Roger groaned. So far, today had been a complete disaster. He was trying to have a fun day with his girlfriend's daughter, Olivia, but the kitten was determined to hate everything about it. The new dress he'd bought her, which Cindy insisted that her daughter would love, Olivia had immediately declared ugly and gross, and only after a short shouting match with her mother did the kitten finally put it on.
She refused to watch even her favorite TV shows with him. She threw a tantrum when he led her out to his car to take her out to lunch. And now, sitting at a table in what Cindy had assured him was her girl's favorite restaurant, Olivia refused to order a thing.
"Come on, Livvie," Roger said, locking eyes with the eight year old across the table. "You have to be hungry! You ba--"
"--rely touched your breakfast, and that --"
"-- was hours ago! And your mom told me this was your fa--"
"Mommy is stupid!"
That stopped Roger in his tracks. He shut his eyes and rubbed his temples, fighting off a rising headache, and heaved a sigh. "And why, pray tell, is Mommy stupid?" he asked, too exasperated to contemplate the answer.
"'Cause she's dating YOU!" Olivia shot back, a wicked grin spreading across her muzzle.
A chill ran down Roger's spine, and the bottom fell out of his chest. An icy dagger pierced his heart. After a year and a half, Olivia still hated him.
"Look," he said, leaning across the table and speaking low so only she could hear, "I love your mommy bery much, and she loves me. I've never had a kid before, and I'm trying my best to be a father figure to--"
"You're not my REAL daddy!" Olivia spat.
Roger inhaled sharply, biting his lower lip to keep from firing off a hasty 'no shit!' But the response that flew from his lips wasn't much better. "Fine. I'm not your real dad. So what WOULD your real dad do? Huh?"
Fire ignited behind Olivia's eyes. She knew she had the adult in a corner. She straightened up in her seat. "My REAL Daddy would do whatever I wanted. He'd buy me pretty dresses, not ugly ones like this, and a pony, and take me to nice restaurants, and to Disneyland, and let me eat candy all the time, and--"
Roger exploded in derisive laughter. This was the last straw. "Oh, yeah, right. Then where is your real daddy? Oh, right, he's not fucking here! Because he doesn't give a FUCK about you!"
He knew he had crossed a line. He knew he was shouting. The grin on Olivia's face was replaced with shock and terror. But a dam had burst, and Roger could no longer hold back.
"He doesn't give a fuck about YOU, or you MOM, or anyone but his damned self. That's why he ran out on your mom the second he heard she was pregnant. Because he's a selfish bastard! And right now he's probably out fucking some dumb bimbo with huge tits, and couldn't care less if you even fucking exist!
"Like it or not, I'm all you've got. But if I can't measure up to that miserable turd, then fine! We'll go home, and as soon as your Mommy gets home, I'll break up with her and walk right out the fucking door, and you'll never have to see my stupid face again. Is that what you want? HUH?!"
By the time he was through with his rant, the restaurant was silent. Roger could feel the disapproving glares, the shocked looks, the judgment of the other patrons. Several long seconds passed, feeling like hours each, before the stillness was shattered by a wail from the kitten and an outpouring of crocodile tears.
Roger deflated instantly. What had he done? Had he really just said all of that to an eight year old? What the fuck was WRONG with him? He slipped from his chair and knelt at Olivia's side, wrapping his arms around her.
"I'm sorry," Roger whispered, hugging the kitten tight. "I didn't mean to yell... please, calm down."
But his efforts were futile. Olivia was crying, incoherent, inconsolable, her wails filling the silence of the restaurant. With a sigh, Roger pulled a twenty from his wallet and threw it down on the table, then lifted and carried the bawling cub from the restaurant, muttering apologies to the glaring females and the males who couldn't even bear to look at him.
Her wails subsided as he carried Olivia to his car, and she was down to sobs when he opened the back door and sat her down.
"I'm sorry, Olivia," he said again. "I... I didn't mean what I said back there... I just... lost my temper..."
Olivia crossed her arms and looked away from him.
Roger sighed. He really messed this one up. "Do you want to go somewhere else? It's not too late to go to Disneyland," he said, praying that maybe this would give him the opening he needed to finally earn a point in his favor with the kitten.
She shook her head. "I want to go home."
His heart sank. Not even that could make any progress? But he couldn't give up that easily. "Are you sure? Livvie, I just want you to have a good time! We could do whatever you want."
"I WANT TO GO HOME!" Olivia screamed, shooting Roger an icy, tear-filled glare before turning her back on him again.
It was no use. With one more sigh, Roger closed the door, then walked around to the driver's side and got behind the wheel. He adjusted his rear view mirror to look at Olivia. She had again turned to look away from him.
One more try when we get home. If not... then I guess there isn't any other choice.
They drove home in silence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The moment Roger had opened the door to Cindy's apartment, Olivia rocketed past him. Without even a glance back, she ran to her bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her.
Roger threw himself down on the couch. Today was a complete disaster. He glanced over his shoulder, contemplated knocking on Olivia's door and begging forgiveness. Instead, he flipped on the TV and started mindlessly channel surfing.
