Kiera rolled over in bed, feeling Brad’s warm body beside her. She squinted to see the time on the clock and knew she should wake him soon. She let her hands slide themselves over Brad’s naked chest and closed her eyes again drawing in his scent. Kiera woke with Brad next to her many times in her bed, but this was the morning she had anticipated since the first time she laid with him. Lying next to him, she knew that she would be be his wife soon.
“Mmm,” Brad moaned. “Your ring is cold.”
My ring, Kiera thought. My engagement ring. She pulled her hand back and smiled, wanting to record every moment she had the ring on her finger to retell the story of their love over and over again.
“I dreamed of you last night,” Kiera said with a smile.
Brad rolled Kiera in the bed so the were spooning and kissed her neck sending shivers up and down her spine.
Kiera told her dream in a quiet voice, “We were on our honeymoon and I was walking along a rocky path without any clothes.”
Brad whispered into her ear, “I like where this is going.”
Kiera smiled, elongated her neck and closed her eyes. Brad moved his hands along her body while she continued her dream.
“Everything was beautiful. The sun was cascading over a waterfall and I wanted to get to that warmth because I was so cold. You came behind me and wrapped me in some weird fur coat.”
Brad squeezed Kiera tighter. She thought about the rest of the dream where she stripped off the fur and ran to the waterfall, closed her eyes to bask in the light, and felt the warmth of the sun through the chill of the air. She lay on the hot rocks and felt her chest sting with every crisp breath she drew in. And when she opened her eyes on the cliff listening to the rush of the water in her ears, she realized she was alone.
“I’m going to make some coffee,” she said as she spun around and then kissed Brad’s chest.
Kiera stood and looked at herself in the mirror focusing on her hand and then wrapped herself in a robe. Kiera looked in the mirror at the man lying behind her in the bed. His leg was stretched outside the blankets and when he turned to look at her, she caught him smirking at the smile on her face.
“I hope you have something more to do than look at that ring all day,” Brad said playfully.
“Every time I look at it, I think of you.” She climbed back into bed. “If I could replay the moment when you dropped everything, including the flowers you brought home for me, onto the floor to reach into your pocket and give me this ring, I would see nothing else for the rest of my life.”
The sheet fell away from Brad when he sat up exposing his chest. He cupped Kiera’s cheeks in his hands and drew her close to his face, looking into her eyes. “If I could look at the happiness you have in your eyes for the rest of my life, I would.”
A tear rolled down Kiera’s cheek and she pressed her lips against Brad’s. “I love you,” she whispered.
Brad responded by saying, “That’s enough of that. You’re going to make me want to stay home in bed with you.”
Kiera pulled her body back and asked, “What’s wrong with that?”
“I have a wedding to pay for,” Brad said with a smile. He gave Kiera another kiss and then pushed her off the bed. “Now, go make some coffee for your fiance.”
Kiera liked the word. Fiance. She liked knowing it was confirmed with the ring on her finger and not just idle chatter as it had been for the past few months.
She was only twenty-one years old but she and Brad had been in a relationship since her freshman year at college. Although he was a safe choice for her and she loved him, her thoughts felt heavy with the ring finally on her finger. She was telling herself it was wedding jitters, but she knew it had been less than two days since she had doubts about the relationship.
Kiera set out two mugs. One for her and one for Brad. She looked at the mugs she had set on the counter many times before but now they seemed to be labeled, Mr. & Mrs.
Brad was in graduate school, pursuing his Masters Degree of International Business when Kiera first saw him in the library. Pittsburgh was bigger than her hometown on the west coast and she was intimidated by the nightlife enjoyed by many of her peers. He was studious. He worked full time and he said the only way he could take the next step in his career was by staying until they kicked him out of the library every night.
Kiera was a writing major and preferred the silence and solitude of the library to her room and the student lounge. She wrote almost every day then. Her intention was to write full time despite her parents discouragement of the career path she was choosing.
Kiera looked at her hands. She thought about the last time they worked her words just for her. She couldn’t remember. Her laptop sat in the corner unused for days. The only writing she had done in months was a weekly update on her blog. She wrote nothing for her book and even missed several writing group meetings to accommodate Brad’s work schedule believing she would put everything aside for him.
I’ll make breakfast, while he shaves for work I suppose? She realized she didn’t know what a fiance did different than a long term girlfriend. She wondered, Will it feel different when I’m his wife? Kiera’s ring struck the side of the mug and the sound it made triggered a thought of church bells. A smile curled around her lips.
“Hey, your phone is going off,” Brad said walking into the kitchen and pulling her close to him for a kiss. She was confused that his kisses and touch felt the same as they did before. She looked into his eyes and expected to see something deeper than she had known. She expected some change. She wanted to feel different with the ring and thought for sure if she was, he must see it exude from her pores. Why couldn’t she see something more in him?
Brad handed Kiera her phone and asked “Are you okay? You’re acting kind of funny.”
Kiera pulled away from him and said, “Yeah, I just didn’t hear it ringing.” She picked up the device and when silencing it, she explained, “It’s Michelle. I’ll talk to her later.”
Brad smiled and helped Kiera with the coffee. He asked, “What do you have planned today?”
Kiera sat at the table and said, “It’s the only day this week I have to write.” Kiera furrowed her brow and was disappointed that Brad still didn’t know her schedule. “I’ve been trying to get some thoughts together for story ideas. I have to update my blog. I may go running later.” She paused and then said, “I guess I don’t really have anything planned.” She spun the ring around her finger wondering how much she didn’t know about Brad. She was curious if he had a list of things important to him and no one else. She wanted to know if Brad cared about the things he didn’t know about her because she felt like she made an effort to learn everything she could about him.
The phone buzzed again with a vibration and Michelle’s name flashed across the screen.
“She really wants to talk to you,” Brad said.
“She knows I have off today and wants to catch me before I start writing,” Kiera responded. “I told her we would see each other. It’s been a while-”
“Then go,” Brad interrupted Kiera’s words. “You don’t have to take care of me.”
“I want to make you-”
“You make me happy. That’s all you have to do for me.” Brad pressed his body to hers, kissing her lips gently.
“Are you coming here after work?”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I know myself,” Brad said knowing his apartment was much closer to his office than Kiera’s but also knowing with Kiera it was easier to beg forgiveness later than ask permission now.
Kiera picked up her phone and called her friend Michelle. “Are you out at the gazebo?”
Michelle’s voice was loud through the phone. She said, “I’ve been waiting with a pot of coffee for a half hour now. I saw you walk through your kitchen.”
Kiera moved the curtain away from the window and waved at her friend who lived in the same apartment complex. “I have to put some clothes on and I’ll be right out.”
Kiera got dressed and grabbed her mug from the counter. She wondered if she should leave the mugs together on the counter now that she saw them as a couple. There are other mugs in the cabinet. Then with silent self-scolding, her thoughts screamed, Its just a coffee mug!
The air was humid. Already she felt her clothes sticking to her. She thought again about her dream and how she woke in a start from loneliness. She walked along the smooth concrete feeling the cool stone tickle her toes with each step on the path leading to the shared gazebo.
Michelle had claimed a bench on the outer edge with a thin blanket to protect the girls from splinters. She ran to Kiera and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. “You are acting like you don’t even want to talk to me!”
Kiera laughed. “I do! I’ve been calling you for a week!”
Michelle said, “I know; I’ve been busy. You’ve been busy. But we’re here now. So talk! What’s the story behind these messages you sent yesterday?”
Kiera sat and poured coffee into her mug. She sipped and said, “It’s a pretty long story.”
“I’ve got nothing to do today but sit and listen to you.”
Kiera started, “Well, everything started on Monday.”
“It was almost two in the morning when I finally closed my laptop and decided to go to bed. Brad told me he was coming to my place Monday after work, but how late was I supposed to stay up for him?
“I must have fallen asleep, and when I woke up with the sunrise, he was lying next to me.”
Michelle asked, “Did you find out why he was so late?”
Kiera replied, “No. I just figured he was working. Maybe he stopped somewhere for a drink after? I love him,” she said convincingly. “He loves me. And that’s enough. We don’t need to know where we are every minute of the day.”
Michelle said, “Well that was a boring story.”
Kiera laughed and said, “I wish it was boring. I want Brad to be a hopeless romantic like me. I want the alarm on his watch to sound five o’clock and have him smile knowing his work day is over. He closes his briefcase to rush home to me. I would be home cooking dinner and after we eat, we dance in the living room to an old song we both like.”
Michelle furrowed her brow and asked, “Who lives like that? You’re talking like you’re fifty years old and have nothing in your life but your boyfriend.”
Kiera agreed, “I know! I’m watching everyone my age out in clubs and bars dancing with people, and I’m waiting on the sofa for a man who never comes home to me. But that’s what I want. I just want to be his wife. I just want him. I want him to move in with me.”
“I thought he moved in,” Michelle said.
“He’s got a few things at my apartment, but still lives across town.” Kiera sighed heavily. She knew the story ended with the ring on her finger and she didn’t want to leave the impression that she was questioning her life with Brad. She continued her story for her friend, “So that was Monday. Tuesday I woke up, got my things together to go to class. He was getting ready to go to work and I noticed he pulled a suitcase from the closet.”
“A suitcase? You just said he didn’t have very much in your place?”
“He doesn’t. He brought the packed suitcase on Monday because Tuesday morning he was off to London for work.”
Kiera nodded. “I know he works a lot. And I know he’s doing it for our financial security. But I wish we had more time together and less things. And who knows? Maybe if I didn’t have class, he would invite me to travel with him on these trips. It’s just lonely some nights waiting for him whether he’s across town or across the world.”
Michelle said, “You know I keep telling you that you deserve more.”
Kiera smiled and said, “I know. I think he is more. I think he can be more.”
Michelle made a gesture as if she was pulling a zipper over her lips to be quiet for Kiera’s story.
Kiera laughed and wanted to tell her friend to always be honest with her opinion, but presently she wanted to get to the ring. “So Brad left. I asked him if he would be back for our dinner plans on Thursday night. It was the anniversary of our first date. We’ve talked about marriage and he hinted that Thursday was going to be proposal night.
“There was a part of me that thought him leaving was a joke. That he wasn’t really going to London, but just wanted time alone to finish the plans for the proposal. I was distracted in class all day Wednesday. I couldn’t focus. I definitely couldn’t eat or sleep thinking how wonderful it was going to be planning my wedding with him.”
Kiera paused and her tone turned somber. “He sent a text that said something like, ‘Just landed at the Airport. Off to a meeting.’ I realized then that I will never be more important to him than his job.”
Michelle asked, “He didn’t even write I love you or
something personal? Just that he made it to his meeting?”
Kiera frowned and nodded. “In the beginning, we were fiery. We were passionate. We couldn’t go an hour without talking or texting. And that fire has faded into some kind of burnt ash. There might be a spark still. But it doesn’t feel like it will ever be raging flames and heat again.”
