A Father's Name
Author:Holly Jacobs

Chapter NINE

TUCKER HAD GONE ON MANY first dates over the years. They’d ranged from boring, to uncomfortable, to nice-enough. She occasionally went out with the nice-enough guys again, but never the boring or uncomfortable ones.

When she thought about it, Tyler was her longest relationship ever.

She grinned and decided not to mention that to him. He’d read too much into it and start his lecture about her capability to do better.

“Wow, Mom,” Bart said as she entered the living room.

She did a twirl then asked, “I look okay then?” The moment the question was out of her mouth, she realized how lame it was to require reassurance from her son.

He didn’t seem to notice the lameness as he answered, “More than okay…” then qualified, “for a mom.”

“Damned by faint praise.”

He laughed. “More than okay for about anyone.”

She felt better. “Well, that’s nicer.”

“Hey, do you mind if Cessy comes over tonight while I babysit?”

“You’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Cessy Keller lately.”

“We’ve been friends for a long time. Since Aunt Eli and Zac got together.”

“Yes, you have. But…”

“Maybe we’re something more than friends now.”

The admission cost him—Tucker could see it. Although she didn’t know what to say. Way to go, sounded wrong, and being too pleased with his choice of girls would be misconstrued as lame, too. “Ahh…”

“It’s not easy,” he said quietly. “You’d think it should be. I mean, we’re friends and all. But it isn’t. And there’s college coming up in a few weeks.”

“Yes, college.”

“Being at separate schools would make seeing each other hard.” He shook his head, as if trying to talk himself out of it. “It’s a bad time for us to become exclusive.”

“But—” she started.

“Yeah, but.”

Tucker slapped a hand on his shoulder. “I’d like to say that things will get easier, but that’s a lie. Relationships are always complicated.”

“How do you know if a relationship is worth the complications?”

“You’ll know when it’s right.” She paused. “As for Cessy coming over, as long as her parents know you two are babysitting, I’m fine with that. To be honest, it’s a great idea having the two of you babysit. Kids are hard and if you do decide that a deeper relationship with Cessy is worth the complications, I don’t want it to get even more complicated by an unplanned pregnancy.”

Bart shook his head with a look somewhere between annoyance and amusement. “Mom, not again, I think I’m old enough to do without your little life lessons.”

“You’ll never be that old, Bart. And let’s face it, this isn’t a little lesson, but a big one. A baby changes everything.” She took his cheeks between her hands and made sure he was paying attention to her. She needed him to hear this. “I want you to understand that I don’t regret a single thing about having you so young. My life’s been enriched by you being in it. But I’m the exception. I had family to back me up. I had your Aunt Eli. I was so lucky. Not everyone is, though. And I want you to have a kid as wonderful as you are someday, but not now. So, don’t rush things, okay? And if you decide at some point—and I’m not talking about Cessy here—but when you make that decision, make sure you’re careful.”

“Mom,” he all but wailed. “I know about condoms and safe sex. We’ve had that discussion before, too.” Then he muttered, “No one else ever had life lessons like you insist on sharing with me.”

She shrugged and grinned as she mussed his hair. “What can I say? My life lessons are another way I say I love you.”

He grinned. “And that’s the only reason they don’t drive me completely insane. And as for Cessy, could we not mention this to the Kellers, specifically Aunt Eli, yet? We’re still figuring things out and you know, they’d all feel the need to have a say about it.”

“Sure,” she agreed.

“So where are you and Tyler going?”

Tucker shrugged. “No idea. Eli and Laura said this was a good choice for a no-idea-where-I’m-going-on-a-date outfit.” She glanced down at the crisp, dark blue jeans and the pink strappy top which Eli declared was cute and feminine, without going overboard.

“Well, you look nice…for a mom,” Bart said again.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Tucker hurried and let Tyler and Jace in. “Uck,” Jace cried and threw himself from Tyler’s arms into Tucker’s, relying on her to catch him.

He hugged her for a moment, then spotted Bart coming into the entryway and squirmed to get down.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I told Bart he could have Cessy Keller over while he babysits. They’re flirting with the idea of something more than friends, but I don’t think that will get in the way of him caring for Jace.”

Tyler smiled. “If you’re okay with it, then I’m okay.”

“Thanks. I figure spending a night with an active baby slash toddler is a good way to remind kids to slow down and be careful.”

“A life lesson?” She must have looked puzzled because he clarified, “Bart told me of your penchant for sharing your wisdom.” That last word was punctuated by a smothered laugh.

“I’ll have you know I’m wise. I’m very wise. Right, Bart?” she called.

“Right what?” he asked as he wrestled with Jace on the floor.

“I’m wise,” she repeated.

“Wise ass maybe?” He laughed, then assured her, “You’re very wise, Mom. And I’m smart enough to listen to your wisdom.”

“Thank you. Now, you call if you have any trouble, okay?”

