What You Wish For Pt. 04


"Then take your wife and kids to dinner with it," I suggested. "I mean, I owe you a lot of dinners, right?"

He just laughed. "Not a chance. You're not getting out of all those quick feels for a lousy hundo. I wanna be wined and dined."

We laughed together, and he took off.

* * * * *

I quit writing at six and started getting ready for the party at Denny's house. Forty-five minutes later, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt, cuffs rolled to mid-forearm, I pulled into Denny's driveway in a newer subdivision on the edge of Grant City. There were already ten or so cars parked in the driveway and along the curbs, and I could hear the laughing and talking from around back as I grabbed a case of Lite and a tray of hummus and pita chips from the back seat.

I was greeted with a chorus of Tylers, Hey Dudes, and Pardners as I turned the corner at the back of the house and walked toward the large deck on which everyone was gathered.

"Hey, Tyler," Denny's tiny little wife Dee Dee said, pecking me on the cheek before taking the tray of hummus from my hand. "Beer goes in the coolers over there."

I nodded. "Thanks for having me."

"Thanks for coming," she said back, looking like she was genuinely pleased at my presence. She'd graduated three or four years behind us, and all I remembered of her was a tiny little kid with short, tomboyish features. She was still tiny--way tinier than Denny, that's for sure--but her features were cute in a pixieish way. She'd definitely grown into a beautiful lady.

"Keep your dick skinners off her," Denny guffawed from a group of guys, interrupting my observations.

I waved him off with a chuckle and proceeded to empty my case of beer into a cooler of ice. Keeping one back and opening it, I took a gulp and went over to Denny and his group.

It was like a high school party, but then it wasn't. Amongst the thirty-five or so people there, some were guys and girls we'd gone to school with, but there were younger and older faces, too. Some I recognized, either by face or name, from growing up in Grant City; a few were from other parts of the country and now called Grant City their home.

We all shot the shit for awhile, getting to know each other again and learning who was married, divorced, had kids, owned businesses, worked for others, and so on. I was there maybe an hour when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

"Hello, Tyler."

I tensed, knowing this was a possibility. Forcing a smile to my face, I turned around.

"Hello, Kristin."

The group I had been speaking with shied away from us and dropped their voices to hurried whispers and darting glances.

"You get to the clinic yet? Give 'em your DNA?"

I shook my head. "Next Friday."

"He's your's," she said, her eyes sad.

My eyes narrowed, not sure what game she was playing now.

"Can we maybe talk for a few minutes?" she said. "Somewhere a little less, uh, public?"

After a moment, I nodded, then turned and walked into the house. We settled on a sofa in the den, closing the door behind us.

"I didn't know," she started, her voice low and her eyes on the floor.

"But you knew it was a possibility."

She nodded.

"And when you suspected, you didn't tell me."

She looked up at me, her stare vacant.

"You ever have dreams?" she said, speaking almost to herself. "Because I used to have them. All the time. And sometimes, if you're lucky, your dreams come true. But then . . . well, then you learn that those dreams aren't really all they're cracked up to be."

She turned and faced me, her eyes focusing in on mine.

"So what was your dream, Kristin? Because I can tell you what mine was."

"Same as your's," she said. "To be with you forever and ever. To have a family. To never have to worry about money or bills or anything. To live in a big house and have a big family."

"Ward and June Cleaver," I said.

She nodded. "Ward and June Cleaver," she agreed.

"And just when we almost had it," I said, "you left me. For him."

She looked back at the floor and mumbled something.

"What?" I said, leaning in closer.

"I said I didn't leave you for him. For Randy. I left you for my dream." She looked up, her eyes pleading with me to understand. "I didn't think I was getting my dream with you. I didn't think we'd ever have the family and the . . . well, everything. I thought you'd just keep working a hundred hours a week and I'd be stuck all alone in that house."

"And when you started coming back here," I prompted.

"Cilla told me I didn't belong in Florida. That you were being selfish, keeping me cooped up in the house all day and holding off on starting a family."

I nodded. I knew her sister had played a part in this.

"And my family," she continued. "Mom and Dad. They told me how much they missed me and how much I needed to start giving them grandbabies and all. We needed to come back."

"You never once suggested we sell out down there and come back here," I said, fighting to keep my voice calm.

