Home > Single Dad Seeks Juliet(7)

Single Dad Seeks Juliet(7)
Author: Max Monroe

 

I close the message and toss my phone onto the counter to free up my hand for an oven mitt.

A few clicks turn the oven off, and I’m just pulling open the door when Chloe bounces into the room, still feeling the high of my dad-moment-of-confusion. Her amber eyes are so alight they almost look gold, but after one look at my face, she decides to keep any more commentary to herself. Instead, we both turn our attention to the food.

“Oh yeah,” she celebrates as I pull the chicken out of the oven. It’s my special recipe, developed over many, many years with the help of no cookbooks at all, and one of her favorites. “Heck yes!”

“Excited?”

“More than K-Poppers when BTS drops a new album! Your chicken and rice is fire, periodt.”

“Chlo, you know I don’t know what you just said at all. Please, help your dad out by using English.”

She laughs. “Come on, Dad. It’s the English of my generation. You’re better off just learning it. Everyone my age is going to be in charge one day. Wouldn’t you rather be in the know?”

“No,” I refute. “I’m just fine like I am.”

She rolls her eyes but smiles as I hand her a dish of food before turning back to make my own. She rolls up on her toes and plants a kiss on my cheek as I’m scooping.

“All right, you can stay uninformed,” she teases. “I’ll be, like, your professional translator.”

I chuckle. “Works for me, babe.”

I grab a fork from the drawer, scoop my phone up off the counter, and head for the table behind Chloe. We both take our seats across from each other and dig in.

It tastes delicious, I’m not afraid to admit, but it’s really not about the food when it comes to dinner with Chloe. I just like to spend the time with her.

“Did you get your class schedule yet?” I ask, knowing she’s been watching the school website almost religiously, waiting to find out if she and Hailie have anything together for their senior year.

School doesn’t start for almost another month, but it’s a small private school with an abundance of resources, and they’re normally pretty on the ball about getting things ironed out well in advance.

She shakes her head, chewing. “Not yet. I think maybe next week.”

I nod, and my phone buzzes on the table.

I hate interrupting our family time, but I have to at least read it. I own a construction company in the area, and sometimes important decisions and issues come up even after regular work hours.

 

Garrett: Drinks tonight?

 

Thankfully, it’s not anything pressing. My buddy Garrett is a San Diego firefighter and, without a doubt, the best guy friend I’ve got. But he’s also a grown man with a life of his own. He gets my priorities, and I don’t have to explain anything to him.

 

Me: Sorry, man. Dinner with Chloe.

 

Garrett: That’s all right. Some other time.

 

I kind of feel bad that I’m not making the effort to meet him after dinner, seeing as his marriage is a fucking dumpster fire, but I rarely get uninterrupted dinners with Chloe anymore. Soon, she’ll be busy with school and friends, and sooner than I’d like to think about, she’ll be moving out of the house and starting college.

After seventeen years of raising her myself—of dedicating my life to her—I’m honestly not sure how I’m going to handle it. For the time being, I’m determined not to rush any of the time I have. I set my phone back down on the table and turn my attention to her.

“So,” I say. “How’s your—”

The back door in the kitchen bursts open, and Garrett walks inside. My head drops forward as I sigh.

I really should have seen this coming. Because he’s a grown man who gets it—but he’s also a pain in the ass.

Chloe jumps up from her seat and runs over to him, her feelings about one hundred times more welcoming than my own. “Uncle Garrett,” she squeals, wrapping him up in a tight hug. “Did you bring Hayden and Sarah?”

“Nope. Sorry. Unlike you, they think it’s totally uncool to hang out with their dad,” he mocks good-naturedly, bobbing his head back and forth like a teenage girl might. “They’re at the movies with friends.”

“Bummer,” Chloe whispers, and I smile. Not many teenage girls would be genuinely upset by the absence of eleven-year-old twins. Chloe, though, has a natural sense of nurture. In fact, I’d say she has that quality in spite of me.

When they put her in my arms all those years ago, and I looked down into her amber eyes, I was just a walking, talking grunt factory. I’d spent the last five years in the Navy SEALs—the last month and a half in the thick of a jungle without access to anyone other than my team—and I didn’t know how to do anything with emotion. I’d been taught to be devoid of it, frankly. The only things that got me through those first few days with a newborn girl were patience and finesse—skills I’d trained for—and a whole hell of a lot of luck.

Somehow, she made it out okay, though. And as a bonus, she taught me to smile and laugh and cry along the way. My biggest hurdle now is convincing her that it’s not her job to take care of me. All she needs to worry about is herself.

“No tacos?” Garrett accuses as he pulls out the chair across from me and sits down with his plate of chicken and rice. “It’s Tuesday. Everyone knows what you’re supposed to eat on Tuesday.”

I roll my eyes and lean back into the wooden back of my chair. “You can have tacos. You just have to make them yourself. Since you weren’t invited to this dinner anyway.”

“What? You said, and I quote, ‘Dinner with Chloe.’ I’m here for dinner with Chloe.”

I shake my head, but I also have to laugh. Garrett has a way of making things fit his narrative. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Not to mention, I texted you about a nanosecond before you burst in. You were obviously already here.”

He pretends to act shocked as he shovels a forkful of chicken and rice into his mouth and smiles. “You know what? You and I need to work on our communication skills. That’s all this is.”

“I think you’re spending too much time with the marriage counselor,” I say as Chloe takes her seat at the table again, this time with an ice cream sandwich from the freezer. She giggles.

Garrett laughs too, but I can tell his heart’s not really in it as he comments, “Or not enough.”

Shit. I probably shouldn’t have said anything.

Thankfully, Chloe is there to bring some sunshine to the mood. “Did Hayden and Sarah get their back-to-school clothes yet? Middle school is such a big deal!”

“They’re going this Friday and…” He points his finger in the air as he tries to calculate the time. “Not this Sunday, but the next. Apparently, there are different sales on different days or something. Hayden is excited,” Garrett answers. “But Sarah drafted a two-page essay of protest.”

Chloe snorts. “Oh my God, she’s the best. She’s, like, the coolest little person. She’s into fashion, though, isn’t she? I thought she’d want to go shopping.”

Garrett shrugs. “She does. She just… Bethanny won’t let them go without her, and she has really strong opinions about what Sarah should get. It usually doesn’t line up with what Sarah actually wants.”

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