Charlie pulled into her driveway and sighed. She was exhausted, just about ready to fall against her steering wheel and spend the night sleeping in her car. Work had been nothing short of hell and the fight with her soon to be ex-husband afterwards was torture. As much as he had yelled and screamed, threatening that she'd never see her kids again, at least this time he hadn't tried to shove her or hit her. It was the most tamed fight that they had in months. When had he become so angry, domineering and all out mean? She sighed and shook her head of her thoughts. They would do no good. No matter how hard she tried there was not one single time that she was able to pin point when things had gone from bad to worse with him.
The only good thing about her day was that she was home. At home, her home, her very own place. She had cried for a good two weeks when her husband insisted that they move out here to Texas, away from New York, away from her family. Now though she was thankful for it. Her neighborhood was quieter, and she was able to afford a lot more for her and her kids than she could have in New York.
This wasn't what her New Years day was supposed to be like. She wanted to be able to stay in and play with her kids. Enjoy the rare quiet time that she could get with them. Not be running around all day in a clothing store aching to hold her kids once more.
A smile crossed her face as she turned and looked at her two sleeping children in the backseat. No matter how tired she was she knew that she had to muster up at least a bit more energy before she could find the nearest soft surface and crash for the night.
Wrapping her jacket around her a little more Charlie turned off her car and hopped out of the car shivering slightly against the chill of the night air. She moved to the back of the car ready to get her kids inside when she noticed a small figure moving towards her.
"Hello?" Charlie called out into the dark. The light at the head of the driveway gave her some light but not enough to know for certain what was moving around on the other side of her car.
"Charlie, can I stay here?"
Charlie moved around to the other side of the car and laid eyes on a little girl that lived in the enormous ranch behind her.
"Sida? What are you doing all the way over here so late at night? It's after ten, your mom is going to be very worried about you."
Sida shook her head sending her mess of curls flying across her face. "No she won't. She doesn't love me no more. She won't stay with me and daddy."
Charlie sighed and scooped the child up in her arms. "I'll make you a deal, we get you inside my house, and you can play with Jake for a bit while I call your mommy. She has to know where you are," Charlie added as she saw the pout that Sida put on her face. "Come on now Sida Lee. You don't want me getting in trouble right? Then you won't be able to come make cookies and play with Jake anymore."
Sida nodded and Charlie smiled, bringing the small girl into the house. "Alright, stay here, I'm going to get my kids out of the car."
Charlie walked back out and groaned. All she wanted to do was sleep, now she had to worry about getting Sida back to her mom. She knew nothing about Sida's father. She had lived in the house for six months and had never caught a glimpse of him. Hopefully she could get Sida back home without being caught in any sort of family drama. She was dealing with that on her own as it was no sense in adding to it.
"Come on Jake honey, you have to wake up," Charlie stroked her sons face until his eyes opened. Smiling at him she took him out of his car seat and placed him on the ground. "You look more and more like your uncle you know that?" She laughed as a small smile and a yawn were the only responses that she got from him. "Go on inside, the door is already open."
Moving around to the other side, Charlie gently began unbuckling the car seat trying not to wake her two year old baby girl. She smiled as she moved the mounds of curls out of her baby's face. "You look too much like daddy baby."
Charlie walked in the house and sighed as she heard the sounds of running feet from upstairs. It never took much to wake up Jake, or keep him awake. Placing her little girl on the couch Charlie shed her coat and grabbed her phone.
Charlie smiled at the frantic tone that her neighbor had. No doubt she was worried sick about her little girl.
"Hey Sarah its Charlie. Did you happen to lose someone?" Charlie asked quickly. No reason to put Sarah through more hell when she had Chasey upstairs safe and happy for the moment.
"Oh Charlie please tell me that she ran over there?"
"She's here Sarah, upstairs playing with Jake. I don't understand how she made it here in the dark though. The shortest distance to my house still holds a good two acres in between us."
"I don't know what got into her. I just know that she took off running out of the driveway with Mark chasing after her. I guess she just kept going until she found somewhere safe enough. I've been worried sick."
"Well you can stop worrying. I'll get her settled in here until you are ready to come pick her up."
"Thank you so much. I'll send Mark over to get her. He might need a few minutes to calm down before he heads over. Say about a half hour and he'll be there?"
"That sounds just fine," Charlie lied before hanging up the phone.
Truthfully she wanted to do nothing but sleep. And that could be happening in the next ten minutes if she were able to put Jake back to sleep and Jasmine in bed.
Charlie took a moment to collect her fraying nerves and walked up the stairs to warn Sida that her father was on his way.
"Sida honey," Charlie called as she walked into Jake's room causing them to both look up at her. "We need to talk really quick. Jake baby, go into the bathroom and brush your teeth and grab the pajamas you want to wear."
Sida followed Jake out of the room and walked over to Charlie.
"Your daddy is coming to get you soon. I talked to your mommy before. They were very worried about you honey."
"Daddy won't let mommy come with us. If he loved me mommy would come."
