Copyright © 2020 Elizabeth Reyes
Trust and communication go hand in hand in Noah’s marriage. Not once has he ever questioned the complete faith he has in Roni.
Until the devastating BLINDSIDE . . .
Start from the beginning or scroll down to Episode SEVEN available now!
Glancing down at her smartwatch, Roni tried not to be impatient. Noah would be there as he promised. As much as she hated to admit it, she’d been a wreck ever since she’d begun to suspect little Jack might be autistic. Noah had been so quick to dismiss her concerns about it; he’d almost been angry. Not that he’d be mad at her for suggesting it, he just said she always read too much into everything. Especially when it came to their son who she worried way too much about.
“Mrs. Quintanilla,” the young girl who’d checked Jack in for his appointment smiled when Roni looked up. “Dr. Hidalgo can see you now.”
“Oh.” Roni straightened out in her seat but hesitated to get up. “But I wanted to wait for my husband to be here so we could both be present during the evaluation. He should be here any minute now.”
“Well, in that case, you can go on in and get started with the interview part of the process. It’ll be a while before he gets to the actual screening part with little Jack. I’ll let your husband in when he gets here.”
Still hesitating, Roni stood up, motioning for Jack who was playing at the busy board table with a few of the other waiting patients. “Come on, baby. Our turn.”
Jack pushed a few more buttons and turned a few knobs on the activity table before making his way toward her. Holding Jack’s hand with one hand she pulled her purse strap over her other shoulder and texted Noah to find out where he was. A few seconds later, he texted back to say he was just a few blocks away but as usual the Los Angeles traffic was brutal. Still, he assured her he’d be there in a few minutes.
The moment she walked into the doctor’s office he was on his feet behind his desk. It surprised her that he did look like his online photo when she did her research on pediatric developmental behavioral specialists. After doing the math on how long he must’ve gone to school for plus the fifteen years of experience his website boasted, she’d assumed he had to be pushing fifty and the headshot on his website hadn’t been updated in a few years.
Despite being completely bald—but the kind of bald that was by choice—this man didn’t look a day past forty, and even that made her nervous. Experience was by far what weighed heaviest on her choice. Trying not to frown, Roni remembered reading online that some doctors included their residency as part of their years of experience.
“Good morning. Come on in.” He peered at her for a moment before reaching across his desk and shook her hand. “I’m Dr. Hidalgo, but please call me Mateo.”
“Nice to meet you.” After shaking his hand, Roni took a seat in front of his desk. “I’m Veronica, Jack’s mom; my husband is also on his way.”
Mateo nodded before bringing his attention to Jack who stood next to Roni’s chair, still holding her hand. “Hey, little guy, you must be Jack.”
Jack leaned into Roni, turning his head away and resting it against her arm. Roni’s stomach bunched with worry. “He doesn’t talk much yet.”
Nodding, the doctor glanced down casually at the open folder he’d been reading when she walked in and took a seat. “He’s two?”
Refraining from wincing, Roni nodded, rubbing Jack’s back. “Well, two and three months now.”
The doctor glanced up and smiled. “Is that what worries you, Mrs. Quintanilla? That he’s two and three months, and he’s still not speaking much?”
“Uh,” Roni cleared her throat, feeling a little silly but determined not to have her worries undermined. “You can call me Veronica err—Roni actually.”
“Roni?” Strangely, that had his eyes brightening.
“Yes, it’s uh… what everyone calls me.” She cleared her throat, anxious to explain herself. “But yes and no. I mean at his age I feel like he should be saying a little more. I know kids younger than him that do. But there are other things. It’s all in there.” She pointed at the folder in front of him. “I filled out that long questionnaire and explained at length all the things that as a whole have me here today.”
“Fair enough.” Mateo held her gaze for a moment before looking back down at the folder. “First of all,” he said without looking up. “Let me assure you that not speaking in full sentences or having a very limited vocabulary at his age is perfectly normal, especially for a boy. They’re usually a little behind girls when it comes to this.” He looked up at her and their eyes met again. “You should never compare him to other kids, by the way. It’s the worst thing you can do.” The sudden warm smile coupled with the twinkle in his welcoming eyes eased the tension Roni had begun to feel again. “For your own sanity that is. No two kids are alike, not siblings or even twins. You’ll drive yourself nuts if you compare.”
A few minutes into his interviewing Roni about her biggest concerns, there was a knock on the door. The door opened with the same smiling girl who’d walked Roni in and Noah behind her.
Mateo and Noah exchanged greetings as Noah took a seat. Once settled in, the doctor caught Noah up a little with what he and Roni had been discussing. They got through the interviewing part fairly quickly. Though Roni wasn’t thrilled about most of her concerns being blown off. It seemed everything Roni threw at him, Mateo dismissed as normal toddler behavior.
It wasn’t that Roni was hoping Jack would be diagnosed with autism. She’d just read that, when it came to autism, is was imperative to act quickly. If caught early on, some of the behavior could be reversed before it was too far gone. At the very least they could get started on the aggressive therapy that would be needed sooner rather than later. She’d hate to waste precious time on possible misdiagnoses.
Midway through the screening, Noah seemed distracted by his phone a few times until Roni finally turned to him, arching a brow in question.
“I’m sorry, babe.” He turned to Mateo. “I apologize, doctor. Seems we’re having a bit of a crisis down at my gym.” Turning his attention back to Roni, he frowned when his phone buzzed again. “Gio is supposed to be meeting with those guys who flew in from Colombia, but Bianca took a spill on their staircase today, and he’s in the ER with her now.”
Roni’s jaw dropped as Noah went on to explain why they couldn’t get a hold of any of the other owners. They all had good reasons. Most were out of town and Gio was in the hospital with his wife. It’s why Roni couldn’t even fault Noah for checking his phone during what was beginning to feel like his son’s not-so-necessary autism screening.
“It’s not necessary that you be here for the rest of this.” Mateo sat back in his chair. “I can’t make a full assessment yet, but at this point I’m not feeling too concerned. If you need to go, we can finish up without you, and Roni can bring you up to speed with anything you missed.”
Noah, who’d been reading something on his phone, glanced up at the doctor but said nothing. He turned to Roni with a strange expression and she had a feeling why. He was feeling guilty about considering leaving. “Go ahead and go, babe. I can finish this out today, and you can come back with me next time.”
“Yes,” Mateo explained. “We do the screening in two parts. Next time I see him we’ll do some cognitive testing.”
After further explanation, Noah took them up on the offer to leave and rushed out. It wasn’t long before they were finished with the screening. A good thing too, because Jack had begun to get a little testy.
As he’d done earlier, Mateo held Roni’s gaze only longer this time after shaking her hand good-bye. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head when he realized he hadn’t let go of her hand either. “You look so familiar. I’ve been trying to place where I’ve seen you before ever since you walked in here. Have we met before?”
Roni took him in a little closer then shook her head. “I don’t believe so, but maybe you’ve seen me at 5th Street?” Roni offered. “The boxing gym in East LA? My husband and I are part owners and we spend a lot of time there.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve ever been.” Pressing his lips together and looking a little frustrated, he shrugged. “Maybe by the time you’re back it’ll come to me.”
Without further comment, Roni was out of there. It wasn’t even until the long ride home in traffic, and after pondering her day, that it dawned on Roni. She’d been so caught up with her concerns over Jack she hadn’t given it much thought, even when Mateo asked if they’d met before. Come to think of it, he had looked a little familiar to her, even when she’d first seen his photo online. Great now it was going to drive her crazy until they figured it out.
For the third night in a row, Noah was indulging in one of his favorite things to do. It was partly because he could never get enough of Roni, but he also knew guilt had a lot to do with it. He’d known for months now about Roni’s growing concerns over this whole possible autism thing. That appointment was important to her and not only was he late to it, but then he’d bailed on her before it was over. She’d seemed genuinely fine about it, but Noah couldn’t help wanting to make up for it somehow.
Each night since the day of the appointment, he’d volunteered to get Jack in bed a little earlier than his normal bedtime. When he was sure little man was out for the count, he’d crawled into bed with Roni and started things off this way. Now here he was kissing her trembling inner thighs as he worked his way up to the real treasure. Tracing the tattoo of his name on her inner thigh with kisses, he made his way up slowly.
Try as he might to take it slow, Noah could hardly wait to get there. After a few lingering moments more of his teasing his way there, he finally slid his tongue up and down her wet slit. Damn the sweet taste of his beautiful wife would never get old.
Roni exhaled loudly, arching her back as he slid his tongue in and out and up and down her wet folds slowly. Using his fingers to spread her, he exposed her perfectly engorged clit. She was so ready for him. Last night he’d tortured her a little, but tonight he was too damn horny and would need to be in her soon, so he moved it along faster. Taking her clit between his lips, he drummed the tip of his tongue against it, making her moan in the process.
Oh yeah, she’d be there much sooner than last night. Smiling as her body began that undeniable quivering, Noah went in for the kill, devouring her clit and sucking softly as she cried out again and again. Giving her a break because he knew how sensitive she could be when she climaxed this hard, he lapped her softly with his tongue as she came down from her orgasm.
As her breathing calmed, Noah kissed her one last time before glancing up from between her legs. “Good?”
“Heaven,” she said breathlessly. “As always.”
Despite his rock-hard erection, Noah moved up and snuggled next to her. He’d give her a moment to recover before going in for his.
“I love you,” she said, turning to him, eyes closed and still trying to catch her breath.
Her phone dinged, but she didn’t even move. Noah glanced at her lit-up phone screen on the nightstand. “Is someone calling you?”
Noah smiled when he turned to her and saw her eyes were still closed as she continued to enjoy the afterglow of her climax. He nuzzled her neck, kissing just under her chin softly.
Roni turned to him, touching his face and pecking him several times. “I’ll be right back.”
Searching her eyes for a moment, he didn’t even have to ask before he smiled. She had to go the bathroom. He backed up a little to give her room to get out of the bed. Unable to help himself, he rubbed her naked ass as she got up. “Make it fast.”
“Oh, I will,” she said with a sultry smirk.
Noah groaned, lying back down onto the pillow. Roni’s phone dinging again got his attention. It was almost nine. She usually didn’t get calls or texts this late. Curiously, he leaned over and read the text preview still lighting up the screen. He’d begun to concur it was likely advertising. She often got texts from stores she frequented, letting her in on deals they had going on. The number the text came from wasn’t labeled the way all her regular contacts were. It was just a number and a message. But then the tail end of the text had him doing a double take.
. . . Didn’t mean to spook you!
Reaching for the phone, Noah was about to click on the message when his very naked wife walked back in the room. She climbed into the bed and under the blankets. “Are you on the phone,” she whispered.
“No, this is your phone.” He waved it at her but didn’t care about the text anymore now that he had her naked body back next to his. “You got a text.”
Noah put the phone back on the nightstand and slid under the blankets with her, wrapping his arms around her and inhaling deeply.
“From who? She ran her fingers through his hair as he began kissing her neck.
“I dunno,” he mumbled, sucking her neck a little harder. “Someone who didn’t mean to spook you.”
Roni pulled away, but Noah held her. “Leave it,” he murmured, sliding his hand down the side of her thigh. “You can get it later.”
“I’m curious now.” She pulled away again, and this time Noah obliged, grudgingly letting her go. “Spook me?”
Waiting, not so patiently, Noah played with her fingers while she reached for her phone with her other hand. He watched her questioning expression as she tapped at her screen a couple of times until her furrowed brows eased up with what looked like understanding.
Noah’s fiddling fingers against hers froze instantly. “Who?”
She turned to him and smiled. “Dr. Hidalgo. Jack’s doct—”
“I know who Dr. Hidalgo is,” he said, searching her eyes but trying his damnedest to not overreact. “Since when is he Mateo and why’s he texting you?”
Roni tilted her head with a smile, lacing her fingers through Noah’s. “When I was at his office the other day, he said he’d spent the whole time trying to figure out where he knew me from. His first text.” She held up the phone so Noah could see. “Just asked if I went to ESU. That it’s where he thinks he knows me from. But he was right. From that text alone, I wouldn’t have known who the text was from since I don’t have his personal cell phone number in my contacts. So, he followed up with another text letting me know this was from him—Mateo—and that he didn’t mean to spook me.”
