An Ordered Pair
The pair of women looked, in a way, like older versions of Andrea, both tall and dark-haired, beautiful and sleek. They were her cousins, and the elder was named Azul while the younger was Beatriz.
They were each seated on the couch in Andrea's home, across from the loveseat where Jesse and Andrea sat. Jesse's focus had wandered from their conversation to instead attend to Brock, who was rushing about and playing with toy cars and action figures. The protectiveness flushed in Jesse's gut; the poisoning hadn't been so long ago, and the break-up and reunion with Andrea still sooner. Perhaps it was this distracted air about him that cause Azul to speak as she did.
"Tell me, Andrea. What are you doing with him?"
Jesse swiveled his head and looked in confusion.
Azul glared and then continued.
"He's no good. He doesn't love you or Brock. Don't you know that by now?"
"Azul," Andrea began, "You don't know…"
"Oh, we know," Beatriz cut in. "You are the one who obviously doesn't. You bring home these men. All the same, every last one of them and expect it to be different."
"Excuse me. I…" Andrea began. Jesse stared, shell-shocked, trying to find a word to defend himself with but coming up short.
"When this one starts beating you up in front of your son, don't say I didn't tell you so."
Andrea broke out into a half-laugh.
"Jesse? You've got to be kidding me."
After the guests thankfully went on their way, Jesse and Andrea retired upstairs to the bedroom they often shared. Jesse lingered in the doorway, however.
"I just need to stop off real quick," he told her as he pivoted. He couldn't explain it, but he'd felt or perhaps sensed some sound, some movement coming from Brock's room.
He turned and walked into the next bedroom. The room was dark; the moonlit streamed dimly through the window and illuminated Brock's body. He was curled up, his face in his little hands, and Jesse could hear that he was sobbing.
"Hey," he called, tapping lightly on the wall. Brock looked up, shifted into a sitting position and stared at Jesse, eyes wide. "What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
"You don't like me." His voice was little more than a whisper.
It took a moment for it all to hit Jesse, that Brock hadn't tuned out the words from those women. His heart fell, and he swiftly moved to the side of Brock's bed, taking a seat on the edge.
"Hey," he said again, keeping his own voice soft, "They were wrong. I do like you." He reached out and put his hand on Brock's shoulder. "I like you a lot. You're my buddy." He smiled, as much as he wanted to start crying himself. He tilted his head downward and gently stroked Brock's back. "I love you, kid."
Brock swallowed, and he bit his lip.
"E-even if I'm not your real kid?"
"You are, though. Y'know why? 'Cause I say so." Jesse shifted and outstretched his arms. Brock leaned in, wrapping his little arms around him and hugging him tight. "Listen, Brock. When… when I was a kid, my parents were kinda… well… they didn't really tell me they loved me. So I didn't always know. I never want you to have to wonder, okay? No matter what anybody says. You understand?"
Brock nodded against Jesse's chest.
"Sorry for crying," he mumbled.
"No, it's all right. Everybody cries, all right?"
Brock slowly moved back, and Jesse used the sheet to dab at his cheeks.
"You gonna be okay? You know now, right?"
"I love you too, Jesse," he whispered. Jesse swallowed hard.
"Try and get some sleep, okay?" Jesse moved off the bed and tucked Brock in, before giving him a little kiss on the forehead. "G'night."
He made his way back into the hall, swallowing, before turning towards Andrea's room. He immediately collided with his girlfriend.
"Hey!" she declared, wrapping her arms around him. "I was eavesdropping."
"And…" She kissed him. "You did great. You're so sweet."
"Really?" Jesse's eyes went wide.
"Yeah. All right. Let's go." She looped her arms around his and led him back into the bedroom.