Authors: Shelly Hickman
Going cotton-mouthed again, I take another sip of water. “Last night we went to see a show with Seth and his date, and we reserved a room at the hotel for the night. After they went home, Kiran and I took a walk out on the grounds…”
“And…” I shake my head with a slight smile. “We ended up doing it against a wall outside.”
Her mouth falls open. “Get! Out!”
Leaning my elbow on the table, I cover my eyes. “We did.”
“Kiran. We’re talking about
Dropping my hand, I look at her. “I know. Right?”
“Well… how did it happen? Did he ask you?”
Now my mouth is the one that falls open as I recall the incident. “No. One minute we were kissing by the pool. The next, he’s taking me to this hidden spot and we’re going for it.”
She gives me a half smile. “Did you like it?”
I make a face. “Julia, I don’t have the attention span for that kinda thing. I was like a dog distracted by a squirrel, in a continual loop.”
She covers her face with both hands and breaks into laughter. “Oh, Lord! The visual you just gave me.” I can’t help but smile at her reaction. “So what did you do?”
“What was I supposed to do? I faked my way through it.” Sighing, I take another sip from my glass. “Good God. What is going on with my life right now?”
Julia bites her lip in an attempt to contain herself. “You haven’t talked to him about any of this?”
“I’ve tried. Sort of.”
She gives me a stern eye. “There can be no
. You need to talk to him. It’s obvious his behavior, on top of everything that’s been going on with Carly, is getting to you.”
“I know. I just haven’t found the right time.”
“You have to make the right time.” She leans a temple on her hand.
“But Julia, what if he’s really not the person I thought I knew? What if all this time there’s been this wild, daring creature underneath, who needs to have sex in public places? I’m not like that. Okay, so
is not such a big deal, just so you can say you tried something crazy, but I didn’t fall in love with Christian Grey.”
She smirks. “I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself. I’m sure he’s still the same person; he’s probably just going through something.”
I’m not sure which is worse.
The day after Carly told me what happened, she ends up dropping Claire with me and Kiran for another sleepover. Luke and Richard are away, and not surprisingly, things didn’t go at all well when she broke the news to Jason. I’m sure for Claire’s benefit, she was rather stoic when she came by the house with Claire and her things, however, her eyes were plenty red and puffy. All she said was that she and Jason needed an opportunity to come up with a “game plan”—whatever that means. I didn’t press or ask questions.
After having a nice, quiet dinner, the three of us share the couch for another movie. Although I feel somewhat better after my visit with Julia, I’m still in a bit of a funk. Claire lies between us, with her head in my lap and feet in Kiran’s, and I watch as he tickles her toes, making her giggle.
Claire begins to lose interest in the movie about halfway through and wants us to take her outside by the water. When we reach the edge of the lake, there are several ducks swimming nearby, and I go back inside to get some bread for Claire to feed them.
She has trouble throwing the pieces far enough into the water for the ducks so they come up to the shore, making her squeal with a combination of terror and delight, bouncing excitedly. At first she tears the bread into humongous chunks, flinging them at the birds.
Kiran chuckles. “Claire, that’s too big, honey. You need to make them smaller, like this.” He tears a small piece off her slice of bread to show her.
Once she’s gotten the hang of bread tearing, she starts bossing the ducks when they don’t come after it fast enough. “Right here!” She points before moving to another spot. “Over here! Over here! Papa K, look at the black one.”
“She’s a pretty one, isn’t she?”
When some time has passed and I point out that the bread is almost gone, she decides to litter the ground with the tiniest pieces she can manage, pinching them off between her fingers just so it will last longer.
“That’s it, Claire Bear,” I announce when she cleans out the rest of the loaf. “All gone.” One by one, the ducks dip back into the water and gradually start swimming away.
“No!” Claire cries. “Nana, can you get more bread?”
“That’s it, sweetie. We don’t have any more.”
“No!” Her voice fills with that all too familiar dread that will soon escalate into pure frenzy. “Come back! Come back!” She runs to the edge of the water so quickly and carelessly, Kiran rushes to swoop her up before she falls in.
“Claire, it’s okay, sweetheart. They always come back in the morning.”
She doesn’t look at him, but instead reaches her arm out to the ducks in the same way she had when she wanted to fix the pebbles. “
The shrillness of her cries is truly alarming, and I’m sure the neighbors must think someone’s been horribly injured. “Let’s take her inside,” I tell Kiran.
