Winona was chatting on the phone as she walked up to Raylan and Willa. “No, it’s fine. I completely understand,” she said, as her smile stretched wider to force it to be true.
“Wanna take one more go at the monkey bars?” Raylan said to Willa.
Willa smiled at Raylan knowingly. “Okay,” she said, before skipping away.
“Something wrong.” Raylan tipped his head back, adjusting his hat to block the sun.
“My babysitter cancelled, and all the other ones I know have dates for Valentine’s.”
“You and Richard had reservations at…” Raylan twirled his finger as though the answer would magically appear in the air.
“Someplace nice,” Winona said, not willing to make it easy for him.
She had that little frown on her face, and it only took a second for Raylan to dash in. “Well,” Raylan paused, pretending to think about it, “I can watch her?”
“I can’t ask you to do that. Wouldn’t you and Tim have plans for Valentine’s?”
“Well,” Raylan said, trailing off and looking away.
“Really?” Winona looked at Raylan, arms folded and one hip jutted out. “How long have you to been together?”
She wanted to roll her eyes at the way Raylan tried to play it off, while he waved to his little girl. “It’s different between us guys.”
“Uh huh, right.” Winona called Willa over. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun. We’ll watch some movies, feed her frogs--”
“—You shouldn’t have gotten that aquarium,” Winona reminded him.
“—and I’ll get Tim to make something.”
Winona raised an eyebrow at him. “You wanna run this by Tim first?”
“Is he telling you about that hooker he paid to have sex with,” Tim said, ambling up beside them, “I told him to be careful about STDs, but you know how it is.” Some mothers nearby looked aghast.
“Hi, Tim,” Willa said, running up.
“Yo.” They high-fived, Willa needing to jump up to reach Tim’s hand.
“Goodbye, Tim,” Willa said. As suddenly as she arrived, Willa was off towards the parked cars, leaving everyone behind.
“Willa,” Winona called after, unfortunately used to watching her daughter run off by herself. “She gets this from you,” Winona said to Raylan, before chasing after the girl making a straight line to the car.
“Willa, what did I say?” She reprimanded, once she was within hearing distance, as Willa swung back and forth to get her skirt to twirl.
“Don’t run off without us,” Willa said, perfectly parroting Winona’s past lectures.
“And when are you going to listen to that?”
“When I’m older.” Willa once again parroted something all the adults had said to her.
Winona could only release a long winded sigh. It was an infuriating behaviour to deal with at times. She could see a stubbornness born from her and Raylan, and sassiness that she’d like to blame completely on Raylan. Maybe, Tim.
After a moment of thought, she’d lean the influence being on Tim.
“Well, I need you to start listening now,” Winona said, patting down her daughter’s hair.
“Okay, mommy.” Willa hugged her.
Winona squatted down to Willa’s level, hugging her daughter back. “I’m not going to believe you until you start listening.” The hug turned into a tickle, which had Willa shrieking with laughter.
“Okay. Okay,” Willa said through her laughter. Winona didn’t stop until her daughter tried to bargain. “Mommy, we have to go home.”
“Alright,” Winona relinquished her hold, “get in the car.”
Winona looked back, watching Raylan and Tim still hanging around at the park, both sitting on the bench. It really didn’t take much time for Raylan to buy a vanilla cone, or for Tim to make a nuisance of himself, stealing piece of the cone from the bottom.
“Guess what?” She said to Willa as they drove off.
“Daddy and Tim are going to watch over you for Valentine’s.” Winona straightened Willa’s clothing before heading to the car.
“What happen to Marcy?” It warmed Winona’s heart to see such kindness in her daughter.
“Tell her to get better.”
“Maybe you can make a card for her.” Winona watched Willa’s face scrounge into a frown.
“It’ll be too late.”
Duh, Winona could practically hear. “Then I’ll let you call later.”
At least, Willa was polite. “Won’t daddy and Tim have a date?”
“He said no.”
Willa squinted her eyes.
“I thought the same thing,” Winona said.
Willa sat back, pondering her little head.
“You don’t have to do this.” Winona watched Willa and Tim interact by Raylan’s car.
