A Brilliant Combination of Words

Somewhere in between sleep and consciousness this morning, I caught a brilliant combination of words, but like so many things in the fuzzy space of waking up, I lost it. That’s okay because I lighted on another later in the day.

This afternoon was St. Stephen’s Green Joyce bust writing take two. The first take was a drizzly Sunday morning in late August 2016. I was looking at Joyce head on that go round. What I wrote that day still haunts me in its truth, artistry, and inspiration. It’s wholly me and somehow beyond me. I’m extremely proud of it and protective of it at the same time.

Today I sat under a tree, viewing Joyce in profile. Dubliners come out in droves at lunchtime when the sun is out the way it has been the last several days, so there was nary a bench in sight. I found a spot of grass under a tree and got to work with the prompt, “WWJJD” or What Would James Joyce Do? (Instead of WWJD, what would Jesus Do? or for the question averse Walk With Jesus Daily.)

Joyce would probably do some stream of consciousness action and avoid traditional English grammar rules, so the snippet I have for you today is just that.

Photographers seek the light I always find even the smallest ray catches and reflects people have said it’s within me shining out so like attracts like and I am found even in shadow even in the deep of night If I glow and others search for warmth and clarity, they gravitate to me asking me to give what they lack. What do I get in return? 

If everyone is special then really no one is special. Some of us have to accept that we are ordinary even if we sometimes end up in extraordinary circumstances. My ego, and perhaps listening to others, makes me think I am special, but in that I am just like everyone else… achingly ordinary.

In case you wondered, I got side-tracked thinking WWJJD and noted that Yeats might worship the days of sunshine. And the combination of words I like as much as whatever was lost to the ether this morning is “achingly ordinary.”


That NYC Life (Swag)

This entry is perfectly timed because I crashed a Netflix Originals set at lunch today. 

The first time I visited NYC was a day trip on a bus from Maryland to see Miss Saigon. I have little recollection of the show, but I do remember going to Rockefeller Center with mom, her then boyfriend, and his daughter. The City seemed like a huge hive of activity, but it intrigued me.

Later, mom and I came up to visit NYU because I wanted to go to Tisch for musical theater – Broadway, here I come! NOT. We say Beauty and the Beast that time. I didn’t end up applying to NYU for undergrad because, sitting in the admissions office after the tour, my jaw detached when I heard the price tag. Looking back on that decision, I’ve felt good about it. The City would have eaten me alive if I’d moved up here at 18. I’d be a markedly different person now, likely a person I would hate.

I liked NYC though. I was jealous in 2002 when, after graduating UVA, my big brother moved up here to live in the East Village and pursue his writing career. Okay, so I was embarking on my semester in London, so I wasn’t THAT jealous… and I fell in love with London. My feelings about NYC paled in comparison. But 2002 being the magical year it was – the time when I said crazy things and then made them happen – I said I would get a 2003 summer job in NYC that provided housing.

Easter of 2003 mom and I came up to see my brother and for my interview for that job. I nailed it, partially (only?) because the guy who interviewed me was Russian and I’d been to Russia in October 2002. Six weeks at Columbia University to work with high school kids – check! Housing and meals included, plus a stipend. Not too shabby. My feelings for NYC grew that summer, but London still had my heart.

Upon finishing undergrad in the middle of nowhere Virginia, NYC and London seemed too big to tackle right away. I moved home to NoVA and worked in a DC non-profit for a year, saving money and deciding what to do next. I visited NYC a few times though, and that’s when the City started working its potent magic on me.

I came up in May 2004 on a whim for an “industry only” John Mayer show that I had no way to get into. Except that standing on the sidewalk outside the Bowery Ballroom before the show, John’s SUV pulled up behind me. A few minutes after he walked into soundcheck, one of his techs came out to deliver me VIP passes. SOLD! Magic of the City.

I decided quickly I could live with NYC even if London had my heart and applied to NYU Steinhardt for my Masters in English Education. I didn’t apply to Columbia Teachers’ College because I didn’t want to take the GRE. I got in to NYU and learned that one of the department heads was named John Mayher. Coincidence? Well, he didn’t think so when I asked permission to leave his class early to go to the John Mayer Trio album release show and signing in fall 2005.

When I first moved up here, I thought I had to live in Manhattan, below 116th. After a year of living in an 8 by 12 foot room, I got over that notion and moved to my first Brooklyn apartment (East Williamsburg). I haven’t lived in Manhattan – above or below 116th – since.

I’ve been here twelve and a half years now, lived in five different apartments in three of the five boroughs. Most of my life here has been work – going to work, doing work, staying late at work, bringing work home, cooking something easy (or microwaving something or ordering delivery) because I was too tired from work. It’s not glamorous. People who haven’t visited me seem to think I live it up, go out every night, eat at hip restaurants and go to cool clubs, see all the theater I want, and spend my time at live music venues. Maybe they watch too much Sex and the City. It’s not that. At all.

