tagRomanceWhile We have This Moment Ch. 02

While We have This Moment Ch. 02

bynageren©

"No, no, no, you have to hold still," I giggled.

"But in the movies I see them flicking it out there and pulling it back. Isn't it like that?" Jared asked, confused at my attempts to correct him.

"That's something completely different," I explained, coming up behind him. I put my arms around him and held his pole. With one quick motion, I showed him how to cast his line and then said, "There, now just let it sit."

Jared sighed. "Sit until when?" he asked.

"Until something bites, silly," Maya answered.

"Watch your bobber," Derek added. "If your bobber goes up and down really fast, then something is biting your worm."

After a few minutes of the four of us silently watching the water, Jared whispered, "What if nothing bites?"

"Then you don't catch any fish," I stated.

"But I thought there were plenty of fish in the sea," he retorted with a smirk.

"The fish are there, yes, but they aren't all trying to be caught."

"This isn't the sea," Derek stated seriously, not catching the jokes.

"SHH!" Maya hushed us. "You'll scare away the fish!"

I smirked over her head in Jared's direction. Fishing had been a great way to teach the kids how to be quiet for a while. I was surprised by the eagerness with which they took to it. Having Jared come over was a flash of brilliance, I thought. It gave us a little time together while ensuring nothing physically out of bounds would take place. And in the three weeks since our accidental couch session, I was nervous about being in a room alone with him. Not nervous because of him - he was a gentleman and didn't pressure me directly. I was nervous about myself and how far I'd let myself go, despite a growing suspicion that Jared and I weren't going to be a long-term thing.

But fishing with the kids let me see him in my element, doing something I loved to do. And it had the added advantage of seeing him with kids. He was doing great with the kids. He played up his ignorance (I think), which made them feel more confident. He made appropriate jokes and did a good job talking to them at their level. I recalled that he had older siblings with kids, so I was guessing he was slipping into his "cool uncle" persona.

He was, however, doing less well with the fish. Not that I expected him to be a master angler or anything. It was his general reluctance to do it that bothered me. He asked if he could just sit and watch (to which Maya pointed out that he could easily sit and watch while holding a fishing rod). He cringed at the idea of touching the bait. He was obviously bored and impatient. But he was trying, and that counted for something. It didn't count for as much as actually enjoying what we were doing, but it was something.

Maybe we both deserved at least a steamy make-out at the door while the kids were washing up...

Almost two hours after we started, the four of us packed up our tackle and folding chairs. Derek proudly described for the third time the fish that he had caught. And for the third time, Maya teased him about how he had let it flop right out of his hands and back into the water while he was posing for a picture. When we got back to the house, Jared rushed to wash his hands. I washed mine off after I had stashed everything in the garage. I sent the kids upstairs to change their clothes and wash up for dinner, which would be the frozen pizzas I was sticking in the oven.

As soon as the kids were out of sight I shuttled Jared towards the door.

"Ugh, I hope my car doesn't end up smelling like this," he complained half-seriously.

"Aw, come on," I chided him. "This is a good, natural smell!"

"I think our ancestors moved away from nature for a reason," he jabbed back. It was fun and flirty but still a little sad that he didn't appreciate something that I enjoyed so much.

"But the kids sure are cute," he said, changing the subject.

"Yeah, they're great."

"Hoping to have a few of your own some day?" he asked. I knew he was trying to bring up the topic of family and future plans. I wished I had some idea what his thoughts on the matter were, but I knew it was probably better that I didn't. I could be honest and not be tempted to adjust my answer to suit him.

"Maybe," I told him. "I think I could go either way. I'm still pretty focused on my work as a nurse."

"But if you ever got married, you could eventually quit that to raise a family..."

"I could, sure. But I'm not certain that's something I want to do."

"Really?" he asked, surprised. "You've always struck me as someone who wants the whole stay-at-home mom type of thing. You're so nurturing, pretty traditional, you're good with kids..."

I started to bristle inwardly. My desire for doorway make-outs was plummeting. "There are a lot of ways to be a family," I said with a controlled, even voice. "And being a nurturer doesn't mean I have to be a stay-at-home mom."

