Thanks to Ashley Ward for the feedback, and Hubby for the edit.
Megan’s recent struggle to find a job, then been given the brush-off by the hotel she’d interviewed at, had made me focus on my own future, and the offer Davi had made to buy into the gym.
Now I was getting my head together, I wanted to have a stable income for the future, and a way to provide for Megan and Ella. Even though Meg had insisted she didn’t need my help, I wanted an available income just in case.
I’d probably spent more on random crap than I’d saved, but thanks to the large amounts I’d made in fight money and sponsorship deals, I had a decent lump sum of savings. I didn’t want to live on that though. How long would I have before it was all gone and I’d have nothing to fall back on? And, like Meg, I wanted to do something with my life. The break was great, and not having to focus on training or an upcoming fight had given me plenty of time to think, but I could feel the freedom slowly turning into frustration. I knew if I spent much longer with too much time on my hands, I’d start going crazy.
Positive energy from my sessions with Ollie, seeing my life starting to change for the better, and Ella’s birth getting closer left my body buzzing, and I wanted to channel it into something productive. Which bought me to Davi’s offer.
I hadn’t thought much about life beyond the cage, and I’d definitely never considered owning a gym. I didn’t know the first thing about running a business. But I did know about training, and getting into shape for a fight. Was that something I’d want to teach to others? Was it something I was even capable of? I wasn’t randomly going off at people anymore, but I was also keeping to myself. How would I feel when I was back in a testosterone filled environment? How would I cope if I had to work with someone like Matthews or Bagley?
I needed advice, and as my next session with Ollie was still a few days away, I decided talking to my parents and Marie might be a good idea. I hadn’t caught up with them in a few weeks, and I thought it’d be nice instead of always going to theirs for dinner, to invite them here. I’d cook for them and we could discuss my plans.
If I was going to discuss buying into Davi’s gym with the most important people in my life, Megan had to be there. This decision affected her too. Plus, it was time mum and dad met her, and I could ‘officially’ introduce her to Marie, instead of them meeting when I was in hospital.
I grabbed my phone, and hit speed dial for her number.
“Hey,” she said on answering.
“Hey. How’s things?”
“Yeah, not bad thanks. Just got back from uni.”
“How was it?”
“Bloody knackering. But I think I’m pretty much ready for my presentation next week.”
“That’s good. Let me know if I can do anything to help.”
“I will do, but I think I’ve got it covered. Mark from class helped me with all the heavy lifting, then me and Stacey dressed the display and I put up the decal.”
My stomach tightened and heat flashed across my chest. Who was Mark?
I took a deep breath and shook the thought from my head. I was being stupid.
“How are you? What you been up to?”
“Not much. Just thinking about what I’m going to do now I’m not fighting.”
“Come to any conclusions?”
“I might have, but I wanted to talk to you and my parents about it.”
“Oh, is this the thing you mentioned last week?”
“Yeah, I was thinking it’d be good for all of us to get together so we can talk things over. Are you busy tomorrow?”
“All of us? As in you, me, and your parents?”
“And Marie and Darren, if they’re not working.”
The line went quite for a moment, then I heard Meg take a deep breath.
“Erm … I don’t know. This is kind of a big deal. I know we’re not together but still, meeting your family for the first time…”
“It’ll be fine. You’ve already met Marie, and I know Mum and Dad will love you.”
The lengthy pause was more deafening than if she’d blasted an air horn down the phone. The word hung in the air, like a spider from a thread, and we were both too afraid to acknowledge it.
I bloody hate spiders.
Megan coughed, then cleared her throat. “When I met Marie I was a blubbering wreck on the toilet floor. I’d hardly call that a good first impression.”
“Ah come on Meg, it’ll be fine. I need you there for my big announcement.”
“I’ll come,” Megan said without a moment’s hesitation.
“Brilliant. I’m gonna cook us all dinner. What do you fancy?”
“You should have told me you were cooking, I’d have said yes straight away.”
I laughed. “You’re still going on about that stir-fry I cooked for us?”
“I am. It was amazing. I told Stacey about it. She wants you to cook for her.”
