Authors: Shelly Hickman
Grimacing, I nod my head. However, I can’t help smiling because this is all so ridiculous.
Kiran puts his face in his hands. “Seth,” he moans. “He’s never going to change, is he?” He looks up at me. “Did they see you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
When he realizes I can barely contain my laughter, he busts out himself. “What did you see?”
” My voice is hushed. “It was like…” I hold up my curled fingers, as if I were to grab someone’s butt cheeks. “Right there.”
Kiran lays an arm over his forehead and starts laughing so hard, there are tears in his eyes.
“And her legs were all…” I spread my arms above my head and bounce my hands up and down. “Well… you know what I’m sayin’.”
Kiran rubs his head. “Ohhh, I can’t believe it… Actually, yes I can.”
“Are you going to say anything to him? I mean,
don’t tell him I caught them. But are you gonna say you heard them next to our room or anything?”
“I don’t know what to do. How do you feel about this anyway? He means no harm, but what he’s done is horribly disrespectful, especially to you.”
I furrow my brow. “Why to me?”
“Because you’re the woman of this house, and he essentially brought a one-night stand into your home.”
I hadn’t really looked at it that way. Maybe I would have, if we hadn’t already spent the evening with them. And Marie isn’t
a one-night stand if they’ve known each other for ten years.
“Well… while we’re on the subject of Seth. I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but… I heard what he said to you in the club tonight—about tying yourself down.”
Kiran closes his eyes and his expression grows serious. “Anna, I’m so sorry. I assure you, I know his heart, and that was not meant to be malicious in any way.” He sits up and takes my hand. “But I understand how hurtful that must have been. I’ll tell him he needs to find someplace else to stay.”
“No, don’t. I mean, I admit it pissed me off at first. But, he didn’t say anything to badmouth me
. And the more I thought about it, coming from a lifelong playboy, it doesn’t surprise me that he would see things that way.” I bite my lip, embarrassed to admit what I’m about to. “Deep down, I think about it too, sometimes.”
He gives me a questioning gaze. “Think about what?”
I let out an uncomfortable sigh. “You know. You hadn’t looked like you do for very long before we met. You hadn’t dated much…” I shrug because I don’t want to go on. “You know.”
“You’re not serious, are you?” He almost appears hurt by what I said. “Anna, I’m nothing like Seth.”
“Of course you’re not!” I shake my head. “I wasn’t trying to say that. You know what? It was stupid of me to have said anything. Just forget about it.”
“Look, I don’t think I have to tell you that Seth is simply imposing his own life issues onto my situation. That is all. So I hope you won’t let what he said feed into… your doubts.”
Why did I go and open my big trap? Now he thinks I have doubts about his feelings for me. “I won’t. I’m not.”
God, what a jackass!
“Have you seen your doctor about the flooding yet?” Julia asks, stopping to eye a turquoise blouse as I follow her through Macy’s.
“No. The soonest I could get in is a month from now. I just hope she’ll be agreeable to ablation. You’re so lucky you don’t have this problem.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” She pulls the blouse off the rack and holds it up to get a better view. “But then again, you don’t get the hot flashes like I do. I don’t think I’ve gotten more than three uninterrupted hours of sleep in the past six months.”
I scrunch my nose. “I guess that would suck pretty bad. I get one every once in a while, but nothing that’s been keeping me up at night. Yet.”
“Plus, my moods are all over the place. Derek probably thinks he’s married to Sybil.” Holding onto the turquoise selection, she circles a rack, sliding the hangers from one side to the other. “I just can’t help myself. It’s like I’m looking at myself from the outside in. I know I’m being bitchy, but sometimes everything he does just pisses me off, you know?”
“No, thankfully.” I chuckle. “But Geena told me she was the same way when she went through it. Oh! I’ve been meaning to tell you I joined a couple of perimenopause groups on Facebook. You have got to check them out. Some of the things these ladies share are just hilarious. It’s great to pop in when you’re sure you’re losing your mind.”
Julia takes notice that I’m not holding any clothes to try on. “Nothing?”
“Not yet.” It sounds weird, but I don’t know how to shop at the mall for clothing. At least, not in the big department stores. I lack the patience to search for deals, and I end up resembling one of the ladies on the TJ Maxx commercials when she looks at the price tag. Utterly disgusted.
“What about this?” Julia pulls out a sundress. “This would look cute on you.”
“I guess I’ll try it.” I shrug and look for one in my size.
After shopping, Julia and I have lunch at Maggiano’s.
“So bring me up-to-date. How are the wedding plans coming?”