Michelle frowned. “Oh honey, I’m sorry.”
Kiera shook her head with a thin smile. “No. Don’t be sorry. It’s comfortable. It’s warm and-” She paused and realized she was moving in the wrong direction with her words. “Seeing how he felt about work and knowing that I was not doing any of my own, I opened my books and studied. I poured myself into words. I wrote some. I felt like while he was working, I could work with the same fire. We were making time to be together on Thursday and if we could fan the flames while we were together, keeping the smoldering embers on low while apart was not an awful thing.”
Michelle nodded. “I understand. It can’t all be three alarm fires.”
“Thursday I went shopping for a sexy but respectable dress and spent the whole day getting ready for our date. I didn’t want to ask him if he would be there. I wanted to trust that he knew it was important. But when I hadn’t heard from him by mid afternoon, I texted, Happy Anniversary.”
Michele asked, “Did he respond?”
“Of course. He wrote back, Happy Anniversary. I can’t wait to see you. So I thought he was back in the States and getting ready himself. Maybe at the office? Definitely back in the States.”
Michelle chuckled, “Where was he?”
Kiera said, “At that point, I didn’t know. I did know it’s an eight hour flight, so I thought, he couldn’t be in London and think he was showing up for dinner. I just trusted he would be there at the restaurant.”
Michelle said, “It doesn’t sound like he showed up.”
Kiera shook her head. She remembered the disappointment she felt realizing he wasn’t coming. She remembered the embarrassment of sitting there alone ordering glass after glass of wine. Kiera lowered her eyes and felts tears form. She inhaled deeply wanting all the emotion she felt then to pass so she could get on with her story.
Michelle growled, “He didn’t show up, did he?”
Kiera said, “He texted me that with the time change he got the dates wrong. I was an idiot sitting there drunk in a dress I couldn’t afford thinking this man I love finally was going to follow through on a promise he made to me.” She stopped talking and just looked into her coffee mug.
Michelle sat silently. She didn’t want to upset her friend further.
“The waiter brought me bread. He said I should eat something light and offered to bring a small appetizer if I wanted to continue to wait. He told me I couldn’t have any more wine. That’s when Brad texted me.” Kiera reiterated, “With the time change, he got the day wrong. A man who worked full time while going to graduate school was mixed up because he crossed the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Did you ask him to explain how he got it wrong?”
Kiera didn’t hear Michelle’s question and continued talking, “I tried calling him. He didn’t answer. He texted me. I texted back. He got the date wrong. He got our anniversary, when I was supposed to get engaged, wrong. He called me and I couldn’t answer. I was,” Kiera paused.
“Crazy!” Kiera’s voice grew louder as she spoke, “Why didn’t he tell me in the morning before I embarrassed myself in that dress and waited alone drinking glass after glass of wine? Why didn’t he tell me that the anniversary dinner I planned at the restaurant we first ate in would leave me hungry for both nourishment and his touch? Why didn’t he just say,” Kiera could not think of anything more to question and left her words hang in the air with bewilderment.
Kiera rubbed her forehead as if summoning the memory once again to the forefront of her thoughts. “Finally we got on the phone together. ‘I’m stuck in the airport,’ he said. Stuck! Like my relationship! Stuck as far away from me as he can be! Halfway around the globe. He’s stuck! Well, I was stuck too. I felt stuck to a man who put his job before me. And in that moment, I didn’t want to hear it was for our future. It felt like everything he did was to leave me alone. I felt like he kept me like he kept an accessory. A fancy watch or silk tie. Something he could bring out to dress himself up, but when he was engaged in other matters, I was fine sitting at home without even crossing his mind.
“I was supposed to engage him. I was supposed to get engaged to him that night.”
Kiera paused, sighed heavily, and her voice relaxed. “I left the restaurant after spilling wine all over myself and the table next to me.” She chuckled with embarrassment, “I can’t ever go back there. It was the worst night of my life. I walked home crying.” Kiera looked around her to see if anyone had come outside to eavesdrop. The girls were still alone and she continued her story. “Brad called me while I walked home. He tried to explain how important it was that he was in London.” Kiera shook her head and a tear formed in the corner of her eye. “I told him I didn’t care what he did with his life.” Kiera paused and closed her eyes. “It was the last thing I said to him on our anniversary.”
“By the time I got home, I was a mess! I mean, anger seething from every pore, hair frizzed from the humidity, mascara smudged from tears. I stood looking at myself in the mirror and just thought, it’s no wonder Brad doesn’t want to rush and see me.”
“Oh honey, you’re gorgeous! You were just-”
“I know,” Kiera laughed interrupting. “I took a shower, put on my slinky red dress and pulled my hair up away from my face.”
Michelle exclaimed, “Yes! I’m so glad you had fun without him!”
Kiera’s smile showed Michelle how she felt Thursday evening. She was glowing as she told the tale.
“Where did you go?” Michelle kept Kiera on track and pulled the information from her every time she paused.
“Dockside. The new club with the river deck.”
Michelle nodded in approval as she said, “Nice.”
“Well, I got there and was completely overwhelmed. Michelle, I didn’t know what I was doing there. I didn’t feel like dancing and there were too many people around. I just sat at the bar drinking martinis alone.”
“No one was at the bar?”
“Everyone was outside on the deck.” Kiera smiled and then said, “Well, not everyone.”
Michelle smiled and squealed, “Oooh! What happened?”
Kiera laughed, “I was sitting alone at a bar full of people and felt even worse than when I was standing alone in my house realizing I had been stood up yet again. I told myself it’s silly to spend money on drinks in a bar if I’m sitting there alone, when I have a perfectly good tub of ice cream at home that’s already paid for. I could drown in chocolate caramel swirls while wearing pajamas!”
“You did not go home and eat ice cream!”
“No. I drank the drink Evan sent over from the other end of the bar.”
“Evan? I think I like where this is going,” Michelle paused. “But I saw Brad in your kitchen this morning.”
“Will you stop peeping in my windows?”
“If I’m the voyeur, you’re the exhibitionist,” Michelle said and winked.
Kiera slapped Michelle’s thigh and laughed. “I am not an exhibitionist! You are nosey.”
“You’re getting off topic. Tell me about Evan,” Michelle insisted.
“Well,” Kiera continued, “I was sitting alone and pretty much ready to head home, when all of a sudden, a martini from the blond cutie in the corner appears.”
“I’m going to need details about this guy.”
“Evan. He’s blond. Mid-twenties. Dressed casually but stylish. Handsome with short hair. I watched him as he walked over with a smile that got bigger and bigger as he approached me. Asked me if I minded him taking the seat next to me.”
“A true gentleman,” Michelle said.
“You have not stopped smiling since you started talking about him! So what happened?”
“Well, Brad stood me up. I was there alone and Evan bought me a drink. Normally, I would have declined, explained my relationship with Brad and went home. But he said, ‘You’re too pretty to be drinking alone’.”
Michelle groaned, “Ugh. He used a tired line like that?”
Kiera laughed, “He sounded sincere. And you know what? I didn’t care. He was nice. He was sweet. The whole night,”
Michelle put her hand on Kiera’s arm, “The whole night?”
Kiera continued, “He said I looked lonely and I was. I was actually embarrassed that he could see it. I’m twenty-one and I was sitting in a bar like a hag in a mid-life crisis waiting for Brad to keep his commitments. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going on with him. Or maybe I didn’t know what was going on with me.” Kiera stopped talking again and thought about her contentment with being alone even though she was committed to Brad. She wondered if she looked at their relationship differently or if it had changed from that passionate fire she spoke of to the indifference of having a comfortable body lying next to her in her bed.
“I can’t hear your thoughts,” Michelle said. “Tell me what happened with Evan.”
“We drank and talked. It was just nice to have someone listen to me. It was nice to have someone share with me. He told me stories as if I knew what he was talking about. He never said, ‘Unless you’re a photographer, you won’t understand.’ I felt a part of,”
Michelle interrupted, “He’s a photographer?”
Kiera nodded. “Yeah, he said his parents were disappointed. Do you believe that? This man showed me amazing photos – just on his phone, but still they were incredible and he said his father says every chance he can, ‘You’re chasing a poor man’s dream.’ So I talked about my writing and how I can’t ever get it right.”
Michelle replied, “Because you let the wrong people influence you. This guy,” Michelle smiled, “Photog Evan,” she addressed him in jest as and continued her point with sincerity, “You said his photos were amazing. Well, some of your stories are amazing. And you have this negativity about your work raining down on you.”
Kiera frowned. She knew Michelle was speaking of Brad. “He wants me to be successful. He wants my writing to be good enough for others to read and enjoy and just gives me pointers on-”
Michelle retorted, “How are you ever going to be successful if the stories stay stuck in your head because you’re worried what your boyfriend thinks of them. He should be celebrating your work, not discouraging it.”
“Well, that’s what I think connected me with Evan,” Kiera digressed to her retelling of the chance meeting. “He’s not chasing the almighty dollar. There is a passion in his heart that he follows.”
Michelle exclaimed, “You’re in love!”
Kiera laughed, “No. We just met. He showed me the world how he sees things – through the lens of his camera.”
Michelle said, “You could do that with your words.”
Kiera shook her head in negation. “Maybe one day. I’m definitely not ready for that now. I can hardly get my blog entries done on time.”
Michelle nodded. “You can do it. How old is Photog-Evan?”
“Oh my gosh! You’re crazy Kiera!” Michelle leaned back. “This guy who you just met exudes all this passion in his photographs and is just a couple years older than you. But you still can’t see that you have it in you. You just need to get it out! Maybe Evan will coax it out of you,” Michelle said and winked at her friend.
Kiera laughed again. “Will you listen to what happened?”
Michelle leaned closer, “Did you go home with him?”
Kiera said playfully, “He came home with me.”
Michelle shouted, “Good for you! Wait, you were with Brad this morning.”
Kiera said, “Oh right peeper, you should already know what happened, spying on me.”
“Caring for a friend,” Michelle corrected with a smile.
“Evan walked me home and there were moments we walked a step apart and then he held my hand for a few steps. There was one point where he put his hand on the small of my back and leaned in close enough that I could smell,” Kiera paused lost in the memory of the scent.
Michelle waited for Kiera to continue but saw her friend’s eyes wander far into her thoughts. “Kiera?”
Kiera’s eyes stayed with recollections of Evan but allowed her mouth to form the words describing what she was thinking. “He smells like the earth and the air. His words circling my ear, as he whispered that he liked my smile, filled my lungs so I could breathe again. I’ve been stifled for so long with this stagnant-” Kiera realized she was looking at her friend Michelle and swimming in the sea of blue that was Evan’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,”
“Your way with words is beautiful. I want to hear everything about this guy.”
Kiera was embarrassed that she had gone on for so long about Evan. She blushed and lowered her eyes.
Michele said, “And I want you to use all of your beautiful words to tell me.”
