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Authors: Sami Lee

A Man Like Mike (16 page)

BOOK: A Man Like Mike
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“He’s busy pining, but that’s about it. I’ll send him out.”

Soon afterward, Mike left the kitchen and joined his parents who, having ordered meals, were now seated at a table in the open plan, informal dining area. He nodded to his Dad and kissed his mother on the cheek before taking a seat beside them.

“What on earth was Barry talking about? He said you were pining about something?”

Mike scowled at his mother’s question. “Barry’s idea of a joke. What brings you by?”

“We just dropped Bailey back with Eve—”

“She was going to drive over to our place, but I told her there was no need for her to come out at night,” his father interjected.

“And we thought it was a great excuse for us to pop in and visit with you,” his mother finished.

“How was your weekend? Bailey didn’t give you any trouble?”

“Oh, no, he was a darling.”

His father elaborated, “Cried a little after Eve left.”

“But that’s to be expected,” his mother said dismissively. “He’s grown very attached to her, not surprisingly.”

Mike made a non-committal sound meant to convey agreement. Bailey wasn’t the only one who thought highly of Eve, but he was hardly going to reveal that to his parents. “I’m glad you and Eve were able to work out some regular visitation,” he commented, wishing Eve would be half as cooperative with
him
. “A break every now and again will be good for her.”

Denise’s brow furrowed. “Yes, I thought she looked a little tired tonight. Has she been getting enough sleep, do you think?”

“How should I know?” Mike immediately regretted his sharp reply when his mother arched an unimpressed brow. “Sorry. I guess I’m a little tired, as well.”

Not the best explanation to provide, by the look on his mother’s face. She had immediately put the facts of he and Eve both showing signs of exhaustion together and come up with something that had her sitting back in her chair and scrutinising his face. “That’s interesting.”

“No,” Mike said. “It’s not.”

“I don’t suppose, Michael, that you and Eve might be—”

“No Mum,” he said, the fervour in his denial mounting, “We’re not.”

Denise sighed with heavy disappointment. “Well that’s too bad,” she lamented, shocking Mike with the complete turn-around she’d done since last week. “It would work out well for everyone if the two of you got together. You’d officially be a family, and maybe she could convince you not to move to Melbourne.”

“Who said I was moving to Melbourne?”

Denise looked even more confused than he felt. “You did, remember? A few weeks ago you told me your old employer down there said you could come back any time you wanted.”

“And I said I’d take some time to think about it.”

“And?”

“And I thought about it. I told him no. It’s not the right time for me to move right now.”

He’d called Jay Stephenson last week and told him he wouldn’t be taking up his offer of work, at least not now. He wanted to speak to his parents more than a few times a year by phone. He couldn’t leave Bailey.

And then there was Eve. Eve was in the picture there somewhere. No matter how vehemently he might try to deny she was a factor, he couldn’t bring himself to leave her, either.

“But I assumed. You always said you’d go back one day. I told Eve…”

The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention as her words trailed off. “You told Eve what?”

“I told her you’d be moving to Melbourne soon. I told her I was surprised you hadn’t mentioned it. I suppose now I know why.”

His dad rolled his eyes. “What have you done now, Denise?”

She rounded on her husband. “Oh, and I suppose it’s my fault I was the last to know my son’s life-altering decision?”

Mike let the two of them hash it out while he remained silent, trying to make sense of his racing thoughts. Eve had thought he was moving, and that he hadn’t told her about it. That he hadn’t
cared
enough about her to tell her something like that. And then they’d almost made love.

Inwardly, Mike groaned. No wonder she’d said what she had about the two of them having a meaningless fling. She’d thought he’d seen her that way, as nothing more than an amusement to fill his time before he left town.

The thing he needed to know was … did she want more than that from him?

The meals his parents had ordered were delivered, giving Mike the impetus to excuse himself. As he stood, his mother grabbed his hand. She smiled up at him, her eyes shining. “I’m so glad you’re going to stay, honey.”

