Mindy rapped her knuckles three times on the front door of the Castellano home, her other hand held by her son's tiny fingers. She shuffled her feet, feeling the goosebumps rise on her skin from the chilly weather as she waited impatiently for the door to open. She left her coat in the car, hoping to hand Leo over quickly so she could head back home to Ben. It seemed like they had been fighting a lot more than usual lately and she was hoping to use this weekend to make it up to him. She didn't foresee having to drop Leo off all the way in Staten Island, but Danny had informed her he wasn't in the city earlier that afternoon and if she wanted she could drop Leo off in the morning. Wanting to get an early start on her child-free weekend (Lindsey was with her mom), Mindy just said she would meet him at Annette's.
The door finally opened, revealing Danny and his stupid, panty melting half-smile. "Hey."
"Daddy!" Leo exclaimed, rushing forward to hug his father's legs.
Danny bent down and picked the almost three year old up. "Piccolo Leone," he greeted his son. "Whatcha got there? Is that Thomas the Tank Engine?"
"No, daddy!" Leo giggled. "That's Gordon."
Mindy shook her head with a smile. "He's obsessed with that show and the importance of knowing which character is which. I picked up Percy the other day thinking it was Henry and got a full lecture."
"Is that Mindy?" Annette's voice sounded behind Danny. The older woman pushed her son aside and smiled brightly at Mindy, gesturing her inside. "Come on, you must be starving. We've got plenty of food."
Mindy vigorously shook her head, holding her hand up. "No, no thanks, Annette. I appreciate it, but I should get back-"
"Nonsense," Annette waved her hand around as if she wiped the thought from Mindy's head. "You're staying. We already set the table! Now come on, you're letting the heat out."
"Annette, I don't think-"
"Ma, she doesn't want to-"
"Vieni qua! Now!" Annette demanded and both Mindy and Danny obeyed, not wanting to be on the receiving end of her wrath.
Danny set Leo down on the floor and he ran off to his father's old room that Annette turned into a playroom for him while Mindy closed the door behind her. She and Danny shared an awkward glance and silently walked through the home to the kitchen where Annette and Dot were still cooking. Sarah was sitting at the table trying to bread the full sized artichokes.
"No, no, dear," Annette sighed, standing over the blonde woman's shoulder. "You're not using enough breadcrumbs, per amor di Dio!"
"Ma, go easy on her," Danny defended his exasperated wife. "She's never had the artichoke before."
Feeling bad for the obviously nervous woman, Mindy sat beside her, grabbing the spoonful of breadcrumb mix and sprinkled it over the top of the vegetable. "Here, like this," she instructed.
Sarah finally looked up at the extra person in the room, her cheeks reddening. "Oh. Mindy. Hi..."
Mindy smiled. "Heyyyy..." She tried to sound casual, but it came out weird. She kept her eyes on the task of the artichokes until Annette smacked her shoulder. "Ow! Use your words, old woman!"
"Mindy," Annette said, ignoring the jab at her age. "I need you to get the wine glasses and grab the wine from the cellar."
Sighing, Mindy stood up, smoothing down her dress. "The red on the top shelf or the bottom?" she asked, heading towards the basement door.
A crashing sound was heard from Leo's playroom and everyone in the kitchen paused. Mindy caught Danny's eyes from across the room. "Danny-"
"I'm on it," he told her as he stalked past her to make sure their son didn't hurt himself.
When Mindy returned from the basement holding two bottles of wine, she walked into the dining room to find Sarah setting wine glasses on the table. "Oh, no," she said, placing the wine in the middle of the table. "Not those glasses. Those are Annette's wedding glasses from her marriage to Danny's dad. She will throw a fit if she sees them." She quickly collected the glasses Sarah had already set out and replaced them with a different set she and Danny got her for Christmas a few years ago.
Looking embarrassed, Sarah fiddled with the silverware on the table. "Why does she keep them if she doesn't want a reminder of her ex?"
Rolling her eyes, Mindy grinned at the young woman. "Who knows. Something about fueling the hate fire? I tune most of Annette's rants out." Sarah nodded, biting her lip. Mindy felt a pang of sympathy for the woman. "Look, don't let Annette get to you. She's all rough and tough on the outside, but inside she's goo. You just have to find common ground on something and you'll get along great."
