“Rollins, you can’t be serious.”
Sonny stared distastefully down at the cellophane wrapped disc of frozen bread and shredded cheese...or rather what he assumed was supposed to be shredded cheese.
“What did you think I meant when I said a frozen pizza?” Amanda asked, her voice a little sardonic. She had Jesse balanced on her hip, the little girl always extra clingy the first hour after her mom returned home.
Sonny, for his part, had immediately scooped up a whining Billie, gently swaying side to side as he’d watched Rollins pull the frozen monstrosity from the freezer before tossing it onto the counter with a clatter.
“I dunno, one of those fancy take-and-bakes that you bring home for later, I guess.”
Rollins snorted. “Yeah, well give me a break, I gotta three year old who thinks fancy means dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets. It’s bread and cheese, how much harm can it do?”
He knew she meant it as a joke but he could hear the underlying defensiveness—and the exhaustion.
He’d not missed the pile of laundry sitting next to the washing machine or the clutter of bottles and sippy cups in the sink. He’d stepped over Jesse’s shoes and toys when they’d walked in and he’d pretended not to notice when Amanda had hastily shoved several balled up diapers into the already overfilled bin under the counter.
He could not witness this culinary tragedy on top of everything else.
Billie had begun whimpering in earnest, her tiny wet mouth rooting against his neck so he shifted her so he could cradle her with one arm, extending his other.
“Here, give me big sister and I’ll trade ya for little, then you go sit down and take care of feeding Billie and Jesse and I’ll make dinner.”
Amanda hesitated. “I didn’t invite you over to make you cook.”
“I know that, but I’m doing it unless your just hankering for that pizza.”
She glanced down at the now sweaty pizza and he knew he had her.
“Alright,” she acquiesced. “I’m not crazy enough to turn down your cooking no matter how selfish that makes me.”
She passed him Jesse, the child easily slipping from her arms to his, ignoring the ease with which he now held both her girls in his arms.
She smiled at her newborn as she accepted her into her arms, still adjusting to the change in weight, considering how tiny she seemed compared to her older sister, an older sister that was still a baby to Amanda.
“What about your plans?” She asked, keeping her eyes from meeting his as she fussed with settling Billie against her.
The long pause surprised her and she finally looked up at him, wanting to ensure he’d heard her and was met by his clear blue eyes and a slight smirk.
His tone left no room for argument however, when he finally answered, “Don’t worry about it.”
She did though. She did worry.
“Now outta my kitchen.”
She scoffed but followed instructions. She headed to her bedroom to change, listening to Jesse giggle as Carisi set to work with her perched on the counter near him.
“Now, Jesse, what’s the first rule of a good kitchen?”
“Always have toe-May-TOES!”
Amanda could hear them laughing and puttering around the kitchen. Sonny had worked hard to teach Jesse that word when she’d finally started talking. He had broken the syllables down and the two of them had sung that word over and over again.
She would never admit it but her mom had been a great cook. When she was moved to cook for her daughters and they had enough money she’d make meals with big fluffy biscuits or crunchy buttered cornbread, crispy fried chicken, collard greens and ham, squash with nutmeg, creamed corn, roast with carrots and potatoes, and the most incredible blackberry cobbler. But she’d never cared to teach any of it to her daughters and, if Amanda were honest, she’d never cared to learn.
But part of her missed it. She missed smelling the food cooking, her mouth watering and belly rumbling. She missed how much, in those moments, she’d loved her mother—how much she’d felt loved. As with most things, she tried not to think about it, so, instead, after Jesse was born and Carisi had found himself in her kitchen more nights than not, she’d begun making sure, no matter what, she had fresh tomatoes.
She was mortified at how dirty her kitchen had become in the weeks since Billie had been born, but she didn’t have the energy to care enough to do anything about it. Besides, that wasn’t how they were with each other.
After laying Billie down on the bed she quickly changed out of her work clothes and into an old pair of police academy sweats and a stretched T-shirt. By the time the pair made it back into the living room the scent of garlic permeated the apartment. She plopped down on the couch, content to watch Carisi and Jesse work as she nursed Billie. She marveled at the ease with which he engaged her daughter, and a heaviness lodged itself in her belly as she looked at the delight and complete trust she saw on Jesse’s face as they worked together.
In the months since she’d been with Al there hadn’t been much opportunity for Sonny to come see Jesse and she had convinced herself it hadn’t effected her older daughter, but she knew, deep in her heart, it had hurt them both.
It had hurt her.
She’d missed him.
She’d missed them.
Al’s expensive take-out could never touch the time and effort and happiness of Carisi’s home cooking.
She couldn’t think of that either.
Instead she dropped her gaze down to watch her tiny daughter nurse. She’d never in her life experienced the feeling of falling in love so totally and completely and so suddenly, until she’d nursed Jesse for the first time. She’d been apprehensive and a little scared that she wouldn’t have anything left for a second child. She’d been wrong.
She’d been wrong about so much.
She stroked Billlie’s cheek, contented at the growing roundness of it, whispering nonsense to the child. She saw her daughter’s eyes begin to droop, her jaw slowing its rhythmic pull against her breast, until she finally popped off. As Amanda brought her to her shoulder, her eyes met his for a moment, an accidental touch of gazes, that sent a warmth through her. With the briefest of smiles he went back to the task at hand and she began rubbing Billie’s back working to coax any air from her now full belly. There was no embarrassment, no discomfort between them. It was all just...easy.