Mike smiled back. No matter what happened with Eve, he knew staying was the right decision. His mother tended to get over-invested in his life and had a tendency to give him unasked for advice, but she was his mother and he loved her. With Derek gone now, he knew she and his dad needed him around more than ever.

He said, “I’m glad, too.”

As he walked away he wondered whether Eve would be as glad he wasn’t leaving.

On Monday night, Eve tried to get engrossed in a trashy saga detailing the lifestyles of the fictional rich and famous she’d picked up at a second-hand book store. After more than an hour and several chapters, she gave up and tossed the thick paperback onto the nightstand.

She couldn’t care less what antics Star and Sebastian and Charisma would get up to. She couldn’t stop thinking about Mike.

That morning, he had said ominously as she dashed off to work that they ‘had to talk’, leaving Eve to fret all day about what topic he might want to discuss. For all she knew, it might be something as innocuous as what she wanted for dinner that week, and the sense of foreboding that had overcome her might be nothing more than her overactive imagination.

Yet somehow she doubted it. She had the terrible feeling that Mike was finally going to tell her he was leaving. Eve couldn’t be sure of how she would react, although she should have come to terms with Mike’s coming departure by now. She was afraid he might detect her disappointment, regardless of any attempts she could make to conceal it.

She was still sitting up in bed, gripped by apprehension, when she heard his car in the driveway. Cowardice got the better of her, and she extinguished the bedside lamp, burying herself under the covers so Mike would think she’d gone to sleep. Minutes later, she held her breath, not daring to move, as she heard footsteps approaching. They stopped outside her room, the silence deafening for several moments before they retreated back down the hall.

Feeling as ashamed as she was relieved, Eve let out the breath she’d been holding.
Potential disaster averted
.

But her reprieve was short-lived. It was early the following morning, after she had got Bailey up and given him breakfast, depositing him in his playpen while she got dressed, that there was a solid knock on her bedroom door.

She halted in the middle of buttoning her blouse. “Eve, are you decent?”

Her mouth opened but no words immediately formed. Before she could reply, her bedroom door swung open and Mike stood in the opening.

Eve squealed and grabbed the lapels of her blouse, holding them together across her chest. “Mike! What are you doing? You can’t just burst in here like that!”

His eyes were cast up at the ceiling as he took a few steps into the room. “Relax, I won’t look. I’m not here to sneak a peek.”

“What
are
you—” puffing out an indignant breath Eve spun around. Despite his promise, she couldn’t feel blasé about dressing in front of him. With her back to him she fumbled with fastening the buttons on her blouse. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

“Trying to catch you before you dart off again … or pretend you’re asleep.”

She half turned to deny it before she remembered her state of dress and stopped mid-spin. She returned her attention to her blouse. She’d never had so much trouble fastening a few buttons before. “I … I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do, but I’m not going to waste time arguing that point with you. I want to talk to you about something else.”

Eve took a deep breath to steel her nerve, arranging her expression to one of equanimity before turning to face him. “If it’s about you moving to Melbourne, I already know,” she confessed, relieved she managed an appearance of indifference. “You don’t need to worry about how I’ll take the news, because Bailey and I will be just fine. It’s no big deal, really.”

He eyed her for several seconds. Bailey’s gurgling sound drifted down the hall to fill the silence. At length Mike crossed his arms over his chest and announced, “I’m not going.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said I’m not going to Melbourne.”

“But, your mother—”

“My mother ran miles with the fact that I mentioned a job offer in passing. I considered it, briefly, but I turned it down.”

Of all the scenarios Eve had pictured in her mind, this was not one she’d expected. “Why?”

He showed her a deadpan expression. “What does it matter? It’s apparently no big deal to you, one way or the other.”

She ducked her head on the pretence of locating her shoes. “I was only curious.” Picking up her pumps she sat on the edge of her bed to slip them on. She focussed on her feet until the task was complete, only then looking up at Mike.

He was gazing at her calf like it was the most mesmerising thing he’d ever seen. Aware of the innate intimacy involved in dressing in the presence of a man, even if it was only her feet that had been bare, save for her pantyhose, she uncrossed her legs and brushed her skirt over her knees.

Mike cleared his throat. “Bailey needs me.”

