December 21, 2015

Haley: Week Twenty-Seven, Day Three

Living Green Tip #20:  Looking for a romantic way to spend an evening that’s also eco-friendly? Don’t worry, we’re not prescribing a date at a recycling facility to sort bottles and newspapers (although that’s a fantastic idea for many!).  But, meeting at a park makes a timeless date!

Rachel yawned as she clicked on the incoming message.

Ready to meet today? Let's get together.

She nibbled her lip as she considered meeting him in person.  He'd sent his picture, but what if he wasn't anything like that.  What if he smelled? What if he tried to kill her?

But, they'd really hit it off online.  Maybe he was the one...

Quickly, she replied, Call me...

Haley raised her eyebrows with surprise when she came downstairs and found Rachel already awake.  "It's 8 in the morning!" she said, reaching in the fridge and cleaning it out, "What are you doing up?"
Rachel shrugged, cracking eggs and tossing them in the blender.  "I couldn't sleep. Shaye's got Shayla this weekend." She haphazardly threw another egg white in the bowl.  "I worry constantly when she's not home with me!"

"Aw, Rach... I'm sorry. I know it's hard," Haley said reassuringly.  "But he's been a great Dad!"
Rachel scoffed.  "Yeah, too good."
"What do you mean?" Haley asked, grabbing a plate of pancakes.

Rachel sighed.  "I just really pictured us being a family.  But now, he only talks to me if it has to do with Shayla.  It's like we're not even friends!"
Maritza bit her tongue, as she so often did when it came to Rachel and her love life.

"Have you ever apologized to him?" Haley asked, scooting in to the table.
"Apologize for what?" Rachel asked angrily.  "Giving him a daughter that he loves? He should be thanking me!"
Haley sighed and shook her head.  "I know it's hard. You'll just have to figure out how to be civil with him and co-parent responsibility."
Rachel made a face. "It's not fair.  You never had to co-parent," she spit out the word like it was a curse-word.  "Gabe didn't want anything to do with Jason."

Maritza gasped.  "Rachel!"

Rachel held her hands up. "What?! It's a good thing!"  She leaned forward, "You know, he has a profile on the dating website!"

"No," Haley shook head head.  It had been years since she'd thought about Gabe.  He'd been transferred shortly after Johnny had gone to have a talk with him all those years ago.  Could he be back?  "How do you know?"

Rachel shrugged.  "I browse through the profiles."  She shrugged.  "In fact," she added. "You'll never believe who I met! He's this really great guy! He funny, likes the outdoors and doesn't mind that I have kids!"

Haley and Maritza shared a glance.

"What? Why are you guys looking at each other like that?!" Rachel demanded angrily.  "I'm just meeting him! It's not like I'm getting married!"

Maritza choked on her bite.  "Plumbbob, I hope not!"

Rachel huffed angrily.  "He's taking me to the Winter Festival."

Haley sighed, asking, "The same festival Rio's been begging you to go to with him?"

Rachel pushed back from the table.  "I'll take Rio later! Like I said I would! I am not a bad Mom!"  she nearly growled before turning on her heel and stomping up the stairs in an indignant huff.                                                                                  
Haley & Maritza shared another speaking glance.  "Do you think she'll ever change?" Maritza asked.

Haley shrugged, shaking her head sadly, "I don't know..."

Maritza headed into her room and lifted Darryl, Jr. from his crib.  Sometimes watching Rachel run head-long into another relationship reminded her why she was unlikely to ever date again!  There was too much unknown and risky inherent in dating.  She rested her cheek against her son's.  Besides, Darryl, Jr. was all she needed right now. 

Rachel tapped her booted foot and glanced around the Winter Festival.  What if he didn't recognize her? she worried.  What if he didn't look like his pictureWhat if...
"Rachel?" Clifton asked as he cautiously approached her.

Rachel turned towards him and felt a huge relief that he looked exactly like he had in his picture.  "Yeah! Hi!"
"Are you ready to have some fun?" he asked.

Rachel nodded, "Let's do it!"

She shrieked with laughed as another snow ball whizzed by her.  "You missed!" she laughed.

Clifton took steady aim and threw another snow ball.  Even though Rachel twisted to miss it, she wasn't fast enough.  It left a spot of powdery snow on her jacket.