Grateful for insight, Sarah perked up. "What common ground did you two find?"
'A love for her son,' Mindy thought before she cleared her throat. "I gave her a grandson. She's loved me ever since."
Mindy barely caught the downfall of Sarah's face before a timer went off in the kitchen, startling both women.
"It's ready!" Annette called from the kitchen just as Mindy set the last wine glass down.
Not hearing or seeing Danny emerge right away from the playroom and wanting to get this dinner over with as soon as possible, Mindy took a deep breath before shouting, "Danny! Leo! Dinner!"
Danny appeared in the doorway, Leo on his hip with an incredulous look. "Will you calm down? I was putting a band-aid on him. He scraped his knee trying to reach a toy on a higher shelf in his room."
Mindy's face immediately turned to worry and she walked over to the tear stained face of her son. "Are you okay, baby?" she asked, grabbing his barely injured leg. Leo nodded and reached his arms out to wrap around Mindy's neck, but kept his legs tight around Danny, effectively pulling her to him. Mindy looked up at Danny who was way too close and then quickly kissed Leo's forehead before prying his arms from around her neck. "Let daddy put you in your chair so we can eat, okay?"
Danny turned to the table and set Leo in his booster seat, strapping him in before he took a seat beside him. Mindy moved to sit across from Leo when he shrieked out in protest.
"Mommy, sit by me! Sit by me!" he demanded, kicking his legs.
Annette entered the room with the pot of pasta and set it on the table. "Yes, Mindy sit here next to me and Leo."
"Annette, I don't mind-" Mindy began to say, but the woman cut her off.
"This has always been your chair, dear. Now, sit."
Sarah watched the exchange between Mindy and Annette, a growing ball of jealously hitting her hard in the stomach. Slowly, she sat down next to Danny who was at the end of the table. Dot sat beside her and Annette took her place at the opposite end. They all folded their hands and bowed their heads while Danny lead the dinner prayer and then began to dig in when Annette exclaimed "Mangia!"
Dot and Annette chattered with Danny for a few minutes after everyone's plates were filled. Noticing the silence from the young women at the table, Annette turned to Sarah to try and engage her. "So, Sarah," she began, holding back a sneer. "Danny tells me you won't be able to attend Richie's engagement party next week."
Sarah lifted her napkin up to her lips, swallowing a mouthful of food before answering. "Yes, um, my sister just had her baby a few weeks ago and her husband has to go out of town, so I'm driving up to stay with her for a few days to help out."
"Oh that's very nice of you," she forced a smile. "Shame you'll miss the party, though." She turned to Mindy and grinned mischievously. "Mindy, you'll be there, right?"
Mindy sputtered the wine she just took a sip of and coughed lightly in surprise. She looked sheepishly at Sarah who was suddenly very interested in her food. "Um, I still have to talk to Ben about it-"
"Richie did extend the invite to Ben and Lindsey, didn't he?" Dot played along, sharing a wink with Annette.
"Yeah, he did..." Mindy said lowly. She lifted her eyes to Danny and pleaded at him to change the subject.
Danny saw the sharp look from his ex and paused his conversation about Dora with Leo to clear his throat. "Ma, this carbonara is amazing."
Annette rolled her eyes at the obvious diversion, but knew to drop the subject. "Thank you, Daniel. I added a little extra pepper and I kept out the peas since I know Princess over here doesn't like them."
"They're gross!" Mindy exclaimed. "Why ruin carbs with a vegetable?!"
"You realize the artichoke is a vegetable, right Min?" Danny asked her, amusement dancing in his eyes as she heartily ate the food.
"Yeah, but it's breaded artichoke, Danny. And it's not like we eat the whole leaf!"
"You're not supposed to eat any of the leaf."
Mindy glared at her ex, who hid a chuckle behind his next bite of pasta. The rest of the meal went by smoothly until Annette mentioned the time she walked in on Mindy arousing Danny in his childhood bedroom and a few utensils were dropped loudly on the plates in shock.
"Ma!" Danny exclaimed. "Come on, not in front of Leo." His ears turned crimson and he glanced at his wife quickly to gauge her reaction. Sarah refused to meet his eyes.