"I know. But would you have? Would you've done it?"

I shrugged. "Guess we'll never know now."

We were silent for a few moments, and then I thought of something.

"You know," I said, half to myself, "the second I found out my mom had a stroke and Dad needed help, I sold off and came up here in a flash. So I guess we do know, don't we? If you'd have come to me, I probably would've moved back up here."

She nodded. "That's what I thought."

"Then why?"

She thought for a moment before answering. "I guess I just figured you didn't really love me anymore."

"Based on what?"

"I don't know. You were working so much. You wouldn't listen to me as much, spend more time at home and things."

"And when you got up here," I said, "Randy doted on your every word and movement."

She sighed, which was answer enough.

"And now?" I asked.

"He's already filed for divorce. I got it yesterday."

"Why? I mean, that's jumping the gun a bit, don't you think?"

"He says he feels humiliated. I lied to him. Let him think Ben was his and all. And he told everyone else, people he works with and his friends and family and all. And now he's got to tell them all that Ben's not his. That he's your's."

Again, we sat in silence for a few minutes. I could tell she wanted to say something, but she seemed pensive.

"Go ahead," I said softly. "Ask whatever you want."

She shook her head, and I placed my hand on her's and squeezed.

"Why Allie?" she said. "Was it to get back at me?"

I gave an inward chuckle. "No. Not everything's about you, Kristin." I paused, thinking about why I'd been with Allie. "Well, I guess it's partly about you. 'Why?' you ask? Because she was available. And I was comfortable with her, and attracted to her. Partly, I suppose, because she reminded me a lot of you. But no, I didn't spend time with her to get back at you or hurt you. A year ago? Yeah, that would've been a definite possibility. Now? No."

"And are you going to give her another shot?" she said, her face telling me she hoped not.

"No. I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed."

"Is it because of me? Because she kept my secret?"

"Yes and no. No, it's not because of you. Yes because she should've told me. If she loved me like she said she did, she couldn't keep something like that from me. And I'm pretty sure she'd have taken it to her grave."

"It's not her fault," Kristin protested.

"Yes it is. She made her bed."


"Well what?"

"Can we ever be friends again, Tyler?"

I thought that over. "I don't know."

"Can you ever forgive me?"

I paused, confused at the signals coming out.

"What are you looking for here, Kristin?"

She looked me in the eyes, trying to smile and failing miserably.

"You thinking about getting back together?"

Her nod was so slight I almost missed it.

My eyes went wide, and I felt my jaw go slack with what she was proposing.

"We're back here," she said. "Back home. And now we've got a little baby boy together. If you can forgive me . . . . Well, I'd listen better. Appreciate you the way I always should have appreciated you."

I felt her hand now squeezing mine in return. The soft, warm skin so familiar on mine, the gentle caress.

"Say something," she whispered. "At least say you'll think about it."

I could only nod.

Okay, timeout here to explain what's going through my addled fucking brain. Two years ago the love of my life ran off with no explanation. She married another guy--a guy she'd been screwing while still married to me--and has a baby. Now I find out, first, that the baby's probably (because I'm not taking her word for it yet) mine and, second, that hubby number two has bolted and she's available again. So now, come to find out she doesn't hate me; she hates herself for leaving, even if her self-hatred is still for only her own misery; and she may want to get back together again.

So what do you do? Do you tell her to fuck off? Easy for you to say is she hadn't been the love of your entire life. Even tougher if you add to that our (probable) child together and forced interaction one way or another for the next seventeen years and the desire to give little Ben a solid family life and proper upbringing.

Do you say yes, I want to get back together? Great. Now I just have to wonder which dream she's going to leave me for next. And wonder, for that matter, if she wants me back because of me or because she's got no better alternatives.

"Tyler?" she said into my ear, her hot breath arousing me and snapping me from my reverie.

"Okay," I mumbled, wanting to get away from her for awhile. "Sure. I'll think about it, okay?"

"Thanks," she said, her face relieved.

There was no triumph there, I noticed. The Kristin of old would've had a look of triumph, pleased with herself at getting her way yet again. That look was gone, though.

Was she genuinely contrite?

"Let's go back out and meet some people I haven't seen in awhile, okay?" I said.

