I love my daughter. I can't say I've always been happy with her decisions, but I love her. Her father is impulsive too, and our life together has had its share of romantic and happy thrills, but I've always been more reserved, more aware, and I've done my best to make sure we saved, put away money for college, and retirement. And Charles, who is the love of my life, has been a trustworthy and warm husband - prone to sudden ideas of fortune and, I'll admit, somewhat cracked expectations of the real world, but we've always had a balance, the two of us. And I think we raised our children well. But, Lord, I wish that daughter of mine knew how to control herself. I'm not the impulsive kind. Except, of course, as every mother knows, I'll find myself looking back on decisions I've made for the good of my child and can't help but curse them for making me do so. There was the time Carly was caught spraypainting the school with her girlfriends and I had to drive down to the police station at 2 am to go get her, and of course drive her back to the courthouse for community service. There was the time she, her prom date and their assorted friends were found in the woods by the police having a grand time - except they were all underage and drinking. I made her father come with me to get her that time.
It's not that I don't know what it's like to be young and reckless. I'm not that far removed from my own questionable years. Charles and I got married when we were 18 and I had Carly about 6 months later. To be honest, I loved getting married young, and I loved Charles, and he was always going to work for his father's firm - probably why he's so carefree. So, yes, I was happy to play housewife. Because I always wanted to be a mother, even when I was a little girl. And to tell the truth, it broke my heart a little bit every time Carly came home a little too tipsy to have driven home safely or brought home a boyfriend that I suspected could barely spell his name. Carly has two brothers who are both wonderful boys, who never had trouble in school, who both excelled, one in theatre and the other in football; Bobby founded a community theatre and Doug went off to Notre Dame on a scholarship; but I still felt personally responsible every time something happened with Carly.
Carly has always been her father's girl and I tried to keep him from indulging her too much, but of course Charles' answer to most of our daughter's adventures has been to say that nobody got hurt, and she's a smart girl. Well Carly is a smart girl, but she was still capable of hurting the ones she loved.
And to talk about it all like this I'm sure it sounds terrible. It really wasn't. Most of the time I could say we had a great household. I was the designated soccer mom and baseball mom and even for a brief season the archery mom (Carly's bow is still somewhere in the garage, which Charles still loves to take out and mess around with from time to time). I loved packing the kids' lunches and making dinner for everyone. I loved doing our taxes. I loved my home, and everyone in it.
I feel so terrible about this. But writing it out makes me feel a little better. Not much. But then, better doesn't necessarily mean...good. And "good" has so many meanings. What I did felt...good, of course. I'm guilty, and ashamed, but... Well, I'm already getting ahead of myself.
When Carly met Michael I almost thought it was a joke. Not the greatest thing to say, I know, but Michael was the antithesis of any man Carly had dated before. They met while Michael was finishing his graduate program in journalism; Carly was in her sophomore year of college. Michael had spent his years between his degrees working for various papers and he already had a career by the time they met. He was 25, she was 20. When she first told me about him I was worried, because he sounded too old for her, and I was suspicious.
But that Thanksgiving, when she brought him home, none of us could help but fall in love with him. Michael is one of the sweetest men I have ever known. He smiles easily, he instantly bonded with Carly's brothers over their equal distaste for the Broncos and he impressed my husband with his knowledge of the market and what Charles' dubbed 'thoroughly sound investments.' I loved him, of course, because I knew he was good for Carly, because I could see that he made her happy. But I worried because I didn't want him to indulge her too much. In the past that was always the precursor to Carly growing bored with her boyfriends and she had a habit of dumping them unceremoniously, usually without their knowledge. Before, in most cases, it hadn't been a great loss. But Michael was different. He was handsome, he was smart, and he was polite.
He did dishes with me that Thanksgiving, until he convinced me Charles needed me in the living room. When I got back into the kitchen he'd barricaded himself in the kitchen and wouldn't let me in until he'd cleaned every dish and wiped down the counters. Of course he did it to get in my good graces. It worked.
He was going to work for the New York Times and Carly told me later that he'd asked her to come with him. She didn't, that first year, but then she transferred to NYU to be with him - and even though I loved Michael I was still worried that it was impulsive. But then he asked her to marry him and I wanted so badly to tell Carly to say yes. Of course she did.