“I’ll call. And Pops is at his place, too. But Jace and I are old buddies. We’ll be fine.”

“Don’t forget what I said about Cessy,” she added for good measure.

He sighed his teenaged my-mom’s-going-to-lecture-me-to-death sigh. “I won’t.”

“Good.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead, lost in the knowledge that in a matter of weeks, she’d be driving him to Pittsburgh and moving him into his dorm. She kissed Jace as well and couldn’t help but remember when Bart was his size.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Tyler used what was quickly becoming their phrase as they drove north on I-90.

“They’re worth more than a penny,” she assured him, but she didn’t elaborate on what she was thinking. She was thinking that she hadn’t been this excited about a first date in—well, ever. She was thinking about Bart, Cessy and new relationships. And she was thinking or rather wondering if he’d noticed she’d gone through another torturous round of Eli assisting her dress for him. She glanced across the car at him, and immediately thought that she wished they were back at his place and she could kiss him. More than kiss him, she wished she could strip him naked and have her way with him.

Yeah, all those thoughts were definitely worth more than a penny.

Tyler didn’t seem to notice how many thoughts were chasing each other around and around in her head. “For our first official date I thought maybe we’d go into Erie for dinner then a walk on the beach at sunset?”

“That sounds lovely, Tyler.” Not as lovely as he’d be naked in bed, but still, lovely.

“We would have had this date a couple years back if you’d accepted any one of my many invitations. I told you I’d wear you down eventually, but when I said it, I didn’t know it would take this long.”

Tucker knew that she could have had a couple extra years of friends-with-benefitting Tyler Martinez and felt a spurt of regret. “But who knows what would have happened then,” she said more for her own sake than his. “I mean, we’ve both grown and changed over the last few years. I love the man you are now, but it’s impossible to know if I’d have loved the man you were then.”

She realized what a stupid choice of phrase she’d used. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

TYLER SMOTHERED HIS quick spurt of disappointment. Of course, he didn’t want Angelina to feel about him the way he knew he felt about her. He felt like a broken record thinking it, but it was the truth—she deserved more.

This date was a mistake. He’d known it all day, and he’d been telling himself as much, but like so many things regarding Angelina Tucker, he hadn’t been able to resist.

He forced a laugh and said, “Obviously, you didn’t mean you love me. And you’re right, we’ve both changed since then.”

The only constant in life is change. He should get that tattooed, a la North, as a reminder. Neither he, nor Angelina were the same people they were back then. He had her in the here and now, but soon that would change and when it did, he’d adapt.

Somehow they muddled through their dinner, what had once been so comfortable and easy, was suddenly strained and awkward. Tyler wished he hadn’t mentioned the beach, but he had, so after their meal, they drove partway down the thirteen mile stretch of the peninsula, and parked near the Stull Center’s building.

They walked to the beach in silence.

Not silence exactly. Presque Isle State Park was filled with people in the summer. It was alive with sounds and activity. People talking, walking dogs, music playing, cars driving by.

The noises helped mask the silence between him and Angelina.

They found a vacant picnic table and sat down. The sun still had a bit to go before it sank behind the water.

“Not the date you’d hoped for,” he finally said. He realized he should be happy the date had tanked. It might make not having a second easier. Well, easier for Angelina.

“Even if there was a bit of eerie silence,” she started admitting what he’d already known, “I’d still rather have a date like that with you than a perfect date with anyone else. I guess that’s the problem.”

He didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“Oh, I know that. And I think I have a T-shirt that says as much.”

“Of course you do.” It was a joke that fell as flat as the rest of the date had, but he laughed obligingly.

She paused, as if considering her words and finally said, “When you asked me out before, well, I knew we wouldn’t suit. We were too different.”

“Designer suits versus jeans,” he said, remembering this conversation.

Angelina nodded. “More than that, though. You were worried about appearances. The best suits, the best cars. Now, not so much. That was the point I was trying to make before. That first man, I wouldn’t have wanted to date him for anything more than a physical attraction. Now?” She paused again.

Tyler knew that talking about things like this didn’t come any easier to Angelina than it came to him. “It’s okay. We don’t have to—”

“It’s not okay. I want you to understand. You’re not the same man. When I first saw your house, I was surprised. It wasn’t what I expected—what I’d envisioned you living in. And I don’t think it’s a house you would have considered a couple years back. You’ve changed. And I’ve changed. Somehow over the last two years, we’ve grown into people that do fit. Two people who share the same values.”

“Values?” He’d never thought of his values. He had some. He didn’t lie. He worked hard.

“Family first,” Angelina said. “Care for others. Help when you can. Work hard. Enjoy life…” She rattled off a list she’d obviously been thinking about. “We fit. And you’re still going to walk away soon. You regretted asking me out tonight—”

“Not regretted. I don’t regret anything to do with you, Tucker.” He purposefully didn’t call her Angelina, and it was apparent she recognized that fact.

