tagRomanceWhile We have This Moment Ch. 03

While We have This Moment Ch. 03

bynageren©

I hadn't been home in almost three years. I opted for one long drive all-day Sunday, arriving in the early evening. My parents were coming back from Tampa late that night. I was surprised that my mom was OK with cremation, but I think it was the only practical and expedient option for getting him back "home." There was to be a small memorial service on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the three of us would scatter his ashes somewhere.

I settled in to the guestroom and went to bed before my parents returned; I was weary from driving. I had needed to take two long cry breaks during the drive down.

The radio woke me up in the morning -- the familiar voices of Johnny's House on my favorite station. I wondered how many mornings this same alarm had gone off in the guestroom while no one noticed. It probably shut off automatically after ten minutes and no one was the wiser.

A week at home with my parents was a very good thing, even considering the circumstances. At the very least, it gave my parents a welcome distraction. Dad talked to me about the fishing in the nearby lakes and about how he fought (unsuccessfully) to pull his line out of the mouth of a gator that had grabbed the same fish my dad was reeling in. Mom spent the week fussing over me and my health and my job and my future and my wardrobe and anything else that she could find to get her mind off Brett.

The memorial service was interesting. I didn't expect to see many people there, but at least several dozen showed up. Some of the guests were clearly people in various stages of drug addiction. Brett apparently had interesting connections in every city he spent time in. The man who gave the eulogy was a stranger to me, but he seemed to actually have known my brother. I found him after the service -- he was a clean, well-spoken, nice man. He was married (I looked for a ring) and I learned that he was an Anglican priest over near Tampa. Brett had spent some time there, and the priest, whose name was Leon, spent a lot of time working with the homeless and drug-addicted guys on the street. When Leon learned where I was living now, he asked if I knew Ernst, who turned out to be an old friend of his from before we all moved away from Florida. We had apparently both been at Macy and Ernst's wedding years ago, though neither of us recalled meeting.

After swapping a few stories about our mutual friend and joking about the smallness of the world, I asked Leon if he thought there had been any hope for Brett or guys like him. At this point, I was thinking more about Aaron. Our kiss and what might have followed dominated my thoughts when I wasn't overwhelmed thinking about Brett. If it weren't for Aaron's struggle with drugs, I would be very ready to forge a future together with him.

"There's always hope," Leon said, "but for Brett, if I can be direct, I didn't think he had what he needed to start changing things."

"What did he need?" I asked, taking the bait.

Leon's expression was meditative. "People struggling like that really need someone or something they love more than they love themselves. If they have that, then it's my experience that they have a chance to keep coming back from the bottom. Sometimes, it's enough to keep them from ever getting there in the first place. I sadly didn't see that it Brett. Maybe he was too far gone by the time I met him, but he was only interested in satisfying his own craving and couldn't imagine anything coming before that."

I thanked the priest and returned to where my parents were sitting. They were eager to be finished, and the guests were mostly gone, so we headed back to the house. I lay awake for a few hours that night, thinking about Aaron and the kids and whether or not I could picture a future that included them. I found it only too easy to do so, but not without a fair deal of chiding myself about so quickly taking up the domestic life I had rejected in Jared's plan.

Maybe it was because Jared wasn't the right person for me. And neither was Tim.

Maybe when you find the right person, it's easy to picture whatever future includes them.

*******

So propriety be damned, I was eager to see Aaron again. I was ready to push forward and see what we could be. I knew it would have to be handled delicately for the kids' sake, but I thought we really had a chance. I knew he loved his kids, and I believed that that love had been a powerful force in staving off his self-destruction. And I hoped that I could have a role in that, too.

Less than three years, he had said. That was how long he'd been using. That was just a year or two after his wife had left, by my calculation. Long enough for the grim reality of his new life to set in. Long enough for despair to drive him to any form of consolation.

But if we could change those circumstances, remove the loneliness and despair, add a good deal of physical intimacy...

But an addict is still an addict, I had to remind myself. They don't need a reason, just an opportunity.

