Information about the serialization ("The Wattpad Experiment")
Links to: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5
Viv shifted the cooler into her left hand and knocked on Julie’s door. Seconds later, her friend opened it.
“Viv! Come on in. Great weather for Victoria Day, isn’t it?” It was unexpectedly hot for May. Julie was barefoot, dressed in khaki shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Olivia peeked out from behind her mother. The little girl wore a gold crown to accessorize her pink leotard and sparkly tutu, her plump legs and feet bare.
Viv gave Julie a hug and handed her the cooler. “I’ve got potato salad with croutons and bacon in there.”
“Yum,” Julie said. “Let’s hang out in the kitchen.” She trotted away down the dark, narrow hallway while Viv closed the door and bent to kiss Olivia’s cheek.
“Hi, Olivia. Love your crown.”
The child nodded, feeling for her head with a grubby hand. “I got it on my birthday.”
“I remember. I was there,” Viv said with a smile. “You were dressed like Tinker Bell with a fairy wand.” She noticed that one of Olivia’s hands was closed into a fist. “What have you got in there?” she asked, gently tapping it.
The child opened her fingers to reveal a few crushed cereal squares. She held up her palm, offering them to Viv.
“Thank you,” Viv said. She chose a piece that was relatively intact and pocketed it as soon as Olivia turned to run up the hallway.
Viv followed the child into the kitchen. A revolving fan on the table pushed pockets of warm, humid air around the room. Olivia collapsed on the floor in front of the sink. She pulled off her crown and chose a stubby blue crayon to begin her colouring. Julie was stirring something in a pot on the stove that spewed steam into her face, but smelled delicious.
“Boston-baked beans. To go with the burgers,” she said, putting the lid back on and hoisting the pot into the oven.
“Can I help?”
“Sure. See if you can find room in the fridge for your potato salad.”
Viv opened the fridge door and was trying to figure out how to stuff anything else onto the overflowing shelves when there was a knock on the front door. She looked up in surprise.
“You expecting someone?”
Julie just smiled and left the kitchen without saying a word.
Viv heard the door open and her friend say, “Josh, good to see you! Come on in, buddy.”
Viv’s stomach clenched. This felt suspiciously like a blind date.
Two weeks earlier, Julie and Sabrina had arranged to meet Viv at Brewsters, a downtown coffee shop. It was a damp, chilly day, and the two women were bundled in sweaters and thin pastel scarves, trying to pretend that spring had arrived. They were placing their orders at the glass display unit in front of the register when Viv arrived five minutes late from a parent-teacher meeting.
Sabrina waved and pointed to an empty table at the rear of the narrow shop. Dodging past the hungry customers lined all the way to the door, Viv claimed the miniscule table with its child-sized, folding chairs. She was looking wistfully at the occupied armchairs in front of the faux fireplace when her friends arrived bearing white china mugs and plates.
“Here, we got you a blueberry ginseng tea and a chocolate pecan cookie,” Julie said.
“Thanks! You two are the best. I’m starving.” Viv took the mug and sniffed the fruity fragrance before sipping. Her friends had remembered to add a dollop of honey, just the way she liked it. She sighed and said, “I’m tired of having to deal with parents.” Kayla’s mother had not been happy to hear that her daughter had been sent to the principal’s office for biting one of her classmates.
“Tough meeting?” Julie asked.
“I’ll say. Apparently Kayla’s baby brother is teething, and the whole family’s sleep-deprived. Her mother had to cut short a department meeting and fight rush-hour traffic to see me, and she was close to losing it. So, thanks for the treat. I really needed it.” She bit into a chunk of milk chocolate in her cookie and relaxed.
Julie checked her wristwatch. “I only have an hour before my nanny leaves.”
Sabrina finished checking her messages and put down her cell phone. “Okay, let’s keep this short. Viv, we called you here today for a progress report.”
Viv sat up in surprise. No one had said that this meeting was to be about her.
“Julie and I have been comparing notes, and we think you’re doing much better than you were after the break-up.”
“You really are, sweetie,” Julie interjected.
“Your wine consumption is back to normal, you’ve stopped waking me up in the wee hours with crying jags, and you’ve gone out with friends three times.” Sabrina paused to grin at Viv. “Congratulations, hon. You’ve passed step one of the Sabrina O’Sullivan two-step program to restart the human heart.”
“Uh, thanks,” Viv said uneasily. She sensed that something unpleasant was coming.