“It’s kinda too late to change your plans. It’ll be fine.” Raylan accepted Willa’s bag. “Me and Tim probably would have ordered some pizza and drank a…glass of Jim Beam.”
“Or five,” Winona said, knowing them.
“Gives us credit,” Raylan said, acting offended, “We’re not lightweights.”
“Stick with the pizza.”
“No pizza, we’re cooking,” Willa said, running up with Tim trailing behind.
“We are?” Raylan looked down, his brow rising up beneath his hat.
“She wanted spaghetti,” Tim said, “I told her we could order takeout—“
“Eww.” Willa interrupted with her new favourite word, something she caught yesterday from her early morning cartoon.
“I guess we’re heading to the grocery store,” Raylan said to Winona.
“Well, have fun.”
As the group walked away, Willa turned to give her mother a thumb’s up. Winona replied in kind, wondering what story she’s going to be hearing tonight.
“You ever make meatballs?” Raylan asked, hefting a grocery bag in one hand while reading the print out for a meatball recipe in his other. His little girl was very prepared.
“Does packaged count?” Tim said.
“No,” Willa replied.
“I say it does,” Raylan said.
“No.” Willa emphasized to Raylan. “Too late. We’re making spaghetti and meatballs.”
Too late. In Raylan’s experience, women had a way of turning things you say back against you. Apparently, children were no exception.
“Too late, Raylan,” Tim said, mimicking his daughter. Willa giggled.
Or maybe it was all the people in Raylan’s life.
Tim opened the door to Raylan’s apartment, and Willa pushed Raylan straight to the kitchen.
“Okay, you’re the boss for today. What do we do first? Cook the spaghetti?”
“Um,” Willa shuffled side to side, “yeah.”
“Preheat the oven,” Tim said, while setting up the ingredients on the counter. “We’ll make the meatballs, put it in the oven, and then get started with the sauce and the spaghetti.”
“I thought you never made meatballs?”
“I asked if pre-made counted. Not my fault you jumped to conclusion.” Tim smirked at Raylan, flipping the knife expertly in his hands.
“Can I cut the onions?” Willa dragged her little stool, ready to help.
“Have you cut onions before?” Tim asked, looking knowingly at Raylan.
“Nope.” She looked expectantly at them.
“How about you let Tim cut them,” Raylan said, picking her up into his arms.
“Why?” She eyed them suspiciously.
Tim made the first cut. Raylan could practically feel the wave of—shit, what the hell. Was it supposed to be like that? Both his and Willa’s eyes were tearing up. He backed up with Willa.
“Warned yea.’” Tim was much too gleeful. “How about you two get to work measuring the salt and all that.”
“Yeah.” Raylan maneuvered Willa till he could get a sturdy hold to grab the foot stool and move to the farthest side of the kitchen counter.
“You look like you’ve never cut an onion before.” Willa was busy reading the ingredients and measurements.
“Why would I need to cut an onion?”
“Right, you only cook ramen and steak. You never cook steak with onion.”
“I wasn’t aware you had such fine dining taste.”
“Tim made me a pancake shaped like a flower.” Willa said.
“Really,” Raylan turned the full force of his attention on Tim, “you never gave me flowers in the morning?”
Tim kept himself busy, mixing the beef and onions together. “Weren’t aware you’d be so sensitive Raylan?”
Raylan knew he was deflecting. “Can you shape them like dinosaurs? Or how about a star?”
Willa gave an excited gasp at the idea. “You can make it like your and Tim’s badges.”
“Yeah,” Raylan agreed in that laconic way, when he really wanted to stretch the prodding out.
“I can do a blob. Maybe do—what did that dude say in that one case? A-mow-ba?”
“I believe it’s amoeba.” Raylan was fully aware that Tim perfectly remembered.
“What’s an amoeba?” Willa asked, pushing a bowl of herbs towards Tim.
Tim went into the explanation that lab employee spouted off, one he was only half listening to, waiting for information on a fugitive.
Raylan was already stuffing items in his empty cupboard, not knowing if he’ll have to continuously make spaghetti in order to get rid of pouches and shakers of cooking condiments.
Tim was shaping the meatball like an amoeba. At least, Raylan assumed that to be the case. The red mass looked less than appealing. But Willa was having fun, making smiley faces in a blob of meat.
