tagRomanceLove in the Age of Chemicals Ch. 04

Love in the Age of Chemicals Ch. 04

bynageren©

Though I may fail to mention it with each chapter, this series was carefully and diligently edited by GaiusPetronius, whose fingerprints on this story certainly improved the final product.

Also, as a warning to readers who are sensitive to certain topics, the second half of this chapter includes characters recalling the trauma of non-consensual sex. Though the acts themselves are not recorded in detail, readers with strong sensitivities on this topic may want to skim or skip parts of this chapter.

Chapter 4

As was the trend with my life that past year, nothing went as smoothly as planned.

My parents had helped me to move into the house after I purchased it five years earlier, and my mother had visited a year later when a car accident had incapacitated me for a week. But this was their first visit since then. They had told me they would be renting a car and that I needn't bother meeting them at the airport. So it was just as I was putting away my freshly washed dinner dishes that I heard the expected ring of the doorbell.

Upon entering, my parents greeted me in their loud and exuberant way. My mother wandered around the house aimlessly, commenting on its cleanliness, order, and comfort. "You've really settled in here, Deacon. It feels so cozy!"

"Just point me to the bathroom, Son," Dad said softly next to my ear.

"I told you not to keep getting refills of soda on the flight," my mother tutted. "Just because they're free doesn't mean you have to drink them."

"They weren't free," my father objected, heading down the hall towards the room I had indicated. "We had already paid an arm and a leg for the flight; I wanted to get my money's worth!"

And so went the beginning of their visit. My only reprieve was the next morning, when they went to a nearby church for a few hours. But the rest of the time I was mothered, smothered, interrogated, and talked at for nearly the whole day. On Monday morning - Christmas Eve - I pleaded the need to work a few hours and sought refuge in my office after lunch. While there, I mostly rested and calmed down. My mother had taken over cooking meals and insisted I be home for dinner, regardless of what urgent matters were calling me to work on Christmas Eve.

When I returned at my usual time, dinner was on the table, and for a brief moment, I pictured Miranda setting out plates, wearing my gray shirt over her supple form. Instead, my parents were happily chatting as they prepared the table and heated up food. Before they noticed my presence, I saw my father walk behind my mother and wrap his arms around her waist. She smiled and leaned back into him with a soft hum. I cleared my throat and they turned around.

"Wash up and have a seat, honey," my mother instructed me.

When I returned to the table, everything was ready. I waited awkwardly for my father to finish praying, then began serving myself. After a few questions about my day - the kind Miranda was helping me grow accustomed to - my mother cleared her throat, looked at my father, and nodded in my direction. My father gave a confused look, which made my mother sigh in frustration.

She put down her fork, lifted her napkin to wipe her mouth, and then said, "So, Deacon, when do we get to meet Miranda?"

"Oh!" my father whispered in understanding.

My mother stared at me, smiling calmly.

"Miranda?" I choked out, mostly to stall. I wasn't prepared to explain anything. My default would be to tell them exactly what had happened (sparing certain intimate details, of course), but I knew the real account would not be well-received.

"Deacon, the house is clean and comfortable, you have a new wardrobe and a new hairstyle... For goodness' sake, Deacon, you're wearing a wedding ring." I winced and looked at my hand. Neither Miranda nor I had thought about the rings. For several months I had hardly noticed its presence.

"But... but... how did you..."

My father, still chewing, said, "You got some mail today for someone named 'Miranda Kirsch.' So we put two and two and two together..."

"So?" my mother interrupted. "Do we get to meet her?"

"She's visiting some friends right now," I answered truthfully.

"Well," my mother replied with finality, "we'll stay as long as we need to in order to meet her. I'll not miss this chance to meet my one and only daughter-in-law!"

"I'll give her a call," I said, excusing myself from the table.

*******

"It was the ring, wasn't it?" Miranda asked, shortly after I called to plead with her to rescue me. "I thought of that this afternoon when someone commented on mine. I meant to warn you... but... sorry!"

"It was the ring, yes, among other things. Like mail in your married name."

