(warning – language)
“Hey,” Jax said as he walked into the house.
“Hey,” Bethany answered without looking up from her phone.
Jax walked past his wife and shrugged out of his jacket tossing it across the back of his recliner. He peeled off his gun holster and walked into their bedroom to lock the gun in the safe. Even though guns were a big part of his life, he didn’t want his daughter to accidentally get a hold of them. Especially while she was young. He would teach her gun responsibility once she was old enough to understand and respect firearms and the importance of handling them correctly.
He washed his hands studying his reflection in the mirror. He looked tired. Light purple bags underscored his eyes and the fine lines around his mouth were more grooved. But that was to be expected, he supposed, having a three month old in the house that still wasn’t sleeping the whole night.
He peeked around the corner of the baby’s room. Gabriella was staring up at the mobile softly swinging above her. He smiled.
“Hey Gabi,” he said softly so as not to startle her. “I see you’re awake. Are you ready to join the land of the living?” He paused at the edge of her crib and gazed down at his beautiful daughter. She was his perfect angel. She had his dark hazel eyes and her mother’s heart-shaped mouth. She grinned up at him, a spit bubble popping near the corner of her mouth. He chuckled and reached down to scoop her up. Her small head fit his larger hand perfectly as he placed her against his chest. She snuggled against his shoulder and began rooting around.
“I see you’re hungry. Let’s go hunt mom down.” He carried her securely against him and walked back into the kitchen.
Bethany was busy tapping away on her phone. She was so engrossed in her conversation that she didn’t realize Jax was standing next to her until he cleared his throat.
“Who are you talking to?”
“Oh,” she squeaked out a nervous chuckle. “No one. Just responding to a Facebook post.”
“Bullshit.” He ground his teeth in irritation and narrowed his eyes. “You’re talking to HIM, aren’t you?”
She sighed and put her phone down while reaching for Gabi. “Don’t start, Jax. Jealously is not an attractive trait.”
He released his hold on Gabi and watched her carry their daughter to the sofa and settle down to breastfeed her.
“You could at least have the decency to not communicate with ‘your friend’ while I’m here,” he ground out and moved back to the kitchen. “And I could give a shit if you talk to him, just don’t do it in front of me.” He looked around the kitchen then opened the oven to peer inside. “What’s for dinner?”
“Whatever you’re making,” she responded while smiling down at her daughter who was now happily suckling away.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look Bethany. I don’t expect you to be Betty Crocker but you’re home all day, the least you could do is fix dinner.”
“I didn’t have time.”
“Time from what?”
She kissed her daughter’s forehead before looking toward him. “Why do we have to have this conversation every night? I have responsibilities, Jax. Social media may not be a traditional 9-to-5 ‘job’ to you, but trust me, it’s very time consuming and I’m starting to make money from my videos and Instagram posts so … get over it.”
“But it’s taking time away from our daughter. How long was she awake in her crib? And there are dried tears on her cheeks. How long was she crying? Did you even know she was crying?”
Bethany continued to gaze down at Gabi with a soft smile and in a sweet, baby voice, she said, “Fuck you, Jax.”
He sighed and opened the fridge to gauge the food inventory. They had half a gallon of milk, a container of cottage cheese and an onion. He walked over to the pantry and yanked open the door. Three cans of pinto beans, half a package of spaghetti noodles and soy sauce. He slammed the door which startled Gabi who disconnected from Bethany to let out a startled cry.
“Shh,” Bethany soothed and rubbed her cheek. “Daddy is in a pissy mood, as usual. Just ignore him.”
“Seriously. There is nothing to eat!” He pulled out his phone to look at eating apps.
“Don’t order pizza. My waistline can’t take much more bread.”
“Yeah. You wouldn’t want to get fat for your boyfriend.”
Bethany lifted Gabi and placed her on her shoulder and began patting her back. “Jax, we talked about this. Are you seriously jealous? I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m a social media influencer. I’m going to have to interact with my fans, I can’t just ignore them!”
