Despite challenges and struggles, these newlyweds almost have it all. There’s just one thing Max can’t give Ruby – a family. My latest novel, THE RULES OF PARENTHOOD, is available now on Amazon.
Read the bonus scenes below.
Max and Ruby try to make Aiden feel at home
“Okay,” Ruby said, taking a deep breath and looking at Max on the couch. “I think we should give him a few more minutes to acclimate, then we’ll go check on him. It’s almost noon so we can use lunchtime as an excuse.”
She got up and went into the kitchen, and Max followed. Ruby set three plates on the counter and made sandwiches, then put chips, baby carrots, and apple slices on each plate.
“Do you think he likes turkey?” Max asked and Ruby frowned.
“I hope so,” she said. “I was planning to go shopping after we find out what he likes, but this is all the lunch meat we have in the house right now.”
“My dad always tried to make me eat things that I didn’t like,” Max said.
“Yeah, Mom almost always made me a second meal if I didn’t like what we were having,” she admitted and Ruby laughed.
“Well, it’s Aiden’s first day here,” she said as she picked up his plate. “If he doesn’t like this, we’ll get him a Happy Meal or something. Can you fill a glass of water?”
“Sure,” Max said. They brought the plate and the water upstairs and Ruby knocked gently on Aiden’s door, then pushed it open. He was sitting on the bed, his knees tucked into his chest, and he watched Max and Ruby silently as they came into the room.
“Hey, bud,” Ruby said. “We figured you might be hungry so we brought you lunch. Interested?”
Aiden peeked over the edge of the plate and inspected the sandwich while Max said, “It’s turkey and cheddar. There are chips, carrots and apple slices, and water.”
“I like soda,” Aiden said.
“Me, too,” Ruby answered. “We can pick some up for you when we go to the grocery store.”
“Okay,” he said, and he reached for the plate.
“We’re going to eat, too,” Ruby said softly. “Do you want to join us downstairs?”
“Okay,” Ruby said, and she handed him the plate while Max set the water on Aiden’s nightstand. “Do you want us to keep you company while you eat?”
Aiden shook his head, then popped a potato chip into his mouth.
“Alright,” Ruby said, reaching for Max’s hand. “Well, come out whenever you’re ready. We’ll be right downstairs.”
Ruby and Max get reassurance from Janet and Nick
The next weekend, Ruby and Max brought Aiden to Max’s parents’ house for their traditional Sunday dinner. It was all Ruby could do to keep her insecurities about her parenting abilities from bubbling over – she was so filled with worry that even Max noticed the change in her attitude.
“Is everything okay?” she asked as the three of them walked up the path to her parents’ house.
“Fine,” Ruby said, not wanting to talk about it in front of Aiden.
Luckily, Janet came to the rescue, throwing open the front door and crooning, “Hi, everybody! Nick, the gang’s all here.”
Ruby guided Aiden into the house and he dropped his backpack on the floor near the door – she wanted him to bring his homework in case he got bored of the grown-up conversation, and she knew that he’d snuck a comic book or two into the bag as well.
They all went into the dining room, where Janet had laid out the meal and Nick was waiting for them with a carving knife in his hands. There was a roast beef on the table in front of him, as well as heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and carrots. They were all foods that Ruby knew from experience Aiden would eat.
She and Max had more or less given up on their crusade to feed him healthy meals and his diet was too heavily comprised of carbs, but Janet didn’t know the struggles they’d had over dinner, or the number of times they’d given up and gone to McDonald’s for Aiden. Janet had been more than happy to spoil him and make all of his favorites. At least there wouldn’t be a fight over the meal tonight.
They sat down to eat and Aiden polished off a big serving of mashed potatoes with a side of macaroni while Janet and Nick asked him questions about school. Nick asked about how his studies were going while Janet wanted to hear about his friends.
Ruby noticed that as he answered their questions, Aiden omitted all of the things that Ms. Stone had told them about – that he was having trouble dealing with changes in his routine and he wasn’t paying attention in class.
After the meal was over, Aiden went into the living room to read his comic books and the rest of them stayed at the dining table. Janet brewed a pot of coffee, and then she asked, “So how’s everything really going?”
“It’s a challenge,” Max said diplomatically. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
“He seems happy,” Janet said. “I think you two are doing a fine job.”