“Oh, they’re not.”
Her forehead wrinkles. “Why not?”
“I just don’t know where to start. I know that Geena will be more than happy to help me, but Kiran has already warned that she’s gonna try to take over, and I’m not sure what I want yet.”
“What are you leaning toward?”
“Something elegant, but small.” I slice each of us a piece of bread from the loaf on our table. “Because I’d rather spend our money on a nice honeymoon than dump it all into the ceremony.”
Julia nods in agreement. “If you want small, why don’t you have it at your house? Right on the lake, maybe at night? That could be really pretty!”
“I like that idea, but we don’t have much of a backyard, so I’m not sure… Maybe we could make it work.”
“How has Kiran been feeling since the heart attack?” She takes a sip of her wine.
“He’s still recovering physically and trying to adjust to the medications.” I pause and purse my lips. “But he seems a little different… mentally… since it happened, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t describe it. I mean, we always joke about getting older, but it’s weird because we didn’t get here together. So some things are kind of awkward. I’m trying to just go with it, make a joke out of things.”
Julia looks at me, total confusion on her face. She shakes her head. “You lost me, sweetie.”
“Okay, for example. Now I’m not trying to gross you out while you’re eating, but do you have any idea how awful it is for me to have him change the sheets because I’ve hemorrhaged in the bed? And then have him bring me clean underwear?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh my God, Anna. You guys have been together for a little while. I don’t think that’s such a big deal.”
“Yes, but the things we’re starting to experience are not things you have to deal with when you’re a
newly together couple. We should still be kind of in our honeymoon phase. And, you know… at times he has some trouble in the bedroom.” I pause to hold up my hands. “I mean, don’t get me wrong! I don’t care. My sex drive is not what it once was, either. And all these PM symptoms aren’t making it any easier.”
“So what? It happens to all couples our age.”
“I know that, but you and Derek have been together over twenty years. Your vaginal dryness is not a big deal. Mine is!”
Julia throws back her head and covers her mouth to keep from spitting her drink.
I chuckle at my own comment and take a sip of wine.
“You did not just say that,” Julia says.
“I’m sorry. It’s just awkward. For both of us, I think.”
“So are you saying you think Kiran is put off by your female stuff?”
“No, no.” I shake my head. “He’s wonderful! I’m saying I think we’re both silently wondering how our middle-age junk is affecting the other person. Does that make sense? ’Cause we’re not really talking about it, and we didn’t have the chance to grow into it together.”
“Give me another example. I guess I never really thought about this before.”
“For instance. A week after the heart attack, Kiran practically mauled me in the bedroom.”
“Hmm. That doesn’t sound so bad. And obviously there were no problems that day.”
“It was awesome, let me tell ya,” I say with raised eyebrows. “But, it was like he was trying to prove something. It was a week after his heart attack, for crying out loud! And lately, he’s been acting a little out of character. Also, you know his cousin Seth has been staying with us, and he’s… a free spirit, to put it mildly.”
“O-kaaay. A free spirit, how?”
“We went out with him and one of his lady friends a couple weeks ago, and I caught them doing the wild thing in our office later that night.”
“No way!” Julia sets her fork down as her eyes practically bulge out of her head. “How come you didn’t tell me?”
I shrug and smile.
“God, I love your life.” She takes a bite of her salad. “So you’re telling me you think his cousin’s having an influence on him?”
Making a face, I consider it. “I don’t know. Maybe? I mean, nothing major. He’s just starting to be more…
, but in a teasing way. Like that same night, he smacked me on the butt in public. And you know Kiran—that’s not his personality. He doesn’t do things like that in front of other people.”
“And that’s Seth’s personality?”
“They’ve gone out for drinks a few times, just the two of them, and I’m glad they’re spending time catching up. They haven’t seen each other in years, and it seems to be what Kiran needs right now. But I did overhear Seth asking Kiran if he’s sure he wants to tie himself down.”
Julia’s mouth drops open. “What an asshat!”
“Nah.” I wave it off. “I don’t think he meant anything by it. He’s been nothing but kind to me, and I don’t get the impression he’s insincere. Kiran’s dad did not want him staying with us, though. And after catching him and his friend, I get it.”
“Does he know you saw them?”
“Wow.” She shakes her head. “You’ve been holding out on me, girlfriend.”
“Not intentionally. I just wanted to tell you everything in private.”
Julia picks up the bottle of wine on our table and refills our glasses. “Are you going to say anything to Kiran about him acting differently?”
“Do you think I should?”
She shrugs. “Might make you feel better.”