By the time I had driven back to my house, it was Sunday evening again. I had texted Aaron in the middle of the week to tell him I would be back on Monday. His terse reply ("OK") bothered me a bit, as did the lack of any other communication during my absence. But I figured he was trying to give me space until we could talk.

I spent Monday morning trying to reorganize the supply closet and filing system at the clinic. In my week-long absence, the nursing staff had been Kara, still in la-la land after her honeymoon, and two new hires -- Juliette and Raul -- who didn't know our system very well. I felt a little like my mom used to say she felt after Mother's Day: it's nice to have a little time off, but not if I have to work extra hard to make up for it once I get back!

By the time I got to Aaron's house to greet the kids after school, I was exhausted but excited. I flittered about with nervous energy, counting down the minutes until Aaron got home. I guided the kids through homework, started some dinner, and was just setting the table when Aaron came in. I wanted to hug him but knew that I couldn't. We spoke politely, casually. Aaron showed me no warmth or extra attention. I watched in vain for a stolen smile, a wink, something to tell me that he was as happy to see me as I was to see him. Once dinner was over, I lingered, hoping for a chance to talk. The kids stayed close by, however, and Aaron made no move to get us alone. I started to feel hurt, and then I warned myself to stop reading into every little thing.

When I knew I couldn't wait any longer to head home for the night, Aaron walked me to the door. My stomach was twisting in knots. Before I opened the door, I turned to face him, expectant.

"So... next Monday I'm taking the day off. You won't need to come in that day, OK?"

"OK..." I answered, confused. He seemed to have nothing else to say. "Aaron, what about... last time?"

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "Like I said, it was inappropriate. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have... You were in a vulnerable state and I should have been more mindful of-"

"I liked it," I interrupted him. "I don't regret it. I think it was a good thing."

"It's a bad idea Denise. We'll talk more about it later." His last phrase was hushed and hurried in order to get out before the footsteps behind him got close enough to allow curious ears to hear. I shot Aaron a frustrated look and headed out the door.

*******

The rest of the week continued like that. Aaron was cold and distant, confusing me. He avoided being alone with me. He never said he didn't like me or that he didn't enjoy the moment we shared. All he said was that it was a bad idea and we shouldn't do it. Well, thinking we shouldn't do something and not wanting to do it are very different things, and I tried to find a way to force him to confront his heart's (and body's) desires.

I chose, of course, Friday. The weather was beautiful with just a hint of nippiness in the air, so the kids and I spent the late afternoon at the creek fishing. I prayed and prayed for a good catch. Maya finally got one we could cook. Aaron arrived while we were cleaning the fish, and Derek managed to observe the whole process without incident. We pan-fried it with a mix of seasonings, Maya insisting on being allowed to help. I stayed for dinner, then hurried the kids upstairs for baths. Taking all fish-smelling clothes to the laundry room, I started the wash. Aaron cleaned the dishes and I got the kids ready for bed.

I had hoped Aaron would be making us tea, but I was disappointed. Even as I was putting clothes in the dryer, he had gone upstairs, presumably for the night. Well, that suited me just fine. I said nothing when he had poked his head in the laundry room to remind me to lock up when I left. I tidied up a few more things downstairs, waiting both to make sure the kids were asleep and to work up the nerve to follow my plan.

As the grandfather clock chimed the hour, I crept up the steps. Reaching Aaron's door, I tapped lightly.

"Come in?" he said.

I opened the door and slipped inside, locking it behind me. Aaron was sitting at his desk, looking at some papers, and envelopes. He looked up at me in surprise.

"Denise? What the hell? Why haven't you left yet?"

"Because I'm not finished here," I stated, quickly crossing the distance between us. Aaron stood as I approached and opened his mouth to speak. I hurried to deny him the opportunity. His body was tense and he resisted me at first, but after a few seconds, he melted into the kiss. His shoulders sagged and his hands came up to hold me gently. My heart raced with the excitement of vindication.

I slowly turned my body and he turned with me, connected at the lips. I inched backwards towards the bed, my hands tugging at his elbows. When I felt the mattress against the back of my legs, I tumbled backwards, pulling Aaron down onto me. I felt him slowly press against me, his gym shorts doing little to hide his arousal. I was pretty sure I was ready to go as far as he would take this.

