Authors: Shelly Hickman
MENOPAUSE TO MATRIMONY
By Shelly Hickman
Cover Illustration by Shelly Hickman
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright 2014 Shelly Hickman
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” I ask Kiran as we wait for our table. “You don’t look like you’re feeling so great.”
“I’m fine.” He gently rubs my back. “Besides, we didn’t book a room here just to stay holed up inside the entire time.”
I wrap my arms around his waist and look up at him. “I don’t know. That doesn’t sound so bad to me.” I smile and he gives me a kiss. We planned this staycation at the Paris Hotel a few weeks ago, since for one reason or another, we haven’t been able to schedule a real getaway.
We follow the hostess to our small table on the patio, giving us a perfect view of the Bellagio fountains. I’ve been here for lunch with my daughter Carly, but I’ve never come in the evening. “This is gorgeous,” I say as we take our seats across from one another.
“It is,” Kiran agrees.
“We should do touristy things like this more often.”
After ordering drinks and perusing our menus, Kiran sets his down. “I’m glad we did this. I know it’s been kind of—cramped—with my parents staying with us during their remodel. Thanks for being so agreeable about it all.”
“Please!” I wave off his gratitude. “It’s your house. And you know I love your parents.”
“Ah, but my mother. You have to admit she can be too involved at times.” He takes a sip of his water. “She just can’t seem to help herself.”
I shrug. “She’s harmless.”
“And for the last time, it’s not my house.” He looks at me pointedly and takes my hand. “It’s
It’s true that since I officially moved in with Kiran over a year ago, we have been splitting all expenses; it was the only way I would agree to it. I still own the house the kids and I use to live in, and rent it out. Yet, for whatever reason, I still refer to our home as his house from time to time, and it makes him crazy.
“Sorry.” I squeeze his fingers. “Our house.”
The waiter arrives to take our order, and as soon as we’re finished, I intend to get Kiran’s thoughts about my granddaughter, Claire. Recently, Carly told me she’s been having concerns about her development. Claire is now two, and some of the words she’s able to say seem quite advanced for a two-year-old, in my opinion. Instead of words like
, she’s saying things like
. She’s already very musically inclined and can even replicate basic melodies on her toy keyboard, which I assume she gets from her daddy, the musician.
Kiran and I jump at the opportunity to babysit little peanut whenever we can, so I want to ask him if he’s noticed anything unusual.
He briefly rubs his shoulder and is looking somewhat pale. I hope he’s not coming down with something. “You look tense, sweetie. Guess I’m gonna have to give you a nice rub down tonight, among other things.”
He flashes a half smile. “I like the sound of that.”
Something is wrong. He doesn’t seem well, but I don’t want to harp on it and ruin our evening.
“You’re too far away over there,” he teases and scoots his chair in my direction some. “Come closer. There’s something I want to say to you.” Reaching for my chair, he pulls it toward him with me sitting in it, and it makes a loud scraping sound on the pavement, drawing the attention of fellow patrons.
“Kiran!” We both chuckle with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” he says to the people at the next table, who are seated in close proximity. The way the tables are arranged, there’s not much elbow room.
“So, what exactly do you want to say to me?” I ask playfully, leaning into him now that we’re side by side.
“This is a very serious matter.” He feigns a somber tone, his face inches from mine. “There will be no levity in what I have to say.”
Lacing my hands in my lap, I frown and nod to show him I intend to follow his expectations to the letter.
“That’s much better.”
I beam at him. “Thank you!”
He raises his eyebrows as if to reprimand, and I quickly return to my no-nonsense demeanor.
At that moment, music plays from across the street and the fountains of the Bellagio begin their colorful dance. I don’t even have to turn my head to see it; it’s all right in front of me. “Is this perfect timing, or what?”
Kiran takes a moment to watch the show before turning back to me, and he’s so close that his breath tickles my neck. “Anna, I know in the past, you and I have talked about how we don’t need a piece of paper to show how we feel about each other.”
My mouth goes dry and I try to swallow, my heart picking up a beat, and I can’t seem to pull my eyes from the fountains.
“I wasn’t being honest with you, though,” he continues. “The truth is… I’ve wanted to marry you since the first time I told you I loved you that night in Varanasi.”
I hold my breath and slowly turn to him as he sets a small box on the table in front of me. Suddenly, I go mute, and when I look into those green eyes, there’s no longer the hint of jest that existed earlier. Finally emerging from my shock, but still not finding my voice, I smile.
He seems short of breath, and I wonder if this is why he doesn’t look well. Nerves. “I think we’ve both been gun shy, neither one of us having the best luck with relationships.”