“Well, it was late. We were walking and when we got to the rose garden, he turned my body and pressed up against me at the fence so I couldn’t move. He looked into my eyes and said something like, ‘I want to know everything about you.’ My eyes closed and my head dizzied. I forgot everything in my life. I was,” Kiera looked for the right word and smiled as she fanned through her vocabulary. “I was satisfied.
“I remember thinking, If I could carry with me the contentment and ease of that moment, I could do anything. I could be everything! And then,” she paused while the smile on her face faded.
“My eyes were closed and I was just breathing. Michelle, do you know what it’s like to feel your breath deep inside you? I felt weightless, like the buoyancy I feel when I’m swimming. I was without care and without consequence. I just was this ball of strength and joy and-”
“Love,” Michelle said.
Michelle nodded. “For a moment, you felt everything about this person before you. You didn’t care about his flaws, you saw everything he presented to you as good. Even if it was just for a moment, you loved him. You felt love. This glowing ray of sunshine on your darkest night-”
“No, I don’t think-”
“It’s not thinking,” Michelle said. “It’s feeling.”
“Well, I pulled away,” Kiera said.
“Evan leaned in. I felt his face getting closer to mine and I pulled away.” Kiera paused without Michelle interrupting. She chose her words carefully and continued the story, “I was angry with Brad, but I wasn’t ready to be with someone else until I knew it was over for good. I pulled away from the kiss. I thought that was the end of the walk. I thought he would want nothing more to do with me. But he gracefully took a step back, gave me a space to walk toward the benches in the garden and gestured to a seat for us to sit.
“‘I’m just not ready for that,’ I explained to him and he remained the perfect gentleman. We spoke of our families again. His parents live on the west coast too and he travels to be as far away from them as possible.”
Michelle laughed. “Sounds familiar. Wouldn’t it be great if you two saw each other when you were kids. Like in a baseball park or something and you didn’t know each other, but now all these years later, you finally are close enough to touch?”
“Doubtful. His family lives in Portland.”
“That’s close, right? Your parents are in Oregon too?”
Kiera shook her head, “Well, he asked me about my writing and I explained I’m a hopeless romantic and have tried over and over to get the beginning of the great American novel just right. He said to me, ‘Love stories never have the beginning just right. There’s an awkward stare and uncertainty if a gesture will be received. The denial of a kiss in a park-’. He was already telling OUR story. He was describing the beginning of Evan and Kiera to me and it filled me.”
Kiera stopped talking about herself and spoke once again about Evan. “He’s been all over the world with his photography. His pockets may not be full, but his spirit is rich. His words were incredible.”
“How is he single?” Michelle’s words cut through the air and eliminated the memory of Kiera’s night.
“He said his girlfriend died a few years back and that’s when he realized life is short. He wanted to see the world and got a job with a travel magazine. He’s doing a food and drink issue.”
“Which led him to Pittsburgh?”
“We have some interesting food here,” Kiera laughed.
“Alright, so he gives you some ideas for a love story and walks you home. Do you deny him a second time?”
“I didn’t let him walk me all the way-”
“What?” Michele exclaimed, “That’s the stuff movies are made of!”
Kiera laughed. “I know, but I didn’t know if Brad came over or if anyone would be peeping out their curtains watching me!”
“I didn’t see anything,” Michelle assured her friend.
Kiera explained, “He walked me as far as I would let him and he gave me his card to call but didn’t pressure me to give him my number. And then I felt him watch me as I walked down the street to our complex.” Kiera smiled again remembering how she felt with Evan’s eyes on her. “I thought he was going to run after me with some grand gesture.”
“He was being a gentleman. You’re not used to that,” Michelle explained.
“You’re right. I’m not used to someone respecting my opinions, my desires, my requests- It was,” Kiera stopped talking again. She looked around and noticed her friend and she were still alone in the garden gazebo. “I don’t know what it was. But it was something I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.”
“I lay all night in bed thinking about Evan. When I fell asleep I felt his fingers touching my skin and I woke sweating and startled, knowing I should have let him kiss me so I knew what his mouth felt like on mine. I stared at the clock and minutes seemed like hours. I wanted to turn back the time and ask him for more while I had the chance. I decided some time in the middle of the night I would call him in the morning and ask him to spend the day showing me my town through his eyes.”
“Did you call him?”
“There was a noise. I got up and saw Brad. He stood with flowers in his hands and an apology on his face in the middle of the hall displaying our memories in black and white snapshots. My eyes ran along those walls seeing the imperfections in our photos, knowing it was indicative of the imperfections of our lives. My black and white life can’t complete with Evan’s billowing hills of of lush green countryside. His photos were gorgeous and vibrant. I’m not ready for that. Brad stuck with me. Through thick and thin.
“You know that photo of me with the cast on my arm? Look, I have the scar from the fall right here,” Kiera pointed out a line of skin with differing coloring than the rest of her arm to her friend. “Brad sat with me while the doctor wrapped the cast around my arm. How boring is that? How long did he wait for me that day? And he typed my papers while I healed. I’m not sure I would have passed my writing classes that semester if it wasn’t for him.” Kiera’s smile returned. “I realized that’s what love really is. It’s waiting around at the boring parts. It’s holding out for that moment when you can think about everything you’ve been through and know you’ve weathered it together. It’s an apology that needs no words because you’re both sorry for something; like losing faith that your man cares for you or forgetting how important a dinner is to your woman. It’s sticking together through thick and thin and it’s being stuck together.”
Michelle smiled. Her expression showed Kiera she approved of her decision to accept Brad’s love even though she said no words to confirm it.
Kiera held out her hand. “So now I’m wearing his ring and we have a promise for the future together.”
Kiera looked at her freshly scrubbed face in the mirror without any make-up. She smiled knowing this was the face Brad would wake to each day for the rest of their lives. Lights were around her like she was a movie star while her mother’s hair dresser worked on her curls. She had been sitting wrapped in a silk robe for hours while dark curls were twisted and spun with delicate lily of the valley blossoms in contrast from the red rose buds in her bouquet.
Michelle sat in a chair next to her and talked incessantly. Kiera wanted to turn on some music and have everything melt around her.
Michelle asked, “Are you nervous? I’m nervous and it’s not my wedding. I should have brought another dress so that I could go out and spy on everyone coming in and tell you where to avoid looking so you don’t panic while you’re at the alter. Do you want to practice your vows? Did Brad write his vows? Did you see them? Did you practice reciting your vows to Brad or is this the first time he’s going to hear them?”
Kiera closed her eyes and leaned her head back drowning out Michelle’s words.
The hairdresser pushed Kiera’s head up and with her fingertips, gently but forcefully returning her into place to continue working on the hairstyle.
A soft knock on the door startled Kiera. The door knob turned and Brad peeked into the dressing room.
“Get out!” Michelle hurried to stand and push the door closed, calling through the door, “It’s bad luck to see her before the wedding!”
Kiera stood up and moved Michelle from the door. The hairdresser growled. Kiera opened the door and pulled Brad into the room. “What are you doing in here?”
“Your grandmother’s charm,” Brad said and held out a round piece of glass in his fingers.
“It was on the nightstand.”
Kiera looked into Brad’s eyes. She wanted to be finished with the ceremony. She wanted to unwrap the silk robe from her shoulders and lay with Brad for the rest of her life.
Brad took Kiera’s cheeks into his hands and pulled her lips to his. He breathed into her, “You’ve never been more beautiful.”
“That’s enough,” Michelle said and pulled Brad away from Kiera. “It’s bad luck!” She opened the door and shoved Brad from the room and when she closed the door behind her, she said, “You’re doomed.”
Kiera laughed and returned to her chair with the fortitude to sit while she was being readied for the ceremony. “I would have been lost without my grandmother walking me down the aisle. And he knows that.”
“He should have called me. I would have gone to him to get it.”
“It’s okay. I have it now,” Kiera smiled and reassured her friend that she was content with the interruption.
The hairdresser pulled flowers from Kiera’s hair, untwisted some of the curls and reset them again.
Kiera now spoke while Michelle listened. “This day, this celebration, this party,” Kiera smiled and then continued, “It has taken so much to plan. It’s been in the works for a year and without a doubt, my mom and you have put more effort into it than anyone else. It’s a public declaration of our vows – our promise to one another in front of God, our family and friends and then music and dancing celebrating love and joy. But right here; naked without a bit of make-up covering my face,” Kiera paused and felt her spirit fill. “This is what I planned for. I planned for going home exposed without any secrets between my partner and me in life. I have been working at becoming, not just Brad’s bride, but Brad’s wife. Do you understand what that means?”
Michelle slumped into her chair. “But today is your day! He knows that seeing a bride on the wedding day is bad luck!”
Kiera laughed. “That’s my point! It’s not just a day. It’s a whole life we are building. This is one moment. I’m wearing my mother’s dress today.” Kiera moved again to the hairdresser’s discomfort and pulled a strip of silk from her purse. “This is from the tie my father wore on my parents’ wedding day.” Kiera pulled the silk through a small link in the charm Brad delivered and tied it around her neck. “My grandmother is the only person in my family who ever let me tell her stories and encourage writing as a career path,” she continued. “And this is a magnifier that she used to wear on a chain around her neck.” Kiera looked into the mirror and fingered the glass. “She would say, ‘Even though my eyes are as sharp as they’ve ever been, there are still some things I have to look closer to see.’” Kiera paused as she felt her eyes well up with emotion and then settled her head to sit up straight so that her curls could be fixed yet again.
“I’m sure she’s proud of you,” Michelle said and then kissed Kiera on the forehead.
The hairdresser scolded, “Not the hair!”
Michelle apologized and looked at Kiera who laughed at the fuss. “Her hair is perfect. We have to get her dress on her so her make-up can be applied.”
Kiera was pushed and pulled into the delicate fabrics and then she stood perfectly still while a cosmetician was brought in by her mother to apply just enough make-up to mask her flaws without mussing up her dress or hair. The final touch was a coat of crimson lipstick to mimic her mother on her wedding day and match the flowers to be carried in her hands.
Kiera’s mother put her hand to her chest and sighed, “You are simply beautiful my dear.”
Kiera lowered her eyes and said, “My intention was to mirror what you created in your life.”
Michelle handed Kiera the bouquet and said, “Are we ready for this?”
Kiera nodded. Her mother left the room and was escorted to a seat on the front pew by the best man who took his place next to Brad standing before the guests while the soft pizzicato of Pachelbel’s Canon played through the church. Michelle led a stream of bridesmaids, led by ushers to the alter who took their place opposite the men.
Kiera stood in the vestibule and looked at Brad who was looking to the back of the church waiting for her.
Her father walked to the alter, shook Brad’s hand and then walked through the center aisle of the church directing every head to turn with his saunter. He left everyone’s sight. A crescendo trumpeted through the church and the wedding march began. The attendees were silent watching Kiera walk through the church. She kept her eyes on Brad while her father supported her arm. She climbed the stairs, kissed her father’s cheek and he left her side to return to his wife in the first pew looking at his daughter with a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat.
