The Plot Thickens (4 of x)

Trigger warnings are bullshit, in my opinion, but this took me a while to write because it is an extremely painful subject. I tempered it with some flashback happiness, but even though it’s fictional, it gave me all the feels. I’m curious to know if it reads as overly dramatized, realistic, cliche etc. It’s a continuation of this, by the way.

Jeremy stared blankly at the line of code he’d been trying to write for the last half hour. This wasn’t like him. He wasn’t easily distracted from his work. At least not until recently. He took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He pushed the chair away from the desk in his home office and spun around slowly, leaning back. Trailing his toe to the ground he came to a stop, pushed out of the chair, and plopped face-down on the small couch that sat opposite the front window. His tall frame was nearly two feet too long for it. He bent his knees up so that at least his stomach and chest were flat, his face buried in a throw pillow.

He stayed in the relatively uncomfortable position for a few breaths until he realized the pillow smelled like Hannah. The exotic floral scent of her shampoo lingered fresh on the fabric, and as he sat up, he pulled one of her long wheat-blonde hairs off the arm rest the pillow had been propped against. Had she slept down here? He fell asleep with her beside him in bed and woke up to her in the same place. Had she been up sometime in the night? Why would she come down here to sleep only to return to his side before he woke? Why didn’t he notice that she was gone?

Jeremy inhaled Hannah’s scent on the pillow. He craved that scent, the woman it was attached to, constantly. Her scent, her laughter, her mind. He wanted her around him all the time, even if  they were each doing their own thing. He wanted her near him; he wanted to be in her presence. It had been that way since the first time he met her. She was setting up a conference room for a research proposal presentation and something was wrong with the projector. Hannah was new to the university, so she didn’t know which IT department extension to call for assistance. Hardware malfunctions weren’t in Jeremy’s purview, but it was his extension she dialed. She was direct about her concern on the phone, and though it wasn’t his job, he knew how to fix the problem. He came up to the conference room to find her standing on the table, ballet flats kicked off, all five feet eleven inches of her stretching on tip toes to reach the ceiling-mounted projector to check that the cords were connected properly.

Hannah was satisfied that all the wired connections were secure, the projector was on, and the lens cap was removed. With her hands on her hips, she gave it a last look and sighed heavily. She still hadn’t noticed Jeremy in the room. As she attempted to get off the table, Jeremy cleared his throat before she did something immodest in her pencil skirt. She startled at the sound and turned her head to him. She tried to smile, but the expression was more of a grimace as she not-so-gracefully managed to get her feet back on the floor without splitting her skirt or her skull.

“It’s not the cords,” Hannah reported when she had her shoes back on and her blouse smoothed out. Jeremy was impressed that she’d taken it upon herself to check, so he knew he could skip the old engineer’s trick of turning it off and turning it on again.

“What laptop are you working from?” Jeremy looked toward the lectern near the screen in the conference room. Hannah nodded. He took a look at the laptop and discerned the problem immediately. “This is one of the new laptops, so it works with the projector’s Bluetooth. It may not be set up yet.” He went to the table to peer up at the projector, reading an ID number off of it, and returned to the laptop for some fiddling.

Hannah stood beside him, checking her watch. She was nervous not of presenting but of the possibility of having to present without the PowerPoint she had prepared. She made it a habit to show up early for these very reasons because technology hadn’t always come through for her. She’d done one presentation without visual aids in high school and learned the lesson for life. She wasn’t a dynamic enough speaker to be able to hold the attention of her audience without something for them to look at, and now that her  presentations always included data, it was a bitch to rattle that information off without a supporting chart, even if it wasn’t fancy.

Jeremy liked that she had tried to solve the problem herself, but she was hovering. He couldn’t tell if she was nervous or if she was trying to micromanage all aspects of the presentation. Either way, it made him nervous. She was beautiful and obviously intelligent if she was proposing research for the Brain Injury Institute; plus, her no-nonsense American attitude on the phone had him intrigued before he’d seen her long, curvy body stretched above the conference table.

“Thank you for this. They didn’t tell me anything about the equipment, just that I was presenting in here.” Hannah was genuinely grateful, and she sensed that she’d maybe given this IT guy more than he bargained for by having her butt at eye level when he walked in.

“Sure, no problem. It’s just about ready now.” Jeremy saw that the laptop had found the projector. He turned to look at the big screen as the monitor’s image popped up. “There you are.”

The relief on Hannah’s face made Jeremy smile. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was worried I’d have to talk through all the data and that would put everyone to sleep instead of getting them interested in supporting this research.” She looked at the ID badge hanging around his neck before going on, “Seriously, Jeremy, you’ve saved me from boring a lot of people to death.”

Jeremy wasn’t used to people being so thankful. Most of the time the best he got for thanks was a nod and grunt when he’d fixed a software problem. Hannah was unlike anyone he’d ever met. He couldn’t imagine her presentation would be boring with or without the PowerPoint. He wanted to stay to hear it even though brain injuries had never interested him before. Brain to computer interaction, maybe, but injuries and recovery and all that, no thanks. He realized then that he hadn’t said anything in response to Hannah’s praise. She was looking at him and the laptop not impatiently but with a question in her eyes.

“Oh, yeah. Yes. You’ll want to get back to setting up. Right. Glad I could help,” he fumbled for words that made sense. Once he stepped aside, Hannah was back behind the lectern doing some fiddling of her own, viewing the slideshow from the beginning and checking that all her citations were accurate. Jeremy watched as the information flashed on the projection screen, catching her name on the opening slide. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, Hannah,” he said as he stepped toward the door.

Without looking up, Hannah said, “I owe you, IT Jeremy” as she continued to work.

The next day at lunchtime Hannah was wandering around the basement where the online directory had told her she could find Jeremy’s office. He spotted her before she found the right door and was surprised to see her. When people say they owe you, they don’t usually mean it, and if they do, they don’t follow up on it quickly. “Hannah, hi! How did the presentation go?” he called to her.

“I think it went well. Thank you for your help. I’m embarrassed that I asked the lead software guy to do such a menial task. I just dialed the first IT number I saw. I’m sorry it wasted your time. You have much more important things to work on than troubleshooting for me,” Hannah rambled a bit. “I owe you either way, and I’m going to get lunch and wondered if I could bring you something? A coffee, anything.”