Holding, his wife’s gaze for a moment, Noah refrained from frowning as he reached his hand out and she handed him the phone. He read the two texts to himself.
ESU! That’s gotta be where I know you from. It’s been driving me insane. Did you go there?
Insane? Clutching the phone a little tighter and swallowing back the annoyance, Noah read the next text.
This is Mateo btw. Forgot you might not recognize the number. Didn’t mean to spook you!
The texts were a reminder of something he hadn’t even thought about since he’d rushed out of that doctor’s office days ago. Glancing up at Roni, Noah peered at her. “That day at his office he called you Roni. You know this guy outside his office?”
“No.” She shook her head then shrugged. “When we were discussing Jack, it felt a little too formal to hear him call me Mrs. Quintanilla, especially after he’d insisted I call him by his first name. So, I told him to just call me Veronica, or better yet Roni, since it’s what everyone calls me.”
“And now he’s texting you?”
Roni’s brows furrowed. “Babe, it’s the first I’ve heard from him since the visit. It’s the last thing we discussed before I walked out that day.”
“But he’s been thinking about it—you—this whole time.”
“Are you seriously going there with this?” Roni asked with a questioning smirk.
“Read the text again, Roni. It’s been driving him insane.” Aware he was likely making too much of it, Noah put her phone down and pulled her to him, rubbing his ready-to-go cock against her thigh. “You remember this guy from ESU?”
“Yes.” Roni pressed against him, giggling when he pulled away to look her in the eyes. “It was just a one-nighter.” She yelped loudly when Noah squeezed her ass cheek. “Didn’t mean anything!”
Flipping her over, Noah got on his knees behind her, pulling her ass up in the air and slapping it lightly. “I don’t remember him from anywhere!” she screeched between laughs.
Glad he’d locked the door, Noah shushed her before teasing her opening with the tip of his cock. “I’ll respond to this guy as soon as I’m done with you.”
“No, you will not,” Roni said, turning back to look at him, wide-eyed.
Plunging deep into her, Noah groaned in sheer ecstasy. He’d meant to take this one slower, but after her apparently hilarious remarks, he slammed into her again and again until he pulled out and came all over back. Served her right. Now they’d have to shower, and he’d continue to punish her to his heart’s content under the hot water, if not all night.
Rushing out of the shower, Noah couldn’t believe he’d ignored his first and second alarm that morning. Of course, Roni was quick to remind him he had it coming. They’d been up half the night since he’d had such a good excuse to continue her punishment all night.
Once in the kitchen, ready to run out without any breakfast because he didn’t have time, Roni handed him his coffee commuter mug and a toasted bagel with cream cheese to go.
“I love you,” he said, taking the mug and the bagel from her before kissing her. He stopped to inhale deeply before speaking against her lips. “My pee-pee’s sore.”
Roni laughed out loud. “It should be! You ridiculous man!”
“You’re so mine.”
“And you should know this already.”
Kissing her one last time, he squeezed her then kissed Jack, who was on his highchair, before rushing away and out the garage door. As he sat in his car, he couldn’t help but chuckle at his sore hips. Roni would get a kick out of this for sure. With little Jack keeping them busy most evenings, it’d been a while since they’d had marathon nights back to back. He’d always been in shape, but clearly there were parts of his body he worked out more than others. Touching his achy sides, he decided right then and there things needed to change.
His phone buzzed just as he was plugging it into the car charger, making him look down at it before starting out of his garage. It was a text from one of his partners, Hector.
Don’t forget the paperwork. It needs to be faxed today.
Letting his head fall back onto his seat, Noah turned off the car and jumped out. Again, smirking when his sore hips reminded him of the incredible night he’d had with his wife, he rushed back into the house. Roni and Jack were no longer in the kitchen. He figured they were back in his room, getting ready for their Mommy and Me class later that morning.
Rushing through the dining room and into the front room, he slowed when he saw Jack sitting on the sofa with his sippy cup, still in his jammies, watching TV. As soon as Jack saw him, he was on his feet, running toward him with a screech.
“Hey, bud.” Noah glanced down at his watch before catching Jack, who leaped into his arms. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready? Where’s mom?”
Starting toward the bedroom, with his son in his arms, Noah was surprised Roni wasn’t already calling out for Jack. She was usually all over it whenever she heard him so much as whine. As he approached the bedroom, he could hear Roni talking but couldn’t make out what she was saying until he reached the door.
“… no, but I did work there for several years. That could—”
She stopped mid-sentence, looking startled when Noah walked into the bedroom. Confused by her reaction to seeing him, Noah peered at her with a smirk as he let Jack down.
“I forgot something,” he explained as his eyes went from hers to her phone. “Are you not doing the Mommy and Me thing today?”
“Give me a sec,” she said into the phone before addressing Noah, again in that odd demeanor. “Yeah, but they pushed it back to nine today. So, I have some time.”
Noah nodded as he walked over to the nightstand, grabbed the paperwork, and turned back to Roni. “I never did get a chance to look through these, did you?”
Holding a finger up for Noah, Roni spoke into her phone again. “Listen. I’ll have to talk to you another time.” She paused for a moment then spoke again. “No, that’s fine. Not a problem at all. You too. No,” she said addressing Noah as soon as she was off the phone. “I never got a chance to either.”
Frowning, Noah read the top of the first page. “Well, as long as they’re faxed before the end of the day, we’re good. I’ll just have to look through them at the gym.”
He kissed Roni softly before heading out the bedroom door. Jack had since run back into the front room. Noah could hear the thumping all the way back in the hallway as he walked out into it.
“Jack,” Roni called out. “I hope you’re not jumping on the sofa again.”
Noah laughed. “You know he is. I was surprised you didn’t come running out when he screeched earlier.” He turned back to Roni who was walking behind him. “Who were you on the phone with?”
They both winced and turned when they heard the splat and crash in the front room. Jack was sprawled on the floor, his broken sippy cup next to him and chocolate milk all over the floor. As usual, the little brut didn’t even cry. He just rubbed his knee and reached for his cup.
“Leave it,” Roni warned as she rushed toward him and started her scolding.
It was only then that Jack looked even slightly upset. Noah pouted at him playfully as Roni worked to clean up the mess. “Sorry, bud, I can’t help you out of this one. You know better.” Folding the papers in his hand, he waited for Roni to stand up so he could kiss her good-bye again. “Aren’t those sippy cups supposed to be spill-proof?”
“Spill-proof yes, not—” Her phone dinging on the sofa made Roni pause, but she didn’t reach for it. Instead, she turned back to Noah who kissed her. “Not shatter-proof.”
“Well, maybe someone should invent a shatter-proof one.” Roni’s phone dinging again reminded Noah of his earlier inquiry. “Who were you on the phone with earlier?”
He kissed little Jack again and started toward the garage door in an even bigger hurry but didn’t catch what Roni said. He turned to her as she continued to pick up pieces of Jack’s sippy cup from the floor. He pulled his keys out of his pocket. “Who?”
Noah stopped in his tracks as what she just said and everything about her odd demeanor since he walked back into the house sank in. Glancing back at her phone for a second, he turned to her again. “Is that him texting you again?”
Roni reached for her phone and read the screen. “No, it’s Nellie. We’re doing Mommy and Me together today. She’s picking me up.”
Not sure why this felt like a big deal—but it did—Noah stared at Roni. She was wiping Jack’s face now, as Noah’s insides began to heat. “Did you wait for me to leave to call him?”
There’s no way Noah could be serious. Even last night when he’d looked so annoyed by Mateo’s texts, she knew a part of him was only being playfully facetious. Only she’d seen this expression on her husband’s face more than once in her lifetime, and she knew he was being anything but playful now. Still, his accusatory eyes bore into hers in a way they hadn’t in years. It was completely uncalled for and she wasn’t having it.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“I wasn’t even out the garage, Roni, and you were already in the bedroom, having a conversation—”
“He called me,” Roni said, standing up, but for Jack’s sake refrained from raising her voice. “I’d just taken Jack out of his highchair when I heard my phone ringing in the bedroom. I thought maybe you’d forgotten something, so I rushed to answer it.”
Noah put his own phone and paperwork down on the counter, still staring her down. “What’d he want?”
Despite knowing she’d done nothing wrong, just like when Noah had first walked into the bedroom, this completely unnerved her. “I never responded to his text about ESU,” she explained, holding her ground, regardless of her thumping heart. “He said he’d begun to think maybe he sent it to the wrong person, so he called to make sure it was my number.”
“Did it finally come to him or is it still driving him insane?”
“We didn’t get that far.” Roni lifting her chin, though she swallowed hard, not wanting Noah to pick up on her unease. “We’d only been on the phone a few minutes when you walked in.”
“Do you remember him now?”
“No, I don’t actually. But then ESU is a huge school. No way would I remember every student who attended when I worked there.” She took the few steps to him and rubbed his arm. “What difference would it make if I did, baby? So, he’s an alumnus of the university I worked at years ago.” Roni shrugged with a smile, glad to see and feel Noah ease up. “I don’t remember him. Obviously, he’s not anyone that meant much or maybe I’d have some memory of him.”
She nearly yelped when Noah pulled her to him, hugging her tightly and burying his face in her neck. “I’m sorry,” he whispered against her neck before kissing it. “I didn’t mean to be a dick.” Roni dropped her head back when he kissed her neck again, giving him better access. “It’s been one of those mornings,” he said against her neck before pulling back and searching her eyes. “You just seemed weird when I first walked in.” He shook his head with conviction, frowning in the process. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
Roni cupped his face, kissing him softly as she swallowed back the tiniest niggle of guilt. “No need to apologize.”
Leaning his body against hers, Noah groaned as evidence of a surprising erection—given the circumstances—pressed up against her. “I swear if I had time…”
The very thought, and the sound of Jack laughing at something on the TV, had Roni shaking her head with a chuckle. “And if someone wasn’t wide awake…”
Sprinkling kisses on his arm, the one with the sleeve tattoo he’d gotten the year they got married, Roni smiled. Noah had been on the fence about it until overhearing her mention how sexy she thought those kinds of tattoos were. Like last night she’d been thoroughly punished that night when he demanded to know exactly who she’d been talking about, but she really had just meant in general. That week he’d begun the process of getting inked.
The confrontation had ended on a much better note than it started and a few minutes and kisses later Noah was gone—for real this time. Roni made sure of it, even going out to the balcony to catch of glimpse of his car leaving their gated community. The guilt she’d begun to feel earlier was for good reason. Noah had been too worked up when she’d glanced at her phone and told him the texts she’d gotten were from Nellie. It was half true, but she’d been able to see there were other texts. She didn’t know it then but had purposely not confirmed her suspicions.
Now that she was sure he was really gone, she nervously scrolled through her texts and froze when she saw it. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “No wonder I couldn’t place him.”
Nearly dropping her phone when it rang, Roni chided herself inwardly but smirked. She had to get it together. This was ridiculous.
Roni brought the phone to her ear. “Hey, Nellie.” She bent over to finish picking up a few more pieces of the broken sippy cup. “You got the memo about the class being pushed back until nine, right?”
“Yeah, but you got my text, right?”
It was only then that Roni realized while she’d seen she had a text from Nellie she hadn’t actually read it. Before she could check it, Nellie went on. “I can’t make it today. I totally forgot I’d agreed to go with my mom to see her doctor today.”
Nellie went on about why she needed to be there for her mom, who always forgot to ask the pertinent questions. Roni didn’t even hear everything Nellie said as her mind began to wander.
“Do you remember me ever mentioning a Mat when I worked at ESU way back?”
With the momentary silence from Nellie, Roni could hear little Reina babbling in the background. She was just under a year younger than Jack and already using a lot more words than he ever did.
“No,” Nellie finally said. “Why?”
“He wasn’t a full-time student,” Roni explained. “He was already a physician even then, but he was getting board certified in different areas. Anyway, he’s Jack’s doctor. I thought I recognized him at our first visit with him last week, but he’s completely clean shaven and bald now. Not like old bald but like Ed Harris or Vin Diesel bald in their younger hot days.”