"Oh come on, Danny," Annette said. "He won't know what we're talking about."
"Besides, that's nothing compared to us bringing them ziti while they were in the bathtub together," Dot spoke up.
"Dot!" Mindy was the one to shout this time and covered her reddening face with her hands. "Ugh, kill me," she moaned. She heard Sarah harshly whisper to Danny something about Annette getting mad when she found her showering alone in Danny's apartment after they were engaged and hid a smirk behind her wine glass.
"Look, let's not get into this," Danny piped in loudly, gesturing to the whole table.
Mindy's phone buzzed and she sent a prayer up in thanks, excusing herself from the table to read her text messages. She had two from Ben and one from Lindsey. Biting her lip, she answered the texts, apologizing to her husband for being so late coming home. When she returned back to the table, Annette and Danny seemed to be having an argument and Mindy began to think of excuses so she could leave when she heard Annette's next words.
"Non è buona per te, Daniel."
Mindy gasped and Danny's face turned a deep red with anger, gripping his fork tightly.
"That's uncalled for, ma," Danny told her.
"What?" Sarah asked, confused.
"Nothing," Mindy dismissed it, waving her hand back and forth quickly. "Annette, I'd love to stay for dessert, but I really have to go."
"I made tiramisu," Annette told her knowingly.
Mindy's mouth watered at the mention of her favorite dessert and nodded. "Yeah, no, I can't miss your tiramisu. I'll get the espresso on."
"I'll help," Sarah offered, standing as well, collecting the empty plates. She met Mindy in the kitchen and watched for a moment as the doctor opened and closed cabinets, gathering the items she needed for the coffee with ease. "Wow," she mumbled. "I've been coming over here every Friday for almost a year and I barely know where the silverware is."
"Really?" Mindy threw her a look over her shoulder. "Annette doesn't make you help with dinner? She put me to work the second I walked through that door."
Sarah shrugged, scraping her plate off into the trash can. Mindy quietly mourned the untouched food and went back to her task of grinding up the coffee beans. "She doesn't like when I touch her things," the blonde confessed. "She thinks I'm clumsy. Danny was the one who allowed me to bread the artichoke tonight and I couldn't even do that right."
Mindy scooped the ground coffee beans into the stovetop espresso maker, packing it down tightly. "You were doing fine," Mindy smiled warmly at her. She noticed Sarah forced a smile on her face, but it looked pained. They continued to work in silence, Mindy finishing up the espresso and Sarah washing the dishes.
Danny walked in with Leo, the little boy's face covered in food. "Someone needs a bath and jammies," he mentioned to them.
Mindy finished pouring the last cup full of coffee and set the empty stovetop maker on a cooled down burner. She grinned at her son and reached out to tickle his belly as he giggled. "I brought his Spiderman pajamas, they're in my bag." She walked out of the room to grab the clothes and as she came back she heard Danny's lowered, angry voice.
"We were supposed to go to the zoo tomorrow and then have a picnic. You're just now telling me you have to work?"
"Damn it, Danny, I told you I'm sorry. Louise is covering for me next week so I can go visit my sister. I offered to take her shift."
Danny sighed. "I don't even know why you're going to see your sister. Your mom lives like five minutes from her. She couldn't help out?"
Mindy chose that moment to walk back in, feeling the tension from the argument heavy in the room. "Look, Leo!" she said loudly. "Why don't you show Daddy your cool new jammies Uncle Rishi got for you?"
"Pajamas?" Annette asked, entering the kitchen. "Those can wait. I got some gelato for Leo today. Mindy, Sarah, Danny, go sit at the table with your cake and coffee. I'll clean Leo up so he can have dessert before bath time."
"Mommy, stay for bath time," Leo said excitedly as Annette plucked him from Danny's arms. "Daddy can give me a bath, and mommy can play with me, grandma can sing the bath song, and Sarah can watch!"
"I don't think that many people will fit in Grandma's bathroom," Danny told his son. "Why don't we ask mommy again after dessert, okay?"
Mindy followed Danny and Sarah back to the dining room with their hands full of espresso cups. Luckily the dessert conversation was much lighter than the dinner conversation and soon enough, Leo's face and hair was smeared with chocolate ice cream, his bowl empty.
