Cat insisted on driving me home, but she said she needed to make a stop first at the Newcrest Animal Clinic to pick up her kitties. She had four – a Siamese named Doc, a Abyssinian named Josie, a Sphynx named Cleo, and a little mixed breed named Bartholomew A. Bittlebun, Jr. I adored cats so I was only to happy to accompany my new acquaintance on the short walk to the veterinary office. I called my parents quick to tell them I was okay, and debated about texting Joseph, but decided that was probably best. He responded with a hang-out request, but I wasn’t back in the Springs yet, and I wasn’t ready to see him.
“He’s cute,” Cat leaned over and caught a glimpse of Joseph’s avatar on my phone.
“Yeah,” I said, almost dreamily, and then snapped out of it. “Um… how much further is the clinic?”
“Trouble in paradise?” Cat pried.
“Um… what?” I flushed.
“You changed the subject fast,” Cat observed.
“We’re… just… friends…” I bit out, feeling annoyed as I spoke.
“Whatever,” Cat shrugged.
When we arrived, I was greeted by yet another familiar face.
“Marshall, it’s me!”
“What are you doing here, buddy?” I pulled a treat from the little dispensary on the front porch of the vet clinic and offered it to the dog.
The dog barked and ran up the steps to Catarina on the porch. I turned to follow.
“Lizzie! Oh thank the Maker you’re okay,” Rob wrapped me in a big bear hug, the kind I had wanted from him the night I accidentally showed up at Joseph’s house.
Except now, I was pretty humiliated… given the way I was dressed. Rob didn’t seem to care, just continued to linger in the an embrace. I felt his fingers brush across my bare skin and relaxed into his arms. I didn’t particularly care why he was here. I was just happy he was.
“Cat called me. She said you got stranded…” he frowned. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“Um… uh…” my throat felt dry as I tried to pinch out some words. “You had Carrie?”
“Yeah, but I could’ve come back,” he remarked, and his eyes lit up as he reached into his pocket. “Oh wait… I have your wallet. It must’ve dropped in the car when you buckled Carrie in.”
“You do?” my eyes widened. “Holy cowplants! Thank you!”
I toned my enthusiasm back when I saw Cat approaching us.
“So you know… my ex?” Rob’s tone shifted.
“Just couldn’t wait to get back to Newcrest to see me,” Cat joshed.
“You know the only reason I came back is Lizzie,” Rob narrowed his eyes. “What kind of games are you playing, Catarina?”
I felt like I was stuck in the middle.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist!” Cat smirked.
“I swear…” Rob made fists.
“I know. Listen kehd,” she turned to me. “I know I said I’d drive ya back, but…Rob’s here now and well… it’s been real.”
“Uh thanks…” I replied.
“Bobby… you take care’uh that one…” Cat teased as she walked back into the vet clinic. “She’s a keeper.”
I flushed. Whatever did she mean? Rob seemed flustered too.
“I gotta get home,” Rob grunted. “The sitter is costing me a fortune. You mind?” he waved his hand down the street in the direction he was parked and whistled for the dog.
“Sure,” I said, rubbing my arms even though I wasn’t cold. “You didn’t have to come all the way back here.”
I still couldn’t believe he drove over two hours to pick me up, and return my wallet. Just because Cat called? I eyed him sharply as we hopped into his truck. I wondered what really went on between those two.
“Cat’s a screwball. Even if she followed through, no one should be subjected to a long car ride with that… that… woman,” he sputtered, and began muttering beneath his breath as the engine turned over.
“Oh,” was all I could think to say.
I wasn’t complaining. Rob let me select the radio station. He relaxed once we changed the subject. We sang along to a song or two on the car ride. When we arrived back in the Springs, Rob stopped by his house to relieve and pay the babysitter, who happened to be Sharon Wymer. We exchanged pleasantries before Rob interrupted.
“Blasted freezer bunnies!” he shrieked, pulling Simoleons from his wallet. “It’s highway robbery of the Landgrabb variety… and you fed Carrie candy for dinner? Don’t come back!”
The young lady looked about in tears as she ran down the street. I twisted my lip. Awkward!
“I should get going,” I glanced nervously over my shoulder, hoping that Joseph wouldn’t see me, especially dressed like I was, since his house was next door.
“Gah! Carrie’s going to be wired all night,” Rob sighed. “Blasted babysitter!”
“She’s just a teenager,” I offered in defense. “And you know how pushy Carrie can be.” I rubbed my head, fiddling with the hairbow. “It took me several weeks before I figured out how to outsmart her tricks. Was this the first time Sharon babysat for you?”
“Hmm…she’s gotta have fried cowplants up here,” Rob grunted, tapping his temple. “Seventy five Simos for three hours. And for what? She’s no you.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Try feeding Carrie a milk-based product. It should help her sleep. And you should give Sharon another chance. She’s a good kid. And I can’t be a fairy godmother all the time.”
Rob managed a thin smile.
“You can come in if you’d like,” he offered, letting his shoulders drop. “I need to feed the little one a proper meal I guess before I can drive you home… if you don’t mind waiting.”
