Return to poughkeepsie, p.19
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.19

           Debra Anastasia

  She wished she could be numb. An epidural to the brain. She didn’t answer him. Irrationally she wanted to hit him. She wanted to hit Cole until she couldn’t do it any more, even if he was smart enough not to mention all the things she didn’t want to hear:

  “It’s okay.”

  “You’re young.”

  “You can get pregnant again.”

  He propped her up in the bathroom, leaning her against the sink. He set the water temperature and removed his clothes.

  “You don’t have to stay.” Her voice cracked, and she couldn’t look at him.

  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to.” Cole undressed her carefully.

  As he slid off her yoga pants, she looked at her thighs. They were still stained red.

  He led her into the shower and stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her. All the times she’d cried in here, it seemed somehow he knew, because he was braced for her collapse. He knew how the water did something to her—made her safe to cry or released her firm grip on hope. Either. Both.

  She sobbed and screamed and half drowned in the spray of the shower. He pulled her backward so she could take a breath. He didn’t say anything, just held her. She turned and began hitting him. She slapped his face and punched his chest.

  Tears rolled down his face, and she had to stop.

  “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

  He shook his head. “You’re so brave.”

  “Don’t say that to me. I didn’t even finish the first trimester. I killed our baby. I killed our baby.”

  “No. God needed the baby.”

  “Fuck God and fuck you. He can’t have my baby. I know she was a girl, and I want her back. I had so many plans for her, for us. I want her back. I didn’t even get three months. Please make her come back? Help me.” She bent over, hugging her traitorous middle. “I think I want to die.”

  Though she flinched when Cole reached for her, she allowed him to pull her to standing. He was angry now. This man, so beautiful. So broken. Naked in front of her.

  “No. You look at me,” he said, his voice rock solid. “Kyle, damn it, look at me. What we did, what we made was beautiful. And loved. So much. Has a baby ever been loved so much?” He was yelling to her now, determined to be heard over the pounding water, the blood in her ears, the crashing sound of her world falling apart.

  “I loved the baby. I promise. I loved her.” She could hear how desperate her voice sounded.

  He held her face close, kissing her lips as she tried to shake her head.

  “The baby we made will make us stronger. You’re a mother, and I’m a father. You are a mother, and I am a father. And we’re good ones.”

  She crawled onto him, hearing his words and trying to get closer to them.

  “And we’re good ones.”

  Kyle petted his face, touched his lips as he kept saying it.

  “And we’re good ones.”

  He hugged her hard, mouth moving on her hair. “And we’re good ones.”

  Livia handed the baby to Blake and stretched her back. Kellan had wanted to be held all day. Emme wanted an elaborate fort built for all of her stuffed animals. And now Blake was hungry. She closed her eyes briefly. If she didn’t get four freaking minutes to cut her toenails and throw in a load of laundry, she was actually going to cry.

  “I think there’s burgers in the freezer. Want me to start the grill?” Blake tickled Kellan’s belly with his nose, his messy hair flopping in the baby’s face.

  Livia nodded distractedly, in the midst of making a list now that her hands were free. Blake and Emme could go for haircuts together if she got a second to book an appointment…Then Kellan giggled.

  Blake looked at her, delight all over his face. The day Emme first laughed had been one of his favorite days on the planet. He repeated the motion with his hair and four-month-old Kellan definitely giggled.

  “Oh my God. Do it again. Wait. Emme! Wait. Where’s my phone?” Livia looked around her messy house, not seeing her pink iPhone case anywhere.

  “Emme! Come see. Come look at Kelly!”

  Livia was searching under junk mail when Emme came around the corner holding the iPhone. She’d likely been deep into one of her animal apps.

  “Make it do the video, please!” Livia scooped up her daughter and sat her on the counter. Emme deftly flipped the phone’s camera to video and handed it to her.

  “Okay. Do it again. Today is Friday, April nineteenth.” Livia held her breath.

  Blake snuggled Kellan and waited. The baby started in with the giggle. It almost sounded like he was crying, but the gummy smile gave his emotion away.

  “What’s he doing?” Emme gently touched her brother’s foot.

