“You can come in if you’d like,” I offered, unfastening my seat belt and looking him in the eye. We were parked outside my house… behind a red Volvo, “you’re more than welcome.”
“Are you sure?” Ben asked skeptically, “You don’t think I’ll be in the way too much?”
“Of course not! You know that they like you.”
“I know, but it’s just… awkward.”
“How is it awkward?” I asked questionably. We’d had an amazing time that afternoon and he was acting like he just wanted to get away. I understood that he would need space and time to himself from time to time but it was my birthday. What had I done wrong?
“I don’t know, it just… is. Teresa and Jerry and lovely people, and Jamie’s sweet, but they’re here to see you… not me.” He answered, smiling a crooked, half-smile. I reached out towards him and cupped his right cheek in my left palm, turning his gaze to face me. I smiled warmly, leaning over to kiss him on his velvet lips. He kissed back and held onto me around my waist.
Time stopped. It was just Ben and me. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, so long as we were together. Nothing could separate out longing lips… except for the light tapping against the passenger’s door window beside me.
Our lips detached and we both turned to look out at the source of the tapping.
“Hello,” Teresa trilled, laughter lines exposed and a grin splattered across her face. She obviously found it exciting to catch us off guard, “won’t you come inside? It’s really cold out here and we have presents!”
“We’ll be in soon!” I called back to her, forcing a smile on my face. She gave me a double thumbs up before skittering back to the warmth of the house. I rolled my eyes as she gave an over exaggerated wave in our direction and then turning back and closing the front door behind her.
“Was she like this at Christmas?” Ben asked questionably.
“I think she’s worse today than she was at Christmas.” I replied. He didn’t answer back, but I knew he was calculating in his head the pros and cons of whether or not to join me inside, “she’s not that bad… not really.”
“I know. Oh what the heck, it wouldn’t do me any harm. So long as there’s cake. Is there?”
“Yes, there’s cake.”
“No, darling, don’t play with that,” Teresa said, pulling James’ chubby little fingers away from the piece of chocolate cake that Ben had in front of him, “that’s not for you, that’s Ben’s.”
“It’s alright, he can have some if he likes.” Ben replied, cutting a small mouthful off with his fork.
“Oh no, dear, he can’t have any.” She answered back, more defensively.
“But he’s on solids, isn’t he?” I asked, intrigued in why she was so determined to not allow him to have a mere slither of cake.
“Yes, well, that’s beside the point, Casey. He’s not allowed to eat it.” She pressed firmly.
“What?” I was confused.
“She’s been reading this book that got her ravelled in believing that if James’ diet is one hundred per cent organic, he’ll become brainer when he’s older,” Jerry informed us, rolling his eyes at the whole idea of it. Teresa remained silent, “I personally think it’s a load of–“
“Jerry!” she snapped, interrupting him mid-sentence, “I will not have you using bad language in front of my son.”
That stung a bit.
‘Don’t you mean my son?’ I thought to myself. Maybe having Ben here was a mistake, I couldn’t be myself around my own little boy… I had to constantly lie.
“I’m sure having a little bit of chocolate won’t hurt him, will it Teresa?” mum spoke persuadingly, “To be perfectly honest, most of those books are a waste of money. I played tape after tape of Mozart when Casey was small, in an attempt to increase her intelligence – so it was supposed it do – and look how that turned out.”
“Oi!” I moaned, taking slight offence to my mother’s words… I wasn’t thick! I turned to face Teresa as she held onto James securely on her lap. He was still grasping out for Ben’s forkful of cake, knowing for who it was intended.
“Fine,” she finally agreed, handing him over to Ben, who welcomed the gurgling infant half-heartedly. He fed James the cake as if it was an aeroplane. James laughed in delight and swallowed the moist substance, demanding more. Teresa sulked off to the kitchen to ‘clear away the mess’, so Ben continued to feed James, with Jerry’s approval.
“He sure does like cake,” I mentioned, noting him scoffing as much cake as he could in his tiny mouth, “how much has Teresa deprived him of sugar?”
“Almost entirely. He only has natural sugar from fruit juices; if she had her way he wouldn’t even have that! It’s wrong to deprive a child of all sugars entirely, they need a balanced diet. She never did any of this malarkey with ours when they were his age.” I froze at Jerry’s words. Ben looked up too, stunned.
“Sorry?” he asked.
“I mean our elder children. I’m sorry, I find it so hard to remember that I even have a son his age from time to time – it’s awful, I know – but it’s because he’s just so much younger than the others.”
‘Nice save… I guess.’
“Oh, yeah. Casey mentioned you had older children,” Ben answered, appearing to have believed Jerry’s white lie, “how do they feel about the vast age difference? There’s seven years between my brother and I, but I guess that’s different; it’s not as big, really.” The two of them emerged themselves into a deep conversation about age differences and sibling rivalry, but I couldn’t bring myself to tear my eyes away from James.
He was coughing rather severely and his lips were swollen and discoloured in a disturbing shade of reddish brown. He’d been fine five minutes ago… before he’d eaten the cake.
“Mum!” I called out to her, as she’d joined Teresa in the kitchen, “what’s the cake got in it?” she came to the open doorway and looked stunned at my choice of question, but answered it all the same,
“It’s all chocolate, Casey. Chocolate cake with hazelnut filling and icing.”
“Hazelnut!?” I exclaimed, turning back to the spluttering infant, my son, on Ben’s lap.
“Yes, why? You love hazelnut. Is anything wrong?” she looked at me worriedly and then at James. She knew right away, just like I did.
“Jerry, we need to get James to hospital,” I told him, taking James from Ben and holding him close to my chest, “I think he’s having an allergic reaction to the nuts in the cake…”