"Oh, shoot!" she said. "Only the school has that name for me. It must be my grade report. I'm so sorry, Deke."

"Just... come back as soon as you can. I really don't know how to handle this."

"OK," she sighed. "I'd rather not be staying here anyway. It's... difficult."

"What should I tell my mother?" I asked.

"Just tell her I'll be back tonight and that we'll explain everything together," she assured me. "And, Deke did you get them anything for Christmas?"

"They always say that as long as they see me, that's all the gift they need," I explained.

"So that's a 'no.' Alright. Deke, when they say that... they kinda don't mean it."

"Really, then why would they..."

"Don't worry about it, Babe. I've got you covered. See you in an hour."

*******

"...and so, since Deke wasn't ready yet for a big social event, and we knew you would really want our wedding to be something special, we decided to wait until he was more comfortable with the idea." Miranda was snuggled close to me on the floor, looking up at my parents on the couch. The excitement of their initial introduction was giving way to hurt feelings and confusion over why we had kept our marriage a secret. Miranda was doing her best to justify our actions.

"But on the other hand, we really weren't able to wait... y'know? The whole First Corinthians 7:9 thing..."

My father laughed heartily at that explanation and my mother blushed.

"And I was between apartments, so moving in and being really married - which is what we were planning anyway - just made better sense from a logistic standpoint. We could save money and start our lives together. Once Deke is ready to face a whole crowd of people, we can have the ceremony. I know we should have told you sooner, but... Well, I'm just sorry for that."

"Oh my," my mother said, fanning herself with a magazine until her gray hair flittered around. "Eight months, Deacon! We would have been happy to come visit any time. Miranda, I just... I wish we had known. But did you have a pastor marry you? In a church?"

"Not yet... we thought we'd wait on that until we could plan a ceremony," Miranda said, turning to reach behind herself.

"Well," my mother began, "I hardly think a marriage is really legitimate until-"

"But that reminds me," Miranda interrupted. "One of the women from my church helped me to pick this out for you." She pulled a flat gift-wrapped package from behind our small Christmas tree and offered it to my mother, who paused her objection to take the gift. "I hope you don't already have it."

"Oh my," my mother said softly. "Thank you, dear."

"Go ahead and open it," Miranda said excitedly, pulling me closer to her body.

My mother opened it to reveal a large, colorful painting of an oddly lit waterfall scene.

"Oh, my!" my mother said again.

"A Thomas Kinkade..." my father said, adjusting his glasses to look at it more closely.

"Oh, my..." my mother repeated again.

"And actually," Miranda added, pointing to something in the corner of the painting, "this isn't a print. It's a signed original. We have a friend who has a connection."

"Oh my!" seemed to be the limit of my mother's vocabulary at that point. After holding up the work and viewing it from multiple angles, my mother finally set it down and opened her arms to Miranda, who left my side and gave my mother a prolonged hug. They whispered words I couldn't make out, but my mother had either forgotten, or else was content to let drop for now, the matter of a church wedding. And I realized that Miranda had once again planned everything perfectly.

*******

Late that evening, as my parents prepared to retire to my room for the night, Miranda asked me to stay on the couch and watch a Christmas movie with her.

"It's what couples do," she assured me privately. "They snuggle on cold winter evenings and just enjoy having someone next to them." My parents seemed to enjoy watching us settle in next to each other, even acting embarrassed whenever they passed by, as if they were interrupting some intimate moment.

Once we were alone, and as the movie started, I asked Miranda how she had so quickly and accurately procured a gift for my parents. She seemed to have found the perfect gift, even after not having met or spoken with my parents.

Miranda watched the screen and said, "Well, I knew from hearing your mom's voice," and with that she poked me in the ribs, "that she was older. You're probably the youngest child, aren't you?"

I nodded, not realizing she couldn't see me.

"Anyway, I also picked up from you that there's a strong religious vibe. I was at Dottie's when you called, and when I tossed those ideas out there, she went and got the painting from one of their rooms. Apparently they have more than one Kinkade original. Thomas's dad collected them."

"And they just gave it to you?" I asked in wonderment.