  “He’s laughing, gorgeous. Kellan’s life is so awesome right now he’s laughing. You try.” Blake held the baby closer to his daughter.

  Emme recreated his motion and Kellan laughed again, kicking his feet. “He’s laughing!”

  Livia sighed in relief when she saw that Emme had also pressed record for her, because she would have missed the moment otherwise.

  “You try, Mommy!” Emme clapped her hands while Blake shifted Kellan to Livia’s arms.

  Kellan’s eyes focused to her, and he smiled at the sight of her face. She mimicked Blake’s maneuver and at first got nothing. But the second time Kellan busted out, and she hugged him to her chest and kissed his sweet face. Cluttered kitchen or no, they had their moment. And Livia knew this would be one of Blake’s favorite days as well. She stopped the video and handed the phone to Emme, who wanted a replay.

  “So he’s a person now, Daddy? He laughs?”

  Blake tried a few more times for a giggle but Kellan was busy watching the pattern of his shirt now. “Yes, pumpkin. He’s been a person this whole time, but now he’s a laughing person.”

  “Well, I’m not surprised. You’re hilarious.” Emme pressed play on the video again.

  Livia and Blake’s eyes met and they mouthed, “hilarious?” Emme had a fantastic vocabulary. They loved it when she slid a whopper of a word into casual conversation.

  “Okay, listen, I’ll take Kellan, and you start the grill,” Livia announced, back to business once again. “I have to do things to my body so I’ll be considered a human woman again, and then I’ll make a salad.” She took the baby in one hand and grabbed his bouncy seat with the other. As long as Kellan could see her, she could get five or six minutes out of him for a brief beauty session.

  “I’ll make the salad. Do what you have to, but you’re gorgeous no matter what.” Blake winked at her.

  “I smell like a dinosaur puked on me, and my toenails might have to be classified as weapons in some states.” Livia puckered a kiss in his direction. “Pumpkin, can you stuff my phone in my pants? I’m going to play that music Kelly likes.”

  “Do not call my son Kelly.” Blake gave her a glowering stare.

  Emme popped the phone in Livia’s pocket before she climbed Blake like a tree and grabbed his face. “Mommy says Kelly is a boy’s name.”

  Blake growled at Livia before focusing on Emme. “Well, I guess I’ll call Mommy Fred from now on.”

  Emme’s huge green eyes got serious. “No. Mommy’s name is Mommy and also Livia. And sometimes Hot Stuff. Not Fred.”

  Livia left the room laughing, and Blake sputtered a bit before tickling Emme, judging from her laughs. Thanks to playing Elmo at a stupid high volume—and maybe the white noise of the shower—Livia got to treat herself to the deluxe. She felt like she’d touched the face of God in that shower.

  Kellan smiled when she appeared from behind the curtain, and her text message tone for Cole interrupted Elmo, which was odd. She and Cole did not have a big texting relationship. She looked at the screen, and her gasp was audible.

  We lost the baby.

  “No. Oh, Kyle. Noooo.” Tears crowded the message from her field of vision as she willed it to change. Four years of trying. Eleven weeks of joy. No.

  She dre
ssed quickly, hands shaking. After twisting her hair into a bun, she pulled a fussing Kellan from his bouncy seat to nurse. He was full and sleeping not fifteen minutes later. Laughing had taken all his energy. Livia rocked him even though he was clearly relaxed. She felt guilty for having him, for not knowing what it was like to want. The second Blake had mentioned children, she was pregnant—both times. It had been so easy.

  Blake knocked at the door, and she told him to enter. “Princess couldn’t wait for a burger, so she’s having microwave popcorn. And I’m boiling water instead of starting the grill because we’re out of propane.” He finally looked at her face. “What’s up?”

  She handed him her phone. He glanced at the text and shook his head before taking Kellan from her and setting him in his bassinet. He held out a hand, helping her out of the chair. “Come here.”

  “It’s just…She wanted it so bad.” Livia set her head on his chest as he rubbed her back.

  “He was really excited too.” Blake pointed at the monitor. Emme watched her favorite show in her room while eating popcorn.

