opposite sex. Now she was timid around them and a little frightened. But she had told herself after she left her parent’s place that she would try better to give everyone a chance to prove themselves to be a good person.
She was shaking slightly when she looked up at the man she had only glimpsed through the bushes before her crash. What surprised her the most was the little girl he held against his hip. She hadn’t noticed the baby before. Looking at this man, he didn’t look like he was old enough to even think about children. She couldn’t possibly be of his own blood…?
Jean, slightly embarrassed, rubbed roughly at her wet eyes. “I had…I had something in my eye,” she mumbled while righting the bike as best she could. “Distracted me. I mean…I can ride a bike, I just…something in my eye.” She was babbling now and she couldn’t stop. She rubbed at her eyes again, taking a few deep breaths to calm herself down. She was not going to cry in front of complete stranger. She probably already looked like a mental case. No need to make herself look even more like an escapee from a physc ward.
“I’m fine,” she said more sharply than she intended when he asked her if she was all right. She took another breath and lowered her voice. “I mean, I’m fine. Thanks.”
She turned the bike to look more closely at the curved tire. “Ah shit,” she muttered. Her eyes widened and looked at the baby. “I mean…ah jeez.” She certainly didn’t want someone’s baby picking up swear words because of her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin anything you guys were doing. I just got…distracted. And…I don’t really know the trails out here, being new and all.” She paused and bit her lip, knowing she was making up some stupid excuses. “Okay, I’m going to shut up now.”
Mark Conner - August 1, 2011 04:56 AM (GMT)
Completely unprepared Mark was for the woman’s reaction to his approach. She seemed a little distracted and obviously upset as anyone would be for crashing into a tree. At least she didn’t seem to be hurt but she was a bit off if he did say so himself. Nodding at her mumbling comments, he chuckle with a shake of his head. Distracted, he could understand but he wasn’t sure he believed the reason for running into the tree was because of something in her eyes. Question was: what cause a pretty lady like herself who seemed intelligent to steer the bike right off the road and into an inanimate object?
With bike righted, it was even more obvious the damage that had been done and now he could see just how bad her legs were scratched up. Now he felt bad but it was like Ava’s ouchies that he could just kiss and make better. “I believe you can ride a bike just fine,” he voiced with a laugh as she defended herself. “Just need to keep those stubborn trees out of the road from now on.” Hefting the toddler up to sit more comfortable against his side, Mark watched as the stranger rubbed her eyes and came to realize she must really be upset. Maybe she was worried about how she was going to get home, in which case, maybe he could help.
In Mark’s opinion, she was far from crazy but he wasn’t sure she was really ok by the way she matter-of-factly voiced just that. “Really, are you sure?” he asked again nodding to the scratches where he was sure a few bruises would pop up from the force of impact. Shrugging his shoulders when she only insisted she was indeed just fine, Mark took a little step back, wondering why she was so defensive, not realizing she might have just been uncomfortable. The way her eyes widened after she swore to the twisted metal make him chuckle. It wasn’t anything the baby hadn’t heard before but he really appreciated her effort to fix it.
“It’s not a problem at all, really. We weren’t doing anything important to begin with.” Another friendly smile and he was looking back towards the blanket and lawn chair where they had been vegging out before interrupted by the sound of a crash. “Oh, no. Don’t shut up,” he voiced, shaking his head slightly. “Hey, can I offer you a ride home or something? I’m Mark by the way,” he added after a brief pause feeling kind of awkward. He didn’t really meet people very often what with Ava and all. Taking another look to the bike and then the tree that had been hit he couldn’t help but chuckle. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to ride that out of here,” he commented, gently pulling his daughter’s hands from his shirt he was tugging on. “And it’s a pretty long walk back into town.” That was just a given. He really wouldn’t want to have to walk that far all by himself.
Jean Turner - August 1, 2011 04:57 PM (GMT)
Jean let out a weak laugh when he mentioned the trees being stubborn. Looking back on it now, it had been pretty stupid. She’d been so distracted that she smashed into a tree. It was one of those scenes that should have been in a cartoon show. The character would have smashed into a tree with a giant crash and let out a little squeal much like she had. Then it would have done a whole three hundred and sixty degree turn before landing in the mud. Oh yes. This was a lot like a cartoon. She couldn’t help but smile genuinely at the thought. Looking over at the toddler he held in his arms, Jean was sure the little girl would have enjoyed the cartoon scene. She probably thought the whole scene in front of her was hilarious. And Jean couldn’t blame her. It was, after all, pretty funny.
She took a deep breath, pushing the red hair that had fallen out of her ponytail back from her face before smiling shyly at him. “Thanks for asking, but I’m completely fine,” she said. “It’s just my ego that’s hurt a little bit.” She shrugged with a breathless laugh. “And I’m a little bit embarrassed, sorry. This doesn’t usually happen.”
Then he asked her if she wanted a ride home. His question sounded genuine, as if he really wanted to help her, but she couldn’t get that rule her Gran used to tell her. Never get into a car with a stranger. Of course she had been around six when her Gran told her that rule, but it was still something to think about even at her age. He didn’t look like a killer, especially with the happy little toddler in his arms, but he could have been using the baby as bait much like a piece of candy or a puppy. She’d been warned about this, but she couldn’t say she wanted to walk the whole way home. She’d ridden up here and thinking about walking through a dense forest alone made her shiver. Maybe she should accept this Mark’s invitation. Maybe he was just being kind to her. After all, not everyone had a hidden agenda…right?
She smiled shyly at him again. “I’m Jean,” she answered. “And I don’t want to be a bother but…a ride home could really help me out. I mean, this thing looks like it won’t live another day.” She sighed. “It’s been really good to me for a few years now. I guess I’ll have to save up for another one.”
She eyes caught sight of the baby in his arms again and her curiosity peaked. “Umm, I’m sorry if I’m prying but…is this your daughter?” she asked. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me! If I’m sticking my big nose in where it shouldn’t be…”
Mark Conner - August 1, 2011 05:47 PM (GMT)
Well at least she could laugh about it. To see someone smile and laugh after a making a complete fool of themselves said something about their character, Mark supposed. And she seemed like a nice enough young woman after all, and that was probably the reason why he offered her a ride. It wasn’t that he felt sorry or pitied her, but why make her walk all the way home alone when he had a perfectly good car that could take them all back into town. Let’s face it, Evergreen wasn’t as great of a place as everyone assumes and he knew there were enough creepers lurking around within the city limits that he certainly wouldn’t let his own daughter walk around the woods alone. He would hate to hear something happened out here just because he was selfish enough not to want to share his own mode of transportation.
At hearing once more that Jean was just fine and was unwounded he let out a breath with a nod of his head before chuckling at what she said next. “My ego would hurt a little bit too after a fall like that,” he agreed, knowing that, as a man, he’d be very much embarrassed if he crashed a bike he was riding into a tree. Because, you know, who didn’t know how to ride a bike and it probably wouldn’t be something he could laugh about so he gave her a lot of respect. Smiling in a more relaxed and friendly way, though there was still some awkwardness in his voice, he spoke over a laugh from his daughter. “Well, at least you’re all right and nothing’s broken . . . besides the bike,” he muttered, knowing she could have walked away from that with far more damage than she had.
Giving her some time in the silence to think about his offer, he was trying not to be one of those creepers who only wanted her to come home with him, because that honestly wasn’t his intentions. His apartment was a mess anyway and he knew no woman wanted to spend time with a baby nearby. At least that was his understanding seeing as how he couldn’t keep a woman around for the life of him. Maybe he was too nice or maybe being a single dad just wasn’t as sexy as everyone said it was but he was betting The Vow just didn’t have their shit together when trying to match people who already had kids. Lifting his eyes to look into her face when she finally gave an answer, Mark smiled a little wider than before. “Not a bother at all, Jean,” he voiced with a sad look to the bike again. “Just let me go get our stuff packed up.” Turning in that direction and hoping she would follow, he walked back across the path to where he and Ava had been chilling out.
Turning a look back over his shoulder at Jean’s question, Mark simply nodded. “Yeah, she’s mine. She’ll be a year old in a few weeks,” he stated with a proud fatherly grin before turning his attention to his daughter. “Ava, can you say hello?” he asked pointing over to Jean but Ava only babbled in her own language. So far Mark was sure the only real word she knew was ‘dada’ and most the time she tended to call everyone that. Setting the baby back on her blanket, Mark moved first to the lawn chair and grabbed his fishing pole to start reeling it in.
Jean Turner - August 1, 2011 08:01 PM (GMT)
The way Mark looked at and talked to his daughter showed the love he felt for her. The toddler was very sweet looking and Jean couldn’t help but smile at her little gurgles of baby language. She hadn’t been around children very much during her life. Adults and teenagers had mostly surrounded Jean. The adults being her parents’ friends and the teenagers being her class mates in school. But she’d seen children from a distance. She thought she’d quite like them, although she had no idea how difficult being a parent could be.
Biting her lip once more, she looked around her. There was no one else to be heard or seen on the trail. They were completely alone. She had a feeling that if he had wanted to kidnap or murder her he would have already done it. Jean leaned her broken bike against the tree she had hit, knowing she wouldn’t be able to move it through the overgrown grass the man and the toddler had walked through. With another deep breath, she followed after Mark and his daughter.
Jean’s eyes took in the space Mark had set up next to the river. It was quite a nice little set up, with the sun shining in the right places and the shade covering the blanket for little Ava. She watched as Mark went to reel in his line. Jean frowned when she realized her squeal might have scared the fish off. Nice job.
She turned to the right to see the toddler sitting on the blanket in the grass, chewing happily on the plastic toys that had been spilled out of a bucket. Jean bit her lip and wondered if Mark would mind if she approached his daughter. Helping to clean up the toys might make up for her ruining their day out. It was the least she could do.
Taking a chance, she slowly walked towards the baby before kneeling next to her on the blanket. “Look at all your toys,” she cooed softly. “Aren’t you a lucky girl?” The toddler looked up at her before giggling lightly.
Jean laughed and picked up one of the toys, before dropping it in the bucket. Ava stared at the bucket when the thump of the toy hitting the bottom was heard. Then she laughed heartily. Jean grinned, picking up another toy and dropping it in. Another thump and Ava was laughing again. For some reason, the toys being dropped in the bucket seemed to be hilarious to the little girl. It amused Jean to no end.
“Do you think that’s funny, huh?” she cooed, brushing the soft baby hair away from the toddler’s forehead. Ava snorted with laughter before dropping the toy she was holding into the bucket. The thump brought on a whole new roll of giggles. Jean grinned. “Good job,” she cheered as Ava picked up another toy and dumped it inside. ”You’re such a smart girl.”
Mark Conner - August 2, 2011 03:59 AM (GMT)
Standing still, rooted to the spot just by the riverbed, Mark went to spinning the reel, feeling the line being tugged towards him. It wasn’t until he spotted his lure approaching just under the surface that he actually frowned, a little unhappy to find there was no fish on the end of the line as he suspected when Jean had crashed and broke his concentration just moments ago. Well shit. That was pretty much a waste of a time. Sitting up here for hours and not one fish to prove for his efforts, only a woman he would be escorting home, which he was still a little confused about. This was not a situation he encountered everyday and the only way he knew to handle it was to just . . . take her home. Some single guys might have been thinking up some way to get her to like them, turn it into something; a friendship. But Mark couldn’t see that far in the future anymore, having been put down so many times, and so he opted to just do as he said he would and take her back to her residence. If something was meant to happen, it would happen. He certainly wasn’t betting on it.
With hook securely attached to rod to prevent any poking or unnecessary piercings by the sharp object, he turned around only to find Jean kneeling there on the blanket with his daughter which brought a big grin to his face. Nothing more did he like than to see his little girl laughing and happy and it seemed Jean was really good with the baby. Then again, Ava liked anyone, especially woman, and the simplest things made her giggle which was a good thing he guessed. Though it did mean he was cleaning up a lot of her toys she liked to throw around a papers she loved to rip up. Being a single dad sure wasn’t easy and he kind of wished he got that memo before getting the young girl’s mother pregnant. But more than anything he didn’t regret his past and had one beautiful baby girl to show for it.
Collapsing the lawn chair, he moved to the car and opened the trunk. Unceremoniously dropping the metal chair inside, Mark more carefully angled his fishing pole into the space before turning back to where he’d come from for the cooler. It was then he heard the conversation between woman and baby as Jean tried to coax Ava into helping pick up her toys which, amazingly, worked because the babe was more than willing to throw objects into the bucket if only to hear the sound that echoed when they hit the bottom. It made him chuckle lightly, hauling the cooler into the backseat to settle comfortably on the floor before approaching spread out blanket with brown eyes watching the girls’ interact. “She likes you,” he voiced matter of factly, bending down to help clean the last of the toys up.