“But you had second thoughts,” she maintained.

“Because I care about you.”

She moved her hand forefinger to thumb. “Blah, blah, blah. I know this particular speech. And as nice as tonight’s been, I’m going to agree with you.”


“Us. Bart leaves for school soon. I really need to spend some time with him, helping him shop and pack for his dorm. And with school starting, you should be able to find somewhere for Jace in town. I’ve never been one for stretching a relationship beyond what it is. I think we’ve stretched this one as far as we should.”

Tyler knew he should be happy. This was what he wanted for her, and yet her words hurt. “As a matter of fact, I think I have a sitter. A Mrs. Kovalski. Mrs. Keller suggested her. She’s had her neighbor’s children during the summer, but with them going back to school, she’s interested in meeting with me and Jace. She’d be able to start with him in a week at my house if we fit. I think the continuity of being home would be a good thing.”

She was quiet a moment, then nodded. “You’re right. Having a continuity of care in the same house is probably a good thing. No more juggling.” She smiled, and maybe someone else would buy it, but Tyler knew her better. She was putting on a brave face as she nodded again and said, “One week then. You’ll have Jace’s care taken care of, I’ll be getting ready to send Bart off to school and we’ll be over.”

“So, this is our one and only date?”

“I think we’ll both agree that’s best. With Bart gone, for the first time in my life, I’ll be on my own and can try to figure out who I am, and what I want. I want to be a little selfish for a while, and tying myself down with a man and a baby would make that hard.” She kissed his cheek. “But thank you for a lovely…interlude.”

Tyler forced a smile. “It has been great, Tucker. I think it’s what we both needed, but you’re right, it’s time to get on with our real lives.” He took her hand in his. It was a sturdy hand that knew all about hard work, and it fit surprisingly well in his.

He dropped it. “So, could I interest you in a short walk down the beach. If this is our one and only date?” he asked, trying to ignore the feeling of desolation that swept over him as he thought about ending things with Angelina. He knew it was the right thing, that her father was right, she deserved better than him, but that didn’t make it easier to turn around and walk away from the best thing that ever happened to him.

“What you’re suggesting is that we make the most of the night?”

“Yes.” If this was going to end, then he wanted the rest of tonight to be perfect.

“And how about the rest of the week?” she asked. “I mean, we’ll still be juggling Jace’s care, so I’ll be seeing you a lot more than the average employer sees an employee…”

He should say no. After tonight, they’d go their separate ways, well as separate as they could go and still work at the same shop. But he knew he didn’t want to say goodbye, at least not quite yet.

“One week from today we’re done and our little—” he deliberately used a word he knew would minimize what they had “—fling is over.”

“As if it never happened,” she agreed, nodding.

That decided, Tyler knew he wanted to make the most of this week. He wanted to savor every minute, because he knew he’d never find anyone else like Angelina Tucker.

THIS WAS NOT THE WAY Tucker had imagined the evening. She’d all but broken up with Tyler—well, pre-broke up. In a week they’d be done.

She’d walked away from men in the past, she could do it again. But she had a reprieve and she was going to revel in it. “Bart’s planning on spending the night at Pops’ after we go back to your place and get Jace. They’re planning a very early morning fishing trip. He didn’t want to wake me,” she told Tyler as they strolled down the shoreline.

They walked along the water’s edge on the firm, wet sand that was speckled with small stones and bits of tiny mollusk shells. Seagulls perched on the large stone breakwalls that helped stem the beach’s erosion. The sun sank closer and closer to the horizon, where the lake met the sky.

“Bart’s spending the night at your father’s?” Tyler asked.

“You know what that means?” she prompted.


“I don’t have a curfew. And since we’ve decided that this,” she waved her hand between them, “is over in a week, I think we should make the most of it.”

“What do you suggest?”

“I suggest you say, Tucker, spend the night with me. The whole night with me. Let me make it the most memorable night in your life.” She tried to infuse the sentence with the right touch of light, flippant humor, although she felt anything but light and flippant.

Tyler let out a long, low whistle. “Wow, that’s a tall order.”

He was trying to keep things as light as she was. “I know from experience that you’re up to the task.”

He groaned. “That was bad. Really bad.”

“Yeah, but ask the question.”

“Tucker, would you spend the night with me? The whole night. I’ll try and make it the most memorable night of your life.” He managed to keep the question light and teasing, despite the decision they’d reached. This is what Tyler wanted. What he’d said since the beginning. Nothing long term. Nothing deep and meaningful.

Tucker didn’t blame him. His life was in upheaval. He’d lost his friend, he’d inherited a baby and he’d lost his job and his identity.

No, she couldn’t blame him.

“Yes,” she said. “We’ll make it a night to remember.”

It wasn’t his fault that she’d gone ahead and fallen head over heels in love with him.