“I take it you want something Chinese for dinner then?”
“YES! I mean, whatever everyone else is good with.”
“If they’re coming to my place, they’ll eat what I give them.”
Megan giggled. “Want me to bring something for pudding? Work do a really nice homemade carrot cake.”
“Okay, what time do you want me there?”
“What time do you finish uni?”
“I get off early tomorrow. I’ll be home by half-two.”
“About six all right?”
“Yeah, that works for me.”
“Okay, I’ll text you if it’s any different.”
“Great. Catch you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
When I hung up, the weight of Meg’s earlier words hit me. Introducing her to my parents was a big deal. One way or another we were going to be in each other’s life for at least eighteen years, maybe even longer. I’d grown to like that, but I hadn’t factored in our families. There was still an invisible line we hadn’t crossed separating Megan from my family, and me from hers. Knowing we were about to cross that line, at least partially, made my muscles twitch and my mouth go dry.
What was I doing? Was I ready to introduce my family to the mother of my child? I really hadn’t thought this through. I’d been fucking kidding myself to think I could do this.
My chest tightened and my breath came in short gasps.
I closed my eyes and counted to ten, then let out a long, slow breath. The band around my chest loosened a little, and I sat down at the breakfast bar.
They were going to meet eventually, that was a given, so why put if off?
My parents meeting Meg was a first, but I’d been doing a lot of things for the first time in the past few months. If I could get my head around becoming a dad, I could face this.
Besides, I had nothing to worry about. What I’d said on the phone was true, they’d love her. She was sweet, and funny, and caring, and intelligent. What wasn’t there to love?
I shook my head. I had to focus.
I picked up the phone again, and called my parents, then Marie, to make arrangements for the following evening. Marie and Darren weren’t in work, so everyone was showing up at six.
All I had to do was decide what to cook.
I didn’t want to make something that was going to have me in the kitchen all day, but I also wanted to make something special as a thank you to everyone for sticking by me while I sorted my life out. Marie and Meg both liked spices and exotic flavours, and while Mum wasn’t a fussy eater, Dad tended to stick to traditional meat and two veg, which limited things a bit. A roast would be the perfect catch all, but it was a lot of cooking, and it was too damn hot to be stuck in the kitchen. Instead, I decided as the weather was good, I’d fire up the barbeque, and we could all eat outside on the patio.
The following morning I got to it early, and gave my place – including the garden and patio area – a good clean, then headed into town to buy the groceries for dinner. After a quick lunch, I jumped in the shower, and then headed outside to heat up the barbeque so everyone wouldn’t be waiting to eat when they arrived. With pieces of chicken, jacket potatoes and corn on the cobs all wrapped in foil cooking on the grill, I made some salad and put some beers in the fridge, along with a bottle of wine for Mum and this non-alcoholic fruit punch stuff I’d bought for Megan.
When the doorbell rang, I put down the jar of salsa I was opening, and headed to answer the door.
I pulled it to find a very nervous Megan stood on the threshold, clutching a box I assumed contained the carrot cake she’d mentioned.
“Hey,” she said.
My eyes trailed up her body, over her rounded belly, and to her chest. I didn’t want to be that guy, but her figure had filled out as the pregnancy progressed, and what she was wearing wasn’t helping deter the thoughts running through my head. Her outfit wasn’t actually that different from the sort of thing she always wore; black jeans, dark boots, and a leather jacket, but her purple top was cut low, revealing a slight glimpse of her now ample cleavage.
Meg shifted her weight from foot to foot and cleared her throat, and that’s when I realised I was staring at her and hadn’t said anything.
I shook the thoughts from my head. “Damn. Sorry. You’ve really gone all out, eh?”
Megan blushed. “This? Nah, this is just something I picked up in the maternity store.”
I scooted back to let her enter, then we headed down the hall and to the kitchen.
“I know I’m a bit early, but I wanted to get here before everyone else. Arriving last would make me feel like they’re all watching.”
“You still fretting? Meg, chill, it’ll be fine. You really don’t need to overthink this,” I said, trying my best to avoid eye-to-boob-contact.