“So, he wears it well.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Roni chewed her nail as she started toward the kitchen. “Except back when he attended ESU, he had a full head of hair, even a little goatee. I’d also only ever referred to him as Mat and assumed his name was Matthew. So, I hadn’t put it together until he sent a picture of what he looked like then just now.”
“He sent you a picture?”
Backing up, Roni explained a little about how he’d said he recognized her from somewhere but couldn’t place her. She read the caption on the photo he sent out loud for Nellie. “Maybe you don’t remember old me, but does this guy ring any bells?”
“Old him? How old is he?”
“He’s being modest, Nellie.” Roni huffed with a smile. “I was actually worried when I first saw him because he didn’t look old enough to have the kind of experience I was hoping he might have. He looks a lot younger than I expected.”
“And hotter?” Nellie giggled in question, but before Roni could clarify, her friend followed up with a gasp. “Oh, wait! Is this the guy that Derek—”
“Yes,” Roni said, feeling her stomach knot up.
“Oh wow. What are the odds that you’d end up in his office after all these years?”
“I know, right?”
“Hold on.” Nellie said suddenly. “He was so pushy your ex actually got in his face. You really think he doesn’t remember you?”
Roni hadn’t even thought of that. Could he possibly be playing the part and now he was texting her and even sending her pictures of himself? Shaking off the guilt she’d begun to feel earlier, she was relieved when she remembered.
“I straightened my hair the day of the appointment.” She glanced in the mirror, assessing her naturally tight spiraled curls. “You know how much longer it is and how different I look when it’s straightened. And my hair color was a lot lighter in those days. You remember my chunky highlights? Plus, it has been over what? Almost eight years since then?”
Roni also took in account that she’d been so nervous about the appointment she’d really done herself up that day, wearing far more makeup than she usually did—and did back when she worked at ESU. As if she were the one being evaluated.
“Girl, you haven’t aged at all. But this is true about the hair,” Nellie agreed, making Roni feel better. “I’d forgotten how light your hair was then. That would explain why he recognized you but couldn’t place you. Are you going to remind him?”
Knowing Nellie would wonder what the big deal was after all these years, she explained Noah’s already annoyed reaction to Mateo texting and calling her.
“He’d be beyond annoyed if he knew this is someone who came after me the way he did, even knowing I was in a relationship.” Roni started back into the living room, willing away the unease she’d begun to feel ever since she’d seen the picture Mateo sent. “If it weren’t because I already had to wait so long to get into see him and it might take months before I can get an appointment with another specialist, I might even consider cancelling any more appointments with him.”
“That bad, uh?” Nellie chuckled before adding. “You telling Noah where you remember him from?”
“If the subject comes up again.” Roni held out her hand for Jack and started to the bedroom. “And if he asks, yes. I’m not gonna lie to him. But I won’t voluntarily offer up anything. I’ll just make sure to straighten my hair again for my next appointment and hope Mat doesn’t remember. Should be just one more appointment anyway. At least that’s how he made it sound.”
With that, they were off the subject of Mateo and on to Jack. As usual and like everyone else who kept assuring Roni, Nellie offered more reassurance that Jack was just fine. Once off the phone, Roni bathed Jack and got him ready for their class.
Midway through their Mommy and Me class she got a couple of texts from Noah. The first one asked how the class was going. The second said he loved her, and in the third one, he apologized again for snapping the way he had. Apparently, he too was feeling some of the same lingering guilt Roni was still feeling over this new revelation about Mateo.
But her reason for not wanting to share this with him now was absolutely valid. She didn’t just think Noah would be pissed; she knew he would be. He might even insist they find another doctor. The thought of having to start all over and wait months again to get in to see another specialist was not one she was willing to entertain.
After class, and running several errands, including stopping at 5th Street for a while, they were finally home that afternoon. They’d just arrived home when she got the call. Roni’s belly tensed when she saw it was from Mateo’s office. To her relief, it wasn’t him on the line when she answered. It was his receptionist.
They greeted each other as Roni turned to Jack. She frowned when she saw Jack climb up on the sofa; she immediately gave him a stern look and he sat down.
“I’m calling because we had a cancelation this Thursday and I know you were hoping you could get in for Jack’s cognitive testing sooner than your scheduled appointment.”
The receptionist let her know what time she had the opening. Roni rushed to her tablet, already relieved that she might get this over with a lot sooner than she thought. “Give me a sec. I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything going on that day, but I need to check.” As she scrolled through her calendar, Roni didn’t even know why she was checking. Even if she was booked, she’d cancel whatever it was. “Yes, I can be there she said with a smile.”
Explaining to Roni what she could expect that day, the receptionist gave her all the information. “Oh, and if there’s any special toys or books he has that he enjoys interacting with both you and dad, bring them. The doctor likes to observe the child’s interaction with each parent.”
“Ah.” Roni chewed her bottom lip as the disappointment sank in. “Does my husband have to be there? He’s going out of town tomorrow and won’t be back until the weekend. But I can see if he could—”
“No, he’s not required to be here,” the receptionist said quickly. “I just assumed because he was here last time he’d be here again for this appointment. But that’s fine if only you can make it.”
Once off the phone Roni did a little dance. Her original second appointment was nearly a month away. She’d begun to feel a little deceitful about this whole Mateo thing. She’d sooner get this over with and be done with it. Roni was only glad now she’d laid it on thick when she’d made her follow-up appointment with the receptionist about really hoping she could get in sooner.
“The squeaky wheel, Jack—
She stopped when she heard the garage opening and rushed to the kitchen door, feeling giddy. Noah was just getting out of the car when she opened the door out to the garage.
“They moved Jack’s appointment up to this Thursday!”
The moment she blurted out her excited words she regretted it. Noah’s wide smile faded slowly before going completely flat. “Didn’t you say this guy was booked solid for weeks?”
Clearing his throat, Noah’s mind raced to backpedal when he saw Roni’s excited smile wane. He’d spent most his day chiding himself for snapping at her that morning, and here he’d been ready to do it again. “I mean you said they hadn’t been able to get you in any sooner than almost a month away.”
Try as he might, Noah hadn’t been able to get that last part out as nonchalantly as he’d hoped. He blamed Hector’s stupid remark now when he’d told him about how far out Jack’s first appointment had been. Seriously? So, whose dick to you have to suck to get in sooner? Clearly, it was the last thing Noah was thinking when he heard her announcement. But he had to wonder now if there was any other motivation for the sudden special treatment. This doctor being on high demand and nearly impossible to even book with, was something she’d gone on about months ago when she finally got the first appointment.
“They had a cancellation.” Roni’s demeanor had taken an obvious dive, and Noah could kick himself now, damn it. “I told you I’d practically begged the receptionist to call me if there were any.”
“Yeah, you did.” He pecked her as soon as he reached her then remembered and rushed back to his car. “I got you something.”
Glad he remembered because he sure as fuck nearly blew it again, he reached into the backseat for the box of Almond Roca candies she loved so much. “But you’ll have to hide them from Jack, or he’ll be bouncing off the walls.” He kissed her again when he reached her and handed her the bag, murmuring against her lips. “And I want him in bed early again tonight.”
She smiled again, taking the candy and thanking him. Just like that, she was back to her excitable self. “I’m just so glad this might be over sooner than later.” They walked back into the kitchen together. “Ever since I stopped googling for symptoms and whatnot, I’ve calmed a lot. Truth be told I was doing it too much and it was driving me crazy. The doctor sounded confident enough that Jack is fine. If he’s not worried, why should I be, right?”
Noah kept to himself that, since day one when she first brought it up, he hadn’t been worried either and he’d told her so. But he wouldn’t be petty. The guy was a doctor after all. He was just glad she’d referred to him as the doctor and not Mateo. For whatever reason, that had grated him to no end when he first heard her call him that. Just like when he’d first heard the guy refer to her as Roni. He was also glad this would be over sooner than later, and this might be the last Noah would have to hear of him.
“But you do remember I won’t be here Thursday, right?”
“Yeah.” She nodded with a smile when he pecked her again. “I asked, but the receptionist said you didn’t need to be there.”
Deciding to get off the subject, Noah told her about his day as he helped her put dinner together. It was the second week in a row they were trying the dinner delivery service. The kind that came in a box with everything you needed to make a healthy dinner for two. In their case two-and-a-half. He’d promised when she’d first decided to try the service that they’d put the meals together as a team. It was a reminder of their very first Thanksgiving way back when he realized just how bad he had it for her. So, there was no shortage of groping, kissing, and giggling as they worked together.
As promised after dinner, he wrestled with Jack for a good amount of time to make sure he tired him out early. By the time they were done, and he was in and out of the tub, Jack’s weary little eyes were already giving in. The moment Noah saw Jack was down for good, he headed back to his bedroom to start with some more delicious groveling.
With Noah gone for the week, Roni took advantage of the toddler gym at 5th Street to get some work done. Jack loved going, and even Bianca, who was in charge of the toddler gym, had assured Roni more than once that, as far as she could observe, Jack was fine. Bianca worked with special needs kids, some of whom were autistic. So, it was added relief, now that Roni was almost certain she had been overreacting to Jack still being as non-verbal as he was. She hated to admit it, but Mateo had been right about one thing. In hindsight, her real worry started when she began comparing him to Reina, Abel and Nellie’s little girl. Roni had started researching, and of course every symptom she read about she was suddenly looking for in Jack.
Roni was only glad that after tomorrow’s appointment this would likely be over, and she vowed to stop obsessing about it. Since she’d planned on working out after finishing getting the gym’s quarterly statements ready to send off to accounting, she’d dressed down today. Nellie was originally going to work from home today. But Roni talked her into coming in, to workout with her.
“We can go grab something to eat after,” Roni had contended. “It’s not like either one of us have anyone to rush home to this week.”
Done with her work, Roni was on the treadmill where Nellie would be joining her shortly. She was just warming up when she saw her friend coming toward her with a big smile.
“Every time I see your natural curls, I can’t imagine not liking them.”
Roni smiled, glancing down at her tight ringlets. “I never said I don’t like them. They’re just hard to deal with. Noah prefers my curls to my straightened hair.”
They chatted about hairstyles, color, and lighter subjects until Nellie brought up her birth control woes. They’d switched her birth control and she’d begun to gain weight.
“Don’t get me started,” Roni huffed. “They’ve switched mine twice now. The migraines went away after the first switch, but then the second set of pills had me crying at the drop of a pin. I start the new ones as soon as I get my period this month.”
Roni was just beginning to feel the burn when she had to do a double take and nearly lost her footing.
“Careful,” Nellie said as Roni got herself together.
It was too late to look away and pretend not to see him. Mateo’s eyes had locked onto her the moment he saw her and was already headed her way.
“Oh my God,” she said under her breath.
“Something wrong?” Nellie asked.
“That’s him,” Roni said through her smile.
“Who—?” Nellie began to ask but seemed to catch herself as it likely hit her.
“Hey, you,” he said as he reached her and stood in front of her treadmill. “I wondered if I might run into you here.”
Not sure how to respond, Roni nodded. “I’m usually not working out.” She laughed nervously. “I don’t do this nearly enough, but I do come in and work out of the office here a lot.” Taking in his workout attire before she kept rambling on, she had to ask, “Did you just join?”
“I’m trying it out.” He shrugged. “Got the free-week-pass thing. I have all the equipment at home. It’s why I hadn’t joined a gym, but I’m thinking I might feel more motivated actually coming in to work out.”
Great. And he chose this one. Noah would be thrilled.
“You look so different.” He peered at her with a smirk. “Almost didn’t recognize you.”
“Yeah.” Roni touched her hair, praying it wouldn’t jog his memory. “I straighten my hair sometimes like the day of the appointment.”
He glanced at her hair but continued to take her in completely. It was done casually enough, but Roni hadn’t missed it. She, on the other hand, made it a point not to let him see her taking him in at all. Seeing him in his workout clothes was a lot different from seeing him in his professional shirt, tie, and white coat.
“I’d trouble you for a tour of the place, but I don’t want to interrupt your workout.”
Aware she’d been too quick to shake her head no, she cleared her throat. “I’m almost done, but I need to be somewhere right after. If you ask someone at the front desk, though, they can get someone to show you around.”
“Will do.” He smiled genuinely. “I’ll let you finish up your workout. See you tomorrow?”
