Lynne Griffin is the author of the acclaimed novels Life Without Summer (St. Martin's Press, 2009), Sea Escape (Simon & Schuster, 2010), and Girl Sent Away (SixOneSeven Books, 2015). Her next novel--a domestic suspense story--will be published in fall 2021 by Crooked Lane Books. Lynne's short stories and essays have appeared in Solstice; Chautauqua; The Drum Literary Magazine; Salon; Brain, Child; Craft; Library Journal; Fiction Writers Review, Psychology Today, and more. To learn more about her work, visit LynneGriffin.com or follow @Lynne_Griffin on Twitter.
Love Affair with Mr. Boston
It took three months for Juliet Collins to work her way inside the Baines family. She had no idea she’d spend the next three fantasizing about how to get out.
Within days of marrying Vic and his children, thirteen-year-old Patsy and seven-year-old Owen, Juliet had begun to have fleeting daydreams about scheduling a break, taking time off for good behavior, rewarding her self-sacrifice with a weekend away. Alone. Nothing extreme or desperate. Not then. Everything she’d read on the subject of step-parenting culled from the towering stack of self-help guides piled on her bedside table—while the slick black surface of Vic’s table remained clutter-free—said becoming a stepmother was a process. The experts promised that the hostility the children expressed would pass. That her feelings of insecurity were normal, to be expected.
Juliet prayed these strangers were right, that things would get better. That Patsy and Owen would come to accept her. Or at the very least stop tormenting her.
Still, several months in, nothing had changed. Here she was on the anniversary of her first date with Vic, in the waiting room of Neurobehavioral Associates of Boston, trying to control her husband’s son, rehearsing how to tell Vic she couldn’t do this anymore. Juliet was leaving. Tonight, if things went according to plan.
It wasn’t that she could no longer take the insults Patsy whispered under her breath, or worse, the snide remarks she spoke out loud in front of her friends. Frankly, she’d expected the girl to give her trouble, to mark territory around her father like a fierce-eyed-cat. What Juliet hadn’t seen coming was how ill-equipped she was in handling little Owen and his constant demands for attention. He’d become so brutish lately, one minute pushing her away so he could zip his own coat or tie his shoes by himself, the next minute crashing into her body full force leaving bruises like those dots on a map marking the places one has visited. And that didn’t begin to describe the reach of his impact. The sight of his second grade teacher’s number coming up on Juliet’s cell phone prompted instant queasiness, accompanied by sweaty palms and racing thoughts. What had Owen done now?
One day, not long after Vic had suggested Juliet take over walking Owen to school—a bonding opportunity, he’d called it—she hadn’t made it to work when Miss O’Hara rang her up to tell her Owen was being sent home for breaking the skin on Laney Treadway’s arm. Juliet had felt bad for the little girl, she did. Still, she couldn’t stop thinking of herself. The work that would not get done. Where else Owen might spend the day? Had the teacher even tried to call Vic?
Forty-eight minutes stranded in a medical office waiting room and Juliet was tallying the bites, kicks, and scratches Owen had left in his wake since that day, and for a fleeting moment she wondered if the teacher might be right. Perhaps something other than a stepmother’s arrival on the scene was responsible for the boy’s escalating behavior. Juliet couldn’t remember her brother Adrian ever behaving so horribly when he was Owen’s age.
Tall foreboding glass made it easy for Juliet to get lost out the window. Hoping to catch a glimpse of Vic entering the building, she played a childish game, one where she told herself that if she saw her husband by the time she counted to three then it was fate she should stay, call the whole escape plan off. The couple could go out to dinner tonight to that intimate bistro downtown, and she would open up to Vic once more. Oblivious now to her hazy reflection and the cars and cabs and people whizzing up and down the streets and sidewalks, Juliet tried to convince herself that all she needed was for her husband to say he understood how awful it could be, that Vic knew how hard she’d been trying. They’d sit at a back booth, starched linen napkins draped across laps, and Vic would take her hand. His and hers atop the table, their matching wedding bands would glimmer in the candlelight shadows made by a bud vase filled with freesia and baby’s breath. He would promise to take Owen’s issues more seriously, to be there for her. Together as a couple they would beat the second marriage odds and figure things out.