The woman amazed Jeremy. She was brilliant, beautiful, solution-oriented, grateful, and, from what he could tell, reliable. He didn’t know what he wanted for lunch, but he knew that he wanted to be around Hannah as much as possible, to get to know her.

Still enjoying her scent on the pillow, Jeremy remembered how hard it had been to talk her into moving in with him when the lease on her flat expired. Like everything in their relationship, Hannah didn’t make it easy. One of the qualities he failed to infer from their meeting in the conference room was her independence and her obstinacy. To Jeremy, living together was more than logical, it was what he wanted since the first time she’d slept in his arms. Hannah thought it was just another way Jeremy was being annoyingly reasonable. Hannah knew him well. When he saw a problem, his engineering brain went to work on several possible solutions, evaluating them to choose the most effective one and acting upon it. They were spending at least three nights a week together anyway; he already owned his place; she needed to save money wherever she moved next. Hannah moving in made sense in every way. Jeremy had to give voice to all his emotions to convince her it wasn’t about cold hard logic. He desired her. He wasn’t the emotionless scientist she sometimes thought he was. He wasn’t the emotionless scientist he sometimes acted like.

Wasn’t that the problem now? He’d acted like a robotic ass when Hannah needed to see his heart and feel his support. He’d been caught up in medical explanations, trying to make sense of something that was too crushing to confront with his heart. Jeremy had to use his head from the moment he was left alone in the A&E waiting area. Hannah wasn’t his wife, so he wasn’t allowed to go with her for treatment. All Jeremy knew was that when he let go of her clammy, trembling hand, Hannah was crumpled in pain and bleeding in ways a pregnant woman should not be. His head was the only thing keeping his heart from shattering.

They hadn’t even known she was pregnant very long. Hannah took the home test when she realized she was six days late. They’d run out of condoms on their hiking trip in the Scottish Highlands. Hannah wasn’t on birth control, so they knew it was a risk, but in the tent, tangled together in one sleeping bag, celebrating that she had moved in with him, neither of them had cared. Jeremy wanted to spend the rest of his life with Hannah even before he asked her to live with him, so pregnancy was a step in the right direction as far as he was concerned. He was delighted to be fathering a child with her. He went with her to the first appointment, a simple blood test to confirm what they already knew. The doctor said her hormone levels were good and that this early in the pregnancy, an ultrasound wasn’t necessary. Even though Hannah was 37, therefore at a higher risk for complications by American standards, the doctor assured the couple that she didn’t need to do anything differently than any other pregnant woman. Hannah started taking prenatal vitamins even before the appointment, and the doctor said besides that and continuing to eat well and exercise, there wasn’t anything she should worry about. Hannah and Jeremy scheduled an appointment for three weeks later when they might be able to hear their baby’s heartbeat and see its shape on the ultrasound.

Jeremy knew Hannah was feeling a million things, not just because of hormones. He constantly asked Hannah to talk to him. He had been asking her to talk to him since the beginning of their relationship. For all her work getting stroke survivors to re-learn how to speak, Hannah was guarded with her feelings when it came to Jeremy. He knew and loved that about her. She was reserved in her affections not because they weren’t deep but because she had trouble trusting people as much as she trusted herself. He figured out pretty quickly that she was independent almost to a fault, but it made her more attractive to Jeremy. Hannah didn’t need him; she wanted him. While it was nice that he could sometimes make her life easier, like the day they met, she didn’t expect him to be her hero or savior, and that somehow relieved him. As the oldest child of five, he grew up with expectations coming from every direction. His parents expected him to take care of his younger brothers and sisters; his younger brothers and sisters expected him to be their protector and leader; he expected himself to set a good example for his siblings and make his parents proud. Hannah’s expectations of him were as annoyingly reasonable as she accused him of being. He could live up to them; he could manage to not let her down.

Except he had this time. This time when it was more important than ever, Jeremy let her down because he protected himself from the pain of the doctor’s words instead of thinking about how Hannah was going to be able to do the same. Jeremy knew Hannah was worried that it was too soon for them to have a baby. They’d only been living together for a few months, were still trying to figure out how to negotiate sharing space full time. Adding a baby made her wary. Hannah’s family history loomed large, Jeremy knew, but he also knew he was nothing like her father. While Hannah’s father was a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, and her mother had chosen the highway, Jeremy, though he thought methodically, was emotionally intelligent. If talking through feelings was the best solution to a problem, he had no qualms about doing so. If trying to understand a perspective that wasn’t his own would lead to a better solution than he could think of alone, he knew how to be a team player.

But he hadn’t looked at another perspective when he heard that Hannah was recovering from emergency surgery to remove her right ovary and fallopian tube because the fetus implanted there instead of her uterus. The baby was gone, and Hannah herself had been in danger had they not performed the surgery. She still faced a lot of physical recovery time though her prognosis was good. Without two ovaries, however, the chance of conceiving another child was reduced. Jeremy took it all into his head because he couldn’t allow it into his heart. Without Hannah near him to give him the strength he needed, he couldn’t find a way to his heart. So he used his head, grilling the doctor with questions about what had gone wrong, why the baby had implanted in the wrong place, why Hannah’s body hadn’t alerted her to the problem earlier, why the doctors hadn’t known sooner, why there wasn’t a medical procedure that could detach the living fetus from the dangerous fallopian tube wall and reattach it the safe uterine lining. Why. Why. Why he hammered.

Sitting on the couch, his nose buried in the pillow that smelled of Hannah, Jeremy was still hammering why, why, why. He was not questioning the doctor or Hannah though. Why had he been so weak, so selfish?  Why had he let his grief wind its way inside him and turn into finger pointing? Why couldn’t he be silent and supportive? Why, the ONE time Hannah needed him, could he not deliver? Sure, he’d taken care of her after surgery, making sure she had everything she needed to recover physically. When she was able to come home from hospital, he carried her up the two flights of stairs to their bedroom and got her comfortable. After she’d rested, he helped her shower and wash her hair, making sure to re-dress the healing incision on her lower abdomen. He’d brought her the ice cream she asked for and anything else she’d wanted. But he said nothing about the baby. Nothing about his grief. He didn’t ask her about her grief.  For the first time in their relationship, he didn’t ask her to talk to him. He got updates on how she was doing physically, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask about her feelings. He couldn’t bring himself to talk about his feelings.