“Yes.” Roni nodded, feeling her insides bunch up.
“Good. Look forward to seeing you and Jack again.”
As soon as he was far away enough, Roni turned to Nellie, who was staring at her wide-eyed then raised a brow.
“What?” Roni asked, unease creeping in fast.
Nellie hit the slow button on her treadmill as well. “I meant to call you back the other day after we got off the phone, but I got so busy with my mom and then totally forgot about it until now. I got to thinking, okay, you ending up in this guy’s office was clearly a coincidence. You sought him out, not the other way around, and you both look so different neither recognized the other.”
“Yeah.” Roni agreed as they both got off their treadmills.
“You didn’t put his name together with his face because you only ever knew him as Mat not Mateo.” Roni nodded in an agreement but didn’t say anything so Nellie could go on. “Did you introduce yourself as Veronica or Roni?”
“The paperwork I filled out I used my full name…” She slowed, remembering his reaction to the next part. “But I did tell him to call me Roni.”
“You said he admitted he’d been trying to place you from the moment you walked in.” Roni nodded, turning to Nellie as she went on. “He probably hadn’t put it together at first because of your married name, but once you said Roni, straight hair or not, he had to have put it together. How many Ronis do you think he’s known in his lifetime? I know you’re the only one I’ve ever known.”
Swallowing hard, Roni stared at her friend, who was beginning to look as alarmed as this made Roni feel. “Why would he pretend not to remember?”
Nellie shrugged as if picking up on Roni’s growing unease. “Maybe he was afraid of reminding you. Your boyfriend nearly kicked his ass. People change and he probably has, but even after all these years, I’m sure it’s still embarrassing to be reminded that he was once such a pushy prick.”
“But then he sends me that picture, knowing full well I’d remember.”
“Did you tell him you remembered?”
Roni explained about her short response, saying simply that it still didn’t ring any bells. How she’d been glad he’d taken the hint that she wouldn’t be going back and forth with him because he stopped texting her after that.
Softening her expression, Nellie shrugged again. “Well, then let’s not make more of this than it really is. Maybe the picture was just to feel you out if you did remember. You know to prepare himself so the next appointment wouldn’t be so awkward.”
They reached the toddler gym and walked in. Jack immediately got out of the tube he was climbing through and headed toward her.
“So, what do you feel like for lunch?” Nellie asked as she walked into the room and Roni followed.
Roni got the distinct feeling Nellie was trying to assuage the tension both had begun to feel. She knew her best friend so well because the rest of the afternoon they talked kids, work, gossiped a little, and otherwise had a pleasant lunch without any more talk of Mat.
At the very end, when they were going to part ways in the restaurant’s parking lot, Nellie said, “You’re telling Noah about seeing Mat, right?” Roni nodded, feeling her insides knot up again. “Good. You should. It’s not a big deal, hon. Except, uh…” Roni stared at her, feeling a bit anxious again. “Up to you, but if it were me, I’d leave out any of the theories we bounced around today. If we’re way off, and I think we might be, no sense in getting him all worked up.”
Roni agreed, though she kept to herself she already knew he’d be worked up just hearing about Mat showing up at the gym.
Smiling big, Noah watched through his phone screen as Roni tucked Jack into their bed. She always said she had a hard time sleeping when Noah wasn’t home. So, she let Jack sleep in their bed with her whenever he was out of town. Only Little Man wasn’t sleeping yet, and Noah knew it was past his bedtime.
As if reading his mind, Roni leaned over and kissed Jack’s forehead. “Jack promised he’d go straight to sleep or he’d have to go back to his room. Right, baby?”
She moved the screen so Noah could witness Jack nodding. Noah couldn’t help chuckling. As if! Like she’d let him go back to his room even if he wanted to.
“Goodnight, buddy. I love you.”
“Night, night, dada. Uv!” Jack waved at the screen then blew a kiss with his hand.
When Roni was back on the screen, Noah smirked at her. “Should I let you go so he can actually fall asleep?”
“No. I already told him mommy’s gonna talk to daddy a little more in another room.”
She gave him a knowing smirk as she waved at Jack before she walked out the room into the hallway. They both knew what was really going to happen. Jack would find one reason after another to keep getting out of bed until she was finally in bed with him. But Noah had already told her all about the first day of the charity golf tournament he’d attended with Abel and Felix. He’d give talking to her a little longer a try before they inevitably would have to give up so Jack could fall asleep.
Putting her finger to her lips, neither said anything until they were far enough away from Jack’s earshot. They might get lucky and he just might fall asleep, but Noah knew it was a longshot.
As soon as he saw her walk into the kitchen, Noah started up again. “So how was your day?”
“Good.” For a moment she was out of view as she set the iPad down on its stand on the kitchen counter. “We had lunch with Nellie and Reina.”
“Let me guess.” Noah smiled playfully. “Reina did most of the talking.”
“Ha, ha,” she said as she walked away from the screen to grab an orange from the fruit basket. “She doesn’t even talk in full-on sentences; it’s just she says so much more than Jack did at her age. But I’m done worrying about it. I’m fully convinced now I was just being paranoid.”
“Good.” Noah sat back against the pillows on his bed. “I for one will be glad when we get this behind us and there’s no more need for you to step foot in that doctor’s office again.”
He left it at that because he’d vowed he wouldn’t even ask her about the guy anymore. Noah figured, if she’d heard from the guy again, Roni would know better than to keep it from him. So, he refused to even ask her if she had. Instead, he smiled, admiring his wife’s ass under her thin sleep pants as she walked away again and dug in drawer for something.
“I ran into him today.”
Feeling his insides do the same thing they did the last time she referred to the doctor as Mateo, Noah sat up a little. He waited for her to turn around so he could look at her face when he asked, but she didn’t. She was still digging in the damn drawer.
Feeling his brows jump and losing his patience because she still hadn’t turned to face the screen, he sat all the way up. “What are you looking for, Roni?”
She pulled a knife out of the drawer and finally turned to face the screen, holding up the knife so he could see as she walked back toward the iPad. Noah took a deep breath, willing the patience to get through this without snapping. “The gym or on the street?”
“The gym.” She glanced down at the orange she began to slice. “I worked out with Nellie before we went to lunch, and he walked in just as I was finishing up.”
“He’s a member there?”
“Not yet.” She glanced up at the screen for a moment but then went back to working on the orange. “He got a week pass, but he said he’s considering becoming a member.”
Closing his eyes for a moment, Noah dug deep not to make any snappy comments. “Did you tell him we’re part owners?”
“Um, huh.” She nodded, sucking on an orange wedge but didn’t offer more.
She was being weird, but Noah wouldn’t point it out. The last two times they’d spoken of this guy weren’t exactly pleasant. Like Noah, she was probably doing her best to get through this without things getting ugly, but he couldn’t just let it go. This was too coincidental, and he was curious. “What’d he say?”
As she turned away from the iPad again, Noah watched her walk to the other counter again and reach for a napkin. “That he didn’t think he’d ever been there.”
Confused, Noah shook his head. “What?”
Roni was noticeably still for a moment before turning back to face the screen. “Just before I left his office, when he mentioned he knew me from somewhere but couldn’t place me, I suggested maybe he’d seen me at 5th Street and why I was there a lot.”
Sucking on her orange wedge again, she looked straight at the screen as if she knew what he was likely thinking at that very moment. Almost as if she were calling him out—daring him to start making accusations—or something.
But Noah wouldn’t. Once again, it took everything in him to refrain from dropping the sarcastic remark that begged to jump from his mouth. So, you mention you’re there a lot and suddenly he wants to join? She probably knew the moment she saw the douche there today that it’s exactly what Noah would be thinking, and she was ready for him.
Her weird demeanor made sense now. Only they both knew that, even if this guy did have ulterior motives, with his personal texts, calls, bumping her appointment way up, and now this, she had no control over his actions. Most importantly, she’d done nothing wrong, and Noah knew better than to even suspect she might’ve.
Despite all that, Noah still couldn’t just let it go. He did have more questions when it came to this. But he’d be mindful of his tone. “How long was he there?”
“At the gym? I don’t know.” She sucked her orange wedge before going on. “I only spoke to him briefly when he passed by the treadmill I was on.”
She explained about her asking him if he’d joined and what he’d said again then excused himself and walked away. Of course, Jack would pick that moment to walk into the kitchen to ask for water. Roni tended to him then walked him back to the room, leaving the iPad in the kitchen.
Sitting back against his pillows again, Noah decided maybe it was for the best if he cut the call sooner than later. From what he’d already heard, there wasn’t much else to tell. He was afraid of slipping and regretting it as he had the last two times.
He heard her walk back in the kitchen, and then she came back into view. To his relief, the strange demeanor had morphed into her smiling again. “He saw the orange I was eating and now he wants one.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. Get him the orange and then get in bed with him.”
They agreed Jack wouldn’t be falling asleep until she was in bed with him, so after exchanging some very genuine I-love-yous, they were off the phone with her promise to call him first thing after Jack’s appointment.
Regardless of how contrived the doctor’s sudden interest in 5th Street felt, Noah decided he wouldn’t worry about it anymore. He had complete faith in his wife. She’d do the right thing if the guy ever tried or even said anything inappropriate. At which point Noah would take things into his own hands. But until then, Roni didn’t deserve to be feeling defensive.
Deciding he was done with this shit, Noah got in bed, determined to not give it another thought. But not before sending Roni one last text.
I miss you, baby.
He sent it off and waited. A few seconds later he got her response.
I miss you more!
And there you had it—the only thing that should matter. The two most important people in his life were safe at home, and they loved him just as much as he loved them. Now he could sleep.
As if she weren’t already feeling slightly tense, Roni froze when she saw the name on her phone after it rang. Mateo. What could he possibly be calling her for? Jack’s appointment with him was in less than an hour. Had he remembered where he knew her from and had to call immediately to tell her? The now-familiar knot in her stomach was back. She’d have to tell Noah if that were the case because she was already feeling rotten about having kept anything from him.
Reminding herself that, despite everything she and Nellie had discussed yesterday and what she knew Noah was thinking, they’d all very likely made too much of this already. Despite the conclusions they’d all so hastily jumped to, the man hadn’t so much as said anything inappropriate to her.
So, she took a deep breath and answered. “Hello?”
There were muffled sounds, and she heard him say something but couldn’t make anything out. Then the line clicked, and he hung up. Roni stared at the screen for a second and waited, wondering if he’d be calling back. She set the phone down, relieved when it didn’t immediately ring and finished straightening her hair.
By the time she was done getting ready, he still hadn’t called back. At that point, Roni assumed he’d simply dialed her by mistake, and she felt silly now. She gathered her things and Jack and got in the car, ready to get this over with once and for all.
When she got to his office, the receptionist informed her that the doctor was running a little late but was on his way. Unbelievably, after all the paperwork she’d filled out the first day they still had more for her. But it served to keep her busy while she waited.
Midway through her paperwork, her phone buzzed. She’d made a point to set it to vibrate because there were signs all over asking people to stay off their phones while in the office. It was Nellie calling, so she sent it to voicemail but sent a text saying she was sitting in the waiting room and couldn’t answer the phone. Nellie responded almost immediately with a text.
I remembered something kind of important about Mat!
Curious and feeling her insides knot up all over again, Roni responded, asking what that was and waited. A part of her regretted telling her friend about this in the first place. Nellie was wonderful and all, and Roni loved brainstorming with and venting to her. But if Roni had kept her big mouth shut about this in the first place, her anxiety might’ve ended when Noah apologized the day Mat called her. Their prattling on about this had only made things worse. Her phone buzzed again. The much longer text explained why it’d taken Nellie longer to respond this time and Roni braced herself. The very first sentence made her smile.
I wasn’t TRYING to remember anything more to rattle you. It just came to me and it’s something that might actually lessen your angst about this. I think Mat’s married. I remembered you telling me he didn’t wear a ring but it was rumored that he might be. This might all just be a product of our overactive and suspicious minds. =)
The relief Roni began to feel was fleeting because this gave way to another reminder and her heart sped up. She could hardly believe now that she’d forgotten something so significant. But then this all had happened just before her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Everything else that happened around that time was now a blur.
