Richie tried not to be smug and managed to keep his ‘I told you so’ to himself.
Two weeks later, Tori was contemplating strangling the red muppet with a guitar string. It had been amusing to begin with, but now she just found it annoying. Unfortunately for her, her daughter loved it and couldn’t get enough of his antics, giggling hysterically every time he fell over. And if she turned it off, Lauren screamed until it was turned back on.
Gritting her teeth, she refocused on the guitar lesson Richie was giving.
“Like this Peanut. Put your fingers like Daddy’s.” The two dark heads were bent close together. “Now strum like I showed you. Good.”
It actually wasn’t bad....for a three year old.
Suddenly, Stevie’s head jerked up. “Me watch Dug now?”
Used to his short attention span, Tori chuckled. “Sure.”
Richie put away the guitars while Tori put on the Up dvd.
“Our house fly too?”
“No, our house is too heavy. There aren’t enough balloons to lift it.” Tori answered with a smile.
“Oh.” Stevie was silent for a few minutes. “Me have doggie? Pease?”
Tori found herself the focal point of attention – at least from the males in the room. Blue eyes looked at her with hope, brown ones with thoughtfulness. She met the brown ones and shook her head slightly. “I think we should wait a few years until you and Lauren and the baby are a little older.”
“Because they’re a lot of work. They need to be fed and brushed and taken for walks.” She smoothed a hand over his hair. “I promise, in a couple years we’ll talk about getting you a pet.”
“Okay.” The sad acceptance in his voice was way beyond his years and made his mother feel like a big meany.
“Awww...Dad look!” Ava stopped to look into a store window. They were having a Daddy/Daughter day. Shopping, lunch and hanging out. “Let’s go in.”
Richie dutifully followed her in. As she grew older, she was less inclined to hang out with her old man, so he was happy to take what he could get, even if it meant trailing her through clothing stores and handing over his opinion (when asked) and his credit card.
He glanced around while Ava made a beeline for the pen that had caught her eye from the sidewalk.
“Awww. Aren’t they adorable Dad?”
Richie looked down into the pen to see five golden retriever puppies. Four were rolling around playing together, while the fifth was off to the side watching. His soft heart went out to the one left out of the fun.
“What do you think? Dad?”
“Umm...do you think your mother will go for it?”
“Not for her house, for yours. Peanut and Sweetpea would love one don’t you think?”
“Oh, I don’t know Bean.” But he couldn’t look away from the little wallflower. As if sensing his stare, the puppy ran over to him, stood on its hind legs and waved its little tail so hard it almost fell over. The dark eyes looked at him with such...hope, the result was inevitable. He was in big trouble.
“You can pick her up.”
He turned to see a young woman, obviously an employee, gesture towards the puppy.
“You can pick her up and pet her. The rest of the litter tend to ignore her. I don’t know why. She’s a little sweetheart. She’s eight and a half weeks old. She’s had all her shots and a clean bill of health from the vet. She loves to play, but she’s very gentle.”
Ava picked the puppy up and cuddled her, laughing when her face got washed. “Dad, you’ve got to take her!”
Richie took the squirming ball of fur and held her up in front of his face to look her in the eye. “Do you want to come home with me? I’ll warn you, there are two little toddlers there that will terrorize you.” Not to mention my wife who will terrorize me for this!
His answer was a face full of puppy breath and a wet tongue swiping across his lips.
“Ewww!” Ava laughed.
With a sigh, he gathered the puppy against his chest. “Okay, Bean, round up what we need.”
They exited the store, Richie carrying the puppy in a carrier, Ava several bags of supplies. The helpful store employee followed with a dog bed.
Richie grimaced as he placed the bed in the back of the Hummer. “I hope that’s comfortable.”
“Why?” Ava asked.
“Because I have a feeling when your stepmother sees what we’re bringing home it may be my bed.”
“You think she’ll be mad that you bought a puppy?”
“Oh, I think that’s a pretty safe bet.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“Because she was lonely and needed a home.”
“Aww, you’re a big softie.” She kissed his cheek. “You’d better hope that works with T-Mom.”
“So how are you feeling?”
“Like I swallowed a beach ball and it’s trying to get out.” Karin shifted position. “How am I going to make it another two months?”
“So I guess I shouldn’t tell you that you’re only going to get bigger then, huh?” Tori laughed. “But seriously, you’ll get through it. You’ll be surprised at how fast it goes.” Until the last month anyway.
“You’re going to be here, right?” Karin tried to keep the anxiety from her voice, but the bottom line was the thought of giving birth scared the crap out of her and she wanted, no needed Tori to be there. David was wonderfully supportive, but Tori had been with her through every major event of her adult life and she couldn’t imagine going through this without her.
“Of course I will. We’ll be in Jersey at least a week before your due date, just to be sure.” Tori assured her.
Karin blew out a relieved breath and changed the subject. “So what are you and Richie up to today?”
“I’m hanging out at home with the little ones. Richie and Ava are having a Daddy/daughter day.” A commotion at the door had her turning her head and listening. “Oh, sounds like they’re back.” She could hear Lauren’s happy squeal, Stevie’s excited chatter, and....barking. Barking??? Oh no he didn’t!! “Karin I’ll have to call you back. I think I have to go kill my husband.”
“Because unless my ears are deceiving me, he’s gone against my express wishes and brought home a dog!”
“With a three year old, a one year old and a new baby on the way? What is he thinking?”
“Apparently, he’s not. I’ll call you later.”
“Okay. Send me the funeral arrangements.”
Slamming the phone onto the table, Tori stood and made her way towards the foyer. She stopped in the doorway and surveyed the chaotic scene of children and puppy.
“Mama look! Daddy got doggie!” Stevie was almost dancing in his excitement.
“I see that.” The look she gave her husband sent a shiver down his spine.
Richie quickly scooped up the puppy and held her up to his bristling wife. “Could you resist this face? She was being ostracized by her brothers and sisters. She was lonely and needed a home.” Her expression didn’t change. “She’s a Golden Retriever. They’re very good with children.” Still the icy glare. “I’ll build her a dog house. She can stay outside.”
“Make sure it’s a big one.”
“Why?” He was afraid he knew the answer.
“You’ll want to be comfortable.”
That’s what he thought.
As she walked away, Ava blew out a breath. “Now that’s a stink eye.”