It went on that way for weeks. Hannah’s body slowly healed, but they both lived behind walls to hide their emotions. Jeremy knew it was no good; he knew Hannah well enough to know she was suffering because of it too. One night about four weeks after the emergency surgery, he broke down. He didn’t give Hannah any warning that he wanted to talk, he just started in over dinner. He approached it from the medical side, presenting reasons he’d found from internet searches about why some women have ectopic pregnancies. Throughout the verbal explosion, Jeremy was exactly the cold, hard logician Hannah accused him of being. He was all head and no heart, except that he was bleeding from his own heart, unable to deal with the loss they were mutually ignoring. A loss that he couldn’t come to terms with in a reasonable way. A loss that hurt him deeply because it also seemed to crush his hopes of being with Hannah for the rest of his life. And in his pain, he’d said the worst possible thing before he could stop himself.

“I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m saying you neglected to do something you were supposed to do. Or you neglected to avoid something you were supposed to avoid,” Jeremy blamed Hannah for losing their child.

Hannah looked like he’d punched her in the gut. She remained motionless for several moments before putting down her fork when her hands began to shake. She’d tried very hard not to cry in front of Jeremy because she thought he wouldn’t understand, that he would want her to explain her tears, to talk about what she felt. She didn’t know that he wanted to cry too, that holding her while they both cried was probably what they both needed. At the dinner table, blamed for something that was out of her control but she felt was her fault anyway, Hannah couldn’t hold back the tears until she was away from Jeremy. She sat with her trembling hands in her lap, her head bowed, and cried.

Jeremy was immediately disgusted with himself. He hated that he’d given voice to his most venomous thoughts. He didn’t even believe Hannah could have done something differently, not in his heart. He knew she was hurting just as badly as he was, but he couldn’t see past his own suffering until that moment. He looked at her sitting there defeated, her shoulders slumped, sobs convulsing her body. Not for the first time in the last few weeks, she needed him. Genuinely needed him like she’d never needed him before. Strong, independent Hannah who never let the power balance between them teeter too far to one side or another had been needing Jeremy for the last month and he’d been too grief stricken to even see it. Now it was plain as day that he’d only added to Hannah’s suffering by ignoring the loss that weighed on both of them.

His harsh words remained suspended in the air as Hannah continued to weep at their dinner table. Before he was paralyzed by grief, now he was paralyzed by guilt. What would he possibly say after something so vicious? How could he even begin to make amends for the wound he inflicted with his words on top of the wounds he’d inflicted by being an emotionless ass over the last month? An apology, of course, but he couldn’t erase the things he’d just said. Jeremy had never felt like such a terrible human being as he did in that moment.

Hannah made no attempt to leave the table. She remained in her seat, crying, her whole body shaking with her sobs. Jeremy knelt beside her, wrapping his arms around her waist and putting his head in her lap. He felt the waves of her tears as they rolled through her, her sadness passing into him. He tried to breathe deep and evenly to slow her jagged breaths, but he found himself short of air as his own cheeks dampened. Tears rolling slowly down his face, he looked up at her. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe any of what I said. I’m so sorry, Hannah. I’m lost in my grief without you. Tell me how to do this with you. Tell me what I can do so we’re together in this instead of being alone and apart. I’m so sorry I’ve been selfish in my sadness.”

Hannah ran her hands through his thick brown hair and held his head in her lap without saying anything. They stayed like that, both crying, as their dinner got cold.

3 of X…

Today’s post is a continuation of this. It’s the third piece of I don’t know how many… My mom likes the first two parts, so that’s a plus!


Still holding Annie, Hannah followed where Katie and her dad led, their hands joined. Hannah was struggling to remember his name. She was an avid soccer fan, but he had played so long ago that she couldn’t even remember what team, what position, anything. When she’d seen his analysis, she hadn’t paid attention to the graphics introducing him and his professional achievements. He was Irish. She could go for a stereotype and assume his name was Patrick, Sean, or Jimmy. She silently chuckled at herself. How terrible if she just addressed him as “Paddy?” Since he hadn’t introduced himself, she wondered if he thought it was a given that people knew who he was. He didn’t strike her as arrogant, but she’d only just met him. She felt silly asking, but she would feel even sillier not knowing.

“I know I’ve seen you on Sky Sports, but I can’t remember your name,” she said as they stepped onto the sidewalk and back into the city. She loved Hampstead Heath for that very reason. One step inside, you were whisked away from the rush of London, but you could get back to the city’s excitement in the blink of an eye.

“Jesus! Where are my manners today? I’m Liam,” he apologized.

“I knew it was something quintessentially Irish.”

“You were going to call me Patrick or Sean, right? Boy-o, maybe?” He joked, echoing her thoughts.

As they crossed the street, Hannah smirked. “I wasn’t going to go so far as boy-o, laddy,” she said in a perfect Dublin lilt.

Katie dropped her father’s hand once they were back on the sidewalk and turned to Hannah. Eyes wide, she asked, “How’d you do that? You sounded just like gran.”

“Truly well done. Have you had practice?” Liam asked, equally impressed. “Most Americans come off sounding like eejits at best; the worst I won’t say in front of the girls.”

“I told you I liked listening to accents, Katie. Didn’t you tell me that your dad has some of his own?”

“Do the American one, daddy! Make it sound just like Hannah.”

Liam cleared his throat and said, “I don’t know how well I’ll do, but this is my best shot.”

Hannah tried but she couldn’t hold back her laughter. He sounded like a surfer dude, the male equivalent of a valley girl. She didn’t know if he’d done it on purpose, but it was terrible.

“What, no good?” Liam asked in his own voice.

“No. No good at all. Maybe try Southern or Boston next time. Either one would make you sound more intelligent than that did.” Hannah shook her head.

“Daddy, it really didn’t sound like Hannah at all. She’s way better sounding like gran.”

“All right, all right. I guess my career in acting can only include Irish roles. Maybe I’ll stick to my day job,” Liam laughed at himself along with Hannah and Katie. “How’d you get to be so good, Hannah?”

“A combination of things, but mostly because I know the International Phonetic Alphabet and like a lot of Irish musicians.”

“Are there Irish musicians besides Bono?” Liam queried sarcastically.

“Who’s Bono? Never heard of him,” Hannah picked up quickly.