He liked watching them play, even if Tim’s brand of fun was at times against Raylan. Willa was starting to do it more and more on her own, but he’d gladly accept on his daughter’s behalf. As for Tim, he smiled with more freedom.
More so, Raylan felt more at ease having Willa out in the world with Tim by his side.
“No slouching,” Willa instructed Raylan, washing her hands at Tim’s instructions.
“I’m cleaning.” Raylan wasn’t. No one believed him anyway.
Tim handed him a pot. “Just cook the noodles.”
“I’ll need water, right? You’re in the way.” Raylan moved to the sink, squishing his daughter between him and Tim.
“Daddy,” Willa giggled.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” He moved in further, pulling on Tim to really put the squeeze.
“Hey,” Willa managed to say as she laughed harder, working her way out from between them. The moment she got free she was running to the living room. “I’m going to check on Aerin and Sam.”
Raylan let his hand stay curved around Tim’s hip, now flushed against one another, the foot stool the only thing in the way. “When did you learn to cook? You are holding out on me.”
“There’s a reason why I don’t say shit to you. Also, grilled cheese is awesome,” Tim said, concentrating on the sauce.
Raylan moved behind Tim, allowing himself the time to feel up Tim’s ass before bringing them respectively higher. They both looked over their shoulders, hoping Willa wasn’t done mothering her frogs.
“You should cook something nice for me some time?”
Tim laughed at him. “I know some stuff, but not whatever you’re thinking. This is easy.”
“I was thinking a grilled cheese sandwich.”
Tim huffed, before lowering the heat and turning in Raylan’s arms. “What would I get if I did cook a meal for you?”
Raylan ran his hand across Tim’s stomach, circling on a spot that always elicited a response. “I can think of a few things I’m good at.”
Tim poked him. “The Watts transport next week, take it.”
“You’re going to demote me to some prison transport.”
“I’m going to let you listen to this guy talk for hours on end, ‘cause this dude can talk for hours on end.”
This was the greatest extent he’ll ever see of Tim begging. “Deal. Make something nice.”
“But you sounded so excited at the idea of a grilled cheese sandwich.”
Tim was joking. At least, it sounded that way to Raylan. “You learn to cook in the army?”
“Does this look like a bomb to you?” Tim pointed to the food in the pan, getting back to the task at hand. “I know you’re not that much of an idiot.”
“Don’t know. Those Ranger training could be teaching you something special.”
“Yeah, in between tactics and survival on Thursday, we learn how to make spaghetti bombs.”
“Delicious,” Raylan said, kissing Tim’s neck.
“Daddy, where’s the crickets?” They heard from the other room, breaking the moment. Willa was shuffling things around.
“I shouldn’t have bought her that tank.” Raylan rested his head on Tim’s shoulder and groaned.
Tim wasn’t going to admit it, but he strangely liked the frogs, since they were named after fantasy characters Tim read to Willa. “Now you got pet frogs.”
“Frogs and a pet cemetery: American dream.”
“We had to teach a frog how to eat dead crickets.”
“You mean that isn’t how you dream spending your weekends with me,” Tim said, turning to look at Raylan, flicking his tongue out mockingly like a frog. Raylan couldn’t help but think of other things.
“I get what you’re saying. But right now, I ain’t comfortable with it.” Raylan left Tim to his smirking while he went to help his daughter overturn his living room.
The coffee table was all set, as per Willa’s instructions. “Put it there,” Willa instructed Tim, whom placed the beer can holding a candle onto the coffee table. “Now sit down.”
Tim sat down, looking to Raylan for a clue.
“Willa, what’s this?” Raylan watched his daughter pull out two flimsy pieces of folded paper, ‘Menu’ written in crayon on the front.
“What shall you be eating today sirs?”
Tim leaned back and smirked, menu in hand and looking at his various choices. Willa had a sticky notepad and a pink pencil in hand. “What’s chicken masala?”
“The spaghetti is good,” Willa said instead.
“But I like the sound of chicken masala.” Tim turned to Raylan to give a puppy dog look.