The ceremony was traditional with a priest giving time for the recitation of the vows both Brad and Kiera wrote for one another.
Kiera said, “My other half.” She paused to catch her breath uncertain if she could say her words without breaking down in tears of gratitude and joy. “Standing before God, our family, and friends, I declare my undying love for you. I promise to share everything I have with you, emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially.” The words came in a steady stream as if Kiera knew when she paused she would wail in happiness unable to finish. “I vow to continue being, a constant friend and faithful partner, offering a solemn pledge to be resolute in good times and bad, sickness and health, in joys and in sorrows, through our failures and especially in our triumphs. I love you unconditionally and support you in your goals swearing to honor and respect you while we share laughter, tears, faults and strengths. I want to be your partner, giving as much as I take. I want to help when you need and rely on you when I need. I move into our life joined together with you and these promises. I am complete with you at my side.”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Brad and Kiera practiced their kiss more than they practiced their vows. This was the performance for their friends and family.
[More here of course…]
“I wish I brought my dress to get photos of me with the backdrop of these mountains,” Kiera said.
“Maybe we could do a photo shoot with you like this,” Brad joked, pulling her naked body close to his.
She swatted at his chest. “I’m serious! Look at this view.” She wrapped herself in a sheet and stood up against the pane of glass. She knew the air was cold outside, yet she wanted to feel the crisp sting of Wanaka’s breath on her skin.
They had a seven day tour planned in New Zealand including a safari ride. Wanaka, Mt. Cook, Queenstown and Christchurch were the cities she and her new husband would explore.
Brad wanted to spend their first week of marriage at a beach front resort in the states. He did not like the thought of going around the world for a honeymoon in winter. Kiera pressed upon him that this is the one week she gets him all to herself and she wanted him as far away from the world in which they live.
Brad pressed his body against Kiera’s at the window. She felt his heat through the thin fabric of the bed sheet. Slowly he took the sheet off her and they stood naked and exposed to the blue mountains. She turned and kissed his lips and then said, “We’re climbing that today.” The corners of her face pinched up into a smile. She pulled back but Brad pulled her closer and kissed her neck and then moved lower to her breasts.
Brad whispered, “Can’t you just climb me today?”
Kiera laughed and pulled away from him. “No. This is a once in a lifetime trip. I’m not wasting my time in a hotel room.”
Brad bounced onto the bed. He said, “This is our honeymoon! We’re supposed to spend a week in bed.”
Kiera climbed onto the bed and straddled Brad. She said, “We have a lifetime to be in bed together. I want to start this journey with an adventure.” She kissed him and he pulled her onto his body.
He ignored her words and made love to her. She did nothing to fight him and when they were finished, Brad suggested, “You want to shower together to save time?”
Kiera laughed. She said, “I think if we shower together to save time, we’ll be in there for twice as long.”
Brad shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.” He pulled blankets over his body and looked through the itinerary for their trip. “So what are we doing today? Taking this skylift thing to the top of the mountain?”
Kiera jumped next to Brad. “No. We are climbing this mountain,” she said and put another paper into Brad’s hands. “Then we are taking the Skyline tour to an observation deck where we will have drinks in the Stratosfare.”
“Can’t we just take a taxi to the bar?”
Kiera got out of bed as she said, “We are seeing New Zealand! I’m getting in the shower,” she called back from the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
Brad pulled winter clothes from their suitcases and laid them on the bed shaking his head. “This girl with her adventures,” he said aloud and smiled.
Brad’s phone rang and as he answered Kiera came from the bathroom to get dressed.
“Yes,” he said into the phone. “I’m on my honeymoon.”
Kiera growled, “Why did you answer the phone?”
Brad mouthed the words to his bride, “I’m sorry.” He turned away from her and looked out the window to continue speaking on the phone. “I told you I would be available for emergencies. This is not an emergency.”
Kiera went back into the bathroom to dry her hair. As she silenced the noise from the machine, she heard Brad say, “I’ll see if I can leave tonight.”
Kiera couldn’t stop the tear before it fell upon her cheek. She wiped it away and walked from the bathroom with a smile. “Is everything okay?”
Brad nodded, “It was work. I told them to email me and reminded them I’m on my honeymoon.” He kissed Kiera on the lips and then walked into he bathroom to shower.
Kiera looked at the phone sitting on the dresser. She wanted to look at the call log. In an instant she reminded herself that Brad made a promise to her and more importantly, she made a promise to stand by him.
She finished dressing for tour and watched local news waiting for Brad to get ready. His phone distracted her, though. If there was something to hide, he would have hidden his phone. She knew she heard him say that he was going to leave. She had hope that she heard wrong.
“Are you sure you want me?” Kiera asked Brad while he was only half dressed.
He slid next to her and whispered, “You are my wife. I want you forever.”
Kiera zipped her jacket, handed Brad the backpack of hiking gear and let the tension she held from the phone call in the room when she locked the door behind them. The air was crisp and burned their lungs when they took their first breath. Kiera stretched on the balls of her feet and Brad followed her movement.
“Lead the way, Snow Bunny,” he said and held out his hand to allow Kiera to move in front of him.
Kiera pointed to the west. “It seems intimidating, but we just need to climb a few feet at a time. We have all day. If you need to stop, just tell me.”
Brad pulled her hand that was covered in thick llama wool mittens into his. “If you need to stop, you tell me.”
Kiera leaned her head back and looked at the sun. “You know this is not a competition.”
Brad laughed. “What do you mean?”
“I want to just have this with you. If it takes us twice as long to get up the mountain than anyone else, that’s fine. This is the beginning of our marriage. It’s not a race. It’s a marathon.”
Brad sighed. “I get it. I hear what you’re saying.” He tuned to look at the mountain. “This doesn’t look easy though.”
Kiera smiled, “We’ll get through it together.” She kissed him hard and then started the climb.
Both were struggling for air a quarter into their hike. Kiera kept her eyes on the flags atop the Skylift hut but they didn’t seem any closer. She needed to take a break.
“We need to stop,” she exhaled.
“Are you sure?”
Kiera nodded and drank some water. “I don’t know what made me think I could do this.”
Brad pulled the pack from his back. He unzipped the pouch and took out the camera.
“We are stopping for photos. We’re not giving up.”
“I forgot about the camera.” Kiera shook her head.
Brad snapped photos. Kiera laughed. She posed and Brad took close-ups of her face. She pulled the camera from his fingers and took photos of what she saw and of him and of the two of them together, holding the camera backwards. After twenty minutes of playing with the camera, Brad pulled Kiera in to his breath and whispered to her. “We should go.”
“I love you,” Kiera said to him.
Brad kissed Kiera and helped her to her feet so they could move forward to the Skylift.
Kiera skipped the last few feet of the hike. She kicked up snow with her boots and jumped in celebration. Brad caught up to her breathing heavily. She threw her arms around his neck and when she released him, she fell back into the snow without a care. She whipped her arms and legs back and forth making a snow angel. Brad laughed and pulled the camera to shoot a series of photos capturing her joy.
She exclaimed, “We did it!” And then sat up in the snow feeling the moisture penetrate her clothes. Kiera growled as she stood. “I thought this was the bar.”
“I thought,” Kiera clarified, “That we were ready for food and drinks. I forgot we have the sky lift tour.”
“You’re the one who planned it.”
Kiera laughed. “I know. I was so excited about getting to this point, I forgot we had more to do before we could relax.”
Brad wrapped his arms around Kiera. He walked with her to the Skylift hut. He asked the attendant, “How frequently do the lifts leave?”
“Every fifteen minutes.”
Brad nodded and asked Kiera if she wanted a hot apple cider to drink at the fire pit while they waited for the ride.
She warmed her hands and dried her pants from the snow angel.
“You really make me happy,” Brad said to Kiera.
She smiled and pressed her body against his for a kiss feeling his phone vibrate in his pocket. “Your phone is ringing.”
Brad nodded. He said, “I know. But I’m on my honeymoon.”
“Next Skylift seating is in five minutes,” an announcement over the loud speaker sounded.
“Do you have tickets?”
Kiera shook her head in negation.
Brad replied, “I’m on it.”
Kiera stood next to the cable cars.
When Brad returned he gave Kiera a lanyard to wear around her neck. “We turn them in for a free drink and appetizer in the Stratosfare.”
Kiera looked at the Skylift ticket she wore around her neck. She had no trinkets yet commemorating her honeymoon and thought she would slide the ticket into her pocket instead of trading it at the restaurant.
They climbed in the car and within minutes the pulley system went to work with a low hum from the motor. Their car followed a path over the mountains and then through trees, finally over a stream. The tour was not long but it was breathtaking leading them to a platform where they made an egress around a deck attached to another mountain overlooking the waterfall spilling into the stream they just crossed.
Kiera found her way under a heat lamp on the observation deck to draw in the beauty for every minute she could. She turned to ask Brad if he was enjoying himself and saw that he was no longer at her side.
She tried to stay calm but her breath quickened. She couldn’t understand where he had gone. She looked at the path from the cable car drop off to the space she stood. It was no more than fifty steps away.
“He went inside.”
Kiera was startled, “Excuse me?”
Another patron of the Stratosfare pointed into the building. Kiera could see Brad on his phone standing at the bar.
Kiera wanted to run into the bar, grab the phone from his hand and smash it to pieces. She stood and watched him sip a cocktail while talking on the phone. She moved hoping to give the impression she was still looking at the waterfall if Brad caught her looking at him. He just talked. He smiled and laughed. His face grew serious with some words. But, he just talked. Kiera stood wondering why he didn’t have an abrupt message for the caller, I’m with the woman I love. Talking to everyone else can wait.
Kiera felt her pockets for her cell phone. She thought about texting Brad asking him where he was, or a little heart with a note reading, get back in my arms. She didn’t have her phone with her. She wasn’t missing it.
Brad finished his phone call and his cocktail. Ordered two more and carried them outside to share with Kiera.
“You okay?” Kiera tried to hide her concern but it came through when her voice squeaked out the question.
Brad nodded. “Yeah, there were a lot of people from the tour getting drinks inside. I had to wait.”
Kiera smiled knowing he was lying to her. She reasoned that he had his job to care for her and she could overlook his dishonesty if his intention was something greater.
“Let’s go eat,” Brad said and led Kiera inside.
Inside the Strasosfare, the air was warm. Brad and Kiera stripped off much of their hiking gear and left it in lockers between the bar and dining area. It was early in the day and Kiera did not feel hungry, but she wanted to experience every morsel of New Zealand while she could.
Brad took the lead ordering. He chose everything Kiera was interested in tasting on the menu. She smiled watching his mouth form each word and his fingers gesturing to the menu as he spoke. She was impressed with the ease at which he cared for her. She felt so needy in all other aspects of her life. She felt uneasy with making the wrong choices. But in the moments when Brad took the lead she saw that he somehow knew what she she needed, Kiera felt the only decision that mattered was her decision to marry him.