Liam laughed. Hannah’s anguished eyes didn’t hinder her wit and humor. He was glad she wasn’t so lost in her bleakness anymore. He wondered what caused it, if it was anything he could take away. Katie had said Hannah lost something, but aside from a loved one, he couldn’t think of what a person could lose that would make her so sad. And if it was a loved one, is that how Hannah would have explained it to Katie? That she’d lost something? Hannah seemed to place more value on people than a statement like that implied.

He held the door open for her as they entered the coffee shop. Katie grabbed a cupful of crayons and a stack of scrap paper from the stand by the door before looking around for a table for four. “Come on, Hannah. There’s four seats over there,” Katie said as she weaved through the closely packed tables and chairs.

“Patience, my love. We need a booster seat for Annie, and I have to find out what everyone wants.”

Her father’s words didn’t stop her from blazing a trail to the table, but when she got there, she reserved it by putting her crayons and papers down before returning to his side. Hannah bent down to grab a booster seat from a shelf on the same child-friendly stand and then struggled to be as graceful as Katie had been getting to the table. It was a challenge with Annie and the booster seat in tow, but she made it without knocking anyone’s drinks over. Only when she had settled Annie and herself did she realize she hadn’t given her order to Liam.

Luckily, Katie was on her way back through the maze, holding a box of milk and a box of apple juice. “Annie, do you want milk?” she presented the milk box first, a cow leaping over a fence on the label. “Or apple juice, like me?” The apple juice box was green with a big red apple on the front. Annie pointed to the apple juice box, indicating her choice without words. As Liam had said, she only spoke a handful. It seemed to Hannah that Annie understood a lot more.

“May I please have a double espresso, Katie?” Hannah ordered as she reached for her purse to give the girl money.

“I thought you wanted coffee.”

“It’s a kind of coffee. It has caffeine in it, which is the most important thing.” Hannah gave Katie a five pound note. She knew Katie wouldn’t forget the order. The girl was obviously smart.

“Double express, okay,” Katie repeated the order and walked away. Close enough, Hannah thought.

Hannah spread out the crayons and put a piece of paper in front of Annie. Annie immediately reached for the red crayon and began furiously scribbling in a circle. She filled it in almost completely before she took the green crayon and drew a bunch of lines coming out of the top of the circle. An apple. “Wow, Annie. That’s an apple. You ordered apple juice and then drew an apple,” Hannah praised the toddler.

Annie seemed to nod and definitely smiled. So, she did understand more words than she spoke. Liam had said Annie needed to get into a program before she was three. Hannah wondered how soon that would be. She noticed Annie wasn’t wearing a diaper. Old enough to be potty trained, Hannah thought, so she hadn’t just turned two. Maybe two and a half? And how old was Katie with all that spelling and great memory for details?

Katie made her way back to the table holding two boxes of apple juice followed by Liam who was carrying a small cup and saucer and a much larger cup and saucer. He was steady on his feet and navigated the tight space with ease. Hannah took the smaller cup and saucer from his hands when he reached the table so he could get himself and Katie situated. Hannah added two packets of sugar to her double espresso and stirred it before unwrapping the small piece of chocolate that accompanied it and letting it sink into the dark hot liquid.

“I’ve never seen coffee come with chocolate,” Katie observed as she stabbed the straw into the first juice box and handed it to Annie.

“That’s an espresso, my love. It’s a little different than the coffee I have. See how Hannah didn’t use any cream? Everyone takes their drink their own special way,” Liam explained, nodding his approval that Katie helped her sister before worrying about her own juice.

“But I don’t put anything in my juice,” Katie said as she took a sip.

Hannah took her first sip of the nectar she had stirred to perfection. Delicious. “Your juice already has a lot of ingredients mixed in, so it doesn’t need anything extra. It tastes just the way you want it to.”

Katie seemed to accept this explanation and turned her attention to Annie’s drawing. “Hey! You drew an apple.” Annie smiled as she took a drink.

“Where’s this spelling you were going to do, Katie?” Liam asked knowing it would be a few minutes before his older daughter’s muffin arrived cut, toasted, and buttered the way she’d requested it.

“Oh, yeah. Let’s spell, Hannah. Coffee first, right?” Katie picked up an orange crayon and got some paper.

“Yep, coffee first. Can you sound out what coffee starts with?”

Again Katie imitated Hannah’s thinking posture, a finger to her chin and brows furrowed. She added a little gnaw of her bottom lip, deep in contemplation. Hannah couldn’t believe how quickly Katie had picked up the quirk. It was like the girl was a mirror. Did all children mimic behavior so fast? Would her own child have been a mini version of herself? The notion bothered Hannah, not just because her own child didn’t exist. She didn’t think the world needed another version of herself and all her eccentricities. She frowned briefly and dismissed that line of thinking, turning her focus back to Katie who was mouthing something without making sound.

“Coffee sounds like Katie at the beginning, so it starts with K,” the child reasoned and wrote a K on the paper.

It was sound logic, so Hannah didn’t want to discourage Katie. She glanced at Liam for a moment to gauge if he would correct his daughter, but he was occupied with Annie. He was looking between her and the drawing of the apple, clearly dismayed by the idiosyncrasies of her speaking and comprehension abilities.

“It is the same sound. Good start. You might know some other words that sound the same at the beginning but don’t begin with a K though,” Hannah instructed. Hopefully it was a delicate way to get Katie to correct herself.

Katie looked at Hannah, confusion on her face before it cleared and she exclaimed, “like cat!”

“Exactly! Like cat. What does cat begin with?”

“C. C-a-t is cat. I like cats even more than I like puppies.” Katie crossed out the K and wrote in a C below it. She took on the next sound in coffee and decided it was an O. Hannah encouraged her to continue, and Katie got to the F on her own. Of course, she skipped the second F and landed on a Y as the last letter. C-O-F-Y blazed in orange underneath the crossed out K she’d begun with.

Liam had given up trying to understand Annie’s mind for the time being and looked at Katie’s work. “Well done, Katie. Not quite right, but a grand effort,” he praised.

“What’s wrong with it?” Katie looked crestfallen. Liam picked up a blue crayon and wrote out the correct spelling for her. “F-F and E-E? That’s funny.”

“Lots of words have double letters. You can’t always tell just by hearing the word,” Hannah explained. “My name has a double letter. Annie’s too. Do you know how to spell Annie?” Katie wrote out her sister’s name on her paper, spelling it correctly. “See? Double N for Annie. I have a double N too.”