"I GOT YOU!" Clifton roared with triumph.  "YES!"
Rachel giggled.  "About time. It only took you 10 minutes!"

Clifton jogged over to her side. "I'll show you 10 minutes," he said, playfully reaching out to tickle her.

Rachel swatted his hands, "I'm hungry. Wanna grab something to eat?"

He shook his head.  "Nah, why don't you grab something. I'm going to go try out the snowboarding half-pipe.  Meet me over there, okay?"

Rachel tucked her hair behind her ear. "Sure. Meet you there."

"One gingerbread cookie coming up," the foodie told her, reaching to put the hot cookie in a little bag.  He glanced up at her again and checked her out.  "You know, you're too pretty to be out here by yourself! I get off in 30 minutes..."

Rachel preened.  "I'm actually with someone," she told him.  "But, you're sweet!"  She fluttered her lashes.

"Damn, all the good ones are taken!" he joked as he handed her the cookie.  "On the house," he added with a wink.
Rachel headed over towards the half-pipe and ate her cookie, watching and waving at Clifton as he passed.

"HEY! LOOK AT ME!" he called out again, making the shaka bra hand-sign.
After numerous passes, Clifton padded over, stoking the fire and warming his hands.  "Man. That was intense! You should try it!"

Rachel popped the gingerbread man's head in her mouth.  "Nuh uh. I like my feet firmly on the ground!" she told him.

"Hello?" Maritza answered the phone quietly, having just gotten Darryl Jr. to sleep. "This is Maritza."

"Maritza, this is Dr. Wyman.  This might be a little awkward," he cleared his throat and paused, "I was hoping we might grab a coffee sometime and talk..."

Martiza's mouth dropped open in surprise.

"Are you still there?" he asked, uncomfortable with the hanging silence.  "I'm sorry," he finally started to apologize.  "I shouldn't have presumed..."

"No!" Martiza heard herself saying.  "I would love to..."

"This has been incredible," Rachel told Clifton.  "But, I need to get ready for work."

Clifton reached out and clasped her hands. "You don't have to go yet, do you?" he asked.

"I have work in an hour," she explained.

"Can't you be a little late?" he asked. "I'm just having such an amazing time with you.  I'm not ready for the night to end..."

Rachel fawned.  "Me neither," she agreed.  "I guess I can go in a little late," she said with a small smile.

Finished, Haley thought with immense satisfaction.
She'd finally finished the 10th painting that the business center had commissioned for their new Local Lifestyles decor. 
She carefully loaded the paintings onto her bike and headed over.

Clifton had talked Rachel into ice skating.  She'd been a little shaky at first, bending over and holding her arms out to the side to avoid falling on her ass in front of him.  Truthfully, she wasn't sure which would be worse.

But, now, they were twirling around in a circle, holding hands, gazing deep into each other's eyes.
"I'm so glad we met," Clifton said softly.  "I... I really started falling for you before we even met.  But, now that I see you in person... I'm half in love with you," he confessed smoothly.

Rachel felt her heart beating erratically.  He loved her!  "Me too! I knew the minute I saw your profile that there was something between us!"

"I did too!" Clifton said excitedly, stopping mid-circle and gazing deep into her eyes.
Rachel impulsively leaned forward and kissed Clifton on his lips.

Clifton jerked in surprise.  "Oh crap!" he called out just before he swept her feet out from under her.
Clifton scuttled over next to her side, rubbing his side.  "Sorry. Are you okay?" he asked, reaching for her hand. 
Rachel peeked her eyes open, groaning.  "I think so..."

"Come on, Rio, I'll race you upstairs!" Jason said after they got in from school.

Rio shook his head.  "Nah, you go on. I have some homework to do."

Jason made a face, "Aw come on, you can do your homework later! It doesn't take that long to do!"

"Look, Jason. Once you're 5th grade, you'll see how much homework you get!" Rio grumbled.

"Yeah, well, I'm gonna go play!"  Jason raced up the stairs.

"It's not fair," Rio grumbled, wishing he could go play, too. 
Instead, he sat down at the kitchen table and pulled out his books. 
Being older sucked sometimes, Rio thought, he was pretty sure Jason was upstairs having fun while he was down here doing his stupid homework.

