Excerpt: Just a Casual Thing

January

The clock over the stove said 5:18 and Abbie was close to tears. She could feel them stinging her sinuses and pricking the backs of her eyes—tears of frustration, tears of rage, tears of disappointment, and probably some of sorrow and regret as well. Harrison was over an hour late, and years of hard experience had taught her that if he was that late, he wasn’t coming.

Damn it, she really needed him to come through today. And he had said that he was trying to do better.

And you believed him because…?

Well, because he really did seem to be doing better. He had a steady job. He had made his last six child support payments on time and in full. As far as she could tell, he was staying sober. And for the last five months he had arrived on time to pick up the kids for his one weekend a month with them. He had dropped them off when he said he would, too. Sure, Olivia and Bennett came back from those weekends a little buzzed from too much sugar and not enough sleep and the freedom to live mostly without rules, but they were otherwise fine and at least he seemed to be trying.

But, of course, not only was he flaking out on her just when she had started to think she might be able to count on him, he was doing it on the day she really needed him to come through.

Typical. Fucking typical, said that skeptical voice in her head, the one that sounded an awful lot like her brother. Unreliable ought to be that man’s middle name.

Through the door into the living room, Abbie could see Olivia and Bennett sitting on the couch watching television. Bennett, as usual, was thoroughly engrossed in the cartoon on the screen, blissfully unaware that anything was wrong. Olivia, though, was old enough to tell time and knew that her dad should have already arrived. She was also old enough to have noticed that nothing good ever came of his tardiness. Abbie saw her daughter cast a glance at the clock and frown. Her small sigh was somehow both disappointed and unsurprised. Abbie’s mood dropped even further. No nine-year-old should be that world-weary.

With a deep breath, Abbie pulled herself together, deciding there was no point in wallowing. The kids would need dinner. She would, too, although she was pretty sure most food would taste like paste right about now. The duffel bag she’d packed for the kids would need to be unpacked, their toothbrushes put back in the bathroom, their lovies put back in their rooms for bedtime. But first, she needed to cancel her plans for the evening.

The plans she’d been basically living for all month.

Damn it, the tears were threatening again. She sniffed hard and cleared her throat, relieved when the burning behind her eyes receded, then pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans and typed in the unlock code.

Her text messaging app was already open to the messages she’d been sending Harrison for the past hour. He hadn’t responded, although it appeared that he had read them. Don’t think about that right now. She tapped away from that screen, over to the group text with her friends Natalie and Amber to give them the update.

Hey girls, bad news, it looks

The doorbell rang…