Authors: Shelly Hickman
Kiran silently reaches across me for my cider and hands it to me.
“Thank you.” I take a swig. “And then I came across this God awful magazine ad in the waiting room about this
affecting one in five women over forty.”
“Accidental… bowel… leakage!” I say, emphasizing each word.
“Oh no…” He tries to keep from smiling.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to find it funny. It said just as many men your age are affected. It actually made me angry!”
He simply draws in his lips and closes his eyes, making every effort to remain neutral.
“I’m worried about Claire, your parents are leaving and I’m gonna miss them,” I croak. “And now I have to wear those damn ugly slippers just so I can sleep!”
Kiran pulls me into him as I start bawling all over again.
“No offense. It really was a sweet gift and I’m sure I’ll love them.”
“None taken,” he says gently.
Straightening, I wipe my face with the sleeves of my robe. “I am so, so sorry for wacking out on you like this. You must be scared shitless right now, thinking,
Here we go. On the road to crazy town
.” Honestly, I’m thinking the same thing.
“C’mon. You’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Okay. Maybe…” After taking a deep breath to collect myself and finishing the last of my drink, I place my hand over his and look him in the eye. “I just wanna know… are
doing okay? Is everything okay in your world?”
He draws his head back a bit. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“I just worry about you since you had the heart attack.”
Running a hand through my hair, he says, “It’s true I don’t have the same energy, but there’s nothing for you to be worrying about.”
I’m not referring to his physical well-being, but don’t say it because I’m not sure how.
He kisses my forehead, then my nose. With our faces pressed against each other, he brushes my cheek with his thumb before his hand wanders to my shoulder underneath my robe. Kissing me deeply, he presses his fingers into my skin, massaging my rigid muscles. I appreciate what he’s trying to do—demonstrate that he finds me desirable despite all my recent anxieties. However, I don’t feel the least bit desirable right now. Anything but, with my stuffy nose and eyes that I’m sure are puffy and red.
Normally I would express this to him in some playful way, but with our last attempt unsuccessful, coupled with the feeling he’s been harboring his own anxieties, I don’t want him to sense that being intimate at this moment only makes me apprehensive. Hoping things won’t end awkwardly, I run my hand underneath his shirt.
That’s when Geena saves me with a knock on our door. “Kiran? Anna? What time do you want to leave for dinner?”
We stop kissing and give each other a smile.
“Will thirty minutes give you enough time to be ready?” he asks me.
I never thought nearly having sex with Kiran would feel like dodging a bullet.
“I’m worried about Carly and Jason,” Luke says as we sit on a park bench and watch Claire meander around the kiddie play area on a Sunday afternoon. We offered to take Claire out for a few hours to spend some time with her, but to also give the kids a break.
“So am I. They’ve got some challenges ahead of them.”
He rubs his hands on his pant legs and gives me a pinched expression. “No. I mean, they’re starting to have some serious disagreements about Claire. Some minor ones in front of us, but Richard and I have heard them… I wouldn’t exactly say
… at each other, but definitely raised voices behind closed doors.”
I bite my lower lip. “What are they arguing about?”
“From what Carly has told me, Jason doesn’t want to automatically assume Claire has Asperger’s, or whatever they’re calling it these days, and keeps trying to deal with her behavior like a regular kid. Time outs, spankings… Carly thinks they need to get her into some kind of program and address her behaviors that way. Get some professional help.”
Shading my eyes from the sun, I look back at Claire to see her searching the playground for pebbles. While the other children climb all over the equipment, she places her treasures in a perfect line on her own small area of the spongy turf.
“You know I don’t have a problem with time outs
spanking,” I say. “But I have to agree with Carly on this one. If the doctor’s hunch is right, that’s not gonna help Claire. Jason doesn’t see any advantage to Carly’s approach?”
Luke smiles sadly. “I think the poor guy’s just in denial. And Richard and I have no idea what to do. We’re caught in the middle. Carly asks us to be patient with Claire when she’s having an episode, try and talk her through it, where Jason tells us to put her in her room and let her cry it out.” He leans his head back and runs a hand through his thick wavy hair, which has started showing much more gray this past year. He then leans forward on his knees and shakes his head. “I can’t do it,” he says, watching her on the playground. “I did it once and it nearly killed me.”