Reaching over to grab the sippy cup that lay in the grass, he held onto it instead of giving it back to Ava for fear of the germs that now covered it, ever the worrisome father. “I think there should be plenty of room for everything,” he voiced, nodding to the car before tugging Ava onto her feet and leading her off the blanket, getting a hearty whine from the infant as a response. A roll of his eyes and he swept the blanket up with one hand shaking it about to rid it of any clinging grass. It was then that the baby got a little fussy as if not wanting to leave the peaceful setting and Mark could only sigh. “Baby, we’re going to take this nice lady home,” he informed his daughter which didn’t seem to make a difference as she planted herself on the ground with a whimper and pout and Mark knew it was time for a nap. “Sorry,” he said rather sincerely meeting Jean’s eyes with a look of uncertainty.
Jean Turner - August 3, 2011 01:51 AM (GMT)
Jean couldn’t help but laugh at the little girl’s antics. She was acting like the toddler she was. Demanding and pouty. She’d seen the worry in Mark’s eyes as he cleared up the mess, taking the baby’s cup away before she could get it in her hands again. It was the look that said how much he truly cared for his daughter. It was odd to see that look in such a young man’s eyes. She’d never seen it in her father’s eyes whenever he had looked at her. That was a difficult thing to think about. She bit her lip and shook her head, dispelling the images of her angry father from her mind. She would focus on the here and now.
She remembered the way Mark had said that Ava might have actually liked her. Although he had said it matter of factly, she couldn’t help but feel happy to be liked by someone, especially someone as sweet as the little toddler. As Mark apologized to her for his daughter’s actions, Jean realized how much she had liked playing with the baby, if only for a few moments. It had been fun, and she hoped deep down inside that Mark might let her play with her some time soon.
She smiled up at the father, her grin actually genuine for once. “It’s all right,” she laughed, getting to her feet to walk to where Ava had planted herself down. Jean knelt down in front of the baby, holding out her finger.
“Come on, Ava,” she cooed, watching as the baby’s head tilt at the sound of her own name. “Don’t want to sit here, do you? All your toys are in the car! You don’t want to leave them lonely, do you?” She knew the baby couldn’t understand most of what she had said but Ava’s eyes lit up when Jean mentioned the word ‘toys’. She smiled at the toddler who gurgled back. “That’s it,” she said as Ava grabbed a hold of Jean’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go keep those toy’s company.”
She stood, trying to tug the baby to her little feet but she still didn’t move. Instead, she held her arms up, whimpering lightly. After a moment of confusion, Jean realized the toddler wanted to be carried. Grinning, Jean swooped down and pulled the baby up into her arms, settling her against her hip. The baby laughed happily, holding on tightly as Jean hitched her higher up against her side.
After a moment of cooing and brushing Ava’s soft hair, Jean realized she hadn’t even asked Mark to touch his daughter. Flushing red, she turned to look at him with a look of apology. “Sorry,” she said. “Umm…you don’t mind, do you? I mean…I wasn’t thinking and…I probably should have asked you first…”
She looked up into his brown eyes, hoping he wouldn’t be angry with her. As she caught his gaze, her heart fluttered a little, her cheeks almost as red as her hair now. She was quite partial to brown eyes, so different from her own green. It might have been because it reminded her of some place that was warm and safe. Biting her lip in embarrassment, she looked away trying to hide her new reaction to Mark. Not good.
Mark Conner - August 3, 2011 03:33 AM (GMT)
Some people may have thought it was odd to see such a young man be such a loving and devoted father but it came naturally to Mark, not to mention the people who thought that didn’t know the story behind his little family either. He gave up his life for that little girl, gave up potential careers and a college education, a change at love and married to raise her, he lost the woman of his dreams just because this little life, this mistake and miracle happened, and he wouldn’t change it for the world. Mark didn’t care anymore that he jumped from house to house and job to job, that his parents didn’t really have anything to do with him or that his ex girlfriend, Ava’s mothers, never even talked to him any. It was all her fault anyway, well both their faults, but what kind of person could just make up their mind to get rid of an innocent life on a whim without a second thought? No, Mark fought for that little girl and if that made him a little over protective and slightly obsessed, then so be it.
The smile Jean offered caught his attention and for whatever reason he smiled back, adding a little nod when she laughed off that fact that his baby girl was being a bit of a brat. One last look at Ava, and then to the woman he decided it would be ok to just run and throw this stuff in the car and leave the baby there. He could run fast, if Jean turned out to be the kind of woman who scooped Ava off and tried to make a break for it. Rolling up the blanket, sippy cup in hand, he headed for the car and threw open the back door a drape the fabric over the seat and set the cup in the cup holder, making sure the infant car seat was all strapped in and ready to go. On his way around the car, returning to Jean and Ava, Mark found himself tilting his head, staring at the scene before him with a quizzical expression.
There the woman was, having the most natural conversation with his daughter and coaxed her up off the ground with the promise of toys (which he knew Ava loved) before snatching her up into her arms to hold her close like he felt any maternal woman would hold a baby. It was funny, he never once was worried she was going to take off with his baby, and instead he slowly approached, unaware his smile had widened just watching the two together. It amazed him, honestly, because he’d always been rather scared of his own baby. He struggled when she was a newborn because she was so damn tiny he felt like one wrong move would break her and as she grew and he learned her likes and dislikes he always made a point to keep her happy and give her what she wanted which was probably only fostering bad behavior for the future.
But there was Jean who didn’t even know the girl and picked her up and settled her right on her hip, brushing at the soft hair on Ava’s head, to which the baby just gave a toothy grin and giggle, bright eyes locked on this nice new person in her life. Her words broke his concentration once more, and Mark wondered idly if he’d been staring, but was met instead with a rambling that he could have cared less about. “Oh I don’t mind at all!” he insisted, with a slight smirk. “I told you she likes you,” he reminded Jean which was kind of obvious by the way Ava was clinging to her shirt. Far from angry, eyes met and Mark thought maybe he noticed a little pinker hue to the woman’s cheeks, but blaming it just on the sunlight that framed her face, he chuckled before biting his own lip. “Um . . . are you ready?” he asked, glancing at the car and taking a step in that direction, wiping palms on the thighs of his jeans.
Jean Turner - August 4, 2011 02:02 AM (GMT)
When Mark smiled at her, Jean couldn’t help but grin back. There was something about his smile that just totally lit up his face. And it seemed genuine too. Not like the fake smiles she had been surrounded by as a child. No, Mark seemed like a very genuine person overall. But then again, she had only known him and his sweet little daughter for a few minutes. She had to remember that although she had to give people a chance to prove themselves, she also had to be careful as to how much she trusted strangers. She also had to remember that she was in Evergreen to marry someone. Jean had to be careful as to how close she got to people…especially with this Mark who was already making her flustered like a school girl with a crush.
Clearing her throat and shifting Ava higher on her hip again, she nodded to him. “I’m ready,” she said. She leaned her head down to make eye contact with his daughter. “Are you ready, smart girl?” A little giggle made Jean nod and smile at Mark. “I think she’s ready.”
She walked towards his car, noticing the back door was open with Ava’s car seat all ready for the little girl. As she neared the car, she saw the little toy beside the chair. A little stuffed rabbit. Jean bounced Ava lightly, trying to get her excited about getting in the car. “Look at that,” she cooed. “There’s your toy!”
Ducking into the back seat she pulled Ava’s arms from her and seated her in the chair. “There we go,” she said. “Get all nice and comfy.” The toddler whimpered when Jean pulled away, stretching her pudgy little hands out. The redhead hushed the baby. “There, there,” she murmured. “Let’s not cry over something so silly.” She looked at the little rabbit next to the chair. Snatching it up she placed it in the baby’s hands. “Mr. Bunny doesn’t like when Ava cries. It makes him sad.” Jean gave a dramatic frown. The toddler stared at the stuffed animal before sticking its long ear in her mouth to chew on. Good enough. At least she was happy again.
However, Jean was quite confused. She wasn’t sure how to do up the toddler’s seat belt. She’d never used such a contraption before. And she sure as hell didn’t want to get it wrong. Putting Ava in any danger made her heart clench. She didn’t wish the little sprite any harm. Obviously doing up a car seat was where her motherly instincts ended.
She stepped away from the car and looked up at Mark with a sheepish grin. “I’m not sure how this thing works,” she laughed, scratching her head. “I don’t want to do it wrong, so maybe you should go ahead and do that?”
As she stared at Mark, she finally realized the way it had all looked. Her cooing Ava and handling her as if she were own child. Talking with Mark as if they had known each other for ages. It was…weird. Should a perfect stranger like herself want to hold someone else’s baby? That thought turned on alarm bells in her head. Jesus! Mark was probably married! Was she unknowingly moving into some other woman’s family? Some other woman’s husband? She definitely didn’t want to mess up anyone’s family. But she didn’t see a wedding ring on Mark’s hand. Perhaps he had taken it off?
Swallowing heavily, she couldn’t stop her curiosity from spilling out. “So,” she said, completely oblivious to the fact that Mark was a single father. “I guess your wife was too busy to make it out here today?” God she sounded like a nosy little bitch. Great impression, Jean!
Mark Conner - August 4, 2011 03:50 AM (GMT)
With an awkward grin, Mark nodded and headed in the direction of his car, leaving Ava in the hands of the woman who held her. The baby would probably throw a fit if he even tried to pry her away from Jean and honestly he knew that being around women was a good thing for Ava. She needed the presence of a woman in her life and ever since she was born she always seemed more comfortable in the hands of women anyway. “Alright, then,” he voiced pulling open the passenger door for Jean before pausing to watch her with his daughter. The whimper Ava gave was typical when it came to going into the car seat, which was probably why he made sure there was always a stuffed animal there waiting for the little girl to cheer her up. He was about to step forward and intervene assuming Jean wouldn’t want to deal with the fussing of some strange man’s baby when something happened that sort of had him frozen in place, confused.
Jean just ducked right into the car for the bunny rabbit and with sweet and kind words calmed the infant right down like nothing at all. At one point, Mark was worried she was just trying to be nice since he was giving her a ride home but the movements seemed much too genuine and natural . . . loving even. Brows raised he gave a chuckle and tilted his head. “Wow,” he voiced, nodding in approval. “So how old is your little one?” he dared to ask, only assuming she had been through this before because she was way better at it than he was and she wasn’t even blood related to the baby girl. It was went she turned to look at him with a sheepish grin that his face flushed red and he raising a ran to rub over his cheeks. Big mouthed idiot. So apparently she wasn’t a mother herself. Smooth move. Without another word, partially because he didn’t trust himself to speak, he stepped in and buckled Ava up securely, making she sure was comfy and offering her her blanket to go along with bunny in the hopes that she may fall asleep on the way home.
Closing the back door, he ushered Jean into the passenger seat before closing her door all gentleman like, feeling rather flustered himself. Maybe it was just the heat, or the poor fishing, or witnessing the horror of a pretty young lady crashing into a tree that had him in a funny mood, but he hadn’t felt this way since . . . well since Jamie. Lately he’d been in a funk because he thought they could really have something together but then her husband returned from nowhere and it was obvious that there was little left to their relationship. But he was feeling that same sensation creep in again, he never thought he was that desperate to find someone new in his life or mother for Ava but the way Jean was with the baby girl made him believe it was possible. Settling into the driver’s seat and turning of the vehicle, Mark immediately shut off the childish music that came across the speakers and feeling his face flush again, he glanced in his rear view mirror before back up onto the path. Turning to look a Jean with an odd expression of his own, he laughed, and then just smiled and looked back at the road before him. “I’m not married. Ava’s mom . . , well she was a real bitch to be honest and that’s a whole nother story but I just haven’t found anyone since then. Not for lack of trying. But I think sometimes the single father gig isn’t as attractive as some people make it out to be,” he voiced. "What woman really wants to raise some other guy's baby anyway?" Nope, he had pretty much given up.
Jean Turner - August 4, 2011 11:55 PM (GMT)
To say Jean was surprised when Mark asked her about her supposed children was putting it lightly. Was she really like that? She knew that her actions could be seen as motherly but did she really look like she had her own kids? Not that she hadn’t thought about it. Seeing children on television, movies and in the parks she passed while in Pittsburgh made her wonder what being a mother would really be like. She knew it would be difficult. It would be tiring nights and stressful days, but if her children were as sweet as Ava…it might be much easier.
