“Hey hun. What are you reading?”
“One of Siobhan’s books on suppressing emotions.” Kieran unfolded himself from the couch and placed the book down.
“Oh, that’s never a good idea, love.” Eva frowned, concern on her face.
“Don’t worry mom, it’s not for me.”
“Well that’s good.” She walked over and sat down next to him. “How are you?”
Kieran smiled. “I’m okay.” He heard the next question before she even voiced it. “Everyone is healthy and doing well.”
She laughed. “Fine, fine. But now that you’re a parent, you’ll learn that the wellbeing of your children is always important.”
“I know. Even now I’m anxious to get back to Colin.” He didn’t like leaving his son for long.
Eva’s smile softened and she stood up. “Well, why don’t you take the book home with you?”
“Are you sure?” All of Siobhan’s books were rare. They were either first editions or the only copies of books that have been lost to the world. Some of them were so priceless that they belonged in a museum. He didn’t know how his mother didn’t freak out keeping them in the study, out in the open like that. To her, the books were meant to be read, not locked away under glass.
She liked to tell her students that magic wasn’t just about learning spells. It was about using your senses to draw from and understand the world around them. And that included touch. For her very small students, they had several field trips that involved rolling around in the grass, gardening, building pottery and having fun in general. She said it was meditation, becoming one with Mother Nature. And it seemed to work, so who was he to knock it?
“Yes. Go on with you. Get home before it’s too late out.”
Kieran smiled and stood to plant a kiss on her cheek. “Yes mama.”
Eva laughed and watched him as he walked out of the room.
Before he left, he went in search of Matt. He’d been doing a lot of thinking since he walked out on Lorde a few nights ago. Something he would never do again. He’d had one drink before making his way home, fearing that the babysitter would go and Lorde would find some reason to leave Colin alone again. So far, things seemed okay if a bit strained between them.
She’d become distant, more so than usual. He felt like he was just waiting for her to decide that their marriage was over. And he wondered why. What was it about her that had him holding on until the bitter end?
He finally found Matt playing chess by himself. Sometimes, when he was having a bad day, when his temper got the best of him or he felt his mind slipping, Matt would set up a game and play until he felt in control again. Kieran hated to bother him during a time like this and turned to leave.
“Hey, Al. Don’t go. I was just finishing up.” Matt smiled up at him and Kieran was relieved.
“Do you have one more game in you? It’s been a while since we played.”
Matt frowned but nodded. “Of course. Come, sit. We’ll talk.”
They played two rounds before Kieran finally turned the conversation to what he really wanted to discuss. “Did you ever consider leaving mom, you know, when it got really bad?”
Matt seemed to understand immediately what Kieran was trying to ask. He must be projecting his thoughts loudly.
“Your mother’s an angel,” Matt teased before turning serious. “But still. I did. It was only once and it’s a moment I’m not proud of.”
“What made you stay?”
Matt looked at him, his expression unreadable but his psyche screaming love, loyalty, fear. He was openly sharing his emotions so Kieran would understand. “You,” he said simply. “My love for you and your mother.”
They sat quietly for a moment, each contemplating their lives – the past, this moment, the future.
Finally Matt said, “Whatever you decide to do, the decision won’t be easy but know that your mother and I love and support you. It’s your life and you have to choose what’s best for you and your family.”
Kieran nodded, wondering how it was that Matt always seemed to know exactly what to say. “Thanks Matt.”
They finished their game in silence and then Kieran said his goodbyes. He had a decision to make.
“Hey Steph.” Kieran paced the room, surprised to hear from his sister.
Smiling, he swerved around a toy that Colin had left on the floor. “What’s up?”
“I have some good news and some bad news.”
“Okay. Good news first.”
“I got into the police academy!”
Kieran frowned. He could already see the bad news. “That’s great Steph! I didn’t know you’d applied though.”
“Yeah, I kept it pretty hush-hush. Now that mom and dad are moving to DV long-term, I figured it was time. But I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure, you know?”