But children are not things. And the pleasure of lingering on images of Vic and the respite a date night was known to provide was replaced with an altogether different scenario. One of Juliet slipping away before Vic arrived. Pulling a runaway wife move right out of an Anne Tyler novel. Her head might be telling her to stay. And her heart surely wanted a family; even this patchwork one could do. But every fiber of Juliet’s being told her to run.
Done playing the attentive stand-in parent, she imagined following her wild-eyed stepson around the doctor’s office, replacing torn magazines on end tables, prying fistfuls of chalk from his small but surprisingly strong hands, urging him to let other children take a turn at the chalkboard. Ignoring the judging stares of the other mothers, she’d corral him into the play space created by back-to-back chairs where his disinterested sister sat sipping her second protein shake of the afternoon, texting her friends from the gym. Surely Patsy would be complaining about her, for the part Juliet played in Patsy losing time on the beam or extra coaching on the unevens. No, she wouldn’t wait for her stepdaughter to grill her again about why Juliet couldn’t stay with Owen in the waiting room while her father went in by himself to get the results of his son’s evaluation; the series of tests forced on them by Owen’s teacher. A woman certain Owen’s inability to pay attention and keep his hands to himself was diagnostic, despite Vic’s assertion that his son was just being a boy.
Juliet could simply excuse herself, claiming an urgent need to use the restroom.
As if she were having an out-of-body experience, she watched herself step toward the office door, turning back to take a last look at the children she didn’t know how to connect to. Then she’d just go. Saunter past the ladies room, head straight for the elevator, exit the building on Charles Street. Juliet would inhale the ambivalent spring air and walk in the direction of the only thing she had left from her single life—her haven, the stationery boutique on Newbury Street she co-owned with her brother. The place the very image of perfection she’d been selling to other women for years.
Embossed Stationery was nestled in the middle of a two mile stretch once the salt water bay known as Boston Neck. The Back Bay rose from the sea as laborers moved dirt and fill, inching their way from Boston Common to Clarendon Street then to Exeter Street over a period of twenty years. The European style edifices all built around the same time were intended to be residences for the wealthy—and for many years they were—giving the street a sophisticated, still neighborly feel. One hundred years after the last mound of the soil was packed down, Juliet had arrived on the eclectic boulevard with its mix of exclusive salons and select shops along broad sidewalks, and knew at once it was the ideal place to house her picture-perfect merchandise.
Better than any therapy, Juliet spent her afternoons replenishing the wrapping paper displays that lined the walls of the shop. Out of cardboard boxes and over the dowels went her favorite single-sheets. The moss-colored pools of pinwheels, the splash of marigolds on a pink matte background, the chocolate and cream cupcake pattern pretty enough to eat.
“Juliet Baines?” The receptionist called out from the perch behind a sliding glass partition. The woman sidelined Juliet’s make-believe departure, replacing the soothing images of bittersweet and nightshade papers by thrusting yet another clipboard in her direction.
“Collins,” Juliet said, shouting back across the waiting room, afraid to be more than arm’s length from Owen. He was clapping the eraser this way and that on the board, creating a dusty masterpiece, making her cough.
When the receptionist gave her a curious look, repeating the name Baines, Juliet slid the eraser from Owen’s hand and moved him toward his sister, and herself toward the door to the inner sanctum.
“Will you let him play a game on your phone?” she asked Patsy on her way by.
In the sweet time it took her husband’s daughter to look up, asking with her smoky eyes courtesy of Maybelline cosmetics if she was really speaking to her, Juliet plopped her brother in the seat next to her.
“I’m Owen’s stepmother,” Juliet said to the receptionist. “My husband Vic—his father—should be here any minute.”
“E-vil stepmother.” Owen hopped out of his seat, raising his hands, shaping them like claws in front of his face. Whenever he heard Juliet or anyone else use the word stepmother, he took on a monster persona, coaxing a smile from Juliet’s lips. For as busy and forgetful and physical as this boy could be, Owen was anything but scary. When he wasn’t spinning, his hooded eyes gave him more of a bashful look and his wide grin, a mix of baby teeth, second teeth, and empty spaces, never ceased to make her want to love him. Juliet ruffled his curls, making a mental note to remind Vic to take him for a haircut.