The wedding was beautiful. Charles gave Carly away in a sweet little church in town, the same one that we'd been married in, and I didn't think I would stop crying. The whole night Michael would come by to make me laugh, to tell me absurd things to make me mad, all to make me stop crying. And when I did he gave me a big hug and kissed my cheek and told me, "Annie, you're a beautiful woman. And you have a beautiful daughter. I promise I'll take good care of her." And of course that set me off to crying again and he shook his head and laughed at me, which made me mad, which made me stop crying, if only briefly. That was the kind of man Michael was. Still is, maybe.
Michael is tall, never too thin but not as stocky as my husband. He was obviously good looking and Carly once told me that he could fly into great fits of passion and shower her with affection. His greatest passion was his work but he never let that get in the way of being with Carly. He made sacrifices, passed up on stories to make time for her, and she hinted that their sex life was great - which I didn't need to hear, but I wasn't surprised. Michael occasionally had a mischievous glint in his eye that any woman could spot from a mile away. But he was so decent, and so honest. I hoped that Carly knew how lucky she was. Speaking as a mother, I can say that Carly is a brilliant girl, beautiful, and strong - but speaking as a woman I know that men like Michael don't come along every day. You hope your children will find good mates, and you want them to make it.
Carly and I look similar, mostly around our cheeks and mouths. She has my husband's blue eyes and my eyelashes. My eyes are hazel and my hair is a slightly curly blonde, and Carly's is a long, wavy mix of her father's brown and my mother's auburn. I won't lie, Charles has gotten a little soft around the middle as we near middle age, but he's still my man. My mother was always a plump woman and I've been obsessive about staying in shape, all my life. So though I'm now pushing 42 I still visit the gym four times a week (a housewife needs to keep busy), I swim, and have since almost before I could crawl. Carly's body took after her father's side, so she is short but curvaceous, with breasts that are firm and round but smaller than mine. I still get plenty of wandering eyes at the mall and around town, and I remember the way the boys' friends used to gawk at my chest when I would come to pick them up from practice. I won't lie, I'm not above showing a little cleavage when my husband and I go out, but I have always tried to be classy about it. Michael even called me classy when we first met.
I want to say I don't know what happened. I want to say I'm sorry. I am sorry. I'm very sorry, but I do know what happened. I think I know why. It doesn't make it better, even if it felt...
It was this past Christmas that it happened. Carly and Michael were in town and were staying at a hotel. They'd flown in from New York that Thursday and Friday was a wonderful family reunion and dinner. Michael talked all about his latest interviews and trips, Doug was getting married next year... Carly seemed distant, or bored. I could see in Michael's eyes as he gazed at her across the table that there was something amiss, but I didn't know what.
And so I was surprised when he came to the house alone that Saturday, when everyone else was out. It was early morning, about nine am, and it was raining outside, a hard, heavy downpour. It seemed cold enough for snow but all we had was that thick, heavy rain. Charles and the boys were out last minute Christmas shopping and then they would be meeting up with my husband's brother and their family. We would all rendezvous back at the house later that afternoon. I didn't expect to see Michael or Carly until then.
I was in the kitchen in my bare feet, wearing a thin skirt underneath my apron and an old t-shirt of my husband's. I had the oven and the stove going and kept reminding myself to turn on the heater; it was absolutely freezing in the house. But some new piece had to be added to the soup or I needed to cut up some more onions and I kept dashing to the next thing, so I never quite got to it. I was surprised to hear the front door open and shut and I popped my head around the kitchen corner to see who it was.
It was Michael, folding up an umbrella and carrying it into the bathroom. I gave an exasperated sigh to see him, assuming Carly was with him. I didn't want to be distracted from the kitchen.
"It's me," he said from the hall.
"I see you," I said. "I'm in here."
He came into the kitchen, wearing a black sweater and jeans, his usual, lop-sided smile, and he pecked me on the cheek as he made his way to the kitchen table and sat down in the nearest chair. "How are you, Anne?"
"I'm fine," I said distractedly, trying to remember what I had been looking for in the spice rack. "Is Carly with you?"
"No," he said. "She's out with some girlfriends."
"Oh," I said, not registering. I realized in a moment how quiet he was and I turned to him and frowned. "What's wrong with you? You're usually talking a mile a minute."
