I Know What I'm Doing Ch. 04byAzanianHeat©
I woke up with a headache. Daily. I didn't even have the energy to go running or surfing. Each morning it felt as if thick shards of glass were lodged in my skull. I was grateful, though. It was the perfect distraction from the heavy pain in my chest.
How had everything fallen apart so fast?
A few weeks ago I'd faced my biggest epiphany ever when I opened my door to find Ethan smiling at me. I was a new man, different yet the same. Ethan had helped me uncover something deep and valuable within me; he'd shown me what fulfillment felt like.
And now he was gone.
I saw little of Carolynn and wasn't sure if that was by luck or design on her part. Either way I didn't care. Finding out she was pregnant would've made me the happiest man breathing... a year ago.
I'd always known I wanted to be a father one day. But any conscious thought of children had been buried when the problems between Carolynn and I had started. I couldn't look her in the eyes without seeing the demon she truly was, slithering beneath her polished veneer. And now I had to face a future tied to her forever?
The part of me that wanted kids was the same part that wanted Ethan. It's the same part that's protective of my parents and the rest of my family. Carolynn had no place in that.
But our child did.
Carolynn had every reason to gloat. She had me exactly where she wanted me and she knew that. There was no way I could ever turn my back on my own child and deny him or her a chance at the type of childhood I'd had. My child's happiness had to come first.
So Carolynn stayed. I went out for the day when she called Dan to help her unpack her stored things. I simply couldn't watch that. The only line I still drew was at allowing her into the master suite. I'd share parenting with her, but not my bed.
"Eat something, Ethan."
I remembered to take another bite every time Dan passed a gentle order my way. Halfway through my meal my mind switched off again and I didn't notice Peter taking my plate away.
Dan's instructions have gotten me through the days since... since. I'd been going from Dan's couch to the bathroom and back again. Peter fed me and Dan flicked through the tv channels when we all sat together in the evenings. I did nothing, said nothing, saw nothing.
I could feel Dan and Peter's concern like a thick blanket around me. I knew my withdrawal had to be scaring them but still couldn't muster the energy to tell them I was fine. I'd spent my whole life cutting myself off from others as a defense mechanism. Going back to that place was like revisiting an old fear: repulsive but familiar.
My dark pit wasn't entirely the same, though. I'd ventured out and connected with more people than I'd ever allowed in before. I'd fallen in love. Creeping back into my cave and trying to pretend sunlight doesn't exist was proving impossible with the beach just outside my window.
I found Carolynn leafing through a baby magazine in the back garden. She was stretched out on a sun lounger in a one-piece swimsuit and a see-through kaftan. She looked like a model in a perfume ad, not a mother-to-be.
I stood over her, scowling down at her flawless nails and waxed legs. "Aren't you supposed to see a doctor for a check-up or something?"
She pushed her oversized sunglasses up into her hair and leaned forward, "Yes, tomorrow. Did you know that it's possible to find out the baby's sex after the first trimester? How exciting. What do you think? Would you like to know or would you prefer a surprise?"
I shrugged, "Whatever you want is fine. I just wanted to let you know that I'll take you myself."
"No matter how we feel about each other, our child will always be my first priority. So, what time is your appointment? I'll take you, to this one and every appointment after."
She squinted up at me a few seconds longer before leaning back again, "No, I don't think so."
"Why the hell not?"
She frowned back at me, "Look at you, Aiden. You're walking around with so much resentment and pent-up anger and, for some reason, you're directing it all at me. I want you to be a part of our baby's life more than anything, but I cannot allow you to stress me out right now." She stood up, re-cinching the wide belt of her kaftan, "I'm doing this to protect myself and my child. Until I feel I can trust you around me and the baby, I will not have you at these appointments."
She brushed past me, heading into the house. I simply stood there, trembling tensely and staring down at the pages of the forgotten magazine as they flapped in the breeze.
Melanie and Kyle phoned me about five times the next morning during their trip back to Plettenberg Bay. Each time they reported how much closer they were and what naughty jokes Gram-Gram was telling them to keep them occupied.
They arrived around lunchtime, laughing and tossing their bags about the foyer. My parents asked for iced tea over Melanie excitedly describing the elephants and rhino at the game park. Chris kept correcting her whenever her recollections bordered on the fantastical; while my granddad did his best to censor the jokes Gram was still telling Kyle.
