If left to her own devices, Beth would never have chosen to attend the ‘Single Parents Support Group’ her church was hosting. Unfortunately for her, her mother saw the flier for the weekly program after service on Sunday and signed Beth up right away.
‘I think it’ll be good for you to meet some more girls in your position’ her mother said to her, ‘I’m worried you’re isolating yourself from everyone outside our family.’
Unfortunately Beth couldn’t argue with that. Since Ruby was born three days after she finished high school, she had hardly left her parents’ farm, save for trips to the store or for coffee. She’d made on attempt at a ‘Mommy and Me’ group meeting but the older, married women had looked down their nose at the teenage mom. She hoped that at least other women doing it on their own might be a little more sympathetic. She’d changed her outfit three times before heading out tonight, wanting to make a good impression on the other moms. That’s what she was expecting, a room full of women, which is why she was taken aback to see a man sitting in the far back corner. He was bouncing a little pink bundle on his knee. Beth sat down closer to the front and watched the room slowly fill up. Most women had a baby in their arms but some were there alone.
Finally a lady in a shirt Beth could only describe as ‘sit up yellow’ arrived an introduced herself to the group. Beth of course knew Heather, she knew all the regulars at St. Paul’s.
‘We’ve got a few new faces tonight’ she said, looking around the room, ‘so why don’t we all introduce ourselves, and babies if need be’.
She pointed at Beth to start.
‘I’m Beth Greene and this is Ruby, she’s four months old tomorrow’ she said, trying to sound confident. She was greeted by smiles and shy nods, the rest of the room gave their names until finally they reached the man in the corner. He mumbled so quietly that Beth couldn’t hear a word he said. Two girls to the left of Beth giggled and she made out the name ‘Dixon’. Why the hell would one of the Dixon boys turn up to a parents support group at church? They weren’t the religious type, or the parenting type either for that matter.
‘That’s Daryl and little Pearl’ Heather said to the group ‘she’s just about three months’. Daryl looked down at the baby in his arms, avoiding the group of women now staring at them.
Heather opened up the room for discussion and Beth was soon glad she’d come. It was nice to know she wasn’t the only one who felt overwhelmed and tired and like they had no idea what they were doing. Just as their meeting was winding now, Ruby began to fuss, looking for a feed. Beth discretely unhooked her nursing tank top and lifter her sweater so the baby could latch. Around her the room emptied out and Beth was about to apologise to Heather for holding her up when she heard slurping from the far corner. She looked up to see Daryl patiently holding a bottle to his little girls lips.
‘They always wanna feed at the most inconvenient times right?’ Beth said, smiling at him.
He nodded, but didn’t take his eyes off Pearl.
‘Slow eater, this one’ he said in a low, gravelly voice.
‘Same here’ Beth said ‘it can take her 45 minutes sometimes and then she’s hungry again an hour later. Sometimes it’s like I spend my whole day nursing’.
Heather had been stacking chairs around them but was now finished.
‘Daryl, I’ve got that paperwork on my desk if you can wait a moment?’
His cheeks flamed but he nodded. Heather turned to face Beth.
‘You alright if I leave you guys here together?’
Beth nodded. Ruby needed burping and to change sides so Beth busied herself with that and tried again to talk to Daryl.
‘See, only half way through, this could go on for hours’.
Daryl grunted in response but then added ‘lets hope they’re this reluctant when it comes to beer’
Then he shook his head ‘sorry, I shouldn’t a said that’
But Beth was grinning ‘I think we’ve got a while to wait’.
They resumed feeding their babies in silence but it was a comfortable one now.
Heather re-entered the room and handed a cardboard envelope to Daryl.
‘It’s great that you came back again tonight’ she said, ‘at the end of the eight weeks I’ll write a longer referral’.
‘Thanks, I ‘preciate it’ he said.
‘I hate to rush you both, but the doors auto-lock at nine and it’s ten to’ Heather said again.
Thankfully at that moment Ruby unlatched herself so after quickly burping her Beth was ready to go.
‘yer gonna hear some screamin’ Daryl warned as he pulled the bottle from Pearl’s lips, a third of it remaining.
Instantly the baby shrieked which caused Ruby to do the same.
‘Amazing such tiny things can make that much noise’ Beth exclaimed.
Heather ushered them out of the meeting room and through the corridors to the carpark.
‘Just in time’ she exclaimed looking at her watch. ‘I hope to see you next week Beth’ she said then walked over to her car.
Beth stood there a moment next to Daryl then perched herself on a half-wall around the garden. There was still enough light and she wanted to settle Ruby before the drive home. She pulled up her sweater again to try and nurse her back to calm.
Daryl sat down a few feet away and gave Pearl the rest of her bottle.
‘I can’t stand it when she screams’ Beth said and Daryl nodded sympathetically.
After a few moments Ruby fell asleep at her mothers breast, Beth stood up and smiled at Daryl
‘Well, see you next time’.
‘See ya’ he replied but he remained fixated on the baby’s face.
Beth thought about him the whole drive home. It was just like her Daddy was always saying, you shouldn’t judge people, should give everyone a chance and on and on. Beth worried she’d never be as good or kind as her father. She’d been so quick to wonder why a Dixon would show up to something like that but all she saw all evening was a man who absolutely doted on that baby. She wondered why he needed paperwork, was he thinking of joining the church? Nothing would surprise her now. And despite his rugged appearance, she thought he had kind eyes and he seemed shy, just like her. Some of the women had totally dominated the conversation but she’d been mostly silent unless spoken too, just like Daryl. She decided that next week she’d sit with him.