I let out sort of a laugh-cough and nod in agreement. “You could say that.”
“I don’t want to play it safe anymore.” He speaks low in my ear. “So what do you say?” His eyes move to the box in front of me.
“I say, hell
” Taking his face in my hands, I pull his lips to mine and notice he’s perspiring. The poor guy must have been so anxious. I touch his cheek.
He smiles as he retrieves the ring to put on my finger, and my hand is trembling. Then he brings my fingers to his lips for several moments before he says, “Maybe now I’ll finally get you to stop referring to the house as mine.”
Our meal arrives shortly after and Kiran grimaces, once again rubbing his shoulder.
“What is it? Something’s wrong. Should we go up to the room so you can lie down?”
With two fingers he rubs his chest in a small circular motion. “No, I’m okay. I think I just ate something that didn’t agree with me today. I’m having terrible heartburn.”
“Sweetie, heartburn doesn’t make you sweat and give you shoulder pain.”
The waiter looks at me with concern. “Is everything okay here?”
“No. It’s not,” I answer. “I think you need to call 911.”
He nods and leaves immediately.
“Anna, I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“I don’t care! Better safe than sorry. Can you stand so we can get you out of this crowd?”
“Of course.” He rises from his seat, but before he can stand completely upright, he collapses to the floor and a woman at the next table yelps in surprise.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” I mutter as I rush to his side, praying he’s still conscious. At this point, all I can think about are the words of my ex-boyfriend, David, when he shared how his father died.
Massive heart attack. He never even made it to the hospital.
My eyes plead with Kiran as I take his hand and squeeze it. “It’s okay. You’re gonna be okay. Just breathe.” What am I saying? I have no idea what I’m doing. He’s the doctor and I’m sure knows way more about this than me. “Does anyone have aspirin?” There’s no way to know for sure he’s having a heart attack, but aspirin certainly couldn’t hurt him. Could it?
“I have some in my purse!” an elderly woman calls. She rushes over with a bottle of Bayer in her hand, empties out a tablet, and hands it to me. “Have him chew it. That’s supposed to work faster.”
“Do you think you can chew this okay?” I ask him. I don’t want to just shove it in his mouth and have him choke on it.
With that, I place it between his lips.
The hotel paramedics arrive with a gurney and place an oxygen mask on his face. “He’s still conscious. That’s good,” one of the EMTs reassures me. “An ambulance is on its way.”
I nod and bite my lip.
“How long has he been in pain?” They now place Kiran on the gurney and carry him out of the restaurant while I follow.
“He’s not been feeling well for an hour or so, saying he feels like he has bad heartburn. He also kept rubbing his shoulder.”
Guests inside the casino watch with curiosity as we quickly make our way through exit doors that take us to the valet parking area, where we await an ambulance. I think I might be having a heart attack myself, wondering how long it’s going to take them to get here. It’s a Friday night on the Las Vegas Strip. That’s certainly not the kind of traffic through which you want your ambulance to navigate.
I make my way to Kiran’s side and take his hand again, but this time, I can’t speak because I know my voice will break, and I want to be strong. So we just stare at one another, and I try to give him a reassuring smile.
He pulls off his oxygen mask. “Anna, it’s okay. I’m going to be fine.” There’s a quiet confidence in his eyes that comforts me. “The pain is already subsiding now that I’m lying down.”
I swallow hard before giving him a silent nod.
“Sir,” the paramedic says. “I’m gonna have to ask you to leave the oxygen on.”
Kiran replaces his mask and the ambulance pulls into the drive.
Thankfully, Kiran remains conscious on our way to the hospital. When we arrive, he is taken straight to the emergency room, and one of the nurses approaches me. “Why don’t you have a seat? As soon as we know he’s stable, you can be with him.”
I hold my palm to my chest. “Okay. Thank you.”
Pacing back and forth a few times, I pull out my cell phone and start making calls. I contact Kiran’s parents first.
“Anna, how are you, sweetheart?” Geena asks when she picks up.
“Ohhh,” I sigh. “I have some news. Now please don’t panic, because at the moment, he seems to be okay.”
“Kiran?” The fear in her voice is evident.
“We’re at the hospital and he’s in the ER right now. I think he had a heart attack.”
“Oh, Lord. Ahsan!” she calls to her husband. “Kiran had a heart attack! He and Anna are at the hospital. Which one?” she asks me.
“What happened? Did they have to use paddles?”
The thought of that makes me want to pass out, and I feel my composure slipping away. “No. At least, not while he was with me. He stayed conscious the whole time, but now I’m just waiting to hear something.” I’ve been able to hold it together up to this point, but talking to Geena is getting me worked up, and I have to wipe my eyes.