Now it was Ruby’s turn to be blunt. She lowered her voice so Aiden wouldn’t overhear, then said, “I don’t know about that.”
“Why’s that, dear?” Janet asked. She had raised an incredible person, with the challenges of the autism spectrum to boot, and Ruby suddenly wished she’d had the courage to have this conversation with her own parents instead of her in-laws. But she had to unburden her soul – she couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“He doesn’t love us like I thought he would,” she said, and the word sounded even worse coming out of her mouth than they did when they rattled around in her head for the last few weeks. She glanced at Max, then at Janet and Nick, and not a single one of them had any judgment written on their faces.
They were all just looking at her with sympathy, and that was somehow worse. Then she said, “I just thought it would be easier, that he’d take a little time to adjust and then come to love us. That hasn’t happened and I feel like I’m not doing something I should.”
“He’s not a puppy,” Nick said gently. “It takes more than a few weeks to get used to living with a completely new set of guardians, and he’s got a lot on his mind about his mom.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Ruby asked, taking Max’s hand beneath the table. “I feel so out of control.”
“It’s not his job to love you,” Janet said. From anyone else’s lips, it would have sounded judgmental but Ruby knew she was just trying to help. “It’s your job to take care of him and make him feel safe. Give him everything he needs, but don’t let him walk all over you–he’s not going to love you just because you let him read comics or feed him chicken nuggets at every meal. Make sure he knows he can count on you. That’s all you need to do.”
Nick and Janet share a sweet moment
Ruby and Max talked with Max’s parents about work, all the usual stuff, and Nick told them he was getting ready to switch over from his warm weather landscaping business to leaf pick-up and then snow removal in just a few weeks’ time. He had his hands full lately, not only because his best helper and free laborer – Max – was no longer available, but also because he had won a contract for Granville’s public buildings last year and they were keeping him busy.
“Half the time, I don’t know what’s up and what’s down anymore,” Nick said good-naturedly. “I’m lucky your mother is good with scheduling and organizing, and that she was willing to come on board to help out, or else I’d really be toast.”
Nick had a crew to help him but Ruby had met with those guys a few times and while they were good at the work they did, she had to admit that none of them inspired confidence with an Outlook calendar or a spreadsheet.
“He really is lucky,” Janet said with a smirk, and Nick kissed her cheek.
“What would I do without you?” he asked.
Max talks about her Asperger’s
After Aiden’s first visit with his therapist, Dr. Graham talked to Max and Ruby alone for a few minutes.
He wanted to talk to Max about her Asperger’s syndrome and find out how it was affecting her ability to form a connection with Aiden, and he said that he might be able to help.
“Tell me what it was like to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and how your family supported you through it,” he said.
“I was eight years old at the time of my diagnosis,” Max said. “The first time I realized I was different from the other kids was when my teacher told me I couldn’t keep hanging out with her during recess.
She was teaching us about the solar system and she knew so much – I wasn’t content to only have her lessons in the classroom. I wanted more and more information about the planets and the constellations, so I would find her during lunch and recess and ask questions while the rest of the kids played. Finally, after about a week and a half of constant questions, she told me to go play with the other kids and she forbid me from talking to her at lunch or recess. I didn’t understand the problem – she was my teacher and I wanted to learn. But she said being with kids my age provided its own lessons.”
“And how did you get along with them?”
“I didn’t,” Max said. “After school that day, I told my mom I needed to go to the library. We checked out every astronomy book in the kids’ department and I started reading them during lunch and recess every day. That was when my teacher contacted my parents. She said I was exhibiting anti-social behavior and then I started seeing a therapist to figure out why.”
“How did that make you feel to be treated as if there were something wrong with you?” Dr. Graham asked, and Ruby ran her thumb up and down over the back of Max’s hand to soothe her.
“It was confusing because I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong,” Max said. “But then it started to make sense. That was when I started to notice that certain things are harder for me than for everyone else – small talk, sarcasm, eye contact. In the end it was helpful to know there was a reason for that disparity, and my parents did everything they could to give me tools to bridge the gap.”
Dr. Graham asked Max more questions, ranging from her communication skills with other adults to how she felt about her coping skills, and Max tried to be as truthful and complete as possible in all of her responses. Through it all, Ruby sat quietly, stroking Max’s hand and offering silent moral support.
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