We were silent for a few seconds, standing before the closed door.

"Yeah, I guess that's true," he said softly, a little awkwardly. "Anyway, let me know about next weekend, OK?" With that, he leaned in to kiss me. I tilted my head a little, making sure his lips landed on my cheek. Actually, they landed on my jaw line, and I was briefly tempted to guide his head down to my neck and let him continue. But his words were too fresh in my mind - words that made me feel insignificant - and I opened the front door instead.

"Yeah, I'll text you," I said softly.

After I had shut the door behind him, I headed back to the kitchen. Maya bounded down the steps and asked, "Where's Jared?"

"He had to go home," I explained.

"OK," she answered, her eyes never meeting mine as they searched the counter for something to snack on. "Did he give you true love's kiss yet?"

I laughed. "No honey, not yet. And I haven't given it to him, either."

"Oh, OK," she accepted, hopping off the stool she had just climbed onto and shuffling out of the room.

I pulled out plates and other things for dinner, thinking about my brief conversation with Jared. He hadn't come out and said it, but he seemed to be implying that he wanted me to be someone who was only working until she could settle down and raise a family. It was like my career was secondary, peripheral. It was a little like Tim all over again. I guess that surprised me, because Jared seemed so much less traditional than Tim. Jared was a young professional, a guy who had female bosses, who didn't abide by traditional gender roles, a guy who I had thought might be more flexible-minded.

Tim had been different. A "manly man," an outdoorsman. He worked as a park ranger in Florida. He looked the part: chiseled features, muscular body. But he was a gentle giant, kind and nurturing. I had never met a guy so intent on putting me first. During our engagement, he had brought up the topic of birth control and kids. Somehow we hadn't talked through those expectations before. Tim wanted me to quit my job after we got married. He insisted. It had something to do with his manliness and ability to be a provider, I think, but it was non-negotiable for him. Quit my job after we were married, and let nature take its course on having kids. And I said no, let's wait. Let's compromise. But he said there would be no compromise. So then I said there would be no wedding.

Tim I could understand being that way. He was raised very traditionally, and he still held very traditional values. But Jared? Why was Jared the same way? He wanted to squeeze me into a predefined role that suited his own future plans. I started to get angry. What is it with men like that? Is all they really want just a sex partner who will incubate and raise their kids? Is that all they could imagine a woman could want, or that it was all I was truly capable of? I thought of guys like Andrew, whose wife Gina gave oversight to the clinic where I worked. Andrew had given up his full-time work when he and Gina started a family. I thought of Isa, who ran the day care center associated with our women's shelter. Her husband worked from home to give her the freedom to start the center she had dreamed of for years. Macy and Ernst made it work with both of them having full-time jobs, but they had a lot of help (from me!).

What about me? Would I give up my dreams and plans - dreams and plans that were admittedly not well-formulated - in order to have that long-term companionship that I craved? Was my career worth being lonely? Being virtually celibate? Would I give up my principles and have more casual sexual relationships if something more permanent never developed? What about -

"That smells good!" Derek proclaimed as he trotted into the kitchen. "Is it almost ready?"

"A few more minutes," I promised him.

"Can I play video games until dinner?" he asked.

"Write your vocabulary words three times neatly, then you can play."

"Awww..." he objected, slumping his shoulders as he grabbed paper from the counter. "Okaaaaay."

I looked out the window at the setting sun. Summer was approaching, but it was still dark before eight p.m. Aaron had some unspecified appointment after work, but I knew he would be home soon...

Just then I heard him at the door. Maya and Derek ran happily to see him, shouting their greetings. I pulled out another plate for the table.

"Hey Denise," Aaron greeted me from across the room. "Staying for dinner?" It was more of a statement than a question, since there were now four place settings.

"If you don't object," I answered casually. I knew he wouldn't.