But there are moments, like the one outside Bowery Ballroom in 2004, in which the City sparkles as it does in TV and movies, when the magic is strong. And, admittedly, this month has been fuller of those moments than most are.

So, as I’m actively looking to leave NYC, I thought it would be a good time to recap some of the magical moments.

Bowery Ballroom “industry only” VIP passes to John Mayer – 2004

John Mayer Trio album release show and signing – 2005

Student teaching phase 2 placement at the FAME school, turning into a full time job – 2006

MIKA album release show set list, then invite to after party hosted by Perez Hilton where I got MIKA’s autograph on the set list – 2007

Got an awesome Astoria apartment sight unseen – 2007

Chaperoned a student journalist press conference at City Hall with then school’s chancellor Joel Klein – 2008

Chaperoned and advised the ABC NEWS student journalism program – 2008

Saw “PRAY” graffiti on the subway when I was looking for a new job and the subsequent offer from the STEM school – 2009

First one bedroom apartment and closest to the subway I’ve ever lived – 2010

Ari Hest intimate studio show in SoHo – 2011

Spotted Maulik Pancholy (Weeds and 30 Rock) at the gym – 2011

Got early viewing tickets to a movie and Topher Grace (That ’70s Show) is there to intro movie – 2011

Once on Broadway for my 30th birthday… transcendent theater experience! – 2012

Things thinned out for a while… maybe the magic wore off…

Bouncer hooked us up with front row at Webster Hall for MIKA – 2015

“Is she like us?” ran into two other ladies with Albinism in Union Square – 2016

Teacher Appreciation day at Penguin Random House with YA ghost writer guest speaker – 2016

Sat next to Damian Lewis (Homeland, Billions, The Forsyte Saga, Band of Brothers) on flight from London – 2018

Early viewing with director and executive producer talkback for “The Number on Great Grandpa’s Arm” at HBO headquarters – 2018

Book release, signing, and storytelling for Modern Loss – 2018

Then there are the magic moments I can’t put years on because I either don’t remember or they are recurring – like running into a former student and getting into something for free or getting to jump the line because they know me or running into a current or former student who calls my name on the street like I’m some kind of celebrity in my own right or the early screenings of Get Him to the Greek and Paul where I laughed my ass off or all the times I’ve crashed a movie/TV set without meaning because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking to or the many Broadway shows that were great but didn’t quite match the experience of Once or working with a teaching artist and getting special access to actors and scripts while introducing STEM students to theater.

It’s not a star-studded glamorous life. I don’t go to the trendiest restaurants and check out live music every night. But there are those magic moments that other places can’t create or replicate.

Let’s Talk About Guns. NOW.

I’m one person, and these are my opinions.

Family and Personal History with Guns

Both my grandfathers and my father were in the military, so I know that they were all trained to use various types of guns and other weaponry.

A family story that I’ve heard repeatedly and don’t know the accuracy of (because my dad taught me at a young age “never let the facts interfere with a good story”) tells of a time when my grandpa was beating my dad so relentlessly that my grandma got the shot gun and held in to grandpa’s head, saying “If you lay another hand on him, I’ll blow your brains out.” The gun saved my dad’s young life.

When I was very young, dad was still in the Army reserves and kept a shot gun or rifle (I don’t remember which, nor do I know the difference between the two) in a cardboard box under his bed. I knew not to touch it. That was enough “gun safety” to prevent accidents around my dad’s house.

We had various boarders at mom’s house in the extra room to supplement her income. One of them was a friend of hers from way back. I did not know until after the evening when he beat the shit out of her in front of me that he kept a gun in his room. He did plenty of damage with his fists, so I’m grateful he didn’t think to use his gun. That was the last night he spent in our house.

At a week-long sleep away camp sponsored by the state of Virginia for children who were blind or visually impaired, we did archery at one campsite. Regardless of our levels of blindness, we learned how to load and shoot bows and arrows. The camp moved to a different facility after a few years. This facility had a rifle range instead of an archery range. Blind and legally blind children learned how to load and shoot rifles. Depending on your vision, you could ask to have a beeping target. We got to keep our targets. I probably have mine somewhere. Yes, blind and legally blind children in the state of Virginia learned how to load and shoot a rifle. I learned how to load and shoot a rifle as a 12 year old. Let that sink in a little.

One of my favorite teachers from high school who has become a friend and mentor as I’ve been a teacher was also an avid hunter. He no longer hunts due to his arthritis (I think). He introduced me to the perspective of having some guns for sport.

One of my closest friends is married to a police man who serves on the SWAT team and is in the military reserves. He has four guns in the house, I believe. Each is kept safe from their two young children. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I visit them because I know he is trained in their use and safety measures. I know my friend has worried in the past about when (not if) her son will learn how to use guns. I’m not sure what her current feelings are.

In his early twenties, my older brother went to a shooting range from time to time. As far as I know, he never purchased a gun.

As a result of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I received training of what to do in an active shooter situation. Being a teacher in a large city school, I learned what to do in three generalized scenarios and participated in multiple drills of each possible scenario throughout the school year.