He ran a hand down the scruff of his 5 o’clock shadow. “Maybe you need to find another job. It’s killing our marriage.”
“It’s only killing our marriage because you’re allowing it to. Stop being so insecure. Also, what marriage?” A deep-seated burp emitted from Gabi and Bethany stood up. “Good one, baby girl.” She walked over and handed Gabi to Jax. “Can you take her for a while? I need to answer some emails.”
“Sure.” He grinned softly at his daughter who was drunk on milk and she cooed at him. His heart melted and he kissed her cheek while tickling her ribs. She erupted in giggles and his grin morphed into a full-fledged smile. “Come on, princess, let’s go grab some grub, shall well?” He grabbed the diaper bag that was always packed and ready by the door and without a backward glance, he left the house.
They arrived at the store and Jax slipped on the baby carrier. He had never used it before but had put it on just to figure out how it worked. He unsnapped Gabi from her car seat and tried to slip her inside the carrier but she was kicking her chubby little legs so much he couldn’t get her in.
“Listen here you little squirmy monkey,” he laughed as he tried to navigate her into the carrier.
“Do you need some help?” an attractive 20-something woman said as she was walking past.
“Actually, yes, if you don’t mind. Could you hold the carrier open while I put her inside?”
“No problem,” she said and moved forward to grab hold of the carrier and open it wide enough for him to put Gabi inside.
Gabi settled in with a squirm and flashed him a toothless grin.
“Thank you. I’m not sure I could have made that work on my own,” Jax grinned at the woman and moved to grab the diaper bag and shut the door.
“Glad to help. I have a niece about her age and I know my sister has a hard time getting her settled sometimes.”
Jax could tell she was interested in him and he tried not appear rude as he started walking away.
“Is that your daughter?”
“Yes,” he said while grabbing a cart from an outside cart corral. “I’m just running in to grab some dinner for my wife.”
“Ah,” she said, getting the hint. “Lucky woman. Well, take care.”
“Yeah, you too,” he said and nearly laughed out loud. Lucky woman indeed. He was pretty sure she didn’t feel she was lucky in their relationship.
Or whatever it was they were doing. Co-habituating maybe?
He snorted in disgust and pushed the cart into the store. What the hell was he doing? Was this really how he wanted to live his life? They hadn’t had sex since Gabi was born though he knew that women had to wait a while after giving birth before they were cleared to have sex, he knew for a fact that Bethany’s doctor had cleared her a long time ago. But somehow, neither one of them wanted to instigate anything.
It wasn’t that he didn’t find her attractive. He wasn’t one of those guys that lost sexual interest once the woman had given birth, he just wasn’t … interested. They had both been very into one another before they got married, in fact, that’s why they had gotten married so quickly, because she had gotten pregnant with Gabi and he wanted to do the right thing. He didn’t regret Gabi, not one bit, but he certainly wished he and Bethany had gotten to know each other first and were more careful before becoming an instant family.
He absently placed items in the cart while thinking over his relationship. Gabi was content to look at the lights, the colors and listen to passing people in her carrier. She really was a good baby. He just hoped he would be a good enough dad to her.
But did he really want to raise her with Bethany? He could tell she was pulling away. In fact, if he was being honest, he got the impression she lost interest shortly before she announced she was pregnant with Gabi.
God. What a clusterfuck. He should have listened to his father and not jumped into the whole marriage thing. Raising a child as a single parent wasn’t ideal, but was it any better to raise a child in a loveless marriage?
Jax was in line checking out when Gabi started to get restless. She began to whimper and the cashier worked hard to keep her entertained while Jax hurriedly placed his items on the belt so they could leave. By the time he got back to the car, Gabi was in full crisis mode, screaming loudly enough it caught the attention of several people. A woman gave him a sympathetic nod, while a few young girls shook their head in disgust. Jax unloaded the groceries into his car, his ears ringing from her screaming, and hurriedly lifted her out of the carrier, her legs pumping angrily and tangling in the carrier straps.