“Yeah.” Their parents had decided that it was time to move to Dragon Valley. They had a steady stream of students now and Steph was old enough to take care of herself. It had always been the plan. But he still felt a pang thinking about it. His parents were going to be so much further away. “So what’s the bad news?”
“I won’t be able to put in the same amount of hours at Sage that I used to.” Her voice lowered over the line. “I’m so sorry Al.”
He sighed. “It’s okay Steph. You need to pursue the things that make you happy. But you’ll have to help me hire someone else. The whole point of hiring family was that I didn’t need to interview anyone.”
“You are so damn lazy!” He heard her laughing and it pulled a smile from him.
“Yes, I am. I thought you knew that about me already.”
“A sibling can hope and dream.”
“She sure can.”
They talked for a bit longer and then said their goodbyes.
Kieran stared down at his phone. Between Colin and the bakery, he barely had enough time to eat. He couldn’t take on Steph’s responsibilities. It would require too much time. Time he didn’t have now that Lorde was working a full six days a week. She was gone most of the night too.
He’d thought about going to see her. Maybe see if some of their old spark would catch in familiar surroundings. But he couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t be able to sit there and watch her dance for other men. And even if they had a private room to themselves the whole night, it galled him to think he’d have to pay to spend time with his wife.
He’d thought about asking her to dance for him at home but… She wasn’t – he couldn’t… He didn’t know what it was about her but he had the feeling she would be insulted if he asked.
Kieran looked around the room and sighed again. Colin was like a whirlwind. He destroyed everything in his path and Kieran was constantly picking up after him. If he didn’t the house would become a minefield of sharp toys underfoot. He now understood why Lorde used to clean up after their son. It was for their own damn safety.
He turned around and went to pick up the toy he’d bypassed earlier. It was a green dragon. Kieran chuckled. Matt had told Colin stories about Dragon Valley and he was now obsessed. He wanted to see a dragon. Shaking his head, Kieran tidied up and sat down to play blocks with his son. It would be nap time soon and he would finally have some quiet.
“Daddy, where you put Gotzilla?”
“In the toy box. It’s his nap time.”
“Me too?” Colin held a block poised in the air, looking anxiously at Kieran for the answer.
“In a bit. You can finish.”
Colin sighed in relief. “Thank you Daddy.”
Kieran smiled. “You’re very welcome.”
He’d just put Colin to bed and was getting ready for bed himself. Colin had been quiet after his nap, opting to flip the pages of his favorite book and play with the activity table for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe they’d go to the park tomorrow or have a playdate with one of the neighborhood kids.
He looked over to the bed and stumbled to a stop. Lorde was lounging on the bed in nothing but the thinnest slip of lingerie. He grew immediately suspicious. They’d been drifting around each other, like two moons orbiting the same planet but never in sync. It was no wonder he hadn’t even noticed her lying in the bed until she’d called his name.
“What are you doing?” It came out rougher than he’d wanted and he saw her flinch. He took an involuntary step towards her. “I mean, what’s going on?” He said, softening his tone.
“I thought maybe we could…” She looked down and fiddled with the bed sheet. She glanced up at him and smiled. “I do recall you saying that you wanted a girl. Colin is getting older and I thought, maybe…” She waved her hands vaguely before letting it drop to her lap. She looked at him and waited.
She wanted another child? He frowned. She didn’t even want – he stopped that thought. She wasn’t the best mother, not be a long stretch but she loved their son. That much he was sure of.
“Why now? We aren’t really in the best place, relationship-wise.” He took another step forward. As much as he was stalling – and he was stalling – he was also very interested. It had been too long since he touched his wife. And though they slept in the same bed, she didn’t turn to him in her sleep and he didn’t reach out. Even though he ached to hold her.
She sat up and his eyes followed the way her breasts moved. When she spoke, he watched the graceful movement of her slender throat. Her lips were full, her eyes wide. She had the softest skin, her body was smooth and supple. In short, she was beautiful.
“I miss you. I want you.” She began to slide her hands up her body, towards the tie in the front of her gown. “I need you.”