She laughed lightly. “No kids for me,” she said quietly. “Well at least not yet…”
When Mark opened the car door for her, she couldn’t help but blush. No one had ever opened a door for her. Of course she hadn’t known many gentlemen in her life. Mark was probably the first. She smiled at the thought as she waited for him to get into the drivers side. There were a lot of new things she was learning with him already. It was difficult to believe that they’d already grown so close in such a short amount of time. Of course, the little toddler in the back might have made it all easier.
Jean couldn’t help but laugh lightly when the child’s music came over the stereo. She looked over at him as he shut it off quickly before slowly backing up the car. Was there a slight pinkness to his cheeks or was it just a trick of the light? She didn’t know, and frankly she didn’t care. She was too preoccupied with his eyes. There was just something about them that made her heart thump faster.
She swallowed heavily and turned to look out the windshield as he started driving down the trail. As they went, she looked out the window and noticed her broken down bike still at the tree. Shaking her head, she decided to leave it there. It was past repair anyway. She’d give the forest something new to grow on to. Besides, there were other bikes to buy. She just had to find the money to get it.
Jean looked over at Mark as he spoke about Ava’s mother. She could hear the contempt in his voice as he insulted the woman. But Jean found herself agreeing with him. She didn’t even know the woman but she believed Mark when she said she was real bitch. Of course she’d probably believe anything he said. After all, who could leave a sweet little girl like Ava? Jean herself already felt a little sad knowing she’d have to leave them when they got back to town. Them meaning Ava and Mark. Attachment already? Wow. She was digging a deep hole for herself. Was it because they were the first people she’d known in the town or was it something else?
“That I can’t understand,” she said, while looking in the rearview mirror. She could see Ava’s eyes drooping already. “I mean she’s just so adorable. I don’t know how anyone could leave her.” She smiled when Ava’s eyes closed fully and she was out like a light. “Of course I can see how smitten you are with her.” Jean turned to look at him with a smile. “You’re lucky to have her.”
There was silence again as she stared out the window at the passing forest. But like before, her curiosity took over. “So where were you from before you and Ava came to Evergreen?”
Mark Conner - August 5, 2011 12:28 AM (GMT)
Mark couldn’t help but feel like an idiot for opening his big mouth and just assuming Jean had children of her own. It was just . . . well she took to Ava so quickly and the little one obviously felt comfortable around her, he only figured there was a reason behind it. Like Jean had been around kids and just knew how to comfort them. He was wrong, like most any other time, but the way her words dropped off put a little grin on his face. She made it sound like she was planning to have children at some time which made him a little curious. Most young women he meant didn’t want to settled down and do the whole family thing, they wanted to go to school ( as was the excuse Ava’s mother used) and work and be independent which only added in his frustrations in trying to find that special someone in his life. “Well you can borrow her any time you like,” he voiced, turning to check on the sleep infant with a moment with that same fatherly smile tugging at his lips.
With upbeat childish tunes quieted, it didn’t take long for Ava for fall into a slumber. The movement of the car helped for sure, but he figured just the lulling voices nearby played a part in how quick those little lids drooped over dark brown eyes. Continuing on down the road, Mark frowned as they passed the bike, wondering if maybe she wanted to take it with them. Honestly, he would have stopped but it would be difficult to squeeze it into the car with everything else and he was sure it was unfixable. Still he felt bad. What if it was like some family heirloom or something special to her and he was just leaving it behind to rust in the weather. The thought bothered him for the longest time as he worried over the situation and tried to decide if he wanted to bring it up but conversation took another topic.
A topic that Mark wasn’t too keen on with which he had a good excuse and he glanced over to Jean when she leaned closer to listen to what he had to say. It wasn’t until after he was finished that he realized he had never really talked about this with anyone else. The feelings inside welled up once more, making him sick to his stomach but overall Mark found it a lot better to just get it off his chest. He’d been keeping it all bottled up inside and it was exhilarating just to let it go without arguing with his parents over it. Shaking his head, he had to smile just hearing this woman thought his baby girl was adorable. It made his heart swell with pride knowing it was the right thing to do to fight and use his rights when it came to his daughter.
“I don’t understand it either. I mean . . . she wasn’t planned. Which was both out faults yeah, but to just want to get rid of her like something that was more of an annoyance than your own flesh and blood . . .” He was getting a little riled up now and with a deep breath just shut his mouth before he had the opportunity to go any further. “I am lucky. I don’t know how she’ll turn out without a mom but hopefully it’ll be just fine.” Silence passed before Jean spoke again and Mark had no problem answering the question. It was nice to just have another adult to talk to. “A few hours from here, not too far from Indianapolis,” he said, looking over to meet her eyes. Pretty green eyes that were nothing like his ex’s at all. “Hey, do you mind if we make a little pit stop? I’m kind of hungry . . .” he muttered, kind of hoping she had nowhere else to be.
Jean Turner - August 5, 2011 02:00 AM (GMT)
When Mark mentioned that she could borrow Ava whenever she wanted, Jean almost asked him if she could borrow both of them. Luckily she managed to keep her mouth shut. Imagine the look that would be on his face if she asked him that! She’d probably sound like a desperate woman, not that she wasn’t already desperate. She’d joined the Vow so didn’t that make her desperate or just hopeful? She wanted to say the latter but knew it would sound more like the former.
Biting her lip again, she looked away from him and stared at the trees passing by outside. Maybe if she didn’t look at him she’d be able to control her emotions. Not likely. As she stared outside she could still feel his presence and with that feeling came the memories of those dark eyes that had captivated her so much. Of course she had noticed the rest of him too. He was a lot taller than her and she smiled at the memory of how short she was compared to him. It made her feel very feminine for some reason. His dark hair matched his eyes and as she stared into the rearview mirror she noticed the similarities between the father and daughter. The dark hair and eyes must have been all from Mark…so what did her mother look like? Was she pretty? Better question: was she prettier than Jean?
She crossed her arms over her chest, sinking into the seat and chastising herself for thinking such stupid thoughts. It didn’t matter, did it? Who cares if she was prettier than Jean…did Mark care? Her eyes slid over to look at his profile as he drove. No. She definitely would not ask him any more questions like that. There needed to be a change in topic.
Jean let out a breath of relief when he continued talking, taking her mind off his former lover. He said he was from Indiana. Interesting, Jean thought. So he hadn’t moved very far. She wondered if he had ever left the state. Hadn’t he gone to university or maybe done some world travelling before Ava came along? She stared at him, trying to figure out how old he was. Had there been anytime between finishing high school and becoming a father for him? It made her sad when she thought about him not doing anything he wanted to do because of the little toddler. It sort of reminded her of herself. She wanted to go to school but that just wasn’t in the cards. Maybe they’d have that in common…?
She blinked in surprised when he caught her staring at him. Their eyes locked and her heart didn’t little flip-flops in her chest. Then he asked if she minded if they could make a pit stop. She couldn’t hold back the smile when he asked her that. Did that mean he wanted to spend more time with her or was he just actually hungry? She didn’t know and frankly she didn’t care. Just as long as she got to spend more time with him….and Ava of course.
She nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m completely fine with a pit stop. Haven’t had anything since breakfast.” She rubbed her stomach. “Where do you suggest we go? I’m sure you’ve been here longer than me and you know the area better…?”
Mark Conner - August 5, 2011 02:31 AM (GMT)
The ride continued on quietly in between bit and pieces of conversation. Mark was surprised though how the silence was so far from the creepy awkward kind. He felt like he didn’t really have to say anything at all and t hey could just sit there and stare out the window in each other’s company with the baby sleeping in the back seat. The emotion that settled over him was oddly familiar but he didn’t think it truly existed. Ava’s mom had never wanted the opportunity to be a family and he never found a woman who could be happy sitting there in the front seat of the car, playing the mother figure. But he dreamed about it. Mark had the recurring dream that was strangely almost identical to exactly what they were doing right now except the woman in his dreams never had a face, or a name, or pretty green eyes. Honestly he liked what he saw there in this picture and had to force himself to just stop thinking before he got too attached to the idea of having the one thing he wanted come true; a wife, a family.
As they returned back into town, the thick forested area turning into the cozy little downtown area of Evergreen he found himself back to worrying and wondering over something he knew would lead nowhere at all but he always had concerns with. He was a nobody, and willing to admit it. Sure he had dreams and ambitions and he had planned to do so much out of high school. But then Ava came along and in order to care for his daughter he had to drop out of college and find a job, multiple jobs really, because his parents felt he needed to provide and warned him they weren’t going to foot the bill for all of the baby’s needs. If he wanted the baby he needed to be the father and not just the random person in her life while her grandparents raised her. Mark was kind of glad for the now but he still couldn’t help but feel he’d gotten nowhere. He was still mostly unemployed, working jobs for a construction company whenever they needed him but he certainly wasn’t rolling in money, usually barely scraped by and really what kind of woman wouldn’t divorce a man who couldn’t provide for her?
Eyes met and Mark offered a shy smile before blinking and returning his gaze to the road feeling a little funny. It wasn’t a bad thing at all but it kind of surprised and scared the shit out of him that she was looking at him too. Even more surprised was he when she actually agreed to grab something to eat. He knew it was kind of a shot in the dark seeing as they’d just met but he didn’t want to just drop her off and leave because . . . well then he’d never know if he’d see her again and that made him a little sad. “There’s a place here in town that has really great pizza. Ava loves it. You ok with pizza?” he asked slightly concerned the maybe she wasn’t ok with that and would prefer something else. ‘And then we can go home,” he added turning onto the main street in town. Well shit, that sounded weird. Eyes wide, he shook his head, keeping his gaze off the woman next to him. “Well, not home. . .” he replied, breathing a little deeper, looking from her to the road and back again. “I mean, your home. . . I’ll drop you off at your house and then I’ll go home. Or the apartment complex, not really home per se.” God why the rambling? Damnit.
Jean Turner - August 6, 2011 01:54 AM (GMT)
What was wrong with Mark? Did she say something wrong? He suddenly looked all nervous and embarrassed. She was looking at him, admiring his eyes when he looked away from her quickly, only flashing her a shy smile. She felt suddenly unsure of herself. Did he know that she liked him and he just didn’t want to tell her he wasn’t interested? Maybe he didn’t know how to let her down easy. He was probably too much of a gentleman to say no to her advances. Perhaps he thought her staring was scary. She could see something in his eyes that resembled fear but was it of her or something else? She hoped it was something else because she couldn’t stop herself from admiring him.
Feeling flustered, she turned away and stared out the window again. The drive had been very comfortable until he caught her staring. She didn’t mind sitting in silence with him. It was oddly comforting and…familiar? She knew it was weird since she’d only met him and his daughter a few minutes ago, but she couldn’t help but get that feeling of familiarity as if she belonged in this scene. As if she were fated to meet him and Ava in the forest. As if she were fated to crash her bike and be forced to get a ride with him. As if they were all fated to be together…a family.
Shaking her head, she pushed those ridiculous thoughts from her mind. She needed to get her mind away from such silly ideas. There couldn’t be any hope of Mark liking her. She was white trash. She knew it because her family and friends had called her that. Perhaps he thought she would be good for looking after Ava like some nanny but there was no way he liked her the way a man would like a woman. No. She’d probably just end up being that little friend who looked after the baby while Mark went out on dates with more beautiful and talented women. Yeah. That was it. She just had to keep reminding herself that. She had to try and make him seem like a total jerk…even though he was the exact opposite.
At the mention of pizza, Jean’s stomach rumbled. Blushing, she wrapped her arms around her stomach and stared at her sneakers instead of facing him. “I would love some pizza,” she said before looking up at him shyly from beneath her eyelashes. “I haven’t had good pizza in forever. The big chain pizzerias in Pittsburgh are either greasy or taste like cardboard.” She stuck her tongue out before giggling lightly. “A good old pepperoni pizza and I may just melt into a big puddle on the floor.”
And then he mentioned going home. The butterflies erupted in her stomach at the thought of going home with them. God, listen to her! She was like a little street puppy who was being taken in. But she did notice how flustered he became, as if he was worried she’d get the wrong idea. She’d never made a man flustered before. The way he rambled made her giggle slightly behind her hand, her own cheeks quite pink. She wanted to say how she wouldn’t mind going home with them but she knew that’d sound really weird. “It’s all right, Mark,” she said with a kind smile. “I understand what you were trying to say.”
