How Cara Learned to Stop Worrying Ch. 06byphlight©
Chapter 6 -- Settling down, heating up.
I lazed in bed, trying to indulge in a few more minutes of doing not much of anything. I was 12 weeks and 1 day pregnant; Keiji and I had an appointment with the perinatologist for a nuchal translucency test in an hour. My first trimester blood work showed no cause for concern, but I was still a bit nervous. I couldn't wait to see the baby again, to see him or her moving, to have proof of the cause of my frequent toilet rendezvous.
Keiji was circling the room, scowling.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
"My stupid deodorant. Maybe I forgot to pack it," he grumbled. He rummaged in his backpack again.
"You can use some of mine," I offered. "Maybe it's time for you to get a second set of everything? Or your own drawer or something? You're here a lot."
"I don't know if I want to go my interview smelling like--" he paused to read my deodorant's label "'Ooh-la-la lavender.' Where do they come up with this shit?"
"I don't know, it was on sale," I laughed. "But I'm serious. Can you sublet your place? My house is closer to your office anyway."
"My office? I haven't gotten the job yet," he said, rubbing the stick on his armpits.
"Keiji, it's a third interview. They love your work. You have years of experience. Don't fart and you're a shoe-in," I said, swinging my feet to the floor. He paused to watch me, an admiring look on his face. "Ugh, come on, I look like the pregnant Bride of Frankenstein right now." I patted my bed head and looked down at my heavy breasts and protruding belly.
"I always thought she was kind of sexy. Um. But. Are you serious? I mean about me moving in?"
"Of course I'm serious. What, were we all going to move into the loft? Or shuffle the baby back and forth? You can have nights, how's that sound?" I walked to the closet and started searching for the day's outfit. He smirked.
"I was sort of waiting for you to raise the issue. Didn't want to uh, invite myself over or anything. Can you help me button these cuffs?" he asked, holding his arms out stiffly. It was the first time I had seen Keiji in a plain, white shirt. He hadn't cut his hair since we met and it was long enough now to brush his collar. As usual, I thought he looked thoroughly fuckable. I laid my clothes down on the bed and crossed the room to him, going to work on the tiny buttons. When I finished I pressed my naked body against him, regretful that we had slept in too late to leave time for any morning recreation.
"I think we're past the point of you needing an invitation," I murmured, caressing the semi-erection I had raised. "Are you coming back here after you're done today?"
"Um," he said, swaying on his feet a bit. Then he laughed and took a step back from me. "I can't think when you do that. I have to stop by my place and get a few supplies, but yes. I can come over if you want."
"I want. Hm. Where would you work here? There's this room, Evan's, the guest room which I had pegged for the nursery...maybe the attic? It's got a window, with pretty good light. We'd have to get some A/C up there for you, though."
"Artists are inspired by harsh conditions," he said, jutting his chin in the air as he knotted his tie. I smiled and started getting dressed.
"Well, I'm no artist. I've already got a caffeine-withdrawal headache and I can't stand it. Can you start the coffee?" I'd weaned myself to a cup a day, but I absolutely needed that cup.
We must have been in luck because we didn't spend forty-five minutes in the waiting room. Although he put on a calm face for anything concerning the baby, I could tell Keiji was nervous as he flipped through the folder he'd created for his interview. He was pursuing a design position at a small ad agency; it would be a creatively demanding job and the clients were hip up-and-comers. I grasped his hand, shooting him a small smile.
"Cara Brennan?" a voice called. I looked up and saw a pretty woman in purple scrubs. She smiled as we approached her. "Hi, my name is Inés. I'll be your ultrasound technician today. Is this your first ultrasound?"
"No, we've been in before for a dating exam," I said.
"Okay, so you know the drill. This time it won't be transvaginal, though."
"That's a relief," I said. The last time Keiji had been alternately impressed and disconcerted by what he termed "the dildo cam."
"And you are Daddy?" she asked, addressing Keiji.
"Yes," he said, with a shy grin. "Still getting used to that." She smiled back.
"It takes a little while, even if you were expecting it."
She led us into a dim exam room. Keiji helped me lay down on the table while Inés entered my information into the ultrasound machine.
