“Trolly,” I said flatly, examining two apples for bruises.
“ Cart ,” Fergus retorted.
The argument had been going on for the better part of our shopping trip, all over what to call the thing I was currently pushing and filling up with groceries for the week. “What else did I say we needed?”
Fergus glanced up. “Jamie wants to know why you don’t just make a list.”
“I did make a list,” I said. “And then I lost it. Now help me pick the nicest head of lettuce.”
“Jamie, are you as bored as I am?” Fergus asked, shuffling after me.
I chuckled and rolled my eyes. “Well, I’m sorry that grocery shopping isn’t exactly entertaining , but I’m buying food to feed your belly! Why don’t you go look at the magazines?”
He perked up a little. “Can I get a comic book?”
“Sure, but hey…” I called as he darted away. “I’m checking the rating on it this time!”
I’d assumed that Jamie had trailed after Fergus, but when a head of lettuce suddenly tumbled into the cart, I laughed.
“Thanks,” I muttered under my breath, trying not to make it look like I was talking to myself.
“Hi, Fergus’s mom!”
I blinked and spun around, giving the boy behind me a wide-eyed look. “Oh! Hey, Aiden. I just sent Fergus to the comic books.”
Aiden grinned and looked around at the man pursuing oranges. “Dad, can I go find Fergus?”
The man nodded. “Sure, but I swear to God if I see you with a Cosmo magazine again…”
Aiden grimaced at his father then glanced at me in embarrassment. “I know, I know.”
I was still feeling a little stunned as Aiden hurried away, but his dad was chuckling. “Sorry,” he said. “Can’t resist embarrassing the kid occasionally. Perks of being a parent, am I right?”
“Hm? Oh...yeah...sorry, it’s just…I’ve never been called Fergus’s mom like that before.”
Aiden’s father’s look softened. “Oh, yeah, Aiden told me that Fergus only recently came to be with you,” he smiled. “I still remember the first time one of Aiden’s friends in pre-k called me Mr. Aiden’s Dad , I just about melted. Nothing compared to first time they say it though.”
I smiled back. “He has his affectionate name for me, but I’m not... mom . And that’s fine.”
Aiden’s father nodded, then stuck out his hand. “I’m Simon.”
“Claire,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Did you and your husband always know you wanted to foster, or was it more by chance?”
“Definitely by chance,” I chuckled. “But it’s just me.”
Simon nodded. “So you’re a single parent too, huh? It’s quite a ride, isn’t it?”
I nodded with a wry smile. “That it is, but one I’m quite enjoying. Fergus is a great kid.”
“Oh yeah, Aiden talks about him all the time. We should get them together sometime. Maybe you could...both come over for dinner one night…”
I’d been excited about gaining another parent friend, and one who could empathize with being a single parent at that, but then I noticed the way he leaned in, and realized he might not just be reaching for a friend.
All of a sudden, the neat stack of oranges next to Simon went cascading to the floor, and when he backed away to avoid them, wound up tripping over one and landing flat on his back.
“Shit!” I hissed, reaching down to help him. “Are you okay?!”
“Yeah,” Simon said, grabbing my hand. “How did that…”
He had stood up, and was standing close to me, but then his trolly suddenly rammed him in the side, almost knocking him right into the table where the oranges had once been.
“What the hell?!”
“Sir, is everything okay?” Asked a young employee, who was staring in dismay at the fallen oranges.
“Yeah, I...I’m so sorry,” Simon said, starting to pick the oranges up. “I must have bumped them or something.”
I felt my mouth hang open in shock. What had seemed like a freak chain of events to Simon had been an obvious and deliberate sabotage, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be very angry.
Either way I hurried to help pick the oranges up, and once everything was set to rights, Simon smiled at me again, this time a little befuddled.
“So...anyway, do you think it would be okay if I gave you a call sometime?”
I smiled and looked away, imagining I could see a very guilty party standing there. “Sure. It would be nice to let the boys get together.”
Simon nodded, thankfully getting the message without me having to explicitly turn him down right there in the produce aisle in front of an irritated stock boy. “Right. Well, I’m going to go find my kid and nurse my bruises,” he winced. “Figuratively and literally.”
