Chapter 29 – How Do You Like Your Potatoes Peeled?
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Chapter Twenty-Nine – How Do You Like Your Potatoes Peeled?

Jett examined his dad from under furrowed eyebrows.

“What do you think he’ll ask of us next?” Carina whispered, taking him by surprise.

“Stop creeping on me like this. I’m thinking.” Jett turned to his observation of the enemy.

His dad was inspecting each surface with a magnifying glass. If there were one speck of dust he found, Jett would eat it, that sure he was that the house was pristine clean now.

“Yes, ‘mkay,” his dad mumbled and then stood up and stared at them. “It could be better, but it’s livable now.”

“Would it kill you to say ‘good work’?” Jett asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“That’s something I will say when it’s some good work to praise. This,” his dad pointed around, “is basic. This house needs to be clean if you want to raise a baby here.”

“Oh, so it was your concern as a granddad that made you torture us for half a day,” Jett said, making sure that the sarcasm in his voice was pretty clear.

His father seemed to ponder for a second. “Sure. But it was also fun. Kids like you, you need to learn what hard work is. You take everything for granted.”

Jett tried to exchange a glance with Carina. She rolled her eyes and made a small sound like she was already fed up with all the speeches on responsibility in the world.

“Young lady, this kind of attitude won’t get you far in life,” Jett’s dad said to her, wagging a finger.

Carina just shrugged. “It worked swell so far.”

“Sure. You had a baby out of wedlock, and ended up in prison for God knows what. Wait, was it for some violent crime?”

Carina grimaced as if she had ingested something foul. “Not yet,” she replied aggressively. “I just stole some things, okay? I needed them.”

“Haven’t you heard of honest work?”

“Dad, stop busting Carina’s balls,” Jett said, without thinking.

“Balls?” His dad stared at him in disbelief. “Is she a boy, too?”

Jett waved impatiently. “Just a way of saying. Get off her case, will you already?”

“No. My grandchild will not live with an irresponsible mother. She,” he pointed at Carina, “will learn to lead an honest life from now on. Starting this moment, no excuses.”

“You don’t get to tell her all that. You’re not her dad,” Jett said, feeling his irritation growing. He couldn’t say that he was more annoyed with the fact that his dad cared about straightening Carina up, but not him. In his eyes, he had to be a completely lost cause.

“I’m her father-in-law,” his dad said promptly.

“For the last time, dad, no one’s getting married. I’m with April now.”

“So? Are you going to marry him?”

Jett hesitated for a second. He hadn’t thought that far, but he didn’t think the idea to be as funny as his dad was trying to make it be, grinning hard and showing his teeth.

“Thought so,” his dad said with satisfaction after receiving no answer.

Jett cursed inwardly. So far, things weren’t going too well for them. His dad had taken him by surprise, but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t push back. “Just leave Carina alone. It’s me you have a beef with.”

“I don’t have a beef with you, son,” his dad said directly. “I see that I must make you get your life straight, and, speaking of that, you need to get rid of that Summer boy. If he doesn’t have a place to go, I’ll cover for his rent for a month or so --”

“I’m not getting rid of April,” Jett said through his teeth. “And don’t you think I could help him if need be? What business do you have with him?”

“My only business with him is that he managed, somehow, to fool you. He’s a bright kid, he seems. I still don’t trust the mining computers or whatever those are in the basement, but he seems smart. So I have nothing against him. He should just find a boy who’s just like him.”

“And what, exactly, do you mean by that?”

His dad pursed his lips, but he didn’t seem to take the bait. Jett needed only one reason, one strong reason. But it looked like his dad was more interested in leading numerous battles rather than fight a decisive one. “You’re young and naïve. Yeah, he’s pretty to look at, I’ll give you that. But just look at her,” he pointed at Carina.

Carina comically quirked her eyebrows.

“What don’t you like about her?”

Jett blinked hard. What was his dad trying to say now?

“She’s a nice young lady. You have a child with her. It’s true that she stole some things and ended up in prison, but that doesn’t mean that she’s all that bad, right?”

Jett bit his lips hard. His father trying to sell Carina to him was at least half funny. Carina had no problems to hide, though. She was snickering, covering her face with both hands.

“You two, stop laughing! That little boy sleeping upstairs is a joke, too?”

Suddenly, Jett and Carina stopped laughing. “He’s not a joke,” Jett said. “Just unexpected is all.”