"Yeah. It's worth hundreds of dollars, easily. He's a big deal in some Christian circles."

"They gave it to you?" I was still amazed.

"Yes, Puppy, it's what friends do," she murmured close to my ear.

We watched the movie - an overly sentimental historical drama with a predictably happy ending - then retired together to her room to share the sofa sleeper. I had been uncomfortable enough by myself in that situation the previous two nights, and I tried not to think about adding another body to the equation. The bed was small - much smaller than the one we had shared before when our two beds were combined. It was impossible to have one's own space. As I fidgeted and tossed about in the darkness, trying to find the right angle for sleep, Miranda finally spoke up.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Deke! Roll towards me."

When I didn't move, she moved herself up against me, both of us on our backs.

"Now give me your hand," she instructed, not waiting for compliance but grabbing my hand that was farthest from her, "and roll onto your side," she said, pulling my arm to guide me. As I rolled, so did she, until we were both on our sides, next to each other. Miranda pulled my hand over her body and allowed it to rest in the middle of her torso, between belly and breasts. She sighed contentedly and laid her arm over mine, interlocking our fingers slightly. I curled my legs up, finding that they lined up nicely with her similarly curled legs. The only annoyance was an occasional stray hair in my face, but by readjusting my head, I could avoid even that.

"It's called spooning, Babe," she informed me, "and it's the best part of sharing a bed."

"I can see that," I said, feeling my body relax as the rhythm of her heartbeat danced against my palm.

"It's even better without clothes," she said quietly.

"Please don't ask me to do that with my parents down the hall," I said.

"I won't," she promised. "But if you ask... I probably won't say no."

I instinctively squeezed her, eliciting a sigh. The cadence of her breathing lulled me to sleep, as it would each night we spent there during my parents' visit.

*******

Miranda's presence made the week much more tolerable. Time spent with my parents was usually very hard for me, and it often resulted in at least one shouting match as they called into question my life and career choices. But Miranda's capacity for frivolous conversation, her ability to understand and engage my parents' strong religious views, her ease at interpreting their behavior for me, and of course her soothing physical presence - it all served to help me feel calmer and, in general, happier. I think my mother, especially, enjoyed having Miranda to talk to, and at times she insisted on having time alone with her daughter-in-law. "Girl talk" she called it.

It was part of one such conversation that I unintentionally overheard one afternoon. My father had insisted I join him in watching a particularly significant college football bowl game. Miranda was eager to join me on the couch (and had promised she would help me understand what was happening in the game), but my mother dragged her into the kitchen for one of their talks. It wasn't long before my father was sound asleep and I was watching the game alone. I turned down the volume and was picking up a book when I heard the two women speaking.

"I found it to be really helpful," Miranda was saying. "I understand him much better now."

To which my mother indignantly replied, "I don't think a mother needs help understanding her own son."

It was Miranda's way to push whatever point was on her mind, and from my own experience I knew my mother didn't stand a chance. "I know I don't have the same experience you do in dealing with his... condition... but..."

"Condition? What do you mean, 'condition'?" my mother inquired.

"His... The way he's kinda special,... y'know?" Miranda sounded uncomfortable. She was not the first to suggest to my parents that I was 'special,' though she seemed to be the first to have a specific idea of what she meant by that.

"You mean his high intelligence?"

"Well, related to that. But, you know there's something else, right? Something unique about the way he sees the world? Something the rest of us don't naturally understand."

"Honey, every mother knows in her heart that her child is extra special. You can't see them like everyone else does. It's called 'Mom goggles'," she giggled.

"I know," Miranda sighed.

"No... No, you don't really know yet," my mother corrected her. "Not until you've brought your own little one into the world. Then you'll know what I mean."

They were quiet for a moment, and I heard sniffling. Then Miranda said very softly, "Perhaps you're right."

"Of course I am. But don't fret, dear. You'll understand someday. When the time is right."

Then Miranda cleared her throat and said, "Anyway, I just think you should read this. It's really helpful and might give you just a little insight into Deke's world."

"And what world is that?"