Wanting to save him from his embarrassment, she changed the subject. “So I’m guessing you and Ava live in the apartments too?” She looked up into the rearview mirror to see the little toddler sleeping. “I bet she’d love a swing set when she gets older. And a big back yard with one of those giant doll houses.” She smiled as she pictured a slightly older Ava running around in the grass before she realized the dreamy expression on her face. Shaking her head, she laughed shakily before looking back at him. “Sorry. Kind of zoned out for a minute there.”
Mark Conner - August 6, 2011 02:38 AM (GMT)
He was all nervous and embarrassed but not because he was sitting in a car having an awkward conversation with a woman he was just barely aware was flirting with him because he wanted nothing to do with her. Quite the contrary, Mark was flustered and nervous because he kind of liked Jean and loved talking with her and maybe even wanted to flirt back if he knew what the hell he was doing. In short, he was interested but he felt like it would be weird to say something when they’d only known each other such a short time. Still he couldn’t help but wonder, and imagine what life could possibly be like if, maybe, something did happen between them.
Far from believing in fate, seeing as nothing real good had come to him in life lately, Mark was willing to believe some higher being had brought them together somehow. He thought he deserved some good. And Ava deserved something better and if it was staring them right in the face, he sure wasn’t going to just let her walk away without a fight. And right now, that fight meant lunch. Smiling softly as she talked about where she’d come from, he figured he might as well make a point of saying Mancini’s pizza was far from tasting like cardboard. “Oh no worries there, it really is good homemade pizza.” Winding down the road, he turned to look at her with a frown before offering a chuckle, brown eyes sparkling. “We just can’t have that now. No melting into puddles, you’ll make Ava cry,” he warned completely unsure if joking around or teasing was even appropriate at this point.
Stumbling over his words was bad enough in itself but having this pretty woman notice scared Mark even more into a nervous fit, fingers bouncing lightly on the steering wheel to the imaginary music playing. Almost certain now that Jean had noticed what a goof he was, he was prepared for this lunch to be a real wreck. Her giggled distracted him and in looking over to get a view of her pink cheeks behind slender fingers, Mark grinned, heart thumping a little faster. “No, I’m not sure you understand,” he voiced with a content sigh. He just meant, they could both go home after dinner, he didn’t mean they had to go home together, though the thought once more had his mind straying from driving on the road and it seemed Jean’s mind was wondering as well.
“Yeah, that’s where we live for now. I’d love to get a nicer house but you have to be married around here for that to happen.” It sounded pretty stupid thinking about it, having to be married to live in the suburbs but honestly it made sense in some way. Smirking as she spoke about swing sets and dollhouses and a big green back yard, he followed her train of thought knowing his daughter would love that but went on to add a pretty bedroom and big play area in the basement just for her, and a mother of course. For a little while even he sat there in silence with that stupid grin on his face, clearing his throat when her voice broke his concentration though the sound seemed to belong in that little vision of his. “It’s fine, no problem,” he said softly, once more feeling pretty out of his element. Luckily they were there and finding a parking spot was easy enough. “Here we are,” he voiced simply, shutting off the engine and turning to look at Jean, just sitting there for a minute.
“Wake up, baby girl.” Checking the rear view mirror it seemed the infant was sound asleep and not even aware of anything going on. Throwing off his seatbelt, Mark made the move to exit the car and open the side door, shaking the tiny little pudgy hand that lay there, he was greeted with a sniffle and sleepy blinking brown eyes. Unbuckling his daughter, he scooped her up and let her rest her tired head on his shoulder before shutting the door and looking for Jean, as if to make sure she hadn’t run off.
Jean Turner - August 6, 2011 03:20 AM (GMT)
Teasing. They were teasing each other now. Jean couldn’t say that she didn’t like it. She did like seeing this side of Mark. The smiling and laughing side. When he chuckled his eyes danced with light making her feel a little warmer than usual. She almost felt like fanning herself. There was no doubt that Mark was a handsome man, but adding a great personality to that just made it worse for her. How could she ever resist him if he kept making her feel the way she was feeling?
When he spoke about getting a house with Ava she could hear the longing in his voice. He really did want to provide for his little girl and give her everything she wanted. From everything she had seen, Mark seemed like a great father. Of course lots of men ignored their children, too busy with their own lives to even care enough to stay with the mother and raise the child. For Mark it was the opposite. He had been the responsible one. A large sense of respect bubbled up inside her as she stared at his profile, trying to figure out how he could be so selfless as to give up his life to raise his daughter alone. What was his past like? Her curiosity was driving her nuts. Maybe she’d be able to get some more facts out of him during their dinner.
Their dinner. It was so weird to be going out to dinner with a man she barely knew. Was this considered a date? She hadn’t been out on any dates…ever. There hadn’t been any guys who were willing to ask her out back home. They all didn’t like her because she was the brainiac. The nerd. She didn’t wear short skirts or sell herself out easily. No. She was too hard to get anything out of. All they wanted was a girl on her back, and apparently Jean didn’t give of the vibe that she’d lie down so easily. So they’d steered clear of her and headed for the easy girls instead. Not that she was upset about that. She would have rejected them if they asked her. They’d all been awful guys anyway. What was the point of going out with a guy and losing her virginity to someone she didn’t even care about?
They finally pulled into the pizza restaurant parking lot. She sighed when he quickly shut off the car and got out. Coldness surrounded her when he left her sitting in there. So instead of being an idiot and sitting there any longer, she got out and closed the door. Walking around the front of the car, she smiled as he brought his sleepy daughter out of her car seat. She was practically falling asleep again on his shoulder. Jean stepped closer and ran her fingers adoringly across her soft little cheek. “Come on sweet thing,” she cooed. “Wakey, wakey. We’re going to get something yummy for your little tummy.”
She laughed when Ava let out a little yawn. That’s when Jean realized how close she’d been standing to Mark. She looked up at him in surprise before taking a step back. Muttering her apologies, she led the way into the restaurant, trying hard not to think about the warmth that had seeped through her when he was so close. She hadn’t even touched him and she was getting heated.
The pizzeria was a very nice place. Very cozy feeling with warm colors and little tables and booths made for families. There were a few people already sitting down and eating. Children were laughing with their parents and couples were sitting close together everywhere she looked. Jean swallowed visibly. It was difficult to see everyone so happy doing what she wanted to do. Luckily the hostess noticed them and came forward. “Welcome,” she said happily. “How many in your party?”
“Three,” Jean answered with a smile, turning to look at Mark and Ava. It felt good to say that for some reason.
The woman nodded before leading them towards a booth in a private corner of the restaurant. Jean thanked her before sitting down. The hostess was about to leave but Jean stopped her by speaking up. “Sorry but could we get a high chair too?” She nodded before going off to find a chair for Ava.
Jean sighed before smiling at Mark. “This is a nice place,” she mused.
Mark Conner - August 6, 2011 04:11 AM (GMT)
Mark couldn’t believe he was trying to be funny right now. But other than feeling the need to smack himself in the face to make sure he was still actually awake and not dreaming, he really felt good. It felt natural in some way and just seeing Jean smile made acting like an idiot worth it. Why he felt like that he didn’t know but the two of them sitting there thinking over some perfect house and family in some alternate reality made the feeling that much more noticeable. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Ava was still the most important lady in his life which was probably obvious by the way he just left the car to care for his daughter instead of having all his attention on Jean. It was kind of hard to play the gentleman and open car doors with a baby in his arms, or at least that’s what Mark thought.
With a very tired and still sleep Ava cuddled up in his arms, he was more than surprised when Jean approached and lifted a hand to his daughter’s cheek, offering comforting words to which the infant lifted her head. A yawn another sniffle and with wobbly head that seemed to heavy with sleep for her to hold up on her own, she whimpered, shoved one hand into her mouth and reached the other forward towards the strange woman she’d only met earlier today in an almost clingy way. Large palm rubbing against the little girl’s back in an effort to wake her up, fingers curled up in his shirt, Mark bopped Ava on the nose with a grin. “Hey there, sleeping beauty. Ready for some nummies?” With a smile, she nuzzled her face into his neck acting all shy and Mark just glanced over at Jean, coming to find she was standing right there by his side.
Mark’s grin widened at first, though soon turned into a more bashful smirk when he caught her gaze once more. It was then he really got a good look at her; bright green eyes, perfectly flawless skin, the slight pink hue to her rather soft looking lips, and that shade of red hair. He was probably staring, though he wasn’t really aware until she muttered an apology and stepped away. It was with a frown as she led the way towards the doors of the restaurant that he followed like a puppy and reached a hand forward, resting it on the small of her back as is to say it was all ok. The tingling in his fingertips at the touch was a whole new sensation with which he eventually pulled away hoping it wasn’t stepping over a line and instead, pulling Ava a little higher up against his chest.
A cool breeze rushed over him as he entered the building, much different from the heat of the sun outside, for which he was thankful for and it seemed to wake Ava up a little too. It was a family friendly place, this little pizza shop, and oddly he didn’t feel out of place entering the atmosphere with Jean and his little girl. With hostess seating them after Jean let her know there were three of them total, he grinned back and carefully squeezed into the booth they were led to, keeping his daughter on his lap. That was normally how they had lunch where they went out, with Ava either on his lap or the seat next to him but he had to offer a wide smile when Jean requested a high chair.
Spinning Ava around so her back was against his chest, Mark pulled her hand out of her mouth with a sigh. “Hey, don’t chew on your fingers,” he said softly, telling her ‘no’ when she simply tried to put her fingers back in her mouth again. She gave her father a defiant look before seeming as if she finally noticed Jean and grinned with bright eyes, babbling on to the woman like she was telling Jean a very important story, startling when interrupted by an approaching waitress. “Can I get you all something to drink?”
Jean Turner - August 6, 2011 06:47 PM (GMT)
He’d touched her. He’d touched her! Jean couldn’t get that one sentence out of her mind. She could still feel the weight of his hand on her back as if he were still doing it. The heat of his palm seemed to seep through her clothes and burn the skin of her back. She knew it was just a gesture that gentleman did. Right? He was just making sure she didn’t trip or fall as they walked into the restaurant. He’d seen her clumsiness first hand when she ran her bike into a tree, so maybe he was scared she’d trip over her own feet or something. Yeah, that was it.
When they were finally seated, Jean couldn’t help but laugh when Ava continually stuck her hand in her mouth to chew on her fingers. Her father chastised her, pulling her hand away only to have Ava stick it back in her mouth again. The little sprite could be a right devil apparently. Jean suddenly wondered what she’d be like as a teenager. Stubborn and a rebel was what Jean saw and couldn’t help but feel bad for Mark knowing that he’d have to deal with her tantrums about her dramatic teenage life when she reached that stage. Oh boy. He was in for a heap of trouble in the near future.
Speaking of teenagers, their waitress appeared to ask for their drink choices. She was a very stereotypical teenager, with blonde pigtails and some chewing gum in her mouth. She looked quite bored until she saw Ava sitting in Mark’s lap.
“Oh my God!” she squealed, getting closer to the little girl. “You guys have the cutest little daughter! What’s her name?”
Jean opened her mouth to contradict the girl. Oh no, this wasn’t her daughter. She’d actually just met them after crashing her bike into a tree and then getting a ride off of the little girl’s father. However, when she looked down and caught Ava’s big brown eyes with hers, she couldn’t contradict her. It was like the baby was begging her to say she was her mom. Of course that was stupid, but Jean couldn’t help but see what she wanted to see.
So instead of saying any of that, she ignored what the girl had said. “Her name’s Ava,” she said with a smile. “And yes, she’s very cute.” Jean cooed to the toddler, brushing her hair back from her face again before looking up at the waitress. “I’ll just have a water, thanks.”
The girl nodded, her pigtails bouncing. “Water, sure,” she said. “And I can get her a cookie, if she wants it. She likes cookies, right?”
Jean nodded. “I’m sure she’d love that,” she said.
The waitress nodded before turning to Mark. “And what kind of drink can I get you?”
Mark Conner - August 7, 2011 04:58 AM (GMT)
Ava could be a right brat when she wanted to be and Mark was sure she already knew how spoiled she was. He’d let her get away with just about anything that would make her happy but it seemed right now she was showing off her stubborn streak and more than anything he just wished she would behave. Really he feared more her making him look like some horrible dad who couldn’t control his child than he choking on her fingers but every time he pulled her hand away and told her no, she only defiantly brought her hand to her mouth again, making him sigh. He didn’t want to imagine her as a teenager or even a few years from now and could only hope finding a mother figure and having a woman in her life would straighten her out. The only real problem there was finding one, which suddenly he wasn’t as obsessed with as he previously was when he looked across the table to find Jean smiling back at the little girl.