“Mrs. Quintanilla?” Roni looked up at the girl at the open doorway. “You can come back now.”
For a moment, Roni hesitated to move but then stood up and called out for Jack. They were walked back to the doctor’s empty office. “He’s not here yet, but he just called to say he’s close, so you can have a seat in his office until he arrives.” The girl walked out, closing the door behind her.
Thankfully, there was a playset in his office as well, and Jack was instantly distracted by it. Roni took advantage of the moment and closed door to call Nellie.
“Aren’t we the silly bunch,” Nellie mused when she answered.
“No, we’re not.”
“What, why? A physician his age and with his looks has got to married or at the very least in a serious relationship. Did you check if he wears a—”
“He’s not here yet, so I need to make this fast.” Roni spoke quickly in a hushed voice. “He lives for the chase. We had a whole conversation about this back then. I refused to ask if he was married because I didn’t care, but this reminded me that I did ask him why he’d continue to pursue me when he knew I was in a relationship. He said there was nothing more thrilling to him than a woman who was off limits.” Bringing her hand to her face, she nearly groaned when she remembered the next part. “Just before the whole Derek incident, he’d made it clear he always got his way and he wasn’t one to ever give up. And he wasn’t kidding, because even after he and Derek nearly went to blows, he still brought me Starbucks. Called it a peace offering but then he kept doing it.”
“How did he finally stop?”
“He didn’t. He continued to be an insatiable flirt until a few weeks later when I resigned to take care of my mom. I never saw him again after that.”
“Until now,” Nellie stated the obvious.
“Nellie, remember back then I told you I did find him attractive?”
“I never told you this because I didn’t want to admit it even to myself, but there were times I probably encouraged his being so relentless.”
“I doubt that. How?”
“Even before but especially after the confrontation with Derek, I should’ve been meaner.”
“You don’t have a mean bone in your body, Roni.”
“I accepted and even thanked him for the Starbucks, even after Derek told him to back off. Derek would’ve been furious if he’d known.”
Of course, Nellie was quick to rebuttal. “You love Starbucks and you’re a sweetheart. Of course, you’d thank him. Nothing wrong with that.”
“Would Abel be okay if you’d done anything similar?”
Roni heard Nellie inhale and exhale. “Okay. Maybe accepting the Starbucks after the confrontation wasn’t cool. But Derek did turn out to be an asshole. Maybe you sensed it even back then and subconsciously you were acting out.”
This time Roni really groaned. “Oh my God, Nellie. He sends the photo, which I’m sure he didn’t buy that it didn’t remind me. Then he moves the appointment way up, probably so he wouldn’t have to wait a whole month to see if I’d really come back to see him. Now here I am, without my husband to boot.” Roni paused momentarily when she heard something outside the door, but whoever it was appeared to keep walking. She lowered her voice even more. “Should I just leave?”
Nellie was quiet for a moment before finally responding. “No. I think if you do, it’ll send the wrong message. You’re there for one reason—Jack. You’d honestly forgotten about all that other stuff he said to you way back. But if you leave now, he might think you’d been tempted to get back to where you left off then changed your mind last minute. If he’s that persistent, it might make things worse, especially if he starts showing up at the gym.”
Roni shuddered at the very thought. She’d be forced to fess everything up to Noah. She’d managed to get through last night’s conversation, but inwardly she’d been a wreck. Would he even believe that she hadn’t remembered any of this until now?
“Oh my God, Nellie,” she whispered.
“Calm down. You got this.” Nellie assured her. “Get this appointment out of the way and be done with it. If he so much as brings up the past, you tell him point blank that you have no interest in even discussing it. Period. I wouldn’t worry too much about him showing up at the gym to do anything stupid. Your intimidating dean ex-boyfriend was one thing. But I’m sure he’s already researched 5th Street. If he has half a brain, he knows how many men with lethal fists he’d be up against this time if even thinks about it.”
“What if—” The knock at the door silenced Roni. “I gotta go,” she whispered before hanging up.
The door opened and in walked Mateo, smiling broadly. “Morning, Roni. Sorry about the wait. Rough morning.”
Halfway through the appointment Roni was finally able to relax a little. Everything seemed so routine, Roni had begun to wonder if maybe Mat really didn’t remember. Except for a few times when she thought he’d held her gaze a little too long, he’d been a perfect gentleman with the quintessence of professionalism. It was such a pleasant surprise she’d actually begun to feel a little guilty. But she was glad she was able now to stop thinking about that and concentrate on what she was really there for.
After several tests were performed, a young lady in plain clothes walked in with a few wooden puzzles like the many Jack had at home. She introduced herself to Roni and Jack as just Tina, not nurse this or doctor anything. Mat had already informed Roni that some of the tests would be done by other technicians, but they wouldn’t be in scrubs or medical coats. It was to give Jack the feel that he was just playing. Not at a doctor’s office being tested.
“Sometimes something that simple makes a difference in kid’s interactions.”
Once Tina was sitting comfortably on the floor with Jack, Mat stood and motioned to Roni to follow him. “Jack, your mom and I will be right back. We just have to fill out more paperwork, okay?”
Jack barely acknowledged them as he continued with his puzzle. Roni eyed Mat questionably. As soon as they were out of the room with the door closed, Mat turned to explain. He pointed at the door right next door. “That mirror in that room is a two-way mirror. It’s how I get to observe my patients without the distraction of their parents or a doctor sitting in a room. You’d be surprised how different kids’ personalities can be when they’re not around their parents.” He turned to face her with a smile as he held the door open for the dimly lit room next door. “It’s why so many parents are shocked that their sweet little shy child is actually a terror or class clown in school.”
Mat explained about the dim lights being needed so that even their shadows wouldn’t be seen from the other room. Roni wondered if Jack would act any different. Chairs that looked more like barstools sat in front of the two-way mirror since it was a lot higher than a table. Mat motioned for her to have a seat, though he pushed his chair away and stood next to her in front of the mirror instead. They watched silently for a few minutes, though Roni wasn’t sure what exactly they were looking for.
“I always did love your sweet curls.”
Stunned was the only word to describe what Roni felt when she turned to look into Mat’s playful eyes. She wasn’t even sure why she was surprised. She should’ve known he couldn’t have changed too much. Roni hadn’t been exaggerating when she told Nellie he was an insatiable flirt.
“Don’t get me wrong, the straight hair fits you well too. The curls are sweet, but this is sexy. So, both ways are perfect on you.”
Swallowing hard, Roni did her best to keep her cool. “Aren’t you supposed to be observing my son?”
“I’m glad you came back.”
“Of course, I came back.” She spoke almost through her teeth. “My son is the only reason I’m here.”
“I thought I’d never see you again. Was our reunion really”—he took a step closer to her, lowering his eyes to her lips before bringing them back up to meet hers–“fortuitous, Roni?”
“Fortuitous is not the word I’d choose for the complete coincidence, but just so we’re clear, I had no idea who you were until you sent that picture.”
“Oh, come on, Roni. We finally have a chance to give into our mutual attraction. Finish what we were never able to. Why fight it—?”
The ruckus at the door interrupted his infuriating drivel. Before Roni could even begin to retort, the door swung open.
“. . . but he’s in the middle of—”
“I don’t care,” the woman at the door snapped back at the receptionist. “Is this her?” The woman turned to Roni. “Are you Roni? You do know he’s married, right? That he has four children—?”
“I told you this morning.” Mat stepped in front of Roni as she got off the stool. “She’s the mother of one of my patients, Linda.”
“You send pictures to all your patient’s mothers? Talk to them late at night when you think I’m sleeping—”
“Listen, Listen, Linda—”
“I heard you tell her last night you could hardly wait to see her today, Mat! That you’d had the time of your life this past weekend. I’m not stupid.”
“I wasn’t on the phone with him last night,” Roni finally spoke up, making Mat move to the side of her. “And I certainly haven’t spent any time with him outside his office. Only reason I’m even here is for that little boy.” Roni pointed her shaky finger at the window, barely able to believe this was happening. “I’m happily married and have zero interest in your douchebag husband.”
“I saw your texts,” Linda got even louder as Mat stepped in front of her. “I tried to call you this morning, but he took the phone from me. Why?”
“Because I didn’t want you harassing my clients,” Mat barked at her.
“He initiated the texts and the calls,” Roni retorted right back. “And I thought they were harmless until just before you burst in here when his ass suggested we give into what he thinks is a mutual attraction. I promise you two things though. You don’t have to worry about me giving into anything with this asshole, and I’ll never step foot in this place again.”
She grabbed her purse from where it was hanging behind the stool, purposely pulling it a little harder than needed. It swung and hit Mat in the groin, hard enough to have him bending over.
“And you, Mat.” She addressed him even though he was still bent half over and not looking at her. “Stay away from me. Don’t call me or text me or so help me I will sue your ass for sexual harassment and malpractice. How the hell are you supposed to do your job when you’re too busy trying to hit on your client’s mothers?”
Feeling slightly weak, she stalked out of the room and into the room next door. Within minutes, she was back in the car with Jack. She held out until Jack passed out before falling apart. She hadn’t even realized just how tense she’d gotten until she let out the tears. How in the world would she get through this conversation with Noah?
She knew she’d promised to call him right after the appointment, but there was no way. After gathering herself, she called Nellie instead. She wasn’t even sure why she was feeling so emotional. As much as she’d been trying to convince herself Mat had changed and she’d been too quick to jump to conclusions, deep inside she knew men like him never changed. Given what his wife said about what she overheard, he’d probably been cheating on her for years. He was a scumbag.
“How’d it go?” Nellie answered cheerfully.
“We were right,” Roni said, disgusted with herself for not trusting her gut. “We were all right. Noah’s gonna be furious.”
She started from the top, chuckling humorlessly about how she’d actually begun to feel guilty about misjudging his intentions. Then she got to the part of his comment about her curls.
“Oh, it gets worse,” Roni said, glad that she was feeling better now that she was able to vent about it to Nellie.
She gave Nellie the blow by blow of how everything went down, cracking a smile when Nellie giggled about the purse to the groin part.
“So, he’s just a slimeball all around,” Nellie said when she was done. “I’d feel bad for his wife, but if he’s always been a douche, I seriously doubt he’s ever been faithful to anyone. I’m sure she’s known for years and she still went and had four kids with him.”
Roni half listened to Nellie. She couldn’t care less about Mat and his wife now. All she could think of was how she was going to break this to Noah. Would he do something crazy? Would he be furious with her?
“Nellie, how am I supposed to tell Noah about this?”
“What? I can’t keep something like this from him.”
“No, I just mean for now. Wait ‘til he gets home at least.”
“He’s gonna wanna know how the appointment went. What am I supposed to say?”
“Well.” Nellie exhaled. “From what you told me, sounds like the appointment was otherwise going well. Everything he said sounded positive. For now, you say it went well but you’ll have to wait for the final analysis or something; then Saturday when he gets home, you tell him the truth.”
“Nellie, he knows me so well. He’ll know something’s up.” Roni squeezed her eyes shut thinking about it. “Maybe not over the phone or via text, but we FaceTime in the evening. You should’ve seen me last night when I had to tell him about running into Mat at the gym. I was a mess and I know he noticed. He’s just trying so hard to be cool about this because he feels guilty about snapping at me that first day.”
“Well, then use that to your advantage if he notices anything again and don’t feel guilty about it.”
“I would absolutely feel guilty—”
“Think about it, Roni. If he’s anything like Abel, he’ll likely cut this trip short and come storming home to try and kill Mat. I just talked to Abel, and it sounds like they’re really enjoying the tournament. They’ve been winning, and you know how competitive they are. Let him enjoy his last two days there before he has to come home to this cluster fuck.”
Roni inhaled deeply just as her other line beeped. “Shit, that’s him.”
“Be cool, you got this,” Nellie assured her. “And if it’s easier see if you can forgo the FaceTime until he gets back. It’s just two nights. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
“Okay, wish me luck.”
She hung up and switched over to Noah. “Hey, babe.”
“Hey, how’d it go?”
“Good,” she said, frowning because her pitch went up a little. “It went well.”
“So, he’s good?”
“What do you mean you guess. What’d he say?”
Roni was quiet for a moment, willing herself to be able to lie to him. “He has to put all his notes and whatnot together for the final, analysis, but he said it was just a formality and I had nothing to worry about.”