One hand caressed my thighs while the other held my face close. My hands slipped under his t-shirt and felt the tensing and relaxing of his back muscles. I started to wiggle away, trying to move us all the way onto the bed. But no sooner had I released his lips than Aaron straightened up and backed away.

"Dammit!" he cursed. Because of the kids asleep across the hall, even his angry profanity was just a loud whisper.

"What?" I asked, still moving into position on his bed.

"You have to leave, Denise. This... this is not right."

"I've been thinking about this for two weeks now. This is very right, Aaron. What are you talking about?"

"No... No, we shouldn't be doing this. It... it's a very bad idea."

"Bullshit," I hissed back. "Tell me what's wrong with it!"

Aaron paced back and forth at the foot of the bed, one hand tapping his forehead and the other planted on his waist. "Think about it... Think about the long-term, Denise. Not just tonight but what comes after. It's the wrong call and you know it."

"I know what you think," I shot back, adjusting myself until I was kneeling on the bed. "And this is not about Brett!"

Aaron paused his pacing around the room and his face twisted in confusion for a few seconds, apparently trying to place the name. It was clear when he suddenly realized who I meant. "What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Aaron asked, staring at me in bewilderment.

"Nothing! That's my point! This isn't about him?"

"I never said it was," he replied, squinting. His anger seemed to be giving way to confusion.

"Good, so we agree," I said confidently.

"Yes, I think." Then he leaned back against the bedroom door. "Wait, what are we talking about now?"

I smiled in relief. "You... me... us... the future..." I looked at him expectantly.

"But we agree..."

"Yes, we agree..."

"That it's a bad idea," he concluded sadly.

"No," I pushed back, standing up and moving towards him. "We agreed that it has nothing to do with my brother and that it is the right call and that we should give it a try." By then I was almost face to face with Aaron and fully expected him to lean forward and kiss me again. My heart was racing in anticipation.

"Now you're just making stuff up," he said, slipping around me and pulling the door open. "I would never agree to that."

"Why are you so afraid to give this a try?" I whispered, moving my head to try to make eye contact, to try to solve the mystery of his reluctance.

He closed the door most of the way but still kept his hand on the knob. "Think about what the next few years will be like, Denise," he said. His eyes met mine and I saw no hint of fear, only sadness. "You have to know how bad it will be."

"What are you even talking about?"

Ignoring my question, he went on. "I can't put that burden on you. I can't believe I... I shouldn't have even started this." Aaron balled up his fist and put it against his forehead as he squinted and looked up. "God, what was I thinking?" He seemed genuinely very distressed, and I knew there was no chance of salvaging the evening.

He sighed, dropped his arms to his sides, and opened the bedroom door again. Without looking up at me, he said, "Please, Denise, please. You need to leave. We can talk later. But you need to leave now."

Confused, frightened, and utterly dejected, I left the room, left the house, and went home.

*******

For two days I stewed. I didn't want to talk to anyone. Macy called and I let it go to voicemail. Kara called and the thought of talking to her just made me feel nauseated. My parents forgot our Sunday evening call, which was fine by me. I watched movies. I went for a jog. I ate a lot of ice cream. And I tried and tried to make some sense of Aaron's reticence.

He talked like a man who had no hope for the future, like a man who had given up. But nothing else I saw in his life communicated that. The way he fought for his kids, ensuring they wouldn't end up in a bad situation with his ex-wife. The way he continued to work hard. The way he diligently protected his kids -- not just their physical well-being but also their happiness. The way he was even willing to try new things. The way he kissed. God! the way he made me feel when we kissed. I hadn't felt like that since... since Tim. Perhaps not even then, because 10 years ago I lacked the experience, self-understanding, and perhaps desperation that made me more capable of opening myself up to a man. Funny how being on more solid ground can make us easier to be moved when we want to be.

By the time the weekend was over, I had decided what to do. If Aaron needed to be pushed towards happiness, then I would have to be the one to push him.

