"Carrie," Mrs. Heely called.
Carissa stopped moving, planted her ass back in her chair, and looked to Mrs. Heely.
Mrs. Heely said nothing.
But then again, Joker didn't see her face.
What he saw was that Mrs. Heely actually did say something. Just not with words. He knew it when Carissa's face went soft, her eyes especially. He knew it when Linus cleared his throat. And he knew it when Kam fidgeted, pulling her napkin from her lap and suddenly pushing back, grabbing some plates, averting her eyes, and moving directly to the kitchen.
"Okay," Carrie whispered.
"Okay," Mrs. Heely whispered back.
Whatever she said was huge.
That being, he figured, Mrs. Heely officially passing the buck of looking after Joker to his girl.
Joker didn't make a big deal of it. It was over and the women started to clear the table.
So he joined the boys on the couch, or actually he let Travis do it, but he allowed this when he could pay attention as they rough-housed with their toddler friend to make sure Jackson and Tyler didn't do any damage.
Linus joined him and he shot the shit with his friend as the women shot the shit over dishes in the kitchen. Then they all shot the shit lounging on Carissa's couch, the men with fresh beers, Kam and Carrie with their wine, Mrs. Heely with her decaf.
They did this until it was time for Linus and Kam to get their brood home and Carson to get his ass in his truck to take Mrs. Heely to hers.
It all went well until he was walking Mrs. Heely to her door and she suddenly shouted, "Yes, Bertie! This is the Carson I told you about!" while tugging at his arm.
He looked through the fading light to see the shadow of a woman in her doorway in the place next to Mrs. Heely's.
She was waving like a lunatic.
He lifted a hand then dropped it.
"She has six sons," Mrs. Heely hissed. "Six. They're always coming around then she's on about telling us how they're fixing her light switches. Bringing her her favorite LaMar's. Taking her out for fancy steak dinners." Her voice switched to cocky when she said, "But not one of them has found a woman, and some of them are in their forties. Six men, no wives. And not one single grandchild."
Joker stopped them at her door and looked down to see a look on her face that said, clearly, she'd won.
"Good you got four," he muttered.
She screwed her eyes up at him. "I better get more."
He felt his lips twitch. "You tellin' me to knock up Carrie?"
"I'm telling you that if you don't, she's going to expire from longing."
She didn't miss it then.
"Doubtful," he muttered on a tease.
"She wants to be tied to you," Mrs. Heely replied. She was not teasing, so he felt that hit his chest, and it was also warm. "She wants you to have all the things you didn't. She wants to give them to you personally. She wants it herself, but she wants it more for you."
Joker stood still and said nothing.
But he thought that what Mrs. Heely didn't say was what Carissa really wanted.
She wanted to heal him.
And to do that, she was using family.
Maybe he needed to let her off the hook on that and let her know that was already done.
"You like her?" he asked quietly.
"There's nothing not to like. I will say that I was uncertain when you shared at her age she'd had a child and had already been divorced. But seeing her with you, her son, she hasn't told me her story, but I can well imagine. Before we learn what's right, we put our trust in the wrong people, and it's never good to start life's adventures, especially important ones like marriage, when we're too young even to know ourselves. But she's bounced back from that very well, I think."
"She has," Joker agreed.
"Smart enough not to give up... on a variety of things... as well as find help."
Joker got what she was saying so he grinned.
Mrs. Heely put a hand light to his chest. "I like her for you. I like the way you are with her. You seem happy."
"I am, Mrs. Heely," he confirmed.
He could swear he saw her eyes twinkle as she said, "Who would have thought my Carson Steele would catch butterflies."
That was when Joker threw his head back and laughed.
Mrs. Heely laughed with him.
When they quit doing that, he got her safe inside and walked to his truck, knowing that Bertie was watching because he could see her at her window.
When he got back to Carissa's house he found her in Travis's room, her son in her arms, his PJs on. She was cooing and swaying as she paced the room. Travis had his hands around his bottle with her spotting him, his eyes drooping.
Joker rested against the jamb and watched, thinking she needed a rocking chair in that room and deciding to get her one.
When Carissa turned his way, she saw him, and that was when she gave it to him again.
Soft face. Warm eyes. Lips pursed. Blowing him a kiss.
He took it with a chin lift then walked out and left her to have some time with her boy.
When she had Travis down, she came out and spent some time stretched on the couch with her other boy.
He fiddled with her hair, his eyes on the TV, feeling her weight, her soft tits pressed to his side.
He gave it time.
Then he muttered, "You know I'm good."
"I know you're good," she muttered back.
"No, baby, I'm good," he said, emphasizing it but keeping it light, eyes still to the TV. "You don't gotta make me better."
"Okay," she whispered.
"Mrs. Heely likes where she is," he told her.
"Those places aren't the greatest," she told him.
"You don't think so, and I get that. But she's happy there."
"Right," she murmured.
"Don't mean she won't like company," he noted.
"Of course," she replied.
"A lot of it."
There was a beat before she said, "That we can do."
He grinned at the TV, fiddled with her hair, and let it go.
Carissa fell silent and let it go too.
They finished the program, and that was when Joker decided it was time for bed.
He put in some effort, but in the end it didn't take a lot for Carrie to agree.
We Were Free
THAT NEXT TUESDAY, with my son sadly back with his father, who was thankfully being nice but mostly leaving me alone, it was after work and Joker and I were grocery shopping.