“Then you can handle a few more unexpected things. Do what’s right, Jett. Tell your boyfriend he needs to find a place to live. Make things work with the mother of your child. A simple life is a happy life.”

“Oh, and you care so much,” Jett said and scoffed.

“I do, son,” his dad said solemnly, and this time, he looked Jett in the eyes.

Jett looked away. Maybe he did; at least, for years, Jett had hoped that was the case. His father didn’t have to come home when on leave. He had money to go anywhere; he could have fun on some exotic island, get drunk, meet people. But, instead, like clockwork, he came every year and spent a few weeks with Jett, whether Jett liked it or not.

And, during those visits, his dad had always tried to make him bend to his ways. To no avail, Jett admitted, not without pride, but it proved, indeed, that he still cared. That, no matter what harsh words they exchanged, he still cared.

“Dad, me and Carina, not happening,” Jett explained in a heartbeat.

“Why, son? She’s prettier than the boy. And she’s a girl!”

“Don’t you think I know all that? I’m not blind, you know. It’s just that we happened quite a long time ago and we don’t work together. That’s all.”

“A long time ago? How long?”

“Less than two years or something.”

“Hmm. And that’s a long time? Try seven years,” his dad said. “You, young people, are so quick to kick at things you believe you don’t want.”

Jett bit his lips hard, and this time it wasn’t to keep himself from laughing.

“Mr. Huntsman,” Carina intervened, “you’re wasting your breath. Just so you know, even if Jett were still into me, I wouldn’t. He doesn’t love me, and I don’t love him.”

“Love.” Jett’s dad scoffed like that word had been invented by some lunatic on the spot. “Life is more than just about love. It is about commitment and doing the right thing. How are you going to raise the little boy? All by yourself? Do you think that’s easy?”

“No, I don’t think that’s easy,” Carina said and put her chin up in defiance. “Even more. I know that it’s not easy.”

“I’ll help her with everything I can. We haven’t talked just yet, but I will be part of Jay’s life. Carina won’t struggle by herself, no matter how much you try to scare her.”

“And your boyfriend? How does he fit in all this?”

“For your information, April loves Jay. He took care of him for weeks, until Carina came here. And he’ll continue to care because that’s who he is. If you’re so sure you care, too, you should understand.”

His father was moving his weight from one foot to another. It looked like he didn’t like losing this fight. “Young people,” he said under his breath. “You,” he pointed at Carina, “go to the kitchen and make some food.”

“Dad, don’t order her around, what the hell?” Jett protested.

Carina shrugged. “If you people like food with human thumbs in it, sure, I’ll go.”

“Are you trying to tell me you don’t even know how to make food? How have you been feeding that baby?”

Carina made an amused face and patted her chest discreetly. Jett shook her head, trying to gesture at her to cut it off. “This,” she said, “and also, all the baby food I’ve used so far comes in boxes with instructions. It’s not that hard.”

“That might be, young lady,” Jett’s dad said, clearly not wanting to leave the battlefield just yet, “but you’ll have to learn. You won’t raise my grandchild on takeout and other junk food.”

“Sure, I’ll learn. Until then, I’m quite happy to go to the kitchen and prepare something that might just poison you. I don’t say that I’ll do it on purpose, but, you know, shit happens,” Carina said airily.

“Never mind,” Jett’s dad said with unhidden disgust. “Young people today. They can’t boil an egg, but they believe they can be parents,” he added, throwing his hands in the air and walking toward the kitchen.

“If you like that egg extra hard, I can boil it,” Carina said, as she followed him.

Jett caught her by the elbow. “Let him be. At least, if he’s locked in the kitchen, we’ll have a breather.”

“I’m going to watch,” Carina explained. “I’d like to know how to boil an egg. Are we going to eat boiled eggs, Mr. Huntsman?” she called loudly.

“No! We’re going to eat real food! That if you managed to at least buy some groceries!”

Jett was about to argue with Carina some more, but he was interrupted by April coming through the door.

***

April took in the house and whistled in unhidden admiration. “Wow, you guys, you really did clean the house. Man, was that corner always there? I don’t quite recall --”

Jett was making weird gestures at him, and April instantly curbed his enthusiasm. “I mean, it’s pretty clean. Good job.”

Jett pulled him by one arm into the living room, not even allowing him to say hello to the other people in the house. “Don’t praise the tyrant,” he said through his teeth. “And it’s not like he did everything. He worked both Carina and me to the bone while you had fun with your classes.”