On Sunday, the day of the Las Vegas massacre, I finished reading Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. The story is about the one “gonne” that exists in the Ankh-Morpork society and the havoc it wreaks on the city. It also characterizes the “gonne” as a sentient being that speaks to whomever is holding it, convincing the bearer that he is truly powerful for the first time in his life, that he is a god.

Family and Personal History with the Constitution

With two grandfathers and a dad having served in the military, there was a certain amount of patriotism in both sides of my family. I was brought up loving America, its complex and often uncomfortable history, its freedoms, its grand experiment with democracy. I lived within 10 miles of Washington DC most of my life. There was a strong sense that certain government programs that assisted the working man were great. I also got a sense that rugged individualism was very important, that you shouldn’t let “The Man” (any type of oppressive authority) hold you down.

I learned about the Constitution and the freedoms it guaranteed. I also understood pretty quickly that the Constitution was written at a time when only white men counted, so it was a flawed document. One of America’s values that I am (was?) most proud of is the ability to amend our Constitution as the times change, allowing non-landowning men to vote, allowing woman to vote etc. It is a living document, not set in stone.

That Said

I do not understand how guns have become so interwoven into some people’s American identity.

I do not understand how a statement written in the late eighteenth century can apply without any revision for context in the twenty first century. “Arms” at the time the Constitution was written meant a musket that could fire one bullet before being reloaded, a process that took time for even the fastest shooter. If you are a die-hard Constitutional purist, then people have the right to more than one of these muskets. If that is the case, I’m all for it. Yes. everyone can have a few eighteenth century era muskets. Fine.

I have never tried to purchase a gun, but I very much want to now. Not to have a gun. In fact, I wouldn’t go through with the purchase. I want to see for myself how easy or hard it is to get a gun legally. I’m especially interested because of my personal and family history with mental illness, anger issues, and violent tendencies, as well as my poor vision. It is my understanding that there ARE laws that prevent immediate purchase… in some states. That there ARE laws that require background checks… in some states, to various depths of your history. I do not know what limits are placed on how many guns you can buy at a time or over a lifetime. I do not know what limits are placed on how much ammunition you can purchase in one go or over a lifetime. In the case of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, reports have shown he bought “33 firearms, mostly rifles, in an 11-month period” (CNN). I don’t know if current laws being properly enforced could prevent this, but if they can’t, I advocate new laws that limit the number of guns any individual can purchase in a year, over a lifetime. Surely even a hunter who switches game based on the season only needs a few different types of guns to achieve ideal sportsmanship.

Given that I don’t know much about gun laws, I also don’t know much about how well they are being enforced. I do know that the laws vary from state to state, so another concern I have is how we regulate the way guns move in our country. I visit Virginia frequently, but I live in New York City. I might be able to easily purchase a gun in Virginia and bring it back to New York without anyone knowing. It is then up to me to register it in New York? What if I don’t want to because I’m planning something nefarious? Even if there are gun laws that are enforced appropriately, how do we prevent situations like that? I’ve seen people saying that if we “outlaw” all guns the way we have “outlawed’ all drugs, we will just have an illegal gun problem like we have illegal drug problems. Yes and no. I think drugs worry me less because the damage you do if you misuse drugs is usually only to yourself. Emotionally it extends beyond you, but it’s not like a gun being misused. Drugs are not designed to kill and guns ARE. I would be okay if we made all guns (or certain types of guns) completely illegal to cut down on the number of deaths that they are causing.

I also know people feel very strongly that having a gun provides them with a certain amount of security and protection. I see people arguing that the safest thing to do is to arm MORE people, that MORE law-abiding “good guys” carrying guns would prevent the incidents wherein “bad guys” use their guns for evil. I go back to saying that a gun is designed to kill. I don’t want ANYONE, no matter how saintly, carrying around something that is specifically designed to end life. The personal security argument also breaks down completely in the Las Vegas massacre because there is absolutely nothing anyone in the concert crowd who had a gun could have done to stop what Paddock was doing.  Personally, this argument is false because I would not feel safer carrying a gun. There is no situation in which I would feel protected and more secure if I had a killing machine at my disposal. Even if I was being attacked, I wouldn’t want a gun because I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t want to be responsible for taking a human life. I’m also not convinced that me having a gun would prevent someone from hurting me or taking my property of the person was really set on hurting me or taking my property. I would defend loved ones any way I could, but I also don’t know that I would feel more capable or confident about doing so with a gun in hand. Those feelings may be unique to me though. I just don’t feel like a gun would be some kind of security blanket.

I also know people feel that it is disrespectful to talk about gun laws after yet another mass shooting. I can’t agree with that diversion tactic because if one of my loved ones died in a mass shooting, I would damn well hope it galvanized the nation to change. I would be grieving ABSOLUTELY, but I would also be looking for a way to honor my loved one by making his or her death something more than a senseless tragedy that we can almost expect as a nation. I would hope that if I was a victim in a mass shooting, that my loved ones would take action so my death was not just another number added to our national obsession with guns. I mean no disrespect to the victims and their families by talking about this. In fact, I do it out of complete respect for them that their loss is not purposeless.