Within minutes of their arrival, it struck me how quiet and lonely the house had been. There'd been no laughter or easy conversation in here for days. Most of all, the place felt cold without Ethan in it.
I missed him.
His constant clacking on that laptop of his and the quiet conversations with advertisers; his sceptical questions about the food I was cooking; his long list of reasons why it wasn't the best time for him to attempt surfing. We'd spent enough time together for me to know it was nowhere near enough. I wanted him back in my house and my arms – but I also knew that he deserved a far better life than the mess I currently had to offer him.
A year ago I would've been thrilled at the thought of a baby on the way. Now it felt like it was the one thing keeping me from being happy. I gave myself a mental shake, feeling guilty. Not the baby. Carolynn.
She chose that moment to come downstairs, instantly killing the happy mood.
/Speak of the devil.../
All strands of conversation froze in mid air and dropped to the floor, shattering into surprise and confusion. Everybody was looking at me with questions in their eyes. Even the kids seemed surprised to see her.
"Kyle," Mike's radar was flashing code red, "why don't you take your sister down to the guesthouse for lunch today?"
"Because my word is law in your universe."
"Can we sit in the restaurant and order from a waiter and everything?" Melanie asked.
"Sure, why not."
"Yes!" She started shoving her brother out the door, "Let's go tell Rachel!"
Once the door slammed behind them, I decided to dive straight into the muck. In the lounge I waited till everyone was seated and got straight to the news of the baby. I gave it to them without frills, aware that they could clearly see how unhappy I was with every word I shared.
"...and, for the time being, I've allowed Carolynn to move back into one of the guestrooms. Of course, that will just be until-"
"What Aiden is trying to say, in his stuffy old way, is Christmas is a time for family to share love – and what better way of doing so, than by celebrating this precious gift we're about to receive? Isn't that so, darling?" Beside me, Carolynn tried to take my hand, but quickly gave up when she noted my glare.
"Not even close," my distaste was rising to meet my anger.
My family, through our stilted announcement, remained frozen. They were all shocked and noticeably awkward. My dad and brother eventually murmured their congratulations, but my grandparents couldn't find much to say. Mike just gaped at Carolynn.
I could see why.
Today Carolynn had picked a tiny pink sundress and high-heeled sandals for the day. The outfit was more straps along the back than dress and that, along with the make-up she'd piled on, made her look anything but motherly.
Carolynn was the only one in the room showing little unease. She sneered triumphantly but made damned sure to keep her distance from the dark tension rolling off me. When no one else had anything to add she mentioned her appointment then went looking for her designer bag.
I followed her.
"You can't keep me out of this pregnancy, Carolynn."
She grabbed her bag in the kitchen and spun around, "Is that what you think I want? There's nothing I want more than for us to be together, but you need to work through all this aggression of yours and show me that you as committed to this family as I am. It's the only way I'll be able to trust you with my heart and child."
My laugh was bitter, "I need to earn your trust? You really are insane. And what more could I possibly do to show that I'll be here for my child? I've allowed you to move back in here, haven't I?"
She reached out and touched her fingertips to my chest, "It's a good start, darling, but nothing says 'committed' like a marriage proposal and that's what I want."
I slapped her hand away sharply, "Never."
"Come now, darling. I'm only thinking of our child's wellbeing. We need to provide a secure and loving home for our precious little gift. The sooner you start acting like a committed father, the sooner we can move on with our life together."
She slung her bag over her shoulder and walked out.
I gripped the edge of the cooking island and hung my head.
"You not seriously reconsidering marrying her, are you?" Mike came to stand beside me.
"Well, what do you suggest I do? Everything has changed."
"What about Ethan?"
"What about him?" I threw back.
"Aiden, you don't love Carolynn."
"I have a child to think of, Michaela!"
She placed a hand on my back and stroked in slow circles.
I was focusing all my energy, silently willing my phone to ring.
Aiden hadn't once tried to contact me since I'd left his house two days ago and, quite frankly, I didn't blame him. It's a wonder that he hadn't tired sooner of my flightiness. Since rediscovering him I'd spent priceless time playing devil's advocate, uncovering and proclaiming reasons why we shouldn't be together. And now Carolynn had arrived with the one reason why he should be with her, a reason I had no way of beating.
