Authors: Shelly Hickman
Courtesy of Marie, Seth managed to get his hands on some tickets to the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show, and invites Kiran and me as a thank you for our hospitality. Though dying to see it since it opened, I haven’t been able to bring myself to pay the ticket price. I’ve been to many concerts in my lifetime, but one regret of mine is never having seen Michael Jackson perform live, so this show is the next best thing.
After a little nudging from me, Seth invited Gretchen along. To my dismay, aside from the occasional phone call or text keeping things friendly, he had not asked Gretchen out since the evening at our house. What the hell? No wonder Gretchen was under the impression he had no more than a casual interest.
My lunch with her proved to be fruitful, for it gave me the opportunity I was hoping for—to determine if she still liked him, despite his major faux pas, and to assure her the feeling was mutual.
Yes, I realize I’m playing a dangerous role here. Things could very likely go south on this, but I just think it would be so great if Seth could find himself a
We attend the seven o’clock show so that we have lots of time to enjoy some drinks afterward without nodding off. I have no intention of overdoing it this evening. Three drinks max. And this time around, Kiran and I book a room at the hotel to avoid the hassle of a drive home.
The show is absolutely amazing. The costumes, sets, and effects are out of this world. Even before I became this pitiful creature in the midst of peri, I have always easily choked up during live musical performances, and this one is no different. In fact, it may even be a little worse. As ridiculous as it may sound coming from a forty-eight-year-old woman, I was devastated when Michael Jackson died because he was so strongly tied to my youth. I imagine it was the same for many when Elvis passed away. So not surprisingly, I have to make a concerted effort to keep my sentiment in check during the “Never Can Say Goodbye” number.
The other three seem to find me amusing as I gush about the show when we sit in the casino lounge afterward, and Seth sees fit to give me a hard time about my love for MJ. “I didn’t realize your lady was such a fan girl!” he says to Kiran.
“Say what you want, but when he died, it felt like a huge part of my youth died with him.” Wrapping my arms around Kiran’s bicep, I continue, “Besides, Seth, who were
into as a teen? Probably the Doobie Brothers.”
Even he joins in with Kiran and Gretchen’s derisive laughter at my smart-ass remark. “Oh, so that’s how we’re gonna play, huh?” Seth says with raised eyebrows. I simply take a sip from my martini.
“Ironically…” Kiran eyes Seth, who is seated across from him. “You did really like the Doobie Brothers, as I recall.”
“Shut up.” Seth points a teasing finger at him. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“Sorry, Seth. He’s my partner in crime now,” I say as I give Kiran a flirty grin. He returns a slow smile that makes my stomach all fluttery, then to my surprise, slides his hand dangerously high up my inner thigh beneath my dress. As a reflex, I place my hand over his and silently issue a playful reprimand for his naughty behavior. There’s a fire in his eyes that excites me, but at the same time makes me uneasy—almost like he’s someone I don’t know.
What the hell is going on with my guy?
I’ve never been one for over-the-top public displays of affection, and neither has he. In fact, I hate it when other couples do it. It seems overly showy and a call for attention.
There is no way that Seth and Gretchen saw what just transpired underneath the table, however, our interaction appears to have made Seth fidgety. He smiles nervously at Gretchen, and he’s not at all the touchy, complimentary being he was with her at our house. Then again, none of us have had the amount to drink that we had that night. Still, I can’t quite figure out if he no longer has an interest in her, or if he likes her so much, he’s not sure how to act.
After what feels like several long moments of awkward silence, Seth says, “Let’s see what musical tastes we can give Kiran some shit about.” Then tentatively, sweetly, he takes Gretchen’s hand and holds it in his lap. She gives him a shy smile.
Awww! They are so freakin’ cute.
“Sorry, but my tastes in music have always been impeccable,” Kiran says.