“Good God, girl, you have a powerful set of lungs on you,” he grimaced while rocking her back and forth in an attempt to quiet her. He reached into the diaper bag and plucked out her pacifier. He slid it across her lips to get her attention and she desperately latched on to it while sucking furiously. “There now, better?” Her huge dark eyes glistened with unshed tears as she looked up at him.
He waited a few moments to make sure she had calmed down before putting her into her car seat. He strapped her in, parked the cart on to a nearby grassy curb and got behind the wheel.
Gabi started to whimper but continued to suck on her pacifier. He sighed with relief. He started the car and they began the long drive back home. He switched on the radio for some background noise hoping Gabi would take a nap on the way home.
He checked the time, nearly 7:00 PM. Another wave of irritation tickled his throat and he clamped it down. Dinner should have been done by now. He should have been giving Gabi a bath and putting her to bed, something he looked forward to each night. Instead, he was buying groceries and anticipating cooking dinner because he couldn’t count on his partner to do her share of the work.
He could feel the tips of his ears heating up and knew he was close to his boiling point. It would be one thing if this happened once in a while, we all lose track of time and he knew that taking care of a baby was a full-time job – she was a time suck. A cute time suck, but one none the less. But this was happening more and more frequently with little to no remorse and now he just felt like Bethany was taking advantage of him.
Again, he wondered why he was putting up with it. Did he feel guilty? After all, Bethany didn’t get pregnant on her own, he was just as much to blame for the situation but he felt like he was the only one that was making a true effort to try and make it work.
It was fully dark by the time he pulled into the driveway. The only light on in the house was the kitchen light though he could see a flickering, blue light coming from the second floor window on the left telling him that Bethany was still on her computer. Ever since her blog was showcased on the host’s webpage her views had gone way up and she felt compelled to produce more and more content to keep the momentum going. This lead to making an Instagram account and posting countless pictures of Gabi and then she started a YouTube channel to document her life as a new mom. He was glad she was working toward something that would potentially make them money but she was so consumed with making her online life perfect that she was neglecting her real life duties.
As soon as he turned off the engine, Gabi began to cry. He knew she was probably hungry again and it was past her bedtime so she was likely exhausted as well. He pulled her out of her seat and entered the house. He had assumed Bethany would hear him drive up and meet them at the door but she was no where to be seen.
“We’re home!” he yelled which only made Gabi cry harder. He recognized the cry. It was a warning cry and if we didn’t see to her needs in three minutes flat, she would begin screaming. “Bethany!” he yelled again and put Gabi in her playcrib. When Bethany still hadn’t made an appearance by the time he had settled Gabi and tried to give her another pacifier, which she promptly spit out when she realized it didn’t come with milk, he marched upstairs and barged into Bethany’s office. She had on headphones and was furiously typing in a chat room.
Seeing her so oblivious to the world, more specifically his and Gabi’s world, he briskly walked over to the wall and unplugged her computer.
“What the actual hell, Jax?” she yelled. She paused when she heard Gabi screaming. “What’s going on?”
“Get downstairs and feed your fucking daughter so I can unload the car,” he snarled. He turned on his heel and stomped out to the garage to grab the groceries. Gabi abruptly stopped screaming on his third trip into the house.
“Jesus, Jax, what is your problem?”
“My problem, Bethany? MY problem?” He slammed the fridge door after putting the milk away. “I work eight plus hours every day, even the weekends here lately with the election happening in a few weeks, only to come home to no dinner, no groceries and no help from you. It’s like you’ve checked out and would rather live in your virtual world than live your life. I’m sick of it!”
“It’s my job, Jax.”
“Oh, don’t give me that shit, Bethany. It’s your excuse to check out and pretend you’re anywhere else but here. Have you stopped to consider that I might hate my life as well? This sucks. This whole marriage sucks and you know it.”
“You’re the one that didn’t wear a condom,” she said quietly but not quietly enough that Jax didn’t hear her.