"Great," he answered. "I'm gonna go and..." he looked down the hallway towards his bedroom, then sighed heavily and lowered himself to a chair. "I'm gonna rest for a minute, then go wash up." He slipped off his sneakers and unbuttoned the top button of his casual dress shirt. Depending on the day, Aaron would sometimes dress for work in steel-toed boots and jeans. Other times it would be a suit and tie. His business required him to be equally comfortable speaking to investors in a board room and giving directions to the guy driving the bulldozer. But on days when he was out late, he usually came home in sneakers.

He was tired. And sad. And he reminded me in some ways of my own father when I was Maya's age. Working long hours - forced overtime at the naval yard, hours he had to work if he expected to be spared the next round of lay-offs when the budget cuts rolled in. I didn't appreciate then how hard he worked and how worried he was. At times I resented his frequent absences. And at times I just got used to him not being around as much. It was Mom who seemed to take it all the hardest. But at least I had a mom who was in the picture.

After resting his head on his folded arms at the table for a few minutes, Aaron ambled back to his room, returning a few minutes later in a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. He seemed refreshed but still weary. The four of us chatted pleasantly through dinner, the kids begging their dad to come fishing in the back yard with us sometime soon. He reluctantly promised to do so in the vague way a Dad promises when he knows he is unable to say no to his kids. I promised to make it a relatively painless endeavor for him.

Later, as the kids cleared the table, Aaron walked me to the door.

"They really like you," he said to me, softly.

"They adore you," I replied without thinking.

"Thanks for being good to them," he said, as if he hadn't heard my remark.

"They're good kids, Aaron," I assured him. "You've done well."

"Yeah," he answered hoarsely, clearly holding in some emotion. "Yeah, they're good kids."

If ever a man deserved a loving kiss, it was Aaron in that moment. For just an instant, I considered being the person to give him one. Perhaps I considered it for more than a minute, because by the time I had decided it was inappropriate, the silence had become awkward.

"See you tomorrow," I said quickly as I stepped out the door. I didn't look back, for fear I'd begin to pity him. He didn't need my pity or deserve it. What he needed and what he deserved were things I couldn't give him.

*******

"So wait a minute," Gina interrupted me. We were chatting while going through some files for the clinic. I had been talking about my job at Aaron's. "This is a different guy from the one you've been dating?"

"Um, yeah," I answered. "Aaron's the dad of the kids I watch and Jared's my, uh... you know. The guy I'm seeing."

"Well, I'm just calling it like I see it," Gina shrugged, not looking up from her stack of folders, "but you sound more into Aaron than Jared."

"No," I protested. "It's not like that. Aaron's just a nice guy. We get along well and I really respect him and all that; but he's older, he has these kids..." I trailed off, thinking I had explained myself.

"So what?" Gina asked. "That doesn't change anything. I mean, is he, like, really old?"

"God no! Not... he's just... it's different."

"And you're really into this Jared guy?"

"Well-"

Just then, Kara walked in to drop off another armload of folders and said, "Of course she's into him! He's cute, has a good job, has a nice personality, and he's almost ready to settle down, I think."

Gina narrowed her eyes and looked at me. I intentionally looked down at the papers in front of me, suddenly finding them very important. "That doesn't necessarily mean I'm into him," I mumbled.

"Yeah, but making out with him does," Kara teased, earning herself a smack on the thigh as she slipped out of the room. Had I even told her about that? I didn't remember talking to Kara about kissing Jared...

I felt Gina's eyes on me for a few seconds while I continued flipping through pages and sorting the documents into different piles. "Somebody's conflicted..." she said in a soft, sing-song voice while looking intently at whatever papers she was sorting. When I didn't respond, she mercifully let the matter drop. Not that it mattered. I felt like she was seeing right through me anyway.

*******

A few more weeks went by, and Aaron continued to look weary. He was also losing weight. I wondered if maybe he was working too much, but he also had regular "appointments" after work a few times a week. I noticed a pattern that seemed to connect his appointments to his fatigue. Whatever he was doing those evenings, I didn't think it was taxes or errands. Once my suspicions were aroused, I started to watch him closer.

I am a nurse, and I work in a clinic that is in a low-income area. A lot of our patients are abused women and families in crisis. So I know the signs. Aaron tried to hide them, but something was wrong. On evenings when he would come home late, he'd be spacey, his skin seemed flushed, his pupils were dilated, and his sleeves were always wrinkled, as if they had been rolled up for a while. He would seem nervous around me and the kids and would sometimes hurry me out, sweating while he shivered.