The further we walk from the lake, the more hysterical she becomes. “Papa, no! No! Why won’t they come back?”
Once we get inside, Claire thrashes in Kiran’s arms, but he won’t put her down.
“Maybe you should put her down before she ends up clocking you,” I suggest.
But he doesn’t listen and holds her even tighter, pulling her head to his chest as her arms flail about. “Claire, stop it. Stop!” he says firmly.
She continues swinging, almost as if she can’t tolerate the human contact for another second. As she shrieks, somehow she manages to claw her tiny fingernails into his neck, and I cover my mouth as I watch in horror. He needs to put her down!
However, he doesn’t waver. “Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. Shhh…” He continues to hold her to his chest, and rocks her at the same time. “It’s okay.”
I’ve stopped breathing as I watch this scene unfold, praying it doesn’t get any worse. Then suddenly, her body goes limp and she stops fighting him; her cry now one of submission instead of hysteria. At first her arms hang lifeless at her sides, but as Kiran continues to comfort her, they slowly lift and encircle his neck, her cheek against his chest.
Holding my stomach, I finally exhale as I’m struck again with the reminder that this is what Carly and Jason deal with every day.
Within five minutes she has fallen asleep in his arms, completely spent from the episode. After taking her upstairs and laying her in our bed, Kiran and I stare at her, both of us speechless. Folding one arm across my stomach, I bring my other hand to my mouth as I recall Carly’s words. “I just want her to have a happy, normal life.”
Kiran approaches me and wraps his arms around my shoulders, and I sink into his embrace. “You were great with her,” I say quietly. “Really great.” Then after a few seconds I push away to look at the scratch. “How bad did she get you?”
He shrugs and brings his fingers to his neck, feeling for damage. Upon inspection, there’s a scratch that has welted up, with two little ones beside it. He follows me to the restroom where I take a cotton swab and peroxide to clean it.
“C’mon,” I say. “Let’s go downstairs and let her sleep.”
We sit on the couch in front of the TV, Kiran’s arm draped around me, and I’m completely unaware of what we’re even watching. I get the sense that he’s numbed as well. Without lifting my head from his chest, I say, “I need to talk to you.”
Already, my heartbeat picks up the pace with my heightened nerves.
Swallowing hard, I proceed. “Do you wish I could still have kids?”
I swear I feel his chest sharply expand in reaction, leading me to believe he’s unprepared for my question. “What?”
I sit up to look at him. “Do you wish I could still have kids? So that we”—floundering, I motion my hand back and forth between us—“could have children of our own?”
There is almost a panic in his eyes as he licks his lips before responding. “What do you mean? We’re grandparents, and you’ve had your tubes tied.”
“That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking if I never had my tubes tied, never had the ablation, do you think it might have been something we would have discussed?”
Leaning back into the corner of the sofa, he crosses his arms and shakes his head slightly. “I don’t see how any of this is relevant. It’s not an option for us, so it doesn’t matter.”
I abruptly rise from the sofa. “What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Of course it matters. It matters a lot that I understand what’s been making you sad, depressed…”
“I admit to feeling a little depressed
after having a heart attack
, and suddenly this requires some kind of intervention?”
He’s getting ruffled. Good. It’s about time.
“What?” he continues. “
never get depressed?”
“Of course I get depressed. And sad. But I don’t try to protect you from it. You don’t have to try and protect me from whatever it is you’re going through.”
He smiles ironically. “You don’t try to protect me? I’d have to disagree with that, since obviously this worry you have about me wanting kids has been eating at you for a while now! And what do you call me finding you on the bathroom floor crying your eyes out in the middle of the night? Huh?”
I stop pacing and bite my lip.
“I’m not going through anything,” he adds dismissively, like all of this is just in my mind.
“Why are you
to me?” The startling thing is I don’t just state my question; I screech it. It’s almost as if I’m rising out of my body and observing this crazy person.
Kiran winces as if I’ve just slapped him in the face, and I don’t even feel bad about accusing him of lying because I know he is. He just doesn’t see it that way.
Now my tears spill freely. “I know having a heart attack must have affected you mentally, emotionally. I get that. But sometimes you don’t act like yourself, and I feel like maybe I don’t know you.”