“Anna, honey, are you okay? I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
“I’m okay. I’m okay. Just—can you guys get down here, please?”
“Of course. We’re leaving right now.”
I proceed to call my ex-husband, Luke, our kids, my parents, and my closest friend Julia to let them know what’s happened.
“Do you want me to come?” Julia asks when I have her on the phone. “I don’t want to be in the way, but if you need me, I’m there in a heartbeat… Oh my God. I can’t believe I just said that.”
“No, it’s all right.” I chuckle nervously. “Kiran’s parents are on their way, as well as Luke and the kids. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Okay, sweetie. I’m sure everything will be fine. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Thirty minutes after our arrival, the nurse I spoke with earlier appears and walks toward me. My ears ring and my head spins, anticipating what she may say, and I’m very much wishing I weren’t alone.
“He’s stable. You can come back and see him now.”
I let out a short breath. “Thank you.”
Following her through the electronic doors that lead into the emergency room, the typical antiseptic smells of alcohol and antibacterial soap invade my nose as we pass several patients who are separated only by curtains.
When I reach Kiran, he’s propped up in bed with an IV in his arm, and looks as if he hasn’t slept in days. “Hey, beautiful.”
“Hey, you.” I walk over and kiss his forehead, pushing back his hair. “What do you think you’re doing, scaring the shit out of me like that?”
He gives me a weak smile. “Have to keep the excitement alive, don’t we?”
I grab his hand and hold it to my heart. “Remember, you just offered to make an honest woman out of me. Don’t even think about making me a widow.”
“Not going to happen.”
My chest heaves once, despite my attempts to keep things light. “Promise?”
Without letting go of his hand, I reach for the chair by the bed and pull it closer before sitting down. “I called your parents and they’re on their way. Have they told you anything yet?”
“No. They’ve taken my blood to check for damaged heart cells. I haven’t heard anything back. I’ve been given blood thinners and they’re going to do an angiogram to look for blockages.”
I run my hand through his hair. “Are you in any pain?”
“Not now. Just tired.”
Our eyes lock for a few quiet moments. “God, I hope you know how much I love you,” I say. “Even though, in a perfect world, you’d be ravaging me in our hotel room right now.”
He closes his eyes and rubs his forehead. “Yeah, this isn’t exactly how I planned the evening to go. At least I managed to get through my proposal.”
I laugh softly. “Do I feel like an idiot! I thought the reason you looked so rough around the edges was because you were nervous. I’m probably the only person in the world whose boyfriend proposed while having a heart attack. Now there’s a story we can tell our grandkids.”
With his eyes still shut, he smiles. “What can I say? When I set out to do something, I plow through to the end.”
The nurse pulls the curtain and Kiran’s parents appear, and I leave my seat to make room for Geena. She takes my hands briefly and squeezes them before approaching Kiran to give him a kiss.
“Normally, we don’t allow this many visitors back here at once,” the nurse says gently. “But since it’s your parents, we’ll make an exception. You also have visitors in the waiting room.”
“Yes, your children and Luke are here,” Ahsan tells me. Then he walks over to Kiran and takes his hand.
“Sweetheart, how are you feeling?” Geena asks Kiran. “Do they know what happened?”
“Not yet. I’m reasonably sure it was a heart attack.”
“But you’re in perfect health!” She raises her hands in exasperation. “You lost all that weight, you go to the gym…”
“Apparently, my health’s not perfect if I had a heart attack.”
Ahsan, a general practitioner, glances around the tight space as if he’s looking for something. “I wonder if they would let me have a look at your chart. How’s your cholesterol?”
“It’s fine. But that’s not to say I can’t have a blockage lurking from when it was sky high.”
“Hmm.” Ahsan nods. “That’s true.”
Cholesterol. Heart attacks. Am I really this old? I reveal my ignorance to the two doctors in the room by my next question. “But if he had a blockage, wouldn’t he still be in pain?”
“That’s what the blood thinners are for,” Ahsan replies.
Well, this seems entirely unfair. Kiran loses nearly a hundred pounds and whips himself into shape, and still suffers a heart attack years later? That’s just wrong!
I frown and rub my temple, and that’s when Geena notices the ring.
“Oh my goodness!” she says, heading toward me. “Is that what I think it is?” She takes my hand and looks back and forth between Kiran and me.
He and I grin at each other before he replies. “Yes, it is. Anna has agreed to marry me.”
She lets out a squeal of delight and wraps her arms around me.
