Authors: Shelly Hickman
Though still being good sports about it, Kiran and Gretchen have gotten a little quiet, while Seth and I laugh it up. “All I gotta say is if it comes time for me to lose my shirt, please allow me a moment to go stuff my bra, cuz I can’t compete with breastesses like that!” I say, pointing to Gretchen. I’ve stopped drinking, due to the horrendous hangover I’ll have in the morning, but I am toast, toast, toast.
Seth tears his eyes away from his cards to admire her. “She does have a lovely bosom, doesn’t she?” he says, so straight-faced. She responds with an appreciative smile.
“You stuff that bra and I’ll have to spank you,” Kiran says under his breath while staring at his hand.
I make a surprised, silly face at Seth and Gretchen, and the three of us hoot at his remark. “Can I get that in writing?” I ask with a teasing grin.
Oh my hell. I am so freakin’ drunk.
“I’m impressed you’re doing so well at the game, Anna,” Seth says. “Given the night you gave me a ride, you claimed to hate gambling.”
I carelessly lean forward, nearly showing my hand to everyone at the table. “I grew up in Vegas, baby. Maybe it’s in my blood.”
Out of nowhere, Seth begins chuckling and can’t stop. The three of us watch him, puzzled.
“What’s so funny?” Kiran asks.
He snorts a couple of times before containing himself. “You should have seen Anna that night…”
Panicking, my eyes grow large as I glare at Seth, trying to get his attention. However, he keeps his gaze on his cards.
“This cop pulls up beside us right as I was holding a joint in my hand. Her face! You should have seen it! I wish I had a camera.” He shakes his head.
Kiran eyes me with confusion, while I simply plant a frozen smile on my face.
“That’s it!” Seth points at me. “That was the face!” Then he starts in with that horrendous cackle of his.
At first, Gretchen bites her lip, looking nervously between Kiran and me. But soon, she is completely taken in by that contagious laugh and joins Seth.
Kiran lays his cards face down on the table. “I don’t understand. Were you two smoking pot on the drive home?”
“No! Absolutely not,” I say.
Seth, still oblivious to the tension he has just created between Kiran and me, adds with ease, “No, no, no. It fell out of my pocket. And she was all, ‘Put it away! Put it away!’” He flutters his hands like a total girl.
“Of course she was,” Gretchen says, still giggling. “What did you expect? What would you have done if you got pulled over?” Seth just waves off her concern like it was no big deal.
The anger and disappointment in Kiran’s face when he looks at me has an immediate sobering effect, sickening my stomach, and the former light-hearted atmosphere is missing from the rest of the evening.
“Are we going to talk about this?” I ask later that night as we change for bed.
“Talk about what?” Kiran pulls down the covers on his side.
“Talk about what?” Standing in the middle of the room, I place my hands on my hips. “About what Seth said tonight, that’s what.”
“I’m tired and drunk, Anna. Can we do this in the morning?”
“Well, clearly you’re upset with me, and I think we need to talk about it now.”
Lying on his back, he takes a deep breath without looking at me. “I guess I don’t understand why you kept something like that from me.”
“I know. You’re right. I should have told you.” Picking up the tube of lotion on my night table, I squirt some into my hands before crawling into bed. “I just… didn’t want you to feel like you’re responsible for him. I mean, when he made that comment about you getting married, you were all apologetic and you didn’t even do anything. I know his move-in date got delayed, but he’s not going to be here with us much longer and I just wanted to keep the peace.”
He turns his head to meet my eyes. “So he wasn’t smoking it in the car in front of you?”
“No!” I shake my head emphatically.
“Did he offer you some?”
I draw my lips inward.
“He offered it to you?”
“Well, for when we got home…”
Kiran stares up at the ceiling and rubs his forehead. “I can’t believe he was so reckless like that. Like Gretchen said, what if you would have gotten pulled over?”
“That didn’t happen, so all’s well that ends well.”
He rolls onto his side, his expression intent. “You said he offered you some for when you got home. What did you say?”
“I never answered. That’s when the cop pulled up beside us. What does it matter now?” I ask, sitting cross-legged on the bed.
“What would you have said if given the opportunity to answer?”
Blinking, I shake my head slightly. “Kiran, I haven’t smoked pot since I was in college. Why would I suddenly start doing it with Seth, of all people? What is this about anyway?”