She nodded, then pulled me to my feet and led me back to the deck.

When we got there, I saw Allie talking with a group on the lawn. Our eyes met, then her eyes wandered and saw Kristin holding my hand. Her lips tightened, her eyes again finding mine. Then, in a flash, she turned to respond to something someone in the group said, a smile forcing itself onto her face.

I spent the rest of the evening chatting with old friends and meeting new ones. Kristin didn't exactly hover over me, but she was usually at least nearby. At one point I saw her and Allie whispering back and forth as both shot me glances.

Just what I needed in my life.



Dad and I got Mom settled in the next day, both spending hours getting things set where she wanted them and doting over her like a couple of clueless clods, which we were.

Like I said, I'd seen plenty of Mom since the stroke, but it all seemed just so sad now that she was back home. She was a small, frail pile of skin and bones, dressed in a baggy sweatsuit and sitting in her recliner. Fifty-eight years old, but she looked twenty years older now. Her hair was a mess and seemed more gray, her skin was pallid and shrunken, and she could only communicate with halting speech--some of the words slurred and barely recognizable--and pointing with her left hand. Her right arm still lay at her side all but useless.

"Come on," I said once everything was where we wanted it. I took her right arm in my hands and did the stretching, strength, and motor skills exercises we were instructed to do with her.

And that's how the first day back went. The drudgery of exercise and speech practice while listening to the drone of a televised baseball game in the background.

There was one light moment, though, when Dad placed her dinner on the TV tray before her chair.

"What's this?" she said, the words coming out woss thish.

"Dinner," he proclaimed, proud of his accomplishments in the kitchen while she'd been away. "Pot roast with potatoes and carrots."

"Really," she said, coming out willy. The look on her half-paralyzed face told us she didn't believe him.

Having had Dad's pot roast at least once a week for the past few months, I had to agree with her assessment.

So Mom was clearly still sharp as a tack.

* * * * *

On Sunday at eleven, the doorbell rang.

"Kristin?" I said, looking at her standing there holding Ben in one arm and a basket in the other.

"Take him," she said, leaning the toddler into my arms before walking past me and into the house.

"What're you doing-- " Dad started on seeing her.

"I'm sorry about the last time I was here," Kristin cut him off. "Real sorry. And you were right about everything and I know that."

He nodded, shooting glances from her to little Ben squirming in my arms. I gently bounced my hips and held onto him for dear life.

"Anyways," Kristin continued, walking past Dad and into the dining room and through to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder as she went, "they said at church this morning that Sally was getting home today, and I figured she shouldn't be subjected to bad cooking the first day out."

Mom snorted. "Too late."

Dad frowned, staring from the kitchen to Mom to me. Then he focused in on the wriggling little boy in my arms and his features softened.

"Let him down," Dad said, crouching and holding out his arms.

I set Ben down, and he waddled over to Dad.

"Is he?" Mom said, her face going from me to Ben and back again, the look of expectant hope lighting up the left side of her face.

"Your grandson," Kristin confirmed from the doorway, leaning against the doorframe and taking in the scene. Her smile was apprehensive, her body tense waiting for the inevitable barrage of demanding questions.

But none came. Instead, Dad scooped Ben up and carried him to my mother, placing him in her lap. I swear to God, I never thought I'd see her this happy again. Those extra twenty years disappeared just like that.

When I turned around, Kristin had disappeared back into the kitchen.

She froze when she heard my footsteps behind her.

"Thanks," I said. "This is . . . ."

I let the words hang, but she got the picture. Her whole body relaxed and she continued fixing plates for lunch.

"I'm not hungry," I said when she grabbed another plate.

She turned to look at me.

"Really," I said, smiling. "Just not hungry."


She seemed disappointed, like her first try at winning me back wasn't going as well as planned.

"I'll help you feed Ben, though," I said. "After all, now that I've got a son and all, might as well learn how to care for him, right?"

She smiled, pleased at my recovery.

A few minutes later, Dad helped Mom to the dining room table and we all sat for lunch. Kristin sat next to Mom, chatting lightly about Ben and all manner of child rearing joys she'd experienced, occasionally using her napkin to dab at Mom's mouth. She looked like the Kristin I'd fallen in love with, the sweet, charming fifteen-year old who was everyone's favorite.