Billie’s tiny burp was enough to satisfy and since the baby continued to nap, Amanda pulled her bouncy chair over with her foot, tucking Billie in so she could finish her nap. She’d grown warm and lazy sitting on the couch, and shifting her feet up decided she’d rest her eyes for just a few minutes.
When Carisi turned back from the pot he’d been stirring, or rather Jesse had been trying to stir—more moving the spoon back and forth than actually stirring—from her perch on his hip, he’d glanced over to see Amanda curled up on the couch, eyes closed.
He knew then the quick meal he’d prepared was going to prove a longer delay than he’d planned.
And he didn’t mind in the least.
He pointed at Amanda and then covered his lips with the same finger in the international sign for quiet.
Jesse’s gaze turned to where her mother slept, her mouth opening wide as she gave a horrible imitation of whispering.
Carisi nodded, hiding his wince. Toddlers were terrible at regulating volume.
But Rollins didn’t move.
He fished his phone out of his pocket, trying to convince himself he felt bad. And he supposed he did. He never liked disappointing someone, but there was also relief.
Relief he didn’t have to leave.
His text was brief:
I’m sorry to cancel last minute. Had something come up and I need to be here.
He saw the text bubble pop up almost immediately followed by a single word:
He considered simply allowing the assumption to go uncorrected, but knew he couldn’t stomach any kind of deception.
Not when it came to this.
Friend in need
And then he slipped the phone back in his pocket. He’d check it later.
Jesse swung her leg dramatically in an effort to get his attention. He knew she was hungry.
“Alright Jesse, lets get the kitchen cleaned up and then dinner’ll be ready.”
The little girl nodded and the pair got to work.
When Amanda first began coming around all she wanted was to burrow further beneath the blanket and drift right back to sleep. It only took a moment, however, before the fog blew away in a rush of panic. She had no idea what time it was and the quiet in the now dim apartment sent her heart pounding. Billie and her bouncy chair were gone. Amanda reached for her phone before remembering she’d left it in the bedroom when she’d changed clothes. Pushing aside the blanket that had been draped over her she pushed to her feet. The kitchen was spotless, the shoes and toys in the floor gone, and she could hear the washing machine clunking away. The lingering hold of sleep played with her mind, keeping time from making sense.
Her eyes focused on the digital clock of the microwave: 7:27
She’d slept for over an hour.
Then she heard the singing.
Padding barefoot down the hall, she was drawn to the light coming from beneath her daughter’s room and pushing the door open found Sonny sitting cross legged on the floor with Billie laying across his lap and Jesse wedged against his side listening enraptured as he read/sang from There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.
She hadn’t meant to interrupt but as soon as Jesse saw her she jumped to her feet and ran to her.
“You’re awake! Did you have a good nap? We have dinner for you. Come on!”
“Hold on a second baby,” Amanda laughed, tugging her daughter back. “Let Momma get her bearings.”
Amanda looked to Carisi who was still on the floor, grinning up at her.
“You have a good rest?”
She just blinked at him. “I...uh...I’m sorry I didn’t mean...you should’ve woken me up.”
Carisi scoffed. “Nah. You needed it. I mean you slept through dinner and then us cleaning up, and besides we had a good time. Ain’t that right Jesse?”
The girl jumped up and down. “We played Barbies and colored and he even had Billie do this funny bub-bub thing.”
At Amanda’s questioning look he just shrugged, and lifting Billie into his arm began to stand. “We’ll show Mom that another time. It’s 7:30 which means bedtime. Go get your pajamas & then we’ll get teeth brushed.”
“But what about Mama’s dinner?”
“Go show her where it is then get your pjs.”
Amanda could think of nothing to say facing these two with matching grins and allowed Jesse to pull her to the kitchen. The small girl pointed proudly to the oven where a plate of food sat waiting to be warmed up.
“Oh Jesse it smells delicious!”
The child beamed proudly at her. “But Sonny’s right. It’s bedtime. I’ll eat this yummy meal after you’re in bed. We’ll skip bath tonight, go get your jammies on.”
Carisi came in still carrying Billie and turned the lamp on in the living room as Jesse ran passed him.
“You really didn’t have to do all this.” Amanda tried again, arms stretched, indicating the cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
“I know.” He shrugged grabbing a diaper from a basket near the couch. “But ‘Manda I was happy to help.”
“Here I’ll do that.” She moved to take over but Carisi stopped her with a hand.
“I got this. Go help Jesse. I’ll warm up your dinner after I’m done changing Billie.”
To her horror she felt a lump forming in her throat. She swallowed hard forcing away her emotional reaction.
“Sorry, I, uh, I guess I’m still waking up. What happened with your plans?”
He shrugged again. “It wasn’t where I was supposed to be.”
He said it like it made perfect sense and she hated that it did. They stared at each other for a moment, and Amanda wasn’t sure if it was a challenge or an acceptance.
“Go,” he said. “I’ll have dinner ready and a bad reality TV show queued up.”
She hesitated, then moved to go help her oldest get ready for bed. Just as she was headed down the hall she paused.
“Thanks again for changing your plans and being here. It...it means a lot.”
“I missed this...you.” She said lamely before hurrying down the hall without a backwards glance.
Sonny sat for a moment, a squirming Billie in his arms beginning to fuss.
“Me too,” he admitted quietly before working to get Billie into a fresh diaper and a clean onesie.
She’d missed him.
And for now, that was enough.
Thanks for reading!!!!!