Patsy, on the other hand, rolled her eyes as only a seventh grader can do, a gesture that at times looked as though it might be painful. This particular talent came in handy whenever the girl wanted to alert someone that Juliet wasn’t her real mother. Out of her seat, Patsy bent down to Owen, withholding her phone at shoulder height. Without saying a word, she pointed to the chair, telling her brother to sit, making it clear that this was the only way she’d give him her cell phone. With the promise of his drug of choice—more tech-time—Owen did as he was told.
The silky ponytail Patsy wore high on her head caught up in a grosgrain ribbon, swished as she walked toward an array of Us magazines strewn across an adjacent table. Even away from the gym, she was all grace; a sprite, a woodland faerie. Her impossibly thin legs, covered in cream-colored tights and accentuated by Capezio flats, made her look like a much younger girl. Her compact upper body, shoulders perpetually pressed back in dismount position—even with the absence of breasts—gave the pre-teen a regal air.
Patsy’s look matched how Juliet felt; the definition of betwixt and between.
The receptionist admonished Juliet, reminding her that the doctor’s busy, busy. “Maybe you should reschedule,” she said, furiously tapping her keyboard. “How’s April 28th at 1:15?”
Juliet had spent nearly an hour alone with Vic’s kids waiting for the doctor and her husband. No way was she going to forfeit the effort she’d logged.
“Yeah, do that,” Patsy said, hoisting her gym bag over her shoulder, making her way toward the door. “Reschedule. I’ll take the T back to the gym.”
“I can meet with the doctor,” Juliet said to the receptionist.
Patsy let loose a sigh that caused the delicate tendrils framing her face to lift and fall. “Fine. Wait till Dad gets here. He’s going to be pissed when he finds out you pulled me from practice so you wouldn’t have to babysit.”
Juliet had no intention of telling the girl that she was actually doing them all a favor, since she wouldn’t be living with them a month from now, and who would accompany Owen to a rescheduled appointment would be up to them to figure out.
“When my husband gets here, show him in,” Juliet said ignoring Patsy’s explicit threat. Warnings that, funny enough, only came when the girl’s father was nowhere in sight.
“Owen! Put that down,” Patsy screamed, flying back across the waiting room like she was about to perform a handspring off the vault.
The sound the straw made as Owen drained Patsy’s protein shake somehow sent all eyes in Juliet’s direction. Patsy sat down next to him and grabbed the cup away from her brother. “Shit,” she said. Owen reached over and pinched his sister’s arm through her cardigan. Her ouch ricocheted off the office walls. So of course that’s exactly when Vic decided to stroll in.
It wasn’t hard for Juliet’s new husband to locate them among the other weary parents and whiny children, all of whom had been waiting far too long to see a-booked-for-months-in-advance specialist on children’s behavior. His family was making a scene.
Victor Anthony Baines took Juliet Elise Collins for better or worse in that waiting room, kissing her on the lips right in front of his kids. At first she secretly triumphed over receiving his immediate attention for once. Then feeling petty, Juliet became discouraged that he’d found his children once again out-of-control in her care. The only good thing about the situation was that she had a fresh example to reinforce her argument: Juliet made things worse. It was time for her to go.
“Owen, knock it off,” Vic said, his tone low and take charge. “Keep it up and there’s no computer tonight. Got it?”
“Do not tell me you are skipping practice.” Vic looked at his daughter and then to Juliet. “What were you thinking letting her ditch? Qualifiers are in two weeks.”
Juliet was about to take full responsibility for the girl being there. After all, the judgment would come down on her no matter what, and in this case, it was true that she’d been the one to orchestrate Patsy being there.
“Chill. Coach let me out early.” When Patsy swallowed, Juliet could see every muscle tense along the length of the girl’s elegant neck.
“Baines.” The receptionist barked again, coming off her high stool, her impatience reaching crescendo.
Vic pulled his wallet from his slacks and handed Patsy a twenty. “You’re on the clock then, babysitter. I’ll double it if you get him to behave. We shouldn’t be long.”