I reach over and affectionately rub his shoulder. “Shit. This sucks big time. How does Richard feel about it? Does he feel the same way as you? I hope it’s not creating friction between you guys.”
He turns to face me. “Please. You know Richard’s a bigger softie than me. In fact, I think he lets Claire get away with a little too much, trying to compensate for all the dissention.”
Chuckling, I look for Claire to see what she’s up to. “Oh my God.” I smack Luke’s arm. “Look!”
A boy of about Claire’s age has started contributing to her line of pebbles, and she’s letting him.
“Holy crap,” Luke says.
Pulling out my cell phone, I turn on the video camera. “Carly’s gotta see this.”
It’s interesting to watch the two of them. Honestly, they’re not interacting in any way, however, they seem to have this shared goal of lining up the rocks and somehow managed a system of cooperation. Even after I stop filming, Luke and I silently observe in awe, and part of me is bracing myself for a disaster. It makes me realize this must be how Carly and Jason feel 24/7.
“So how are things with you?” Luke finally breaks our silence. “With the parents, Kiran’s cousin…”
I shrug. “Okay, I guess.”
a convincing response if I ever heard one.”
Cracking a small smile, I roll my eyes. “Things have just been… I don’t know… off, it seems.”
I give him a brief rundown on all the craziness with Seth and an abridged version of my female troubles; however, I’m hesitant to continue. I’ve been dying to talk to Luke so I can get a man’s point of view regarding my concerns about Kiran, but don’t know if it’s just too personal—for me
He gives me a playful shove. “We’ve known each other since we were kids—I can tell there’s something more.”
Making a face, I stand up to get a better view of Claire. She momentarily strays out of sight behind the slide before returning to her project. Luke leaves his seat as well and stands next to me, waiting for a response.
“I don’t even know how to word what I want to ask you.” I cross my arms over my chest, then say through the corner of my mouth, “And this probably isn’t the time or place to bring it up.”
“Ah.” He lifts his chin. “This must be one of your sex questions.”
We made this light-hearted agreement years ago when we were both on the dating scene, that given I don’t have a brother, the gay ex-husband becomes the default go-to guy when it comes to getting the male perspective. Not just on sex, mind you, but admittedly, sometimes it’s the topic.
Returning to his place on the bench, he pats the spot beside him. “Out with it.”
What would I do without my precious Luke? With a hand on my hip, I bend at the waist and let out an uncomfortable groan before having a seat. “Okay.” My voice is hushed. “Since Richard is—”
“Why are you talking so quietly?” he interrupts with a whisper of his own. “There’s no one near us.”
“Well, I don’t want my voice carrying across the playground.”
“This is gonna be juicy.”
Shaking my head, I squeeze my eyes shut. “It’s not gonna be juicy,” I say at regular volume. “It’s actually pretty standard stuff.”
“Oh.” His shoulders sag with disappointment. “Bummer.”
Tilting my head, I say, “Are you gonna let me ask my question?”
“Sorry.” He motions an open palm in front of him. “Go on.”
“Okay.” I pause to collect my thoughts. “Richard is twelve years older than you.”
Luke knows I wasn’t looking for confirmation on the fact, but is just messing with me now, seeing how many times he can disrupt my train of thought. Squinting my eyes at him, I continue. “So… I’m assuming he started having trouble in the bedroom from time to time, long before you did.”
ever have trouble in the bedroom?” Pointing to himself, he feigns an offended expression. “You must forget who you’re talking to.”
“You really can be a pain in the ass, you know that?”
Chuckling, he pats my knee while looking out to check on Claire. “Okay. I’m sorry. I’ve had enough fun now. Go ahead, Banana.”
“Before I ask my question, am I correct about the assumption I just made? That Richard was experiencing it long before you?”
“You are correct in that assumption.”
“So, did you feel like it was affecting him emotionally, but he wouldn’t say anything? Did it make you feel like you didn’t know what to say or do to let him know it wasn’t a big deal? I know it may sound like I’m overthinking this, and I’ve tried to explain this to Julia, but all of these changes both of us are going through are awkward as a fairly new couple, I mean, in the big scheme of things. And I think having Seth stay with us has made it even weirder because he’s in his fifties, but he acts like he’s in his twenties. For crying out loud, he banged a much younger woman in the room right next to ours!”
Luke nods thoughtfully, but doesn’t say anything.