“Nothing.” He sighs heavily and rolls onto his back. “I’m not sure I even know. Please just tell me that’s everything. That there’s nothing you’re leaving out.”
He’s now given me two statements that I try to process. He doesn’t know what this is about? How can he not know what this is about? But that confession is quickly trumped by his worry that there’s still something I’m not telling him.
“Are you asking me if Seth made a play for me that night?”
“Clearly, he was pretty trashed if he offered you pot,” he says dully.
“Sweetie, look at me.”
He ignores my request.
Reluctantly, he does as I ask.
“I don’t know him like you do, and I don’t know him well, but one thing that’s been obvious since he got here is that he adores
. I could be wrong, but I don’t see him doing something like that.”
Kiran returns his gaze to the ceiling.
“Hey.” I gently pull on his chin with my finger so he’ll look at me. “And if he did,
I would tell you
. Keeping something like that from you doesn’t qualify as keeping the peace, okay?”
After searching my face for several moments, he closes his eyes and nods. However, I’m still wondering what he meant by not knowing what this is about. Was he referring to his worry that Seth made an advance I hadn’t shared, or something else altogether? There seemed to be more to his interrogation about the pot that I’m just not getting.
“Can I ask you something?” I say.
He leaves his eyes shut. “Yes.”
“What was the strip poker thing about tonight?”
Peeking through an eyelid, his forehead wrinkles. “What do you mean?”
I shrug, not knowing how to put it delicately. “It just didn’t seem like something you’d normally be up for.”
His jaw tightens. “So, strip poker with another couple is something
normally up for?”
“Not at all!” I draw my head back. “The only reason I agreed to it was because it seemed like
wanted to, and I didn’t want to be the party pooper. Ever hear of peer pressure?”
Surprisingly, Kiran cracks a brief smile at my question. “I’m tired and I’m tired of talking about this. Can we please just go to sleep?”
I give him a tight-lipped smile and nod. “Okay.”
Sitting up, he kisses me quickly on the mouth. “Night,” he says and rolls over.
Within a few minutes, he’s asleep and I’m left wondering what the hell is going on.
Something is very wrong, because we never go to sleep until everything is okay between us. Instead, we’re in bed with our backs to each other and I can’t lie here like this any longer. Quietly, I walk to the bathroom and close the door behind me.
Then I sit on the floor and cry.
This has always been my M.O. when I’m upset and feeling alone. Don’t ask me why I choose to sit on the floor. I’ve often wondered myself. Maybe it has to do with being so miserably low, my physicality must match my emotional state. I found myself doing this a lot toward the end of my relationship with David, and the fact that I’m doing it for the first time with Kiran is even more discouraging. However, like always, I make sure to keep my sobs silent, my nose blowing muffled.
Enough time has passed for me to have left several wads of toilet paper on the floor, when Kiran knocks on the door. “Anna, can I come in?”
“Uh…” I hurriedly start picking up tissues. “Hold on a sec.”
He enters without waiting, catching me on my knees with numerous snot rags in hand. His shoulders sag the moment he lays eyes on me. I wipe my nose with the back of my hand before reaching over to toss the tissues into the waste basket.
“Why are you sitting on the floor?” he asks with a pained stare.
I lower my face and shrug. “I don’t know. I just like sitting on the floor. The tile is nice and cool, you know.”
He sits down beside me, leaning against the vanity, and silently pulls me into his chest. “I don’t want to fight… and I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
Closing my eyes, I take comfort in the smell of his bare skin against my cheek. “I know.” Even though there’s stuff he’s still not telling me, I feel a hundred percent better now that he’s here.
He brushes my arm with his fingertips and we sit quietly for a full minute. I want him to tell me what’s wrong, but leave it alone, not risking another confrontation.
As if reading my mind, he says softly, “I’m not trying to keep anything from you. Honestly, I think since the heart attack I’ve just been… out of sorts.”
Without lifting my head from his chest, I tread carefully. “Depressed?”
“…Maybe a little. I didn’t want to burden you with it. You’ve been going through your own stuff.”
I release a heavy breath. “You know, this relationship is a two-way street. It’s not right for you to always be the sane, solid one. You have to let me play that role every once in a while, even though you’re far better at it.” I playfully pinch him on the belly and can feel some of the tension escape from his body.