To tell me guns aren’t the problem also makes little sense. I fully support the use of psychology in background checks because I strongly believe that mental illness is PART of the problem, but to say someone like Paddock could have done as much damage with some other weapon is, frankly, ignorant. In all the school shooting cases, it is similarly ignorant. Yes, anyone can learn how to make a bomb using household materials if they dig around enough on the internet. They can then put that bomb somewhere and cause widespread damage. We have seen that happen. But besides bombs and driving large trucks into crowds, they is NOTHING else that can cause the type of damage guns can. If a person (or a few people) come into a school or movie theater or concert with knives, the speed at which they can kill people is significantly reduced compared to the use of a gun. In the Las Vegas case, there is NOTHING that could have done more damage from where Paddock placed himself. You cannot rationally argue that guns weren’t a huge part of the problem in this massacre. Also, simply because you can think of another way to cause damage doesn’t mean that the guns involved are less culpable. It just means that you can think of a lot of ways to hurt people – which says something about your mental state.

One thing I am seeing is people talking about requiring gun education and registration similar to the way we regulate driver’s licenses. You have to take a written fact-based exam and a road test to get a license in the first place. You have to register your car and renew its registration annually. You have to renew your driver’s license at regular intervals as well. There are age restrictions on when you can begin to drive. We regulate the use of automobiles because earlier leaders recognized that not doing so was a public safety issue. It seems reasonable to similarly regulate guns, which are machines designed to kill, not to get people around town more quickly, in a similar manner.

I don’t have the answers. I am one person who has strong opinions, who understands where my opinions come from, and who wants to stop gun violence. I want to understand alternative perspectives, but I cannot find someone who can engage in a discussion using logic, which I require when we are talking about something that is vitally important.

Part 7 of x (So, I’m writing a novel over here)

While this is the seventh installment I’ve posted here, it’s actually the back end of what I’m calling chapter 3. It’s page 39 of the master document I’m working with, but when I convert it to a font I’d actually use, it’s a little longer.  This section is more than the product of today’s efforts. I’m proud to say that I worked on it fairly steadily last week without the disciplinary reminder that posting something provides.

I don’t know if anyone is following the story. My mom and a dear friend requested that I send them the story in larger chunks so they didn’t have to navigate the blog to get it all. I know that’s easier now that I’m continuing with it instead of just experimenting. Mom is also sure it will be a sell-able novel when I’m done, but she’s my biggest fan.

If you have a lot of time on your hands (or something about this story intrigues you) here’s what’s come before:

Part 1: Meet Hannah and Katie

Part 2: Meet Liam and Annie

Part 3: The Coffee Shop

(all that is chapter 1)

Part 4: Meet Jeremy

Part 5: Dealing with the Loss

(those are chapter 2)

Part 6: More about Liam

(That is the beginning of chapter 3)

Now, to conclude chapter 3!

Katie and Annie sat patiently at the kitchen table as Liam strained the pasta over the sink.

“Daddy, can I have cheese on mine?” Katie asked, knowing the food was almost ready.

“Yes, my love. You can get the parmesan out of the fridge if you’d like. You can also get water or milk for you and Annie,” he answered as he put a lid on the pot of noodles and stirred the meat sauce where he’d hidden several vegetables he knew Annie might not eat if they weren’t disguised.

Katie used a stool to get glasses out of the cupboard and put them on the table. Then she put the milk carton in front of Annie. “Do you want milk with dinner, Annie?” she asked.

Annie eyed the carton that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the small box from the coffee shop earlier. She hadn’t chosen milk then either. Now her little nose turned up at the offer before she vigorously shook her head.

“Annie would like water. Do you want milk, daddy?”

“No, thank you. I’m going to have a beer. Can you get one out for me when you put the milk away?” Katie poured herself some milk before doing as her father asked. She couldn’t open the bottle of beer, but she took one out and set it at her dad’s seat at the table. She then filled a glass with water for her sister, letting go of it only when Annie put both her hands around it. “Great helping, Katie. Now come show me how much you want on your plate to start,” Liam praised his daughter.

Katie took her plate over to the stove where her father stood ready to serve. “I’m hungry. May I please have a big scoop of sketty?” she asked.

“Only if you set a better example for Annie. You know what it’s really called.”

Katie rolled her eyes at Liam and huffed before acquiescing. “May I please have a big scoop of spa-ghet-ti,” she emphasized each syllable of the word.

“Yes, you may. Next time without the eye roll,” Liam said as he filled her order, adding a big scoop of sauce. Katie went to the table and began to eat. Liam prepared Annie’s plate, cutting the long noodles so they’d be easier to handle with her toddler cutlery. He made sure the squash, broccoli, and cauliflower in the sauce were well camouflaged and then set the plate in front of her. Finally he prepared a plate for himself and joined them at the table.

“Is mummy going to be here tonight?” Katie asked as she twirled a long noodle around her fork.