"Okay, let's see your baby," she said. I pulled up my shirt and she tucked a towel around the waistband of my pants. She squirted warm gel on my belly and placed the wand on top, gooing me up. Keiji and I watched a small screen mounted on the wall, enraptured. At first I could only make out a foggy image of my uterus; Inés changed the angle of the wand and suddenly there was a spine filling the screen. She laughed.
"Looks like we're getting a cold shoulder. C'mon kiddo, cooperate." She pressed the wand into my abdomen a bit. Suddenly, the baby flipped on its side -- a much bigger and more deliberate movement than we had seen a month ago with the wee gummy bear. Keiji gasped.
"Did you feel that?" he asked.
"Nope," I said, still watching the screen. Now I could see a beating heart. Inés documented the heart rate and let us listen; it was just as mesmerizing at the first time. Then she zoomed in on the baby's head and neck.
"What a cutie," she said.
"That is one adorable cranium," Keiji agreed. I laughed, jiggling the image.
"Hey, hold still. Same goes for you, Baby. I'm going to start taking nuchal measurements now," Inés scolded.
"What exactly do these measurements show, again?" I asked. I hadn't had this scan with Evan.
"Well, since you are 'advanced maternal age,' haha, sorry, you have an increased risk for chromosomal abnormalities. Measuring the soft tissues in the baby's neck can help us identify if there is a problem in combination with the first trimester blood tests," Inés explained.
The room got quiet as she took still photos of the baby and measured the relevant parts. I didn't realize I was holding my breath until she spoke again.
"Looks good to me. I'll send the results to the doctor and he'll be in shortly. But before that, I'll take a look at the rest of the baby and get you a few pictures."
"Can you tell the sex yet?" I asked her.
"No!" Keiji cried.
"I don't want to know!"
"Well, it's hard to tell at this point anyway," Inés said, grinning.
"You seriously don't want to find out?" I asked.
"No way! Don't ruin the surprise!" he said, shaking his head emphatically.
"Oh my gosh, Keiji," I grumbled, not really put out but still taken aback by his strong opinion. Inés was amused.
"I have lots of couples who are split on this issue. If I see you guys at your next ultrasound, around 18 weeks or so, I can put the results in an envelope for you and you can open it later. Or not. But be warned, if one person knows it's a really tough secret to keep."
Inés took several photos of the baby for us; a hand (SO cute!), a profile shot, the spine, a full body shot, and a frontal picture of the face that Keiji said reminded him of the Terminator.
"Don't compare your baby to a merciless robot of death," I laughed.
"It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear," he quoted. Inés's laughter joined mine.
"Yeah, that sounds like a newborn baby to me all right. Here are your pictures," she said, handing me the roll of paper from the ultrasound machine. As she left us in the room alone we pored over the photos together.
"I can't believe how different things are in just a month -- like a complete, tiny person already. Look at the five fingers, so amazing," he said, lightly touching the photo.
"I know. Just wait until they're pulling your hair."
After the doctor confirmed that the baby looked "perfectly healthy," I dropped Keiji off at his interview, made plans to pick him up at his place around six, and continued to my office. Even though it was still early on, I had already told my coworkers about the pregnancy. My belly was unmistakable, no sense in beating around the bush. I was preparing my team for my maternity leave and shifted control of several clients over to my most reliable managers. After his initial discomfort, Adam became quite friendly, even stopping in with small treats for me now and then -- Preggie Pops ("My sister said these are great!"), chocolates, etc. I didn't want to encourage anything inappropriate but I always thanked him. It was far better to be on good terms.
I texted Keiji during the middle of the day to ask about the interview; he replied back, "Paint." This meant he was working on a piece, in the zone, but it could also mean that he was putting my question off on purpose. I hoped he had good news. Before we discussed him moving in with me he brought up the need for a stable job. His proceeds from his independent commissions were enough to get him by, but he wasn't able to save much and income was sporadic. I agreed, gently encouraging him to get in touch with his old advertisement contacts. In spite of the rough economy his reputation and portfolio landed him a few bites.