“What other words have double letters?” Katie was curious.

“Apple. Give it a try,” Liam challenged.

Below her sister’s name on the paper, Katie began with the A. She got the P almost immediately but then stopped, stumped. “Are you sure it has a double letter, daddy?”

“It sure does. It also ends in an E, like Annie’s name,” Hannah hinted at the rest of the word. “It has the same number of letters too.”

Katie examined the letters in her sister’s name and filled in the E in the word she tried to spell below it. That left only two letters blank. She quietly repeated the word apple to herself, dedicating her full attention to the problem. Hannah and Liam watched her concentration; only Annie seemed not to care about the puzzle the adults had created for her sister.

“One of the letters has to be E or P because you said it was double. I don’t know,” Katie was ready to give up when her muffin arrived, the top and bottom separated, each half cut into four pieces, and little smears of butter on each piece of the muffin top but not the bottom. It was the perfect diversion. She abandoned the unsolved mystery and handed Annie one of the unbuttered bottom piece and took a bite of one of the top buttered pieces for herself.

Hannah smiled at the specificity of the muffin’s division and Katie’s efforts to spell a tough word like apple. She watched and sipped her espresso as both girls enjoyed their snack. Her morning had taken an unexpected turn, and she was feeling much better than when she’d set out of the home she shared with Jeremy. She might never be able to shake the sadness of losing a pregnancy, but Katie had helped her realize she could put it in the back of her mind for a while. It was a welcome relief. The compartmentalization warmed her from the inside. Warmed her enough that she felt herself flush and decided to take off her hoodie.

As Hannah took her arms out of the sweatshirt and let it fall around her waist, Liam laughed. Embarrassed, Hannah shot him an inquisitive look.

“Your shirt,” Liam answered her eyes and pointed to her chest, still grinning.

Hannah looked at her t-shirt. She hadn’t remembered she was wearing it. In large black letters, it listed BS, MS, and PhD. Over each abbreviation, in smaller white lettering, was “Bull Shit,” “More Shit,” and “Piled higher & Deeper.” It was a gift from her research partner when she got her doctorate.

She scrambled to replace her hoodie. “God, I forgot I was wearing it. It’s inappropriate for kids,” she apologized.

Liam looked at Katie and Annie eating their muffin and drawing. “I don’t think they noticed, and she wouldn’t be able to read the definitions anyway. It’s funny. Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. “You have all those degrees?”

“Yeah. I’m an accredited nerd,” Hannah shrugged. She was proud of her accomplishments, but she never liked to make a big deal of them. She never insisted on being addressed as doctor, though it was nice when someone used the title.

“Brilliant. Katie wants to be a veterinarian. Maybe you could talk to her about all the schooling it requires.”

Turning her attention to the girls who were coloring and eating, Hannah had no doubt Katie would be a great vet. “A veterinarian, huh? Is that why you followed that puppy today?”

Looking up from her doodles, Katie launched into a zealous monologue about all the different animals she liked and why – puppies for their soft fur, cats for their balance, dolphins for how clever they are, giraffes for their long necks, fish because of all the different colors they come in, monkeys because they look like people. In the middle of her litany of animal assets, she stopped abruptly and exclaimed, “I have to invite you to my birthday party. Daddy, give Hannah an invitation.”

“I don’t have the invitations with me, my love. Why don’t you tell Hannah a little bit about your party to see if it’s something she would like.”

“It’s at the zoo!”

Hannah hadn’t understood how animals could lead Katie to think of her birthday party, but now it made sense. Katie was jumping out of her skin with excitement about the party, so Hannah tried to match her enthusiasm. “The zoo, wow! And how old are you going to be?”

“FIVE!” Katie screeched, holding up her hand with her fingers spread wide. “And everyone’s coming and we’re going to have cake and the zookeepers are going to let us touch some of the animals! They’re shutting down the whole zoo for my party!”

That got Hannah’s eyes as wide as Katie’s were. “No! The whole zoo all for you and your friends? What a great fifth birthday.”

Liam didn’t know why, but he felt like the extravagance made Hannah uncomfortable. It certainly made some of the guests who were invited uncomfortable. But his eldest daughter would only turn five once, and he’d never let her have pets at home because of his allergies. Animals made her so happy that it made perfect sense to him to shut down the whole Regents Park Zoo for her birthday. He wouldn’t do it every birthday. He had the money to do anything for his girls. Why did he feel defensive about this?

“My wife says I’m too indulgent, but you only turn five once,” Liam said even though Hannah hadn’t expressed anything to support his feeling of being attacked.

“What’s indulgent, daddy?” Katie wanted to know everything about her party, so if indulgent was part of it, she needed answers.

“Indulgent means I give my girls anything and everything they want.”

“What’s your wife?” she moved on to the other word she didn’t know.

“My wife is mummy.”

Now Hannah reacted, though subtly and not to attack renting out a zoo. Hadn’t Katie said that her mom and dad lived in two different houses? Were they separated? Obviously the family had enough money to have two homes if they could rent a zoo in central London for a day. Hannah was confused about the living arrangement. She was also confused about why she cared at all. She didn’t know these people. Why would she know their life? She’d easily slipped into a familiarity with Katie that extended to Annie and Liam. She’d forgotten that she’d only just met all three of them. Hannah was a caring person, so she didn’t fault herself for being kind to them, but she did feel foolish for some reason she couldn’t understand.

“Are you mummy’s wife?” Katie tried to learn the word she didn’t know.

Liam chuckled, “No, my love. I’m mummy’s husband. Like brothers are boys and sisters are girls. Uncles are men and aunts are men. Husbands are men and wives are women.”

“Why is there a different word if it’s a boy or a girl?”

Hannah liked this child a lot. Here she was, not even five, picking up on gendered language. Liam was right to have called her a handful earlier. Her curiosity was going to be a constant challenge to him.

“I don’t know. Those are just the words,” Liam answered. He had a look in his eyes like he was thinking about it now too. “I suppose the better word for mummy is a partner. Mummy’s my partner. I’m mummy’s partner. That’s what a lot of people say here in England.”

“It’s the same thing?” Katie was trying to wrap her head around it “Wife, husband, partner?”