Seth chuckles with a hint of mischief. “Is that so? Am I to conclude that Musical Youth falls under impeccable?” He does what I would call a merengue move in his seat and sings, “Pass the dutchie on the left-hand side. Pass the dutchie on the left-hand side…”
Kiran can’t help but laugh at his antics. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Ah, don’t try to pretend you don’t remember, cousin! Your secret is out.”
Gretchen slaps him on the arm. “Stop giving him grief. We all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to music.”
guilty pleasure, love?” he asks, leaning into her.
She blushes, and I don’t think it’s because she’s about to share some embarrassing fandom. “Barry Manilow,” she replies.
“I love Barry Manilow!” I chime in. “My mom used to play her Barry Manilow eight tracks while she did housework.”
Seth curls his lip and shudders. “Ugh!”
“Go away.” I wave him off and lean forward on the table to address Gretchen. “What’s your favorite Manilow song?”
She looks up and considers the question. “Probably… ‘Mandy.’”
“Oh Mandy,” I sing, placing a hand to my heart, and Gretchen joins me for the rest. “Well, you came and you gave without taking…”
Seth shakes his head at Kiran and rolls his eyes.
“Sorry, beautiful,” Kiran says. “But that is most definitely worse than ‘Pass the Dutchie.’”
After Seth leaves to take Gretchen home, Kiran and I have a walk outside by the pool before heading up to our room.
“…So Jason has finally agreed to go with Carly to check out this support group for parents of special needs kids,” I continue.
“But she’s still telling me about this Michael’s opinion too much. He says this. He says that, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. I have this bad feeling he’s playing some sort of game with her.”
Kiran nods thoughtfully. “Carly’s pretty in tune to people. If that’s what’s going on, she’ll figure it out.”
We stop by the edge of the pool, and after gazing at me a few moments, he pulls my face to his and kisses me softly. Then he takes me by the hand and leads me to an isolated area of the grounds. What is he up to?
Hidden by trees, he encloses me with his arms, his palms against the wall on which I lean. I smile up at him, and his resumed kisses soon become fervent. Within moments, he’s slowly pulling up my dress, and my heart races when I realize what we’re about to do.
Holy… holy shit!
I don’t think I’m cut out for this.
Our eyes lock, but I can’t read his. Because this is so unlike him, I’m too busy trying to make sense of this anomaly that I’m not sure I’m even participating. What am I seeing in his eyes? Is he asking me if I’m into this sort of thing? Is he telling me he always has been, and testing the waters to see if I’m okay with it? What the bloody hell?
Honestly, such a spontaneous act is hot and sexy in a book, but all I can think about right now is what if some couple comes strolling along with their kids?
Okay, relax. Just relax. Be in the moment. Look at him. Look at this sexy beast before you. Can you even believe you have a guy this hot? This sweet? I mean, come on! This is the stuff dreams are made of.
A bird suddenly takes flight from the tree above us, making a loud flapping noise that scares the living crap out of me. I can’t help but start and look up, however Kiran is not distracted as he takes my face into his hand and deliciously delves his tongue into my mouth. For a brief time, this move draws me back and I’m coaxed into feeling like I may be able to surrender to this after all.
Unfortunately, the rough texture of the cement wall is now scraping my back, and I sigh inwardly with disappointment.
Nope. This ol’ bod is not cooperating. It’s bad enough having a lower libido as of late, but I just can’t take all these distractions.
Face it, Anna. You’re gonna have to fake it. You cannot let him know you’re not feeling this and destroy the fantasy.
So I tolerate the exfoliation by cement wall for as long as I possibly can before beginning my performance, but I can’t be too loud. If we draw anyone’s attention, I’ll be mortified.
Later that night, Kiran sees the damage to my back while we’re in the shower, and although I try to assure him it’s not a big deal, afterward he makes me lie on my stomach on the bed so he can have a better look.
“Anna, I’m so sorry.” He lightly traces his fingertips over the scrapes. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t even notice it was happening. It’s fine.” I sit up and kiss him on the shoulder.