Vic’s wrinkle-free suit and his hair with its spiky wet look, reminded Juliet of morning. The run in her nylons and the mustard stain on her skirt said hard day’s night about her. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that she’d looked as unfazed and carefree as her husband. What a fool she’d been to summarily dismiss every one of her friends’ admonitions: motherhood is messy.
Juliet watched Patsy pull on Vic’s sleeve as though she wanted Vic him to bend down and kiss her on the cheek. With her lips near his ear, the girl whispered something as she repeatedly tapped the empty sports bottle. The only words Juliet could make out were Owen and drank. Vic lifted his boy’s chin, momentarily severing the connection he had to his game, though Owen’s thumbs continued to dash across the keypad. “You doing all right, Mister?” Vic asked. The boy nodded, and ignoring his father went back to the phone. “He’s fine,” Vic said to no one in particular.
Juliet took in her husband’s coal eyes and the way the children’s jaw lines ended in slight yet identical points. Anyone could see that Patsy and Owen belonged utterly and completely to him. The harsh reality of Juliet trying to insert herself into this ready-made family could only be tempered by the fact that she was in love with her husband.
Vic held the door for his bride. The receptionist leaned out, looking first at Patsy and then to Owen.
“You’re leaving them out there alone?” the woman asked. Juliet couldn’t tell if she hadn’t let go of the children’s seconds-ago squabble or was bothered by the fact that both of them looked so young. It wouldn’t be the first time someone commented on the children’s years-younger-than-actual-age appearances.
“My daughter’s thirteen,” Vic said puffing out his chest. “Remember the name Patsy Baines. Women’s gymnastics, Paris 2024. She’ll win the gold for uneven parallel bars.”
Without apology for the long wait or any hint of hospitality, the woman who’d had a front row seat for the kind of performance Owen was known to stage, the behavior that landed them there in the first place, led Juliet and Vic down the hallway to a conference room. You’d think someone who worked on behalf of impulsive kids and the families they exasperated could be a little more accommodating.
Vic and Juliet took side-by-side seats. Before the receptionist had closed the door, he reached for her hand. Juliet let him take it, even knowing the pressure of his skin against hers might unnerve her.
“That was so nice of Patsy,” he said. “Out of practice early, and she comes here to help you out. Sorry I was late. I might have an offer on the Clarendon loft. I kept meaning to call you but the back and forth on this thing’s been tense. If I can lock it in at asking, it’ll bode well for the rest of my listings in the building.”
Vic put two fingers an inch apart in mid-air, shaking them with confidence. “Baby, we’re this close to having what it takes to move Patsy to a more elite gym.”
“Fantastic. Maybe we can twist her arm to watch Owen tonight so we can celebrate.”
Where was the damn doctor? Juliet crossed her legs at the ankles wishing she could twist her own arm. Celebrate? Hardly the right set up for telling her husband she loved him but bags had been packed.
“Or I could ask Adrian to come over,” Juliet said, trying to minimize the impact, hoping Vic hadn’t registered her poor choice of words.
Her brother would be closing Embossed right about now, hitting a meeting in the basement of Arlington Street Church on his way home from work. He’d be free before Vic and Juliet got out of the appointment, and would sit with the kids if she asked him. Adrian was better with Vic’s kids than she was, a real natural. Though her brother was quick to remind her, he wasn’t sleeping with their father.
“Patsy hasn’t left for Pennsylvania yet,” Vic said, his happy mood vanishing as quickly as Juliet’s quiet Sunday mornings had, like her clean kitchen counters had, like spontaneous sex had. The list of disappearing rituals and routines was long, and at odd times like this, Juliet mourned them.
“Oh, God, I didn’t mean I want to get rid of her. I was talking about the loft.” Juliet squeezed his hand, and then because she wasn’t so sure she hadn’t meant Patsy, she dropped it.
The office was stuffy. Juliet fanned her face and removed her sweater. Turning back from having slipped it over the back of her chair, she saw Vic staring at her arm. To cover the days old scratch marks, she slid her manicured fingers over the cuts.
“You can’t blame me for wanting a little time alone with you,” she said. “To talk without being interrupted.”
