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.
On a driveway across the street, four little boys kept slapping at a ball with plastic hockey sticks, their clunky roller blades up to their knees. One of them she recognized, even though she'd never spoken to him--number 31. She loved his birth father.
Yesterday at the lake, Brian sat in the sand, still as stone until finally she'd come to assume there was something he'd wanted her to see. They'd been out in the lake swimming and monkeying around. But she was rubbing his shoulders with lotion when he froze stiff. "What is it?" she'd said.
"The kid with the Lakers jersey," Brian had told her. He pointed at a half dozen kids in a rat pack on their bikes on the road, "that's the kid." They all wore oversize basketball jerseys.
"Which one?" she said.
"Number 31," he told her.
Brian was dark, the boy had a white mop of hair, but what could she say?--that the boy didn't look like him?
Brian pulled himself coldly into a wet suit of silence. She kept rubbing lotion into his shoulders, but didn't know what to say. The kid--his name was Ben--leaned off his bike, turning the right handlebar in his hand as if he were aboard a Harley, clueless, no more conscious of his father than anyone else on the beach. She'd never be that close to Ashley, never.
"He's darling," she told Brian, because she had to say something.
"Let's go home," he'd said, pulling his shirt over his head as he stood.
And now, there he was, right across the street playing hockey. His grandma lived in a house with big orange butterflies tacked up by the mailbox, a house at the end of the very same street where Brian's folks lived, both grandmas on the same street, only one of them ever acknowledged because at Brian's house the whole story was pressure-wrapped in silence.
She ran through the list again, using her fingers--carrot cake and cheese popcorn, cat lovers, social work majors, and both of them, incredibly, birth parents. All of that had to add up to something. It had to. There had to be some kind of plan in the universe, she thought.
One of the little kids across the street fell--boom!--on the sloping concrete driveway, but he got back up and took a swing at the ball. She hoped they'd be gone by the time Brian came home from work because she didn't want Ben out there where Brian could see him. A few weeks ago, when she'd called him and he seemed unusually quiet, she'd asked what the problem was. He'd hemmed and hawed. "Nothing," he said. Then a silence. Then a breath. Again she said, "What is it?" Then, finally, as if giving up a secret, he said, "I just saw the kid."
"The kid" was growing, his long arms and legs, calf-like, barely enough to keep him on his skates. His mother had married a local guy, then had two daughters. Everything seemed fine. No one said a thing. That was the way it was supposed to work in a small town like this where nothing bad ever happens. Denial, she thought.
Rachel knew tons about Ashley--how many teeth she had, how much she hated to have her face wiped, what she named the red elephant she'd sent her for Christmas. Brian knew very little about Ben, even though when he was home he could see the kid almost daily.
Tomorrow: Rachel remembers.