“Lookie here, Ava, let’s play with these,” he voiced, trying to distract her into doing something else with her hands by offering the infant some sugar packets to play with. They were crinkly and colorful and seemed like just the right thing to keep her attention or so he hoped as he spread them out on the table top in front of her. Pudgy hands reached forward to grab a packet which left a grin on his face. “That’s a blue one,” he told his daughter as she lifted it closer as if inspecting the colored paper. “Can you say blue?” A raspberry was what he was rewarded with as baby girl grinned a toothy smile and tossed the sugar packet back on the table. Oh well, he tried and that’s all that mattered. Turning his attention to the young waitress, he held onto Ava a little tighter as she banged on the table in Jean direction, trying to catch her attention.
Wide eyed when the young teenager approached, speaking something about the cutest little daughter, he nodded not thinking for a moment that she was including Jean in the picture. He got it a lot when he was alone but was left speechless for a moment when Jean looked over and spoke up. He felt like an idiot, but was surprised she wasn’t correcting the waitress and instead just answering the question. Ava perked up hearing her name, but Mark was frozen to the point of just listening how Jean agreed with how cute the baby was and eventually reaching over to brush the soft hair from Ava’s eyes. The babe cooed, grabbing at Jean’s hand, and he completely missed what was said about a cookie, too enamored with watching this woman interact with his daughter and through his daughter, him.
“Just a water,” he answered the young waitress briefly and as she retreated he let out a breath he wasn’t sure he’d been holding. “God, I’m so sorry about that,” he apologized, repositioning Ava on his lap with a shake of his head. He hoped it wasn’t too awkward for her but yet was still curious as to why she played along taking on this motherly role. Maybe he would never know but he couldn’t help but hope that she felt like she fit in sitting there on the other side of the table. Ava was still trying to catch Jean’s attention but having all else failed she did the only other thing she knew how and that was to raise a fist in the air with a pout and teary eyes, laying her head against Mark’s chest. “I hate it when people just assume things.” It wasn’t as if he didn’t feel bad enough about Ava not having a mom. Someone finally brought a high chair over, placing it between the two adults, and Mark transferred the infant carefully into her own seat, placing a pile of sugar packets in front of her to keep her happy.
Jean Turner - August 7, 2011 10:27 PM (GMT)
Jean was close to being shocked when Mark didn’t correct her or at least tell the waitress there was no way that Jean was the toddler’s mother. Why hadn’t he spoken up? Was there some part of him that actually wanted her to be a mother to Ava? She didn’t know but she sure did want to know. He hadn’t said anything to the waitress but he had apologized to Jean. It was as if he was worried she might take it all the wrong way.
“It’s all right,” she said to him with a smile. “She was talking way too fast for any of us to keep up anyway.” She laughed lightly.
Watching Ava bang her little fists on the table caught Jean’s attention. Her bottom lip was wobbling, a sure sign that a tantrum was going to follow. When Mark seated her in the high chair between them, Jean tried her best to calm the little toddler down. She hushed her, and ran her fingers across the baby’s soft cheek. “No more pouting,” she told her sternly. “Let’s see a smile, huh?”
Ava stared at her with watery eyes before sniffing loudly and giggling lightly. Jean smiled. “There you go,” she said. She picked up the sugar packets and waved it in front of the baby’s face. Ava took an immediate liking to the packets, and started chewing on one. Jean touched the toddler’s nose once before turning to look at Mark again.
“So how long have you two been in town?” she asked, leaning her chin on her hand. “I imagine it can’t be that long. Or have I guessed wrong?”
She grinned at him before the waitress returned with their waters. Jean thanked her and took a small sip of her water as the girl brought out her notepad to take down their order. “Umm,” Jean said, looking at Mark again. ”Is there something specific you want? Good old pepperoni is my favorite but I’m not sure what you or Ava would prefer.”
Mark Conner - August 8, 2011 02:04 AM (GMT)
So he didn’t stop her; didn’t correct the waitress as she babbled on but then again why would he? It was none of her business honestly, and so what if Jean wasn’t Ava’s mother. So what if she was. In some sense he supposed he was trying to rationalize his actions, or lack thereof, when it came to the conversation but he didn’t see anything wrong with how he handled it. At Jean’s voice, which was becoming a distinctly familiar and welcomed sound, Mark couldn’t help but smile and nod as well. “Yes, kids these days,” he voiced meeting her gaze for a moment before lowering his eyes. Her laughter made his grin again and for a split second he completely forgot they were strangers waiting on some pizza having not known each other more than twenty minutes.
Ava was settled in the high chair and he softly chuckled at the way Jean reprimanded her for her pouting but the toddler was soon happy enough with someone paying her attention to offer a childish giggle. Entertained with sugar packets, Mark felt comfortable enough to dive right into conversation knowing the infant wouldn’t be throwing any temper tantrums anytime soon. “We’ve been here about two month’s now.” he answered with a nod indicating she was indeed correct at her own assumption. “Have you been here long? It seems I come and go from Evergreen, just can’t seem to find a reason to keep me here.” Because, obviously, the Vow had done a shitty job in finding him his soul mate, which had an idea popping into his head that frightened him. “Are you here for the Vow?” he asked, brows raised in curiosity and gaze almost immediately dropping to her ring finger. She wasn’t married already was she? Or engaged? On no, had she already received her letter and was awaiting contact from the man of her dreams?
The idea not only concerned him, it left him oddly depressed in a very odd way. Was he in too deep already? Certainly being friends wasn’t horribly bad but what if it came to the point where he wanted more, what if she wanted more? What if Ava got too attached and then Jean just disappeared one day and left them alone like Jamie had? Worry filled him, broken by the sound of a new voice, the returning waitress and with a shrug he pondered a moment. “Pepperoni sounds great. A large one, we can split it?” he voiced, hoping that was good enough. He fully intended on paying for it, it was his idea after all. With order placed at Jean’s agreement, it was a sour wide eyed look on Ava’s face that caught his attention and left him heaving out a deep sigh. “You goofy girl,” he muttered, pulled pieces of paper out of her mouth from the sugar packet she apparently had eaten or at least attempted to. Lifting his glass of water up to her lips, he gave her a sip and then instead offered his daughter his car keys to play with. “You get in so much trouble little one.”
Jean Turner - August 10, 2011 01:30 AM (GMT)
When Mark said that he came and went from Evergreen, Jean got very curious. What kept him away from such a storybook-like town? Everything seemed perfect, especially if you were raising a child. But there was something that kept him away from it all. He had already said he wasn’t married so there was no woman here to keep him in the town (why did she let out a breath of relief at that thought?) so did he leave with Ava continually because he was lonely? Had some women hurt him? Her heart sank in sympathy for him. How could anyone just turn their back on him and Ava? She’d never known anyone she wanted to spend so much time with. And that was a distressing thought…
She shook her head. “I haven’t been here very long,” she said with a smile. “Maybe a week or two at the most. It’s just all so much to take in, you know?” Her smile faded when he mentioned the Vow. Tucking her hair behind her ear she looked away from him. “Yeah,” she said quietly before heaving a large sigh. “I’m here for the Vow thing. It all seemed like a good idea when I was signing up for it but…” Jean stopped herself and shook her head before she said something stupid. Something like, ‘I wish I could get out of it to stay with you.’ She’d just met him, for God’s sake! She had to learn that he wasn’t the only man in the whole town! Taking a deep breath she pasted a smile on her face and looked at him again. “Heard nothing from it yet. Guess they’re still in the process.” She shrugged.
Jean was grinning when he asked if it were all right for them to share a pizza. She nodded enthusiastically, loving that he wanted to share anything with her. Just thinking about sharing things with him and Ava made her heart do flip-flops in her chest. It was an amazing and addicting feeling. She’d never felt something like it. Only Mark and little Ava had brought those emotions to the surface from within her. She’d always thought this much happiness had completely drained from her body. Meeting him gave her hope again that maybe there truly was light on the other end of the tunnel. If only she could catch it…
As Mark fussed over his daughter, Jean couldn’t help but admire the two of them. Resting her chin on her hand, she watched intently as he let the toddler drink from her water before giving her his keys to keep her happy. He seemed so much more mature with children than she was. Of course, he’d lived and cared for Ava for quite some time so his parental side must have kicked in long ago. Jean was hoping she could get her motherly side to come out a play more. This was the closest she’d ever been to a child. “I love the way you two interact,” she blurted out, turning pink. “I mean…I’ve never really been around kids and being a parents seemed so easy from afar. Now I see it’s so much harder than TV and movies make it out to be.”
Mark Conner - August 10, 2011 02:17 AM (GMT)
Nodding as he heard Jean hadn’t been really been there that long, Mark had to give a little smile. It wasn’t that uncommon, new people were pouring into this town everyday it seemed, but it honestly made him happy. For nothing other than the fact that maybe he could show her around sometime and that obviously meant they would see each other again which made his heart beat a little faster. “Yeah it’s a lot to take in but everything will settle down. It’s a nice town really. I uh, I’d . . . well I’d love to show you around sometime,” well that was a lot harder to say than he thought it would be. “That is, if you need a tour guide.” He certainly didn’t want her to feel pressured into letting him drive her around and point out what she was capable of finding out herself.
Mark just barely noticed that her smile faded when the topic of that Vow was brought up. He knew his own smile faded but he wasn’t really ready to admit why. Being in the Vow meant that, inevitably, she would matched to be married to someone else, someone that wasn’t him, which irked him in an odd way. Hell he didn’t even know the woman but yet he could tell she was a very special lady, one he really wanted to spend more time with but yet he was scared to get his hopes up. Still Mark couldn’t help but notice the way she kind of trialed off and his attention rose to her face in a curious manner. “But what . . .” he question, feeling out of line for even asking but he really wanted to know. “Sometimes it takes awhile for them to find the right person,” he added not wanting her to feel like she lacked something because she hadn’t heard from the company yet. “Then again, I’ve been matched through them quite a few times and it never works out.” Honestly, he really had nothing good to say about them. By the way she shrugged though, it seemed like Jean really didn’t care too much either.
Taking time to ponder what was really going on; the sharing of a pizza, paying for a meal, her playing with his daughter, was this actually a date? Mark didn’t know but if it was, he was enjoying it so far. Even if it would be a little better to get to know Jean without Ava around, seeing as she was sometimes a little hard to handle, he felt the evening was going as good as it possibly could. Ava took a liking to Jean and by the way the woman watched his little girl, he figured she kind of took a liking to the infant as well. Which was brought to his attention when her voice broke the silence and he let out a big grin, chuckling as he cheeks turned pink. “Well thank you,” he said holding her gazing before looking down at the table. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be but I wouldn’t trade her for the world. It’s like, when you first meet them, hold them for the first time, you just . . . you’re not important anymore. They’re everything and I’m ok with that.” Dumb explanation but that was best he could to with words.
Silence enveloped them, not awkward by any means only broken by Ava’s babbling and that smacking of metal keys against the wooden table. She’d taken Mark’s finger for a moment and bored with the prospect, released it, before turning her attention back to the woman. Dropping keys to the table, she slid them Jean’s direction with a playful toothy grin and bright eyes watching intently for a reaction. “A-bubba bub,” she mumbled as if explaining. Pizza was soon delivered and placed in the middle of the table and Mark was quick to scoot the high chair back a little so the grabby baby wouldn’t get her tiny fingers burned.
Jean Turner - August 11, 2011 12:18 AM (GMT)
Jean couldn’t control the smile that burst across her face. Her cheeks actually hurt, she was grinning so much. When he mentioned that he’d be willing to show her around the town, Jean felt her heart thump faster in her chest and the butterflies return to her stomach. He actually wanted to show her around! Just thinking about the two of them walking around town together made her almost vibrate with excitement. She felt like a teenage girl who was being asked out by her biggest crush in the school. She’d never been so excited about something, not even when she was little and getting her birthday presents.
“I’d love for you to be my tour guide,” she blurted out a little too exuberantly. She quieted her voice her cheeks still pink. “I mean, that’s cool. I wouldn’t mind being shown around. It would make it easier to get used to the town if I knew it a little better.” As she thought about being shown around she remembered her totaled bike. Rubbing her forehead lightly she shook her head. “Plus I’ll need to find some new form of transportation. Do you know if they have any places they sell bikes around here or something?” She laughed lightly.
She listened to Mark talk about the Vow and his trouble with the program. He seemed to have a grudge that he held against them. Perhaps they had wronged him in some way. Or more likely, the people who he had been matched with had wronged him. She felt awful for him and still wondered how anyone could say no to both him and his daughter. She was already so enamored with them. Maybe these women he had been matched with just weren’t willing to stay with a man who already had a child? But Ava was just so sweet. Jean would never be able to say no to the little toddler.