Vic couldn’t blame her; he didn’t have time. The doctor entered the room from a side door. After placing a collection of folders on the table, she reached her hand out first to Vic and then to Juliet. The doctor used the generic Dad to acknowledge her husband. Conspicuously absent was any identifying relationship tag attached to her.
Stop being so sensitive, Juliet told herself.
“Let’s get to it, shall we?” the doctor asked. “I’m sure your eager to hear my impressions of your son and what’s making learning more challenging for him.”
Vic must’ve met the fifty-ish pediatric neuropsychologist when he’d brought Owen in for the first of two appointments, a standard physical in a traditional exam room. Juliet couldn’t recall him mentioning whether he liked the doctor or not. Wasn’t sure they’d even discussed the appointment she’d taken Owen to either. When she’d brought the boy to the second assessment session, a round of tests disguised as games and puzzles, the results of which sat in the center of the trio now, Juliet had been immediately envious of the gentle way this woman guided her stepson in play.
“Let me start by saying Owen is a delightful boy with many strengths for learning.”
The doctor kept one hand flat on her pile, as though she were holding the couple back from knowing what was inside. The longer she took with pleasantries, complimenting the child who at this moment was likely wreaking havoc in her waiting room, the harder Juliet’s stomach worked to push acid into the back of her throat. She heard a sigh emanate from Vic, could almost feel his breath on her cheek.
“As I shared with Dad at the intake,” the doctor gestured to Vic, “the evaluation’s comprised of a clinical interview, physical exam, intelligence testing, and behavioral inventories—one completed by you, another by Owen’s teacher. I promise to go over the results of all of that with you in a moment. Including my recommendations.”
The doctor finally opened the folder and pulled a head shot of Owen and a laminaVic diagram of a face from it, placing the two upside down to her but right-side up in front of Juliet and Vic. Out of the lab coat with Dr. Caryn Monroe embroidered in red above the starched white pocket, came a Montblanc pen.
“Three abnormalities stood out when I met Owen on our first visit.” She used the end of the pen to point to each feature, starting with his smiling eyes. “The small opening here and here. The thin upper lip. And see here, between the mouth and nose, there should be what’s called a philtrum groove. In children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome the philtrum is smooth.”
The doctor paused. She must’ve known to wait for the toxic words to travel from the couple’s ears along a network of nerves to some processing plant in their heads. Vic didn’t say anything either.
“Miss O’Hara said he was attention deficit,” Juliet said. “Obviously the hyperactive kind. Says he needs Ritalin.”
“It’s not unusual for teachers to jump to a label to explain behavior, or sadly, to arbitrarily suggest medication. But Owen is not ADD or ADHD—he’s not FAS for that matter. He’s first and foremost a boy. Though it’s true his neurologic condition explains why it’s harder for him to learn and behave compared with other children his age.”
“This is ridiculous,” Vic said. “Owen does exactly what he’s told when television or a bag of candy’s involved. No one said anything to me when he was born. You’re telling me everyone but you missed this? He’s seven for chrissakes.”
Before Vic finished ranting, the word alcohol finally reached Juliet. Waves of memory hit her. Her mother pulling the car off to the side of the Tobin Bridge, cars honking as they whirred past the Pontiac, rocking it with a gentle sway. Adrian, just a baby, asleep in the backseat. And at first, the feeling of relief Juliet had at seeing her mother put down the bottle of vodka and pull the key from the ignition. Minutes ticked by. Her mother’s tears falling, falling, landing like polka dots on her pretty black blouse. Then her mother gripping the door handle. Adrian never startling at the sound as it clacked open. Her mother, out of the car. Over to the side of the road. Her shoes off in seconds. Her mother standing barefoot on the rail. Charlotte Marie Collins never looked back at the car or her children. With arms outstretched like some kind of angel, Juliet’s mother leaned into the wind.
Juliet turned to Vic, searching his perfectly formed lips for answers. He’d never told her his ex-wife drank. How many times had Juliet shared her horrific memories with him? How often, deep into the night, had she shared her loathing of her mother’s love affair with Mr. Boston? Vic knew full well about Adrian’s struggle to stay sober and his nightly dates with AA. So how was it that Vic had never once mentioned that Simone drank enough to drown a part of her baby’s brain?