He needed to relax. Get his mind away from the bitter conclusion he was more and more convinced would come to pass. Olivia hated him. Roger had utterly failed as a parent. It wasn't fair, to Cindy, to Olivia, to himself, to drag on this farce any longer.
But how would he tell Cindy? It would break her heart. He knew that they had been a couple longer than anyone else since Cindy had Olivia. And she had such high hopes that Roger was the one. That Olivia would grow on him, and he on her. How could he ruin that?
Was there any point in pretending? Roger loved that kitten despite everything. Because she was Cindy's, and he loved Cindy, so he was damn well going to love her daughter, even if the feeling wasn't mutual. He knew that Olivia loved her mother. He had seen them laughing and playing together. Try as he might, though, he could never get that same result. He hadn't even gotten a genuine smile from the kitten in the year and a half he'd been dating her mother. Maybe once or twice before he and Cindy were a couple, but never since.
Without even realizing it, he stopped his channel surf on a cartoon channel. Roger sank into the couch and pretended he was ten years old again, and tried to lose himself in the show. Would he have watched this crap when he was ten? Probably. Cubs aren't exactly known for their taste, and Roger wasn't delusional enough to think he'd been an exception.
And that's when it hit him. Of course this wasn't going to work out! Cindy was a couple of years older than him. That in itself wasn't the problem. The problem was that he was too young. Certainly too young to be a father to an eight year old. For Christ's sake, he was only twenty-four! When Olivia was born, he'd been a stupid fucking high schooler listening to Green Day and going through a mock-rebellious phase. He wasn't ready for the responsibility of a cub, especially one midway through a cubhood that he had missed so much of already. It was absurd.
Oh, come now. She wasn't really THAT much older. It was more like a year and a half. Hell, even though she'd dropped out of high school when she had Olivia, she'd still been damned close to finishing. Didn't her extra year and a half make her wiser or more mature? Or had her unplanned pregnancy stunted her maturity in intangible ways? Hell if Roger knew.
What he DID know was that this cartoon was fucking stupid. And he couldn't help but to smile.
An episode whizzed by, then a different cartoon came one. One Roger actually remembered. He'd been a bit old for it when it premiered, and this episode was a new one to him, but the familiar core cast was there, and a bunch of new characters, besides. Plus, unless his ears were decieving him, there was the distinct pitter patter of little feet behind him. An eight year old ninja. Better leave the shuriken at home.
Roger kept his mouth shut, letting Olivia think she was unnoticed. When the commercial break started, he patted the couch next to him and said, "You can come join me, you know."
Much to his disappointment, the offer was met with retreating footfalls and a fresh slam of the door.
Then the second guessing began. Had he pushed too hard? Might she have come on her own if he'd given her long enough? Had he failed once again to read this little kitten? His inner dialogue almost called her "his," but he shook that off. Olivia was Cindy's baby. She'd never be HIS.
He resigned himself to his fate and lost himself in the show, promising that he would try talking to her after this cartoon was over.
Two more cartoons came and went, and hour slipping away, and Roger hadn't moved, hadn't heard a peep from Olivia. With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart, he turned off the TV and stood up. The walk down the short hall to Olivia's bedroom seemed an epic trek.
"Livvie?" Roger said, knocking softly on the door.
"Go away!" came the muffled replied, probably screamed through a pillow.
"Liv, I just want to talk for a minute," Roger said, opening the door a crack. "Could you come out for just a second?"
"No! Go away!" she cried, louder this time, and something went whump against the back of the door. Probably a stuffed animal hurled his way.
Moment of truth time. A test of mettle. Should he go in, or leave her be? Part of him said, 'let it go. Let her come when she's ready.' Another said, 'assert yourself. You want her respect? Her affection? Go in there and earn it!' Against his better judgment, Roger pushed open the door.
Olivia was lying face down on her bed. The dress he bought her lay abandoned in a lump in the middle of the floor. She had changed into her pajamas. As soon as he opened the door, she whipped around and glared at him. Her eyes were red and puffy, her cheekfur matted with tears.
"Liv, I wanted to apo--" Roger began.
"GO AWAY!" Olivia shrieked, charging at him and pounding his chest with her little fists.
Roger grabbed her wrists and squatted down in front of her. "Olivia, calm down, I jus--"
He was cut off again as she jerked her arms free from his grasp, and one fist flew wildly into his eye, her shin coming up in that same moment and colliding with his groin.
Roger stumbled backwards as the wind was forced from his lungs, a curse accompanying his loss of air, and intense pain rose up in his lower belly. One paw flew to his injured eye, the other to cup his smarting groin. For a few seconds, he struggled to breathe. Even Olivia seemed to be holding her breath.
Tears flowed from Roger's closed, uninjured eye. Damned physiological reaction. "Fine... I'll go," he gasped, his voice cracking, and he crawled out the door, one paw still covering his eye, and he pulled the bedroom door shut behind him with the other paw.
