A week went by, and Kaiden was still upset about Breanne. He never said anything about it, but the distance he created between him and the family was notable. Jared did his best to give him space to sort out his feelings, but honestly he had no clue why his son was still so upset. Wasn’t breaking up with her supposed to be a good thing? Kaiden should have been smiling brighter than all the candles in the house and dancing with the sugar plum fairies that surely helped Asia decorate so quickly. That woman loved Winterfest so much. Her enthusiasm tickled him.
Instead of jumping right in and asking Kaiden how he felt, Jared decided to ease into it. “Your mother’s got this place looking like Father Winter’s workshop, huh?”
Kaiden snorted and looked around the dining room. “Yeah… It’s a lot.”
It happened every year, but they still managed to be surprised by the amount of energy Asia put into the decorations. Each year got bigger and better, and everyone knew not to get in her way.
“You doing all right?” Jared asked warily.
Kaiden’s chest deflated, and Jared thought he was about to shut down. Instead, he spoke up. “Yeah. I’m just mad. At her.”
Jared nodded slowly, hoping for an explanation. He still knew very little about their relationship.
“I mean, she came over here to set a date. A date, dad! I don’t know how she got the idea I was down with that! She’s insane! Everyone kept telling me that my whole life, but she was my friend, you know? Everyone always picked on her, and I thought–whatever. Everybody was right.”
Pain and disappointment were integral parts of life, and Jared knew he couldn’t stop his son from feeling them. Still, he hated seeing him so tense. “I know it hurts. I’m proud of you, though. I know she can be–well, let’s just say it’s your life too. Don’t let people make decisions for you.”
He snorted. “Yeah. I’m not doing that again.”
Jared still wanted to know how that farce even started, but Kaiden had enough on his mind without digging up that pain again.
Later in the afternoon, Jared headed to Oasis Springs to pay a visit to the Frank family. They recently moved into a new house, and Jared hadn’t been by yet. Irvin and Penny moved into the neighborhood Jared nicknamed “the modern district.” All the houses were slick, ultra modern beauties with bold colors and striking lines. Irvin must have been a fan of modern architecture because the old house had the same style.
The house was beautiful and much more appropriate for a family with four bedrooms, five bathrooms, office space, and leisure space. As soon as Jared walked in, he could see Penny’s influence all over it, and it looked like she had fun making it her own. She was a city girl, and it showed in her styling.
He found her and the boy playing chess. She looked so poised and content. Even more so given she had always been a strong, confident woman. Irvin struck gold with her. Not many women would deal with step-children as gracefully as she did. Hopefully he would be ready for another child soon; she deserved her own. And now, they had a house primed for a growing family.
“Jared! I didn’t hear you come in. How are you? Welcome to our new home!”
“It is beautiful and has you written all over it!”
She swatted at him. “Oh, I may have had a tiny hand in it.”
Jared chuckled. “You’re far too modest, I’m sure.”
“Hi, Mr. Pruett!”
“Hey, little man! Are you winning?”
“I’m trying to.”
Irvin finally appeared while Penny and Jared laughed. “You trying to take my job, son?”
“You might be in trouble, bro,” Jared said. “He’s pretty funny, and he looks just like you. I think you need to watch your back.”
Irvin smiled proudly at his son. “You would do me like that, D?”
“I’m gonna be funnier than you!”
Jared and Penny laughed again while Irvin feigned shocked. “Stabbed in the back by my own son! Well, if I’m gonna be knocked out the ring, I’d rather it be you. Hey, Pruett, let me show you the upstairs so we can talk outside.”
Jared followed him upstairs and peeked inside the rooms up there. They were just as beautiful and nicely done as everything downstairs.
“This is the master suite.” Irvin showed him out a door that lead to a small balcony.
“Oh, this is nice. I would love to have a balcony off our bedroom.” Jared looked over the balcony at a gorgeous pool and perfectly arranged outdoor living space. Oasis Springs may have been much too warm for his tastes, but it certainly was beautiful.
After taking in the view, Jared turned to his friend and elbowed him in the ribs. “So, you live on a golf course now, eh? That’s how we’re doing it now?”
“You sound nervous, Pruett. Afraid I’m gonna knock you off the hill?”
Jared swatted at him. “Now you know it’s not even like that. I’m glad life has been good to you. You deserve this. You both do.”
“We all do.”
His reply was kinda strange, but Jared didn’t think anything of it and took a seat. “Indeed. So, what’s up?”
The corners of Irvin’s mouth stretched wider than Jared had ever seen. “We’re expecting!”
“What?!” Jared punched his arm. “Congrats, man! It’s about time you gave that woman some children! I was thinking of suggesting she find someone else.”
Irvin laughed. “Well, we weren’t exactly trying, but it was a welcomed surprise.”
“Really? I’m glad to hear you say that.”
Irvin nodded. “Yeah. It’s time. We’re both getting up there. Gotta get it done before we’re your age, old man.”
Jared snorted. “Hey now. I’m not the one with the gray hair.”
“But you are the one wearing the grandpa hat!”
Jared shook his head. “I think you moved out here in the desert simply to avoid wearing this hat.”
“You might be right!” Irvin’s smile melted away, and a seriousness clouded his eyes. “So… DeMario is staying here semi-permanently now.”
Jared’s eyes widened. “You did it? You got custody?”
Irvin exhaled all his breath as he shook his head. “Not officially. India and her husband are having problems. She won’t say what’s going on, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like my son. On top of all of that, she’s pregnant again.”
Jared couldn’t believe his ears. “She’s having another baby? I mean, good for her and her husband, but seriously man. What is she trying to do? Be young forever?”
Irvin held up his hands. “Preaching to the choir, bruh. Preaching to the choir. I don’t know what’s going on over there, but she asked me if D could stay here for a while. Apparently, her older son moved out. He must have gotten tired of her mess.”
Jared snorted. “Or maybe he finally grew up.”
“True. True. I’m not one to kick someone while they’re down, you know? I mean, I know I had concerns before, but I don’t wish ill on her. At the same time, though, I can’t help but see this as a win. D said he didn’t want to go back there. I’m sure she’ll want what’s going to make him happy and will agree to let him stay, so I’ll get my son without all the court drama!”
India was a messy mess, but Jared didn’t want her to suffer for it either. But, he couldn’t help but agree this was all for the best. Clearly, she had issues that needed to be worked out, and Irvin was more than willing to step in. Jared always believed it was critical for young children to be around their mothers, but at least DeMario would have Penny. They had a great relationship from being around each other his whole life. Penny would never want to replace India, but she was a darn good substitute.
“Wow. If this arrangement does turn out to be permanent, she’ll be messed up. But, I think she’ll get over it knowing her son is safe and happy. He doesn’t need to be in a volatile environment. It sucks for it to happen this way, but I’m happy for you, Frank.”
“Yeah, it is terrible. But, life always finds a way, right?”