“Hi, Olive,” I said. “How old are you?” Wasn’t that a normal question to ask a kid? I wasn’t sure.
“I’m fife,” she said with confidence. Her gritty, sweet voice was probably the most adorable sound I’d ever heard. She held up her hand, her tiny but plump fingers spreading out as far as they could, her palm facing out. When she was sure I understood, the hand went back to Trenton’s jeans. “Twent said he would take me to Chicken Joe’s, but we can’t go until yow weddy.” She blinked, but didn’t smile. She was serious, and she was seriously holding me accountable for every second longer she had to wait.
I glared at him. “Oh, did he?”
I looked down at my sweats. “Clearly not, but I’m guessing I shouldn’t keep Olive waiting.”
“No. You shouldn’t,” Trenton said. He didn’t even pretend to feel ashamed. Bastard.
Trying not to growl, swear, or do anything else that might scare Olive, I retreated to my bedroom. I replaced my hoodie with a rust-colored thermal Henley, and the sweatpants with a pair of well-worn jeans. While I slipped on my boots, Raegan opened the door to my room, and closed it behind her.
“Olive wants me to ask you to please hurry,” she said, trying not to smile.
“Shut your face,” I said, standing up. I dusted some makeup on, combed my lashes with the mascara wand, dabbed my lips with clear gloss, and walked out to the living room, where Trenton and Olive still stood. “All ready,” I said with a smile. For Olive. Definitely no smiles for Trenton.
Olive looked up to Trenton. “Can we go to Chicken Joe’s now?”
Olive complied, and then wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Now?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, opening the door.
Olive’s smile spanned the width of her face when the door opened, and Trenton’s expression brightened, clearly pleased that he’d made her happy.
I passed him without speaking, and as I walked out to the parking lot, Olive’s little fingers found their way to my hand. Her skin was just as warm and soft as it looked.
Trenton unlocked the passenger door of his dilapidated Dodge Intrepid. The red paint was faded in some spots, and gone in others.
Trenton pulled the seat forward, helping Olive into the back. He strapped her into her pink car seat.
I leaned my head in and took a whiff. “You don’t smoke in your car?”
“I do, but I clean out my car the night before I have Olive, and I don’t smoke in it until after I drop her off for the day. It doesn’t smell.” He returned the passenger seat to its original position, and held out his hand, gesturing for me to get in.
“I am so going to get you back for this,” I whispered as I passed him to sit down.
He smiled. “I look forward to it.” Trenton shut the door, and then jogged around the front of the car and hopped into the driver’s seat. He pulled the seat belt across his chest and clicked it into the latch, and then looked at me expectantly.
“Click it or ticket,” Olive said from the backseat.
“Oh,” I said, turning to grab the seat belt and repeating what Trenton had just completed. When the buckle clicked, Trenton started the car.
We rode in near silence across town to Chicken Joe’s, except for the occasional requests for updates from Olive. At almost every stoplight, she wanted to know how many blocks were between us and our destination. Trenton answered her patiently, and when we were one block away, they both did a little celebration, dancing with their hands.
When Trenton pulled into a parking spot at Chicken Joe’s, he turned off the engine, got out, jogged to my side, and then opened the door. He helped me climb out with one hand, and then pushed the seat forward, unbuckled Olive, and set her on the ground.
Trenton laughed once, feigning insult. “Is it even legal to go to Chicken Joe’s without quarters?”
“I don’t think so,” Olive said, shaking her head.
Trenton held out his hand, and Olive took it, and then she held out her hand to me. I covered her hand with mine and followed them inside.
Chicken Joe’s had been a fixture in Eakins since before I was born. My parents took us once or twice as kids, but I hadn’t been back since the 1990s. Grease and spices still hung heavily in the air, and saturated everything else, including a thin film on the green tile floor.
Olive and I followed Trenton to a booth on the opposite side of the restaurant. Kids were running everywhere and practically climbing the walls. Multicolored lights from the oversize juke box and arcade games seemed to intensify the screaming and laughter.
Trenton dug into his jeans pockets and pulled out two fistfuls of quarters. Olive took an excited breath, grabbed as many as she could in her chubby fist, and ran away.
“You don’t even feel bad about exploiting that poor little girl, do you?” I asked, crossing my arms on top of the table.
Trenton shrugged. “I get to have dinner with you. She gets to play. Her parents get a date night. It’s a win/win . . . win.”
“Negative. I am clearly not in the winning category, since I was coerced here.”
“It’s not my fault that I was one step ahead of you.”
“Exploiting a child is not a good first date. That’s not exactly a memory you want to share later.”
“Who said this was a date? I mean . . . if you want to call it a date, that’s cool, but I thought you had a boyfriend.”
I nearly choked on my own spit, but that was still preferable to blushing. “Forgive me for thinking coercion was something you didn’t do for just anyone.”
“I don’t. This is definitely a special case.”
“You’re a special case,” I grumbled, searching the dozens of small faces for Olive. She was trying to stretch out her short arms across the pinball machine, and then resorted to leaning from side to side.
“I assume you still have the boyfriend,” Trenton said.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”
“Then it’s definitely not a date. Because if it was, you would be . . . well, I won’t say it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I will reach across this table and slap you.”
He chuckled. “No, you won’t. You want the entire next generation of Eakins, Illinois, to think you’re an ogre?”
The waitress waddled over to us, leaning back, away from her burgeoning belly. She looked about seven months pregnant, her green polo shirt barely stretching over her bump. She sat down a small drink with a lid and a straw, and then a bigger red cup full of something brown and fizzy. “Hi, Trent.”
“Hi, Cindy. You should be at home with your feet up.”
She smiled. “You say that every time. What would your friend like?”
“You got it.” She looked at Trenton. “Will Olive want the usual?”
He nodded. “But I think Cami’s going to need a menu.”
“Be right back,” she said.
Trenton leaned in. “You should try the three-piece platter with sweet potato fries and slaw. Because . . . damn.”