Before I left the office I called Evan to see if he wanted to join Keiji and I for a Friday night dinner out. He'd been super busy with drama commitments and a week full of tests. He was still a bit stiff with both of us, but as time passed and he saw Keiji outside of his old context he seemed to be coming around. Evan picked the place -- a favorite pizza joint -- and I told him I'd see him in a little less than an hour. First I drove to Keiji's; he saved me the hassle of finding a parking space by waiting on the street, portfolio under his arm and pack on his back. He was still wearing his white shirt, but had lost the tie, undone several buttons, and switched the suit jacket for a black fleece. I popped the trunk and he stashed his stuff, then slid into the passenger's seat blowing into his hands to warm them. He looked tired and there was a splotch of grey paint in his hair.
"So? You're killing me here," I said as I pulled away from the curb. He looked away, then back at me. My heart sank. I knew he was up against at least two other people. Well, at least there were the other positions to look into...
"I got it," he said, breaking into a smile, very pleased with his deception.
"Oh my god, no way! I mean, I believe it, but no way! That's wonderful!" I gushed, bouncing in my seat.
"I start on Monday," he said, noticing the paint in the vanity mirror and trying to scrape it out of his hair.
"Wow, so soon?"
"Yeah. It's a small place and they could really use the extra hands. It's funny, my first client is a concert hall I designed handbills for a few years back."
"Cool. So what do you think made them say yes? I mean, besides being hard up for an amazing artist such as yourself?" He chuckled and shook his head.
"The lavender deodorant."
"You really want to know?" he said, giving me a funny look.
"Yes! Now you're weirding me out."
"I think my new boss uh, likes me."
"Well of course he likes you, you're hired aren't you?"
"Cara, I'm pretty sure Lev is gay."
"Ohhh. Wow, some guys just have all the luck," I said, shooting him a dry glance. "Why do you think he likes you?"
"Um, you know, the usual things," he replied, embarrassed. "He laughed at things I said that weren't all that funny. He touched me a few times that weren't necessary, like not business handshakes. He complimented me on my clothes, my hair, stuff that straight guys don't notice."
"Maybe he's just extremely friendly and stylish?"
"Maybe. But. I've sort of, you know, been through this stage before with people."
"Hmm. Yeah. I guess you have," I said. "As long as he knows you're not on the market." He smiled and shook his head.
"He took me out for lunch after the interview and I told him about you, about my motivation for going back to a day job. I don't think it's going to be an issue between us, assuming he can keep things professional. Anyway." He seemed so uncomfortable -- unlike himself-- that I decided to let it drop. We were almost to my place anyway.
When we pulled up Evan came running out of the house in a t-shirt and ripped jeans. It was 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
"What the--?" I began.
"Don't get on him about that," Keiji whispered. He had been super-extra-special nice to Evan, painstakingly so, without trying to buddy up to him. He knew he was on probation with my son and why.
Evan opened the back door of the sedan and hopped in, buckling his seatbelt at light speed.
"I'm starving, let's go!"
"Yes, master," I intoned. I thought that would be it for conversation, but Evan surprised me.
"How did your interview go?" he asked, leaning forward in Keiji's direction.
"Oh! Um, I'm in. I start on Monday," Keiji said, sounding as surprised as I felt.
"That's great, man. Very cool." Evan sat back and pulled out his phone; Keiji and I relaxed at this more typical behavior.
"Thanks, Evan," Keiji said, shooting me a Look. How 'bout that?
We had a pleasant dinner. After we told Evan about the ultrasound the baby was officially dubbed Arnold. Keiji described his new coworkers and some of his job responsibilities. I talked about what a relief it was to downgrade some of my responsibilities, and mentioned that we ought to start thinking about car seats, cribs, et. al. I expected Keiji's eyes to glaze over but he seemed more excited than me. Evan mumbled a few lines about the troupe's progress with Julius Caesar but his main focus was six slices of pepperoni, black olives, and extra cheese. He also fielded what seemed like ten times as many text messages.
Keiji's phone buzzed as we were waiting for the check. He looked down, saw the number, and a dark expression clouded his face. He ended the call with a frown and shoved the phone in his pocket.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
"Mm, nothing," he said, rolling his eyes toward Evan (who was thankfully so absorbed in his own phone that he didn't notice).
"Was it your mom?"
"No, Cara. It was nobody." I bit the inside of my cheek, wanting to protest that "nobody" wouldn't elicit that reaction. I was loathe to bring anything up in front of Evan, but I knew and Keiji knew that he had some 'splainin' to do.