"You eat just like mommy," Danny muttered trying to wipe the cream from his cheek.
"Hey!" Mindy glared at Danny, wishing she could smack him, but she was too far away.
"Mommy, bath time?" Leo asked right before he yawned.
Mindy glanced at Danny, catching his eye in question and he only shrugged. She looked at the time on her phone and sighed. The next ferry home back to Manhattan wasn't due for another hour. "Sure, baby," she said.
The little boy squealed in excitement, reaching his arms up so she could pick him up from his seat. "Daddy, come on!"
Danny stood from the table, squeezing Sarah's shoulder as he passed and followed Mindy down the hall to the bathroom. They worked together to fill up the tub with warm water and wrestled Leo from his clothes. Mindy sat on the toilet and Danny sat on the floor, each of them working in unison effortlessly and with little words exchanged as to what to do next. Eventually Mindy's back began to hurt so she sat on the floor next to Danny, their shoulders brushing. She played with Leo like he wanted and Danny washed him. Once he was squeaky clean, the water from the tub was drained and Mindy grabbed a towel to dry him off.
She wrapped him like a burrito and lifted him into her arms. Leo burrowed his face into his mother's neck, suddenly very sleepy. Danny turned to them after setting the toys back in the toy basket Annette kept by the tub and rubbed his hand up and down Leo's back.
"Daddy, hug," Leo mumbled, lifting away from Mindy to reach for him. Danny moved to take him from MIndy's arms, but Leo returned back to her neck and repeated his words.
Sighing, Danny didn't ask Mindy for permission before he wrapped his arms around her back and rest his cheek against Leo's head. He felt Mindy tense for only a moment and then she relaxed, daring to even step closer to her ex. It lasted for only a few moments and neither of them saw Sarah peek her head in before quickly disappearing back down the hall. Danny finally pulled away, pressing a kiss to Leo's wet hair and then another to Mindy's forehead. She looked up at him in confusion, but he didn't meet her gaze. They put lotion on Leo and then dressed him in his pajamas.
Mindy walked back into the living room, Leo half asleep in her arms. "Thanks so much for dinner, Annette," she said softly. "I have to leave now or I'll miss the ferry."
"Of course," Annette stood up and tried to take Leo from Mindy's arms, but he just held on tighter.
The little boy began to whimper and softly cry. "No, mommy, don't leave," he sobbed, his tiny hand fisting into the hair at the back of Mindy's neck.
"Baby, mommy has to go home to Ben. I'll see you in a few days, okay?" She whispered in his ear, her heart breaking. He never had problems with drop-offs before so this was very new. He also never had a dinner with his mom and dad at the same time since he was an infant, not mention dessert and a bath.
Danny came into the living room, rolling down his partially wet sleeves and saw the display in front of him with a frown. "Hey, what's this all about?"
"Leo wants Mindy to stay," Annette said and Danny swore he could see hope behind Annette's eyes at the idea.
He walked up to them and successfully took Leo from Mindy who was trying her hardest not to cry herself. "Leo, you'll see mommy in a few days, okay?" he repeated Mindy's words and Leo sniffled against Danny's shoulder, his hand still holding on to a strand of Mindy's long hair, keeping her close.
"I love you, baby," Mindy told him, leaning and puckering her lips. Leo sat up and pecked his mom's lips sloppily before laying his head back down on Danny's shoulder.
"Love you, mommy."
Mindy brushed her fingers through his hair and then pried his fingers from her hair. She hugged Annette goodbye and waved at Sarah who seemed to look even more heartbroken than Mindy. She frowned, about to ask if the woman was okay when her phone buzzed with a text message. Knowing it was Ben asking where she was, Mindy grabbed her purse and said her final goodbyes to the Castellano's and Dot and then walked out the front door.
She arrived home forty-five minutes later and sighed when she saw the lump that was Ben's sleeping body in her bed. She got herself ready to bed and crawled in under the covers beside her husband, knowing they were sure to have a fight in the morning. Her phone buzzed as soon as she put it on the charger and she opened the unread message from Danny.
Her heart fluttered and she stared at the screen for a few moments, the sound of her own rushing blood in her ears almost drowning out the sound of Ben's snoring.