“So, it’s time for your first date. Don’t worry, we’re not going to abandon you,” Sabrina added, glancing at Viv’s panicked face. She turned to Julie and asked, “Did Viv ever tell you how bad she is at dating?”
“It never came up.”
“That’s right, she was already with Kyle when you two met. But let me tell you, the guys she dated before him were certifiable disasters.”
“They weren’t so bad,” Viv mumbled, looking down at the table.
Sabrina laughed. “Do you remember the engineer you went out with in your first year of university? What was his name?”
“That’s right. He was a psychopath.”
Viv glowered at Sabrina. “He was not a psychopath. He was just socially inept.” She turned to Julie. “He came from a small town. It was his first time away from home, and he was lonely.”
“Do you remember eating with him?” Sabrina asked. “He wouldn’t say a word, and he clenched his knife and fork so hard that his knuckles turned white. He was really hairy, too. Not just his beard. He had this dense, black hair that grew all the way up his arms to his knuckles. And he had these really beady eyes. Cold, like a killer’s.”
“He did not! Stop exaggerating. Poor Steve, he was just intense.”
“Intense!” Sabrina snorted. “And then there was that pot head who picked you up in the park.”
“Daniel! He wanted to be in a rock band, but he was the worst guitarist I've ever heard. Remember that stupid Fedora he used to wear? He’d come out of your bedroom wearing it on the way into breakfast, the dumb ass.”
“He wrote me a beautiful song, though. Remember?”
“You’re right! I’d forgotten about that. What was it called?”
“Diamond-Hearted Girl,” Viv said wistfully.
“Why diamond-hearted?” Julie asked. “Diamonds are hard and cold.”
“Because her heart sparkled and had so many facets.” Sabrina sneered. “Then he borrowed two hundred bucks from Viv to cut a music demo, and we never saw him again.”
“But he was sweet and really kind to animals,” Viv said. “He tried to save an abandoned cat he found in an alley that winter.”
“Only it was feral, and tore up the furniture and peed all over the carpet before escaping.”
“Poor thing. It’s probably dead by now,” Viv said.
“Ooh! Did you ever hear how Viv lost her virginity?” Sabrina asked. She spoke too loudly and drew the attention of the couple at the next table.
“Shhh!” Viv ducked her head and covered her face with both hands.
“Only that she was seventeen when it happened,” Julie said.
Viv uncovered her face and glared at Sabrina. “You be quiet. If anyone’s going to tell her, it’ll be me.” The three women leaned closer as Viv whispered, “There was this boy I was seeing in Grade 11 named Justin. He was diabetic. After we had been dating for about five months, he told me that diabetics have trouble with erections, and he was getting really frustrated. I asked if he’d seen a doctor, and he said yes, his mother had taken him, but the doctor was no help at all. Viagra was just coming out back then, but there was no way his family doctor was going to prescribe it for a teenager.”
“So, little Miss Fix-it decided to help him,” Sabrina said. Her eyes glinted with amusement, and Viv gave her a dirty look before continuing.
“His mother and father didn't get home from work until six. We were in his bedroom, and he started crying. He said he was afraid he was impotent, and that he would never be a father. Of course, I felt sorry for him, so I started kissing him. I had never done anything more than heavy petting before, but we ended up naked. I was sort of on top of him when it happened.”
“Oh, Viv,” Julie sighed.
“I remember being really excited. I was so happy for him. I thought I had cured him.”
“Until things heated up again, and Justin pulled a condom from a stash in his bedside table because he didn't want Viv to get pregnant,” Sabrina said. She shook her head.
“Yeah. That was a real downer,” Viv said. “Not only did Justin betray me, but I was terrified that I might be pregnant until my period came.”
“Enough of memory lane,” Sabrina said, checking her watch. “Julie has to go home, so let’s cut to the chase. We’re going to help you, Viv. No more deadbeats. Julie and I are going to vet your dates from now on. Call it a dating do-over.”
Viv stared from one friend to the other.
“That’s right,” Julie said. “We've even developed a scoring system for potential boyfriends based on health, attractiveness, earning potential, dating history, and overall character. We don’t want you ending up with a deadbeat who’s got millions but doesn't care about his environmental footprint, for example.”
“With my job at the bank, I can run credit checks,” Sabrina added. “Of course, I know a lot more men than Julie does.”
“Except I know this one really terrific guy who would be perfect for you,” Julie said. “I can’t wait for you to meet him. Well, what do you think? Are you excited?”
“A dating do-over?” Viv asked doubtfully.
