Kim’s Game – Chapter 4
“A Bud Lite for me,” Andrea said as she settled into the plush booth seat.
“Heineken for me,” John O’Hara said.
Once the waiter left, Andrea leaned forward on the tabletop as John said, “Thanks for joining me. I really owe you big for taking in Kimball like you have.”
“You’ve got a good son, John. Arya simply adores him,” Andrea said as she took a moment size the boy’s dad up. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and his scruff was still more pepper than salt. He was, she realized, past forty.
His hair was a lighter shade of brown than Kim’s, and just as thick, although going gray on the temples and the sideburns. He wore a flannel pattern shirt over a black T-shirt and looked every bit a truck driver.
He nodded, “Yeah. I’m not home much, but even I can see that your kid has made a big impact on my boy. Before you girls moved in, Kim was almost always home, with his head stuck in a book. If he weren’t at home, then he’d ride his bike to the library to check out some other book. Frankly, I was getting kinda worried.”
Curious, Andrea pushed him, “Why don’t you run routes that let you be home at night and the weekends?”
John’s eyes narrowed slightly, as though acknowledging a tough question. “I did while Maggie was sick. Hell, I was up at the hospital with her the last couple of weeks before she passed that I practically lived in her hospital room. But after she was gone…” his voice trailed off as his eyes stared beyond Andrea.
He shook his head, “Maggie doted on Kimball. Hell, she’s the one who decided we should name him after some English poet or something. And he was her little man when I was on the road. Even before Maggie died, I didn’t have a clue how to relate to my quiet, shy boy. And with her gone, we may live in the same apartment, but we live in different worlds.”
Andrea couldn’t imagine not feeling close to her daughter. Arya was what made her life worth living. She leaned her head to one side, “Kim reminds you of your wife.”
John took the drinks from the waiter and said, “Fraid so. Sometimes it hurts to be around my boy, and I know it’s not supposed to be like that. But I can’t help it. That’s why I went back onto the road. It’s still hard, but I can manage a couple of days a week with Kim.”
Andrea felt terrible for the sense of relief that washed over her. While she wanted to get to know Kim’s dad a little more, she wasn’t attracted to him in the least. And now, as John talked, it was clear he was still bogged down dealing with the death of his wife. She took a sip of her beer and said, “I know you’re not asking for my advice, but I still think you should spend more time with Kim. He’s a wonderful boy, and I am delighted that Arya and I have gotten to know him.”
John raised his beer and said, “I figured I wouldn’t get out of here without a sermon. I suppose I deserve it. But I’m grateful that you have kept an eye on him.”
His eyes turned to a baseball game on one of the many large-screen TVs spread around the walls of the bar. He shook his head and looked at Andrea. “I guess that’s why I wanted to visit with you. You girls are the only reason Kim’s doing better. And it’s not really fair of me to ignore how much time he’s spending with you.”
He reached into his pocket; Andrea could hear the rattle of his keys. He pulled his hand out and set a wad of cash on the table.
Andrea put her hand up, “John, really. You don’t need to pay me to keep an eye on Kim. It’s a pleasure.”
He shook his head. “Maybe not. I’ve seen how much food is still in the pantry when I get home each week. You’ve got to be feeding him more than half his meals. It’s been a long while, but I was thirteen once, too. And I ate like a pig. Look, Andrea, I really am grateful for all that you are doing. And I insist that you let me give you some money for the groceries each week,” John’s expression was unyielding.
Andrea eyed the money. She hadn’t really thought about the extra food she’d been buying since Kim started spending more time at their place. But thinking about it, her grocery bill had climbed. She nodded and said, “I guess so. But not a dollar more, John. Arya and I are delighted at his company.”
John twisted in his seat as he looked anywhere other than at her. Andrea had seen the look before, every time someone wanted something but were afraid to ask. He said, “Please don’t feel obliged, but I can’t help seeing how well he does when he’s over there with you girls. I was hoping you and your daughter would be willing to spend more time with him, at least until school starts up again.”
