“How are you doing?”
“I’m alright. It’s not so bad in here. That lawyer came through and I’m in a cell by myself. I wanted – I wanted to say thank you. For everything. The money, for taking Belle in. The lawyer. Thanks man.”
Alistair shook his head. “You’re like my brother, Eden. I’d do more if I could.”
“You’ve done enough, Al. More than enough.”
He wished that were true. He should have found a way to save Eden. To be there for him. Instead, he’d abandoned his friend when Eden had needed him the most.
“How is she? Belle – is she doing okay?”
“Yes. She’s seeing a speech therapist twice a week and goes to art classes the other three. On the weekends, Amanda comes and works with her.”
Amanda was Matt’s mom. Once Eden knew what they were, Kieran had decided to ask his grandmother for her help with Bellamy. Eden had agreed, as long as it didn’t cause Belle harm.
The girl was showing improvement, more than anyone had thought possible. She was taking care of her own needs and was a fully functioning adult. She still lived with Kieran’s parents but she was free to do what she liked with her time. It was Belle’s rapid recovery more than anything that had convinced Eden that Kieran wasn’t insane, that magic was real.
They talked for a little longer about Belle’s progress before Eden asked, “And you? How’s Colin?”
Kieran beamed. “He’s good! Still driving Lorde crazy.”
“That’s good. And you? You happy? You and Lorde doing okay?”
Kieran’s smile faded a bit. “We’re okay. We’re not worse,” he clarified. “She went back to work.”
Eden frowned for a moment before it clicked. “She went back to stripping? You must be doing something wrong bro. Isn’t the goal to get out of that life?”
“You would think.”
“You sound bitter.”
Kieran shrugged. “I’m not bitter, just frustrated. What kind of example is she setting for Colin? Being a stripper should be a last resort profession – it’s not even worth calling it that. It’s a dead-end job. She doesn’t need to work, let alone work doing that. It’s like she’s doing it to spite me.”
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“I’d be surprised if you didn’t.”
Eden smirked before getting serious again. “Are you two still not sleeping together?”
“No, that’s not the problem. Our sex life is fine. I think. She’s never complained.” Kieran frowned. “She’s not cheating on me.”
“I never said she was. I’m asking you if you think she’s unhappy. Maybe feeling like she wants to go back to the way things used to be. Perhaps she’s feeling trapped.” Eden shrugged. “I’m not going to sit here and act like I know your wife. I met her for like half a minute. But I am asking you to be careful. Don’t – don’t get your heart broken just because you want to save her. Maybe she doesn’t want to be. Maybe she doesn’t need saving. Maybe you should let her do what makes her happy and find what makes you happy.”
Kieran nodded. He studied his friend, wondering when Eden had become so wise. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Eden laughed at the change of subject. “Fine, I’ll back off. But yeah, I’m good. As long as you and Belle are okay, I’m good.”
“SAGE, let’s call it SAGE; for Stephanie, Alistair, Grace and Emma.”
“Why do you get to go first?” Kieran teased her.
“Well, we could call it AGES…but who’d want to eat at a place with a name like that?”
“Call it whatever you want, Steph. It’s your bakery.” He rubbed the back of his neck. It hopefully would become a family thing.
Kieran watched his sister look through the artwork and the building plans. He was officially the owner of a bakery. God, it felt surreal to think that. But with Colin old enough to talk and Lorde back at… work, he needed something with flexible hours. He wanted something family owned. When he heard about this shop, he took it as a sign and put in an offer.
It felt good to say he was a business owner. Hell, it felt good to say he had a legit job!
“Al, are you listening to me?”
“Sorry, what?” He leaned down to listen to his sister talk about her plans to redecorate.
“When were you going to tell me about Sage?”
Kieran choked on his forkful of spaghetti. “Pardon?”
Lorde placed her fork down and glared at him. “When were you going to tell me that you quit your job to open a bakery with your sister?”
“I didn’t quit my job… Yet.”
“Yet? Where you going to tell me?”
“As soon as I knew it was a viable opportunity.” He sat back in his chair. “How did you find out about Sage anyway?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes. It does.” He’d only just spoken to his sister about the idea a week before. There was no way Lorde would know about it unless Steph had told her. “Did Steph tell you?”
“In a way, yes.”
She was lying. “What does that mean?”
Lorde folded her arms and looked down at her plate. “She left you a voicemail about it.”
“On the house phone?” When she didn’t say anything, Kieran asked, “On my cell phone?”
“You went through my phone?” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Should I not?”
“What were you looking for?”
“Your mother’s phone number.”
He blinked. That wasn’t the answer he was expecting. “Why?”
“I wanted to speak to her about something, that’s all.”
She was getting flustered. Clearly it was something important and she didn’t want him to know. Backing down he said in a quiet voice. “You could have asked.”
“I didn’t know I needed permission.” She sat tense, as if ready to fight. He didn’t want to fight. They were doing so well together.
Kieran sighed. “You don’t. But when you look through a person’s things, you can’t get upset if you find something you don’t like.”
Lorde pouted for a bit, dipped her fingers in her glass of water and flicked water at him. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I was just hurt.”