She lifted her eyes to his. “You’re doing this for Bailey?” She had known how devoted he had become to his nephew, but she hadn’t anticipated the level of compromise he was willing to make.

“It’s just a job, Eve.” He lifted a careless shoulder. “Bailey’s family.”

But Eve had the impression the job offered was a lucrative one, certainly several steps above working nights at a casual pub restaurant in the suburbs. As much as he made light of his decision, it was an enormous sacrifice.

In a rush like a tidal wave that engulfed her every emotion, the truth hit Eve. Derek and Jacinta had made a mistake. It was Mike who should have been named Bailey’s guardian all along, Mike who gave of his time and energy to look after Bailey without complaint, Mike who found taking the parental role as natural as breathing, who was strong and capable, yet had never completely let go of the big kid inside himself. He related to Bailey on a childlike level that was so alien to Eve … and now he was willing to forfeit his own career advancement for the sake of his nephew. As a father figure, a child couldn’t wish for a better one than Mike Wilcox.

The thought made her heart stutter. One day, Mike would make a great father, a dream husband. She could hardly bear the thought of him making that life, that family, with some other lucky woman when he was states away in Victoria, but if he were right here in Brisbane and their mutual connection to Bailey forced her to see him with someone else… It was intolerable.

“Look, Eve, we need to talk more about this.”

From the outer room, there was a loud crash followed by Bailey’s triumphant clapping. Eve deduced they had left him alone far too long, in his opinion, and he had taken to throwing his toys out of the playpen to arrest their attention. “Bailey’s getting restless,” she noted, before glancing down at her watch and commenting further, “And I need to get going.”

Thankfully he didn’t try to stop her as she grabbed her keys and briefcase and headed out the door. But all day she couldn’t get one image out of her mind—the image of Mike standing on the verandah, Bailey in his arms, watching her as she drove away.

The week passed much as those before it. Eve fed and dressed Bailey in the morning, seeing Mike for only scant minutes before she left for work. She saw him for much the same length of time in the evening, before he left. On the surface, they lived much as housemates, two people inhabiting the same house for the sake of convenience.

Yet if someone were to put a mere scratch in Eve’s aloof veneer, they would find a hotbed of emotions bubbling inside. The hurt and anger of the previous week, when she had thought Mike would soon leave, had gone. The emotions that replaced them were strange and frightening, causing her palms to sweat and her pulse to jitter every time she was within shouting distance of the man who engendered them. She could barely make sense of herself. She didn’t hold a hope of deciphering the tumultuous looks Mike would send her way anytime they were in the room together.

It was not until Saturday, the first day of winter that dawned appropriately grey and chilly, that things came to a head. Eve took Bailey out to the supermarket before lunch, sticking faithfully to Mike’s written list of necessary items and curbing the temptation to stock up on chocolate bars. It wasn’t as though she ever went hungry, with Mike stuffing her full of balanced meals of the gourmet variety.

And lately, it wasn’t a craving for chocolate that was causing her problems.

After doing the shopping, she stopped at a café and bought a ham and cheese toasted sandwich that she shared with Bailey, thinking to herself that the less time spent at home, the better; but eventually Bailey started to get cranky, and she realised it was time for his nap. She couldn’t delay seeing Mike forever.

At home once again, Mike met her at the car and wordlessly carried the groceries upstairs while Eve attended to Bailey. She fixed his bottle and put him down to bed. He was asleep by the time she tip-toed out of the nursery.

When she returned to the kitchen Mike, had put away all the groceries. Not wanting to be standing around with nothing to occupy her, she announced, “I’m going to put on a load of washing,” and escaped to the relative safety of the laundry downstairs.

She had found only enough to half fill the tub when Mike’s voice sounded behind her, causing her to nearly leap out of her skin. “Is there any room in there for a couple of my shirts?”

With her hand on her chest, she turned to look at him. He was wearing a faded pair of jeans and a grey flannel sweatshirt that his shoulders filled out nicely. The sight of him did nothing to slow her heart-rate.

BOOK: A Man Like Mike
5.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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