The wounded look on his face makes me question if I’ve gone too far, but it had to be said. His chest heaves. “You’re talking about the other night at the hotel, aren’t you?” His voice is eerily controlled and his eyes narrow. “You seemed to like it just fine, but I guess you were protecting me then, too. Right?”
My heart is breaking. I’m nauseated. This conversation is not going at all how I wanted it to, and it’s exactly why I avoid confrontation at all costs.
Just tell me what’s going on. That’s all I want. Confide in me. Give me the chance to be the shoulder for you that you are for me!
I can’t breathe. All I can do is pray that my eyes convey all I’m unable to say. “You’re taking this all wrong.”
He swipes a palm over his face and looks away.
Still standing several feet away from him, my arms hang at my sides. “I never meant to hurt you by saying that. Please… I just need to know what’s going on in your head.”
Staring out the window, he lets out a lengthy sigh and says, “I see the way you interact with Seth…”
“Seth? What are you—”
“Let me finish. Please. You want an explanation, and this will be very difficult for me to give. I don’t know if you’ll understand, because it’s kind of hard for me to understand, and hard for me to put it into words.”
Swallowing, I nod.
Avoiding my eyes, he continues. “Before I begin, I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to say you have romantic feelings for him, okay?”
My mouth goes dry. Where the hell is this going? I slowly move to sit on the coffee table across from him.
“Seth and I are so different. He’s funny and adventurous. Spontaneous. Kind of the same personality you said David had. That I saw in David, the few times we interacted, that same juvenile nature.”
What? Now David?
Total confusion must be on my face, but I keep my mouth shut.
“When I had the heart attack, it made me think about my mortality. How I’ve gotten such a late start on my life. That maybe I’ve always been too safe, but that’s also who I am…” He falters, and I don’t know if I should interject.
When he fails to continue, I offer gently, “Okay. But I don’t understand what you’re getting at about Seth, or David for that matter.”
“Those times you felt like you didn’t know me…” Briefly, he meets my gaze before shifting it back to the window. “I think… maybe I was trying to make up for lost time, and also be what I thought you preferred. I’m not sure.”
Dazed, I don’t know how to respond without appearing insensitive to what he is saying, which I’m still not completely grasping. When he finally looks at me again, my bewilderment must be evident.
“Anna, from what I know, it seems you’ve always been attracted to more creative, unconventional types. Luke is a graphic artist. And gay.”
“Wait, are you making fun of me because of my past clueless choices in men?”
Ignoring my snark, he adds, “David is a writer.”
“And a raging alcoholic!”
“I know. I know.” He shakes his head. “I’m not trying to say you belong with an alcoholic, but by comparison, I’m a staid, boring dermatologist.”
“What?” Jerking backward, my spine goes straight as a rod. “First, I have to say that you and Luke have very similar personalities. Okay, so he’s an artist. But he’s not particularly adventurous or hilarious. You know what he’s like. Richard is definitely the wild and crazy one out of that duo.”
Kiran leans his face in his hand and looks past me. “This is exactly why I didn’t share any of this with you.”
“Why? Because I’m supposed to believe you don’t have doubts or insecurities? Hey…” I wait for him to turn his eyes back to mine. “You are anything but staid and boring. Do you have any idea how engaging you are to me? And I’m not talking about just here.” I touch his face before my hand slides down to his chest where I lay my palm. “But here. This heart. This
heart…” I shake my head and smile, my voice breaking as I continue. “Will forever make you anything but staid and boring. Every day,
I thank God for having met you.”
He swallows and takes my hand, holding it to his chest.
Exhausted yet relieved this conversation has taken a positive turn, I take a deep breath and push a strand of hair away from my face. “So… that night on the hotel grounds. Was that really you? Or was that you trying to be someone else for me?”
“I don’t know.” He rolls his eyes before staring at the ceiling. “Maybe a little of both? You know, me not really knowing what’s what lately.”
I draw my lips inward and nod. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think we can never do anything adventurous. I just sensed there was a whole other layer to, you know—everything.”
Groaning, I rub my brow. “This midlife stuff ain’t no picnic. Believe me, I have worries about how you see me, too.”
Oh Geez. Did that just come out?
Still holding my hand, he playfully tugs at it. “Like what?”
Unfortunately, it’s only fair I share my shit after all I’ve dragged out of him. “Well…” I begin. “I’ve become this weepy, emotional mess. That is, more than usual. It seems as if I’m bloated
the time, and the pounds just keep creeping on, making me feel… less than attractive.”