Kieran shook his head. He must not have heard correctly. Lorde apologizing?
“No need to look so shocked. I have feelings too, you know.”
“It’s not that. I just… you’ve never openly shared them with me before.”
Lorde stood up and walked over to him. Anticipating her, Kieran pushed away from the table and stood to meet her. She wrapped an arm around him, pulling him into a hug. “I know and I’m sorry. It’s hard for me to talk about things like that. I’m trying to be better.”
He pulled her closer. “It’s been four years. Why now?”
She stiffened a bit, back to being defensive. “Would you rather I not?”
“That is not what I meant and you know it. I’m just wondering what’s different. I guess I’m hoping it’s because you trust me a bit more now.”
“That is very hard for me, Kieran. But I do trust you. I may not show it at times, but I care for you, deeply.”
Kieran leaned down and kissed her. It wasn’t an, ‘I love you,’ but it was close enough. For now.
“This is great news! Thank you very much.” Kieran hung up the phone, grinning. They’d done it. Eden’s appeal had been approved. He was coming home.
Kieran took a shuddering breath. “Thank you Goddess.”
Lorde walked in and asked, “Are you alright?”
He turned to her and kissed her. Wrapped an arm around her waist and the other into her hair. He was so happy. Maybe they could have another date night and actually go somewhere nice. Just the two of them. He felt like celebrating.
It took him a minute to realize that she was pushing against him. He let her go, confused.
“What the hell, Kieran!”
“We got some amazing news. Eden is coming home!”
She crossed her arms. “And that gives you the right to manhandle me?”
A bit of his joy left him. “What? That wasn’t – I just wanted to kiss you.”
Lorde frowned. “You can’t just stick your tongue down my throat whenever you feel like it. I’m not some – some… ugh!”
Kieran was completely bewildered now. “What’s wrong, Lorde? What happened?”
“Nothing! Just don’t do that again.” She wiped at her lips with the back of her hand.
He watched her, too stunned to say anything, as she turned and walked out of the room.
“Steph, can I ask you something?” He leaned inside the doorway, a bit nervous.
“Sure.” She looked up from the desktop. They were opening for the first time next week and Steph had become obsessed with Sage. She’d even changed her major at MFU to business. He was proud of her. She was a grown up now.
“How do you feel about Lorde?”
“Kind of late to be asking my opinion, don’t you think?” She powered down the computer in front of her and sat back in her chair. “It’s been what? Four years now?”
“I know.” Kieran walked in and sat across from her desk. “I’m just – we’re not in a good place, you know? And I’m wondering if it’s just me. Am I blowing things out of proportion? I thought things were going good for a while. We were making time for just us. But all of a sudden she’s withdrawn again, grumpy; mean to me and Colin. Have you noticed anything like that or am I going crazy?”
“Al, I’m not going to rag on your wife. I’m not getting in the middle of marital spats. But I will say that I think you two should go to counseling. If you’re feeling that way then that’s all that matters. Go talk to someone. Someone who gets paid to give advice. Someone who isn’t me. Cuz, dude!”
Kieran smiled at the look of disgust on her face. She was right. It was inappropriate for him to talk to his teenaged sibling about his marriage. She was also right about going to see someone.
But would Lorde be okay with seeing a therapist?
“Can I ask you something?” Stephanie looked away for a minute. Staring at the flowers on her desk.
“Of course, Steph. What’s wrong?”
She gave a soft laugh. “Nothing is wrong. I just – have you heard from Eden recently? I’ve been… He crosses my mind sometimes and I was just wondering if…”
Kieran smiled at her. Steph loved Eden as much as he did and he should have updated her on his status. It hadn’t even crossed his mind though. “He’s doing okay. I saw him last week and he’s ready to come home. Steph, he’s doing alright.”
She just nodded, still not making eye contact.
He walked inside his home to sound of Colin crying. Sighing, he walked towards the noise. The moment Colin saw Kieran he made a beeline to him. Scooping the toddler up, he looked around for Lorde but couldn’t find her.
“Shhh, it’s okay. It will be okay.” He snuggled with Colin until the wailing turned into sniffles then asked, “Where’s momma?”
Instead of answering, Colin buried his head into the crook of Kieran’s neck. Worried now, Kieran walked through the house, looking for his wife. After checking the first and second floors with no luck, he placed Colin in his playpen and hurried downstairs. He took his cell phone out and dialed Lorde’s number.
Heading back upstairs after finding no one in the basement, he waited impatiently while the phone rang. Where the hell was she?
Just as he hung up, ready to call the police, the front door opened and in walked his missing wife.
“Where the hell have you been?” The fear was dissipating from his system and anger was starting to settle in its place. She had left the baby alone.
“You’re home early,” was all she said. She walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, taking out ingredients to make a salad.
“Seriously? That’s all you have to say to me?” He reached out and turned her to look at him. “Where have you been?”
He felt a flash of – something – when his hand made contact with her arm but it was gone before he could make it out.
“Do not touch me!” Lorde jerked away from him and continued to make her salad.