“Then that’s a negative on the autism, right?”
Nodding as if he could see her, she squeezed her eyes shut. “He did really well, Noah.”
“Good, so we can drop this now.”
It was all Roni could respond with, because she was beginning to feel emotional again. She hated lying to him. But Nellie was right. Noah would absolutely drop everything and come flying home, possibly bypass coming home first and go straight to Mat’s office.
“Baby, you okay? Something you not telling me?”
“No, no.” Jesus talk about a loaded question. “I guess I’m just relieved this is all over, and it doesn’t help that I should be getting my period soon.” At least that last part was true. “Which reminds me I need to check if they’ve called in my prescription because I want to make sure to get back on the pill when the time comes.”
She managed to veer the subject onto his tournament. It took a minute, but the tone finally changed to a more chipper one as Noah filled her in on their winning streak. Despite that going better than she’d expected, after the morning she’d had, by the time she got off the phone with Noah she felt completely drained. And she had to do this again, tonight, face to face?
Roni leaned her forehead against the steering wheel and groaned.
Showered and ready to relax and end his night as he had the last two, Noah plopped in bed and grabbed his phone off the nightstand. He hit the app and then the call button. It rang until it went to voicemail and Noah double checked the time. It was still early. He made sure to call before Jack’s bedtime so he could say goodnight to him. About to hit the dial button, Roni’s picture popped up on his screen. She was calling him back but on the phone.
“Hey, what happened? Why didn’t you do the video chat?”
“Because I’m still working on getting this guy ready for bed, and it’s easier to walk around with my earpiece on than video chat.”
Noah picked up the remote to lower the TV. “Okay, whatever’s easier as long as you two are the last two I talk to before I go to bed. So, what happened with your birth control?”
He heard her huff. “You’re not gonna believe this. I called the pharmacy, but they didn’t have my prescription, so I called the doctor, and they said they can’t prescribe them until I take a pregnancy test to rule out that I’m not pregnant before I start the new pills. So, now I have to go in tomorrow if I want to make sure I get my pills before my period is over. Which I’m sure is coming any minute.”
She went on to name all the signs of why she knew her period coming. Among them were her mood swings, which was a relief because it explained why she’d been so weird when he talked to her earlier. For a minute there he’d thought maybe Jack’s results weren’t as positive as she first made it sound and maybe she’d been afraid to break it to him.
Right on cue, she switched the subject to just that. “I got a call from the doctor’s office. It’s official. Jack’s a perfectly normal two-year-old.”
Noah could hear the smile on Roni’s face, and he lay back, exhaling loudly. “So, you’re done, done? No more follow ups?”
“Nope. All done.”
“Thank you, Jesus. Now we can really move on from this shit.”
“Yes, we can.” Roni agreed quickly. “I don’t even wanna talk about it anymore or I might start crying. How was your tournament?”
Surprised by this since it was all she’d talked about for months, he thought for sure she’d want to go over his results and everything they said and such. But hey, if it’d been up to him, he would’ve been done discussing this months ago. Even better? This meant he’d also heard the last of Dr. Douche.
“It was good. Still winning.”
The night’s conversation was cut shorter than normal because Jack, who Roni said had a long day, started getting fussy. Since it was still early, Roni said she’d call him back if she was able to get Jack asleep early enough. But by ten, Noah figured he wasn’t hearing back from her and called it a night himself.
The next morning, he tried video chatting with Roni again since he hadn’t been able to see her or Jack the night before, but she didn’t answer. He thought it odd that he didn’t hear back from her at all since she usually called back pretty quickly. Noah didn’t hear from her until he was on the golf course when she texted him. Glancing down at his phone screen, he hoped everything was okay.
I was in the shower when you called this morning. I’m at the doctor’s office now but can’t make calls in here.
Feeling the slightest bit annoyed, Noah thought about that for a moment. The doctor’s? She said there were no more follow-ups. Then he remembered her pregnancy test. She hadn’t mentioned doing that today, but it made sense since she did mention wanting to get her new pills asap. He texted her back to tell let her know it wasn’t anything important and that he’d just wanted to see her and little man before his tournament since he didn’t get to the night before. He told her he’d really be looking forward to video chatting with him later that night.
She didn’t respond before he had to move on with the tournament, and he figured she must’ve been called into the doctor’s office.
He and the guys made it all the way to the end of the tournament only to lose it by just two strokes. It was heartbreaking, and as much as Noah wanted to go along the whole it’s for charity and that’s all that matters bullshit, it still stung, he thought for sure they had it.
Unlike the rest of the week, they decided to lick their wounds by hanging out at the clubhouse afterward. It surprised Noah that Roni hadn’t responded to his last text. But she was probably busy running errands and figured they’d catch up tonight.
As they sat at the bar, Abel lifted his phone and showed Noah a video. It was of Jack and Reina playing in his backyard on her giant playset. Smiling, he took the phone to get a better look. “Is this today?”
“Yeah, she’s had him all day.”
Noah turned to peer at Abel. “Had him?”
Sticking some pretzels in his mouth, Abel nodded. “Roni dropped him off in the morning. Guess she had some running around to do.”
Hearing Jack’s squealing as Reina chased after him had Noah smiling again. Noah nodded, handing the phone back to Abel when the video ended. “Yeah, she had a doctor’s appointment today.”
They probably stuck around a little longer than they should’ve because they were all pretty lit by the time they left. The entire shuttle ride back to hotel, they laughed like idiots at the stupidest shit. But at least their time at the clubhouse had been well spent. They were in a much better mood than when they finished the tournament by the time they got to the hotel. While they shared a suite, they all had separate private bedrooms with their own bathrooms. Noah went straight to his room, anxious to talk to Roni. It was already past Jack’s bedtime, but he hoped maybe he was still up.
Except he had to rush to the bathroom first. He’d always hated how much he had to rush to the bathroom when he drank beer. Of course, now that he was in a hurry, he pissed like a race horse for what felt like forever. When he was finally finished in the bathroom, he rushed out into the room and plopped down on the bed. Like last night, Roni didn’t answer the first time. But instead of her calling him right back as she had yesterday, she texted him. Noah clicked on it and read it.
Sorry I can’t talk right now.
It was the automatic text Roni used whenever she got a call and was either on the other line or just too busy to answer. Disappointed because he probably would miss out on seeing Jack, Noah just responded that he missed her. Hearing Abel and Felix in the other room, he walked out to hang with them until Roni called him back. They were at the suite’s bar having a drink.
“You two still at it?”
“Last night here, brother.” Felix pulled a bottle of beer out of the mini fridge and motioned for Noah to take it. “Come join us.”
“Nah, I’m done with beer.” Noah patted his bloated belly. “I’d take a Jameson and Coke, but Roni’s gonna be calling soon for our end-of-the-night chat.”
“I’ll make you that drink.” Abel pulled a glass out of the cupboard above his head. “It’ll be a while before you have that end-of-night-chat.”
Confused, Noah peered at him. “What do you mean?”
“She hasn’t even picked up Jack yet,” Abel said, pouring some Jameson into the glass. “I just got off the phone with Nellie. Poor Jack’s stuck watching Frozen with my girls until Roni comes and saves him.” Abel laughed as he opened the bottle of soda. “Better him than me.”
Abel shrugged, handing Noah the drink he’d just stirred. “Guess she had to work late.”
Glancing down at his phone again to see if she’d texted him anything else, Noah took the drink from Abel. She hadn’t mentioned anything about working late. What was there to work late for at the gym?
“It’s not that late in California.” Felix reached for the bowl of nuts. “Just after seven there.”
It still seemed odd, but Noah took a stool at the bar and figured he’d know soon enough. Luckily for him he was only on his second drink when Roni finally called. He took his drink and his phone with him to the room. “Hey, baby.” He smiled, taking another sip of his drink.
“Why didn’t you video chat me? I wanted to see your beautiful face.”
“Because I’m driving. Have you been drinking, Mister?”
“A little.” He smiled even bigger but put his glass down now that he’d been busted.
She giggled. “Doesn’t sound like a little. Are you celebrating?”
His smile flattened. “Two strokes. We missed it by two fucking strokes. These fuckers choked.”
Clearly, he was being a little too loud because he heard Abel and Felix laugh. “No llores, guey!” Abel yelled.
“Okay, now I know you’re drunk,” Roni laughed. “How many drinks have you had?”
“Just two. But Abel made them strong.”
Abel started to yell for him to tell her about all the ones he had at the clubhouse, but Noah closed his door before he could finish. “What did he say?”
“Nothing.” Noah laughed. “He’s just being an ass.” Taking another swig from his drink since the jig was up anyway, he sat down on the bed. “Where are you at?”
“I stopped at 5th Street after I ran my errands. I didn’t realize how much work—”
“I saw a video of Jack and Reina.” Noah took another swig of his drink then set it back down. “God, I miss you guys. Isn’t that crazy? It’s only been a few days.”
“Yeah, we’ve missed you too. One more night and you’ll be back to us.”
Lying back on the bed, Noah yawned. “You’re calling me later tonight, right, baby?”
She chuckled. “You gonna make it?”
He sat up because she was right. If he kept that up, he just might not. Grabbing his drink from where he’d set it down again, he stood up. Roni let him know she’d just arrived at Nellie’s and would hurry in and out so she could get home in time to call him. But she warned Jack probably wouldn’t make it even to the freeway before he was out.
“I don’t care. Even if I only get to see him sleeping, that’s cool.”
“Um… Okay. I’ll call you as soon as I’m settled in.”
“Love you, baby.”
“I love you, too,” she said with a chuckle.
“Why do you laugh? I miss you.”
“Okay, I miss you too. But I gotta go, babe. I’ll call you soon.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
They hung up, and Noah made the mistake of walking back out to the front room where Abel and Felix were still at the bar. “Noah, c’mere,” Abel said, pouring a shot. “Take a shot with us.”
“Shots?” Noah shook his head. “You two idiots aren’t gonna make your flights tomorrow.”
“Just get your little bitch ass over here.” Abel lifted the shot he poured.
Noah walked over as Felix held his shot glass up and started making a toast. “We may not have won, but we did good.” They clinked their shot glasses. “And I don’t know about you guys, but I had a hell of a time. I missed you guys. To friendships and 5th Street, the place that brought us all together.”
“Hell, yeah,” Noah said, patting Felix on the back, then downed his shot.
Exiting the plane at LAX, Noah was still feeling the effects of last night. He didn’t even remember how he got to his bed last night, but he never showered or even got out of his clothes. Worst of all, he’d missed the video chat call from Roni. He couldn’t even remember the details of the conversation he’d had with her. He talked to her that morning but made it point not to video chat because he felt like shit and knew he looked it. Thankfully she hadn’t been mad about his missing her call. She said she’d figured he wasn’t going to make it.
After being away from his little family for several days, he planned on being home for a few days. It’s why he went straight to 5th Street after landing to tie up some loose ends so he wouldn’t have to be back until Monday. Halfway through responding to all the email and sifting through some snail mail, he got a text from Roni.
I have to make a quick run, but you said you’d be a little bit anyway, right?
Frowning Noah texted back that he was close to wrapping it up. He didn’t bother asking where she was going, just told her to make it quick because he’d be home soon. Roni was notorious for leaving in the middle of preparing some special dish because she was missing an ingredient of sorts. He’d been gone longer in the past, but knowing Roni, she still had something special planned for his homecoming.
He was almost done when there was a knock at his office door. “Come in,” he said without even looking up.
His assistant Ivette stuck her head in the door. “There’s someone here that wants to talk to you.”
Noah looked up, a little annoyed because he’d hoped he could get out of there ASAP. “Who?”
Shaking his head because he had no idea who that might be. “About what?”
“I don’t know, but she’s very upset.” Ivette walked all the way in and closed the door behind her and lowered her voice “I told her you weren’t here today, like you said to tell anyone who asked when you got here, but she said she saw you walk in and is very upset and says she won’t leave until she talks to you. She’s crying.”
Noah wracked his brain, wondering what this could possibly be about, but decided he may as well take care of this and be done with it so he could be gone for the rest of the weekend. “Bring her in.”