Liam didn’t know. This was another part of their marriage that made him uncomfortable. What was he supposed to say to his daughters? How could he explain that he and mummy didn’t talk about whether or not she would be home for dinner? How could he tell his girls that their mummy would probably yell at him for making spaghetti because it wasn’t youth preserving or fat busting? “I’m not sure,” Liam couldn’t lie to them, but he always chose to say as little as possible. He didn’t want them to pick up on the distance between their parents.

“She probably wouldn’t eat spa-ghet-ti anyway.” Katie continued to annunciate the word while showing an understanding of her mother’s eating habits. Liam tried not to laugh, but Katie was right. He let a little chuckle out as he took a bite of the carbs he knew Rebecca would hate nowadays. Hannah would eat spaghetti. Where did that come from? He’d only seen her drink espresso. Yeah, she’d put chocolate in it, which Rebecca would never do even if she allowed herself the caffeine in the first place. Liam had no way of knowing what Hannah would and would not eat. He had to stop thinking about her.

As if reading his thoughts, Katie asked, “Did you send my birthday party invitation to Hannah yet?” This time Liam didn’t bother to hold back his laugh. His daughter was psychic, and it would be scary if he didn’t find it entertaining.

“No, my love. I haven’t sent the official invitation to Hannah, but she said she would be there. Don’t worry.”

“Who’s Hannah?” Rebecca asked from the archway into the living room. She’d come in quietly, so it was the first anyone noticed her.

Annie excitedly waved her arms in the air, “Mama!” She was strapped into her seat, so she couldn’t run to her mother. Rebecca walked over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Hello, baby. Oh, what’s this? Spaghetti sauce all over your face?” Rebecca began to wipe off the Joker smile that covered Annie’s face.

“Hannah’s a really cool lady I met today when I went after a puppy. I couldn’t find the puppy, but Hannah was sitting on a bench, and she looked so sad, so I talked to her. She’s really good at guessing and spelling. We spelled coffee and Annie and apple. She colored with us at the muffin store, and she’s coming to my birthday party,” Katie gushed, answering her mum’s question.

“You met a lady in the park and had coffee with her?” Rebecca’s tone was even as she pet Katie’s head, but she shot Liam a look that had ice in it.

Liam almost laughed again. Was Rebecca jealous? Did she think he’d picked up a woman and taken her on a date with his two daughters in tow? He’d heard of men using dogs to pick up women, but using your children seemed a bit much. He was attracted to Hannah, but he didn’t feel guilty about it. Rebecca hadn’t paid him any romantic or sexual attention in years, so what could she possibly be jealous of? He wasn’t on her radar, and he’d done nothing wrong by befriending Hannah and thanking her with a coffee for keeping Katie safe. He wanted to say as much, but he didn’t want to instigate a fight in front of his children. Liam nodded and said, “Katie took to Hannah straight away.”

It almost sounded like Rebecca growled, but Liam couldn’t be sure. Katie didn’t seem to hear it. She looked up at her mum and agreed, “Hannah’s brilliant. She’s from America, so she talks different, but she can talk like gran when she wants to. Mummy, do you want any spa-ghet-ti?” Hannah looked at her dad with a grin before returning her attention to her mum.

Rebecca made the same face Annie made when Katie offered her milk: her nose turned up slightly as she shook her head. “No, thank you. I’ll make something for myself. You can have a bite of mine when it’s ready if you’d like.”

Katie had tried some of her mum’s various health foods. Sometimes the breakfast was good, but nothing else had pleased her. She playfully imitated the dramatic refusal her mum and sister had done in sincerity, scrunching her nose and twisting her head in the negative. Liam laughed, earning him another icy glare from Rebecca.

Liam cleared his throat and directed his attention to Annie, who was licking her plate clean and getting sauce on her nose and forehead in the process. “I guess you liked that even if mum won’t eat it. Would you like some more?” he asked Annie with a smile.

“She’s probably had enough. She certainly has enough on her face,” Rebecca disapproved.

Annie put the plate down, rubbing her hand through whatever her tongue hadn’t licked up. She looked from Rebecca to Liam and back again as she sucked on her fingers. Rebecca made an exasperated sound while Liam continued to smile. He didn’t understand how Rebecca could be so frustrated with their toddler when she’d only just gotten home. It was bath night too, so he didn’t care how messy Annie got. He loved watching her enjoy herself. Settling her eyes on her dad, Annie tapped her now clean but covered in saliva hand on the plate to indicate she wanted more.

Getting up to get her another serving, Liam said, “Don’t worry, Bex, I put v-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e-s in the sauce, so it’s not as unhealthy as it looks.”

Katie started to investigate her plate, moving bites around to find the ingredient her dad was trying to hide. “Daddy, what’s v-e-g-t-a-b-s?” she asked.

“V-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e-s, Katie. Not whatever you said. Don’t worry about it,” Rebecca corrected her daughter.