“Fun is not exactly a word I’d use to describe my experience in school, but nonetheless, I must commend you on really great work. I mean, I had no idea the house could look this good. Wait, did you wash the curtains, too? Suddenly, it doesn’t smell that badly of cigarettes around here.”

“Washed them, dried them, put them up,” Jett said impatiently. “Look, April, you must not fraternize with the enemy.”

“Jett, he’s your dad, not the enemy, and seeing the results, while I do question his methods, I must admit that he’s on to something. I mean, this really looks like a livable house.”

“Yeah, a livable house where he doesn’t want you to live. Now, listen to me. He’ll try to convince you to take a hike. Don’t do it, no matter what he promises you. Or if he threatens you. He wouldn’t do that, but, you know, come to me if he says anything like that.”

“All right, all right, you must chill a little. First of all, I won’t give in, no matter what, as long as you want me here.”

“Of course I want you here. It’s not like I’d ever let you go.”

“See? Same here. I mean, I’d never leave, either. So there’s nothing he could say to me to convince me. Is it better like this? You have nothing to worry about. Wait, where is everyone? I mean, I saw Carina rushing to the kitchen, but --”

“My dad’s cooking us lunch or breakfast or whatever meal of the day this is since we had nothing since we woke up. Carina said she wanted to watch and learn how to boil an egg or something.”

“No way! How come he didn’t force you and Carina to cook for everyone?”

“Carina might have said something about food poisoning. Not that she would do it on purpose, but, you know, shit happens.”

April just shook his head. “Okay. I’ll wash my hands, and change and I’ll be back. I can’t miss watching your father cook.”

“It’s nothing that fascinating. He just grumbles a lot to himself.”

“Hey, it might just make him look a bit human, so that’s why I want to see it. Do you know if he threw all our clothes somewhere or --”

“No. He folded everything and assigned each of us drawers and part of the closet. You’ll find everything you need upstairs.”

“But that’s his room now, right?”

Jett shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t like the idea of ruining the house he made us clean with a pile of clothes thrown on the floor.”

“Maybe.” April smiled. Maybe the enemy wasn’t all bad, after all, and some negotiations were possible. Although he didn’t know Mr. Huntsman at all, he liked to see the good in people. His dad had often told him how he would lose the good in himself if he ever failed to do that. He was making no exceptions for Jett’s dad. There had to be something good in him.

***

“Can I help you with anything, Mr. Huntsman?” April asked directly, as soon as he was in the kitchen.

“I need soldiers on duty for peeling vegetables. Don’t cut your fingers, and don’t do like her.” Mr. Huntsman pointed at Carina, who was staring quizzically at the potato in her hand.

If April looked closer, he could see the potato had been turned into some modern sculpture.

“What am I still doing wrong?” Carina asked, and she seemed pretty pissed.

April wasn’t sure if she was pissed at Jett’s dad, or herself for not being able to peel a damned vegetable. Maybe both. “Here,” he hurried to show Carina, “like this.”

Mr. Huntsman looked over his shoulder. “Keep it up, young lady. No wonder Jett likes this boy better. He knows, at least, how to peel a potato.”

“I’m sure that’s the reason,” Carina said brightly and nudged April playfully with one elbow. “Jett really likes his potatoes peeled.”

“Joke all you want. That’s how you end up single and with a baby in your arms.”

“Cool story,” Carina said and snickered.

At least, she hadn’t called Jett’s dad, ‘bro’. That would have been terrible, April thought.

“Mr. Huntsman, what are we making?” he asked.

“What I’m making, you want to say. Cream soup with healthy vegetables and a hearty stew with some grilled chicken on the side. I must admit that I was surprised to find the fridge full. Who of you two convinced Jett to buy groceries once in a full moon?”

April exchanged a short look with Carina. He made her a sign to remain silent, but it seemed that Carina didn’t care that much to hold her tongue. “April’s a great cook. He does the groceries. Well, he does put Jett to buy everything, but he makes the list and all that stuff.”

Mr. Huntsman turned from the boiling pots on the stove to look at them. His curious glance told April that he firmly believed they were both pulling his leg.

“Just basic stuff,” April hurried to say. “I mean, that’s what I cook. If the chicken is already defrosted, I can try a bit of marinade. Nothing fancy,” he babbled, “just something to make it taste better.”