"Who could that be?" Haley wondered out loud, getting up from the table where she'd been helping Rio with his homework.  What did she remember about algebra, for goodness sake?!  "Keep trying, I'll be right back," she promised Rio.
"Like I'm going to get anywhere alone," Rio grumbled.  Why did there have to be x's and y's in math anyways? This was so dumb!
Haley swung the door open and found Shaye and Shayla on the doorstep.  "Shayla! We missed you!" she said, reaching for Rachel's daughter. Shayla happily went into Haley's arms.  "How was your weekend?" Haley asked Shaye politely.
"We had a great time, didn't we, Shayla?" Shaye said.  "We went out to the Winter Festival this morning and took some pictures, had our faces painted, played in the snow.  We had a great time, didn't we Shay-Shay?"
Haley turned to Shayla, "That sounds like you had so much fun with Daddy!" she said brightly.  "Is this snow jumper new?" she asked Shaye.

He nodded. "Yeah, Rachel forgot to pack any warm clothes, so we went shopping. I wasn't sure if you guys had any.  You know how fast kids grow!"
"I'm sure she just forgot to pull them out," Haley said.  "You know Rachel..." she finished lamely.

Shaye shrugged, "Yeah, well, tell Rachel I'd like to talk to her soon."  He turned his attention to Shayla, giving her playful kisses goodbye. "Daddy'll see you soon, Shay-Shay! Love you!"
"I'll tell Rachel! She'll be disappointed she missed you!" Haley called after him.

Rachel headed inside, slightly limping from her ice-skating fall.  She was surprised to see Rio still up, brushing the cat.
She plopped down on the couch in front of him.  "Hey Rio, how was your day?" she asked.

Rio shrugged, concentrating on the task in front of him.

She sighed, leaning back her head. "Well, Mommy had a wonderful date with a very nice man today!"
Rio dropped the brush and shot up. "Mom!" he protested.  "You promised!"

Rachel waved her hand.  "I know! I know!  I promised to quit jumping into relationships.  But, Clifton and I have been friends since before Shayla was born.  We're not really jumping into anything.  We've been taking our time!"

"But, Mom..." Rio started to argue.
Rachel interrupted him.  "Rio! Be happy for me! This one's a keeper! I've invited him over for dinner tomorrow! I know you're going to love him!  Trust me!"

"What's wrong?" Jason asked as they got ready for bed.

Rio shook his head, turning away from his little brother.  "Nothing," he said in a clipped tone. "You wouldn't understand!"

Jason chucked his shirt on the floor. "I'm not so little! I understand a lot!" Jason protested.

Rio set his jaw stubbornly.  "I don't want to talk about it."  He wondered how long this new relationship would last.  Well, he wasn't going to act like he liked the stupid guy, no matter how much his Mom wanted him to.
He tossed his clothes down in a pile next to Jason's and clambered up onto the top bunk.  "Night, Jason," he said softly. 

"Night," Jason mumbled softly, already close to sleep.

Rio glanced down at Mittens as he curled up on his dirty clothes.  "Night, Mittens."
Mittens meowed contentedly and stretched out on the clothes, making himself comfortable before curling up and going to sleep.

December 10, 2015

Haley: Week Twenty-Seven, Day Two

Living Green Tip #19:   Oh, the mistakes we made. The plants we killed! The dumb choices we made. Mistakes and dumb choices will be a part of your gardening life until the day you set aside your shovel and pruners (or until they day they pry them from your cold, dead hands, in my case) and that’s a good thing. Mistakes help us learn.

Maritza hardly slept a wink in the hospital.  She'd been so worried, alone in the impersonal hospital bed, fretting over Darryl & mourning the loss of her partner. 

Sometime in the middle of the night, the nurses brought Darryl back to Maritza, reassuring her that hew sweet newborn was doing fine and needed no further intervention.  She'd been so relieved that she broke down in tears as she held her baby in her arms.

"Mommy's got you," she repeated over and over again as she rocked Darryl gently.
In the morning, Dr. Wyman made his rounds, checking out Maritza before announcing her fit to return home. 