“I don’t mind,” I smiled knowingly.
He liked me. I was convinced.
Rob made us grilled cheese sandwiches, Carrie’s and my favorite, and popped off to the restroom while we ate. The toddler eyed me closely, wondering why I was there on my normal night off. I made polite conversation… well, whatever polite conversation you can make with a kid. She didn’t understand why daddy had run off during their game of tic-tac-toe, but she liked Sharon. And she wanted to know if I’d feed her chocolate nougat too.
“You like my Daddy?” she said, suddenly, her eyes, widening.
“What? No!” I protested, flustered.
“You like my Daddy? Say it! Say it!” she shrieked. “He left me! He likes you!”
“Carrie… shh! Calm down…” I hurried over to the high chair to shush the child.
The toddler threw one of her sandwiches on the ground in protest. “I won’t eat… I won’t eat… Not till you say it… I wanna know! You like my Daaaaaddddyy!”
“Carrie! That’s enough!” Rob said in a commanding tone of voice, re-entering the dining room.
I jumped, startled by his booming voice, and meekly returned to the table to munch on my grilled cheese sandwich before he could address me. Carrie “hmmf-ed” from her high chair, and kicked her legs around a bit, crossing her arms. Rob glanced at me apologetically.
Carrie proved to be too fussy to stay in her high chair. Rob let her out and tried to send her to her room.
“Daadddy? Daaaaaddy?” she cried out, glaring at me over her shoulder. “Daadddy! Come!” she demanded. “Read baby a story.”
“Carrie… what did I say about calling yourself a baby?”
“I am baby!” Carrie stomped her foot.
“No, you’re almost three and a half. You need to…” Rob sighed as she continued crying, pinching the bridge of his nose, and then stood up. “I’ll be right back.”
Evidently, putting the child to bed was not working at all. Carrie returned moments after Rob collapsed into the chair across from me in frustration. This time she wasn’t fussing or screaming or demanding. She folded her hands seriously in front of her little tummy.
“Is Lizzie going-to…” she gulped. “…going-to…be my…my new mommy?”
She sounded so sad. I leaned back in total shock. I hadn’t thought about that. The reality was… if I dated Rob, I was kinda courting Carrie too. Suddenly, I understood why she was so bratty.
Rob went to talk with his daughter in her room. He was gone much longer this time. I sat dumbfounded, wondering if I should wait or leave. When he returned, I immediately started chattering nervously.
“Rob, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to disrupt things for you tonight. And you drove all that time out of your way to get me neglecting time with your own daughter. And I like you, Rob. I really do. I just don’t want to come between you two. But I really do like you… like you enough to ask you out… if you’ll go…” I slowed down, sensing the imminent ‘no’ forming on his lips. “…if you’d like to go out with me?”
Rob sighed heavily. “I like you too, Lizzie. But I can’t date right now. Look… I’m a mess…” he ran his hands through his hair. “I have a toddler going on teenager who demands all my attention and she’s staying more days with me now that Cat’s busier and busier with work…”
“I get it,” I interjected, trying to swallow my emotions.
“And my llama-shit-for-brains ex wants more alimony and more child support so she can boost her own plum catering business, but if she really cared about Carrie, she’d be here in the Springs. So I’m stuck trying to explain to our little girl that her mom doesn’t want to be here.”
I reached across the table, offering him my hand. “I can’t be her mom, but I can help out where I can and you need some time for you too. I’d be happy just hanging around here with you…”
“Lizzie, I am still trying to get a hang of this dad thing let alone be a normal guy who kicks back a beer with the guys and dates awesome women like you. I can’t do serious right now. Hell!” he waved his arms. “I can’t even finish painting my dining room.” He leaning forward, resting his forehead against his hands. “And coming to get you instead of being with Carrie… you don’t understand…” he looked up at me, infinite sadness in his eyes. “That’s just one more twisted thing Cat can use against me in court and say I was neglecting my kiddo.”
He kicked the table leg, startling me. I had no idea. I didn’t think of that. I felt so naive and stupid.
“Rob… I’m so sorry I screwed things up for you tonight.”
“No, you didn’t,” he said, sounding genuinely dejected. “I probably should’ve brought Carrie with me and then she wouldn’t be fussing and worrying about us being on a date…”
“…which we weren’t…”
“And your ex wouldn’t have gotten the better of you.”
I felt horrible for saying it as Rob kicked the table again, muttering curses.
So that was it then. I showed myself out and told Rob I could walk home. He felt bad, but he obviously didn’t want to leave his daughter. I wouldn’t let him anyway. I told him I’d be okay.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. This chapter featured InfraGreen’s/Trip’s Rob Buckley, Carrie, and Marshall. Lizzie is not having the best luck in the dating department, but true to the ISBI, I’m writing what happens in game. Both Lizzie and Rob confessed their attraction to one another, but Rob rejected Lizzie’s boyfriend request. 😢😢😢 Better luck next time, my Simself, better luck next time. And yes, Joseph still persists. 🙂