Katie frowned at her lap and continued to scoot food around her plate. She didn’t like the way her mum had dismissed her question and told her she was wrong. She didn’t like being wrong, or at least she didn’t like being wrong and then not learning what she could do to make it right. Hannah had been so nice when she was helping Katie spell. She didn’t tell Katie she was wrong even when she was wrong. Hannah had found a way to get Katie to realize it on her own.

Liam’s thoughts were much like Katie’s. He frowned as he got Annie her second helping, thinking about how easy Hannah had made it seem. She was full of encouragement, not admonition. Why was Rebecca so stern? He set Annie’s plate in front of her and walked behind Katie’s chair instead of going to his seat. He leaned down and kissed the top of Katie’s head. “Good try spelling, my love. I’ll tell you what it spells later if you promise not to be cross with me for trying to be clever,” he whispered to her.

Katie raised her head and resumed eating. After a few bites, she said, “Daddy, you don’t have to try to be clever. You are clever. Maybe not as clever as Hannah though.”

Rebecca didn’t bother making a sound or sending Liam a look this time. Instead, she stood up from the table and silently moved through the kitchen, making her own dinner. As she worked, she had no more interaction with her family who continued to eat heartily and enjoy their meal.

“Daddy, I cleaned my plate. May I have some ice cream now?” Katie asked when she’d finished.

“Well done! Do you want orange or purple?” Liam asked over Rebecca’s snort of derision as she chopped ingredients for a salad.

“I want… orange tonight. I was spelling with an orange crayon with Hannah. How do you spell orange?”

“Ooooh that’s a tricky one,” Liam said as he took Katie’s plate to the sink. Rebecca’s shoulders were tensed up around her ears as she chopped more aggressively. Liam leaned in to whisper, “Relax, Bex. It’s peach sorbet, all natural colors and flav…”

Rebecca cut him off before he could finish, whispering angrily back at him, “You’re always sabotaging me!” She stomped out of the kitchen, leaving her half-made dinner on the counter.

Annie and Katie looked at their mum’s back as she stormed out. Annie whimpered, but Katie was quick to use her big-sister magic to distract her. “Annie, you want purple or orange ice cream? Daddy, Annie can have ice cream, right?”

“Yes, she may. She liked the purple last time, blueberry,” Liam tried not to let his wife’s quiet explosion ruin dessert with his girls. He served them each a scoop of sorbet.

“How do you spell orange anyway, daddy?”

Liam was at the sink, his hands in dish gloves. He smiled at Katie over his shoulder as he answered, “O-R-A-N-G-E.”

“I knew the O, but a G? Spelling is hard,” Katie mused as she treated herself to another spoonful of peach sorbet.

“It sure is. You’re better at it than I ever was. Keep at it,” Liam encouraged as he put the last of the dishes on the rack.

Annie and Katie finished their colorful sweets and Katie brought their bowls to the sink. She used the stool to get high enough to rinse the bowls and load them into the rack the same way she’d watched her dad do. Liam looked at his wife’s abandoned salad on the counter. Rebecca thought he was sabotaging her by serving all-natural sorbet to their daughters? He had completely lost touch with his wife. He didn’t understand her at all.

“Should we put it away?” Katie followed her dad’s gaze to the cutting board and unfinished salad.

“Let’s leave it for mum. She might want it while you’re in the bath,” Liam replied, moving to free Annie from her seat. He gathered her into his arms and looked at her still messy but smiling face. “You look very ready for bath time, little one. Let’s see if you managed to get sauce in your ears this time.”

Katie laughed and raced up the stairs ahead of her sister and dad. She loved bath time almost as much as she loved animals. She liked all the toys she and Annie had for the bath, and she liked the way her hair felt after she washed and combed it. It was soft and smooth and it smelled good. Liam didn’t bother to check on Rebecca behind the closed door of their bedroom. He proceeded to get the bath ready for Annie and Katie while they put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Liam gave the water a temperature test with his hand as his two girls marched into the bathroom wearing only their biggest smiles.

Liam let his daughters have a longer bath time than usual. They were having so much fun playing with their dolphins, mermaids, and scuba divers. Katie had a running monologue, telling Annie an underwater adventure story. Annie laughed and played along as her big sister enchanted her. Liam loved how helpful and adoring Katie was. He hoped they would always get along so well. Rebecca didn’t make an appearance during bath time, so Liam went ahead and washed both heads of corn silk hair before getting Annie out first. He dried her off with her unicorn towel and rubbed lotion on her baby soft skin.

As he helped Annie brush her teeth, Liam urged Katie out of the bath. She reluctantly got out, dried off, and put lotion on herself. Liam and Annie joined her in their shared bedroom where Katie picked out their bedtime book and Liam gently combed Annie’s hair.

“Please go clean your teeth. Then I’ll brush your hair and we’ll have story time,” Liam directed when he was done with Annie’s hair.

Katie looked at her dad for a moment, a decision clearly weighing on her precocious mind. “I’ll clean my teeth after you give Hannah my birthday party invitation,” she bargained. At the mention of the birthday party, Annie clapped and giggled.