"Be sure to take it easy the next few days," he reminded her.  "And, if you ever need anything, feel free to reach out."  He briefly covered his hand with his own, then signed her discharge papers.

"I totally beat you out here!" Jason bragged, puffing his little chest out.

Rio rolled his eyes. "So? I wasn't ready!"

"I'm totally faster than you are! I'm like Flash!"

"Flash isn't even real!" Rio argued, frustrated from having lost to Jason once again... well that and having his face rubbed in it.
"Boys, just do your chores and get to school. Not everything is a race," Haley sighed, growing tired of the bickering.  "Jiminy Christmas!"

"Okay, Mom!" Jason chirped, rushing over to grab the chicken feed.
"That's what I said," Rio grumped under his breath, heading to check the nesting box for eggs.

Because Mom had said they could walk to school together, they skipped the bus and headed into town towards the school, shooting the breeze about sports, their classes and anything else that popped into their brains.

Even though Rio got annoyed with Jason for being so competitive, he actually really liked his brother. 

They'd stayed up late one night talking about their moms.  They spent a lot of time talking after bedtime.  They'd agreed that they were like blood brothers because neither of them had dads and they kind of shared moms since they all lived together.  Sealing the deal, they'd spit in each other's hands and smeared it in their palms when they shook hands.

"Come on, Rio. I bet I can beat you to school!" Jason randomly called out, breaking into a run.
Rio watched Jason take off and called out after him, "I'm not racing you, Jason!"  His voice was tinged with annoyance. "I mean it!" he yelled.
When Jason didn't slow down, Rio cursed under his breath before hauling ass to try to beat his little brother for once.

Haley tended to the weeds that were growing around her veggie garden.  She'd been so busy lately that she hadn't been tending to it as she would've liked.  "Oh, I think that lettuce plant is a lost cause," she sighed, bemoaning its loss.
"Hello!" Maritza called out, wheeling Darryl up the front walk in his stroller. 
Haley popped up, smiling widely. "MARITZA! You're home!" She glanced down at the bundle in her arms, "Oh, and Darryl Jr. got to come home, too!"  She hurried to her friends side to coo over the baby and hear what the doctor had to say about his prognosis.
"...and Dr. Wyman gave us a clean bill of health," Maritza finished.  "He doesn't think there will be any lingering issues."

Haley breathed a heavy sigh of relief, "Oh, I'm so glad! I was so worried."  She reached for her friends hand.  "I wish I could've stayed with you."

"I was fine," Maritza reassured her.  "It was a little scary being in the hospital by myself at first, but I survived.  They brought Darryl in around 1 am and after that I was plenty busy!"

"Well, we're so glad to have you guys back, safe and sound!"

Maritza looked around, "Where's Rachel?"

Haley rolled her eyes, "Sleeping."

Rachel soundly slept on, despite the loud ringing of her alarm clock, alerting her to wake up for work...

Maritza loved Haley, but she was glad to be in her room and alone with Darryl Jr.    It was almost like having a little piece of Darryl back.
After feeding and changing the little guy, she managed to rock him to sleep and then collapsed on her own bed, exhausted, but feeling more at peace than she had for a very long time.

"Dammit," Rachel cursed when she woke up and glanced at the clock.  "Dammit. Dammit. Dammit!"  She hurriedly jumped out of bed and grabbed her clothes from the floor, hopping on one foot to put her jeans on while rooting around the dirty clothes pile for a bra.  "I'm going to be late. Dammit! Not again!"
Just as she raced from the room, little Shayla began crying.  "I'm sorry, sweetie. I've got to get to work! I'll tell Haley to get you a bottle!"

She just couldn't lose this job!

Haley hadn't been surprised that Rachel had slept through her alarm or rushed out of the door, one hot mess.  After taking care of Shayla and laying her back down to sleep, she found herself at loose ends.

The boys were going to spend the afternoon with her Mom, so she had an entire afternoon and evening to herself!  She could do whatever she wanted to do!

With that freeing through, she headed outside and began working on her last painting that the Business Office had commissioned.  She couldn't wait to have all of her work displayed again!