“I knew it. This was too personal. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, no.” He scratches his chin. “I’m just processing what you said, and I think I see what you’re getting at. Yeah, Richard and I had some awkward moments when that started, but as you mentioned, we’d been together a long time already. Knew each other a lot better, so it wasn’t
uncomfortable as it could have been. On top of that, we didn’t have a man whore as a houseguest, making it weirder.”
I laugh and cover my mouth. “That’s the term I used when Kiran first told me what Seth was like. To be fair though, I think he may actually be a good guy.”
“No one says a man whore can’t be a good guy,” Luke says, totally deadpan.
, as a man going through this, would you start looking at your womanizing, free spirit cousin and compare yourself? Would it make you feel even worse? Or do you think you could be logical about it? I mean, how did you feel when it first started happening to you?”
He leans away from me, as if the mention of it happening to him is preposterous.
“Cut the bullshit, will ya?”
Then he grins. “How do you think it made me feel?
How does all your menacrap make
“Okay, okay. But do you think it’s a fair assumption that Seth’s lifestyle might be making him feel worse? I’m not saying we have to boot him out or anything, but do you think I should talk to Kiran about it? Reassure him?”
“I don’t know, Anna. That’s up to you. Kiran has always seemed like a pretty level-headed, reasonable guy, but sometimes the smallest of things can do a mind job on you. Plus, he had that heart attack—driving home his mortality.”
“But if he knows that
know he’s feeling insecure, that could make things worse.”
“Honestly, I think you’re dwelling on it too much. These things tend to work themselves out. Granted, your situation’s different because you guys haven’t been together that long and you’re still trying to navigate around each other, but you’ll get there.”
After mulling over his assessment, I release an appreciative sigh and lean into him. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Even though you can be a real poop sometimes. Thank you.”
He drapes an arm around me. “I love you, too, Banana.”
We sit in silence to watch Claire, and I gently nudge Luke in the ribs. “What do you say we give her another five minutes then take her to McDonald’s? Although I don’t know how we’re going to tear her away now.”
Just then, the little boy who has been helping her, trips, and it’s almost as if he falls in slow motion as we see him land right in the middle of their creation, scattering pebbles everywhere.
“Uh oh!” he announces in a sing-song manner, entirely unaffected. Now that their project has been destroyed, he picks himself up and apparently decides he’s lost interest and goes on his way.
Claire, on the other hand, looks as if she just witnessed her parents being murdered. No sound has escaped her lips, but she’s about to blow.
Luke and I briefly look at each other before jumping from our seats to rush to her side. By the time we reach her, she’s wailing the most blood-curdling cry one could imagine coming from a child her size. “Poppeeeeee!” she screeches to Luke before he lifts her into his arms. “He ruined it!
He ruined it!
“I know. He didn’t mean to, sweetie. Shhhhh.”
I swear I cannot take it when she cries like this. And it’s not even a feeling of embarrassment as, naturally, every person in the park turns in our direction with curiosity, and probably annoyance. It’s the
she cries—it rips my heart to shreds. That fearful, panicked, out of control howl, as if she really did just witness a horrible, traumatizing event. But that’s the thing. To her this
a horrible, traumatizing event.
We try to leave the playground with her, but her meltdown only intensifies. “Nooo!” She reaches out to the ground around Luke’s shoulder. “No!
I have to fix it.
Tears sting my eyes as Luke meets my gaze. “Okay, baby,” he says, setting her down. “We’ll fix it.”
The three of us crouch to the ground, collecting the pebbles, and Claire is frantically tracking them down, sobbing loudly as she does so.
with that kid?” sneers a boy of about ten.
All I can say is if my eyes were weapons, that shithead would be lying on the ground.
Claire’s face is now a mess of dirt, tears, and snot as she keeps wiping her nose over and over again while picking up the stones.
“Where do you want them, sweet pea?” I ask.
“Right here!” She points with her small pudgy hand. “Right here!”
Luke and I try to help her line them up, but our participation only agitates her. “No, let me do it!” She’s doing that heavy breathing thing and I just know she’s going to pass out any second.
Realizing our job is to gather the stones for her, that’s what we do. I pause for a moment to collect myself, and catch a young mother on a bench nearby giving me a sympathetic smile.
I love my son-in-law, but how can he possibly think time outs and spankings will fix this?