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Chapter Four

March 3

Rielynn and I were outside in the front yard when Charlie's Audi pulled into the drive. Rie was engrossed in her hippo bubble blower, but I lifted my hand in a wave as he stepped out.

"Hey, stranger."

For working 63 hours straight, he didn't look in horrible shape. Certainly not as bad as his intern years. He gave me a lopsided smile.

"Hey, Mace."

It took him a beat, as if he was thinking about some missing part of the salutation exercise. He leaned to the left.

"Hi, Rielynn."

Rie looked up. "Hi-hi."

She smiled and pointed. "Boob-ah!"

"Bubble," he pronounced correctly. "Nice." He yanked open the passenger side door and pulled out his briefcase.

"Do you want to go the gym class today?" I asked hopefully. "Or the park? Or--"

“Can’t,” he shook the case. “I have to finish adding notes to some of my patient files and then I’ve got to crash. They want me back in tonight.”

In my mind, I fell to the ground, fists and feet flying in a heavy mommy-overload tantrum. In reality, I just smiled.

“I understand.”

And, I did understand. It wasn’t like I didn’t know going into this what a doctor’s schedule was like. Charlie firmly mapped out the whole process: the twelve years of schooling, internship, and specialized training. The hyena-like fight for residency. It was all part of (insert finger quotations here) the life plan.

He was four years older than me, thirty-two compared to my twenty-eight. I had felt like the big you-know-what on campus for dating a medical student. It had been one of those whirlwind romance things that so many people hear about but don’t really believe happen. But believe me, it did. The thirty second rundown would go something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date madly around papers, tests, and extracurriculars. Boy proposes to girl. Girl accepts. Quickie wedding in the courthouse. My graduation. More school for him. Temp job. Relocating for his internship. Teaching job. House. Baby. No more teaching job.


"I could be up for a promotion if I keep this up," he said, his face finally showing excitement.

"Less hours?" I asked hopefully.

"No, but more prestige. I'll be in my office."

I watched his retreating back. I didn't know how to feel exactly.

"Pop!" Rielynn shrieked, popping a bubble that dared float to close to her face.

Pop, I repeated in my head.

That was as good as any definition.

I felt popped.

The parking lot for the Little Gym was packed. I squeezed the car into the last available spot and stared at the doors with a mixture of dread and determination. I had washed my hands of the morning crowd, but since I wasn't a quitter, decided to try the afternoon mommies on for size. I figured afternoon mommies might be more like me, unable to get their act together to show up by 9:30 in the morning.

I hauled the diaper bag out and yanked open the backseat. Rielynn fought the buckle, in effect fighting me at the same time. By the time I hauled her tush out of the seat, I was sweating.

That was my workout for the day.

The interior of Little Gym always reminds me of Chuck E. Cheese, just without the pizza. Or beer. Just the sheer amount of noise and blur of little bodies was enough. It looked like I was just late enough to have missed even more fun with bubbles.

There were only so many bubbles a mommy could take.

"Welcome! Who's your little beast?"

Now. I know an explanation is an order. The strawberry blonde with the big fake perky you-know-what's that descended upon me the second I stepped over the magic threshold wasn't being rude. The class for two's is the Beast class and as such, all little participants are beasts. And yes, us parents pay to have our children called that.

Such is living in America.

"Rielynn," I said.

"Me!" Rie confirmed.

Who will forevermore just be referred to as SBB (strawberry blonde boober) smiled wider. "The transfer from the morning group! Welcome!"

I wondered just exactly what she'd been told about us. The plasticity of the smile worried me. "You're just in time for the obstacle course!"

The obstacle course was what prevents me from calling this attempt at crushing Rielynn 's Olympic dreams. She loves the obstacle course. Even the WORD being spoken aloud brings a squeal outta her.


The defense rests.

For description sake, the obstacle course involves a ramp, a ball, a hanging bar, and the bouncy mat. Usually kids and parents spread out so as not to cause a traffic jam in one place, but the afternoon moms (who hadn't even turned to look at the late comer, aka, me) were clustered around the bar. So as not to alienate myself already. I maneuvered Rielynn over.

"Just look at him hang!"

"He's got your arms."

"He's strong."

"Look how he loves it!"

This was the kind of chatter I would have expected at the monkey exhibit at the zoo. Somehow I managed to squeeze between two broad shoulder mamas to see exactly what was on display.

Surprisingly, I recognized the entertainment immediately.

Nick was flanked, literally flanked by women. He was holding Parker and looking a little like a little stupid poodle (think Captain Kangaroo) cornered by a pack of wolves.

"Back off sister," a voice hissed in my ear. One of the broad shouldered mamas had caught on to my break-in. "What's going on?"

She glanced towards Nick and smiled. "The new member of the group. I about messed myself when he walked in."

I placed the woman's age at thirty, thirty-two tops. I glanced at Nick in confusion.

"Who? That's just Nick. I met him at the zoo a couple days---"

The woman stopped gawking at me and just went for interrupting instead.

"Just Nick?" she repeated. "Girl, that's Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys.

I craned my neck. Suddenly ancient issues of Tiger Beat floated through my mind. Sure enough...

"I was a 98 Degrees fan," I said meekly.

Broad shoulder mama just shook her head and turned away. The group seemed to move even closer. I stepped back.

Leave it to me to spend a day with a celebrity and not even realize it!