He responds with
a give me a break
look. “Did we pack any Neosporin?”
I offer an amused smile. “I didn’t think we’d need Neosporin for a one-night stay.”
“I’m going down to the gift shop.” He gets up from the bed and starts getting dressed.
“Oh, come on. Really? It’s a little scrape!”
“No, it’s not, and I don’t want that getting infected.” He leans over to give me a kiss. “I’ll be right back.”
Plopping back onto the bed once he leaves, I contemplate tonight’s odd play of events. I don’t know what to think. Is Kiran not the private, reserved, and courtly man I thought he was? Is there a wild side that’s been hiding underneath that I suddenly have to contend with?
Something is bubbling to the surface. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I’m hesitant to broach the subject.
For now, I’m left scratching my head.
“I don’t think he’s that into me,” Gretchen says over the phone when I call the next day to see how their date went.
“Why do you say that?”
She sighs. “I know he seems kind of… affectionate in public, but when we’re alone, it’s like he barely comes near me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he declined last night when I invited him in for a bit, so I kind of waited, you know, giving him the chance to kiss me goodnight, but all he did was give me a quick peck on the lips before leaving.”
“Wait a minute. So you guys never even kissed the night we had dinner at our house?”
“Oh yeah! We were all over each other that night, but we were smashed. That’s why I think he’s probably not interested. Without alcohol, it’s a different story.”
I don’t get it. By all appearances, he seemed into her, but I don’t say this out loud. I don’t want to feed her hopes if he’s had a change of heart, especially since I was the dork who encouraged the whole thing.
“I’m sorry, Gretchen. There’s no understanding men.”
“No worries. I kind of doubted I was his type anyway.”
“He’s crazy if you’re not.”
“Anyway… did you and Kiran have a nice stay at the hotel?”
Lord. I do not know Gretchen well enough to share last night’s adventure. That will be a story to share with Julia. “Yeah, we had a great time. It was a nice getaway for the night.”
After chatting a few more minutes, we hang up and I go to the kitchen medicine cabinet to take a couple of Gas-X, which it seems I’ve been living on lately. That was another complaint I had for my gyno—this frequent bloating and discomfort on top of the gradual weight gain. Her response was that it could be peri; or could be I’m developing food intolerances to things such as gluten or dairy as I get older. Great. Well, there’s no way in hell I’m giving up my dairy. At least, not yet.
Kiran comes into the kitchen to fetch his keys. “I’m going to go get a haircut in a couple minutes.”
“Okay. But could you do a big favor for me before you go?”
“Could you give Seth a quick call and ask him how the rest of his date went with Gretchen?”
His shoulders sag. “Anna…”
“Please? I just got off the phone with her, and she thinks he isn’t interested.”
“Maybe he isn’t!”
“I know. But if he
, he needs to know he’s giving off the wrong vibe. Could you please just call him and find out how he really feels about her?”
He groans. “Don’t make me do this.”
I put my hands on his hips and pout. “
“You’re killing me with this stuff, you know that?” He picks up the phone to dial Seth’s number, and I silently clap my hands.
As he waits for Seth to answer, he motions me over and turns me around to lift the back of my shirt, inspecting my “injury.” I sigh with exasperation.
“Seth… I’m calling because my nosy better half wants to know how the rest of your date went last night.” Kiran pulls my shirt back down, and I turn around to face him. “Uh huh… uh huh… Good!” Putting his hand on my shoulder, he continues, “Anna’s concerned because Gretchen doesn’t think you’re interested.”
Seth’s voice gets louder, but I can’t make out what he’s saying and Kiran closes his eyes. “Here, I’m going to let you talk to her about it.” He hands me the phone and whispers, “I’ve done my part. I’m getting that haircut.”
“Thank you,” I mouth to him. “Hey Seth, why didn’t you give her a nice goodnight kiss? She said you gave her a peck and high-tailed it.”