“Thanks for coming with me, Mom,” Carly says as we sit in the exam room with Claire, waiting on her pediatrician. “Jason wanted to come, but they’re right in the middle of the music festival they have each year.”
“You know it’s not a problem. Especially since this is right down the street from my office.”
As usual, Claire is completely engrossed with the iPad as she sits in a miniature red plastic chair, wearing the sweet little French braid Carly has given her. Lacking the dexterity, I was never able to French braid Carly’s hair when she was a girl. Carly, however, can even braid her own.
Not wanting to discuss our concerns in front of Claire just yet, we wait quietly. “How’s the internship going?” I ask, referring to the counseling program she’s close to completing.
“It’s good.” She nods. “It’s been really interesting, but God, a
of work! I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
The doctor, a man of about forty with scruffy dark hair and kind eyes, enters the room with his laptop and sets it on the exam table. “Hello, there,” he says as he pulls the rolling stool next to the table and has a seat.
“Hi, Dr. Barker. This is my mom, Anna.”
I lean over in my chair to shake his hand. “Hello.”
“Hello, Grandma. Nice to meet you.” He briefly glances at Claire, before pulling up her file on his computer. “So what’s going on today? We saw Claire just three months ago, and she’s not due for any immunizations.”
“Well, I’m still having concerns about her… social development.”
“All right.” He pushes his glasses up on his nose and nods, waiting for her to continue.
“As you can see, she’s completely obsessed with this iPad. I don’t mind so much because she’s learning all kinds of things on it, but it’s almost impossible to get her interested in anything else.”
Again, he nods silently for a moment. “What does she do when you try to get her interested in something else, or take the tablet away?”
I watch Claire to see if she seems to be taking any of this in. Out of the corner of her eye, she briefly looks in the direction of the doctor, but then quickly returns her attention to her activity on the iPad.
“She gets extremely upset. Right, Mom?”
“Yeah, she does, but we’re not sure if it’s abnormal upset, or just typical toddler upset.” I give Carly a sympathetic shrug. “Carly’s around her way more than me, obviously, but I’ve seen a touch of what she’s talking about.”
Dr. Barker swivels on the stool to face Claire. “Claire, can you show me what you’re doing on the iPad?”
“Why?” Her pudgy fingers tap the screen.
“Because I want to see what you like to do on it.”
She continues to blow him off, so he rolls his chair next to hers. “Can I look at it for a second?” He gently takes the tablet from her, which surprisingly, she releases. However, the chest heaving follows as she turns to her mother with that familiar panic in her eyes. The tears immediately flow and her chin quivers. I think both Carly and I are waiting for her to blow a gasket, but she doesn’t this time.
Instead, she walks over to Dr. Barker where he stands by the exam table. Maybe she feels uncertain about letting loose with someone who’s essentially a stranger to her, but for her, she’s staying fairly contained. As the doctor casually engages with the iPad, Claire remains at his feet, her breath coming heavy and rapid. In fact, she’s almost panting, but she doesn’t say anything to him.
He looks up at Carly and motions to a jar of suckers that sits on the counter next to her. “Offer her one,” he whispers.
She picks up the jar and holds it out toward Claire. “Claire, sweetie. Come get a sucker!” she says brightly.
Claire doesn’t even acknowledge her, but instead lifts her hands up to Dr. Barker in a silent plea for the iPad, her shoulders shaking as she tries to swallow her sobs.
“It’s okay, Claire,” he says. “I’m gonna give it back in a second. Why don’t you get a sucker from your mom?” He taps away on the screen for another thirty seconds or so, when she can no longer hold her silence.
She turns to Carly. “Mommy!” she begs.
Carly swallows hard and brings her hand to her throat.
The doctor isn’t oblivious to Claire’s dismay, and after a few more moments witnessing her reaction escalate, he hands her the iPad. She takes it from him and rushes into Carly’s lap. However, instead of playing with it, she buries her face in Carly’s chest and sobs loudly, drained from the ordeal. Carly rocks forward and back, gently patting her. I just bite my lip, waiting to see what Dr. Barker is going to say.
He sits down on the stool and leans forward on his knees. “I can see where you may have some concerns, but it’s very normal for children this age to kind of… obsess… over one thing. Now, that doesn’t mean there can’t be something wrong.”
Carly and I both nod while he pauses to type a few notes into her file.
“What other things are you seeing that concern you?”
“Well… in general, she’s not very affectionate.” Carly’s voice is hushed even though Claire sits in her lap and can hear every word. “And except for when she can’t do something she wants, like this, she doesn’t seem to show much emotion about anything. She rarely laughs…”
“And she doesn’t really interact with us much,” I add. “Unless we kind of force her to. She’s wicked smart when it comes to music, though.”