“It takes two to tangle, sweetheart,” he snapped back. He angrily grabbed food from the bags and began putting it away.
He watched Bethany breast feed Gabi while stroking her soft hair. “You’re right. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve met someone.” She paused, cleared her throat and said in a slighter stronger voice. “I want out.”
Jax froze on the spot, his hand lifted to put a box of spaghetti in the pantry. He could feel his blood pressure rising and he was breathing like he had just ran around the block. He closed his eyes briefly in an attempt to rein in his temper. He slammed the box down on the counter, breaking the box, dried noodles spilling out onto the floor.
“I knew it. I fucking knew it,” he said in a deceptively calm voice. “You know what?” He exited the kitchen and faced her. “I’m relieved, actually. Now you’ve given me permission to leave your sorry ass. This,” he gestured between the two of them, “hasn’t been working for a while now and I’m actually glad that you finally admitted it. Let’s get on with our lives.” He turned to go back to the kitchen.
“Where are you going?”
“Out.” He dug his keys out of his jean’s pocket and opened the door to go the garage. He slammed it closed. It felt satisfying and symbolic – he was closing the door on his farce marriage. He got into his car and squealed out of the driveway. He hit his steering wheel a few times in frustration and turned the radio back on, turning the volume way up.
He wasn’t sure how to feel. After months of trying to make her admit she had an online boyfriend, after months of suspecting it but not wanting to believe it, she confirmed his suspicions without so much as an apology. No. He didn’t love her and he didn’t really think she had ever loved him, but he had assumed there was at least some affection involved.
He needed a drink.
He drove to a nearby pub called The Crow, (he suspected the owner had a thing for Edgar Allen Poe), and parked his car near the entrance. He took out his cell phone and called his buddy, Riley.
“What’s up, motherfucker?”
He grinned despite himself. “Meet me at The Crow.”
“Whoa. Drinks on a week night? Shit must have gotten real.”
“You could say that.”
“See you in ten.” Riley hung up.
Jax pocketed his phone and exited his car. It was a clear, cold, crisp night and he breathed deeply. The sharp air nearly brought tears to his eyes but it served to dissipate his anger a bit. He went in to the bar and claimed a bar stool near the end, saving a seat for Riley for when he arrived.
“What’ll it be?” The cute bar keep asked him. She had purple hair pulled into a short ponytail and a nose hoop.
“Coors,” he responded.
“Sure thing.” She gave him a wink and walked off.
He grinned in spite of himself. What would it feel like to be single again? He and Bethany had only been married for two years but it felt like ten. He had been so focused on his marriage, he couldn’t even remember how flirting worked. He used to be a master at it, and he had been quite good at it, hence his current situation.
“Start a tab,” he said as she placed the Coors in front of him.
She nodded briskly and walked off to serve another customer.
He watched her walk away. He was definitely rusty.
He turned his attention to the college basketball game on the big screen in front of him though he wasn’t really paying attention. How would custody work? Surely she wouldn’t fight for sole custody. He would use every last cent to fight her if she wanted to play rough. But logistically, how would that work? He worked insanely long hours, especially when a big event came up or the client started campaigning. How would he manage spending time with Gabi? He would have to hire a nanny. He was trying to think of places to look for a nanny when Riley claimed the bar stool next to him.
He clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey man. What’re drinking?”
He lifted his Coors beer.
“Now that won’t do. You called me out on a week night so it must be serious. That calls for a serious drink.” He lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. “Yo, beautiful, over here!”
The bar keep walked over and grinned. “Don’t you snap your fingers at me, Riley.”
He chuckled and shrugged. “Whatever works, babe. How are ya?”
“Good. Just started my shift. What are you doing here during the week? I usually see you on the weekends.”
“This guy called an emergency meeting,” he thumbed toward Jax.
“Ah. That calls for a serious drink then,” she smiled and lifted up a bottle of whiskey.
“I knew I liked you. What’s your name again?” Riley slipped a $50 across the bar toward her.