As Mark explained his feelings for his daughter, Jean couldn’t help but admire him even more. He was so attached to her and it was obvious he loved her very much. She could just see him holding her for the first time. His brown eyes would have just lit up with happiness and maybe even a slight bit of fear for what lay ahead. What had he been thinking at that moment when he had his newborn daughter in his hands? Maybe Jean would ask him sometime, but she knew that this was not the time. Maybe she’d ask him when they were alone, without the little toddler’s ears within hearing range. Instead of saying anything, she just nodded wishing that she had the courage to reach over and touch his hand or offer him some sort of comfort for all the hardships he’d been through with his daughter and women. But she didn’t because she was afraid of his reaction.
Jean’s attention was brought back to the baby when she gurgled lightly in her direction and pushed Mark’s keys toward her. Jean smiled and touched the toddler’s nose with her fingertip. “Why thank you,” she laughed.
The pizza soon arrived and Jean grinned when Ava reached for the hot food. Being the protective father he was, Mark pushed her grabby fingers away so as not burn her. Jean thought she’d help him out. Picking a small piece of pepperoni off the pizza, she split it in half and blew lightly on it to cool. After making sure it was safe, Jean moved her hand towards the toddler mouth. “Yum, yum,” she mumbled as Ava opened her mouth. “Mmm…that’s good, huh?” The toddler giggled and chewed on the piece of pepperoni happily. A little drop of salvia dripped down the little girl’s chin as she chewed. Jean quickly pulled out a tissue from the dispenser on the table and wiped it away. “There we go,” she said with an affectionate smile.
Taking her own piece of pizza from the plate, she took a large bite. It tasted amazing. She moaned at the taste, laughing after she swallowed. “You were right,” she said to him. “This pizza is awesome.”
Mark Conner - August 11, 2011 03:08 AM (GMT)
Mark was taken by surprise at her quick reaction to his offer. She was grinning and nodded and looking so beautiful as the light filtered through the blinds nearby by on her face, highlighting the red in her hair and the pink in her cheeks. He laughed light heartedly and nodded as a genuine smile settled on his face, reaching a hand out to the woman before him. “Alright it’s a deal,” he voiced, shaking her hand more so just to feel her skin against his than for the sake of securing some verbal agreement. At the mention of needing a new form of transportation, Mark couldn’t help but frown a little. “Yeah, I’m really sorry about your bike,” he apologized even though it wasn’t his fault. “There’s Wal-Mart, though I’m not sure how great a quality ride you’ll get there. The outdoors place might have some nice bikes.” With a thoughtful look on his face, he was quiet a moment before pondering his own question. “You don’t have a car?” he asked quietly.
Conversation was easy to make with such a pretty lady and honestly, Jean was really easy to talk to. She listened and seemed to really care about what he had to say, seemed interested in his life stories, which was a little bit confusing seeing as how they were strangers. Still Mark wasn’t going to complain or question what was going on between them because he didn’t want it to change. He liked this. Maybe he’d just met her but he wanted to do this again, wanted to talk to her again, just be around her. It had been so long, he was coming to realize maybe he craved this; human contact, speaking with someone who could actually speak back, looking at a beautiful woman, sharing his life and home and family, his body with a gorgeous lady. God it seemed like forever, just to hold someone close. . .
And he was getting a little ahead of himself, obviously. Thoughts wondered on to visions of a future he’d had before except now it was Jean he was there with him. Which didn’t surprised him until he looked up to see her sitting there before him and a bashful look crept across his face. Yeah . . . maybe he just needed to chill out and sleep on it because chances were that she wanted nothing to do with him in that way. Even if they did spend more time together, he just wasn’t worthy of that kind of life. He was used and he knew that and on top of that he had a young daughter that needed raising who was more trouble than she was worth. Eyes looked over, searching her own for the briefest of moments before he grinned again and leaned back in the chair. Leg brushed against hers under the table, unintentionally of course, and instantly his cheeks brightened at the contact, turning to Ava for a distraction.
Jean was just so good with her and the infant giggled with glee at being touched on the tip of her nose. She squealed with laughter at the attention and though Mark didn’t feel so hot about her liking someone other than him, he would definitely admit that contact with other being was good for her. She needed that and it was the one big thing lacking in her life so far just because he had been so solitary. Every time he got attached to someone they always hurt him. “Oh ho, pepperoni is her favorite,” Mark ventured to say when Jean offered the piece of meat. Anything to keep the baby occupied was a good thing and apparently she was hungry. Feeling horrible when he daughter started drooling, he watched wide eyed as Jean cleaned the girls face up and even with a smile.
Placing his own piece of pizza on his plate, he took a bite followed by a drink of water to wash down the heat, and grinned. “Well I told you it was good. Best pizza around town I’d say,” he said with a grin, wiping fingertips on his napkin. Peeling more pepperoni off the pizza, he set a few piece on a plate and pushed it in front of Ava getting a loud coo of appreciation in return as she reached out for the plate and drug it closer. Mark laughed, shaking his head and shifted in his seat, glancing upwards to meet those green eyes. “So what do you do Jean?”
Jean Turner - August 12, 2011 01:58 AM (GMT)
Jean smiled at Mark when he asked her if she had a car. She laughed. “Oh God no,” she said. “I couldn’t even afford a dumpy car! My bank account is close to empty at the moment, especially after a paid all that money for the Vow thing.” She shrugged.
When he mentioned Evergreen having a Wal-Mart, Jean couldn’t help but be surprised. “Wow,” she said with a frown. “I never would have thought of this little, tiny town having a big place like Wally World. I guess I’ll have to head over there to get some cheap stuff.” She looked down at her old t-shirt she was wearing. She’d had it since she was about twelve-years-old and it was surprising that it still fit. But of course it was beyond repair. There was a hole in the bottom and the sleeves had a bunch of strings hanging off them. Yeah, she’d need to head over there sometime and buy herself a whole new wardrobe. When she got a job, that is.
Jean found herself talking to him as if they’d known each other forever. She felt completely comfortable with him. Maybe even…safe? But she had to remember her grandmother’s words. Don’t trust strangers, she’d said, and here Jean was eating dinner with some random man that she’d just met. But no matter how many times Jean told herself that, she couldn’t help but think he wasn’t just some random man. He was…he was what? Handsome? Kind? Beautiful? Amazing? God, she was being an idiot. She needed to wake up and smell the coffee. He was just some guy that she’d met, nothing more would come of it.
And then his thigh brushed against hers. She felt like simple touch all the way down to her toes. She actually had to fight to keep still and not vibrate with excitement. It was an accidental touch. It wasn’t like he wanted to touch her! God, Jean get over yourself! Although she managed to control her body from moving, she couldn’t control the pink that came across her cheeks, matching his. She wondered why his were brightened like hers, but she didn’t get to study him as he turned to his daughter.
She watched as Mark interacted with his daughter again, placing a plate of pepperoni in front of her, which she gladly started to gobble down. Then he asked her about what she did. She bit her lip and played with the drops dripping down the side of her water glass. “Well…” she started out slowly, feeling a little embarrassed. “I was a full time waitress at a diner in Pittsburgh for a bit before I moved here…but now.” She frowned. “I’m trying to find a job here in town. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll hire me so I can start saving up for that car.” She laughed without humor before looking up at him with her pink cheeks. “I…um…I don’t really have an actual career. Need a university education to have one of those…” She looked away as she remembered her true reason for joining the Vow. She felt even guiltier now, especially as she looked at Mark.
Sighing loudly, she put on a smile and looked over at him. “So,” she said. “I’ll turn the question around on you. What do you do, Mark?”
Mark Conner - August 12, 2011 03:28 AM (GMT)
Although she smiled while talking, Mark couldn’t help but feel bad for Jean, and even more so feel the overwhelming desire to help her out somehow. Not that he had much room to talk, he certainly wasn’t loaded and was probably pretty damn close to just scraping by himself. He just chose to not pay too much attention to that. What happened happened and he would deal with it when it came around. “Oh,” he voiced in a sound as if he was seriously thinking hard about the situation. The Vow did charge quite a bit for their services, but to pay for that instead of having a car? It seemed strange to him, but then he needed to car with the baby and all. Instead of dwelling on the fact that Jean was part of the Vow’s shenanigans, for which he still felt a little upset about, he opted to vocalize his thoughts on the whole car thing. “Well, if you ever need a ride anywhere just let me know. I mean . . .it’s not like I go too many places, most the time I’m home with Ava so you’re more than welcome to use my car, if you need to that is.” Was that too much to offer too soon? For a friend it seemed ok, but it was a weird offer when at this point if she said she needed a place to say, he would have jumped at the opportunity to have her stay with him.
Grinning, bobbing his head slightly, Mark chuckled, shoving another bite of pizza into his mouth. Chewing and swallowing before talking anymore, an act that seemed very comfortable with Jean now, he had to agree it was a little strange they actually had a Wal-Mart in Evergreen but people had to buy stuff somewhere. “Yeah, we can stop there when I give you the formal tour,” he half teased with a smile unaware he really just included himself in shopping with the woman. “Most people try and support the local business but sometimes you just compete with a place like Wally World, you know?” Watching closely as Jean lowered her eyes to view her own clothing, he frowned once again wondering idly if she was really that short of money. Did she not have a job? Not have the money? His curiosity was what prompted him to ask but already he was trying once more to think of a way to help.
Why did he even care? It was a question pressing itself in his mind more and more often as they sat together having lunch. She was a stranger, and he knew nothing about her. But she was so nice and caring and was definitely a beautiful woman. Mark would be lying if he said he wasn’t the slightest bit attracted to her but what won him over was simply the way she acted around his daughter. It was just what he needed; someone to be a mother figure for her and Jean really had the potential to be just that and so much more, he suddenly realized as his leg brushed against hers under the table and that cute pink hue spread into her cheeks. Tending to Ava, he listened intently to Jean’s words and met her eyes once the baby was settled down with her pepperoni. “I’m sure someone around here will hire you. They’re always looking for help around town. Plus you’re great, why wouldn’t you be able to get a job?” It wasn’t until after a few moments that his words replayed in his mind and he lowered his head. Yeah, real smooth.
Searching for a change of subject, he latched onto the topic of a university education and was surprised to find they had that in common. “Oh I know how that goes. I had to drop out when Ava was born,” he muttered handing his daughter the crust of the slice of pizza he was eating to chew on. Glancing at the pan, he found they must have been talking more than eating because there was quite a bit left and it was probably getting cold. “Well right now I work for a construction company but I tend to bounce back and forth. Right now I’m doing carpentry work just because that’s the job I could get.” With a shrug he brushed it off. It wasn’t his dream job but it paid pretty well and the hours weren’t terrible. He always wanted to do something with his hands, he just wished he could be more successful if for nothing else than to show his daughter he was a good father. “If you’re ever looking for something to do though Ava needs watching when I go to work, if you’d be interested?” Honestly at this point he felt more comfortable leaving he with Jean than dropping her off at some day care.
Jean Turner - August 13, 2011 01:55 AM (GMT)
Jean almost spit out her drink of water when he offered to let her use his car. He’d actually allow her to do that? This man’s generosity knew no bounds, apparently. She could already see that he wasn’t a taker kind of person…unlike her. She had to keep reminding herself why she was in Evergreen. Rich man, marriage and college paid for. She had to think about those things. It made her a complete user and taker, but she had to do it…right? Yes. She wouldn’t be able to reach her dreams of a higher education if she didn’t have a rich husband to pay for her tuition. No matter how amazing Mark was to her, she had to keep her thoughts on her plan. She was supposed to be a gold-digger and Mark himself had admitted he was no rich man. Rich in heart maybe…stop it, Jean!
She smiled at him. “Thanks for the offer,” she said. “But I think it’d be better if you would take me places…” She stopped herself, her eyes growing wide at her words. “I mean…I feel like it would be better if you were there to make sure the car didn’t get damaged and…whatever…not that you have to and…yeah…” Pursing her lips she sighed and shook her head, trying hard to forget about how much of an idiot she was.
She was getting all ready to lay him off when he told her she was great. The compliment shouldn’t have affected her as it did. It wasn’t like he was telling her she was beautiful or amazing or sexy. It was just…’great’. But for some reason it made her heart flutter in her chest. He thought she was great. Mark thought she was great! She resisted the urge to squeal loudly like a teenage girl. Instead she grinned widely while hiding her smile behind her hand. He just made her so giddy! It was such a refreshing feeling and she knew she’d miss it when they inevitably parted ways…
“Thanks,” she whispered, still giddy.