Dr. Barker raises his eyebrows with interest.
I lean over in my chair to speak to Claire. “Pumpkin? Do you think you could show the doctor the piano thingy you play?”
She rubs her eyes and turns away from me.
“Can I see it?” I whisper, and Carly hands me the tablet. Claire turns back around to watch what I’m doing. “It’s okay, peanut. I just wanna go to that app you like.”
When I open the program, which basically consists of a touch piano keyboard, I hand her the iPad. “Will you show us how you play?”
The app is a lot like the game
I played as a kid, only with piano keys. It plays short melodies so that the user can replicate them, making them gradually more complex. The first few melodies are very basic, and Claire copies them without effort. As the exercises increase in difficulty, her fingering becomes much slower, but her accuracy is spot on. She never misses a note.
Dr. Barker’s eyes open wide as he watches with interest and places a hand over his mouth. The kicker is when the program plays the opening notes of Für Elise. All I can figure is that Claire knows this one already, because even with her round little fingers, not only does she play each note to perfection, she nearly duplicates the timing.
She’s now calmly lost in her world again, and the three of us look at one another.
The doctor leans back and reaches for the jar of suckers. Then he holds it out to her. “Claire, would you like a sucker now?”
She stops playing long enough to eye the jar. Still holding the tablet, she hops from Carly’s lap and peers at the selection of suckers. After choosing a lemon flavored Dum Dum, she swiftly takes a seat in the red chair.
“Well…” Dr. Barker hesitates a moment, processing everything that took place. “I can tell you what this appears to be, however, keep in mind that she’s far too young to be making any kind of solid diagnosis, especially without specialized testing.”
“She’s autistic, isn’t she?” Carly concludes with dread on her face.
The doctor holds up his hands. “Possibly. What do you know about Asperger’s Syndrome?”
She glances at me before responding. “Not much. I came across it when I was researching autism. All I know is that it’s a high functioning form of autism, right?”
“That’s right. And if you’ve already done some research, you’re probably aware that Asperger’s Syndrome has officially been replaced by the term autism spectrum disorder. However, diagnosticians are informally using the expression and so are the thousands of people who already have the diagnosis. Whatever we call it, it’s very difficult to diagnose, especially this young. In fact, if it weren’t for her musical gift, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it at this point in time. The obsessive and antisocial behaviors alone could be perfectly normal behaviors for her that she may outgrow, but the fact that they’re coupled with this ability… That’s what makes me suspect Asperger’s. Again, this isn’t by any means a formal diagnosis.”
“They don’t test for it this young?” I ask. “Is there anything we should do in the meantime?”
Dr. Barker grabs a notepad from the counter and begins writing. “I’m going to give you the names of a couple of organizations to contact. If this is what we’re dealing with, early intervention is key. There’s no cure, but if you can start focusing on her social interactions now, it will help her down the road.”
Carly’s shoulders droop and she issues a sigh. When she leans forward to take the slip of paper from the doctor, he holds onto it a moment longer until she looks him in the face.
“It seems you’re already convinced this is her diagnosis,” he says. “We don’t know that yet. There could be any number of things going on here, but as I said, it’s just too soon to tell.”
She nods and he releases the paper to her. “Should I not let her use the iPad anymore?” she whispers.
“I can’t answer that. Even if this
autism, it can present in so many different ways, depending on the child. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to identify. For now, my suggestion would be to try to involve her in activities that force her to interact with others, especially others close to her age.” He places a comforting hand on her shoulder and gives her a little pat.
“Does it matter what kind?” Carly runs a hand through her hair. “I mean, should we involve her in something related to music? Or would that make things worse? Should we stay away from it?”
“I think music would be fine. I just don’t know what’s available to a child her age. You’ll have to do some digging. When my kids were little, most programs were for those three and over, but one of those organizations may be able to help you with that.” The doctor types his final notes on the laptop, then continues in a soothing tone. “Even just focusing on improving her interactions with the family would be a good start. Take the time to make her look at you when she talks to you, and when you talk to her.”
I reach over to lightly caress the baby soft skin of Claire’s arm, and all I can think about are the social difficulties that may lie ahead of her. There’s a heaviness in my heart. “Her use of that thing”—I motion my head toward the tablet—“should probably be limited, though. Right?”
With a tight smile, he closes his eyes. “Even if there were no other concerns, it would probably be a good idea. Just take things slow.”