Having said that, I still couldn't help missing him. I missed his arms around me and the way he'd do little things for me before I even realised I needed them done. I'd never had that before. And just as I was getting accustomed to the idea of deserving a love that wonderful, it was all taken from me.
Dan snuck up on me, "Out with it."
I jumped, "What? Out with what?"
"Anything," he replied. "You need to talk and I'm here to listen. So start at the beginning and don't skip the juicy bits."
I hadn't thought that I was ready to talk about it but I started with the easy parts and once they were out it was like floodgates had been opened. I told him everything, almost as surprised as he was by chapters of it. How was this my story?
Dan could have been a therapist, he took my crazy story that well. It was mainly the parts to do with Carolynn that made him raise his eyebrow with a look of disbelief. I answered the questions that I could and frowned at the ones that I couldn't. I reconfirmed my feelings for Aiden and tried to look stern when he kept asking me about our sexual encounters. I shrugged when he asked me about Aiden's feelings for me and again when he wanted to know what would happen next.
"And therein lies the problem," he announced.
"You two need to get back to basics. Sit down with him and talk through everything. You've never really done that and no progress can ever come of avoiding it. Things may look bloody complicated right now, but they can only get worse if you never find out how he feels or tell him what you need."
"Damn..." I whispered.
Dan grinned on his way out, "I know, right? And to think, I've always been this brilliant."
My phone rang at the very moment I cursed it and decided to unearth my yoga mat. I froze and stared at it. Peter stuck his head through the door to find me wide-eyed. He looked at me then the ringing phone before shrugging and returning to the kitchen. I grabbed it with clammy hands.
The name flashing on the screen was not the one I'd hoped for. "Sam, I've been meaning to call you."
"Right," came my friend's snippy response. "Well, try harder from now on, sugar. There's a psycho baboon on the loose somewhere and I like knowing he hasn't gotten his hands on you yet."
"You sound funny."
"Thanks for the heads-up," I flopped back down onto the couch. "I'll be sure to sign up for amateur night at the first comedy club I find."
A heavy sigh, "You know what I mean."
"I do. Sorry."
"Are you sure you're still doing okay out there, sugar? I worry about you. No man is worth all this drama, no matter how hot he is. And no straight man is worth any drama."
"He's not straight."
It's always the shortest statements that stir up the most chaos, the ones difficult to whisper even in the dark. Tiny bombs like: 'I'm gay'... 'I love you'... 'I'm pregnant'...
"He's not straight," I repeated, noting how much stronger my voice sounded the second time. Trust me to start believing in Aiden and me when it was too late to do anything about it. "And he's not the reason I'm upset. No, I lie; he is part of the reason. But it's mostly Mark this time."
I shut the door on talking about Aiden and... Instead I told Sam about Mark's latest insanity. A ripple of anger flowed through me at the thought of pain he'd caused me in the years I'd known him - and the pain he'd narrowly avoided causing others with his latest stunt. I was startled by Sam's reaction.
"Shit." Sam almost never cursed. "I'd been trying to reach you because I thought I had a way of helping you but, from the sound of things, you're definitely better off where you are."
"Help me how?" I asked.
He mentioned a professor of ours that we'd remained in touch with since varsity. He was going on sabbatical and looking for someone to sign a six-month lease on his house in Rosebank. I hadn't seriously weighed up returning to Cape Town, but knowing I'd have a place to go to made me feel positive. Once Mark was arrested I'd need a place to stay until I knew where I'd be moving. There was no way I would ever feel at home in my old place again.
"Stay where you are for as long as it takes," Sam ordered, as if reading me. "Going back to the city right now would just be tempting fate."
"Weren't you the one trying to get me away from Aiden at all costs?"
"I'd rather see you in his clutches than that maniac's any day, sugar. Or with me. What are the chances of you coming up to spend Christmas with me?"
"So, you think Aiden's hot, huh?" I teased with a smile, purposefully avoiding his question.
Another sigh, "Anyone with a functioning eyeball or two would come to that conclusion. Happy? Now, how about Christmas together?"
"I don't know, maybe. I'll have to get back to you."
By the time we hung up, I felt a little more myself. I was hurting but I wasn't out for the count.