“Wonderful.” He sighs. “So now you’re going to be getting a blow by blow of each of our dates?”
“In her defense, I called to ask. She didn’t offer. And am I to understand there are going to be more dates? Because she doesn’t think so. Have you lost interest?”
“No, not at all!”
“Then what’s the deal?” After waiting several moments, there’s no response. “Are you there?”
“Anna… she makes me nervous.”
Huh? Gretchen’s one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. At least, she
to be. “How can she make you nervous? Out of all the women you’ve been out with? And she’s so nice and easy to get along with. Sweet, classy…”
“You don’t get it. That’s why she makes me nervous! I don’t know how to date someone like that anymore. It’s been too long.”
Aww, what do I say to that? “There’s no special way
. Just be yourself. You were being yourself the night we met her, and she seemed to like you just fine.”
“We were drinking.”
“Oh my God. Now you sound just like her.”
“What do you mean? What did she say?”
Now I’m beginning to understand why Kiran is so impatient with me on this matter. This
starting to sound an awful lot like junior high. “She thinks the way you behaved around her that first night was only because you were drunk. Not because you’re especially into her.”
“But I am. I really am!”
“Seth, you’re cracking me up! You have this long history of womanizing, and you can’t even grasp the basics of normal dating.”
He finally relaxes a bit and I hear him laugh on the other end of the line. “That’s very true.”
“So, apparently you haven’t called her or asked to see her again.”
I sigh heavily. “Call her! Ask her out again. When she asks you to come in at the end of the date, accept. That doesn’t mean she’s asking you to sleep with her. If a make-out session doesn’t necessarily ensue, for crying out loud, give her a memorable kiss goodnight.”
“Okay,” he says quietly. “Okay, I’ll do that. God, I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot. You’re just out of practice.”
It seems as if my day consists of being chained to the phone, because later on, I get a call from Carly in total panic mode.
“Mom, something has happened and I don’t know what to do.”
It’s clear I need to get a handle on the panic attacks that arise whenever Carly comes to me with another conflict. I’m not sure how much more my heart can take, because my mind goes crazy with scenarios before she even has the chance to tell me anything. Did Claire have the mother of all meltdowns? Did Carly and Jason decide to split?
“What is it?”
“Michael… He kissed me.”
Closing my eyes, I exhale. “Where? When?”
“Friday? Carly, that was two days ago! Did you tell Jason?”
“No. No!” She starts to cry. “I don’t know what to do!”
“Okay, sweetie. Try to calm down.” Pacing the floor, I rub my forehead.
“We were just having a cup of coffee, talking…”
Has she been meeting him for coffee? Was this on campus or someplace else? I know having coffee with a friend shouldn’t be a big deal, but she’s in a vulnerable state with all this Claire stuff, and this is exactly what I was afraid might happen. I keep my thoughts to myself because the last thing I want to do is add to her upset by saying anything that has an
I told you so
“And then just out of the blue,” she continues, “he leans over and kisses me!”
I drag a palm over my face. “Carly, you have to tell Jason. And I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but you should have told him the day it happened.” Frankly, I’m surprised she’s just now telling me about it.
“What did you do when he tried to kiss you?”
“I asked him what the hell he was doing!”
“So… you’re not interested in him?”
“What?” she shrieks in my ear and I have to pull the phone away. “No! No!”
“Okay,” I say calmly. “I just wanted to be sure.”
“It’s just been so hard.” Now she’s really bawling, and it’s breaking me. “I’m trying to finish up this internship while all this stuff with Claire is going on. It’s so stressful, wondering what kind of day she’s going to have—every single day. Jason and I are in constant defense mode. We can’t even enjoy each other anymore… It was just nice to have someone to unload on, you know?”
“I know, baby. But you were putting yourself in a dangerous position, letting a male friend be your confidant.”