Charlie gave Sida an understanding look and pulled her into a hug. "Your parents will always love you no matter what. Now let's go get a little snack before your dad comes and brings you home."
Sida nodded and bounded down the stairs. Charlie laughed and walked to the bathroom.
"I want you in bed Jake. I'll be up in a few minutes to make sure that you are ready to sleep."
It seemed that lately the days never ended. There was always one more thing to do, one more problem to solve. One more phone call from her paranoid over-bearing ex. But those thoughts had to wait. The frustrated tears that wanted to fall down her face had to wait for another time, another day. She had to play good mother, good hostess, and keep a little girl happy until her father came for her.
Charlie pulled out milk and slid a few cookies across the small children's table to Sida.
"You eat those and I'll be right back."
Charlie moved around upstairs putting her kids to bed and changing into her own pajamas. Being at work was bad enough as it was. No reason to stay in her work clothes any longer than she had to.
She had just long enough to make sure that Sida was content in the kitchen before the doorbell sounded.
Charlie ran over to the doorway opening it slightly trying to keep the cold air out and checking to make sure that it really was Sida's father.
"Hi, I'm Mark, Sida's dad. I came to bring her back home."
Charlie nodded and stepped aside to let him in. "Come on in she's in the kitchen."
Charlie's eyes widened in shock as she took in the full mountain of a man that Mark seemed to be, as he stepped into the light of the living room. He seemed to just about touch the ceiling and his wide broad shoulders seemed to take up half the living room by themselves. And his eyes, they seemed to burn a hole right through you. Charlie wondered if they were always as intense as they were at that moment. She smiled as she realized who he was. This was "The Undertaker". The wrestling legend that her sister loved to watch on TV and tell her all about later on. Certain that he didn't want anything that would be perceived as even the nicest of fan encounters Charlie extended her hand out towards him. She was grossly aware that she was in nothing but a small tank top and flannel pants and that standing in front of her was a man that was dangerously attractive in his own way.
"I'm Charlie Baxter, I found Sida in my driveway."
Mark nodded and extended a long arm and giant hand to her. "Mark Callaway. Sida ran off while I was trying to get her in the car."
Mark rubbed the back of his head and looked around uncomfortably. He had no clue what to do. He had never dealt with temper tantrums or run away kids. That wasn't his area. He would come home for a couple days, spin his kids around on his back, take them outside, teach them about sports, put them to bed. And then he'd leave. It would rip his heart a little bit, every time he had to leave his family behind but he did it because he loved them and because he loved his business more than air, more than life itself. But he had never dealt with a tantrum, or a mood swing. Never had to fetch any of his kids from a neighbor's house in the middle of the night.
"I'm sorry about all of this. She shouldn't be bothering ya' like she did. I'll have a good talk with her about it."
Charlie shook her head and waved her hand at him as she started to lead him to the kitchen. "She's not a problem. Granted she didn't have ideal timing, but she is welcomed to come here anytime that she needs to."
Mark followed behind Charlie into the kitchen and smiled when he saw his little girl sitting at a small table happily kicking her feet and slowly eating a few cookies.
"Don't be mad, I know that it's a bit late for cookies, but I needed something to keep her busy while I was busy doing what I had to do."
Mark shook his head and gave in to the flood of relief that washed over him as he stared at his daughter.
"I'm just happy that she's alright. Sida Lee honey, it's time to go," Mark spoke softly noticing the frown on his daughters face.
"I'm not done yet daddy."
"Baby it's late and we've bothered Mrs. Baxter here enough as it is let's get going."
Charlie gave a small giggle and spoke up. "It's miss, and please just Charlie. She's no bother, she can finish up her cookies if she would like. You can make yourself comfortable in the living room if you'd like."
Mark nodded and turned to his daughter. "You hurry it up hear? And don't go getting it into your head that you aren't in trouble."
"So, Mark what happened tonight? If you don't mind me asking." Charlie spoke as she saw Mark's large frame sink into an arm chair.
Mark sighed and gave a small groan. "She kept after me, asking me why her mother wasn't coming with us. We just told her that we are separating for a bit, seeing if we can fix up our marriage. And I know that she can't really handle that, but she can't handle that anymore than she can handle her parents at it like cats and dogs day and night.
"Anyway, I tell her that mommy can't come and it's just me and her for a few days. Tell her that her brothers are going to be there too. But she doesn't care at all about any of that. She just wants mommy and daddy together in the same place at the same time. When I tell her 'no' in no uncertain terms she kicks my shin and takes off running. I don't think I've been so scared in my life."
"I'm sorry, I know that separation is rough on everyone involved but when you add kids it only makes it harder."
"So how come you're in this big old house all on your own? If you don't mind me asking?"
Charlie shrugged and looked at the Christmas tree that was still sitting in front of her bay window. "I didn't do too well picking out a husband. I left him not too long ago. Found this place for rent on a real steal and took it without a second thought."
Mark followed Charlie's line of sight over to the tree looking at the presents stacked underneath it. He smiled to himself as he saw a division between stacks of pink clothes and girl toys and a mound of cars and robots on the other side.