Mr. Huntsman stared at him for a few seconds. “You mean, season the chicken. That will hardly be a marinade, or we’ll have to wait for hours to eat.”

“Sure, sure.” April didn’t want to contradict Mr. Huntsman.

“Be careful with the salt. Anything else goes,” Mr. Huntsman replied and returned to his pots.

“He’s starting to like you,” Carina whispered to him.

April didn’t say anything. He liked to believe that, too, but, in this case, he wanted to be as cautious as someone in his position could be. After all, the in-laws had to be tough, and a father-in-law was the toughest of them all.

***

Jett threw the ball, and Jay hurried after it, squealing in delight. He had stubbornly refused to join April in the kitchen, as he believed that his dad would believe that to be a victory of some sort. Also, he was a bit pissed at April for being so carefree about the whole situation. His dad wouldn’t let things go; he would relentlessly go at it until someone cracked.

Jett knew he wouldn’t crack. But April didn’t seem the type to take head-on someone like Major Thomas Huntsman. Sid was nothing like that; he was gentle and a cool dad, and there was no way April had the right training to face the war of attrition Jett’s dad was going to launch at him.

It pissed him off that he couldn’t convince April to lay back. It seemed as if April wanted to get in Jett’s dad’s way somehow, armed only with that bright-as-the-sun smile. Damn, he would be in for some rude awakening, but Jett wasn’t ready at all to fight with April over that. Either way, he was bound to do something wrong.

So, he was spending his time here, with Jay, and, as always, it was fun. If he could just make his dad leave already … But no, he had promised himself a long time ago that his dad would be welcome under this roof, always, no matter how much at odds they were.

Jay brought the ball to him and let it fall in his lap. Then, with one tiny hand, he caressed Jett’s cheek. For a moment, Jett just stood there, not knowing how to react. Then he laughed and grabbed Jay while imitating a wild animal, which triggered an immediate bout of laughter in the kid.

Great. Now even Jay thought he cared too much about feels these days.

***

“Lunch or whatever meal this is is ready,” April announced.

He stopped as soon as he noticed Jett and Jay sleeping together on the bed. There was something so peaceful in how they lay there, Jay on top of his dad’s chest, gone to the world. Even Jett was smiling in his sleep, so April tiptoed to the bed and carefully took Jay to put him in his crib.

“Hey,” he called softly and touched Jett’s face.

Lazy eyelids opened, and the beautiful caramel eyes stared at him.

“Let’s eat. You must be starving.”

Jett smiled and pulled April quickly into his arms.

“Jett,” April warned, but in a whisper since he didn’t want to wake up Jay. To make himself clear, he grabbed a handful of Jett’s hair and pulled hard.

Jett mouthed an ‘ouch’ and then reached for him. The kiss shut him up all right, but April wasn’t sure that was a good idea, especially since Jett had every intention to make it a kiss-kiss.

“Jett,” he said as he managed with difficulty to extract his lips from the kiss. “If your father founds us like this --”

“That would be a good thing,” Jett said aggressively. “He’ll get it then.”

“Wouldn’t be easier if we all just got along?”

“And held hands and sang Kumbaya,” Jett said and pushed himself up.

“We made food together. He’s actually quite a good cook,” April said.

Jett grunted. “Yeah, he is. The greatest. I mean, after you.”

April was ready to jump at any opportunity presenting itself. “You don’t have to say that. He’s obviously used to cooking, much more than me. So you like your dad’s cooking, right? Then let’s go and have a peaceful meal, all of us.”

“Peaceful it will be, but only because he doesn’t let anyone talk with their mouth full,” Jett said. He massaged his stomach that grumbled loudly.

“See? You’re hungry. Let’s go, and we’ll see after that what we’re going to do. Maybe he’ll warm toward us,” April said.

“And pigs will fly,” Jett said with a sigh. “Just get ready, April. Is all I’m saying. Just you wait. Enjoy the food, ‘cause a lecture will follow after.”

“I can deal with it,” April replied. “Believe it or not, my dad used to lecture me a lot, too. He did that because he cared for me to turn up well, but he could be a little annoying at times.”

“Trust me, April, Sid’s lectures are a damned breeze compared to what my dad can do. Plus, your dad doesn’t have some agenda to break us apart. This guy has.”

“This guy,” April said, “is your dad, and I can’t believe that he’s all bad. After all, his genes are alive in you, and you know, I like you quite a lot.”

