Home > Hot Stuff(5)

Hot Stuff(5)
Author: Max Monroe

“Fine.” She huffs again. “If gross poop jokes make you happy, Hayden, I won’t stop you. But, please, for the love of God, spritz in some other material. Surely, there are other bodily fluids just waiting to be made fun of.”

Unfortunately for all of us, Hayden takes his sister’s comments to heart and switches up his comedy routine by farting so loudly the windows shake.

“Hayden!” Sarah shrieks, and I roll down the windows so she can stick her head through the opening and suck in air theatrically.

“You’re so dramatic, Sarah,” Hayden comments through a fit of laughter.

“Couldn’t you have held that in?!” Sarah continues, her head still out the window and her voice drawing the attention of passersby.

“Farting is good for you,” her brother retorts. “It’s bad to hold your farts in, sis. Maybe that’s why you’re always so bitchy. Because you’re always holding in your farts.”

“Dad!” Sarah screams at the top of her damn lungs. “He just called me a bitch!”

“No, I said you were bitchy. There’s a difference.”

“Sarah, stop yelling,” I say through a heavy sigh. “And Hayden, don’t say bitchy.”

Hayden just shrugs.

Sarah continues to keep her head out the window.

And I offer up a silent prayer to God that my kids won’t kill me before my next birthday.

Luckily, a minute later, I turn down Bethanny’s street, which, for a lot of years, was my street.

Honestly, when I first found the townhouse so near my old house, I wasn’t sure I was crazy about living so close to my ex. I mean, it wouldn’t exactly be on my short list of priorities if I were on one of those HGTV shows. And it wasn’t like our newly divorced, co-parenting relationship was smooth and friendly for a while.

But now that Bethanny’s starting to settle into the divorce a little more, being close is a godsend. It makes pickup and drop-off a breeze, and it always feels like I’m accessible should the kids need me.

When I pull into the driveway, Bethanny and Blake are standing out on the front lawn. Bethanny scowls, clearly having seen the drama of our approach, but Bucktooth Blake smiles and waves with genuine excitement.

He’s looking forward to seeing my kids, even when they’re farting so hard the windows rattle.

Yet another reason I’m Team Blake.

I pull the Suburban to a stop and shut off the engine, and Sarah rolls out of the back passenger door like the car is on fire, sputtering and wheezing.

I smile as Hayden bursts into laughter.

It’s a strange moment, but it makes me feel a little sad. Sad that I won’t be able to spend the day with them—the reality that no matter how badly I want to, there will be days that aren’t mine to have. Occasions that aren’t mine to share with them.

It’s a different routine that takes time to get used to—and a little bit of flexibility over the fact that you’ll never fully get used to it.

But the better I take it, the better my kids will, and that’s the kind of healthy environment I’m determined to build for them. It wasn’t there when Bethanny and I were married. We were always fighting, always disagreeing on the most basic of conversations.

Divorce doesn’t have to be bad. It can be better.

It has to be.

I climb out my door and circle the hood to Bethanny and Blake, sticking my hand out to Blake when he offers his own. He’s a stand-up guy. Always polite, always friendly. I kind of don’t know what he’s doing with my ex-wife, but I’m not going to question a good thing.

“Hey, man,” I say firmly, giving him a smile. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Same to you,” he says while Sarah turns two of her fingers into a mocking set of buck teeth behind him. I shake my head as subtly as I can manage in dad-sign-language to tell her to cut it out.

Bethanny watches my interaction with her boyfriend with narrowed violet-blue eyes. Her stark black hair is perfectly styled as always, and she’s just as beautiful as she was the day we married.

But it’s all a veneer. It’s Botox and makeup and vanity. It’s so unimportant. Twenty years ago, I never would have dreamed I’d look at her without feeling weak in the knees.

Now, when I see her, I feel thankful for the two kids our marriage gave me, but I also feel relief. A lot of fucking relief.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Bethanny,” I say civilly. She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I’m not sure if she was hoping I’d react to Blake with more jealousy and aggression or if she just resents me, but she’s not that great at pretending she’s cool with co-parenting.

Still, she’s not shrieking at me in front of the neighbors, so I’ll take it as a win.

“Mm-hmm,” she hums. “Where are you headed today? Work? Jake’s?”

“Neither, actually.” I shake my head. “The Cap asked me to have dinner with them.”

She nods, smirking. “Makes sense. He was always more family to you than any of us anyway.”

Annoyed, I have to clench my jaw to stop myself from saying something smart. Blake looks at me apologetically as he grabs her gently by the elbow. “Bethy.”

“Forget it,” she says then, turning and heading for the house.

Sarah and Hayden look on, a notable decrease in their playfulness making my chest ache.

“Sar, Hay… Love you guys. I’ll see you in a couple days.”

They nod, and Blake reaches out to pat my arm. He doesn’t say anything, but he turns to Hayden and prompts, “You wanna toss the football around, bud?”

Hayden runs for the garage, and Blake earns another tally in the win column. I meet Sarah’s eyes just as she rolls them, and I almost laugh.

She may be rolling her eyes, but it’s not out of annoyance. I know my baby girl well, and that little gesture is like a crack in a dam. It won’t be long before she’s cheering Bucktooth Blake along with me if he keeps this up.

Quickly, I jog over and give her a kiss on the top of the head. “Love you more than words, sweetheart.”

With another crack in her sassy veneer, she wraps her arms around my waist and hugs me tight. “Love you too, Dad. But don’t even think about telling me to have fun today. I refuse.”

And then, she’s walking into the house and out of view.

That kid. I tell ya. She’s going to give me a run for my money these next few years.

With a quick glance to my watch, I realize I need to get this show on the road.

I’m late. And as far as the captain is concerned—late is not great.

 

 

Lauren

 

“Sorry I’m late,” my eldest sister Shell sighs, slamming her bag down on the kitchen counter of my dad’s house. “I had to finish helping prep at the diner, and then run by the liquor store for some beer, and then pick up the kids and Phil at the house.”

I look up from the potatoes I’m currently mashing to take in her frazzled face.

I’ve been working on today’s Thanksgiving dinner for hours, pretty much since seven this morning, but she is the last person I’m going to tell that to.

“It’s okay,” I say softly, knowing Shell has more than enough shit on her plate without me adding to it. She’s eight years older than me, works like a dog to support Phil and her three boys, and does it without complaint. So much so, I personally think she should complain more.

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