Sitting up, I tilt my head and gaze at his hair as I run my fingers through it. Why does gray always look so much better on men than women? It’s so unfair. I can feel his eyes on mine as I continue. “I don’t expect you to be able to tell me everything you’re going through, but when you clam up on me completely, I start imagining what the problem is. And believe me, you don’t want that.”
With a sympathetic smile, he takes my hand and kisses my fingers. “And what have you been imagining?”
Looking at the ceiling, I answer without pause. “That you’ve been having second thoughts about getting married.”
His eyes have not left my face, which gives me some assurance. “You shouldn’t be imagining such things. If there’s one thing I
know, it’s that marrying you is what I want.”
Nodding faintly, I twist my mouth. “Okay. Fair enough.” Thinking he may be more willing to open up if I’m not looking directly at him, I lay my head back on his chest. “So do you wanna talk about it? The depression? Is it really bad? Because you can tell me.”
“Nah,” he answers too quickly. “Just your standard midlife stuff. Nothing that won’t pass.”
Unfortunately, that does little to put me at ease, but I’m not going to force the issue. I realize things are different for men.
He stands and pulls me up with him, then leads me by the hand back to our room. As we crawl back into bed, I try to lift the mood. “You know, if you’re having lingering depression from the heart attack, maybe you should get a tattoo to commemorate your survival or something.”
“What do you mean?” he asks with amusement.
“My cousin, who’s about my age, had a heart attack when he was thirty-nine. The widow-maker, they call it, because people don’t usually survive the kind he had. So he got a tattoo with a heart that said,
I survived the widow-maker
“Sounds like asking for another occurrence, if you ask me.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought about it like that.” We lie facing each other, and I caress his upper arm. “This bicep
look pretty sexy with a tattoo, though,” I say with a grin. “That’s what we’ll do. We’ll get you a tattoo and a new sports car to help get you through the middle-age blues. Maybe I’ll get a tramp stamp to help get through mine.”
“How about you just come closer and we go to sleep?”
As anticipated, the next morning I wake with the worst hangover I’ve had in ages. I’m old enough to know better, and am usually pretty good about not overdoing it, but this was not one of those times. The sunlight peeking through a crack in the curtains is like a dagger piercing my left eye. I’ve not yet opened my right one.
I sit up in bed and look at Kiran, who is flat on his back, mouth hanging wide open, pillow on the floor. Pressing two fingers to the pulsating region above my eye, I walk to the bathroom to brush away whatever died in my mouth last night. But whenever I remove my fingers, the throbbing becomes so unbearable I may throw up. Once I manage to get some toothpaste on my brush, I continue to press on that same spot while brushing my teeth.
Coffee. I definitely need coffee.
With my hand a permanent fixture above my left eye, I squint with my right as I make my way down the stairs.
After taking two ibuprofens, I lean over the sink while waiting on the Keurig machine to warm up, and Seth enters the kitchen.
“Are you all right, Anna?”
“Nooo,” I moan without looking at him.
Chuckling at my misery, he opens the refrigerator. “There wouldn’t happen to be any tomato juice, would there?” He pulls on one side of his face with his palm. “I need a Bloody Mary in the worst possible way.”
“Uck. How can you drink those?” I wander to the pantry. “There might be some V8 in here. Kiran drinks it.” After locating a bottle, I hand it to him. “Vodka’s in there, too. Tabasco’s in the fridge. Check the spice cabinet for whatever else. Don’t think we have any celery at the moment.”
“Ah, I don’t need celery. Thanks.” He takes a glass down from the cabinet. “Sure you don’t want one?”
“Very sure. Got what I want coming out of that machine over there.” I have a seat at the island and bury my face in my hands while waiting on my coffee.
Seth lines up all the ingredients for his drink in front of me and begins adding each into his glass. “Listen, I’m really sorry about last night. I didn’t realize Kiran didn’t know about the pot. Too stupid to even consider the incident would upset him. I never have been the sharpest tool in the shed.” He taps a finger to his temple.
I smirk at his remark and get up to put some milk and sugar in my coffee.
“Anyway, I hope I didn’t cause too much grief.”
“It was my own fault for not mentioning it to him. I think we’re okay, though.”
After pouring a splash of vodka in his juice, he stirs his concoction. “Good. I really can’t thank the two of you enough for letting me stay here. Saved me the trouble of renting an apartment for a couple of months, or staying in a hotel.”
“You’re family.” I shrug and smile. “Crazy family—but family.”