"GRANDPA!" Jason called out, racing towards his Grandpa. Rio slowly trailed along.
"Hey squirt, are you ready to have fun?" Nathaniel asked his grandson as he wrapped him in a big bear hug.  Looking up, he saw Rio coming towards them, slow and steady.  He held his arm out for Rio, too.  "You're growing bigger every time I see you!" he proclaimed as Rio gave him a quick, tentative hug.

"Thank you, sir," Rio said politely.   Jason's grandparents had told him a long time ago to call them Grandma and Grandpa, too.  But, sometimes it made him feel self-conscious. 

"Well!" Nathaniel announced, not even phased, "Do we have some good times planned for you!"  He held his hands out to usher the boys inside.
Rio had started out a little quiet and cautious, but loosened up after a game of flag-football, all three of them against Ian, and a rousing video game racing circuit.
Nathaniel smiled as the boys really got into it, pretending to swerve around curves, bump into each other and honk their imaginary horns.  He was glad that Rio was able to relax around them.  He saw so much of his grandfather, Tomas, in him.  He fervently hoped that Jason and Rio were able to stay as good of friends as he'd been with Tomas so many years ago.
"CRASH!" Rio yelled suddenly, pretending to take a sharp curve and fell heavily against Rio, knocking the both of them to the ground amidst plenty of giggles and laughter.

Meanwhile, Eva was in the kitchen, preparing their dinner.  It was nice having the children in the house again, she thought.  And such happy, healthy children, too!  It was a far cry from the fighting & subsequent icy, cold shoulders in the home she'd grown up in.
"Come to the table, boys," Eva said, taking a seat at the table. 

"Coming, Grandma!" Jason answered at the same time Rio politely said, "Yes, ma'am."
It was so nice to have a full table! Nathaniel thought as he glanced around at his family. 
"Good salad, babe," Nathaniel told Eva with a grin. 

Eva laughed lightly.  "Well, there wasn't much to it! It's just a few veggies!"

Turning to Rio, he asked, "So, how's school going kiddo? You're in what? The 5th grade now?"
Rio nodded. "Yes, sir."

Waving his hand, "None of that 'sir, no sir' for me!" he gently reminded Rio.  "It makes me feel old," he said with a wink. 

Rio just stared at Nathaniel, trying to determine if he was being serious or not.  Didn't he realize he was old?

But, Nathaniel had already moved on to Jason, asking him how he was enjoying the 3rd grade and whether or not he liked his teacher.  As if Jason needed any prompting to talk about himself, Rio thought.  He could talk your ear off sometimes!

"It's quiet tonight, isn't it?" Haley asked as she sat down to eat dinner with Maritza.

Maritza tilted her head.  "You know, now that you mention it, it is!  Where are the boys?"
"My mom's going to bring them home a little later.  They wanted to have the boys over for the afternoon.  That means we get to have a dinner in peace and quiet!"

"Aw, that's awesome," Maritza said.  "That's so cool that they took Rio, too.  I'm sure he misses his Grandma."

Haley nodded.  "Yeah. It really hit him hard when Sonja passed away. But, the folks have always welcomed him in their home.  You know, my dad and Rachel's dad were best friends when they were growing up."

Maritza glanced up, "Oh, I didn't know that! No wonder you guys got to know each other so well over the years.  I guess I'm lucky you guys let me in the group!"

Haley nudged her friend, "I wouldn't have it any other..."
Just then, the wails from the babies interrupted their remainder of their dinner.

"Well, so much for peace and quiet!" Haley joked.

Haley collected Shayla and brought her down to meet Darryl Jr.  "So hello to your boyfriend," Haley joked.  "Don't worry about being a little bit older than him!"

Maritza grimaced wryly.  "Let's not start calling them boyfriend-girlfriend," she said.  "I don't want them to feel like they're stuck in a pre-determined relationship." 

Haley blinked. 

Embarrassed, Maritza explained, "I read about it in the parenting book. You're supposed to tell them that they can't date until they're older, that way they spend their time cherishing friendships rather than placing significance on finding a significant other."  Feeling ridiculous, she got a little defensive, adding, "It's what Darryl and I talked about..."

Haley stopped her, "Don't worry, Mari.  It's fine!  I support you 100%!"