“You can call me whatever you like, sugar.” She stuffed the money in her cleavage and brought out two shot glasses. “Let me know if I need to call 911.”
“Actually, the only thing I need is your phone number.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You don’t give up, do you?”
Jax watched the exchange while pouring them both a snifter of whiskey.
“Now all we need are cigars and hot women sitting on our laps and we’ll be set,” Riley said while taking his glass and downing it back in one smooth swallow. He started coughing and Jax laughed.
“Smooth man.” He nodded toward the bar keep who was laughing at him from the far end of the bar. “She will definitely give you her number now.”
“Shut up,” Riley coughed/laughed while swiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Jax took a smaller, more manageable swallow of his drink. He put the glass down and mentally prepared himself for the conversation.
“So,” Riley sobered up and stared down at his drink. “What’s going on?”
“We’re done,” Jax began. “She admitted to being in an online relationship, which, what does that mean exactly? Have they met in person?” He shook his head as if to shake the thought from his head. “You know what, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. We’re done.”
Riley nodded and took a drink. “It was a long time coming, mate.”
Jax sighed and poured himself a bit more whiskey. “Yeah. I know. I guess … I guess I was hoping … for Gabi’s sake .. ”
“Lots of kids grow up in two homes, Jax. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll make it work. You always do.”
“Yeah. Just sucks for Gabi, you know? I don’t really care for myself but I worry about what this will do to her.”
“She’s three months old, she won’t even remember this time period. She will grow up thinking this is normal …”
“But then she’ll talk to her friends, find out it’s not and the questions will begin,” said Jax.
“Yeah. But by then, you’ll have a plan. You’ll know what to say, how to handle it. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be re-married by then and she’ll have a step-mom who loves her unconditionally and blahblahblah.”
“No way,” Jax vehemently shook his head. “There’s no way I’m getting married again. This sucks balls, man. It’s too stressful, not fun and I don’t want to live my life stuck in a loveless marriage.”
“You say that now because that’s the only thing you have experience with, but you’ll meet someone …”
Jax continued to shake his head and swallowed a mouthful of whiskey. He winced as it burned it’s way down his esophagus. “I appreciate the pep talk, man, but I really don’t see that happening. Anyway. Now comes the hard part. I guess I need to get a lawyer.”
“Yeah. I can hook you up with that. My dad knows a lot of lawyers. He should. He’s had to use them so many times over the years.” He released a bitter chuckle.
“How’s that going, by the way?”
Riley shrugged. “It shit, that’s how it’s going. But what else is new? My life has been one pile of steaming shit for quite some time. Why be different now? Anyway … “he poured himself another glass full. “This little pow-wow is not about me, it’s about you. One fucked up life at a time, please.”
Jax lifted his glass and Riley lifted his glass in a cheers motion. “To fucked up lives, eh?”
They both drank down the sentiment.
They sat and drank and talked for a few hours, swapping life stories and lamenting about life in general before Jax squinted at his Apple watch.
“Damn, I need to go, it’s nearly midnight. I need to sober up for work in the morning.”
Riley, who drank about twice as much as Jax, was supporting his head with his hand, his cheek smooshed and nearly closing his left eye. “Sure.”
Jax motioned to the male bar keep who came on shift two hours previously. “Hey man. Can you call him a cab? He shouldn’t be driving home.”
“Neither should you,” the bar keep responded.
“Already on it. I just called an Uber.”
“Such a responsible guy,” Riley mumbled, his pronunciation of responsible coming out as re-spnsss-ible.
“Yeah, I know. I’m boring like that.”
“I envy you, you know,” said Riley.
Jax sputtered a laugh. “Oh yeah, my life is a stellar example of happiness, Riley.”
“Hey. At least you have some normalcy. I don’t feel like my life has ever been normal.”
Jax’s phone lit up to notify him the Uber had arrived. He slipped off the stool and stumbled before regaining his balance. He clapped Riley on the shoulder, giving him a tight squeeze. “Let’s get together next week and hash out the plan. We’ll talk more then.”