“Touché.” He raises his glass and takes a drink. “I’m so thrilled to be Kiran’s best man. Kind of surprised he asked me, if you want to know the truth.”
“Why? I told you how much he thinks of you.”
“I don’t know. He did tell you I asked if Gretchen could stay last night, didn’t he?”
“Yeah.” I was actually surprised that he asked, but maybe Kiran said something to him about the night I caught him with Marie.
“There was no way she could drive home, and I was too far gone to take her, but I want you to know, she didn’t stay in my room.”
I hold up my hand. “Seth, you’re a grown man. I don’t need to know the details.” Or see them, for that matter.
“There are no details. Gretchen is too classy for that.” He turns to put the juice in the refrigerator.
“Well, she seems to be pretty taken with you.”
“What?” He chuckles with… is that
I detect? “No she isn’t.”
I nod slowly. “Yes… she
. She even told me so.”
His face lights up with interest. “She did? What did she say?”
“Not much. I just asked her what she thought of you, and she said that she likes you. A lot. And she made a point to emphasize
“She said that?” His voice gets a bit higher as he sets his glass on the counter in front of him. “A lot?”
As I study him, a smile creeps onto my face. “Aww, look at you, getting all bashful and awkward. You really like her!”
“Bah! Doesn’t matter. She’s out of my league.”
Crossing my arms, I press my lips together. “Now, why would you say that? You’re a great guy. You’re handsome and charming, funny… Okay, maybe a little…” I trail off, wishing I hadn’t added the last part.
“Impulsive? Immature?” he continues.
I scrunch my face and offer an apologetic smile. “Boyish!” I point a finger at him.
He laughs before taking another sip of his Bloody Mary. “Nice save.”
“Anyway, I think you might have a real chance with her. Who knows? Might find you even like a monogamous relationship with someone close to your age,” I jab.
“Huh!” he scoffs, a lingering grimace on his face. “Don’t know. Been there, done that.”
I really need to shut my mouth. The way Seth manages his relationships, or lack thereof, is not my business. But I do like him, and think if he would just take a moment to breathe and relax, instead of spending all his time chasing the party, he’d be great for someone like Gretchen.
There’s a lull in our conversation, and I have the burning desire to talk to him about Kiran—ask him if he’s shared anything of concern—but don’t know if I’m crossing a line. Thankfully, I decide against it, because a few moments later Kiran joins us and sits on the stool beside me, leaning his forehead into his palms. “Good morning,” he says quietly. From the pained expression on his face, he feels as lousy as Seth and me.
Seth rounds the island and playfully tousles Kiran’s hair. “How’s my baby cousin this morning?”
Kiran swipes his hand away. “Agh… This has got to be what hell is like.”
“I’ll fix you a Bloody Mary?” Seth offers.
“Sounds awful,” Kiran mutters. “But thank you.”
He lays his face on the cool countertop and crosses his arms over his head. “Please.”
“I think I better head upstairs and check on Gretchen,” Seth says. “See if she’s faring any better than the rest of us.”
After Seth leaves, I slide a cup of black coffee across the counter to Kiran. “Can I get you some ibuprofen or aspirin or anything?”
“Yes,” he moans without lifting his head. “Anything.”
He raises three fingers.
I set the ibuprofens next to his cup, which he has yet to drink from, and sit beside him to lightly rub his back.
“Thank you.” Finally raising his head from the countertop, he takes the pills with his coffee. “I’m too old for this, Anna.”
“I hear ya, buddy. I think there’s a sprite currently taking a pick to my eyeball, and he’s not showing any signs of letting up.”
I place a finger to my left eye, and he leans over to kiss it.
“Hey,” I begin in a hushed voice. “So, I guess Seth has a thing for Gretchen.”
Kiran looks at me sideways before taking another sip from his cup. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Seth has a thing for numerous women.”
“No, but I think he may actually
her. Like, for more than just sex, but doesn’t think he’s worthy. Maybe you could give him a little pep talk.”
He rubs his face. “I’m not sure playing matchmaker for him is such a good idea. He’s a big boy, and it could end badly.”
“But don’t you think Gretchen seems nice?”
“She does seem nice, but Seth is well… Seth.” Taking his cup, he gets down from his barstool and kisses the top of my head. “I’m going to shower.”
Seth may be Seth, but that doesn’t mean he can’t use a little help.