Meg handed me the cake box and smiled uncertainly.
“Yeah, I suppose so … Mmmm … what smells good?”
“I’ve got some chicken cooking on the barbeque outside.” I placed the cake box down and turned to the fridge. “Do you want a drink? I bought some non-alcoholic fruit punch.”
Meg took off her jacket, and folded it over her arm.
I poured her a glass, and handed it to her, as I took her jacket with my other hand, and our arms brushed.
My skin tingled, and I quickly turned away to hang her coat up.
I had to focus on dinner, and Davi’s offer, not how good she looked in that shirt.
“How was uni?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation in a safe direction.
“Yeah, it was good. Helped Stacey with her presentation display. You know she’s had a wedding dress made from one of her designs.”
“Yeah, Brownie mentioned.”
Meg tilted her head slightly, her brows drawing together. “He did? What else has Josh been saying?”
I laughed, knowing she was fishing for gossip. “I can’t break the bro code and say much, but expect an excited phone call from Stacey soon.”
“Oh my god! You can’t say that and not give me details.”
“I promised Brownie I wouldn’t tell you. You’ll only tell Stacey and ruin the surprise.”
“I won’t, I swear. I’m good at keeping secrets.”
“No way. You might be having my baby, but some promises can’t be broken.”
Meg giggled and nodded her head. “Fair enough. If it was the other way around, I wouldn’t share Stacey’s secret, either. So, do you need a hand with anything?”
“Sure, there’s some coleslaw and potato salad in the fridge. Wanna put them in those dishes on the counter.”
Megan and I got to work serving up the rest of the trimmings for dinner, then headed outside to check the barbeque. The corn and chicken were cooked, so I took off the foil to let them char on the grill tray, while Meg put out some cutlery and condiments.
When the doorbell rang, Megan froze ketchup in hand, and her eyes widened.
I came up behind her and rested my hands on her shoulders.
“It’ll be fine.” She turned to face me, our heads just inches apart, and gave me a small smile. “I promise.” Without thinking, I kissed her cheek then turned to go back inside.
I opened the front door and Marie greeted me with a grin.
“Hey,” she said. “Is that Megan’s car?”
“Yeah, she’s out back.” I shuffled back so she and Darren could enter.
“Yeah, all good here. How about you guys?”
Marie shrugged. “Not much to tell. Same old really.”
“You see the game the other night?” Darren asked.
I fell into step beside my brother-in-law, as Marie headed for the patio.
“Oh man! That goal by Thompson was proper fucking magic!”
I stopped by the fridge and pulled out a beer for me, Darren and Marie, as well as refilling Megan’s glass.
When we got outside, Marie and Megan were huddled together on one of the patio chairs, their heads inclined towards each other as they talked about something.
Darren’s eyebrow quirked, and he smiled. “It didn’t take them long.”
Marie turned at our approach, so I handed over her and Megan’s drinks.
“This is Darren,” she introduced. “Darren, this is Megan.”
Darren inclined his head, and tapped two fingers to his temple in salute.
Megan looked up and smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
There was a moment’s pause, where a look passed between Marie and Darren, then Marie and Megan resumed their conversation.
I turned back to my brother-in-law and picked up our earlier football talk. As we chatted, I watched Megan out of the corner of my eye. Despite her earlier uncertainty, she’d relaxed quickly, as she and Marie fell into easy conversation.
When the doorbell rang again, I pulled the now charred chicken and corn off the grill, and put them on a plate to cool.
“That’ll be Mum and Dad,” I said, standing from the fold-out chair and heading for the house.
Megan paused midsentence, and I saw her back go ridged. A second later, Marie placed her hand on Meg’s arm, and she continued speaking as though nothing had happened.
I figured she’d okay with Marie, so I went to answer the door.
Mum greeted me with a hug and a flurry of kisses.
“Isn’t this lovely?” she said as she walked through to the kitchen.
“Alright boy,” Dad said, as I pulled a beer from the fridge and handed it to him.
“Do want some wine, Mum?”