Sunday evening, I called in a favor. Now that we had a new nurse in the rotation, I figured I could take a day off, even though I had just left for a week. Since it was October and I had not taken off any time other than my recent trip to Florida, nobody complained. Raul could fill in for me on Monday.

I knew the kids would be in school. And I knew Aaron had taken off work. He wasn't planning on me coming in that afternoon, much less that morning. I took a risk that he would actually be home, but I figured, even if he was out, I could wait all day. I had a key to the house. Might as well make myself at home. It turned out not to be necessary. Aaron's car was there.

I debated using my key and walking right in to confront him, but my more civilized instincts prevailed and I knocked on the door, waiting to be let in. I saw Aaron look through the window at me, and I knew he was hesitating to open the door. When he finally did open it, he didn't make enough room for me to pass through at first. He stood there blocking my way.

"Denise, what-"

"You said we could talk later. It's later," I stated confidently.

Aaron sighed in exasperation. He looked at his watch, then closed his eyes. "Yeah, I guess there's time," he said. Stepping to the side, he let me in. He was wearing only a white t-shirt and a pair of boxers. Seeing my eyes on his lack of clothing, he explained, "I was getting dressed. I have somewhere to be a little later, and I was going to head into town early."

"Well, not to be arrogant or anything," I said, still clutching my purse, "but I think this is more important than whatever else you were going to do."

He looked at me skeptically before dismissing my confidence with a huff. Then, with a self-satisfied expression he began, "I'm about to start my next-"

"I love you," I cut in. He closed his mouth and looked away. I tossed my purse on the nearest chair and crossed my arms. "Looking back, it almost seems inevitable," I continued. "I mean, here you are, this wonderful guy and these two wonderful kids, and I spend hours every day getting to know all three of you better. Anyone could have seen it coming. And I know you've got some..." I waved my hand in the air, "...baggage. Some issues. Some complications..." No word seemed quite right, and his pained expression with each effort showed me how poorly I was hitting the mark. "But I don't think that should matter." I paused and waited for him to look at me. "Not if you feel the same way." He took a deep breath, his lips tight. "And I think you do. Feel the same way... I mean." OK, so I started strong but kind of puttered out in the end. I didn't sound as bold as I had wanted to, but I had made my point. The ball was in his court.

"Dammit," he whispered, forcing his eyes shut, squinting to hold back a tear, it seemed. "You weren't supposed to be single," he said, almost to himself. Then looking straight at me, his eyes filled with fear, he said, "I love you too, and that's why you need to leave. I shouldn't have dragged you into this. I see that now."

"No," I said, stamping my foot in frustration while also relieved that I was not a fool in thinking he loved me, too. "I'm not going to play the 'We'll talk about this later' game anymore. We talk about it now."

"I'm not saying you should leave for now. I'm saying you should leave forever. Now. It was wrong of me to bring you into this." His voice was shaking but his expression was calm now. "I can... I'll pay you for the rest of the month. I'll explain it to the kids, or your can come back and say goodbye to them this evening, but just... This has to stop."

"That... is such... bullshit," I said, raising my voice when I remembered we didn't have to worry about the kids hearing. "Why are you so certain that this will end badly? Why would you deny yourself, deny us, this chance of a life of happiness?"

And now he was raising his voice. No longer leaning against the couch, he stood tall and imposing, waving one arm in agitation. "Not a life of happiness, Denise, but a moment. That's all we'd get. And at what cost? A moment and then what?"

"How can you be so sure?" I yelled back. "Why are you so convinced that you'll end up like Brett? It doesn't have to be that way! You have a choice!"

"What the hell do you mean? Why do you keep bringing your brother into this?"

I was trying to control my voice, but being on the verge of tears it was easier to yell than to speak softly. "Because I watched him be destroyed by drugs and I saw him just give up hope and stop fighting and I don't want you to give up that fight and-"

"It doesn't matter how much I fight, Denise," he said angrily. Then his voice and mannerisms suddenly went calm. "Cancer is cancer, and we can't change that."

*******

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