Jean felt awful when he told her about his job trouble. Like she’d determined before, Mark had had to drop out of college to tend to his daughter. He’d given up a great future for him to take care of her. Her heart warmed at the thought. He really was a generous man. He was just so different from the men in her past. Most of them had been drunken bums with drug addictions and no plans of getting an education past high school. Most had dropped out before they even graduated twelfth grade to head into factory jobs. How depressing. And here Mark was, giving up his education not for drugs or booze but for his little girl. God, he really was amazing.
He suddenly mentioned giving Ava to Jean to look after while he was at work. The red head’s eyes widened at the thought. So he trusted her with his car and now he trusted her with his daughter? She felt so…flattered. He was actually going to trust her to look after the toddler after only knowing her for a short amount of time. As she looked at Ava ripping the pieces of pepperoni to shreds before stuffing them in her mouth, Jean felt her heart warm for both of them. She couldn’t think of what kind of day would be better to her than spending it with the little toddler. Well maybe…spending a day with Mark…She grinned at him. “I would love to watch her for you,” she said. “We’ll have so much fun!” She brushed the baby’s nose with her fingertip again before looking up at him. “But I warn you, I might find myself a job somewhere in town…but whenever I’m off I would love to watch over her.”
Jean went back to eating her pizza. After finishing one, she dived forward for another piece. As she ate, her curiosity bit at her again. “If you don’t mind me asking,” she said quietly. “What were you studying in university before you had to…you know…leave?”
Mark Conner - August 13, 2011 04:08 AM (GMT)
So maybe it made no sense for him to be offering her all these things when they were strangers. But Mark couldn’t help but think in his mind how nice it felt to give to someone else, to share time and space with another person, to care for and love and protect. It was the one thing he was good at and he missed coming home to someone who cared for him to and who could actually say his name. He needed the companionship and talking to Jean made his realize that he needed another person in his life. Finally he was ready to try having a real family again and the only problem was that he didn’t want to go back to the Vow. The last thing he wanted was to rely on another person to find someone to love and be let down like so many times before. Maybe though, if it was meant to be, he wouldn’t have to.
Jean responded to his offer and for a long moment he honestly thought she was just going to turn him down. A certain fear settled in the pit of his stomach that maybe he was just laying it on too strong and she was going to high tail it out of here. Mark couldn’t help but grin though as she babbled on with wide eyes. A chuckle and he nodded confused for once in wondering if they were flirting a little bit here. “No problem. I’d love to take you places,” he voiced hoping that really didn’t sound too cheesy. He was just happy to find she wasn’t the kind of woman to take advantage, not that she seemed the type, but she could have just said yes and stole his ride or something. But no, she wasn’t like that. Jean was sweet and gorgeous and had this innocent quality to her; he just wanted to get to know her, hold her hand, make her laugh. Was that so horrible?
Just complimenting her seemed to work by the way she whispered her thanks with that little smile and glint in her eyes that verged on sexy in his mind. Then again his mind hadn’t been entertained by such sexy thoughts in a very long time. “You’re welcome,” he whispered back in a soft and gentle way, his heart beating a little faster as he carefully reached over to touch her hand; giving it a squeeze, the touch itself causing his stomach to flutter and his palm to tingle. Still a warm smile was on his face that reached all the way into his warm brown eyes. With the moment passed, he gazed over the check on Ava and then met Jean’s eyes for a moment before reaching for another slice of pizza. His grin returned when the woman said how much she’d love to watch Ava for him and quiet honestly he couldn’t wait. “No, I understand. Just let me know when you have a day off and we could get together or something.” The intention might have been to find a babysitter he could trust for his daughter, but maybe in this situation Mark was just looking forward to seeing Jean again.
With infant chewing on her crust of bread, slobbering and drooling as any toddler just shy of a year old would, he put more of his attention on his own meal. Bite after bite of warm tasty homemade pizza and washing it down with ice cold water, Mark raised his head to look at Jean again, shaking his head slightly. “Don’t mind at all.” More than anything he didn’t mind answering her questions, in fact, he was really enjoying it. “Um, well I wanted to go into electrical engineering,” he started. “Ava’s mom, she was in nursing, we met in high school. She thought I should have gone into something more productive but even she chose school over raising a baby.” A roll of his eyes showed his displeasure for the woman but why he even felt the need to tell or explain to Jean, he had no clue. “What about you? What do you want to go to school for?” he asked, genuinely interested.
Jean Turner - August 13, 2011 09:19 PM (GMT)
He’d touched her. He’d actually, truly touched her. When Mark’s hand moved over to squeeze Jean’s, she almost jumped into his lap she was so happy. She couldn’t believe that he’d reached over to take her hand in his. She was surprised that her palms didn’t start sweating. So…did this mean he liked her? It couldn’t mean that…right? Maybe he just wanted to be friendly and extend the hand of friendship rather than anything else. Perhaps he wanted her to know she wasn’t alone in town and that if she needed someone’s help he’d be there…for friend stuff, of course. Yeah. That was it. He just wanted to be nice and help her out one friend to another.
When he let go of her hand, she moved it to tuck the hair behind her ear again. Jean swore she could feel tingling where their skin had touched. Smiling at him, she tried to act like it was no big deal. Maybe ignoring it was the best course of action. Just act like nothing happened and everything would be fine.
She was just accepting that his touch meant nothing when he mentioned getting together sometime. Her heart thumped faster when she looked up into his soft brown eyes. God, he had such beautiful eyes. She could literally get lost in the them or stare into them all day and night. Either way she didn’t mind. She swallowed heavily and smiled again. “That’d be great,” she answered. “I’d love to…you know…get together sometime or whatever.” Okay, so that sounded really stupid but she couldn’t think of any other way to say it. She wanted to sound flirty but still subtle in her words. Whether he understood what she meant, she’d have to find out. Of course her red cheeks gave away everything she was thinking. She wasn’t very good at hiding her emotions, unfortunately.
Leaning her chin on her hand again, she listened as he told her about what he’d gone to school for and more about Ava’s mother. As she listened to what her mother had done, Jean realized something. Would she have given up a baby to go to school? It was a jarring thought and made her think for a moment. She shouldn’t have given it any thought but…would she have done it? Raising a baby alone was one thing but she had had Mark who was willing to be a father. That should have made it easier on her…shouldn’t it have? Maybe if they had both been together they could have gone to school and still raised Ava. Jean decided that’s what she would have done…but it never really worked that way, did it? Perhaps Ava’s mother decided she didn’t love Mark enough to stay with him. Jean couldn’t understand that. Who wouldn’t love Mark?
“Electrical engineer!” she exclaimed. “Wow! That’s…something. That would have taken a lot of time and energy. I’m guessing math and science would be big parts of that.” She wrinkled her nose. “Math never was my favorite subject in school.”
Then she smiled when he asked her about what she wanted to do. “I wanted to go to school for Forensic Sciences,” she said. “I always loved watching crime shows like CSI. I wanted to be one of the people who solved all the mysteries.” She sighed, remembering her favorite class in school. “I always loved science, especially in high school. Our school was a total dump with drugs everywhere and guns and violence, but my science teacher was always there to help me excel. He was great and I think he really wanted me to get out of that area and make something of myself. When I told him what I wanted to be when I grew up he tried even harder to make my dreams become a reality.” She felt the tears gather in her eyes and she took a shaking breath as she continued. “I graduated and left the area as soon as I could…a few months later…umm…he was killed. Shot by one of the students while trying to break up a fight.”
Letting out another shaking breath, she laughed without humor. “Sorry,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes. “Shouldn’t have brought up something so stupid. Just ruined our conversation.”
Mark Conner - August 14, 2011 06:06 AM (GMT)
Mark was beginning to get this feeling that they could be more than friends. By the way she smiled and looked right into his eyes, that pink blush on her face, it sure seemed possible and he kind of really hoped it was something that could exist. It was better though to not rush or get too involved too quickly but he knew he wanted to see her again and talk to her more. A big goofy grin appeared when she agreed to just that. She wanted to get together again! Hands disappearing under the table to swipe against the thigh of his jeans, he found them suddenly a little sweaty and a bundle of nerves developed in the pit of his stomach. “We’ll plan on it, Ava and I,” he voiced much softer than before with a tone to his voice that said just how much he didn’t believe what was going on. At the same time though, he was exited, though nervous, but if a second meeting went half as good as this one, without the crashing of bikes of course, he thought that would definitely be a great thing.
Chewing silently on a slice of pizza he swore would be his last, they talked some more, and while leaning back against the seat, he noticed how she sat there; resting her chin on his hand just listening like she was hanging on his every word. Certainly she wasn’t the interesting right? Did she really actually want to hear about his past life experiences and schooling (or lack thereof)? Whatever the case may be, he was more than willing to go on and on if she’d let him. Emotions, mostly about his ex, had been bottled of for so long that just mentioning the woman made him angry. Of course then all he had to do was look up into the green eyes just across the table and he was oddly soothed and felt much better about the future and life in general. Truth was though; Mark didn’t believe his ex had given Ava up simply because of school. She was smart and had potential sure, but the woman had wanted an abortion as soon as she found out and only agreed to Mark’s insistence if he took the baby once she was born. It seemed that within a few months’ time, the woman he’d fallen in love with had turned into some monster and of course, according to her, it was his entire fault.
Luckily, his paternal instincts had kicked in for the most part and school was pretty much forgotten at this point. No there was no chance he would be able to return to college and get a degree, not until Ava was well into school and that wouldn’t be for quite a long while. He was a self proclaimed stay at home dad and honestly he didn’t mind that, though talk of his former university dreams made him feel a little guilty. “Yeah, it was just something I always wanted to do. Lot of work but it would have paid good.” Now a days he really wished he could be bringing home paychecks like that to support his daughter but he just had to make do with what he had. Ava was well worth it of course, but with a quick glance in the infant’s direction he could see those eye lids starting to droop the slightest but he could tell she was fighting it.
“Wow, talk about taking a lot of time,” he voiced in surprised when Jean mentioned Forensic Sciences. Eyes slightly wide he pondered the topic while listened before smiling once coming to the conclusion that it was obviously something that would make the woman happy and you couldn’t be any better off by doing a job you really loved. “That would be awesome though; solving big mysteries and such.” Quieting when she continued out, he was intent on hearing her story, hanging on her every word just as she had done moments ago with strong arms crossed over his chest. He was smiling, enjoying the way she talked about school, but it faded at the moment she said that her high school with filled with drugs and violence. Heart leapt into his chest at the very thought and not because it could happen to his daughter but because Jean had to endure something like that. To hear that this sweet woman before him dealt with such pain was immersed in such an angry environment had this protective feeling swelling within that automatically had him reaching across the table once more to take her hand in his. Just to comfort a friend, mind you.
Mark squeezed her hand a little tighter at the news of a good teacher falling to a horrible demise and he knew it bothered her and it certainly bothered him. More so was the way she seemed to think it had just ruined the evening. “Don’t be sorry,” he whispered trying to force a smile. “You didn’t ruin anything.” She wiped her eyes and with a shake of his head he was up out of the booth and slipping into the space next to her, pulling her into a gentle hug. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” he mumbled hoping to offer some sort of comfort because he found he really didn’t like to see her sad and upset.
Jean Turner - August 14, 2011 07:11 PM (GMT)
Jean had been so happy when Mark mentioned making a plan. Whether it was with just Mark himself or both him and Ava, Jean didn’t mind. Just as long as she got to see them again. Spending a day with them made her so excited. What would they do together? Maybe go to the park to push Ava on the swings or just spend a quiet night at home. For some reason she kept picturing her and Mark just sitting on the couch with one another while Ava slept in the other room. She’d be wrapped his arms and they’d just be talking and laughing about their day. It all seemed so real in her mind even though it truly was a fantasy.
Looking over at the little girl sitting in between them, Jean also noticed her eyelids drooping. She was sleepy again, just like she’d been in the car beforehand. Jean actually felt a longing to take her home and tuck her into bed. She could already see her in her crib with her little body under a warm blanket, her lips pouted and her tiny feet and hands twitching in her sleep. It made Jean smile just thinking about it.
And then she had to go and ruin everything by bringing up her sob story. She felt like a complete fool when she started crying in the middle of the restaurant. One of the waitresses stared at her while walking by their table as if she was wondering if they were breaking up or something. She was being such an idiot! But when Mark reached over to take her hand in his again, she felt his concern in the way he squeezed it. She was able to control herself a little better when he was touching her, but it was still difficult to hold back her tears and the strong emotions jumping up at her from her past.