Brad pulled Kiera’s hands into his. He cradled her hands between his and spun her rings on her finger.
“Are you trying to take it back?” Kiera winked and laughed playfully.
Brad pulled Kiera’s hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “I would give you this ring every day so that I could hear you say yes to me over and over and over again.”
A tear formed in Kiera’s eye.
He put her hand back to the table but did not stop cradling it in his. “What are we doing next?”
“Christchurch,” Kiera said.
“Today? I think we need more food and drink,” Brad said. “We’re tackling a whole other city today?”
Kiera laughed. “No. Today,” she said and pulled Brads face close to hers for kisses in between words, “we are going to eat and drink here. Walk down around this mountain and then stay in bed until tomorrow.”
“I like the sound of staying in bed,” Brad said. “Wait,” Brad said and leaned back, “we’re walking down the mountain too?”
Kiera smiled and raised her eyebrows while she nodded.
Brad exhaled a groan. “Don’t they have taxi-cabs or something here?”
“Once in a lifetime trip,” Kiera said. “We’re walking back to the hotel.”
Brad and Kiera ate and drank. They redressed in their hiking gear and then ventured out to the mountain again. The sun was high in the sky and it felt deceptively warm when they first started their trek.
A mile in, they both needed a break. They sat on the side of the trail in a patch of sunlight vowing when the sun moved in the sky, it would be time to leave.
Brad held Kiera in his arms. He wanted to strip her down and make love on the mountain. He understood the majesty of nature before him and knew why Kiera wanted to run as far away as they could from all that was familiar.
Kiera breathed through her mittens to keep the exposed skin on her face warm. She wanted to walk again and get blood flowing through her extremities, but she did not want to leave Brad’s grip.
“It’s really cold,” Kiera finally gave in. The shadows had not consumed their position, but she was ready to get back to the hotel.
“How much father is it?”
Kiera stood, stretched and pulled the map from her knapsack. “About a mile and a half?”
“You don’t sound sure,” Brad said.
“I haven’t done this before,” Kiera said. “You said you were okay with me taking the lead on this trip
Brad stretched on the balls of his feet. He said, “I just want to go with you.”
Kiera smiled. Brads words were all the motivation she needed to keep going. She inhaled deeply, feeling the mountain air cool her lungs and sting in the best possible way. Her arm felt its way under Brad’s knapsack and although through all the layers, she could not feel him at all, Kiera kept her arm wrapped around her husband for another quarter mile of their journey until they came to a fork in the road.
Brad stopped and held Kiera in his arms again. He asked, “You want to turn left don’t you?”
Kiera smiled and turned to look at Brad. She saw the same thing he did. To the left pointed a sign reading The Joshua Farm. To the right pointed a sign reading, Wanaka Inn. Kiera confirmed, “I want to see every part of New Zealand before I leave.”
Brad groaned. “I want to see every part of you.” He kissed Kiera hard on the mouth.
She smiled and said, “Then, you want to see me at a farm.” She pulled out from Brad’s arms and started running down the road to the left.
Brad called after her, “Slow down! I’m coming!” He jogged until he caught up with her and they both caught their breath together walking hand in hand.
The mountain train turned into meticulously placed cobblestones gradually leading to clues they were on the path to someone’s home.
Kiera was in awe how the Joshua family tamed the mountain to live their passion. Milk, she thought, is the first nourishment we know when we come to this world and the Joshua’s have devoted their lives to preparing this nourishment for consumption by the masses.
Kiera and Brad were greeted by a young boy in a thick wool sweater and a thicker accent. “Goats are grazin’. Nan’s in da’ field,” he said.
Kiera nodded and pulled Brad across a field to watch as the goats gnawed on the grass and drank water from troughs.
A woman as broad as she was tall waddled to the couple and explained, “You cou’ see the milkin’ in the barn if you wan’, but ‘dis trip just got out.”
Brad looked at Kiera. She could see that he was unclear of the words hanging in the air. She nodded to the woman, kissed her husband on the cheek and pulled him to the barn she saw in the distance.
When they got to the barn, the smell intensified. Brad held his hand up to his face to filter some of it through his mitten. Kiera drew in a deep breath truly wanting to experience all that the earth was giving to her.
She saw Brad’s discomfort and leaned close to him saying, “Smell me and my perfume here.”
He shook his head and didn’t move his hand away from covering his nose. “We’re gonna face some shit together,” she said and pulled his hand away from his face. “Stay focused on the together part.” Kiera kissed Brad and held her close in an embrace after, drawing in deeply all the scents that made up her fragrance.
Finally he loosened his hold of her, kissed her again and said playfully, “Let’s get through this shit.”
Kiera laughed, threaded her arm through Brad’s and stepped into the barn.
“Nan sent ya?” A woman a fraction of Nan’s size called out from an overhang.
Kiera nodded and asked to confirm, “She’s in the field, right?”
“Dat’s righ’,” the woman said. “You use ‘dat ladder if you wan’ see da’ milkin’.”
Kiera pulled Brad to the ladder and he watched her climb to the walkway overhead.
“Marta,” the woman introduced herself when they reached her side.
“I’m Kiera and this is Brad. We’re on our honeymoon.”
“Newlyweds! We got a couple goats in dis trip dat jus’ started dere family too.”
Kiera smiled. “A trip? Is that a group of goats?”
“Sure is! Ya’ wan’ try milkin’ one by hand?”
Kiera shook her head and said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Brad poked her side and said, “What about that experiencing everything-”
Kiera interrupted, “Alright, yes. I’ll milk one.”
Marta clapped her hands and laughed. “Ya’ can even take da milk she give ya. How’s dat?”
Kiera genuinely smiled. “That’s wonderful!”
“Got some cheese in da’ shop. I’ll show ya’ how we make it. Ya can buy some to take with ya!”
“Yes,” Kiera said, “Let’s do everything!”
Brad smiled and shook his head following behind Kiera who was led by Marta outside the barn to a smaller shack.
Inside was a goat who nuzzled up a baby kid. She looked up at Kiera when they walked in and Kiera knelt down to pet her head assuring the new mother she was kind and was not there to hurt her.
“Dis Codou. My niece named ‘er when she was a wee baby herself.” Marta smiled at Kiera. “Codou likes ya,” she said and squatted next to Kiera.
Marta picked up the baby and cradled the kid in her arms. Codou bleated.
“Ya gotta take da kid away to milk by hand.”
Codou stood and pushed her body against Marta who had a sturdy stance. Marta spoke as if the goat understood the words she was saying, “I know ‘dis ya’ first kid, but ‘dis nice lady wan’ ta millk ya’.”
Kiera was nervous. She said over the bleating, “If Codou doesn’t want to be milked-”
Marta cried out, “She’s a goat! She gets milked!”
Brad grinned and held back laughter.
Marta gestured to Kiera’s hands and said, “Ya gonna have ta get ya hands out if ya gonna milk.”
Kiera pulled her mittens from her hands. She tried to calm Codou by petting her and expelling out pleas of hush like she knew to do with a crying infant. Nothing worked. Codou wanted her baby back.
Marta instructed Kiera to pull on each teat to draw out the milk into a small pail. When it was half full, Marta called out, “Dats ‘nough!” In one motion, she pulled Kiera to her feet and returned the kid to the Codou who instantly stopped bleating.
Kiera stood looking with amazement at the sight before her. She pulled Brad’s fingers into hers and watched as Codou pulled her kid into her arms and cleaned her from head to hoof.
Kiera led Brad to the door of the barn. They followed a path leading to a small shop where they chose cheese and bread to take with them. Marta poured the milk from the pail into a small bottle and corked it. Kiera picked up two wooden goats. “One for you and one for me,” she said.
“What are we gonna do with these?” Brad rolled the little trinkets in his hand.
“We’re going to remember this place,” Kiera said.
The sun broke through the curtains and Kiera’s eyes fluttered awake. She was surprised to be alone in the bed. She looked at the bathroom door and saw it was closed. “He can’t be up already,” she whispered. She got up and wrapped her robe around her body. “Husband,” she sang through the air playfully. “Come back to bed,” she said and knocked on the bathroom door. There was no response. She opened the door but he was not inside.
Kiera saw a note on the dresser and peeled off her robe. She opened a drawer to get clothes with the intention of looking for Brad, hoping he was sending her on a scavenger hunt to find him. Before she pulled out anything to put on to her body, she saw the note in Brad’s handwriting read something very different.
My love, I want to take this adventure with you more than any thing else in the world, she read. Tears streamed down her face, knowing what was coming next in the note. But, I have an emergency at work that I must care for. I will be back for the final days of the trip and we will be together for the rest of our lives. With unending love, Brad.
Kiera read the note over and over. It was never a hunt for her lover. It was only another excuse for the abandonment. Kiera climbed on the bed looking at her naked body in the mirror facing her. She felt more exposed than having her skin show. She asked herself aloud, “What do I like about this?” She breathed in and out and then responded to her reflection, “I like the freedom I have. I like living the experiences without the discomfort of ensuring Brad’s pleasure. I won’t have to wonder if he likes the bus tour. I can focus on seeing the sights just for me.” She sighed heavily and wrapped the sheet around her body. “I do like waiting for him to return. A smile curled around her lips. She liked the nervous anticipation of seeing him for their time alone. “I don’t want complacency. I want the excitement.” She spun the rings on her finger and then touched the diamond necklace she wore around her neck. “And I do like the presents he gives me.”
Kiera stood up and dressed for the day. Her time in the mirror was enough self-encouragement to get herself motivated to finish her trip. She thought Brad deserved some time to himself, away from work. Perhaps the next trip, Kiera thought, will be to a remote area without phone reception.
Kiera packed her things and did the final walk through of the room, double checking to see if she had gotten everything with which she came. She looked at the locked door and thought, Brad should be standing there reminding me of the time as he always does. She looked at the empty space and wondered if she was strong enough to turn the knob herself.
“I’m checking out,” she said to the front desk attendant and turned in the room key.
The attendant smiled, asked her how her stay was with apathy and Kiera smiled and lied saying, “Everything was perfect. Could you call a taxi to take to take me to the train station please?”
“Of course. Where are you headed?”
“It’s lovely there,” the clerk said with little feeling.
Christchurch was much different than the first few days of Kiera’s trip. There was a small town charm in a setting that reminded her of a large city. There was something familiar about everything and yet, nothing was as she had expected it to be.
Kiera wanted to take a double decker bus tour of the city first. She didn’t know what she wanted to see, and thought it was a good way to get an overview of the sights. It was cold, but not mountainous cold in the city.
“I’m checking in,” Kiera said and laid her ID and credit card on the counter of the front desk.
The attendant keyed data into the computer and then questioned, “The honeymoon suite?”