He shook his head. "I dunno. I'm-" He opened his mouth and nothing came out. He shook his head again.
I'd never seen him like this. I left the thermometer by the stove and passed by the kitchen counter. I leaned on it. "Honey, what's wrong?"
He gave a big, mountainous sigh, his wide shoulders rumbling and falling down like they were folding in. But Michael was still very much there, very solid. I'd misjudged his emotion. I thought he was sad. He was more than that. He looked angry, but not aggressively angry, angry and independent, on his own island somehow.
"Please don't stop what you're doing, I just needed to come somewhere. I don't know the area and I didn't think I could drive the way I felt. Especially not in the rain."
"It's coming down real hard today," I agreed. I returned to the stove and flipped the burners off. I wiped my hands on my apron and strode back to him until I was standing before him at the kitchen table. "Mike, what's wrong?"
He looked at me intently, but he said nothing.
"Tell me," I said.
"Carly," he said. He said it as if it explained everything. I didn't tell him that it almost did. He shook his head, shook it again, pressing his lips together until they were in a white line. "She's seeing someone else." He said it very firmly.
My stomach flipped. I went down on my knees in front of him and cupped my hands over my mouth. "Mike," I said. "What do you mean? Are you sure?"
"I'm pretty damn sure," he said. "They've been texting each other since... It's been a few months at least. I know I shouldn't have looked at her phone but it kept ringing last night in the hotel room and... I saw..." He drew his fingers through his hair. He couldn't go on. "I'm so mad I don't know what to... Annie, I'm going to lose it."
I leaned forward in the carpet and took his hands in mine. I laid them on his knee. "Mike, don't. Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?"
"I read as many texts as I could stomach," he said bitterly. "I don't know how long it's been going on but I know he's somewhere in town. He's an old boyfriend of hers. Ryan?"
I remembered Ryan. He was still living in town, a good old boy. Carly had flirted with him relentlessly in high school and I thought they'd seen the last of each other when she went to college.
"I confronted her about it this morning and she broke down, told me everything, said she was sorry, that she'd end it today but-" He bit his lip. I kept his hands in mine and stared up at him, horrified by this. Carly was married. She had a wonderful husband. Michael was a wonderful man. I thought of him as my third son. In fact I'd always felt very maternal about him, probably because he never seemed to need help, was always so straightforward, always so good. But he was shaking now. "I didn't say anything, I just had to get out of there," he said.
"Are you- what are you going to do?"
"That's a good question."
"Honey," I said, "Mike, Carly loves you, too. She's impulsive. But I know she-"
"She said she loves me," said Mike. "But I would never do that to her. And now I want to," he said. "It's the only thing I can think of. I want her to know how it feels."
"Mike!" I said, shocked. "You're better than that. Don't even say a thing like that. You'll make me lose all the respect I have for you."
"Right," he said.
"I'm serious. You're a good man. You wouldn't do that."
"I just might..."
"Don't you dare-" I started.
"I know it's petty," he said. "I know it's childish, and stupid," he grew more heated, "and wrong but I'm just so sick of it. I'm-" He let out a gruff burst of air. "I understand now why she didn't want to have a baby."
"What?" I said. I hadn't heard anything about this.
"I wanted to," he said. "She said she wasn't ready. I asked her when and she just said, 'later.' That was all she said. I love her, Annie, you know I do but... Maybe we should call it quits. Because I can't go on like this, knowing she's done this - hell maybe it isn't even the first time-"
"No," I said. "Mike, she would never-"
"She did," he said flatly. He rose to go.
I rose with him, meeting his eye. I tried to push him back down. "No, you're not going anywhere," I said, "not in the state you're in. Don't you dare get in a car now." He tried to push me away but he wouldn't risk hurting me, so he reluctantly let me set him back in his seat. On my feet now I looked down at him with wounded love. I put my hand to his cheek. "Honey, I'm so sorry. Carly loves you. She's-"
"I'm tired of hearing it," he said.
"No," he said. "I'm taking the next flight back to New York and taking my stuff."
"No!" I said. "Don't do that, Mike. Think about it, give her time to think about it."
"I've made up my mind," he said. "Besides, it's dangerous for me to be around anyone right now. Because I know what I want to do." I placed my hand on his shoulder and could feel the muscles tense and shiver. It was still cold but he was boiling underneath his sweater.