"Just... promise me you'll read it. Soon."

"Well, Miranda, if it's that important to you, I promise I will."

"Thank you, Deborah."

"Don't thank me, honey. Just keep taking such good care of my boy. He's changed since I last saw him. And that doesn't happen easily with him."

"I know," Miranda laughed, and I wondered in what ways others had observed changes in me and if those changes were in fact positive.

*******

By the time they left, my parents had warmly welcomed Miranda into their life. I assumed - or just hoped, rather - that Miranda had a plan to explain to them the dissolution of our marriage that was scheduled for a year and a half from then.

We returned the beds to their usual places, at my insistence, and in a few other ways ensured that the house returned to the state it had been in before the visit. With one more week remaining of winter break, I was eager to finish planning my semester and return to my research. I expected to receive news about funding shortly after the new year began.

After my parents were gone, Miranda left for the weekend, explaining that she really had been planning to see certain friends that week and they had graciously rescheduled when she needed to come to my aid. And so my weekend passed quietly, reminiscent of days past. It was, truthfully, just what I needed. Like a reset button had been pressed, canceling out the confusion and chaos of weeks past and returning me to the routine I relied on.

I spent Monday at my office, even though it was technically a school holiday. I felt the need to make up for lost time from the past week. I received two unexpected phone calls that afternoon, the first was a voicemail message from Dr. Cavell, requesting my presence at an important meeting later that week. She apologized for interrupting my holiday but insisted that it was an urgent matter. I returned her call, confirming my attendance.

The second call was shortly after that and was from my mother. She asked me to send her Miranda's number, saying she desperately needed to talk to her. She said that she needed to thank Miranda for a book that she had suggested. Then, before hanging up, she gave a vague, general apology for not being the kind of mother I needed growing up. She promised to do a better job in the future. I was unsure whether or how to reply, but my mother said, "Now I know you're probably uncomfortable with all this, so don't worry about saying anything. Just listen." Sounding on the verge of tears as she finished, she said, "Deacon, that girl is a saint. An angel. A God-send. She's a special providence in your life. You probably don't even see half the ways she takes care of you. You be good to her as best as you know how, and do everything in your power to hang onto her, OK?"

"I understand," I assured her.

"That's my boy," she whispered, then reminded me to text Miranda's number as soon as I hung up, which I did.

*******

I returned home in the early evening and was comforted by the sight of Miranda's car in the driveway. When I entered the house, however, she was not in the kitchen, as I expected, but was lying down on the couch. She wore loose sweatpants and an old t-shirt. She was staring at a movie on the TV, but she seemed to not be following the action. Instead, her face showed the signs of a recent emotional outburst. She had been crying. Her phone was in her hand and was pressed against her breast.

Feeling hungry, and not wishing to make matters worse for her, I went straight to the kitchen to prepare my dinner. When I was gathering ingredients, I thought of Miranda. Would she be hungry, too? I supposed that if she did not wish to eat, then I could save the extra. With that in mind, I doubled my portions and began cooking. Setting the food on the table, I went to the living room and asked if she wished to join me.

Snapping out of her daze, Miranda looked at me. "You made dinner for me?" she asked, her voice tired and sad.

"It doesn't have to be for you. I could save whatever is extra. But... there's enough for you," I tried to explain.

"Can we eat in here?" she asked, looking down at the coffee table.

When I stared at the couch and twisted my face in thought, she said, "Never mind, Hun. I'll come to the kitchen."

She followed me there, and we began our meal in silence. When Miranda failed to initiate any conversation, I stated, "Miranda... Dear... you seem sad."

She huffed once in a half-hearted attempt at laughter. Then she smiled wryly at me and asked, "I seem sad?"

"Maybe it was just a sad movie," I suggested.

"It wasn't a sad movie," Miranda answered slowly.

"Were you talking to your mother on the phone?" I asked, remembering the phone clutched to her chest and the unexplained yet tense relationship that existed between them.

"No... not that," she mumbled.

"Is it... Would you like to... talk about it?" I ventured, hoping it was an appropriate thing to ask.

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