Andrea thought about finding Kim sleeping next to Arya a few days before, when they had fallen asleep watching a movie. She nodded, “You know, Kim and Arya fell asleep a few days ago watching some kids’ movie on TV. I didn’t realize it until I woke up the next morning.”
“Really? I didn’t know,” John said. “But please don’t feel obliged to do that. He’s got his own bed in his own room.”
Andrea said, “It was just once, and we didn’t mind. But if you’re not comfortable with that, then I’ll make sure he goes home at night.”
John shook his head, “If you girls don’t mind, it doesn’t bother me if he sleeps in his own bed or on a pallet at your place. I just didn’t want to impose.”
“It’s no imposition, but thank you for checking,” Andrea said.
John drained his glass. When he set it down, he said, “I’m glad we had a chance to talk. And after getting to know you better, I feel even more comfortable about this.”
As she sat in the passenger seat of John’s F-150, Andrea counted the money. Her eyes grew large. It was a hundred dollars. That would more than cover the added grocery bill. She slid the money into her pocket. She decided she would use whatever was left and spend it on Kim and Arya.
When they got back to the apartment complex, John walked her over to her door. On the whole, she was glad he never tried to make a move. But some small part wondered if there was something wrong with her for him to not even try.
When she turned the key and opened the door, John said, “Do you want me to get Kim?”
The lights in the living room were off, but the TV was still on, casting a faint, flickering light over the room. Arya was asleep on top of the covers. Kim was sleeping on his side, snuggled up against her daughter’s side.
She opened the door wide enough for John to see in. He smiled, “I guess not. Good night, Andrea, and thank you.”
She tip-toed through the living room, unwilling to disturb the two sleeping children. A few minutes later, she was asleep, too.
Kim stretched and opened his eyes. He blinked the sleep away and looked around. Arya’s leg was thrown over his own, and she was facing him, sound asleep. As he woke up, he remembered watching some streaming show, and that was it.
He glanced down and saw he was still in his swimsuit. But Arya was in nothing more than the pair of panties she’d worn after her bath. He wanted to pull the bedspread up and cover her near-nakedness. But she was on top of the covers.
The light was on in the kitchen, and he could smell coffee. Andrea brewed a pot every day. Casting a look around, he didn’t see her. She must be back in her bedroom, he figured. Kim wiggled away from Arya until the leg she’d put across him was lying on the bed. When he stood, his bladder decided for him his first action of the day.
After he finished peeing, Kim pushed down on his morning wood and made sure it wasn’t too obvious beneath his swimsuit. He came out of the bathroom as Andrea left her bedroom. She smiled and whispered, “How’d you guys do last night? Y’all have a good time?”
Kim nodded, “Yeah. Arya did good, and we had fun watching Netflix. How about you and Dad?”
Andrea bobbed her head, “It was good. Let me get some coffee, and I’ll tell you about it. How does that sound?”
Hearing that Andrea was going to tell him about her date with his dad left Kim wondering what had happened that she’d want to share it with him.
Still, he slipped out of the front door behind her, once she’d fortified herself with a mug of coffee. Andrea led the way, and he found himself admiring the short red shorts she wore even more than the green tank-top.
Andrea stopped when she reached the playground. She sat on one of the swings and took a long sip of her coffee. She smacked her lips, “I saw you managed to get Arya to take a bath. I hope it wasn’t too difficult.”
Kim sat in the swing next to Andrea’s. On the way behind her, he couldn’t get rid of how she’d told him that she trusted him, and after touching every part of the girl’s body and then letting her touch him, he felt guilty about failing Andrea. His feelings were still too jumbled to know how much to share, but he felt like sharing some of it would help him feel better, even if Andrea decided he wasn’t welcome anymore.
He shrugged, “I guess not. She asked me to give her a bath. I hope that was okay.”
Andrea chuckled, “That sounds like Arya. I hope she didn’t embarrass you too much.”
His stomach knotted. “I dunno. I’ve never seen a girl’s, um, privates before.”
Andrea took another sip, “Really? Not even online? I find it hard to believe a thirteen-year-old boy has never seen porn.”