"See, I told you he still remembers how to work a cell phone," Dan announced from behind me. He and Peter were watching me carefully. "He answered it and had an entire conversation and everything."
I smiled. I had friends, more than I'd ever had and that alone was a reason to kick back when Life tries to trip me up.
Dan grinned back, "We're going out."
"Okay, have fun."
"No, bright spark, we're taking You out. You need to have a little fun."
I was shaking my head when I looked up to see Peter nodding, "You need some sun, Ethan. You're starting to look as bad as Dan's peacock."
Dan swatted him, "Hey!"
We made the mistake of leaving the choice of outdoor activity up to Peter. That is how we found ourselves trudging through the park on our way to the putt-putt course. Dan was trying to talk Peter out of his choice but he was having none of it.
I was watching the two of them argue - which was how I didn't see Melanie until she collided with me, wrapping skinny arms around my waist. Kyle was with her and he hugged me too, albeit with slightly more control.
"You're here!" Melanie squealed. "I asked my uncle if you were coming to our picnic and he said you couldn't make it. But I hoped you would anyway. This is the best surprise!"
Very true. I'd spent so little time with her when we'd met the last thing I expected was to be greeted like I was Santa in the flesh. Kyle was eying Peter, Dan and I and had clearly figured out I'd had no intention of coming to their picnic.
Then Dan opened his big mouth, "Yeah, Ethan, great surprise. Now go enjoy the picnic and I'll give you a call later."
I gaped at him as he walked away, pulling a grinning Peter along behind him.
Melanie grabbed my hand, directing me towards the large trees at the far end of the park and telling me muddled versions of jokes no seven-year-old should know.
"You're better than her, you know," Kyle said solemnly from my other side.
"Better than whom?"
He looked up patiently, "Carolynn. When she says she loves my uncle she looks like she's putting on a show. You don't even have to say it and I already know you love him more."
I froze in my tracks, "No. No, uh... Huh? How do you know that I uh..?"
He huffed, "It's so obvious, dude. Man, it's gross."
Awesome. I'd stumbled into a conversation with an anti-gay eleven-year-old, "Gross, huh?"
"Totally. You're two are as bad as my parents, always looking at each other funny and trying to get close so you can touch. Man, I'm never falling in love."
Melanie tugged at my hand and we resumed our walk. I aimed for confident denial but my laugh came out shaky, "No, we don't."
He looked up at me like arguing with me would be no more than a waste of his energy, "You should see the house now; it's like one giant booby trap. Everywhere I go I find someone looking at someone else with googly eyes, even Gram-Gram and Pops. The same way my uncle looks at you. I had no clue he's gay, hey. That was hectic."
Melanie bounced in front of us, "Which uncle? Uncle Aiden? You and uncle Aiden are GAY?"
Kyle, showing considerably less concern, continued kicking pebbles as he walked, "You knew about it, Melon. That's what mom and dad were going on and on about when they had that talk with us."
"Uh uh," she denied, wagging a finger with a Goofy bandaid on it at him, "Mommy said all love is beautiful and... and stuff. No one said Ethan and uncle Aiden are-"
My heart was going to explode.
"You don't even know what 'gay' means, Melon." Kyle cut in.
"Yes, I do. My friend, Zoe, from school has two mommies – Mrs and Mrs Louw!" she giggled. "And there are two other kids who each have two daddies. They're gay! Is that what everyone was talking about in the study? You said you'd tell me if I didn't tell Mommy you were listening at the door."
Kyle looked away, "I wasn't spying."
"Oh, yes you were! So that's what Daddy was going on about when he was jumbling up his words during our talk? Why didn't he just say so? All that stuff about our uncle is still our uncle was silly. Of course he's our uncle! Are you going to be like my new uncle, Ethan?"
I spotted Aiden and his family in the shade of some of the larger trees. The conversation would be over soon, thank goodness.
"Are you going to marry my uncle Aiden?"
She said it just as we reached the others and they all gawked at us. Double shit.
"Hi," I lifted a hand in awkward greeting.
"Hey," they responded in unison, waving back.
Chris, the master of distraction, gave the kids money and set them loose. They vanished in a puff of dust and reappeared seconds later at a nearby snack stand. Aiden shifted so I could sit beside him. He looked at me like he hadn't seen me in years, making me look away self-consciously. No wonder Kyle had figured us out so quickly.