Maritza sighed heavily.  "Thanks. Maybe I'm just worrying too much.  After all, they're still babies..."
Quieting the children, they placed them on the kiddie carpet in front of their chairs and sat down to chit chat while they had the time. 

"Have you thought any more about what you're going to do back here in Sunset Valley? Especially since you released all of the exhibits you'd collected."

Maritza slumped in her seat. "Oh, I don't know, Haley. I'd been so eager to re-start my thesis in Appaloosa Plains... and now... I just don't know.  Sometimes I think I should just give it all up and join the science facility."

Haley reached across and touched Maritza's knee. "There's no need to make any rash decisions."
Mittens tiptoed by, staring cautiously at the babies, as though afraid they would jump up and try to catch him.  He was well aware of the havoc toddlers and children could wreck!

"Look boys! It's the first snow of the season!" Eva said as she led the boys up the front walk. "Pretty soon it will be time for snow and Christmas!"
Jason raced ahead and threw the door open, "Guess what Mom?! Grandma came to drop us off!"
Haley got up to hug her mother in greeting.  "Hi, were the kids good?"

Eva smiled, "Oh, of course they were."
"They sure are stinky!" Jason announced loudly, screwing up his face as he smelled the dirty diaper.
Maritza lifted Darryl Jr. up to change and put to bed.  "You know, you were just as stinky when you were little!" she teased him.

Jason puffed his chest out with pride. "I'm still stinky! Mom tells me so all the time! She says I smell like little boy sweat!"

"Alright kiddos, time to go upstairs and brush your teeth!" Haley announced, breaking Jason off.  "I'll come check in a bit!"

The boys groaned in unison until Jason broke the silence by loudly calling out, "LAST ONE UPSTAIRS IS A ROTTEN EGG!" 

"Watch the baby!" Haley called out in horror as Jason zoomed past Shayla.  Rio jerked upright and took off after Jason.

Laughing, Maritza headed into her room.
"Thank you so much for letting us have them for the afternoon," Eva said.  "It's so nice seeing Jason more now that we're back in town.  And you know we always love having Rio, as well."

"I know, Mom.  And they enjoy spending time with you guys, too," Haley told her.  "Jason talks about it non-stop. I think it's good for them to have some quality time with other men instead of surrounded by women!"

Eva clapped her hands together. "Good!  Dad and I were hoping we could keep them one weekend coming up.  Let us know when is good for you!"

Haley hugged her Mom goodbye.  "I will, Mom.  Love you!"

Haley headed up to the boys' room and found them quietly playing in their pajamas.  "So, what do you want me to read to you tonight?" she asked brightly.

Jason piped up, hopping up and down, "Adventures of Raymundo! Adventures of Raymundo!"

Haley glanced up at Rio in the top bunk.  "Are you okay with that, Rio?"

Rio shrugged, "Whatever, I wasn't going to listen anyways."  He was too old for dumb kid's books.
"Oh, okay," Haley said, sitting down beside Jason and hiding her smile.  "So, let's see where we left off..." She thumbed through the book to find the bookmark.  "Raymundo had just fallen for the trap and needed to think of a way out..." she reminded the boys as she began to read aloud.
She thumbed through the book to find the bookmark.  "Raymundo had just fallen for the trap and needed to think of a way out..." she reminded the boys as she began to read aloud.

Rio pretended to be doing something else, but was really listening attentively.  When Haley had purposefully changed the story, he called out, "That's not what happened!"

"Oh no?" Haley asked.  "He didn't get on a purple boat called the Lily Flower?"

Rio rolled his eyes, "Noooo!" he said impatiently.  Haley had read this one to him a million times. He had it memorized!  "He got on a black boat called the Midnight Flyer!" 
Narrowing his eyes, he said accusingly, "You did that on purpose!"
Haley gasped with mock outrage, "Me?! Never!"  Laughing, she laid the book to the side.   Leaning over, she kissed Jason's brow.  "Sleep well sweetheart," she told him softly.  As she stood, she reached up and rubbed Rio's knee.  Rio had long ago informed her that he was too old for bedtime kisses.  "You, too, sweetheart.  Sleep well."

Rio laid his head down on the pillow.  "Night, Tia," he said quietly as she slipped down the stairs.