“Well, well. Are you sure you don’t want to be a solicitor?” Liam was amused. “How about I brush your hair first? Then we can text Hannah before you clean your teeth.” He didn’t want to be steamrolled in this negotiation.

“What’s a solicitor?” Katie asked, turning her head to her dad to get brushing so they could get texting.

“Someone who is good at making deals to get what she wants,” Liam explained as simply as he could.

“I like getting what I want, but I like animals too. Is anyone ever a vet and a solicitor?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe you could be the first.”

Liam carefully untangled a few knots in Katie’s hair. He was working through the last one when she decided it was time to text Hannah, yanking her head out of Liam’s reach before he got to the tips of the strand he had in the comb. He released the comb before he could pull her hair, and Katie turned to him, the comb hanging from her head as she smiled and asked, “Where’s your phone, daddy?”

Liam laughed at her. She was so excited that she didn’t even notice her hair accessory. Annie saw it and squealed at Katie, who whipped her head around, dislodging the comb and sending it flying toward the dresser. They all laughed when it landed in the middle of the floor. “I suppose we’re done with your hair. Okay. What should we say to Hannah?” Liam took his phone from his pocket as he picked up the comb and placed it on the dresser it hadn’t quite reached.

“Tell her we’re getting ready for bed,” Katie suggested.

Liam began a text conversation with Hannah as he’d done earlier. Maybe this time he would be able to send her something with his daughter dictating what he should say.

Katie is getting ready for bed but won’t clean her teeth until I text you

“Did you send her a smiley face too?” Katie sat in her dad’s lap so she could see the screen. Annie scrambled to join them, not wanting to be left out.

“You didn’t say anything about a smiley face,” Liam frowned, pulling up the emoji menu. “Which one should we send?”

“Annie, pick one,” Katie directed. Annie selected a face wearing sunglasses. “Good choice. Daddy, are there more?” She asked as her fingers answered her question for her. She chose a cat face. “Okay. You pick one and then send it.”

Liam didn’t use a lot of emojis, but the thumbs up seemed innocuous, so he added that to his daughters’ choices and sent it. “Now teeth for you, Katie,” he nudged her off his lap.

“No. She didn’t write back yet!”

“I thought the deal was you clean your teeth after I text Hannah. I texted Hannah. You didn’t say anything about her texting back.” Liam was oddly proud of himself for catching a little girl in a verbal trap, but he knew chances to be smarter than Katie were only going to become fewer and fewer as she got older.

“I said invite her to my party, not just text.” Katie wouldn’t be outmaneuvered.

Tell Katie I used to make deals to brush my teeth too

“What did she say?!” Katie heard the ding on Liam’s phone and knew something had come through. Liam read the text to her with a laugh. “Hannah’s funny. Tell her about my birthday party now.”

Now I’ve been instructed to give you the party details. It’s Sunday, Regents Park Zoo main reception, 1:30-4:30, animal show at 2 followed by food and other activities

“Done and dusted. Now your teeth!” Liam said in the sternest voice he could muster when talking to his daughters. Katie decided she’d gotten what she wanted and went to brush her teeth while Liam put Annie into bed.

Haha she might be a better CEO than vet. I will be there

She sure is bossy. She’s in the bathroom finally

“Did she say anything?” Katie asked as soon as she came back. She didn’t wait for an answer, taking the phone out of Liam’s hands as if she could read the message for herself. “She did! What did she say?”

Liam read Hannah’s message as he herded Katie toward her bed and under the covers. “I’m going to put it on silent while I read your bedtime story,” he tried to calm Katie.

Before he could switch it off, his phone dinged again.

Good. Oral hygiene is important. Tell her and Annie goodnight from me

And dinged again with a bed and zzz emojis. Liam showed it to both Annie and Katie, relaying the message.

After agreeing that Hannah was cool, everyone settled in for story time. Katie had picked something set in the jungle. As he read, Liam kept thinking about Hannah. He wondered what she was like as a child. Her comment seemed to indicate that she was willful like Katie. He wanted to know if she was closer to her mother or father, what kind of bedtime stories she preferred, if she had any brothers or sisters. He knew she wouldn’t miss story time with any children of her own just because she was fighting with her husband. Did he even know if she was heterosexual? Jesus, he needed to focus on the story. Annie yelled because he forgot to show her the pictures on the last page. He forced himself to keep his attention on the jungle story, kissing Annie and Katie goodnight when he finished. He turned on their nightlight, which projected stars on the ceiling, and pulled the door nearly shut behind him.

He took out his phone, turning the sound on, and sent another text to Hannah.

Jungle animal bedtime story. I thought they’d never quiet down!

Katie is going to be wild at the zoo, isn’t she?

It’s going to be bedlam. I’m not sure if having you there or being able to touch some of the animals will be more exciting for her

No competition, the animals for sure!

I don’t know. She didn’t stop talking about you all day

She’s sweet. Should I bring anything?