  “Is the alarm set?”

  Blake nodded.

  “Can we? Could you?” She leaned up to kiss his lips.

  “I always can. Can you?” Blake clicked the lock on the door.

  Livia nodded. “Is that disrespectful? I just need you.”

  “Me too.” Blake smiled. “I think it’s okay to be grateful. Any chance we get.”

  As his arms came around her, Livia realized it had been a million years since she’d hugged him chest to chest. She hummed. They made out like two horny teenagers, almost stupid about it. But when he slid his hand in her pants, she flinched. “You sure we have time for this?”

  He kissed her lips again. “I would make time for this if the world was falling apart around us, and we were in public, and a hungry T-Rex was sniffing our butts and—”

  “I get it, I get it!” She laughed but stopped when he began working his long, strong, piano-playing fingers. She was damn near growling when he finally let up. “Your hands are like sexual Swiss Army knives. You can do so much at once,” she gasped.

  He laughed, and they both looked at the monitor. Emme was singing along to her show.

  “Well, I’m so inspired in this romantic setting.” Blake kissed her again.

  “Will you make love to me before something cries or craps? Please?” Livia grabbed a handful of him.

  “Mrs. Hartt, you are such a sweet talker.”

  They each took off their own pants before settling down on the carpet. He crawled at her, nipping and licking until she lay back.

  “Lego!” Livia stiffened as she felt a square-shaped pain in her back.

  “For fuck’s sake.” Blake tossed the Lego out of the way then turned back to her, looking determined.

  Livia smiled at his profanity. She used her legs to pull him into her. And then they locked eyes. They seemed to remember at the same moment the sad news that had made them long for this comfort. Livia kissed Blake again, holding the back of his neck and putting her hand on his chest’s scar. They were fast and needy, both speeding to the resolution. She saw stars when he added his delicious hand to their movements. Both came as quietly as possible, breathing deeply.

  Quickly they cleaned up and put their bottoms back on, ready to parent again, before pausing to hug.

  “Thank you.” She patted his cheek. “Should I go see her now? Do you think?”

  Blake stroked her hair as the farewell music of Emme’s show filtered through the monitor.

  “How about tomorrow? Let them have tonight to each other. Tomorrow’s Saturday. Your dad and Kathy will be off, so maybe they could take the kids for a little while.” He kissed her again.

  “Daddy! My popcorn is cold!” Emme came bustling down the hall, and Blake got to the door and unlocked it just before she burst in. “Can you heated it up for me?”

  “I’m not sure we can heat up cold popcorn. How about some carrots?” Blake picked up their daughter. “I think we have ranch dressing.”

  The two left to go downstairs and Livia grabbed her phone.

  Tell her I love her. And love you too. I’ll be by tomorrow.

  She sent the text and lay back on the bed, looking at Kellan’s sweet pucker. She couldn’t imagine losing him. Her mind created a niece’s face and then a nephew’s. Her tears escaped, drawing wet lines into her hair. Kyle had always blamed herself for every damn thing. This would be no exception.


  Just Breathe

  THE NEXT DAY, MID-MORNING, Livia knocked on the door to Cole and Kyle’s place. After a few moments Cole answered, eyes red and face sullen. “She’s just out of the shower. If you need anything…”

  Livia reached up and hugged him hard, not saying anything. She didn’t have any words. He slipped past her, locking the door behind him, and she heard the alarm setting itself—the robotic lady’s voice was the same as at her house. Cole was going to meet Blake, and John and Kathy were on childcare duty. It was the only way they felt comfortable leaving the kids. No one was getting past John, and Kathy was like a baby whisperer. The kids just went boneless when she was around.

  “Slutenstein! I’m here,” she called.

  “I’m up here, cock dribble.”

  Livia’s heart hurt hearing the hollowness in her sister’s insult. She took the stairs two at a time. Kyle sat in the center of her bed, her legs folded under her. She held a pair of scissors and around her were clippings of her long red hair. What remained on her head was a chopped, soaking wet mess.