Dad was eating his fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy, sharing every other forkful with a bouncing and very messy Ben, who was sitting on my lap getting half of the food offered him all over his shirt and my pants.

"Cute," Mom said, looking at Ben and me, her eyes aglow.

Kristin turned and looked at us, and at me trying to wipe smears of potatoes and gravy from my sleeves, and snorted.

"Welcome to fatherhood," she said. Then, with no reaction from anyone else, the laughter left her eyes and she looked sad.

I only smiled in response. "Looks like I've got some catching up to do, huh?"

She tried to smile in response.

"Better late than never," Dad said, picking up his plate and taking it to the sink. "You doin' okay, Ma?"

Mom just nodded, her eyes locked on Ben while she slowly chewed her food.

"Kristin?" he said.

"I'm fine," Kristin said. "Let me get those for you."

She stood and went to the sink, rinsing off the plate and putting it in the dishwasher before tackling the rest of the leftovers. She'd brought enough for at least three meals, and she took her time putting it in the refrigerator and cleaning up the remnants on the counter.

I spent the time wiping off Ben's mouth, then sliding over to the chair next to Mom and whispering in his ear. "Grandma" and "chicken" and "table." Hell, I didn't really know what to say; I just knew Mom stayed bright with him around.

When Kristin finished, she turned and froze. This was way harder for her than I thought it would be. It was written all over her face, there for everyone to see. Regret, sorrow, a mask begging forgiveness and wondering why she'd ever done what she'd done.

She tried to speak, but ended up clearing her throat.

"Gonna get some fresh air," she said, and dashed to the back door and outside.

I looked at Mom and Dad.

"Come on," he said, holding his arms out. "My turn."

I passed Ben over the table and into Dad's massive arms. Standing, I made my way outside and around the house. Kristin was nowhere to be seen, but I smelled cigarette smoke from around the side of the woodshop.

"There you are," I said, turning the corner.

She was huddled in on herself, sucking hard on a cigarette and trying to keep from crying.

"When did you start this again?" I said.

She looked at the cigarette in her hand.

"Sorry," she said, moving to toss the smoke away.

"No. Go ahead if it settles you down."

She nodded her head a few times, took a deep drag and held it, then started speaking as the smoke came out with her words.

"Just never thought it would all be this hard, ya know? You hadn't come back . . . I'd never have to really see you again, right? Would've made it all a lot easier."

"Never telling me about Ben?"

She shook her head. "No. Not that. Truth be told, I started realizing what a complete mess I made of things when his hair didn't get any darker and his eyes stayed blue. Six or seven months back."

She looked at me, trying to read my reaction. I gave none, preferring to listen. She turned back to stare at the woods abutting our property.

"I never should've done any of it, Tyler," she said, her voice listless. "Any of it. Never should've listened to Mom or to Cilla. Never should've kept coming back up here and dreaming about what I could have. I should've concentrated on working with what I already had. What we already had."

She snorted.

"Something funny?" I asked.

She looked back at me for a second, then back at the woods.

"I traded in loneliness for pure misery." She laughed again, but it was a bitter laugh. "You worshiped the ground I walked on. Randy wanted to screw me. I mistook lust for love. Then, when he found out I was pregnant, he proposed. Still not sure he really loved me, but he certainly loved the idea of having me to come home to every night and having a son and . . . I don't know . . . ."

"What? What don't you know?" I prodded.

"He wasn't you, okay?" she said, the tears she'd been holding back finally letting loose. "He just wasn't you. And all I wanted was you. I'd have left him in a second if I thought there was a chance you'd take me back. I'd have crawled through a thousand miles of mud if I knew you'd take me in your arms when I got there. But it was all too late. I'd already ruined it all. Everything. So I just decided to settle with the dreamworld I'd made up here."

"So why now?" I said. "Is it just because Randy's left?"

"He didn't leave," she said. "I moved out. Me and Ben. The day after you served me with the papers."

That surprised me. "So when you were in court?"

"We'd been separated a month."

"Then why did you . . . what the fuck was that . . . . You contested the DNA testing."

"You're gonna try to take him away from me," she whispered.

I felt my anger rising. "Is that what this is all about now?"

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