We paid and headed to the car. Keiji was subdued; I felt worried. First the weird vibes about Lev, the new boss, and now "nobody" calling him at dinner. I had spent most of our relationship asking very little about Keiji's past, at first feeling that it didn't matter to me as long as he was dedicated to our relationship, but it was becoming harder and harder to for me to ignore. Maybe it was just the pregnancy hormones but I suddenly felt insecure.
Once inside the house, Evan headed upstairs to his room, probably for a few more hours of hardcore texting.
"Don't stay up too late, Ev," I called.
"Never!" he yelled back. I heard the bathroom door close and the shower start. I turned and saw Keiji setting his portfolio down on the dining room table. He met my eyes and smiled, but he knew something was up.
"Wanna go upstairs?" he asked.
"Yeah, I guess so," I said. "You coming?" I remembered my feelings for him this morning, my anticipation of him being here tonight, and wondered how I could feel so different now.
"Of course, I just have to go to the bathroom. Be there in two minutes." I nodded and walked upstairs to the master bedroom. I took off my work clothes and put on a rather dowdy maternity nightgown -- light blue, flannel, long. I sat on the bed and pulled my knees against my body. He came in and I watched as he emptied his pockets on my dresser and stripped down to his boxers. He paused, looking wary.
"Why do I feel like I have to ask if I can sit next to you?"
"You don't, don't be silly. Come on," I said, patting the spot next to me. He got in under the covers and laid down, his hands behind his head. He looked at me, expectant. I thought of everything I knew about him -- his words of love, support, and encouragement; his honest actions with me, my son, and his family; his inspiring art; his beautiful body -- and about everything I didn't. I thought about what Evan said to me about him, what Sachi said, what Takako said. I understood their judgment of Keiji's sexual behavior -- I wasn't completely inexperienced but I didn't have his kind of history, not by a long shot. I was mystified, intrigued, and a little scared. On the other hand I felt he was misunderstood; he hadn't treated me like a flavor of the month, as Evan predicted, or been such an unsuited match for me, as Sachi thought, and he hadn't put himself first, as Takako said he "always" did. But there was that old voice inside of me asking, What if he gets bored? You are boring, Cara. You always have been. What if this baby is the most interesting thing about you? What's to keep him beyond that? Although surely a baby wasn't a temporary amusement, I might be. Right?
All of these thoughts went through my head in the space of a second. I took a deep breath and let it out, closed my eyes.
"Keiji, who is nobody?" He sighed and I opened my eyes. He was rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Nobody is Rachel. We went out about four times back in '06. We had sex; it didn't really happen for us beyond that. But she's persistent. She calls me a few times a year. I don't know if she's bored or if she's drunk dialing or what. I don't answer the calls."
I chewed on this for a minute, thinking of mentioning the most obvious reason she'd be calling him -- hell, why I would call him if I got lonely or bored or horny -- but decided to keep on task.
"Are there lots of Rachels?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, are there more women out there who have the wrong idea about you? Or your relationship with them?"
"Hm," he said, considering the ceiling before making eye contact with me again. "No. Rachel is the only one. I'm not saying I didn't make mistakes, especially when I was younger. I feel bad about some things I've done, some people I didn't treat with enough respect or I lead them to believe I was more into them than I actually was. I was immature, I didn't know how to handle attention from women. I was a naive kid from the suburbs. I was a jerk. College freaked me out for awhile there."
"No, it's -- I'm not like that anymore. Like I said, I don't know why she's calling me. I definitely didn't give her a reason to believe I was still interested. We had what I thought was a clear parting of ways -- I said, hey, you know, nothing personal but I'm not feeling any chemistry, she agreed with me, we shook hands, the whole thing. It wasn't nasty. She's changed her number a few times, just to keep me guessing, maybe? I don't know if she's gone over the deep end since we dated or what." He went back to rubbing his nose, looking pained.
"Keiji, I'm not trying to make this into a waterboarding session or anything. I just..." I trailed off, knowing I had asked this question before in different ways, but that I had to be more direct if I wanted to put my full trust in him. "I didn't know about Rachel. I don't know why you were so uncomfortable with me asking you about your new boss. This whole part of your life is just missing, at least to me. What else don't I know about you?"
"I wish you wouldn't worry about it, but I understand why you're asking," he said, holding my eyes with his. "I have never had sex at a graveyard, farm, or daycare center. So there's that."