Riley weakly lifted a hand in response. “Sure, dude,” he slurred out.
Jax slapped a $20 on the top of the bar and nodded toward the male bar keep. “Make sure he gets that cab, yeah?”
The bar keep lifted a hand in response and picked up the phone to call a taxi for Riley.
“Later loser,” Jax said.
“Eat shit and die,” Riley responded and they both smiled a true goodbye to each other.
Jax pushed his way outside and paused to breathe in the crisp air. It helped clear his head a bit but he still felt a pretty good buzz. He opened the passenger door to the dark blue Ford Escape, got in and slammed the door.
“Where to, man?” the Uber driver asked.
Jax gave him his address and buckled up. It took him three tries but he finally succeeded in clicking the buckle in place and settled back in his seat, gazing out the window to signify to the driver he wasn’t in the mood for chit-chat.
His life was shit. How did he get here? Why didn’t he listen to his father who tried to warn him he was making a mistake. He partly blamed his father for his situation because if he hadn’t instilled such a strong sense of responsibility in him, he wouldn’t have felt compelled to “do the right thing” and marry a person he didn’t really love to begin with.
He let out a long sigh. No. He couldn’t blame his father. He was the one who was caught up in the moment and hadn’t taken precautions when they had sex. Of course, he was only half of the equation, but he couldn’t blame his father for his mistakes.
He would take it like a man and just deal with the fall out.
Still. He was a bit relieved that it was finally happening as he felt like he was living his life walking on eggshells, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and every other cliché he could think of before his life imploded.
The Uber pulled up to his driveway. All windows were dark, save for that damn window in the upper left-hand corner: Bethany’s office.
“Thanks man,” he told the Uber driver. He had already paid for the ride and the tip on the app so he unbuckled and nearly fell out of the car getting out. He gave the driver a two-finger salute to let him know he was fine and staggered to his front door. It took a few tries to fit his key into the lock but he finally opened the door and stumbled inside. He quietly closed the door, though he really wanted to slam it but that would wake Gabi up, and fell onto the couch. There was no way in hell he was ever sharing a bed with Bethany again and he made a mental note to look for an apartment first thing tomorrow morning.
He kicked off his shoes and with a final puff of air, he passed out.
The sun cut through his eyelids and forced him to squint awake. He put a hand out to block the light and slowly rolled off the sofa and onto the floor.
“Ow,” he mumbled softly and fully stood up. He stretched his back and felt a few satisfying pops deep within his spine. He rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair and headed toward the stairs. He felt like someone had stuffed a hairball into his mouth. He needed a hot shower and lots of coffee if he hoped to be halfway useful at work.
He paused at Gabi’s door and quietly opened it. She was still sleeping. He walked over to her crib and noticed she was on her belly. Had she rolled over during the night? Had she been rolling over and Bethany hadn’t said anything? A pop of anger exploded in his chest and quickly fizzled out. Just one more thing to resent Bethany for – keeping a milestone from him.
He placed a hand on her back and paused.
Something felt off.
“Gabi?” He softly said while gently shaking her. “Hey, Gabriella? Wake up sleepy head …” He frowned when he didn’t get a response. A flicker of fear licked it’s way up his spine and he felt suddenly alert. “Gabi?” he said louder. He turned her over and gasped when he saw that her face was blue. He blinked, not fully processing what was happening for a long second before yelling, “BETHANY!”
He searched his pockets and realized he didn’t have his phone on him. He must have taken it out when he took his shoes off the previous night. “BETHANY!” He yelled again. “Oh my God, please no, God,” he said under his breath as he picked her up and held her close. It was like picking up a limp doll. Gabi didn’t move or make a sound. “Wake up baby girl, please wake up,” he pleaded.
“What’s going on?” Bethany appeared at the door in one of his t-shirts, her hair matted and sleep lines on the right side of her cheek.
“Call 911!” He yelled. “Something is wrong with Gabi!”
“What?” she said, still groggy and not fully awake.
“Call 911! She’s not breathing!”