Nick’s house was tucked away in a Nashville suburb that I had never frequented. From the looks of the houses I rationalized that my lack of visiting was because I didn’t hob-knob with many country music stars and celebrities on a daily basis. Most houses were brick, all were large, and the area was picturesque, the type of scenery that people put on Tennessee postcards that vacationers scoop up to take back home. The entry hall was brightly lit and framed with prints by local artists. There were several scuff marks on the floor, the pattern hinting that basketball shoes were the culprit. A half-full sippy mug was left on a long table below a coat rack that took up half the wall.
“I gave the cleaning lady the week off and I haven’t done anything yet,” Nick explained. He pulled Parker’s jacket off and hung it on one of the hooks. I followed suit with Rielynn’s jacket, a cute pink and white raincoat with a matching inside liner.
“Your home is beautiful,” I said. He smiled.
“Thank you. Let me give you the sixty second tour.”
He had either given this tour many times with Parker along or he just knew the attention span of a toddler was roughly fifty-five seconds long. The lower level consisted of the hall, a large kitchen, an equally large dining room, a living room, a guest bathroom and a playroom. Double doors off the kitchen gave me just a quick glimpse of an impressive backyard. The upstairs contained the master bedroom and bath, Parker’s room, two guest rooms, what Nick lovingly declared his creative room, and another bathroom. The messiest rooms were Parker’s and the ‘creative’ room.
“Absolutely incredible,” I declared as I followed him back down the stairs.
“It’s my dream house,” he admitted. “Well, one of them.”
I didn’t ask him how many houses he had. It was a question I never thought I’d ask in my life and part of me wanted to keep it that way. The idea of a guy whose shirt looked like it had been bought at Walmart several years ago having multiple houses kind of blew my mind.
“Pay, pay,” Parker insisted.
“We can either go to the playroom or head outside. I’ve got to admit that the backyard is kind of a pit right now though.”
Somehow I highly doubted the backyard was a pit. I had glimpsed just enough to know that it was impressively large and the grass wasn’t abnormally high. Yet, the idea of getting coats back on didn’t appeal to me in the least.
“The playroom sounds great,” I said. Nick grinned.
“It’s always the coat factor, isn’t it?”
I laughed. “You read my mind.”
“You know what they say,” he said, reopening the door to the playroom. “Great minds think alike.”
The playroom was bigger than our living room at home. The sad part was that we lived in a nice upper-middle class neighborhood. I’ve had others envious of all of our space. I would hate to see what someone with even less would think of it all.
“It’s been said I spoil him,” Nick said, once again practically reading my thoughts. “But kids need a shitload of stuff, you know?”
“Oh I know,” I agreed, thinking about the wall to wall toy bins in our living room, Rielynn’s own pots and pans in the kitchen, and the long string of clothes all through the house.
We settled down on a really comfortable overstuffed couch in the corner of the room. Nick stretched out his legs and I did the same. He was at least three, if not four, inches taller than me.
“Have you lived in Nashville long?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted. “We moved down right before Rielynn was born. We lived in Illinois before this. Fairview Heights. Not far from St. Louis.”
“That’s a really nice area,” Nick said. “I had a friend that lived there once.”
The way he said ‘friend,’ made me wonder just which category of friend it truly was. He must have seen the wheels turning because he grinned. I couldn’t help but notice that he had a very attractive smile/grin combination.
“Girlfriend,” he clarified. “for a short time.”
I nodded. Rielynn was sitting the wrong way in a cute giant-eyed Playskool car, her butt resting on the squeaky horn. Parker was pushing it from behind, struggling, but determined.
“So how did you and Lauren meet?” I asked, surprised that I had remembered her name. I must have actually been listening to another adult, something that was a rarity these days.
“Through a mutual friend. It wasn’t even a hook-up. We hung out as friends for awhile and we clicked and I think both of us thought, ‘why not’?” He looked almost wistful. “We helped each other through some pretty rough times.”
“Those are the best relationships,” I said. He didn’t answer right away. We watched as Rielynn climbed out and the two little ones switched positions. It amazed me they could coordinate so well without speaking more than a few inconclusive babbles.
“How about you and Charlie?”
“School,” I said automatically. “He was first year med school and wanted to pick up some extra money. I needed help with my chemistry class."
"And a different kind of chemistry developed?" Nick surmised. I smiled.
"You could say that," I said. It was funny how talking about it, thinking back on those days, made it seem like a million years ago.
The kids had moved on to a large magnet table when Nick's cell rang. He stood up, sliding it out of his back pocket.
"Excuse me," he said, heading towards the hall.
I was a good girl for about five minutes. My eyes stayed glued on the kids. The only problem, if you can call it a problem, was that they were both entertained and being good. My attention wandered.
There was a shelf of albums on a bookcase that otherwise held board and picture books. I stood up and took down one of the leather covered albums. I tried to assuage my guilt by rationalizing that anything in the playroom was placed their for touching. With that mantra on repeat, I started to flip through the book.
It was an album chronicling Parker's first year. I knew because I had done one eerily similar for Rielynn. Lauren was a pretty dark haired woman, extremely fit with a nice smile. The first months were mostly her and the baby, Nick presumably behind the lens.
Then around six months there was a noticeable shift. Nick infiltrated the majority of the shots and they began to look like self portraits of him and Parker taken with an IPad intermingled with professional shots.
I felt a wave of pity. I didn't know the circumstances, but I knew if I looked objectively at my own album that somewhere around the same time Charlie had disappeared from most pictures. Work had eagerly consumed him.
"Lauren's coming home tonight."
I almost dropped the album. I looked up guiltily only to see him looking amused.
"You've seen mine," he teased.
"Now you'll have to show me yours."