Kiera nodded. “Yes, my husband,” she paused. “I’m checking in alone.” She couldn’t reason how to explain.
A bell boy took her luggage, followed her onto an elevator and led her to her room in silence.
Kiera closed the door, looked around and was overwhelmed. It was the only hotel on the itinerary that she had chosen the honeymoon suite. She wanted to spend as much time in the room as she did out exploring in this small corner. Plans never work out, she chastised herself. Just have to adjust the journey for all the detours. And still, she looked at the candy dish full of heart shaped chocolates, the round bed with satin sheets and the heart shaped mirror handing with a delicate pink ribbon and was uncertain she could handle being only half in a room made for two people who were just made whole.
Kiera took her makeup bag into the bathroom and saw a soaking tub with space for two. She imagined Brad on the one side and her on the other, smoothing the body oils and bathing creams from a basket the hotel left with a card reading, Congratulations!
He said he was coming back, Kiera told herself. Maybe the only thing we will have time for is a bath? The thought made her smile. She dropped her make up bag on the vanity and decided to unpack when she returned.
She layered her clothing and again felt the absence of Brad to ask what he thought of the weather outside. She thought for a moment that it was good snuggling weather and if it becomes too cold in the open air, she would lean closer to Brad for warmth and then laughed at herself for the thought. “It’s just you and me out there today,” she said to her reflection and then left the room.
She asked the front desk attendant, “Does the bus tour start outside the hotel?”
“Just one block south of here. The times are listed here,” he said handing her a brochure for the tour.
Kiera smiled, checked the time and saw she had twenty-five minutes to wait.
She took off the outermost part of her clothing, ordered a coffee and pastry and sat looking out the window. People walked with purpose. A man had a dog on a leash. A woman spoke quickly and gestured with her hands to a friend. A couple held hands and smiled, pointing up at the details of the architecture.
That should be us Brad, Kiera thought strongly trying to send the image across an ocean to her husband.
When the red bus passed, Kiera felt excitement in her belly. She finished her coffee and tossed the cup into the trash receptacle. She put on the outer layer of clothing and hurried down the street to the bus choosing a seat two rows back from the guide.
The bus filled with tourists. She felt like she introduced herself to all of them. She wanted to draw as much from the experience as she could. She found out where some were going and where others had come from. She took noted in her journal of email addresses and phone numbers and even ripped a page with her information to share with a few people. By the time the bus driver started the engine, Kiera felt like the list of things to see and do was too long even without a husband filling in the hotel time on her honeymoon.
The tour started with a description of a mural seen from the parking spot. The rotund guide breathed heavily into the microphone with each pause as he described the significance of each sight, getting the information out as they rode through the streets. There were so many buildings in the process of being rebuilt from destruction encountered during earthquakes. Each had a sign in front showing the building it was before the damage. Many had scaffolding around, showing exactly where it was in the process.
One of the people in the bus seats asked, “Do you think it’s weird that there are so many churches destroyed in a town named, Christchurch?”
The guide turned to the woman with the question, “People say the earthquakes are tests for their faith. If you’re interested in seeing what I think is the most significant test of faith, you should go see the Cardboard Cathedral.”
He continued the tour and when it was over, Kiera asked for directions to Latimer Square from her hotel.
Kiera took a taxi and when she stepped out of the car, she forgot to take the change from the money she handed the driver. She expected to see a temporary structure, struggling against the elements of nature. What she saw was a triangle of faith reaching over fifty feet into the sky. She stood looking at the building with amazement. She pulled out her journal and took notes on what she saw, counting out forty-nine stained glass triangles formed into the multi-colored rose window with images illustrating biblical tales. “Seven times seven,” Kiera said aloud as she noted the significance on her pages.
Kiera walked into the church and was speechless. There were rows of freestanding chairs, unlike the stationary pews in which she was accustomed in churches, an alter that looked more like a modest stage in the back of a bar and on the stark white wall behind, a simple cross hanging over the pulpit.
It was elegant in it’s simplicity, but more than the building’s structure, there was something that filled Kiera standing in the middle of it. She walked down the center aisle to the alter, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face. The illuminations through the colored panes filled the church and she stood in the prismatic rainbow light.
“Is this your first time here?”
Kiera was startled by the voice. She thought she was alone. She nodded but couldn’t get her voice to expel words.
The reverend told her, “There is a service at one, if you’d like to stay.”
Kiera looked around her. She wanted to know everything about the building in which she was standing. She wanted to ask so many questions, but was overwhelmed by its beauty.
“Is this really made of cardboard,” she managed.
The reverend gestured to chairs and the two sat. “In 2011, the church that stood here was destroyed. The parish needed somewhere to meet. But if you’re familiar with our holy word, you know that only two need to gather in the name of the lord for there to be a reverent place to worship.”
Kiera nodded. She felt full of the light shining through the windows. She wanted to know more.
“Shigeru Ban,” the reverend continued, “was invited to create a design for a temporary structure. We expected a room. Possibly a large tent. What we got was a plan to go 20 meters into the air, reaching for heaven itself. I was speechless when I saw how much effort he spent on this pro bono job.”
Kiera interrupted, “He worked for free?”
The reverend nodded. “New Zealand of course paid for the materials that weren’t donated and in the end, the project did cost quite a bit. But the concept,” The reverend paused and closed his eyes. Kiera felt a silent prayer of gratitude leave his thoughts. “The concept of becoming stronger after tested is more important than the money it cost.”
Kiera pointed above her head to the A-frame beams and asked “So these are cardboard tubes?”
“Yes,” the reverend continued. “Each cardboard tube now has been coated with a plastic material protecting it from the weather. In the first year, many had to be replaced. There are structural beams, still made from the cardboard tube, but reinforced with steel.”
“It’s amazing,” Kiera exhaled looking around in awe.
“The tubes are placed with space between them to allow light in. Originally, we relied on sunlight; and honestly, it’s still quite beautiful to hold a service at the break of dawn basking in its glow.”
“And the colored glass?”
“Remnants of the original windows of the fallen cathedral. I like to use the word rescued when describing it. I feel so often our faith is tested and just when we believe our souls to be too broken to stay on the moral path of righteousness, we find some little shard of light that we can hold on to. Some little piece of strength that allows us to remember we are striving for a life in heaven forever after. It’s that little piece of light that rescues us. It’s that little piece of light that becomes our life preserver.” Again he paused and the silent gratitude was evident. “Did you notice there are forty-nine windows?”
Kiera smiled. “I counted them.”
“From the bible, we are taught that when we are wronged we are to forgive seven times seven times,” he said. “Do you understand?”
Kiara shook her head in negation. She said, “Not really.”
“Seven times seven is the beginning of the lesson. It goes on to say, seventy times seven and goes on even further. You see, by God’s law, we are to forgive an infinite number of times. The seven times seven, or forty-nine windows rescuing our faith reminds us that despite the natural disasters, we are to forgive and keep on the path of righteousness.”
Kiera smiled. In recent days she felt her faith was tested. Her faith in Brad, in marriage and even in herself had been tested. She knew she continued on a path to living in eternal grace. She questioned if she could remain at Brad’s side as he seemed to be testing her with his continued absence.
On the day she was to leave New Zealand, Kiera sent a message to Brad as she had every day since he left her alone. He replied in short answers and she was certain of nothing sitting with her luggage packed waiting for the minutes to pass. He was supposed to come back, she thought, and we were going to lounge in the tub for two. We were going to to make love in the honeymoon suite. Kiera tried to remember if Brad told her these things or if she had told herself.
She walked from her suite to the lobby to get a cup of coffee and pastry. She sat in the lobby until a minute before she needed to check-out and approached the front desk. “Are there any messages for me?”
Kiera felt silly. She heard people ask for messages in old movies all the time, but having cell phones alleviated the need to leave a message with anyone but the person with whom one intends to speak. She shook her head and said, “I thought maybe my husband called.” She looked at her cell phone that she held in her hand and lied to cover her embarrassment, “My phone wasn’t working earlier.”
The attendant nodded to convey she understood but made it clear there were no messages for Kiera before reviewing the final bill for the stay.
Kiera took a taxi to the airport and held the hope that Brad was stuck in security or waiting for her at the gate so they would could make the journey home together as husband and wife. He was not in any of the check points Kiera found herself. She sent text after text until she believed that her phone was not receiving messages as she told the hotel clerk. And when it was time to board the plane, she waited until the announcement was “final boarding” before moving to her seat, still believing he would be show up.
The flight was uneventful and when the announcement was made to fasten safety belts for landing, Kiera again felt anticipation to see Brad. She felt the plane touchdown on the runway. The lights were extinguished and wi-fi signals were allowed to be used by passengers. Kiera turned her phone on and waited as people pulled their bags from the overheard compartments, flight attendants collected trash and the people in front of her took baby steps in the aisles making an egress to the front of the plane.
And then she saw Brad’s text reading, I’m waiting at gate 5E for you my love.
Kiera stood and pulled her carry-on bag from overhead. She moved as quickly as she could intruding upon the personal space of other passengers. She wanted off the plane and more importantly to be in the arms of her husband.
Brad stood facing the crowd in the airport, not the airplane chute in which she was walking from. Kiera walked behind Brad and heard him say, “Don’t do anything. I will tell her.”
“Tell me what?”
Brad was startled. He hung up his phone and hugged Kiera. “It’s so good to see you. I never want to let you go.”
Kiera pulled back and then kissed Brad on the lips. She looked at him while he still held her in his arms and said, “Really, what do you have to tell me?”
Brad shook his head. He kissed Kiera again and she felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He said, “It’s someone I work with. It doesn’t matter.”
Kiera smiled thinly. She wanted him to feel free to share everything with her. I’m smart enough to understand, she thought but said nothing.
During the car ride home, Kiera shared highlights from the rest of the trip with Brad. He smiled but seemed distracted. Brad carried Kiera’s suitcases into the house, kissed her on the cheek and said, “I’ll be back around dinnertime. Can you order something so we can eat in bed?”
“You’re leaving?” Kiera was dumbfounded. “I just got here.”
Brad put his hands up in the air, “It’s a work thing.” He sighed heavily. “You, me, food and nothing else tonight.” Brad kissed Kiera.
Brad reiterated, “Nothing else. No tv, no phones,” he smirked, “no clothes.”
Kiera smiled, “Okay. I’ll unpack, get cleaned up and then order food.”
Brad kissed her again and she pulled back away from him, looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you.”
Brad smiled and said, “Thank you for understanding.”
Kiera looked at her suitcases and did not want to unpack. She wanted to throw her suitcases in a closet and forget about her honeymoon. She wanted her husband to be home with her.
Buzz. Kiera looked at her phone and saw her friend Michelle sent a message reading, Saw you got home. And saw Brad leave. Tell me about your trip!
Kiera sent back the message, Come in. Door’s unlocked.