“That’s right,” Sabrina said. “Because you’re so bad at finding the right man. Look at the six years you just wasted on Kyle.” Viv winced; sometimes Sabrina could be harsh. “We’re a lot better than a dating service because we know you so well, and because we have your best interests at heart.”
Viv was silent as she mulled over her friends’ plan. Sabrina was right; she had made some poor dating choices. What made her think that she could do any better now?
“Come on, Vivvie,” Sabrina said. “Let us help you. You want to move on with your life, don’t you?”
“You want to have a husband and children, don’t you?”
Viv made up her mind. “Okay,” she said, reaching for Julie and Sabrina’s hands. “Let’s try it. A dating do-over.”
Julie re-appeared in the kitchen entrance, and Viv steeled herself for whomever was behind her. God only knew what kind of specimen her gay, elementary school teacher friend had come up with.
“Viv, this is Josh Lennox,” Julie said, stepping aside.
Viv gaped. Josh was about 6’2” with cropped, sandy brown hair, high cheek bones, and beautiful hazel eyes. He looked wholesome, like the boy next door, only better.
Josh nodded and said, “Hi, Viv,” before looking straight past her at Olivia.
“Nice to meet you, Josh,” Viv said, her head veering to follow his gaze.
His face split into a smile. “Hi, Olivia,” he said. The child regarded him for two seconds before returning to her colouring book.
Josh sat down on the floor beside her. “What’s that you’re drawing?” Something twigged Viv’s memory, and she said, “Excuse us for a minute, won’t you?” before dragging Julie into the hallway.
“Josh Lennox. That’s your sperm donor!” Viv said in an emphatic whisper. Julie smiled and nodded. “Well, I can see why you chose him,” Viv added. “He’s beautiful. And tall. I would love my children to be tall. It’s no picnic being five foot three.” She stopped dreaming to focus back on Julie. “Does Olivia know that he’s her daddy?”
“No,” Julie whispered back just as emphatically. “When Josh donated his sperm, he agreed he would have no role in Olivia’s life. She barely knows him.”
“What does Josh think about that?”
Julie shrugged. “He’s got no choice, if he wants to see her at all.”
Viv stared at Julie. This was a side of her friend that she had never seen before. Viv doubted that she could be that hard on her baby’s birth daddy if their positions were reversed.
“That’s kind of rough, isn’t it? How often does he get to see Olivia?”
Julie folded her arms over her chest and returned Viv’s stare. “Not often. I don’t want to encourage him.” Apparently her relationship with Josh was not open for discussion.
But Viv didn't back down when her sympathies were engaged. “Aren't you tempting fate? If Josh and I started dating, he might bump into Olivia more often.”
“Not necessarily. Besides, he’s still a great guy. I thought you might like him.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I want to get in the middle of this. It’s way too complicated.”
Julie shrugged. “Look, no pressure, okay? He doesn't know why I invited him today. But really, Viv, Josh would make you an ideal husband. He’s low maintenance and a real cutie patootie, as you've no doubt noticed.”
Viv hesitated. The way Julie put it, what did she have to lose?
“Okay, but don’t expect any special effort from me. I’ll try to get to know him, but that’s all.”
Julie squeezed her shoulder. “Thatta girl.”
The two women returned to the kitchen, where Josh was still watching Olivia colour. Viv’s heart went out to him. The poor guy, how could he bear to stay away from sweet, solemn Olivia?
“Hey, it’s a beautiful day,” Julie said in a perky voice. “Let’s not waste it cooped up inside. How about we walk over to the park?”
“Fine with me,” Josh said, glancing up.
“Olivia, do you want to play catch in the park?” Julie asked.
“Okay, clean up your crayons.”
Twenty minutes later, Viv was sitting on a blanket in the shade of a maple tree with Julie’s camera dangling around her neck. Olivia sat beside her, while Julie and Josh tossed a rubber ball back and forth a short distance away.
Julie called, “Do you want to play catch, Olivia?”
The child nodded.
“Who do you want to throw the ball to you ‒ Josh or Mommy?”
Olivia pointed at Josh.
“Okay, come here, sweetie.”
Olivia went to stand beside Josh while Julie joined Viv on the blanket.
“Are you ready, Olivia?” Josh asked. She nodded and held up her hands. “Okay, here comes the ball.” Olivia missed the ball and had to chase after it. When she threw it back to Josh, it arched into the air and landed several feet short.
“Throw a little harder, sweetie,” Julie called.