I poured my mum a drink, and then the three of us made our way outside.
As soon as we stepped onto the patio, Darren offered Mum his chair, even though I’d made sure there were seats for all of us.
Bloody suck up.
She didn’t take it though, and headed straight for Megan, who she pulled into an embrace without a moment’s hesitation.
“Meg, it’s lovely to finally meet you,” she said, then held Megan at arm’s length and looked her over in that way Mum did. “And look, you’re absolutely glowing. Our little granddaughter is growing well.”
Megan blushed deeply. “Thanks,” she said, rubbing her belly affectionately.
“Let the poor lass breathe, Sheila,” Dad said, then nodded his head towards her. “Lovely to meet you, Megan.”
“You too Mr Murphy.”
Dad laughed. “Brien, please.”
When everyone had said hello, and settled into easy chatter, I started serving up plates of chicken, corn and potatoes; letting everyone add their own extras.
With my plate piled high with food, I settled in next to Megan in the spot Marie had vacated when she’d joined Darren.
She turned to me, a half-eaten drumstick in her hand, and grinned. “This is so good. What’s on it?”
“Lemon, garlic and a little thyme. I’ll show you how to make it some time.”
“Yeah, and you’ve gotta let me have a drive in the Audi.”
“I really do, and soon. I think I might have a buyer.”
“Then you better let me have a spin before it’s too late.”
Meg went back to eating her chicken, and I tucked into my pile of food.
When we’d all finished eating I started scooping up paper plates and throwing them in a black bin bag, and Meg stood to give me a hand.
Our fingers brushed as we both reached for a piece of balled up foil. “I’ve got this. Why don’t you take it easy?”
“You’ve been taking care of everyone all evening. Spend some time with your family. I’ll finish up and get the cake.”
“Don’t be silly, you go and rest.”
Megan gave me a look I was used to seeing from Mum. “Kian, please, I’m not a complete whale yet. I can still move about by my own accord.”
“Okay, okay. Suit yourself. Just make sure I get the biggest slice, yeah?”
I sat down between Dad and Darren and joined in with their conversation, leaving Meg to throw the last of the rubbish away and get dessert.
The second she was out of earshot, Mum was next to me, and I hadn’t even noticed Darren switch seats.
“Kian, that girl is a sweetheart. You’ve got a good one there, you look after her.”
“I will Mum.”
Megan returned with the carrot cake, and more paper plates. She cut off slices, while I handed them out to everyone.
“Oh god, this is so good.” Marie licked cream-cheese frosting off her fingers with an appreciative ‘mmm’ noise. “Where did you get it from?”
“Do you know the café on Mill Street?”
“Oh yeah, Daley’s isn’t it?”
“That’s the one. I work there … well, I do for one more day, anyway.”
“Then you’re taking your maternity leave?”
Meg shifted in her seat, and for a moment I saw a look of uncertainty in her eyes, but she recovered quickly. “Yeah, something like that. I graduate soon, so I’ll be working towards that, then getting everything ready for when Ella is born.”
“What are you studying?” Dad asked.
“Show them the thing you made for Ella’s room,” I said.
Megan pulled out her phone, tapped the screen a few times, and then handed it to Dad.
“It’s a vinyl wall decal. I want to get a job with a children’s furniture design company when my maternity leave is over.”
Dad passed the phone to Mum, who studied the picture closely. “Oh, that’s beautiful. Little Ella will love it.”
“Let me see!” Marie said, practically yanking the phone from mum’s hands. “Look at this, Darren, it’s stunning.”
Darren took that phone. “That is stunning,” he said, handing it back to Megan, who slipped her phone back in her pocket.
After a small pause, everyone turned to me expectantly.
“So, what’s this big new you wanted to discuss?” Dad asked.
“Davi has asked if I want to buy a share of the gym.”
Marie snorted into her beer and Mum shot her a dark look. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just you don’t know anything about running a gym.”
“Exactly! Which is why I want to know what you all think. Davi said he’d train me up, teach me the business side, and then in a couple of years he can retire.”
“What about your fighting career?” Darren asked.