"You have kids of your own?"
Charlie looked back over to him and smiled nodded. "Yea, they're great. I have two kids, one boy one girl. Jake, he's six Sida's age. And Jazzy, she's two. A real firecracker always needs to have things her way or she's not happy. And she'll let you know that she isn't happy."
"Jake and Sida play together a lot?"
Charlie looked at Mark amused. "A couple of times a week, they go to the same elementary school. You sure are inquisitive."
"I'm usually not, I guess I just want to pass the time. Sarah used to complain all too much that I was too quiet."
Charlie laughed and tucked her legs underneath her to get more comfortable. Truth was that as tired as she was, it was nice to have another adult to talk to, another male adult. One to look at, who wasn't bad looking at all. In her mind it was always the bigger the better, and man had a big one just waltzed right into her living room.
"You certainly don't seem very quiet."
Mark shrugged as he looked around the room. "I'm just trying to be a southern gentleman. And they talk to you when you show them hospitality."
"Well maybe you can impart some of that wisdom to my ex. He only seems to be concerned with teaching me some sort of lesson."
Mark looked over at Charlie and couldn't help but feel angry and slightly defensive. He may have been silent and never one for an over abundant amount of romance, but there's was nothing right about hitting a woman, or even thinking about it.
"What do you mean by that?"
Charlie shrugged and let out a long breath of relief as Sida walked into the living room slowly walking towards Mark like she were performing a death march.
"Come here baby girl, I'm not going to hurt you," Mark spoke softly to his daughter, with a slight chuckle in his voice.
Sida climbed into his lap and snuggled into the base of his neck. "I'm all done daddy."
Mark nodded and rubbed his daughters back. "That's good. What do you say to Miss. Baxter?"
"Thank you," Sida said quietly, quickly looking at Charlie before returning her head to the crook of Mark's neck.
"Good girl. Now tomorrow me and you are gonna have a bit of a talk about why mommy can't always come with us anymore. For now it's time for you to get to sleep. You'll be in enough trouble tomorrow."
Charlie smiled and sat quietly watching the interaction between father and daughter. That was what she missed most. Watching her ex-husband being a father, snuggle with his children, and act like an actual decent human being. Of course that wasn't when he was screaming at her, demanding that she cut herself off from friends, family, and anyone that might be any form of emotional support. He was good to the kids, in the fatherly, sit down and have a disciplinary talk type of way; but he had never supported them financially, and she was working herself down to the bone trying to take care of him and the kids.
As Mark sat rubbing Sida's back and reassuring her that he did in fact love her, and that he would always love her no matter what happened with Mommy, Charlie thought over everything that had changed in her life.
She had begun the process of freeing herself from that controlling, manipulative beast that she had called her husband for six years. She was finally talking to her family again, flirting again, and loving who she was again. And she loved every day that brought just a small fraction of who she used to be back to the surface.
She couldn't help the frown that began to play at the corner of her lips. She loved who she was becoming, but she was lonely. Nothing in her life truly felt right. She had no one to truly share her success and failures with. Mark was everything that she was missing. He was a man, a father, a person who could sit back and listen for a time without getting aggravated and telling her just how stupid she sounded.
"Well," Mark's deep voice broke Charlie from her thoughts. "We should be on our way. It's late, and I don't want to impose and further than we have. Thank you for taking care of Sida, I don't know what I would have done if something happened to her."
Charlie smiled and shook her head. "No imposition, she's a wonderful girl and I love having her over. Anytime that you guys want to stop by you go ahead and feel more than welcomed to."
Mark stood from the chair balancing a tired Sida on his hip groaning as he stood up. Twenty years in the wrestling business had been unkind to his body. Colder weather and long days made every move he went to make painful and tedious.
"Thank you for the invitation. I'll have to take you up on that one day," Mark answered easily leaning against the front door. He hadn't flirted with any woman since Sarah, and he was rusty. He just hoped that he could get across the message that he did want to see her again. "We'd both like coming back over here."
Charlie smiled and opened the front door so Mark could leave without having to fuss with the door.
"I'd like that too no doubt. Maybe next time I'll get to show off my kids."
"I'm sure that they are adorable and sweet, just like their mama."
Charlie couldn't help the giggle that escaped her lips. "Thank you. Now go get your daughter home. And try and make sure she doesn't run off anymore."
Mark stepped outside and smiled at Charlie once more, thanking her and turning to walk down the driveway to his pickup truck.
"Good night Charlie," Mark called from his truck as he placed Sida in the back.
"Good night Mark. And do me one more favor," Charlie waited until she saw Mark's curious eyes meet hers. "Take it easy on those knees and that body. What would the wrestling business be without Undertaker? I think my sister still wants to watch you for a bit longer."
Mark laughed and nodded in agreement. "I promise that I'll do my best. And tell your sister not to worry, I'm not going anywhere, not anytime soon."
Charlie waved as they drove off and closed her front door. She had no idea what kind of trouble a man like Mark would bring. She only knew that if she had her way, she most definitely wanted to find out for herself.