  “Hey.” Livia took the scissors from her sister’s hand and pulled her into a hug. Out of habit, her comforting hug included rocking. They sat like that for a while before Livia made her sister look her in the face. “Did you have to punish your hair?”

  Kyle shook her head. “Do you even realize you’re a mother all the time? Like, even when the kids aren’t around?”

  Livia shrugged, not sure what her sister was getting at.

  “It’s natural. Maybe because it was supposed to happen to you.”

  Livia waited, remembering the words of her old professor Dr. Lavender. “In the center of someone’s mourning, the best you can do is listen.” This had once applied to Blake. But today it seemed equally appropriate for Kyle. Grabbing one of her sister’s hands, she waited.

  “I mean, I didn’t even ask what they did with the baby. Who doesn’t ask that? Cole called this morning to find out. She was treated as medical waste. Medical waste.” Kyle wasn’t crying, but Livia’s eyes filled up. “You have babies with five fingers and toes, and I have a baby who was tossed out with the trash, not even looking like a human. They incinerate it.” She shook her head. “I feel numb now. Like maybe the baby was better off not having to be mine.”

  Livia pulled Kyle to her chest, hard, and willed her to stop talking. “You don’t get to say that. I know you. All my life I’ve known you. You’re a gift to those who love you.”

  “You know, Cole’s been great. But I find myself blaming him too.” Kyle continued as if Livia hadn’t spoken. “What if his sperm isn’t good enough? How unfair. I just don’t know how to pick myself up from this.” Kyle hugged her sister back.

  “Don’t focus on up. Maybe just focus on breathing?” Livia looked out the window.

  The day did not match the mood: sun drenched Poughkeepsie. Livia contemplated how to walk the fine line between comfort and pity when she swore she saw movement in Kyle’s backyard. But when she focused and looked more closely, she saw nothing.

  “Listen, come into the bathroom. Let’s fix this hair. It looks like it was cut by a weed whacker. You should know by now you can only trim your cooter with the power tools.” Livia pulled on her sister until she came with her. After dragging the laundry basket over to function as a makeshift chair, she pushed Kyle onto it.

  “Dude.” She had trouble determining where to start.

  Kyle rolled her eyes. “Yeah.”

  “You might have to go to
the salon or something.” She ran her hands through her sister’s uneven locks.

  “Just fix it like you fixed your damn Barbie’s hair.”

  “I’m still pissed about that.” Threading a chunk of hair through her fingers, Livia cut on an angle to try to make a layer.

  As a child, Kyle had stolen Livia’s Barbie doll and treated her to a safety-scissor hair adjustment. In the aftermath, Livia had been able to trim the hair in such a way that it fell in a tapered bob. The victimized Barbie wound up being a favorite in all their subsequent doll games because her hair was so unique.

  “That was synthetic hair.” Livia concentrated harder.

  “Mine’ll grow back. No pressure.” Kyle sighed. “I wish I knew how to stop hating myself for a few fucking minutes.”

  She looked at her sister’s reflection. “Me too. The minute I heard I knew this would be hard. I wish I could fix this.”

  “Keep cutting. I need to look human by the time Cole gets home.” She pulled a blush brush from the counter and added peach to her cheeks.

  “I want to tell you this, but I don’t want you to think I’m trying to put you down or hurt your feelings.” Livia moved around to work on Kyle’s brand-new bangs.

  “Just say it.” Kyle stopped and waited, clutching her brush.

  “I just…If it’s hard—and I’m not saying you can’t or won’t—but if it’s an option, I’d carry your baby for you.” Livia swallowed.

  Kyle reached out and pulled her sister against her. They hugged hard for a few minutes before Kyle nodded. “Thanks. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but thanks.” She almost smiled. “Of course that would mean you’d get your vagina snot all over my kid.”

  “Bitch.” Livia laughed. “Only you could turn the gift of life into something that makes me want to gag.”

  Kyle slapped her sister on the ass.

  “Ow! You hit like a drunk trucker.” Livia stepped away from her sister’s hair. “What do you think?” The mirror showed more than Kyle would ever see. She was stunning and wholesome and worthy. And her hair looked pretty kick ass too.

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