“Sort of. I can’t explain it. Ask me again when you’re older,” Liam put off a conversation that was way out of his depth. What did he know about the history of gendered language? He was still trying to figure out why societies for millennia thought women were weak.

Hannah had enough to say about the topic for a fifteen-page paper she wrote for one of her linguistics classes in undergrad, but she had no idea how to begin to make that explanation accessible to a four year old, no matter how precocious Katie was. Liam’s plan to discuss it later was a good one as far as Hannah was concerned. Hannah found herself hoping she could be a part of that conversation with Katie later in life.

Katie twisted her mouth at her dad’s response, weighing whether she would accept it or not. Finally, she let it go and got back on topic. “You’ll come to my birthday party at the zoo, Hannah!” She declared.

Liam looked at Hannah with a sheepish smile and a shrug of his shoulders. Katie was definitely a handful. “It’s next Saturday afternoon. I’ll have to check the RSVP list, but it seems like the birthday girl won’t take no for an answer.”

“You HAVE to come, Hannah. There’s going to be face painting and pizza and cake and all the animals and I want you to come!”

“Sounds like fun. I think my schedule should be clear,” Hannah accepted because she didn’t see any reason not to and she thought it would disappoint Katie if she said no.

Liam took out his phone and added Hannah’s name to his contacts. “What’s your number? I’ll check the list and send you the details later today.”

Hannah recited her number for him and put a reminder about the party in her own phone. Katie clapped at the success of her invitation. Annie mimicked her sister. Everyone was pleased with the plan.

The new friends enjoyed the rest of their snack amid casual conversation and drawing. Hannah was the worst artist among them, but Katie loved everything the woman drew anyway. The girls finished the muffin that had been so meticulously prepared while Liam and Hannah enjoyed their caffeine boost. Parting ways outside the coffee shop, Annie gave Hannah a soggy kiss on the cheek, Katie very nearly cut off the circulation in Hannah’s neck when she hugged her, and Liam shook her hand, thanking her again for finding Katie.

“I’ll see you at my birthday party! Daddy, don’t forget to send Hannah the details,” Katie said as Liam took her hand and pulled her in the direction they were going.

Hannah waved, still warm inside from the unexpected turn the day had taken. She dreaded talking to Jeremy, but at least she hadn’t had the time to construct a fight in her mind. Maybe if she went in without defenses to arguments he hadn’t yet made, the conversation would be better than she expected. She loved him, and he loved her, so that was as good a starting place as they could ask for under the circumstances. And after meeting Katie, Hannah felt a little better about some of the doubts she’d had about being a mother. In fact, she was feeling almost confident about her maternal instincts after having interacted with both Katie and Annie. As she made her way home on the tube, she felt physically lighter than she had earlier that day.

That thing, continued

Today’s post is a continuation of this.

Exiting the shaded area of the path left Hannah and Katie at the opening of a field where the November sun shown brilliantly above them. Without her sunglasses, Hannah’s eyes took a moment to adjust, so she could hardly see anything as Katie took the lead, now skipping and swinging their bonded hands.

The playground was still a way off, but as she got used to the sun, Hannah could tell it was crowded with toddlers enjoying the day. Parents stood and sat at attention around the edges, some chatting with other adults, some watching their children. She didn’t see anyone who looked worried. She wondered if Katie’s dad had even noticed her absence, and the idea upset her. How could a parent be so inattentive? So neglectful?

Neglect. The word resounded through her whole body. “I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m saying you neglected to do something you were supposed to do. Or you neglected to avoid something you were supposed to avoid.” Jeremy wasn’t wrong, and he hadn’t meant to be malicious, but his logic was cruel. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t already told herself; that didn’t mean she wanted to hear the words spoken, particularly by him.

Hannah shook her head to get herself out of the memory. She’d come to the park this morning to figure out how to move forward with Jeremy, not to get lost in recriminations. And she hadn’t expected to meet Katie, who continued to pull them both across the open field.

“I walked this way to follow the puppy. That’s the playground down there. The swings are on the other side,” the child pointed out everything as they walked.

Hannah glanced at the playground, feeling a little better about Katie’s father. The swings were not visible from this side, so he could very well be looking for his older daughter on the other side. As they got closer, Hannah pulled to circle the playground to the right, but Katie went left. Without thinking, Hannah picked up Katie and placed her on her shoulders.

“No running away again until we find your dad, Katie.” Hannah said, tilting her head up to meet Katie’s gaze. She was unfazed by the change of vantage points. She rested her hands on top of Hannah’s head and pet her like a cat.

“Your hair is soft,” Katie said. She ran her little fingers all the way to the end of Hannah’s messy ponytail, making sure she wasn’t sitting on it. “It’s so long too! Mummy’s hair is short.”

“Thank you. I bet your mommy’s hair is soft too.”

“It is, but it’s not like yours. Yours is lighter and not as straight. Mummy’s is dark brown and straight like a line.” Katie continued to pet Hannah’s head, her little fingers lightly massaging the woman’s scalp. The sensation comforted Hannah, her earlier thoughts dissipating because of the child once again.

They rounded the corner to find the swing set half full. A few feet behind one of the benches that lined the playground, a tall man held a girl with the same corn silk light blonde hair Katie had. His back was to the playground as he looked out at the field beyond. He fiercely gripped the toddler with his left arm and his shoulders heaved with deep breaths in between shouts of “Katie!” at the top of his voice.

“Daddy! Daddy, I’m here!” Katie called from Hannah’s shoulders, wriggling as she raised her arms in the air to get her father’s attention.

The man spun around and was walking toward them faster than Hannah thought a human could move. As he approached, she recognized him from somewhere. Her brain went into overdrive, scrolling through images to match this face with one she knew.

“Sissy!” the toddler reached out for Katie, but her father put her on her feet and leaned in to Hannah to take Katie from her shoulders. His face only inches away, Hannah placed him. Katie’s dad was a former professional soccer player who transitioned to broadcasting after an injury that ended his athletic career. Hannah couldn’t remember his name, but she’d seen him play and watched his post-game analysis of some matches.

“Jesus, Katie! I was going mad looking for you,” he said as he held his older daughter in a tight hug. “Don’t ever run off again.”

“I told you I was following the puppy. I didn’t run off,” Katie defended herself against the scolding.