She sniffles. “Of course I see that
. I just thought it would be okay.”
“You have to tell him. Right away. If he somehow finds out on his own, he’s not likely to believe what really happened.”
“I know that, but I’m so afraid to tell him. What if this is all he can take? What if he wants to end it?”
I want to assure her that’s not going to happen, but how can I? I have no clue what they’re going through. “Sweetie, I’m here for you. Whatever you need. And you know your dad and Richard are, too. Whatever happens, we’ll cross that bridge if we have to.”
“So you think this may be it?” Her voice is shrill.
“No, I’m not saying that at all! I’m just saying that until we figure out what’s going on with Claire and what she needs to cope, unfortunately you and Jason have a tough road ahead. I don’t want to give you a bunch of platitudes. Personally, I think you guys love each other enough to push through, but it’s not going to be easy.”
She’s silent for a few moments, I think trying to collect herself. “I just want her to have a happy, normal life,” she says through tears. “Is that too much to ask?”
“No,” I answer softly. “Of course not.”
“What is life going to be like for her? Is she going to be the constant butt of the joke? That weird, lonely kid that no one wants anything to do with? I can’t bear it.”
I can’t bear it either. Naturally, I’ve had the same thoughts, but I can’t bring myself to consider Claire’s suffering when at the moment I’m overwhelmed with Carly’s, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
Everything feels as if it’s reaching a fever pitch, and I’m unraveling. Logically, I recognize my fragile state is most likely due to unstable hormones, but I need to get out of here.
After hanging up with Carly, I give Kiran a brief rundown of what happened and tell him I’m going to meet with Julia. Now I’m the one who needs to unload, and it can’t be on Kiran this time.
He approaches me with a wrinkled brow and places his hands on my arms. “Are you okay? You look pretty rattled. Why don’t you let me take you?”
With a tight smile, I shake my head. “I’m fine. Just need a little girl time is all,” I say, hearing the quake in my voice.
He stands before me a few moments, pursing his lips. “Okay,” he replies quietly.
Trying to maintain my composure on the drive to Julia’s, the tears stream and flow steadily the entire way over. When Julia opens her front door, she takes me by the arm to pull me inside.
“Is Derek here?”
“You’re in luck. He’s out playing golf.” Holding my hand, she leads me to the kitchen. “Coffee or alcohol? Or both? I have Baileys.”
“I don’t know,” I squeak, rubbing my nose. “Can I just have some water?”
“You got it.”
As she puts some ice into a glass and pours water from the dispenser in the refrigerator, I have a seat at her kitchen table.
Julia sets the glass in front of me.
I take a deep breath. “It wasn’t just one thing. But the trigger is what’s going on with Carly.”
“What? More trouble with Claire?”
I go on to explain what happened with Michael.
Julia leans back in her chair, her face pinched. “Ah, crap! Really?”
“So much has been going on that I haven’t been keeping you up on. Carly came over about a week ago with Claire, because she and Jason had a big fight. Then he came for her to try and work things out, and Kiran and I kept Claire for the night.”
She listens without interrupting, and squeezes my hand.
“And between the bloating and knots from worry, it seems like my stomach hurts all the time now. I haven’t been sleeping well, waking a million times a night with my temperature issues.”
“Have you tried taking some melatonin, hon?”
“Yeah, I tried it a few times, but I think it gives me disturbing dreams. So I don’t know whether to suffer with the bad dreams or the insomnia.” My mouth is horrendously dry, so I take a few gulps of iced water, making my throat ache. “On top of everything else, Kiran admits he’s been depressed.”
“Did he say why?”
“No.” I sniffle. “But I think it’s because he wants kids.”
“I mean, I don’t know if he really wants them
, but I think he’s sad because he never had them.”
She just sighs and tilts her head.
By now my tears are drying up, and after all my venting, I’m beginning to calm down. “And… I don’t know… Remember how I mentioned he’s been acting out of character?”