Continuation of a short story about a couple, unmarried, but already parents of two children who live with others and are not their own--but still are.
What she didn't tell Mark and Carolyn was that in one way the two of them weren't exactly the same. In the sixteen months since Ashley was born, she'd come to know that she was forgiven, that God had brought Mark and Carolyn along out of nowhere, two people who wanted what she had to give them--a beautiful baby girl. She hadn't "given her baby away"--she hated it when people said it that way. That wasn't it at all. What she'd done was bless a wonderful couple with her own beautiful child.
It wasn't the same with Brian. Just last night in Flamingos, a great restaurant on Mounds Lake, they'd had a corner table at a window that opened to lights like a string of pearls around the lake. Talk. She loved it when he talked, he did so little of it--and they'd talked and laughed. And then, suddenly, almost out of nowhere, more passion in his voice than she wanted to hear, he'd said something he'd said before. "I can't let you go," he told her, holding her hand across the table. "You know that, don't you? I can't let you go. I just can't." His fingers tightened around hers.
"I don't want you to," she told him. "Why do you say that?"
Immediately, he dropped his eyes. Every time she'd try to get him to really open up when he'd say that, he'd back off, turn his eyes.
"Listen," she told him, "I'm not leaving you. I'm not backing out, babe--y'hear?"
His shoulders dropped and he shook his head and squeezed her hands.
"Tell me why you say that, Brian," she asked. "Honey, explain it to me."
He was squeezing her fingers so hard they hurt.
"Brian," she said, "tell me."
He couldn't look her in the eye.
"Brian, please?" she said again.
He pulled his hand back, but she wouldn't let it go. "Is there something wrong with me--that I have to hear you say that?" he said. "Why am I afraid of you?"
"Afraid of me?" she said.
"You got it all together or something," he said. "I mean, like everything fits in your mind--all of it."
"All of what?" she said.
"You're so much stronger than I am," he told her.
"My faith, you think?" she said.
"Maybe." He looked out at the lake.
"You got faith too," she said.
"In God?" he said.
"Is that a question?"
He pulled his hand back. "I think I do."
"Brian," she said, and she took it back. "Do you still hurt inside?"
"Don't you?" he said. "It's not even that long ago for you."
Maybe he loved her, she thought--that woman he'd seen in his church, the mother. "The kid's mother--is that--"
"It's not that," he said. "That's years ago."
"No, it isn't," she said. "It's not 'years ago' or you wouldn't let it bother you--"
"You think it's over for you?" he said. "I mean, really." Then, his eyes turned to her. "Sometimes I envy the heck out of you, and sometimes I think you're living in a cartoon--" And then, "What is it? Which is true?"
She'd never thought of herself living in a cartoon at all, not with what she'd been through. "I don't know," she told him. "I never thought of it as Disney World."
"Let's go," he said, picking up the check.
She wanted to talk it out, but she was afraid of being too strong.
Back at school, at the end of the semester, her mother had thrown a going-away party for Brian. Everything had gone well until Rachel had held her aunt's newborn, simply picked up the baby and rocked her gently in her arms. Just like that, Brian walked out of the room. No one else noticed.
"I don't know why," he told her later, when the guests were gone. "I couldn't handle it. Don't go psychoanalyzing me either, Rachel," he told her. "There's some things bigger than therapy. I don't know."
They were on the couch in the family room. "I want to understand," she said. "Does everyone understand every last thing they feel, for cripes sake?" he said.
She had hold of his sides beneath his sweat shirt. "I want to have kids, Brian," she told him. "You know that. I want to have a big family."
"It's not kids?" she asked.
"I don't understand--all right?" he snapped. "Something just fell apart," he said. "Let's just not talk about it anymore." The whole time he didn't look at her.
Something was so tightly wound in him.
Tomorrow: What Rachel doesn't forget.