“Even if we had a complete history on Owen’s mother’s drinking during pregnancy, I’m afraid the findings are incontrovertible,” Dr. Monroe said. “No matter how many times you hear it, it’s a lot to take in. Still there’s good news.” The doctor tapped the reports in front of her.
“Is there a surgery?” Vic asked, picking up his son’s photo, using it to cover the clinical picture. The quaver in her husband’s voice stole Juliet’s breath.
“Oh goodness, no. Nothing invasive,” Dr. Monroe said. “The alcohol consumed during his gestation created a permanent brain injury, but the treatment is a symptom management approach.”
Juliet looked at Vic to gauge how he was hearing the words, permanent brain injury. All the tension in his body showed in the hard angles of his face. She could almost hear him grinding the surface of his teeth.
“Owen tested low average intelligence on the Weschler, but his language and memory skills are a relative strength,” Dr. Monroe said. “It goes without saying that his verbal skills and positive attitude will take him far.”
How—in a ten minute period—had things deteriorated so that good news was measured in a low IQ and a winning personality?
“Here’s some information about FAS.” Dr. Monroe pushed some papers across the table toward Vic. He made no move to take them.
“I’m available by appointment to meet with Owen’s teachers to discuss his special education plan. Let’s get that set up as soon as possible. I’ll recommend extra attention be paid to behavioral supports and strategies—things I can go over with the two of you and his team.”
Juliet saw the words early intervention at the top of one sheet before the doctor assembled more pages of advice, tapping the collection on the table, then handing the lot to her. She wanted to ask if Owen’s problems had been detected ahead of schedule or was seven far too late, but the heat coming off Vic’s body, the way his beautiful hands clutched the arms of his chair, told her to save that along with her most pressing question for another time. Why hadn’t Vic told her?
“Included is a list of groups we offer here on weeknights so you can learn more, maybe fine-tune the strategies you’re already using to curb Owen’s aggressive behavior,” the doctor said. “I think you’ll find connecting with other parents, especially as it relates to minimizing secondary disabilities very beneficial.”
Juliet resisted the urge to ask what could possibly be worse than Owen’s primary problem when the last piece of paper came her way, a pre-filled prescription with surprisingly legible handwriting.
“I’d like to start Owen on a trial course of a relatively new drug. I’ve seen Focalin help children with his type of impulse control issues. It may or may not work for him, but it’s worth a try.”
Okay, great, there was a pill Owen could take. Juliet would tell him it was just another morning vitamin; Pebbles and Bam-bam without the fruit kick.
Dr. Monroe got up. So Juliet did too. Only Vic sat unmoving in his seat, his eyes glued to the picture of Owen at rest parked in the middle of the table.
“Stop at reception and make an appointment for him to see me in two weeks. In the meantime, read through the material, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to call. Alert the school. Have their special ed liaison call my secretary. Schedules can take some time to coordinate.”
Back in the waiting room, the children sat perfectly still; neither of them spying Vic and Juliet standing on the threshold between before and after. Patsy had both hands curled around her algebra book and Owen squealed whenever he earned points in the game he continued to play on his sister’s phone. Juliet didn’t like the way Vic looked at his son. Thanks to Dr. Monroe it was as though he were seeing only what was wrong with Owen instead of all that was right.
A few minutes ago, her husband’s youngest child was all Baines—dark eyes, jet hair, square chin. Now all Juliet could see was Vic’s ex-wife. Each melted feature on the boy’s face Simone’s fault.
“Dad-dy.” Owen yelled a little too loudly, dropping the phone mid-level in Patsy’s lap, jumping up to run to his father.
Vic held himself back from returning Owen’s hug. Juliet couldn’t blame him. Part of her was still back in Dr. Monroe’s office too, not able to get that line drawing of a damaged face out of her mind. But so what if Owen looked different? She hadn’t ever thought so before now. And what did the doctor mean, permanent brain damage? Owen knew his way around the Internet better than some of the brokers in Vic’s office at Boston City Development. Mister Mayor, they’d call him when she’d take him to visit.