Even Kim’s ears turned scarlet, “Not the same thing. That stuff’s fake. Arya isn’t.”
Andrea nodded, “She’s about as real as a girl can be. Knowing Arya, she probably made sure you saw her, um, kitty.”
Kim laughed. He felt a sense of relief as he kicked his feet, moving his swing back and forth. “Yeah. Was it okay that she showed me?”
Andrea set her empty mug on the ground and started moving back and forth on her swing. “She probably shouldn’t make a habit of showing her, um, kitty to every boy she meets. That’s not the kind of note I want to get from the school.”
Going a bit higher, Kim felt a little better, less guilty. “I can understand that. Maybe I shouldn’t give her a bath again.”
The young woman matched how high he was swinging. “I told you yesterday, Kim, I trust you with Arya. And frankly, someone else for her to direct her energy at has been a relief.”
Kim wasn’t sure how to take Andrea’s comment. Still trying to go higher in the swing, he changed the subject, “How was your date with my dad?”
Andrea pulled even with him, and they swung back and forth together, “It wasn’t really a date. He took me out to thank me for keeping an eye on you.”
“Oh. I thought maybe he was trying to hit on you.”
Andrea laughed, “Not gonna lie, Kim. I wondered about that when I agreed. But, no. He likes that you and Arya have become such good friends so quickly.”
Kim’s legs were growing tired, and he started to slow down. “I’m really glad you moved in next door. I like Arya a lot. I’ve never had a friend like her.”
Andrea’s pace matched his own as she slowed, too. “She hasn’t said so, but she positively adores you. Come to think of it, so do I.”
Kim slowed to a stop, “You do?”
Andrea lept off, landing a few feet out. “Sure. You make Arya happy, and that makes me happy. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we both think you’re absolutely adorable.”
Kim saw her exaggerated wink, and he laughed, “Now you’re just jerking my chain.”
She shook her head as they started back toward the apartment, “Nope, that might get me in trouble. Arya, on the other hand…”
It took Kim a moment to catch Andrea’s meaning, and by the time he looked scandalized, she was laughing. She stopped outside the apartment building and said, “Kidding aside, Kim. We’ve really enjoyed the time you’ve spent over at our place these last couple of weeks and well, after talking with your dad…”
Kim felt his stomach lurch, “He doesn’t want me bothering you anymore?”
Andrea shook her head, “No, nothing like that. Quite the opposite. Once he saw that a lot of groceries he’s been getting for you have gone uneaten, he realized Arya and I have been feeding you some of the time.”
Kim wasn’t sure how this was going to end well, “He wasn’t upset about it, was he?”
“No,” Andrea said, “in fact, he actually paid me for the groceries and asked if we minded you staying over for the rest of the summer.”
Kim’s eyebrows arched up, “Really? All summer?”
“Yep. Unless you don’t want to, plan on eating over at our place all the time. You can always go over to your apartment anytime you want, especially if you need some downtime from Arya. But otherwise, we’d love it if you stayed over with us.”
Kim shook his head in amazement. “Even like last night, when I slept over?”
Andrea patted him on the back as she headed up the sidewalk, “Yes. He even saw you and Arya sleeping on top of the covers last night, and he thought you two were so cute, snuggled next to each other.”
When they got to the front door, Kim said, “Wow, that’s a lot to take in.”
He knew his dad wasn’t comfortable around him, and that discomfort cut both ways. It was hard to relate to his dad. Arya and Andrea, on the other hand, were so easy to be around, even when the girl was super exuberant. “What should I do?”
She reached around his shoulder with an arm and gave him a little hug, “If you’re okay with it, why don’t you bring over a few things. A couple of books, a few changes of clothing. Maybe your toothbrush, too. We’ll make some space next to Arya’s stuff in the living room. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s too difficult at night or Arya shows you just how active a sleeper she is, your bed is next door. How does that sound?”
Nodding his head, Kim said, “That sounds good.” He headed over to the apartment he shared with his dad to get a few things.
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