I glanced across at Megan, then focused on him. “That’s the thing … I don’t know if I want to go back. After what happened in the Matthews fight … well I don’t want Ella growing up without a dad.”
“I can understand that, boy. Why do you think I hung up my boxing gloves when I did? I wish I’d had the opportunity to buy into a gym when I retired.”
“So you think I should?”
“Why not? What else are you going to do for money if you’re not fighting?”
“That was my train of thought too. I mean, I know about training and stuff. But like Marie said, I don’t know about business.”
“Yeah, but you can learn that,” Megan said. “What you can’t learn is passion, and you love fighting. I think you’d be great at teaching others.”
“Even with a temper like mine? What happens if someone pisses me off, like Bagley did and I end up breaking their arm?”
“You’re not giving yourself enough credit, Love. You’ve changed so much since then. We’ve all noticed it.” I could see the faint glitter of tears in Mum’s eyes.
“So you all think I should do this?”
“If you want to do it and you think you’ll stick at it,” Marie said.
“You’ll only regret it if you don’t,” Dad added.
I looked across at Megan. “What do you think?”
She smiled. “Is it something you might look back on when you’re old and regret not doing?”
“All right, that settles it. I want to discuss it with Ollie, too, but after that, I’ll let Davi know and contact my solicitor.”
After helping me clean away the last of the rubbish, my parents said they were going to head home, before it started to get dark.
Mum pulled Megan into an embrace. “It was lovely meeting you.”
“Don’t be a stranger, okay?”
Mum stepped away from Megan and pulled me into a hug. “That goes for you too.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be down for Sunday lunch.”
“Nice meeting you, lass,” Dad said, patting Megan on the arm. He then turned to me and did the same. “Take care of her, boy.”
“I will.” I wrapped my arm protectively around Megan’s shoulder, and she laid her head against me.
“We’re going to be making tracks too, bro,” Marie said, following our parents to the front door.
“All right. Thanks for coming.”
“Thanks for dinner. Megan, if you ever feel the need to drop by with some of that carrot cake, you know where I work.”
Megan laughed and hugged Marie. “I promise, the next time I have a prenatal appointment I’ll bring some with me.”
Me and Megan waited on the doorstep until my parents, and Marie and Darren were out of sight.
“Fancy a cuppa before you head home?”
“Yeah, go on then. But I can’t stop long, I’ve got an early class in the morning.”
We headed back into the kitchen, and I unloaded the dishwasher, while Meg put the kettle on and got some mugs.
“Thanks for today. It meant a lot to have you here.” I reached into an overhead cupboard to put a roasting dish away.
“Anytime. I had fun, your family are awesome.”
“I told you they’d love you. When you went to get the cake, Mum said you’re a sweetheart.”
Megan grinned and poured the tea. “And get you, being all responsible by thinking about Ella and the future. I’m really proud of you.”
I took my mug from Megan and wrapped my hand around hers. “I couldn’t have done it without your support.”
“Kian … Ahhhh. Never mind.” She stopped and took a sip of tea.
“What were you going to say?”
“It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter.”
“It does, because it’s making you sad. I can tell by the look in your eyes.”
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter.”
I sighed and sat down at the breakfast bar. “This is about us?”
Megan let out an exasperated breath. “Of course it’s about us. What else could it be? You’re all I think about. I know you said you didn’t want a relationship, but since then everything you’ve done contradicts that. It’s making my head spin.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll back off. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m already hurting, Kian. When my mum asked if I’d be okay playing happy families one minute and then not the next, I thought I’d be all right with it. I stupidly thought if I gave you some time you’d change your mind about us. But I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep pretending like we’re a couple when we’re not. I need some space. I think maybe it’s best if we don’t see each other for a while.”
Without giving me a chance to say anything else, Megan put her mug down on the counter and headed for the door.
I raced after her, catching up as she reached for the handle.
“Don’t. Please don’t. Just let me go home, yeah?”
I stepped away and let her leave.
Once the car was out of sight, I let out a frustrated growl and kicked over the dustbin by the front door. My next session with Ollie couldn’t come soon enough.