Within minutes, Michelle was in Kiera’s apartment. She said, “I’m gonna hate when you move!”
Kiera smiled. “I’ll still be just this far away,” she said as she held up her cell phone.
Michelle explained, “But I won’t see when you come and go.”
Kiera told Michelle about her honeymoon. Michelle was not shy sharing her feelings.
“He’s cheating on you,” she said shaking her head.
Kiera said with disbelief, “No he isn’t. He had work,” Kiera paused not really understanding why Brad left New Zealand.
Michelle reiterated, “He’s cheating on you. Business is done with email and phone calls. He didn’t have to come back to the states unless he had someone else calling out his name.” Michelle mimicked someone calling out, “Brad, oh Brad, I need you here.”
Kiera swatted at her friend and pleaded, “Will you stop it?” She was embarrassed that she was on the other side of the world and obviously not conveying to Brad how much she needed him there.
“Why would he marry me if he was cheating on me? Dating? Fine. Marry? Why would he say I do, if clearly he didn’t?” Kiera had to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince Michelle that Brad cheating was not a reasonable explanation to his disappearance.
Michelle stayed talking until Brad came home from work. She said nothing to him as she walked past to the front door.
“I didn’t order any food,” Kiera said. “I’ll call for pizza now.”
Brad pulled Kiera close to him and kissed her. “Why don’t you get these clothes off and climb into bed? I will take care of the pizza,” he said.
Kiera pulled away from Brad and smiled. “I need to get clothes ready for tomorrow too. Michelle came right after you left and I was talking all day.”
“I told you,” Kiera reminded; “I got the job at Thru.” She looked into Brad’s eyes and saw he had no idea of what she spoke. “The travel magazine. Tomorrow I start at Junior Editor. You don’t remember me telling you I got the job, do you?”
Brad laughed nervously. “Of course I do. I know you think it’s important to work and be independent.”
Kiera rubbed her fingertips across her eyes. “Please stop talking.”
Brad laughed and pulled Kiera onto the sofa where she fell onto his lap. “I can take care of us.”
Kiera said, “This isn’t a hobby for me. I write. I need to be around other people and live experiences if I’m going to develop characters in my own writing. It’s not about money or being cared for. It’s about sharing my story.”
Brad kissed Kiera and she stopped talking about everything.
“Go do what you have to and then take all your clothes off and climb into bed,” he requested. “I will get food and bring it to you.”
Kiera gave Brad one final kiss and then did as he asked. She pulled a gray trousers and a matching vest from the closet, then chose a sleeveless silk blouse to wear under the jacket. She looked in her jewelry box for accessories and while she was fishing through the box, Brad came into the bedroom, wrapped his hands around her neck and fastened a necklace of agate stones. He held out his hand and said, “I have the matching bracelet for you too.”
Kiera turned to Brad. “These are beautiful. Where did you get them?”
“I didn’t tell you about my journey from New Zealand.”
Kiera felt selfish. Brad had just as much time away from her as she had from him and she monopolized the conversation when they reconnected with her experiences.
Kiera pulled Brad down onto the bed and sat cross-legged on the edge. “Tell me,” she said, giving him her full attention.
Brad smiled. “I got a text and felt it was important to be here in the States. But as soon as I got in the cab to get to the airport, it was as if the world put hundreds of obstacles in my path telling me to just turn back and stay with you.”
“But, you didn’t listen,” Kiera smirked.
Brad smiled, “No. And right now I know I should have.”
Kiera looked down at her wrist and saw the sun rays from the window catch the stones. She sighed wanting the light it drew in to stay within her. She believed if she allowed, Brad could at least provide the means to fill her with light.
“The cab got a flat tire and we had to stop. The driver was like a hundred years old and couldn’t change the flat himself. So I asked to call a different car. His name was Mick.”
Kiera smiled. Brad knew she would ask what his name was.
“So Mick explains he takes these shortcuts all the time and his company told him just to drive the streets. He would get in trouble if another was called. He was determined to change the flat. I was worried,” Brad said.
“You were annoyed and angry,” Kiera said.
“The lug nuts wouldn’t budge. I tried and couldn’t get them to turn. Mick used the wrench but couldn’t get them to turn. We were stuck. And we were on one of the back trails in the early morning. There was no one coming if we didn’t call someone. Finally I looked on my phone to get a tow service to come out. Mick, the tow driver,”
“I didn’t get his,” Brad smiled and climbed behind Kiera to cradle her in his arms. “The three of us are in the cab of this beat up tow truck, pulling the taxi with the flat over rocky terrain. The whole ride, the tow driver is asking Mick where he thought he was driving. There are no shortcuts through the mountain. The road is the shortcut. Mick went tit for tat with the tow guy explaining he always drives that road and never has a problem. It’s been a shortcut as long as he could remember. I was definitely with some characters you would have loved.
“When we got to the garage, the tow operator jacked up the cab, fixed the flat and I paid for the service so Mick wouldn’t get in trouble. While I was waiting for the flat to fix, Molly brought me coffee and asked if I’d like to wait in her shop.”
“The tow truck guy’s wife.”
Kiera smiled knowing he asked her name for the story he shared with her.
“Molly tells me that her daughter had been collecting rocks her whole life. She had countless boxes of stones from all over the world. And then,” Brad paused before saying, “don’t cry.”
“Her daughter fell while hiking, bumped her head and has been in medical care for years.”
“Oh my goodness!”
“Part of her therapy is making jewelry and then Molly sells it to help pay the bills. This necklace and bracelet are two of the pieces she made.”
Kiera touched the necklace and felt the connection with the girl even though she never met her.
“They catch the sunlight and remind me of how you stood naked in the windows of the hotel looking at the mountain we were to climb. They remind me of your excitement to live and how you always want to know the details. Without this girl’s story, I would have paid for the tire, gotten another ride and been on a plane. With it, I saw something in each of these agate stones that reminded me of you.”
A tear fell down Kiera’s cheek. “They’re beautiful.”
Kiera woke and saw she pulled out gray clothes, but wanted to wear the agate stones. She quickly found brown and yellow plaid pants and a light olive blouse to wear matching the stones. She was excited for her new job and was pleased she could wear the jewelry to hold Brad close to her in her new path.
She called out to Brad, “Wish me luck!”
He handed her a travel mug of coffee and said, “Do you want me to drive you?”
“Yes,” Kiera said. “But, I don’t want to wait forever at the end of the day for you to decide to stop working.”
“It would give me an excuse to leave on time,” he said.
“You will forget and I will be standing outside my office waiting.”
“I will NOT forget you!”
Kiera sighed. “Okay. Drive me. I get done at five-thirty.”
Brad reiterated, “Five-thirty.”
The building was an old factory that had been renovated to house offices. The ceilings were high and voices echoed as she spoke. “I’m the new Junior Editor,” she said to the receptionist.
“Right through here, Kiera.” The receptionist led her though a large empty space where it looked like a photo shoot was being staged and then down a hallway with lower ceilings, finally to a long room with a conference table. “You can wait in here. I think Regina’s team is going to meet with you and then we can set you up in your office. Would you like a coffee or water?”
Kiera held the cup Brad prepared for her. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Welcome to Thru,” the receptionist said and then closed the conference room door.
Kiera sat in silence looking at the size of the table and counting the number of chairs. She questioned if she was ready for this step in her life. This is exposure, she thought. I’m going to be a part of something greater than I am. I’m going to be responsible for the words people read.
The door opened and interrupted her thoughts. She stood to shake hands with people she recognized from her interviews and some she had not met before.
Everyone sat and Regina spoke, “Kiera, this is our team.” One by one she introduced the people with whom she would be working. She explained everyone’s role and finally the receptionist returned to lead her to what will be her office.
She was alone for only a few minutes when a photographer knocked softly on her door. “Regina asked if we could go through this copy together for some photos of the food truck festival.”
Kiera nodded. He carried in pages, laid it on a large drafting table and closed the door.
“We covered the food truck-”
“I’m sorry,” Kiera interrupted. “In forget your name. I don’t want to work with you not remembering your,” Kiera stopped. She didn’t know what she wanted to say and was embarrassed.
He turned to her and said, “It’s okay. You just met a lot of people. No one told you there would be a quiz. But we jump right in to work here. Are you okay?”
Kiera sighed. “I’m fine.” Her nervousness was apparent. “I just don’t know-”
“My name; right!” He laughed and held out his hand to shake. “George. I’m a photo editor. These aren’t my photos but I pick the ones from the stacks we use after examining the details. Like you work with other people’s words. I work with their images.”
He smiled and Kiera felt her anxiety melt away.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m a little overwhelmed here.”
“Understandable with any new job.”
Kiera looked at the ceiling so her eyes wouldn’t tell her story to George. She wanted to have someplace to go during the days so she wasn’t feeling so alone when Brad was at work. In the evenings she wrote and some nights he was home before she climbed into bed. It was the days that was difficult for her. Aside from that, she knew she could do the job. Words is what she studied. It’s what she worked with. She looked around the office and thought about some personal things she would bring to make the space hers. She smiled, now with confidence and then walked to the drafting table with George and said, “So; let’s look at these food trucks.”
George pointed to the photos he had laid out on the table. “The food truck festival has been going on for five years. This year, there was more participation than ever.”
“Did you go to it?”
George laughed, “I’m in this photo.”
“Of course you are. My brain is still on vacation.”
George said, “You were on your honeymoon, right?”
Kiera spun her wedding ring and smiled. She did like being married to Brad. “Let’s stay focused on work,” she said.
George went through photo after photo explaining why he chose each one for the article. He reviewed the copy that was written about them explaining Kiera was only concerned perfecting the words printed alongside the photos, not the full article.
Kiera examined each photo. She was amazed how something as utilitarian as a truck could hold beauty. And then one photo held her attention. She asked, “When was this taken?”
“Last week. All the photos were taken last week.”
In the background of the photo, Kiera saw her husband sitting with a young woman. Who is that? Why was he at this festival instead of work? Kiera fidgeted with the agate stones around her wrist. She walked to her desk and drank some coffee.
“Are you okay?” George said, “We only have three more photos to go.”
“Who would think it was so much work putting together feature articles, right?”
Kiera said, “I’m sorry. I just got dizzy for a moment. What is the copy for this one?”
George read the words, but Kiera heard nothing. She stared at her husband’s face and wondered what happened in the moments he was there captured in the background.
Kiera rephrased one line for the remaining three photos and George closed up his binder of work.
George stopped before he opened the door to go and asked, “Do you want to get some lunch?”
Kiera smiled thinly. “I’m married.”
George winked and said, “I said lunch, not a hotel room.”
Kiera lowered her eyes. “I’m a little overwhelmed. Maybe another day?”
George smiled and nodded.
Kiera called to him as he approached the door. “George, could I see the photos again? I think I’d like a copy of one.”
George opened the binder again. She showed him the photo she wanted. He nodded and said he would bring her a copy. “First day memento?”