Hannah fixed her ponytail, unsure what to do. Annie, the toddler stood on the ground beside her dad, looking between him, Hannah, and Katie, who was still wrapped in her father’s arms. He was giving her a once over to see if she had any injuries.

“Are you okay? I didn’t say you could go after the puppy. I was so worried,” he admonished her even as he kissed her cheeks, ears, forehead.

“Daddy, I’m fine. Hannah talked to me and we spelled. She’s a good guesser. Do we have any stickers for her?” Katie brushed off her dad’s kisses and tried to climb down from his embrace.

“Who’s Hannah?” He asked, still oblivious to the woman standing in front of him, the woman whose shoulders he’d taken Katie off of.

“This is Hannah, silly. Right here!” Katie pointed, laughing at her dad’s lack of observational skills.

“That’s me. Hannah.” Hannah offered her hand, somehow feeling more awkward now that her presence had been pointed out.

“Jesus, I’m so rude. I’m sorry. Hannah,” he shook her hand. Hannah took back all her questions about his parenting skills; he was so wrapped up in his girls that he didn’t even register another person when he was with them. They were the center of his universe. “I hope Katie didn’t cause you any trouble.”

“Not at all. She’s a sweetheart.” Hannah didn’t know what else to say. This close to him, she saw that the TV cameras didn’t do him justice. He was gorgeous with tousled light brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He hadn’t shaved, so the stubble on his chin caught the sunlight and looked almost as blond as his daughters’ hair. He was taller than he’d appeared the times she’d seen him on TV, and he hadn’t lost any athleticism by not playing professionally. Hannah probably wouldn’t have been able to focus on a conversation with him without the help of talking about Katie.

Katie took advantage of her dad’s loosened grip on her now that his hand remained in Hannah’s, frozen in a handshake that had lasted a little too long. She shimmied down his body and joined her sister, giving her a big hug. “Annie, Hannah can tell you about spelling. I bet she knows what your real name is too,” Katie raised her eyes to Hannah like she was showing off a new toy to impress her sister.

“Sissy,” Annie cooed, hanging on to her sister’s hand and following her gaze up to Hannah. The woman had her big sister’s approval, but Annie wanted a closer look. “Up. Up!” she demanded, holding her arms above her head for Hannah to oblige.

Hannah stood unmoving, not seeing the toddler at her knee. She’d let go of the man’s hand, and she knew she should say goodbye now, wish them a good day. The words to match the sentiment wouldn’t come out. Instead, she said, “It was no trouble. I’m glad we found you. I imagined whoever was looking for her was freaking out. I know I would be.”

“I was. I definitely was,” he replied. He was frozen to the spot too, no longer unaware of the woman who stood before him. She was smiling, but her eyes were so sad. He saw wells of sorrow in the deep blue rimmed irises that grew lighter as they met her expanding pupils. Maybe his protective instincts were still turned on from the search for his missing daughter, but he wanted to protect this woman and make that sadness go away.

Annie’s cherub’s voice interrupted his thoughts as she again demanded, “up! UP!”
Hannah bent down and lifted her up. “Hi, Annie. Were you feeling left out? I know knees aren’t as interesting as faces,” she greeted the girl.

Annie looked at Hannah’s faced with skepticism, her eyes making a full circuit before her lips curled into a smile. She looked down at her sister. “Sissy,” she seemed to grant her approval.

“Her name is Hannah, Annie. It starts with an H,” Katie patted her sister’s foot to let her know that the background checks had been completed and Hannah was cleared for friendship.

“I’m Hannah. It does start with an H. You’re Annie. It sounds the same in some parts, right? Hannah and Annie. Annie starts with an A though,” Hannah chattered at Annie who looked at her in awe.

“Sissy,” Annie laughed as Hannah finished.

“I’m sorry. She has a bit of a speech delay. Any woman is sissy or mama right now. Men are all dada. Up and baba are the only other words she knows, but the doctors tell us there’s a program we can get her in to before she turns three that is guaranteed to help so there aren’t any long term impacts,” he responded to Hannah’s slightly surprised look at being called Sissy.

Why was he explaining his daughter’s developmental delay to this woman? She didn’t care. He wasn’t even sure if they could get Annie into the program or if the prognosis was as hopeful as he’d said. Maybe he was just trying to convince himself. Or did he care what this woman thought of his two year old? How did Annie reflect him in any way?

“I’m sure it will. As long as it’s not physiological, I bet she can get back on track quickly,” Hannah affirmed. She hadn’t worked with toddlers since her masters degree, but what she knew about developmental audiology and phonology was more than sufficient to make her confident in her statement. “You’ll be talking up a storm like Katie, huh?”

“I try to help her. I tell her all the words I know,” Katie said. “Daddy, I’m hungry. Can we get a muffin and bring Hannah too?”

Hannah blushed at Katie’s presumption. She imagined they had a busy Saturday ahead, and she needed her second cup of coffee before she went back home to face Jeremy. At least she could answer one of his questions now: she liked children; she’d like to have one of her own. Had not knowing that for sure been the thing she’d done wrong? Could a zygote pick up on its mother’s uncertainty? Jeremy was many things, but he was never uncertain. It’s one of the things Hannah loved about him.

“We can get a muffin, but you’ll have to ask Hannah if she can come with us,” he knelt to his daughter and ruffled her hair. The pair looked up at Hannah whose sad eyes were miles away. She held Annie, but her mind was not there anymore. He wondered where she had gone, if it was the source of her melancholy.

“She looked like that when I found her, daddy. She’s sad because she lost something. I told her to look for it where she last saw it, like you and mummy tell me,” Katie whispered to her father. “Hannah,” Katie tapped Hannah’s hip lightly. “Hannah?”

Hannah snapped her neck down to look at Katie, breaking her trance. “I’m sorry. I need more coffee.”

“Then come with us to get a muffin. Daddy, do they have coffee at the muffin store?” Katie asked.

“Yes. In fact, I think most people think of it as a coffee shop instead of the muffin store, my love,” he laughed as he stood. “Hannah, please join us. Think of it as my thanks for finding this handful.”

“Come with us, Hannah. They have coffee and crayons and I can spell for you,” Katie pleaded.

Hannah smiled. Coffee and more spelling sounded pretty good, and Annie had settled comfortably in her arms. “Sure. We can start by spelling coffee,” she agreed.

The Beginning of Something, Maybe?

“Why are you so sad?” the little girl asked.