Viv was busy snapping pictures. “You and Josh play in the same baseball league, don’t you?” she asked. Olivia threw the ball again. This time it landed behind her.
Julie nodded. “We’re on the same co-ed team. That’s how we met. He’s the catcher, and I play third base.”
“He’s also a high school Phys. Ed. teacher, right?”
Viv put the camera down. “So, he’s a teacher, and he plays baseball. You two have a lot in common.”
Julie grinned. “Right. We both like girls.”
Viv shrugged. “Looks like he’s pretty patient.”
“Come on, Viv. I catch your drift, but what’s the point of letting him hang around? Olivia doesn't need a daddy to have a happy childhood.”
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Viv murmured, but Julie ignored her.
Josh tossed the ball again, this time practically dropping it into Olivia’s hand, and she caught it. A huge grin erupted on her face as Viv and Julie jumped to their feet to cheer.
“Yay, you did it!” Josh shouted. “Give me a high-five, Olivia.” He held up his hand, which she slapped as hard as she could.
“Ow, you’re so strong!” he complained, shaking his fingers. Olivia giggled and slapped his hand again. Josh reacted by whirling around and collapsing on the ground. Olivia shrieked with laughter and jumped on his chest.
Josh pretended that he couldn't get up. Throwing his arms into the air, he strained to sit up, but collapsed after every attempt. Olivia howled, and Viv snapped picture after picture. She glanced up at Julie, whose expression was wooden as she climbed to her feet and walked over to the pair.
“Come on, let’s help poor Josh up,” she said. Olivia clambered to her feet and offered Josh her hand. It disappeared in his as he jumped to his feet.
“Whew, I’m thirsty,” he said.
“We could all use a drink,” Julie said. “Let’s go back to the house and start the burgers.”
A half hour later, Viv was having a beer with Josh in Julie’s postage stamp-sized backyard. Olivia was playing on her slide, while Julie barbecued the burgers and carried out the rest of the food. Viv had offered to help, but Julie had told her to relax.
“So, Josh, are you from Toronto?” Viv asked.
“Lived here all my life.”
“Julie tells me you’re a Phys. Ed. Teacher.”
“At Riverdale Collegiate.” He swilled some beer and stared off into space.
“That must keep you pretty active.”
“Do you find it difficult motivating kids to exercise, what with the internet and all?”
“Not so much. We've got a lot of sports for the kids to choose from.”
Viv nodded, starting to run out of conversation. “Do you enjoy teaching?”
Julie came out of the house just then carrying paper plates and plastic cutlery. Viv said, “Josh has just been telling me how much he likes being a gym teacher.” She rolled her eyes at Julie, signalling for help.
“But there’s more to Josh than that,” Julie said. “Tell Viv about The King and I.”
Josh turned to look at Viv for the first time. “I belong to a community theatre group called Toronto Theatrical Productions. We’re all amateurs, but they hire professional actors for the bigger roles. This spring, we’re doing The King and I. Musicals are more expensive to mount, but they bring in bigger audiences, so we always finish the season with one.”
“Guess which part Josh is playing,” Julie said.
“Nah, I’m not good enough to play him,” Josh said.
“He’s playing one of the other male leads, though,” Julie said.
Josh nodded. “Lun Tha. He’s in love with Tuptim, the king’s new concubine.”
“He gets to sing two duets with her,” Julie said. “Josh has a great voice. I heard him sing at a karaoke bar after a game once.” She flipped the burgers, and flames flared. The entrancing scent of barbecuing meat trailed across the air to Viv.
“I was in Oklahoma last year, but I just played one of the cowboys. This is the first time I've had more than a couple of lines to say. I’m pretty nervous,” Josh said, rubbing his knee.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be terrific,” Julie said.
He glanced at her with a grateful smile. “Hey, I can hook you and Viv up with tickets if you like. If you’re interested,” he added hopefully.
“Sure, I’d love to come,” Julie said. “You like musicals, too, don’t you, Viv?”
Viv looked from Julie’s raised eyebrows to Josh’s eager face. She hadn't been able to get two words out of him all afternoon, but he had come alive as soon as Julie had mentioned the play.
“I love musicals. The King and I is one of my favourites.” Josh’s face broke into a sunny smile, reminding Viv of her pupils when it was their turn for Super-Star Friday. “Can’t wait,” she added.
Does Josh sound like good boyfriend-material, or is the situation with Julie and Olivia just too complicated? Check back on Sunday, April 12 for Chapter 7!
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