“Mr. and Mrs. Baines,” the receptionist called out from behind glass. “Dr. Monroe wants a two week follow-up. Can I schedule your next appointment?”
Juliet whispered Collins under her breath.
Vic shot her a look. From the beginning he’d wanted her to change from Collins to Baines. Said it would be easier on everyone if the whole family shared the same last name. But letting go of Collins had never been an option. Juliet held on to her name like the key to some secret escape hatch.
“I’ll give you a call,” Vic said, dismissing the receptionist. “I’ve got to check my calendar at the office.”
“I could do it. Bring Owen in,” Juliet said. She held the collection of papers—the case the doctor was making—to her chest.
“I said I’d take care of it.” Vic’s tone was harsh, but with Owen trying to climb his leg and the receptionist badgering him, Juliet could tell he was desperate to get out of there. If he didn’t give Owen a bear hug right there, right then, his son would never let go and get going. As Vic sent an apologetic smile in Juliet’s direction, he pulled his son up, kissed him on the nose. She watched her husband pause, his eyes locked on to the smooth space above Owen’s lips.
Once Vic put him back down, he refused, even as the boy tugged, to let go of his hand.
Patsy got up to collect her backpack, shoving her phone in her jacket pocket. Half-way to the door, Juliet noticed she was limping.
“What happened to you?” Vic asked.
“Nothing. I landed wrong on a fly-away.”
“You weren’t limping when you came in here,” Juliet said.
The girl sighed, cocked her head, and adopted a sarcastic tone. “It wasn’t hurting when I came in here.”
“Is that why you got out early?” Vic asked. “Did you wrap it the way I showed you?” Tight?”
“It’s fine. Coach McAllister said if it swelled up or didn’t feel right in a couple days, I should go to the emergency room.” Patsy kept her head down as if she were surveying the condition of her shoes. Or avoiding Juliet’s questioning stare.
“Can we just get outta here? I missed two hours of time I could’ve been doing homework. And I’m starved.”
“I’m not,” Owen said, doubling over. Still fighting the grip Vic had on his hand, the boy curled in on himself at the waist, one arm pressed tight against his stomach.
“Owen, cut it out. Stand up,” Vic said.
“That reminds me,” Juliet said. “Your dad and I have some things to talk about, so we’ll get Owen to bed and then we’re going out for a bit.”
“Sorry, not tonight,” Vic said. “Last time she favored it like that, it was a stress fracture. Doc Glenn will squeeze us in.” In a one-handed maneuver, out came Vic’s phone to call the sports medicine doctor affiliated with Patsy’s gym. Vic hit the single digit on speed dial and left a message before Juliet could get her arms through her sweater.
“Funny, it wasn’t bothering her until you showed up,” Juliet said to Vic.
Patsy hobbled back to her father and sat in a seat by his side.
“We’re not going to jeopardize qualifiers when Mass General is right down the street,” Vic said.
“Are you sure, Daddy?” Patsy asked, handing him her backpack.
Juliet watched Patsy massage her ankle. She wouldn’t be winning any Oscars for the fake way she winced.
Vic didn’t answer Patsy. Instead he dropped the backpack and moved closer to Juliet, lowering his voice. “Would you mind taking him home and putting him to bed?” He slid Owen’s hand into hers, making it harder for Juliet to refuse the boy.
“And thanks for being here today,” Vic said rubbing Owen’s back, brushing the hair from his eyes. “We all appreciate it. Don’t we Mister?”
Juliet half expected Owen to need more convincing. She wasn’t at all certain he would agree to go with her, though he did suddenly seem more subdued. Then Owen nuzzled his head of curls into her side, and like a primitive reflex, Juliet’s arm encircled the boy and came to rest on his shoulder.
“Wait up for me, okay?” Vic asked. “Get Adrian for tomorrow.” He kissed Juliet tenderly, letting his lips linger on hers, leaving her with the hint of some kind of promise. And before disbelief about the afternoon’s sequence of events could set in, Vic picked up his daughter’s backpack, took hold of Patsy’s hand, and began to step away from his wife. With one push of a button, the elevator arrived and the pair was gone, leaving Juliet and Owen together in an unfamiliar hallway.