I started to suspect that Aaron was on drugs.

I felt angry, betrayed. I was scared for the kids. I thought of my brother and the way he had wasted away over the years, transforming from a lively college kid with lots of dreams to an incoherent druggie who would steal people's mail to try to find any source of funds for his next high.

I wasn't 100% sure yet, but I was deeply suspicious and deeply concerned. And I knew that whatever steps I took, I had to be careful.

"So, Aaron, what kind of family do you have in the area?" I asked as casually as I could one late spring evening. He had returned earlier than usual and the kids were running around outside while I cleaned up after a craft we had made.

He sighed. After sipping the tea that had been cooling through a few minutes of silence, he said, "None to speak of, really. A... a distant cousin that I see very rarely. My ex-brother-in-law is about 15 miles from here, but he's not someone I want near the kids."

I debated pursuing it further. I was trying to get an idea of where the kids might end up if my suspicions were true. But as I looked at Aaron in that moment, with the sun sprinkling the last of its rays through the trees, casting an orange glow on half his face, he didn't look at all like an addict. (But then again, no one does at first.) He looked wise and concerned and sad and at peace. His eyes instinctively turned towards any hint of noise from the kids. He had a reasonably healthy look about him in that moment and I wondered if it was all in my head.

Looking again, I began to feel like it would be the most basic happiness to just sit in the chair next to him and watch the sun set together. Here he was, having everything a person could really want to be content, except for a loving partner to share it with. Many people might envy him, thinking he was only lacking one small thing. I suspected that the lack of that one thing made it difficult to enjoy what he did have. But I didn't dare bring up such topics. It seemed beyond the scope of our... relationship.

"My mom died a good while back - while I was in college. My dad is... was... is... mostly a non-issue. I think he moved back to his home country when I was very young. I think I have a half-sister somewhere out there, but I don't know enough about her to pursue it. Besides, I have more of a desire to... simplify things right now than to complicate them."

I felt bad about bringing up a topic that threatened the serenity that felt possible in that moment. I resolved to shut my mouth the next time I wanted to ask a probing question.

"What about you?" he asked, leaning back and closing his eyes. "Is everyone in Florida?"

"My parents, yes. And a few others. Some aunts and uncles and cousins scattered throughout the country, but none near here."

Aaron's eyes were closed and his head was leaning back. He hummed an acknowledgment of my answer but nothing more. For some reason, I continued. "I have some friends that are basically family to me. You've spoken with them." I briefly shared about Macy and Ernst and being a part of their life. I thought about the happiness they had found and wondered if I really might be content to settle down and raise some children. Was my attraction to my career just a way to mask my disappointment in my lack of a love life and a family?

I found myself standing behind the vacant chair adjacent to where Aaron was sitting. My hands lightly gripped the back of the chair and I looked down. No, I wasn't going to sit and join him this evening. But I was going to call Jared. I had been stand-offish to him lately. He deserved better than that. He deserved a fair shot. I deserved a fair shot at happiness. Or contentment. Or whatever. I slipped away in silence, careful not to disturb Aaron's peaceful moment.

*******

The next weekend found me lying on my couch, leaning against Jared as we watched a movie in the dark. I rested my cheek on his chest and listened to the steady cadence of his breathing. My hand lay innocently on his thigh and I really tried to watch the movie. The occasional chuckle or comment from Jared directed towards the screen told me both that he was watching the movie and that I was missing it. My focus was mostly inward, on my conflicted desires.

I was waiting for something to "click" between Jared and me. As silly as it sounded, I wanted to feel something like how Maya described "true love's kiss." Maybe not the weak-in-the-knees, everything-is-coming-up-roses kind of feeling, but at the very least a sense that this was right. That this was great. That this was what we both really wanted. Instead, I felt like this was acceptable. This could work. This was better than nothing. Even Jared seemed to accept our times together with benign resignation. It wasn't great but it wasn't bad, either.

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