“Geena!” Ahsan reprimands in a low voice, but follows it with a smile and a shake of his head.
“Oh, you two have made me so happy!” She rushes Kiran to shower his face with kisses, and Ahsan gives me a warm embrace. Meanwhile, Kiran directs a good-natured eye roll at me and laughs.
After Geena is finished expressing her excitement, I’m standing at the foot of Kiran’s bed and pat his leg. “I don’t know how much info they’ve given the kids and Luke about what’s going on, so I better get out there and fill them in. I’ll be back in a little bit. I know you’re in good hands.”
I leave the emergency room to find Hayden, Carly, and Luke in the waiting area. They all stand once they see me. “How is he?” Carly asks first.
“I think he’s going to be okay. He’s resting now. We’re just waiting for some answers.”
Carly and Luke look tired. It’s kind of late now for us homebody types. Carly has thrown on one of her husband’s football jerseys and some sweats, her hair pulled up into a ponytail. However, I can tell from Hayden’s buttoned collared shirt and black jeans that I pulled him away from a night out with friends.
Luke pulls me into his arms. “How are you holding up, love? You okay?”
I welcome his hug and hold onto him for a few seconds before answering. “Yeah, I’m better now. Now that it seems like he’s doing okay.”
“So what exactly happened?” Hayden asks.
I give them a brief recount of the events leading up to the paramedics arriving at the restaurant.
“Wait a minute,” Carly says. “You guys got engaged?”
I hold up my hand, flash them the ring, and smile.
“That’s fantastic, Anna Banana!” Luke says, as the three of them take turns giving me hugs of congratulations.
A couple hours later, we learn that Kiran’s bloodwork does show evidence of a heart attack, and an angiogram is scheduled for late the next morning to see if he has any blockages.
Luke and the kids return home, but Geena, Ahsan, and I remain now that Kiran’s been admitted to the hospital and given a room. He’s been dozing off now and then, and the three of us are basically doing the same in our seats, with little conversation in between.
“You guys should go home and get some rest,” Kiran says. “All of you. Anna, you may as well go back to the hotel for the night since it’s closer.”
“But I want to stay with you.” I rise to stand beside him.
“So do I,” Geena adds.
Kiran shakes his head. “I appreciate that, but there’s really no need for you to be here until tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Honestly, if the tables were turned, I’d feel the same; not wanting my loved ones hunched over in chairs all night, hovering over me. And he probably feels like he can’t sleep with us all keeping watch, but I don’t feel right about leaving him. What if something happens while I’m gone?
“If it’s all the same to you,” Geena says, “I’m staying.” The three of us know that word is final, and there’s no point in arguing it.
With my eyes, I let Kiran know how much I want to be the one to stay with him. Not that she and I both can’t stay; I don’t think the staff would object, but I was hoping his parents would go home at some point. I can’t say I blame her, though. If it were Hayden or Carly, I wouldn’t want to leave either.
Kiran looks up at me and touches my face. “It’s past midnight. You’re tired. Go back to the hotel and enjoy the room.”
“I won’t be able to enjoy it without you.”
“I’ll be fine. If I decide to have another heart attack, I’ll make sure to wait until you get back.” He says this totally deadpan, in a most earnest tone. After all this time, I’m still taken off guard by his dry sense of humor.
“That’s not funny, Kiran,” Geena says.
I turn to her. “Right?”
“Father, if Mother’s not going to see reason,
at least should, and get some rest, too.”
“Very well, Kiri.” Ahsan leans over and kisses the top of his head. “Come, Anna. I’ll drive you back to the hotel.”
For the first half hour after I return to our room, I’m on autopilot. Tired and numb, I step into the shower and let the water wash over me. After brushing my teeth, I then drag myself to bed and pull up the covers.
Lying flat on my back, I relive the day’s events, and then look at my ring. With all that’s happened tonight, I never had the opportunity to admire how beautiful it is. I continue holding up my hand, rotating it back and forth to catch the light in the stone.
Rolling onto my side, I stare at the empty spot where Kiran should be, and the gravity of what happened today hits me like a stampede. The logical part of me says that everything will be fine; this was just a scare. He’s stable and resting, and whatever the problem is, the doctors will fix it.
But what if it’s not that simple? What if they come back with some unexpected prognosis and the problem is something that can’t be easily fixed?
Without warning, I begin sobbing, releasing all the fear and anxiety I’ve been holding inside since Kiran hit the floor in that restaurant. Surely, life won’t be so cruel as to take him from me when we’ve barely just begun a life together, will it?
I slide my palm across the bed, over to his side, and fall asleep with the lights on.