The young girl who looked to be in her late teens or early twenties walked into his office sniffling. Her eyes were all red and puffy, and she was wiping tears away. Noah just hoped one of the meatheads at his gym hadn’t messed with someone’s heart and now they were coming to him. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“What can I do for you?”
“I don’t know if you’re like my mom who’s turned a blind eye for years, but I can’t take it anymore.”
Shaking his head as he peered at the young girl who continued to swat tears away, Noah didn’t know what to make of this. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“My father is Dr. Mateo Hidalgo, and he’s having an affair with your wife.” She stopped to take a trembling breath as time suddenly stood still for Noah. “He was with her all day yesterday. My mother tracked his phone to the hotel they were at most of the day.”
Thoughts? Hello? Are y’all still with me?
Shaking off the initial shock, Noah stared at this girl for a moment as her words sunk in. If it wasn’t because Noah had always and still had blind faith in Roni, he’d be feeling more than just disgust. There was no way this was true, and it pissed him off that anyone would even suggest it. But understandably his heart had come to a near standstill just hearing the genuinely pained words.
“I’m sure they’re together now, but there’s no way to track my dad’s phone since he turned it off.”
“My wife’s at home with my—”
He stopped when he remembered Roni’s text. Instinct had him reaching for his phone, but he still didn’t believe any of it for a second. Of course, Roni’s phone went to voicemail, but she did text him and he clicked to read it anxiously.
Sorry I can’t talk right now.
Noah closed his eyes, but they flew wide open as he was reminded of the auto-response she’d sent him last night when she’d so uncharacteristically worked late. Now his stupid ass couldn’t even remember what her reason for working late had been in the first place.
There was no fucking way. There had to be a reasonable explanation for that and this—for everything. “Your mom ever see them together or is she just—”
“She confronted them two days ago.”
Now he felt the air being sucked out of him, but his heart still refused to believe it. “Where?”
“At his office. Of course, they both denied it, but—”
“She was there for an appointment,” Noah said trying to stay calm, but this made him livid. “My son’s his patient. Was.”
Chloe shook her head even as she continued to wipe away tears. “It’s what he tried to tell her, but my mom saw the texts. Why would he be sending photos of himself to her? And she heard him on the phone with her the night before saying he could hardly wait to see her the next day.”
Swallowing hard, Noah willed himself to stick with his guns. This had to be some kind of mistake. “What kind of pictures?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know I didn’t see them. My mom was hysterical when she was telling me most of it, but she said he sent her a picture of himself. Doctors just don’t do that. And he snagged the phone away from her when she confronted him about it, so she didn’t get to see all of it, but she did see it was to your wife… Roni.”
Noah shook his head. Twilight Zone. It’s what it felt like. Like this might all be some fucked-up dream brought on by the insecurity he hadn’t felt in years. His head still didn’t know what to make of all this, but he sure as hell wasn’t jumping to the same conclusions these two had before he spoke to Roni.
“Look. It took my mom a long time to accept that what she thought she was imagining was true. But she has no choice now—”
“Long time? What are you talking about? My wife didn’t even meet your dad until just a few weeks ago.”
Now Chloe shook her head in what looked too damn much like sympathy—for Noah. The dejected husband in denial.
“My mom’s suspected for months now.” Chloe rolled her eyes. “From the stories I’ve heard over the years, my dad’s been doing this kind of stuff for years. My mom admits now that she had some knowledge of his meaningless flings, but with four kids, she wasn’t willing to end her marriage for something trivial. I’d also heard him and my uncles on many occasions quip about how it’s cheaper to keep her.” Chloe huffed in disgust, but her expression fell, and her eyes welled up all over again. “She’s afraid he’s in love this time because he’s never been this blatant before. With us all grown now, she’s terrified he’s really going to leave her.” She tilted her head, wiping tears away. “Has your wife ever—?”
“Never,” Noah said with conviction, despite feeling like he might be sick. “And until I talk to her, I don’t believe any of this.”
She started to protest, but Noah cut her off. He’d heard enough of the hearsay. He needed to talk to Roni before he’d even consider this impossibility. “I’m not saying you or your mom are lying. I’m just saying I know my wife and I know she would never do something like this. There has to be some kind of misunderstanding.” The more he thought about it and saying it out loud only made him madder. “So why are you here? What do you want from me?”
“I want you to talk to your wife and ask her if she’s in love with him.”
And there was that infuriating pity again. Noah thought he might break a tooth from all the teeth grinding he’d begun to do.
“Just please remind her,” she said softly, “because I’m sure she knows. That my mom has been in love with my dad for over twenty years now. Tell her—”
“If any of this turns out to be even remotely true, I’ll have plenty to say to my wife.” Noah took a deep breath. “But I hate to break it to you. If your dad is having an affair, I can guarantee you it’s not with my wife. I gotta get going now.”
Noah couldn’t get her out there fast enough. The moment she was out of his office he tried Roni again and got the same generic text. He texted her back at first, telling her to answer her fucking phone but then deleted the expletive before sending it. Grabbing his keys, he walked out of his office, letting Ivette know he wouldn’t be back until Monday. Though he wasn’t sure about that now.
After trying again with the same results, Noah decided to just wait for her to call back. The whole way home he thought of everything Chloe had said. None of it was solid proof. It was all speculative, but there were still some things that didn’t make sense, like Roni working late last night. He wished to hell he could remember what her reason was. He was certain he’d asked her, but for the life of him couldn’t remember her answer.
There was also the fact that Chloe said her mother had confronted them. What did that mean? Did she actually get nasty with her? Or did she just show up to his clinic to confirm she was in fact one of his patient’s mothers. He should’ve fucking asked, damn it. Banging the steering wheel in frustration, he suddenly remembered something.
Of course, they denied it.
If they denied it, that meant she actually accused them of having an affair. That’s not something Roni would’ve kept from him unless…
My mom’s suspected for months now.
Feeling sick again, Noah thought about that some more. It was months ago that Roni started with her concerns about Jack possibly being autistic. Could this idiot be the one who planted the seed? He shook his head. That didn’t make sense. Why would she have to wait so long to get in to see him?
He was nearly home when Roni finally called back. His hopeful heart was anxious for the explanation he knew would clear this all up. He hit the answer button on his steering wheel.
“Where were you? Why weren’t you answering?”
“I just ran to the store real quick,” she said, but even her tone seemed odd. “My phone was on silent because I was lying in bed with Jack so he’d fall asleep.”
“Why? Is he sick?”
“No, I just wanted him down when you got home.”
The momentary quiet on the other end completely unnerved Noah now. “Because,” she paused for a moment and Noah was sure of it now, her tone was a strange one. “I need to talk to you when you get home.”
The instant ache in his heart silenced Noah, but it was fleeting. The rage that consumed him just as instantly was better welcomed.
“About Mateo?” He pulled into their driveway feeling like he might throw up. When she didn’t answer immediately, he was done being calm. “Answer me, Roni. You wanna talk to me about the fucking doctor?”
“Yes, but Noah—”
“You in love with him, Roni?” Just saying it hurt like nothing he’d ever felt.
Pulling into their garage, Noah shook his head willing the warmth flooding his eyes away when he saw her open the kitchen door. Hitting the disconnect button on his steering wheel, Noah muttered under his breath. “Man the fuck up.”
He sat there staring at her anxious eyes for a moment while he braced himself for the conversation about Mateo she didn’t want Jack awake for. How was it possible to feel so disgusted and ready to spit about this, while at the same time already tempted to beg?
Swallowing back the emotion he’d begun to feel, he got out of the car, terrified about what he was in store for. Once again, he was immersed with the unsettling sense of being in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone. This wasn’t real. This wasn’t happening. But it was.
Assaulted by the visual of Chloe’s pitying eyes and realization that he’d been so fucking naïve, the rage was back, and he welcomed it. He slammed the door and glared at the beautiful woman at the door, heart aching at the very thought that she might very soon be his ex-wife.
Whaaaaa??? Thoughts? Can this be?
“Were you with him yesterday?”
Roni shook her head, confused by the fury in Noah’s eyes and voice, but even more so by his line of questioning. She’d been a wreck all morning because of the inevitable impending conversation, but she hadn’t prepared for this.
Noah rolled his eyes as she held the door for him to come inside, and he stalked by her. There was no greeting, no hugging, no kissing. He’d even flinched when his arm grazed hers as if it sickened him to touch her.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, peering at him. “Why would you ask me if I’m in love with him or if I was with him yesterday?”
“Why’d you work so late last night?”
Was he really serious? “I told you or at least I tried to, but you were a little drunk. When I got to the gym, I saw how much of Bianca’s work was piling up since she sprained her ankle and was laid up at home. When I let Nellie know, she said she’d keep Jack as long as I needed if I wanted to knock it out so we could both stay home this weekend when you guys got back.”
That seemed to stun him a little, but his brows furrowed anyway. “How long have you known him, Roni?”
Clearing her throat, Roni did her best to remember what she’d rehearsed. Complete honesty. She’d leave nothing out.
“I met him when I worked at ESU.”
Noah’s rigid expression fell, and for a moment he looked almost devastated. But it was short-lived. In the next instant, he looked ready to kill. “Are you fucking kidd—?”
“But I hadn’t seen or known anything about him since,” Roni said, holding her hands up. “I swear to you on Jack I’d completely forgotten about him. It’s why when he said he thought he knew me but couldn’t place me I had nothing for him.”
“So, what happened? You two rekindled whatever old flame you had?”
“Is that why he sent you dick pics?”
“What are you talking about?”
“He texted you shit you didn’t tell me about, right?”
This stumped Roni. How did he know? But again she reminded herself, complete honesty. “He looks completely different now from what he did back then, so I didn’t recognize him—”
“Did he text you pictures?”
“He did,” she said, cringing when Noah let his head fall back in exasperation. “It was just one photo of him from back then! He had hair and a goatee, and he asked if maybe the old him wasn’t familiar maybe the young one was.”
“So what? Is that when it all started?” Noah demanded. “Was that how he got you?”
“He did not get me.” Roni huffed as she followed Noah around the kitchen island. “And what do you mean it all started? Nothing started.”
“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me about this?”
Roni’s heart pounded as she leaned against the kitchen counter and began pleading her case. “This whole thing with me worrying about Jack had me crazy. You’d already been so annoyed about his initial texts I didn’t see the point. As far as I knew, he still hadn’t been able to place me, and I told him the picture didn’t ring any bells—”
Roni stood a little straighter, trying to garner the courage to get through this because she’d only ever seen him this incensed once in her life. “Because I didn’t want him to remember me. We had one appointment left, and I just wanted to get it over with without any awkwardness.”
“Awkwardness?” Noah’s eyes widened. “Did you sleep with this guy?”
“Then what the fuck would be so awkward about him remembering you?”
With another deep breath, Roni prepared herself to spill it. “He asked me out back then. More than once. Many times, actually, when I worked there, and he was a lifelong student. I was in a relationship at the time and told him that’s why I declined, but he persisted.”
She told him about the confrontation between Mateo and Derek and how even that didn’t make Mateo back off. Though she wasn’t stupid enough to include the part about accepting coffee from him after the fact and even thanking him. “Then my mom got so sick I resigned to take care of her, and I completely lost touch with him. But nothing ever happened between us.”
“So, what’s this shit about you and him having an affair?”
“I had his daughter in my office today,” Noah said, raising his voice. “She was crying her fucking eyes out saying you and her dad are having an affair and that her mother confronted the two of you two days ago. Is that true?”
Roni brought her hands over her face and shook her head. Unbelievably, this was only getting worse.
“Is it true?” Noah bellowed, making Roni flinch.
She nodded, making Noah’s already enraged eyes go wider, so she explained as fast as she could. “The day of Jack’s appointment Mateo made a pass at me when we were observing Jack behind a two-way mirror.” She brought her hand up when her husband seemed to swell two times in size and looked ready to erupt. “Just when he was trying to convince me that there was a mutual attraction that we both should just give into, his wife burst in.”
She told him the rest as each word only ignited him further. But she was glad that his anger with her seemed to ease as she explained how Mateo’s wife had just assumed she was his mistress. She had no choice but to admit now that they didn’t even finish the cognitive testing, but the receptionist had called her back asking if she wanted to reschedule, and they could do so on a day when Mateo wouldn’t be there.