The woman jumped, startled by the intrusion into her morose musings. She’d noticed the girl following a dog a few minutes earlier. She’d wondered who the girl belonged to, but her own melancholy thoughts got in the way.

Now the girl sat beside her on the bench, staring at her with clear blue eyes and a concerned slant of her brows.

“I’ve lost something very important to me,” the woman replied. There was no other way to explain to a child of… four? Maybe five, she guessed. Certainly old enough to speak full sentences and to recognize emotions in facial expressions.

“Did you try looking for it? Mummy and daddy always tell me to look for the things I lose where I saw them last,” the girl offered helpfully.

The woman had to smile at this childhood innocence and the wise advice of her parents. Of course, if what she’d lost was a thing, it might be easy enough to find. It was a thing, but it wouldn’t have remained a thing. It would have grown into a someone, but she’d done something wrong. She’d lost it. The woman blinked back the ever-present tears, turned her face to the sun, and inhaled the crisp fall air.

“Your mommy and daddy must be very clever,” she told the little girl once she regained her composure.

“They are! I think daddy’s really clever because he’s always working, but sometimes that makes mummy sad. That’s why we have two houses now,” the girl overshared.

Thinking of her own splintering relationship and the single mother who raised her, the woman speculated that marriage had outgrown its practicality. “Sometimes it’s best for mommies and daddies not to live together. My mommy and daddy didn’t live together either,” the woman empathized.

“Why do you say mummy like that?”

“I’m from the United States. We say some words differently than you do here.”

“That’s like mummy’s from England and daddy’s from Ireland. They say some things different. Daddy always says I sound more like mummy, but he doesn’t mind because he loves me more than the whole wide world.”

“Have you lived in England all your life? I bet that’s why you sound more like your mom.”

“Yes! We don’t see gran in Ireland much.” The little girl was fully engaged in the conversation now. She’d turned to face the woman and pulled her legs up crisscross sitting sideways on the bench. “How do you know I live in England?”

“Well, it’s like how you heard right away that I said mommy instead of mummy. I can hear that your accent is more English than Irish. I like to listen to voices and try to guess where people are from,” the woman said.

“Daddy does accents sometimes when we play. He has an American one, a French one, a Russian one…”

“That’s my accent, American. The United States of America.”

“Why are you here?”

“That’s tough to explain. A looong time ago I was here to go to school. Then I came to visit friends. I decided to stay longer this time because of love.” The woman simplified for the girl and for her own heart. Love was why she stayed, but it wasn’t just love for the man. Love for a man couldn’t make her stay still. No, he was great, but it was more than him that kept her there. And now that he might be done with her, she’d need the other things to keep her there.

“I only go to school in the mornings. I like it. I like reading. I know all my letters. I can spell my name and bunches of other words too,” the little girl nearly burst with pride.

“Reading and writing are my favorites too. My name is Hannah. Do you know what letter that starts with?”

“Hannah? He- ha- huh- does it start with H?” The girl tried to sound it out, coming up with the correct answer.

“H! Yes, very good!” Hannah offered a high five. “And what is your name?”

“Katie! K-A-T-I-E,” the girl beamed.

“It’s nice to meet you Katie, K-A-T-I-E. Can I guess what Katie is short for?” Hannah rubbed her chin with her finger as if in deep thought.

“How’d you know it was short for something?” Katie gasped in surprise. Hannah knew she lived in England and she also knew Katie was short for something. Hannah was so clever.

“Most Katies I know are short for Katherine. Are you a Katherine too?”

Katie’s eyes lit up as she stared in awe at Hannah. The woman had looked so sad before, but now she was as bright as the sun, more clever than her teachers, and very friendly. Katie liked Hannah a lot.

“Did I make a good guess?” Hannah asked.

“Yes! You guessed right. I get a sticker in school when I guess right, but I don’t have any stickers to give you. If I had some, I’d give you a funny one and a star one and a smiley face because you’re a really good guesser,” gushed Katie.

“Oh my. I don’t know if I’d have a place to put all those stickers. I only have a little notebook with me.” Hannah stuck her bottom lip out to emphasize her frown.

“I’d stick one on your cheek!” Katie reached up and poked Hannah on the left cheek making the woman smile. “And one on your other cheek!” Katie repeated the motion, and Hannah found herself laughing despite her mood.

“And the third one?” Hannah asked through her smile.

Katie imitated Hannah’s earlier posture of placing her finger to her chin to think. “Hmmm maybe… your… forehead!” Katie’s little palm made gentle contact with Hannah’s forehead. Hannah reeled back as if the impact were a knockout blow, bringing her own hands to her head and fake crying in agony. “No, no, no! I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Katie rushed to put her hands over Hannah’s and peel them away to see the damage.

Hannah removed her hands one at a time, revealing not only her lack of injury, but also her huge grin. “Gotcha!”

Katie shook with laughter, the sweetest sound Hannah had heard in a long time. The girl had already scrambled to her knees to place the make believe stickers on the woman’s face; now she settled fully into her lap. Hannah wrapped a protective arm around Katie so she wouldn’t slip off the bench. This is what children do; they bring joy. What had she done so wrong that killed the joy before she could even feel it growing inside her?

The question brought Hannah back to reality. She was playing with an unattended child in Hampstead Heath on a Saturday morning. Where were Katie’s parents? If they were so clever, why hadn’t they noticed their adorable daughter had run off after a dog and was now chatting with a total stranger?

“Katie, who are you here with today? Were you playing over at the park?” Hannah asked.

“Yes, by the swings with daddy and Annie.” Katie pointed in the direction of the playground that was out of sight from where they sat.

“Did you tell your daddy where you were going? He must be worried about you.”

“He was busy with Annie. She’s still too little to swing by herself. I told daddy I was going to follow the puppy. Daddy doesn’t like puppies.”

Hannah looked around for the elderly couple said puppy belonged to. Dog and owners were nowhere to be found, neither was a father with a younger daughter. Hannah worried that Katie might be sending her father into hysterics. “We should go find your dad so he doesn’t think you’re lost,” she suggested as she set Katie on her feet.

“Like you lost something, right? He’d do what he tells me and look for me where he last saw me,” Katie said, unafraid of her new friend and unaware of the panic that could be gripping her father at that very moment. She reached up to take Hannah’s hand and began to walk toward the playground.