His hand started to tingle and grow warm and he curled it into a fist. His stomach felt like it was on fire. Taking a deep breath, he counted to ten. He would not get so angry that he lashed out with magic. That was not the kind of person he was. But she had left Colin alone in the house. And she didn’t even fucking care!
“Where were you?” His voice was soft, calm. Maybe a little pleading. That had to stop. He was so damn tired of pleading with her. Begging her to care, to participate, to love him.
She didn’t even acknowledge that he’d spoken.
What was happening to her, to them? “Lorde, you left Colin here alone. What if something had happened to him?” He tried for calm, rational argument.
“I was right outside. Nothing would have happened.”
“He was crying – ”
“He’s always crying. That’s what babies do, they cry. He was fine.” She turned to him. “Look, nothing bad happened. So just drop it, okay?”
She stood there, staring at him. Waiting for him to agree because that’s what he always did. To keep peace in his marriage, he agreed with everything she wanted. He couldn’t live like this anymore.
“I think we should go see someone. Like a therapist,” he said.
“I think we have a lot of unresolved issues that we can’t articulate to each other. Maybe having a mediator will help.” He waited. She said nothing, just turned to look out the window above the sink.
Finally, when he thought silence was her answer she looked at him and nodded. “Fine.”
“Really?” He was surprised. He’d expected push back. At least an argument. This felt too easy.
“Yes. Maybe… Maybe this is for the best.”
“Alright.” He almost leaned down to – what, he didn’t know. She didn’t want to be touched anymore. At least not by him. And if he was being honest, he was still way too angry to do anything as gentle as kiss her. So he just left.
“I think she should quit.”
“Excuse me?” She turned to look at him, incredulity written on her face. Why though? It wasn’t as if this was a new argument.
“Colin is almost five years old. He’s starting to ask questions, wants to know why you can’t read to him anymore. Why you’re not home – ever – anymore. I’m tired of lying to our son. You should be home with him.”
Lorde crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Dr. Tate. “See? This is what I mean. I’m supposed to be this perfect stay-at-home mom. Meanwhile, he gets to wake up and leave me with our son every day. And then, after the tantrums, the crying, the running around, when Colin is worn out and acting like a human being again, he gets to come home and be daddy. No. I’m not doing it anymore.”
“Who do you think is looking after him now, Lorde? You are gone all night and you sleep in during the day. I’m the one that feeds him all his meals, I’m the one that potty trained him. He comes to work with me every goddamn day!”
“It’s been a year.” She was calm, a marked difference to his shouting. “I did it for the first three. I’m done. It’s your turn.”
Kieran stopped and looked at the therapist. He had no more words. This was the third time they’d had the same argument. It was their biggest disagreement. He wanted her to quit stripping. She wouldn’t.
“Anything else you want to get off your chest, Alistair?” Dr. Tate made some notes on his pad.
He shook his head no. There was nothing left to say.
They hadn’t even taken two steps inside the house before she started. “How could you do that to me?”
“Do what?” All his energy had been sapped after their therapy session. He was emotionally drained and all he wanted was to hang out with his son before bath time.
“How could you say those things to me in front of the therapist? He must think I’m the worst mother in the world.” Kieran just stopped himself from saying something he would regret but she noticed. “You think I’m a bad mother, don’t you? You think it’s easy raising a child? You think this is what I wanted for my life? Fuck you.”
He was shocked and hurt by her words but couldn’t deny the truth in them. He smirked at her, “I thought language like that wasn’t allowed?”
“Whatever. I’m done trying to be the perfect wife and mother. You don’t respect me, Kieran. I don’t think you ever have. So what does it matter how you speak to me? You are just like the rest of them.”
He was not falling for that. Not again. “Don’t lump me in with all your other male friends.”
“I don’t lump you in with anyone, Kieran. I try not to think about –” She stopped and looked away.
He didn’t even want to know. He didn’t care. At this point, she could leave and never come back and he wouldn’t care. This life, this thing that they were doing, it was eating him alive and he wasn’t going to survive. Not with the way things were between them. “I’m going out. I hope you didn’t have to go to work tonight.”
“Where are you going?” She looked up at him, confusion and alarm – maybe? – on her face.
He didn’t respond, just turned around and walked out. Let’s see how she likes it.
“What’ll it be?”
Kieran looked up and smiled. He’d headed straight for the bar after walking out on his wife. It was the one from five years ago and the last place he’d been truly happy. How pathetic is that? “I’ll have a bourbon, neat please.”
The bartender laughed and he found himself grinning back. “What’s so funny?”
“You don’t strike me as the bourbon type.” She reached for the bottle as she spoke.
“Really, and what type do I look like?”
“Tequila, vodka, gin maybe. Something with red bull in it.”
He laughed loudly at that. “I like the occasional vodka red bull, not gonna lie, but my dad is a bourbon drinker. Cut my teeth on the stuff.”
She nodded, her eyes still twinkling. “Fair enough.” She placed the drink in front of him. “One bourbon, neat.”
“Thank you…” He waited, hand on his drink.
“Claire. My name is Claire.”
“Well, thank you, Claire.”