Just yourself Liam paused before sending his reply. Should he offer to let her bring a guest? It might answer some of his questions about her. What was he thinking? It didn’t matter if she was single or not, heterosexual or not. He was a married man. Hannah would probably be more comfortable if she knew someone there besides the birthday girl. Feel free to bring +1 he added and pressed send.

I wouldn’t want to impose

Not at all. the more the merrier. I’m sure we can use all the adult eyes we can get

Haha that’s right. You’ll need lots of strong arms to wrangle all the kids, especially once they have cake

I didn’t even think about the sugar high. Bring an army with you!

I’ll see what I can do

Liam noticed the bedroom door was still closed. He wondered if Rebecca had gone downstairs to get her dinner and come back up. He didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t really want to talk to her at all. He’d rather continue exchanging texts with Hannah, but he didn’t know what else to say. He put off checking on Rebecca by going downstairs to see the state of the kitchen. The salad ingredients were where they’d been, so it looked like Rebecca had stayed in the bedroom throughout bath time and story time. He knew he should try to smooth things over, but he was confused about what he’d done to upset her in the first place. Hannah wouldn’t have flipped out over sorbet. There he went again, thinking about what Hannah would do. She seemed to know kids would eat cake. He was pretty sure she would understand giving his girls a scoop of sorbet after they ate a good dinner. Liam decided to send Hannah one last text before approaching his wife.

Thanks again for keeping an eye on Katie when she wandered off. She’s quite taken by you. We look forward to seeing you again

It sounded a bit formal to him, but he wanted Hannah to know what an impact she’d made. On Katie, of course.

It was serendipity. She made my day when she sat next to me. I can’t wait to see her at the zoo

Smiling as he put his phone away, Liam climbed the stairs. He peeked in on his daughters to see that Annie was asleep and Katie was laying quietly, letting her thoughts drift. He blew her a kiss and whispered for her to close her eyes. Then he walked down the hall and quietly knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response, so he opened it slowly. He found a suitcase on the bed and Rebecca in the closet taking clothes off their hangers.

“You aren’t staying the night?” Liam asked.

Rebecca silently continued to pack her things, ignoring her husband’s presence.

“You know the girls love to watch Puffin Rock with you before breakfast. Can you wait to leave until tomorrow?” Liam tried to appeal to her motherly instincts.

Rebecca huffed in response, still packing.

“Bex, come on. Talk to me,” Liam stood in her path to the closet.

“Move,” Rebecca demanded.

“Not until you talk to me. Why won’t you stay the night?” Liam folded his arms.

Rebecca turned away, starting to close her suitcase. “Fine, I’ll get the rest later.”

“Rebecca, please. Tell me what I did that upset you. You said I sabotage you. How am I sabotaging you?” Liam put a hand on her suitcase to keep her from leaving.

Rebecca didn’t fight him over the suitcase. She stood back and eyed him head to toe and back again. She folded her arms and took a deep breath. “You really don’t know.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t know why we spend most of our nights in different houses. I don’t know why you don’t talk to me anymore. I don’t know what upset you about dinner tonight. I don’t know, Rebecca!” Liam was exasperated. He sat on the edge of the bed in front of the suitcase. He looked at Rebecca standing there, fuming. He wanted so much to fix whatever was wrong, but he honestly didn’t know why she was so upset. “Please, tell me,” he pleaded.

“That’s why I can’t stay here tonight or ever again. You don’t get it. You don’t understand me anymore. Everything you do undermines me, and you don’t even notice!” Rebecca burst in a hiss. Even as angry as she was, she knew to keep quiet so she didn’t disturb the children.

Liam put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. So, he didn’t get it, but wasn’t he asking her right now to explain? Running his hands through his hair, he lifted his head again. “I know I don’t get it. Will you please help me understand?” How was he supposed to know what he was doing wrong if she wouldn’t tell him? Was he a mind reader? Yes, they’d been together a long time and overcome a lot, but that didn’t mean he knew her every thought.

“No. I’m too tired to explain. I’ve had enough of you standing in my way instead of supporting…” Rebecca went on, but Liam got lost in his thoughts. She didn’t feel supported? He was standing in her way? Weren’t they the same people who had stuck together through injuries and career changes and media frenzies? He didn’t think he was any less supportive of her now than he had been all along. He knew he was no less grateful for her support than he’d ever been. What was he missing? Even now, she wasn’t being specific about what he was doing wrong or what he should be doing instead of what he was actually doing. Had they grown so far apart that he wasn’t in tune with what she wanted? “… solicitor Monday,” Rebecca concluded.

“Wait, what?” Liam shook his head.

“I’m meeting with my solicitor Monday. We can divide things the way we already have, if that’s acceptable to you. We can iron out the details this week.”

“I don’t understand.”

Rebecca scoffed, “Of course you don’t. I want a divorce. We’re getting a divorce.” She walked around Liam to get her suitcase off the bed and left the room. Liam sat there stunned. He heard Rebecca struggling to get her bag down the stairs, but he was frozen in place by the word ringing in his ears.


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.