“I don’t know, I kinda like the look of—“ Raylan leaned in closer, “can’t quite make out this word.”
“We only have spaghetti.” Tim smiled at Willa’s stern look, daring them to order something else.
Raylan took Tim’s hand and kissed the back of it. “Doesn’t spaghetti sound romantic?”
“Uber romantic,” Tim said, fluttering his eyelashes.
Willa went to get the large plate that was sitting in the kitchen.
“Do you need help?” Raylan asked, while Tim didn’t bother. He helped Willa with the plate that was too heavy, and grabbed a smaller one for her.
“Put it there.” Willa specified a spot.
Tim took the opportunity to fill Willa’s plate, handing it over when he was done. “A tip.”
“Thank you.” Willa took the plate graciously, then got up to leave.
Raylan and Tim blinked in confusion.
“Tables here honey,” Raylan said.
“The waitress doesn’t sit at the table.” Willa was carefully making her way to her room, making sure she didn’t spill. “Happy Valentines.”
Tim listened to the door snick shut. “Valentine’s,” Tim admonished the holiday with a shrug. They both looked at the setting on the coffee table. Tim tilted his head, seeing the familiarity to a movie cover. “I guess the question is, who’s the lady and who’s the tramp?” Tim said.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Raylan replied.
“Careful, you’re starting to sound like Nelson.”
Raylan ignored the comment, instead letting his fae practically melt at Willa’s sweet gesture. “My little girl set us up on a date.”
Tim had the usual deadpan expression. “Where I cooked the meal and set the table.”
Raylan grabbed a meatball with his fingers, taking a bite. “You’re gonna be a regular Martha Stewart by tomorrow if this keeps up.”
Tim snorted. “I did think your walls could use a few bullet holes in them. It’s the new spring look.”
Raylan pulled Tim towards him. “It’s February,” he said, bookending the statement with a kiss. Tim could taste the fruits of his labour, at least the tomato sauce.
“Get start early. Before it’s a trend and all that shit,” Tim said against Raylan’s lips. It shouldn’t feel romantic, as Raylan held onto a half-eaten meatball in his fingers, and beer can as a candle holder.
“Don’t think the neighbours would like that noise.” Raylan fed him the other half of the meatball, practically jamming it into Tim’s mouth, which only earned him a glare.
“They were a bit touchy about the bed frame banging against the wall,” Tim said between chews.
Raylan got up, grabbed matches to light the candle, and turned off the lights in the room. He then took out his phone.
“I bet you have pictures when Willa first learned how to tie her shoes?”
“A father can’t appreciate his daughter’s work of art.”
Tim opened his mouth, but paused, looking at the setting once again. At some point in the week, Willa had put a lot of thought into this, making fake menus and playing waitress. “You keep forgetting that you two abandoned me to watch the dragon movie without me,” he said, handing over a fork so they could shut up and eat.
“You’ve seen that movie how many times with her?” Tim looked affronted. “When I print out the picture, I’ll be sure to get you and Willa to sign it.”
“Maybe it’ll be famous. Then we’ll have the money to start that cult I’ve always wanted.”
“As long as we’re not re-enacting the scene from the movie,” Raylan gestured to the spaghetti in front of them, “then I’ll consider your freaky shit.”
“Freaky shit makes me hard.”
Raylan dropped the fork, bellowing a laugh.
Winona picked Willa up near midnight. “How did the date go?”
“Unexpected,” Tim said, watching Richard carry a sleeping Willa back to the car. “We watched some movies afterwards. Passed out halfway through The Lady and the Tramp. I’ll get Raylan to send you the picture. How much did you know?”
“Enough,” Winona said, walking backwards to make her escape. “Bye, Tim.”
Tim gave a lazy wave, heading back into the building. “How the dishes going?” Tim absentmindedly called out, as he found Raylan’s phone to send the picture.
Raylan came up behind him, wrapping his arm around his stomach. “Done.”
“In other words, you just put it in the dishwasher.” Tim thought on it. “Good solution.” He craned his head back, accepting the kiss he’d been wanting all night. Raylan’s hand cupping his crotch made things even better.
“Got more important things to do.” Raylan unbuckled Tim’s belt, as Tim hummed in agreement.