When he stood up, her heart sank. Oh God, was he leaving? Was he getting up to take his daughter somewhere where Jean could never find them? Perhaps he finally realized how messed up her life had been. Maybe he wasn’t willing to help her. Not that she could blame him. There were so many other women out there and she wouldn’t be surprised if they were all pining after him. He was perfect, of course. Too perfect for her. The thoughts made the tears continue to gather in her eyes. She didn’t want him to leave. She wanted him to stay and hold her hand some more. She wanted to talk to him and laugh with him and play with his little girl. But he deserved more than her. They deserved more than her, so she wouldn’t complain when he left.
But he didn’t leave. Instead, he slid into the place beside her and wrapped his arms around her. Her heart stopped when he pulled her into his embrace, before thumping faster than ever before. He was holding her! He was actually holding her! Immediately her hand came up to grip his shirt as she buried her face in his neck, just reveling in the feeling of his warm embrace. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. She couldn’t help but smell the scent of his skin and feel the warmth of his body, the thump of his heart against her hand and the brush of his breath across her hair. Her tears began to dry and she no longer felt alone. In his arms she felt safe and wanted. Like she belonged somewhere for once.
After a few moments of snuggling closely to him she heard a loud yawn. Turning her head she looked over to see Ava rubbing her eyes tiredly. That snapped her back to reality and made her realize she was holding on to a man she had just met pretty intimately. To most people they probably looked like a couple. Although she wanted that to be true she also realized she couldn’t push Mark into anything past a friendship.
Clearing her throat, she pulled away from his embrace and looked up at him with her eyes still a little red from her tears. “Umm,” she whispered. “Thanks…I…umm…” She bit her lip and turned away from him to tend to Ava. “She looks really tired,” she said, trying to distract herself from his presence. “Maybe we should get her home and to bed…I mean, you should probably get her home and to bed.” Jean looked around. “Where’s the waitress with the check…?”
Mark Conner - August 14, 2011 09:53 PM (GMT)
Mark was amazed at how moved he was by her story. It touched and saddened the man and all he wanted to do was see her smile again and not crying or red eyed with tears. Giving a nice big hug always made Ava feel better when she was upset and a good snuggle always calmed the infant’s hears. He wasn’t so sure that was his thinking when he saw the tears in Jeans eyes, but it was an automatic reaction; one he was very happy for because once he was sitting there so close with the women in his arms, he felt something. For the first time in quite a long time, Mark felt whole. Holding her tightly, chin resting just atop her head, he could smell her, feel the way her heart thumped against his chest and the way her fingers curled into his shirt. She was soft and warm yet very much there and not a figment of his imagination. Hand gently stroked her side and Mark was only just barely able to stop himself from placing a firm kiss to her temple, taking a deep breath instead.
He almost forgot they were there in a restaurant, forgot his baby girl was sitting nearby half asleep and rubbing tired eyes, he was so wrapped up in just holding Jean that pretty much lost track of everything around him. If you would have asked him, he honestly would have believed they were sitting o his couch back at his apartment watching some movie and curled up under a blanket. The sobbing quieted and when she shifted slightly in his embrace, Mark made the move to pull away and looked down to meet her eyes. It was a moment, he had to admit, on that made his stomach flutter and his grip tighten slightly around the woman as if not wanted to let go. Lifting his hand, he gently brushed a stray tear from her cheek and offered a shy smile, biting down on the inside of his mouth as she spoke.
Feeling rather foolish as he realized they were still sitting in a booth with a pizza on the table in front of them, he took a moment to look around, hoping no one noticed the intimate little moment the two had just shared. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he mumbled, watching the way she bit her lip and he turned to face his daughter. “Sleepy, bed time . . . right.” As if he just remembered the little one had been up and out in the sunshine for quite awhile, he leaned over and kissed the child’s forehead, carefully running his palm over the top of her head. “I’ll go find the waitress and then get you and Ava home,” he voiced before rising from the seat and leaving to go search for the young teenager who had waited on them.
While he was walking he couldn’t help but think about what had just happened a few moments ago. He could still feel the warmth of her body in his arms and still smell her scent on his clothes. After finally tracking the bill down, which took a lot longer than expected, Mark paid the bill and returned to the table with a box for the left over pizza and a grin on his face. “All ready to go?” he asked moving to load the slices into the box before closing the box up. A last sip of his drink and he turned his attention back to Jean and his daughter, gazing into the woman’s eyes, wondering if he’d screwed up any chance he’d had by moving into her personal space like that.
Jean Turner - August 15, 2011 01:39 AM (GMT)
His touch was so gentle. It was the first thing that came to Jean’s mind after she pulled away from him. He had reached up to brush a stray tear from her cheek. It had been so soft and gentle, as if he were afraid she would break like porcelain. His rough hands were covered in calluses and obviously showed what type of work he was in. She had to admit that she liked the feel of his hands. They were so different from her small, smooth fingers. It made her feel…feminine? Perhaps. All she knew what that she loved the feel of his touch and she wanted to feel it again and again.
When Mark got up to find the waitress, she couldn’t help but admire him as he walked. He was so tall and walked as if he had nothing on his shoulders even though he had a little girl to take care of alone. He was just so…attractive. So much so that Jean felt her skin getting warmer whenever she thought about him. This wasn’t good. She needed to calm down.
She let out a breath, and fanned herself slightly before turning to the sleepy toddler. Ava looked up at her with half opened eyes. Jean smiled before pulling the little girl out of the chair and into her lap. Immediately Ava snuggled closer to Jean’s warmth. She buried her face in Jean’s neck and clutched her t-shirt with strong little fingers. Rubbing the baby’s back and rocking her back and forth, Jean sighed into Ava’s hair.
“There’s just something about your daddy that’s special, Ava,” Jean murmured, realizing she was talking to a toddler who couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. But she needed to let it out to someone. “Gives me butterflies. You’ll probably feel that way about boys when you’re older too…just don’t tell your daddy. I don’t think he’ll be happy to learn his little girl likes boy’s that way.” She giggled, picturing Ava as a love struck teenager and Mark going crazy about who she was going out with. Jean could already picture him as the protective father. The two of them were definitely in for some trouble in the future. “But don’t you worry,” she whispered. “I’ll be there to help you out. I don’t think I could leave either of you two on your own now…at least I hope I don’t have to.” She frowned, before realizing Ava was already asleep. Just her luck.
Suddenly Mark was back, loading the leftovers into boxes and taking one last drink before asking if she was ready. She nodded and smiled before standing with the sleeping toddler in her arms. She placed a finger to her lips, making a slight hushing sound, and motioned towards Ava. “I think she’s ready to go home,” she whispered to him.
Then she realized something else. “Oh damn it,” she swore quietly. “I should have paid…I mean it’s only fair I pay for it. You gave me a ride and everything. Shoot.” Ava fussed slightly and it took a second for Jean to coax her back to sleeping again on her shoulder. “I’ll pay you back,” she whispered. “Just tell me how much I owe you.”
Mark Conner - August 15, 2011 03:24 AM (GMT)
With a glance over his shoulder, Mark suddenly grew silent with a sweet, loving smile on his lips. Seeing his little girl curled up there in Jean arms, resting her tired head on the woman’s shoulder and looking cute innocent and adorable just felt right. This was what she needed, what he always wanted for her; a mom. Lowering his eyes, raising a finger to his own lips, he nodded understandingly and lowered his voice to a whisper. “That she is, sleepy girl. I hope she wasn’t causing you any trouble,” he voiced taking a short step closer, box of pizza in hand. Pulling a few dollars out of his wallet, he tossed a tip on the table and turned his attention back to ushering these two beautiful little ladies out to his car when he was interrupted.
Brow furrowed slightly as Jean spoke before a grin finally took over his features. “No, it’s fine Jean, really,” he insisted, frowning again when Ava started fussing but Jean was quiet to quiet her back into a comfortable sleep in her arms. “It’s all on me, not a problem.” It was only the right thing to do after all. Not that this was a date or anything but he was a guy and it was his duty to take care of things like this. And if he wasn’t able to do things like this, manly, gentlemanly things well . . . . he would feel bad. So it was only automatic that he cover the bill and she wasn’t going to owe him a penny. “You don’t owe me anything, you’re doing enough as it is,” he said softly, nodding towards the sleeping infant with a thankful look in his eyes.
“Now, c’mon.” He knew getting Ava into the car and strapped into her seat wasn’t going to be easy and chances were that she would wake up and start fussing, wanting to be held by someone, so the quicker they got the over with, the better. With box in one hand, he settled himself into walking next to her, glancing at Ava just to check, as he naturally did, to find her very safe and very comfortable. Free arm reached out and pushed open the door leading to the parking lot and held it open, ushering Jean outside into the cool refreshing air. With the setting sun, it wasn’t so extremely hot, and together they made their way across the pavement to his car. At some point, his hand snaked over and resting against her back in a comfortable way until it reached to open the car door.
Getting the baby’s seat ready, he turned to Jean with a shrug and sigh. “You might as well try it this time. Wouldn’t want to make her mad moving her around to many times,” he voiced, giving Jean plenty of room to work in the backseat. Standing nearby, he showed her how the straps and buckles went happy to find that Ava didn’t stress too much and with bunny back in her arms she was sound asleep again. “See that wasn’t so hard,” he chuckled, giving the woman a wink before opening the passenger door for her and then slipping into the driver’s seat. The ride to the apartment complex wasn’t long at all and the slight silence was actually very welcome; just being in her company was enough for him.
Once parked in his usual spot, he headed into the building with Ava in his arms and Jean by his side. He let her lead the way because he really didn’t know where he was going. Mark had never seen her around so he wasn’t sure which room or even floor was hers for the matter but he really hoped that following her wouldn’t freak her out or anything. In no way was he trying to be a stalker or anything but he kind of did want to see which door was hers, in case, you know, he wanted to knock on her door and see if she wanted to hang out again. That wasn’t weird right? No, they said they’d make plans, he had to know how to get a hold of her somehow right?
Jean Turner - August 16, 2011 03:10 AM (GMT)
Jean still felt a little guilty about not paying for anything. Even though she knew Mark was just being a gentleman, she couldn’t help but feel bad. Sure she was holding Ava but that just didn’t make up for all the things he had done for her. He’d driven her into town, bought her dinner, allowed her to play with his daughter and listened to her sob story. That all summed up to an amount she wouldn’t be able to pay. He’d already done so much; she didn’t think she’d ever be able to pay him back for his kindness and understanding. But one way she thought about paying him back included her spending more time with him. Wouldn’t that be a win-win? She shook her head and brought her thoughts back to the present.
“Thanks,” she murmured, tucking her hair behind her ear again. After hefting a sleeping Ava higher up on her shoulder, Jean followed Mark out to the parking lot. She blushed when he opened the door for her and led the way out to the car. And then she felt his warm hand on her back again. Her heart jumped into her throat, making her face even redder than before. This man definitely knew how to press her buttons…in a good way.
When they got to the car, Mark decided he was going to show her how to use the car seat. A little nervous, she did as he instructed, strapping Ava into the little seat. She whimpered lightly when Jean placed her into the chair but stopped fussing when her rabbit was within reach. The whole time that Jean was working the straps, she felt Mark standing behind her, his body so close to hers that she could feel his warmth. It was hard to stop herself from moving backwards to make their bodies collide with one another. But she managed to control herself, and instead finished her task and slid into the passenger seat.
Once again, their silent drive was a comfortable one. Jean leaned her head against the car window and closed her eyes, just remembering the feeling of his arms around her and his winking face. She liked it all and she craved more.
When they arrived at the apartments and parked, Jean felt her heart drop. It was late and that meant their time together had ended. She felt him behind her as she walked to her apartment in silence, her mood falling with every step she took. Soon she reached her door. She unlocked it and turned to look at him and his sleeping daughter. Jean almost asked him if he wanted to come in, but knew it wouldn’t sound right. She didn’t want to be too forward.
“Well this me,” she said lamely with a small smile. “I guess I’ll see you sometime else.” She turned her attention to the little girl in his arms. Leaning forward, Jean pressed a kiss to Ava’s soft hair before petting her head and moving back again. The toddler was completely asleep, so she didn’t feel anything but it just made Jean feel better. As if she hoped the little girl would remember her.
Then she turned to look up at Mark. She smiled. “Thanks for dinner and…everything,” she laughed shyly. “It was great. And…maybe we could do it sometime else.”
With a nod she turned to close the door then caught herself. What the hell? Getting up on her tip toes, she moved towards him to cup one side of his face with her hand while kissing his other cheek gently. Biting her lip she moved away again. “I’ll see you soon, Mark.” And then she closed the door.