“I really appreciate this, Brie,” Sami said as Penny and Ben squeezed past the two women, nearly knocking them over. “You don’t mind that it’s a sleepover?” She pitched her voice over the sound of the children yelling for Santiago.
“Are you kidding? That’s the best part. Mark’s making donuts.”
“Dinner.” Sami turned as Mark walked into the room, a towel thrown over his shoulder and flour dusting the tee shirt advertising his weekly cooking show. He slung an arm over Brie’s shoulders. “You’re going to love them, Archie, my man.” Archie burrowed his head into Sami’s neck.
“I’m sorry. He’s been like this all afternoon.” Sami kissed his forehead.
“Come here,” Brie said, reaching for Archie. He shook his head and gripped Sami tighter. Over the top of his hair, she could see the clock ticking ever closer to the start of her shift.
“Archie, sweetheart, go with Miss Brie,” Sami whispered into his ear. She pried him from her neck and handed him to Brie’s waiting arms.
“They’ll be fine,” Brie assured her, her face glowing as she snuggled the little boy closer. Archie leaned his head against Brie and closed his eyes.
“I’ll have my cell on me,” Sami fretted.
Mark put his hand to Archie’s forehead. “He’s probably just tired. He was with his dad last night?”
“Yeah,” Sami picked up her purse from where she’d dropped it.
“We’ll call you if anything happens,” Brie assured her. “Don’t worry.”
“Okay.” Sami lingered at the door. “Penny! Ben!” Running feet and clicking nails on wood floors was her only warning before she was over run by her oldest children and a dog who could nearly look her in the eye. Santiago’s wiry coat had taken on a gleam of health since he adopted Mark almost a year ago. He slid to a halt, seeming to keep Penny from falling as she tried to jump in front of Ben. They wrapped their arms around her.
“Mark made donuts for dinner!” Penny told her, eyes beaming.
“They’re mac and cheese donuts!” Ben crowed.
“Be good, okay?” Sami kissed them and pushed the hair out of Ben’s eyes. “Keep an eye on your little brother.” She stepped back. Mark and Brie looked happy and comfortable, with the kids and dog circling them. She leaned in for one last kiss to Archie’s cheek. He was asleep, his breaths even.
“Come at nine and I’ll make you breakfast,” Brie said.
“She’s learning to cook,” Mark said proudly.
“There’s this hot chef on TV who makes it look easy,” Brie teased.
“I’ll see you then.” Sami half ran down the sidewalk to her car, knowing she’d have to hit every green light to make it to work on time.
Sometimes, it felt like all she ever did was run late.
Franklin had been happy that she’d been able to find a sitter. Mike had been annoyed. “Sami,” he’d told her, taking her aside as Franklin gathered the kids’ shoes and jackets, “you’ve got to stop letting him do this to you. I love that man. Warts and all. Which is why I’m telling you, you need to set some boundaries or he’ll keep running all over you.” Mike had sent a fond look to her ex husband. “The man has a strong personality and you are too kind.”
Sami thought of his words now. It wasn’t that she was kind. God knows she’d had some very unkind thoughts about the man who’d broken her heart and destroyed her trust in men, but she had grown accustomed to being the adult in their marriage and, then, in their divorce. Maybe, she realized, it was time for her to take another step back. Franklin was Mike’s problem now.
She was almost giddy at the thought. “Not my monkey. Not my circus,” she whispered into the car as she pulled into the parking lot. She checked her watch. She was on time with four minutes to spare.
She flicked down the visor and applied a thin coat of lipstick. A tap at her window had her dropping the tube in her lap. She turned to see a large shape looming beside her door. It opened.
Sami put her hand to her heart. “My God, Carlos. You nearly gave me a heart attack. What are you doing?”
Carlos stepped back as she got out of the car and then closed the door behind her. “I had to get something out of my Jeep and saw you pull in. I thought I’d walk in with you.”
“Thanks.” As they approached the door, he slowed to a stop. She looked at him. “What’s wrong?”
Carlos cleared his throat. “I was wondering what you were doing Monday night.”
“Oh!” Sami smiled. “Nothing too much. Why? Did you and Jessa want to come over and binge watch something? I was just thinking it’s been too long since we’ve gotten together. This semester kicked my rear.” Sami opened the door, wondering if she should suggest pizza. It’d be nice for Carlos not to cook on the one night a week the restaurant was closed. They could order out, maybe grab a six pack and settle in for a sci fi marathon.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Carlos’s hand pushing the half open door closed again. He loomed over her, one hand holding the door closed, his muscular body as impenetrable as a brick wall. Sami started to take a half step back and then reminded herself this was Carlos.
“I was wondering if you would like to go out on Monday night.”
“I guess so. Did you check with Jessa?” Sami preferred a pizza and beer at home, but Franklin had the kids and it might be nice to get out of the house.
“No,” Carlos said, a look of frustration crossing his face.
Sami reached up and patted his arm. It was solid as a rock. “Don’t worry. I’ll touch base with her tonight, see what we can figure out.” Carlos was always game for whatever she and Jessa came up with. She didn’t know what she would have done without her Buchons’ family. The divorce – and the reason why – had rocked her circle of friends. Most had fallen all over themselves to embrace Franklin’s exit from the closet. She’d felt a bit like collateral damage, eventually drifting away from the people who told her how proud she must be.
“We’re going to be late,” Sami said, laughing into Carlos’s frowning face. “Don’t worry. No chick flicks.” She ducked under his arm and reached for the door again. He stepped back, opening the door and gesturing her into the bustle of the kitchen on a Saturday night.