His legs bumped into the bed before he realized he was moving. When he was close enough, she wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing herself again him and kissing his neck. “Make love to me and then do it again.”
It was a command, a plea and it spoke directly into that small dark place inside him that continuously wondered if he was good enough for her. It poked at all his insecurities as a husband, a lover, a man. He wanted to keep her with him, make her happy. And a very small part of him remembered Siobhan’s words. He was meant to have a daughter.
Maybe this could be their second chance. Maybe they could start over. Both willing and wiser and committed to each other. A planned pregnancy…
But… Kieran pulled away and stared down at her. Her eyes were clear and she was smiling softly at him. “No more stripping. If we – if we have another child… No more stripping. Ever.”
She studied him and then gave a small nod.
“I need you to say it.” He was pushing his luck, he knew that. She might get angry and pull away. But he needed the words as much as he needed to be with her. He couldn’t keep going the way they were.
“No more stripping.” She leaned up and kissed the pulse point on his neck, making him shiver. “You’ll have to find other ways to keep me busy though.”
He grinned then he laughed. A full body laugh. Picking her up, he moved them to the middle of the bed. “I can think of at least a dozen.”
Later, Kieran stared up at his wife as she stretched above him. It was close to dawn and he hadn’t slept a wink. After making love to him, Lorde had fallen asleep on top of him, her body wrapped around his. He’d been too afraid to move, unwilling to wake her and lose that feeling of closeness. So he’d stayed awake, watching her sleep.
“Your hair is pink.”
She smiled down lazily at him. “Mmhhmm. I thought I’d try something different. Do you like it?”
“I love the color pink,” he said.
“I know.” Lorde bent down to kiss him. “Are you growing out your beard?”
“Maybe, I haven’t decided yet.”
“I like it.”
She slid off his body and cuddled next to him. And Kieran grinned some more.
Kieran looked up from his laptop. He just booked a flight for the three of them to go to Dragon Valley to visit his parents. “What?”
Lorde walked further into the room and sat down on the seat across from his desk. She looked shaken. “I am pregnant.”
They sat staring at each other. He felt like all the air in the world was inside him. Like he could just unfurl like a sail and billow out. He gave her a small, cautious smile. “We are happy?”
“I don’t know. Are we?”
He came around the desk and pulled her to her feet. “I am very happy. This is what we wanted, right?”
He had to ask because although she’d said the words all those weeks ago, after that night, things weren’t perfect. He’d figured that it had been a fluke. Perhaps she’d felt lonely and thought she had to say pretty words to him before he’d sleep with her. He’d decided that whatever her reasons, he would keep his own counsel. She’d been sweet and loving in a way she hadn’t been since the first time they made love. If it was her way of trying, he would just be grateful that they could still have those moments in their marriage.
But now she was pregnant.
“Have you gone to the doctor to confirm?” He asked when she remained silent. He desperately hoped she was just in shock and some of the joy he was feeling would start to show on her own face. He wanted her to be happy about this.
“I made an appointment for next week.” She looked down at the hand that was firmly in his grip. “I…”
She shook herself a little and pulled away. “I’ll start dinner. Are you almost finished in here?”
Kieran sighed a little. “Yeah.”
She walked to the door but hesitated, her back to him. “I hope it’s a girl.” She didn’t wait for a response from him but quickly walked out.
He was glad. He didn’t have anything to say to that. Whether she meant for it to be or not, it was a clear reminder of all the ways he’d let her down with her first pregnancy. He would do better this time. He would be there for her and he would support her through it all. No more bitching. She’d made a huge effort and had taken the first step. He suspected she hadn’t wanted a second child. Who would want to go through a difficult pregnancy a second time?
He would try to be the man his dad was, someone who was supportive and loving. It’s what he’d wanted from the start but somewhere along the way he’d forgotten that.
He would do better.
Grinning now, he turned to his desk and began to shut down his computer. He would go get Colin ready for dinner and then bed. Maybe he and Lorde could have another date night. Celebrate a little with a silly rom-com and some popcorn.