As he stumbled down the hall toward the kitchen, Roger cursed himself. A hole seemed to be opening in his gut. He was an absolute failure as a parent. There was no use denying it. He was never going to get through to Olivia. He couldn't even have just one day with her work out right! Might as well face the music.
He stumbled into the kitchen and pulled a bag of frozen peas from the freezer (an item he kept around for just such an occasion), wrapped it in a towel, and applied it to his injured eye as he flopped down on the couch.
So this was how it ended. His mind wandered to the bedroom he and Cindy shared several nights a week. Maybe he should pack. He didn't have much here, just some of his clothes. Cindy lived too far from the city for him to justify moving in with her, and despite how well he was being paid, he certainly couldn't afford a two bedroom apartment within a reasonable driving distance to his job, so he had ended up just spending two or three nights a week with Cindy, and the rest of his time in his apartment closer to downtown. He decided to wait until Cindy got home before starting to pack. Better to talk to her about everything first.
Gods, how was she going to take it? She'd probably be devastated. Would she kick him out right then and there, throwing his things after him? Would she burn them in some petty form of revenge? Would she bed him to stay and try again? Would this end their relationship? COULD they even still be friends after breaking up over the cub? Probably not.
Roger mulled it all over in his head, the towel gradually getting moist as the peas thawed. They were barely still hard when he unwrapped the towel and tossed the bag back into the freezer. He splashed some cold water on his face in the kitchen sink, and dried it with a paper towel.
A click in the lock announced Cindy's return. She had gone out with a few of her friends while Roger was supposed to be out with Olivia. A girls' afternoon out. She was positively radiant when she entered, twirling as she shut the door, her skirt rising a little with the wind.
Cindy started when she saw Roger. "Hey, honey!" she chirped, her smile quickly fading as she saw his face. "What happened to your eye?"
Roger chuckled weakly. He hadn't come up with any sort of excuse for the bruise he imagined had to there plain as day on his face. "Oh, I just had a little... accident," he said vaguely, waving his paw. "Nothing to worry about.
Cindy nodded, raising an eyebrow. She clearly wasn't buying it. "I see... how's Olivia?"
"Sleeping," Roger answered, perhaps too quickly. "Listen, Cindy... we need to talk."
The female feline groaned. "Oh, not this again..."
"This is serious!" Roger said. "Today... was a complete disaster. I just... I don't think I'm cut out to be a parent."
"You say that all the time, sweetie," Cindy said, putting a paw on Roger's cheek. "And every time you do, I keep telling you that you're great, that you just need to stop being so damn hard on yourself."
Roger grasped her paw and looked into her eyes. "Cindy... I can't... We need to stop kidding ourselves. Yeah, I keep saying it, and you keep insisting that I'm fine, but I'm not! Things aren't getting better with me and Olivia! I love you with all my heart, but that's... that's just not enough."
Cindy stepped back and shook her head. "Of course it's enough. Olivia will just have to adjust to having you around. Give her time."
"We've given her time!" Roger said. "After a year and a half, she still hates me! It's not fair to her for me to stick around if all I do is make her misera--"
"Do you have any idea how... how stupid that sounds?" Cindy interjected. "She doesn't hate you! She jus--"
"Oh, really? She's said she hates me to my face a dozen times just today!" Roger cried. He didn't even realize that they were both yelling at this point. "Unless the cub's using some definition of 'hate' that didn't exist when we were growing up, I think it's pretty fucking obvi--"
"I can't believe you!" Cindy shrieked. "Are you even TRYING, or are you just making fucking EXCUSES?!"
Silence fell between the two. That was the final straw. Roger took a few deep breaths, then, keeping his voice as calm and controlled as he could, said, "Of course I'm trying. But I guess I'm just a total fuck up if you can't even see that. I'm done. It's not worth leading you on anymore if I can't be a father for your cub as well as a lover for you."
Cindy stared, glassy-eyed, her mouth agape, as though she couldn't believe what she had just heard. "I… you…"
Almost immediately, Roger regretted what he said. A cold stone descended on his gut. "Cindy…"
"FINE!" she shouted, and pushed past Roger. "Get the fuck out, then, you stupid prick!"
Before he had a chance to reply, Cindy had gone into her bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her. Roger stared at the closed door for what felt like hours. This was it. He knew this didn't have to be the end, that he could go in and try to patch things up. But he knew damn well that he wasn't going to do that. With a heavy heart, he turned around and walked to the front door, pausing to remove his key to Cindy's apartment from his key ring and leaving it on the rack by the door. He turned and gave one final look around the apartment before walking through that door and closing it behind him.
It felt weird, walking away from that apartment for the last time. There was no other way to describe the feeling, a mixture of relief and deep sadness that he couldn't put into words. He sighed as he climbed into his car and pulled out of the parking lot, fighting hard against the urge to look back. It hurt too much to leave, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to leave if he did.
Of course, had he looked back, he would have seen a scared little kitten in pink pajamas running out of the apartment, chasing his car through the parking lot, her arms flailing wildly as she waved and screamed at him to stop, following her all the way out to the middle of the road to try to catch his attention.
Roger didn't look back.