"Oh, honey," I said. I bent down and kissed his forehead. He reached to take my hand off his cheek but I just raised my other to his neck. I wanted to hold him back, keep him from breaking away. I hated what Carly had done and wanted to comfort him. I kissed him gently on the cheek. "Mike, I'm so sorry," I pressed my forehead against his. My hands on his cheeks, I gave him a maternal peck on the lips. "Please don't go," I said. "Don't do something you'll regret." He relaxed in my hands but kept his fingers curled tightly around my wrists.
"Annie..." he said.
"No," I said. I kissed him again on the lips, trying to keep him in his chair. My bangs brushed over his nose. "Don't leave her, Mike, please, you're so good for her. She needs you." I was whispering into his face, our foreheads touching. His hands reached for my shoulders and we rocked together. "Please," I said. This time he pushed his mouth into mine; it was a soft kiss, a hurt kiss. It was alright, it was security. Somehow though my hands cupped his strong jaw as we rocked together. His mouth was so beautiful.
His stubbled lower lip brushed my chin. I shook my head against his face, my eyelashes brushing his eyes. His finger sifted up the hair at the back of my neck. Then he kissed my mouth.
"Just don't," I said. "We love you. We all love you. You're a part of this family."
"I'm leaving and I'm never coming back," he said. His hands tightened on my shoulders.
"Then why did you come here?" I said. I was still bent over him, uncomfortably, thinking I was comforting him with my soft words and hands. But his hands wrapped around my arms and brought me closer. I was off-balance. His lips grazed my cheek, and then pushed firmly into the corner of my mouth. "I can't-," I breathed into his mouth. He pulled me forward.
"Can't what?" he murmured.
What was happening? I couldn't stop him from pulling me so instead of falling I pushed forward until I fell into his lap. Without meaning to, I straddled him on the chair. He squeezed my body against him and I had to throw my arms on his shoulders to free my arms. I could feel him begin to undue the knots of my apron. "Mike, don't-" I breathed into his mouth. I had to. Our tongues touched. I didn't know what to do but as long as I kissed him I thought he'd leave the apron alone. "Don't do something you'll regret," I managed to gasp out as he squeezed my midsection and drew me closer to him. He reached down and pulled my skirt up. He laid warm hands over my cold thighs.
I jumped. "Mike!"
He took my face in his hands and kissed me deeply. I hadn't been kissed like that in years. But I hadn't wanted to be! This, this man in my lap was a strained ball of muscles and fury- he was dangerous. He was Mike! I kept telling myself I didn't want this, but I never pulled away when he kissed me, only kept myself at a remove so that he had to keep pressing forward into my mouth. Into my mouth. His fingers sifted into my hair and gently pulled my hair tie off. Without thinking, I ground my panties into his lap, squeezing him with my thighs. His fingernails raked my leg. "Oh my God!" I cried.
He loosened the strings of my apron and pulled it off me, between our bodies. But I fought him. This time I pushed my bare feet into the floor and tried to get up. His hands cast the apron aside and brought me down, deep down, into his hard crotch. I jerked my mouth away from him. "Mike-" I gasped. "Think about Carly-"
"I am," he said.
And I knew that was true. We both were, and Mike was either settling the score between them or completely out of control. I should scream, I kept thinking. I thought it with every push his trapped erection made against my soft panties. Instead I laid my hand over his mouth. His hands, meanwhile, were dug firmly into my lower back and ass. My toes curled on the kitchen floor. "Let go of me," I said.
He reached up to pry my fingers off his face. I wouldn't budge, so he began to lick my palm. I could feel his wet, hot tongue sliding over the creases in my hand.
Before I knew it he had his hand up my t-shirt, kneading the muscles up my sides, and then my back, pulling me all the time into him, against his solid chest. Already his hands were behind my bra, unsnapping it. Suddenly I felt both his palms rub over my nipples. "Oh, Michael...why would you make me hate you?" He bucked up against my panties. Squiggles of tension burst up from between my legs. For the first time I leaned back, my hands on his shoulders, my ass balanced on his thighs and my aching pussy in his lap. "Please go," I gasped, my face turned towards the ceiling. "Please go, Michael."