I watched him go, and then forcefully tossed one of the oranges into the cart. “Go get Fergus and tell him it’s time to go,” I said levelly, ignoring the looks I got from both the stock boy and an old lady passing by.
“Fergus, could you please take the trash out?” I asked when we got home.
Fergus nodded, grabbing the bag. “Can I ride my skateboard for a little while?”
“Just be careful, and wear your helmet.”
Once Fergus was gone, I crossed my arms. “So...would you like to explain?” After a moment of nothing, I chuckled. “Oh no, don’t pretend you’re not here. I can tell.”
My phone buzzed. “ How can you tell?”
I narrowed my eyes at my phone, for lack of anything else to narrow them at. “I just can. Now, would you like to tell me what the hell happened in the store?”
“ I’m sorry, Sassenach. I accidentally knocked over the oranges.”
“Accidentally huh? You, who has to concentrate in order to touch things managed to accidentally knock over a pyramid of oranges and shove a shopping trolly into an innocent person?”
“ Not sure how innocent he was. He was coming on to you, Sassenach .”
I snorted. “Yeah, I know. But he wasn’t being lascivious or anything. He was just flirting. Politely. Did that really warrant a slapstick routine?”
There was a long pause, long enough I actually wondered if Jamie was refusing to answer.
“ If he could have seen me standing right there next to you, he would not have flirted with you like that.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what to feel. Annoyance? I hadn’t really been interested in Simon, even though he had been pretty good-looking, seemed nice, and must be a good parent since his son was so well-adjusted considering his parents’ divorce. Without Jamie, I likely would have indeed been very interested. But the key words there were without Jamie .
It wasn’t Simon’s or anyone else’s fault for assuming I was available, since to all outside eyes, I was. But while the relationship I had with Jamie was unusual and likely unsustainable, it was a still a relationship, as far as I was concerned.
“Even if you weren’t...you, you wouldn’t always be standing next to me. Just because a man flirts with me doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean I’m going to take him up on his offer.”
The air around me felt thick, tense, and it took me a moment to realize it wasn’t me feeling that way. It was Jamie.
“ You should,” he said. “ To expect anything else would be unfair.”
I knew he was upset, but I couldn’t help but find a little humor in the situation. “You were jealous,” I pointed out needlessly.
The word bubbles popped up and vanished a few times, and I tried not to smile at how flustered he was.
“ Aye I was jealous! Standing there like the damned fly on the wall watching that man salivate all over you! And you, batting your wee eyelashes at him.”
“I was not batting my eyelashes!” I cried in offense. “Look, Jamie, I wasn’t interested in Simon like that! I’m sorry you got upset but…”
I was cut off by Fergus’s reappearance through the front door, looking between Jamie and I with a perplexed look.
“Sorry,” he said. “Should I leave again?”
Fergus’s eyes were tracking something back and forth across the room, making me think Jamie must be pacing.
“No,” I said firmly. “Come get washed up for supper.”
Fergus nodded and removed his shoes. “Are you guys having a fight or something?”
“No,” I said more gently this time. “Just a misunderstanding, is all.”
Fergus went to the kitchen to wash, so I texted Jamie instead of talking aloud.
“ I get what you’re saying okay? But listen, I don’t go around letting men go down on me unless we’re on an exclusive basis. Assuming you’re not going out and using your mystical magical charms on other women, you’re just going to have to trust that I have no intention of dating another man right now.”
“Mystical Magical Charms? Really?”
“Yeah shut up.”
“I’m sorry for what I did to Simon. You’re right, he did not deserve it. How could he possibly resist YOUR Mystical Magical Charms?”
“You don’t have to use that Emoji, lass. I’m staring right at your face.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.”
“And Sassenach? In answer to your question, absolutely not. Whether I was real or not, there would be no other for me.”
“Good,” I said aloud, though the intensity behind that statement was a little overwhelming.
A finger touched the bottom of my chin, tilting my face up, and I closed my eyes before lips briefly touched mine.
A snigger caught my attention and I glanced over at Fergus standing in the doorway of the kitchen, grinning and shaking his head fondly.
I blushed, thinking again how unusual I must look kissing thin air, but then I remembered.
In Fergus’s eyes, there was nothing unusual about it.