Noah was already shaking his head. “Fuck no.”
She nodded because it’s what she’d told them, albeit she’d been nicer about it to the receptionist. “They later called back to say Mat—” She caught herself when Noah’s brow lifted. “The doctor was willing to sign off on Jack’s final prognosis. That he’s been doing this long enough and he’d known from the first appointment Jack was fine. The two-part testing was just a required formality, but he’d seen enough in the second appointment to put it in writing.”
By the time Roni was done, she was drained and in tears. “I called Nellie crying when I left his office that day, and we both agreed it was pointless to ruin your tournament and I should just wait until you got home to tell you. I’m so sorry.”
Noah stood across from her, leaning against the wall as she cried into her hands. A few seconds later, she was stunned by his big arms wrapping around her as he hugged her tightly.
“If I ever see this fucker again, he’s dead.”
Roni nodded, as she inhaled the comforting scent of her husband’s big hard chest. “You won’t.” Pulling away to look him in the face, Roni looked up, surprised by Noah’s red-rimmed eyes. “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Noah said, sounding mad again. “This isn’t on you. I had a bad feeling about this guy the moment I heard him call you Roni then read his text about it driving him insane.” He closed his eyes, shaking his head.” I’m sorry I doubted you even for a second. I’m sorry I was a dick again.”
“No!” Roni shook her head adamantly. “Given the circumstances, I would’ve freaked out too. I’m sorry I put you through this.”
Cradling her face, Noah kissed her so deep she tingled everywhere. He stopped for a moment, taking a deep breath, then spoke against her lips. “I’d never been so scared in my life. For a moment, I thought I’d lost you.”
“Never.” Roni clenched the shirt against his chest. “I would never—”
“It’s what I’d said when his daughter started to ask if you’d ever…” Noah’s still emotional eyes bore into Roni’s. “I didn’t even let her finish.” He nipped her bottom lip, before she could respond to that then pulled away to look in her eyes. “Don’t ever keep anything from me again.” He pressed his hard body against hers. “No matter what the circumstances.”
“I’ll regret doing so for the rest—”
“Don’t regret shit. Ever.” He pressed his body against hers again. “Just learn from it. No matter how pissed you think it’s gonna make me, just tell me. Now, is there anything else you left out?”
Roni thought about it for a moment but shook her head. “That’s all of it. I haven’t heard from him again, and seriously doubt he’ll have the nerve to show up at the gym again.”
“Oh, I fucking hope he does.”
Shuddering at the thought, Roni leaned in and kissed Noah softly. “He so not worth us wasting any more energy on, babe.”
For the first time since he walked out of that car looking so infuriated, Noah smiled against her lips. “God, I hope that fucker shows up.”
Before she could even try to counter that, he kissed her roughly—deeply. Their kissing went on frantically until they were panting. With a swift lift, he had her on the counter, pulled up her skirt, and ripped off her panties.
It might’ve taken a little longer for things to feel completely back to the way they’d been before the whole Mateo fiasco. Ironically the very day they’d hashed things out—the day Noah had actually believed even for a moment that he’d lost Roni—they found out they were going to be parents again. Roni got the call later that day about her positive test results. It’d been the furthest thing from Roni’s mind since she was still trying to shake off the guilt of what she’d put Noah through. Thankfully, the call changed the mood dramatically, and it ceased all talk of Mateo since all they discussed after getting the news was their new blessing.
Even though Roni had been taken by surprise and feeling a little nervous about having yet another child to obsess about, she couldn’t be more thankful for the timing now. It’d been days since the blowout, and they’d been so consumed with talk of her new pregnancy, neither had mentioned it. Despite all that, Roni knew better than to think Noah would be completely forgetting any time soon—if ever.
Just that morning as they’d gotten ready to head out, Roni’s phone had dinged on the counter in the kitchen as Noah filled his commuter mug. He made no qualms about picking her phone up to see who’d texted her.
“Lisa from daycare is asking if Jack’s coming in today.” He handed her the phone and kissed her. “I’ll see you at the gym. I gotta get going.”
Roni texted Lisa back, finished getting Jack ready, and headed out herself. They’d been back at the gym several days since that weekend, and Roni still couldn’t get over the unnerving thought that Mateo might actually have the gall to show up. It would’ve been bad enough even if things hadn’t gone down the way they had. She knew just seeing him would’ve been enough to annoy Noah and make things a little tense. Only now his showing his face here would be so much worse. She just prayed he wouldn’t be that stupid.
Today was once again her workout day, so she’d dressed for the occasion. After handling her workload in the office, she met Nellie on the treadmills. “Is Noah all over you about how much you should or shouldn’t be working out?”
Roni rolled her eyes but smiled. “Of course. Made me promise I’d take it easy, but it’s not like I ever go hard anyway.”
Nellie laughed. “Remember our first workout at this place? It nearly killed us.”
Laughing, Roni nodded. “I remember sweating like a pig but refusing to take my sweatshirt off and reveal all my jiggling.” That made her giggle more. “Remember how insulted I’d been when he guessed my weight?”
Refraining from snorting, Roni shook her head. For a second, she wondered if maybe Nellie hadn’t heard her because she didn’t respond nor laugh and here Roni was getting a bad case of the giggles.
“What are you—?” The dramatic change in mood was instant as Roni turned and nearly choked when she saw what Nellie was looking at.
Mateo was walking through the middle aisle of the gym without a care in the world. “That son of a bitch,” Roni said under her breath.
“Where’s Noah?” Nellie asked, looking around.
With her heart racing now, Noah’s words suddenly played over and over in Roni’s head as she slowed the pace on her treadmill and looked around.
God, I hope that fucker shows up.
Roni didn’t even have to look long or hard. To her horror, Noah was already practically sprinting in Mateo’s direction. He’d been especially livid the day she spilled it all, about Mateo being so relentless and that, even after Derek had confronted him, he’d continued to pursue her.
Both she and Nellie watched as Mateo stopped in his tracks when he saw Noah rushing to him. He dropped his gym bag moments before Noah landed a right hook to his face. Roni’s heart nearly gave out as she hit the stop button on her treadmill and started off.
“Stay here,” Nellie urged. “Abel’s already there.”
“What are you gonna do?” Nellie asked, getting off her treadmill. “You’ll only incite things further if that idiot says anything to you.”
With her heart at her throat, Roni turned to the mob of men trying to separate Noah and Mateo. She could barely see Noah since there were so many holding him back, but from the looks of it, they were having a hard time calming him. To her relief, Mateo didn’t put up much of a fight, and they were able to start walking him out.
The commotion was so loud it was hard for Roni to make out what Noah was yelling, but she did hear the words kill you. Someone rushed back for Mateo’s bag, and within minutes, he was out. The mob around Noah finally thinned enough she could see his face. Abel stood next to him with a hand on Noah’s shoulder, wisely not leaving his side, and Roni was grateful for that. From Noah’s still intense body language, she feared he might still go after Mateo.
Abel said something to him that actually had Noah cracking a smile but barely. His peering around the gym was her cue that she should go to him now.
“I think he’s looking for me,” she said, starting toward him.
Nellie walked with her toward where their husbands stood. The moment Noah saw her he started to her. “Did he say anything to you?”
“No.” She shook her head as Nellie continued to walk toward Abel.
Noah searched her eyes. “You know how long he was here?”
“I’d just spotted him moments before you rushed him.”
“That motherfucker.” Noah shook his head, flexing his bloodied fist. “He really thought I’d allow his ass anywhere near you.”
“Noah.” Roni looked at him, feeling anxious as her heart continued to race. “He could press charges.”
“Fuck it,” he said, still flexing his fist. “That was so worth whatever fine or charges I get hit with. Besides, if he does that, then you move forward with that sexual harassment suit you threatened him with. In fact, let’s do that anyway.”
Roni hadn’t even thought about that, but it relieved her. “Let’s get this iced,” she said, touching his hand.
Once again Noah missed the target ball that flew up in the air for the third time. Hector, along with most of the people at the park, laughed as he set the next ball up to fly. Hector worked on getting the next ball in the contraption that shot it out in the air.
“What happens if we run out?” Hector asked.
Feeling annoyed, Noah frowned as the pressure began to mount. “I got this one. Just put it in.”
He turned to his wife, who smiled beautifully at him, holding Jack in her lap, and gave him a thumbs-up. Smiling back, he winked as he held the gun up and got ready. Do this already. He waited for the sling to go off and the ball to fly up in the air. It went off and he waited until just the right moment before pulling the trigger. Holding his breath, he closed his eyes for a second and then everyone cheered. Noah opened his eyes to the sight of blue powder showering down from the sky.
“Another boy!” Hector yelled then brought his fingers to his lips whistling.
Relieved and feeling a little emotional, Noah rushed over to his wife and son. He hugged her and kissed Jack’s head. “Baby, Noah,” she whispered in his ear and he could hear the emotion in her words as well.
Noah could hardly believe that, just a few weeks ago, he’d seriously thought his world as he knew it had almost been destroyed. As they continued to celebrate the rest of the beautiful summer day at the park, barbequing and playing baseball, he couldn’t keep his hands and lips off his wife for too long.
As it turned out, Dr. Douche hadn’t pressed charges, and Roni had convinced Noah that she shouldn’t file a lawsuit against him either. It’d come after the only heated moment they’d had since the big blow-out. In her anxiousness about the doctor pressing charges, Roni had suggested maybe she should text him to call a truce. She’d promise him not to file suit against him if he didn’t press charges against Noah.
Noah would sooner do time in jail than allow her to ever contact that fucker again, and he’d made that loud and clear. But the guy was apparently smarter than he looked and acted because there were never any charges filed.
Noah had gotten the assurance he’d needed the moment they’d hashed it all out that awful day. Roni’s voice so full of remorse and dread when she’d told him she needed to talk to him about the guy, was the only reason he’d considered for even a moment that there might a shred of truth to Chloe’s claims. But he got the confirmation of what he’d been so instantly sure of, a few days after Dr. Douche’s daughter had come by. She called the gym days after to apologize to Noah when she and her mom found out who he’d been really having an affair with all that time.
“Another boy,” Roni said as they sat there watching Jack go down the slide.
“This is gonna be awesome.”
“For you!” Roni quipped with a giggle. “I’m the one that’s gonna be home with them most of the days. Oh my God. Imagine two little monkeys jumping on the sofa?”
Noah laughed, rubbing her tummy. “Jack’s gonna have a blast.”
Roni groaned but leaned her head against Noah’s shoulder, taking a deep breath. “Life just keeps getting better and better.”
“Sure does.” He glanced down at her, swallowing down the emotion he was consumed with so often now any time he felt this happy. “Can’t live without you, babe.”
To his surprise, her eyes were teary when she looked up at him, but she held her arm out showing off her muscle. “It’s why I’m staying in shape because, until I’m probably in my late nineties, you won’t have to. I ain’t going anywhere. I swear to you. I love you so much.”
“I love you more.”
Alright so I had you shaking in your boots for a minute there. I told y’all you could trust me. I hope you enjoyed it and I’m excited to announce I have another short coming soon. What couple will it feature? Stay tuned!!! All I can say is you’re in for a big whaaaaaaaaaaa???
Orlando? I’m still working on it. Only, I’ll be honest. Like most of the rest of the world this pandemic has really put me in a bit of a financial crutch. So I’m not in a hurry to put out a book I won’t be able to afford to promote. Without promotion, I’ll never break even much less make money. I’m almost done with it. Except it’ll have to sit until this all blows over and I’m back on my feet. But don’t fret! Freebie shorts cost me nothing but time and right now it’s all I have. I for one have been LOVING this whole #StayHome thing. So you’ll have new material coming your way regardless!! Stay with me guys! I promise I’ll keep you entertained during this uncertain time! I love you! Muah!!!
Don’t forget to go discuss ONLY in the spoiler room. Please keep in mind there are many who are yet to catch up. Thoughts, theories, worries are all welcome in the spoiler room and I’ll be there to add my .02 as well! Click below to join the team and then look for the post inviting you to the spoiler room! See you there!
Coming soon I promise!!! Go add to your GoodReads Shelf by clicking on the cover below.