“You do?” Jett’s eyes lit up at that. “Okay, then. Let’s go and eat. Then we’ll see what he has in store for us.”

April was content with small victories. Seeing how Mr. Huntsman had been civil almost the entire time they cooked together and even praised them a little at the end, he believed things could be better.

***

“You go take care of the child,” Mr. Huntsman said curtly to Carina.

She stood up from her chair. “You know, Mr. Huntsman, you don’t have to tell me that. I know what my responsibilities are.”

“I just make sure you don’t forget,” Mr. Huntsman said with a broad smile. “This is how you build discipline.”

Carina shrugged. “Thanks for the meal, though. Pretty good.”

April was already busy washing the dishes. He knew that leaving Mr. Huntsman and Jett to stare at each other over the table seemed like a bad idea, but he was actually in the same room even if he had his back turned for the moment.

“Now that I have the two of you here, let’s make things clear,” Mr. Huntsman started.

“Here we go.” Jett sighed audibly. “What more do you have to say? April’s not leaving, okay? You can’t do anything to make that happen.”

“You can’t keep the boy here against his will,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Why don’t you ask him if he likes the current situation?”

“He already told you, and this is just your trying to wear everyone down with your stupid ideas,” Jett said.

“Stupid ideas? Is it stupid that I want my grandson to have a family with his mom and dad both at home? What? Do you want him to grow up with mom, dad, and dad?”

April stopped wiping the plates for a moment. Even if put wrongly, the thought was touching. Not that he saw himself as some sort of surrogate dad for Jay. Jay already had a dad, an awesome one at that.

“Carina is going to find her own place. And, whatever, it’s not like you can understand. You must have been born straight into your military boots,” Jett replied. “And April is not leaving, okay?”

“April,” Jett’s dad addressed him, “don’t you think Jay will grow up hating you for stealing his dad from his mom?”

April managed to put down the plate in his hands without breaking it. He turned and looked at Mr. Huntsman, who was staring at him with a sly glint in his eyes. “I don’t think so,” he replied, although he felt his confidence wavering a little under that gaze. “Why would he?”

“Because kids want both their mom and dad to be with them.”

“Yes, they do,” April admitted.

“So, don’t you think that you giving up on this little fling would give Jett and Carina the chance to work things between them?”

April stole a look at Jett and felt his heart stopping at the shadows, darkening his beautiful eyes. So that was what Jett had tried to tell him. “If they want that chance, they are free to take it,” he said with determination. “I won’t stand in their way, but I won’t get out of it, either, because they both told me, loud and clear, that there is nothing between them anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time.”

He took one deep breath when he finished. This was harder than he thought.

“Hmm. All right, I wanted to save you some heartache since you look like a sensitive young man and you will surely hurt when Jett is kicking you at the curb --”

“I’m not kicking April at the curb,” Jett intervened this time.

“Yes, yes, you believe that you know everything, and then the next day, you do the exact opposite.”

“When exactly did I do that?” Jett said. “I remember always hating you just the same.”

April held his breath. He stole a nervous glance at Mr. Huntsman and noticed the hard-set jaw. Another look at Jett told him the same story. Maybe this was getting out of hand, no matter how much he wished for a peaceful resolution.

“Mr. Huntsman,” he said quickly to interrupt the unnerving silence, “I know how things might look to you from the outside, but we can work this out. No one will get hurt, I promise. I give you my word --”

“Hmm.” That was all Jett’s dad said before he got up and stormed out of the room.

“Told you,” Jett said as soon as his dad was out of earshot. “He’s an asshole.”

“Jett,” April said, and he couldn’t stop feeling upset. “Stop telling him things you don’t believe, even if you’re upset with him.”

“What things? I do hate him,” Jett said with finality, and he stormed out of the room, as well.

Slowly, April began putting all the plates back where they belonged. His phone started ringing, and he sighed in relief when he saw the caller’s ID. “Dad?” he whispered as if he was afraid someone might overhear him.

“The only one you have,” his dad joked. “What’s the emergency, pumpkin?”

“It’s quite complicated. Let me get somewhere I’m sure no one will eavesdrop. I really need your advice.”

“Sure thing, pumpkin. Anything for you.”

April squeezed the phone in his hand as if it were his lifeline. “Jett’s dad is home, and he’s … tough.”

Things would be much better, once his dad knew everything. He would know what to do, because April surely didn’t want anyone to be unhappy, and that included Mr. Huntsman, too.

TBC

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