Kiera nodded. “That’s right.”
George left and Kiera made sure the door was closed tightly behind him. She sat at her desk and fought against the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
Kiera’s cell phone buzzed. A photo from her wedding day flashed on the screen. Brad was calling. She looked at the phone and was uncertain she wanted to hear his voice.
“Hey babe. How’s your first day gong?”
Kiera’s voice cracked with the tears in her throat. “I need you to be on time today when you pick me up. Please do not say that you have to work late.”
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
“I just need you to be honest with me,” Kiera said. “When you say you’ll be here at five-thirty, I need that to be true.”
“I promise. I’ll be there,” Brad said. “Did you have lunch yet?”
Kiera shook her head even though Brad could not see her. “Someone from the office asked me to have lunch.”
“Great,” Brad said. “Go take a break. Get some food. It’s only a couple more hours. Starting something new-”
“A photographer,” Kiera interrupted. “George,” she said with a broken sentence unlike her normal speech pattern. “I’ll be working with him and he asked me to lunch.”
“Go get some lunch with George,” Brad said.
“I’ll see you at five-thirty,” Kiera said and ended the call before Brad could say another word.
Kiera watched the minutes tick until her clock read five-thirty. She grabbed her purse from the closet and walked into the hallway. Regina came from her office and asked, “How was your first day?”
Kiera smiled, “It was great. Everyone has been great. Thank you for this opportunity.”
Regina said, “We’re lucky to have you.” She walked Kiera to the door.
George was standing close to the exit and asked, “You coming back tomorrow?”
“Sure am,” Kiera said.
“We didn’t scare you off?”
“Not yet,” Kiera smiled. She saw Brad’s car was waiting in the parking lot. “Have a good night,” she called out and got in to the passenger’s seat.
Brad leaned over and kissed Kiera on the cheek and then asked, “How was your day?”
“Interesting,” Kiera said. “I want to show you a photograph from the story I worked on when we get home.”
Brad sighed heavily. “I need to-”
Kiera interrupted to finish Brad’s sentence, “Drop me off at my place and then go back to work.”
Brad said, “Babe, it’s quarter end. We’ve got an appraisal coming up and a bid in for review-”
“You have a wife who has been left alone since her wedding day.”
“It’s important,” Brad said.
“I’m important,” Kiera demanded.
The remainder of the car ride was silent. Brad pulled into the driveway of Kiera’s apartment complex and she got out of the car without a word, slammed the door and walked into her apartment crying.
She took the photo from her purse, looked at Brad sitting with a woman in the corner and hung it on the refrigerator with magnets. Kiera sat on her sofa watching old movies in sweats waiting for Brad to return.
Hours later, he texted, “I’m finished work.”
Kiera looked at the phone and wanted to respond with indifference. But she picked up her phone and replied, Are you coming home?
If you let me, he buzzed almost immediately.
Kiera knew if she said something in anger he would go to his apartment. She knew if they were going to have a life together they needed to move in together fully. Her eye caught the photo on the fridge. But how can I live with someone who lies to me?
Kiera sighed. She told herself that she didn’t know for sure Brad lied. He may have come back to work and the girl he was in the photo with could be a co-worker. Like George, if I had said yes to lunch. Kiera picked up her phone and texted, Please come home.
Brad walked in the door with flowers for Kiera. She took them to the kitchen, started cutting the stems to put them in a vase and said, “You know that food truck festival down town?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Brad said.
Kiera filled a vase with water and busied herself arranging the individual stems as she spoke. “Today, I reviewed the story that’s going in the magazine.”
“Your first piece! That’s great.”
“I reviewed the captions that went with the photos.”
Brad walked to the refrigerator and put his hand on the door. His eyes stopped at the photo. Kiera turned with the vase in her hands. “Get a beer. That’s what you’re doing? Getting beer or wine to celebrate my accomplishment?”
Brad opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. He put them on the counter and again looked at the photo hanging on the door.
“What do you think of this photo?”
Brad stood in silence.
Kiera walked across the room to put the flower vase on the coffee table and return to the kitchen.
“I think it’s great. It shows the diversity of food offered during the festival and people enjoying each other’s company while they eat.”
“She’s a co-worker,” Brad said.
“This is the work you had to come back for?”
Brad sat at the table. “Kiera, I didn’t say I had to come back to work.”
Kiera’s head dizzied. Her knees felt weak. She fell into a chair and looked at her husband. “You told me you had to come back for-”
Brad interrupted, “For an emergency. I never said I had to work.”
“But you got a call from-”
“From Emily. Someone I work with.”
“That’s Emily?” Kiera pointed to the photo.
Brad nodded. “I wanted to tell you. I just didn’t think I needed to. I’m glad you found out actually.”
Kiera stopped him. “You didn’t think you needed to tell me? I’m your wife!”
Brad sighed. He loosened his tie. “Emily’s an intern. She threatened to go to management if I didn’t-”
“You are management.”
“Kiera,” Brad said, “everyone has a boss.”
“So, you’re dating her?” Kiera shook her head. “What is she going to management for?”
“No. I’m not dating her.” Brad opened a beer and took a big gulp. “Let me tell you everything. Emily came with the pool of interns last year. She was flirty and honestly, it felt good to have someone look at me with desire.”
Kiera frowned. Every time she looked at Brad, she wanted him. If he was with me more, maybe he would see it in my eyes, she thought.
“When I needed grunt work done, it was easier to ask her than anyone else. She wanted to learn. She was so eager to get the job done. And she wanted me to approve; so, she did a good job. Like perfectionist good. Her skirts got shorter and tighter. Her heels got a little higher. She would pull her hair up in the middle of the day so that wisps would tickle her neck.”
“Brad,” Kiera called his attention back to her. “This isn’t helping me understand.”
Brad focused. “I didn’t see it, but she was manipulating the situation. She was teasing me. Seducing?”
Kiera shook her head. “When? Before you asked me to marry you?”
“She started just after we got engaged.” Brad pulled Kiera’s hands into his and felt her engagement ring. “I wanted to marry you. I needed to marry you. You are my wife.”
“Back to Emily,” Kiera said.
“We were working late. We were the only ones left in the office. And she found a formula error in a massive spread I worked on. I reacted. I hugged her. She took it the wrong way.”
“How did she take it?”
“I told her she did really good work and she could go. But she missed the shuttle back to her campus. I offered to call a cab, but she told me she would feel better if I drove her. I knew she was flirtatious, but I had no intention of anything inappropriate. Then I found out she’s underage-”
“Underage? What did you do?”
“Emily’s seventeen. She’s a freshman in college. I thought she was older.”
Kiera thought of when she met Brad in the library. She was a freshman in college. She looked behind his shoulder to the photo on the fridge and wondered how similar the look she used to give Brad was to the look Emily had in the photo.
“She unbuttoned her blouse and when I pulled into the parking lot for the dorms, she-”
Kiera spoke when Brad’s words fell silent, “She forced herself on you?”
“I didn’t stop her.”
Kiera inhaled and exhaled, trying to breathe through the anger and pain.
“A few days later at the office, she said she offered to work on a project with me. She suggested we could pull some late nights again. Working late became the norm with her and when I drove her home, we fooled around some in the car.”
“I tried to stop it, but then she threatened to go to both my boss and the police. She told me she was seventeen.”
Kiera’s vision blurred. She had a million questions and couldn’t find one word to ask any of them.
“I told her there was not proof of the sex and she was eighteen by the time she was making threats. And then she got pregnant.”
“What!?” Kiera stood from the table. She paced back and forth. “You got this girl pregnant? You were marrying me! How could you keep this from me?”
“No, listen. There are rumors that she did the same thing to a few guys in the office. At first I thought she was looking to advance her career. Now I think she’s looking to trap someone into taking care of her.”
“But, you’re still seeing her,” Kiera said. “If you think that your girlfriend is seeing other men in the office and manipulating all of you, then why would you keep seeing her? And why would you leave your honeymoon for her?”
“She’s got my name hostage. I can’t have my reputation at work-”
“You’re worried about your reputation at the office? What about-”
“Her internship is over. She doesn’t work with me anymore. I’m just waiting for her to have the baby so I can get a paternity test to clear my name.”
“And having lunch with her,” Kiera pointed to the photo.
“She called when we were away and said she was in labor, alone and afraid.” Brad looked at his hands. “If that’s my child, even though it wasn’t intended, I have to take care of him.”
“You know it’s a boy?”
“I saw the ultrasound photos.”
Kiera put her head in her hands. “You’ve been through this whole experience with her. I’m-” Kiera paused again unable to form words for what she was feeling. “If I didn’t see this photo,” she said. “What was your plan?”
“I thought if she has the baby and I’m not responsible, I wouldn’t have to-” Brad stopped speaking as he saw the pain in Kiera’s eyes.
“She hasn’t had the baby yet?”
Brad shook his head. “She’s had false labor three times in the past two weeks.”
“If it’s your baby,” Kiera said, “you’re going to leave me.”
Brad shook his head, “No. I love you.”
“I love you too. But, you spent a year of your life with the most intimate things while you pushed me to the side, knowing I would stand by you. She’s bringing something to your life that is more important than I am. And I’m not going to stand in the way of you exploring your feelings about it.” Tears streamed down Keira’s face. She wanted Brad to want only her. She wanted to be the beacon of light in the darkness to which he ran when his busy days were done. But she looked at the photo of the two sharing a meal and knew that her light flickered and wasn’t bright enough for Brad to always see.
“I’m not leaving you,” Brad said. He pulled his chair close to Keira and drew her face to his.
She pulled away and said, “You can’t have both. You can’t have some makeshift secret family AND me. I want to mother your baby. I want to be your only one. I don’t want to share you with anyone else. Suppose we stay together and I have a boy too. It’s soccer tryouts, who do you root for? Whose game do you go to?” Kiera shook her head. “I don’t want a broken family before I have the opportunity to build one of my own. No.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Brad said again.
“We can’t stay together,” Kiera said.
Kiera pulled on running shorts and a tight tee shirt. She laced up her shoes and called Michelle. “What are you doing?”
Michelle’s voice sang through the phone. “I’m on the way to Eric’s family farm.”
“Who is Eric?”
Michelle giggled. “I know I haven’t told you, but you were on your honeymoon when we met and now we’re driving to his family’s buffalo farm so I can meet his parents.”
Kiera said, “That’s great. I won’t keep you.”
Michelle said, “No, we still have like an hour to drive. What’s going on?”
Kiera said, “I was just going running. I wanted to know if you wanted to come.”
“Oh sorry. We’ll catch-up when I get back on Sunday, okay?”
“Sure,” Kiera said.
She wanted to tell Michelle everything she discovered the night before. Her second day of work was little more than proofing photo copy again. She was grateful she was easing into her job with her personal life crashing down around her. Kiera didn’t talk to Brad since he said good bye in the morning when they left for the day in separate cars. She wondered if he would come home to her or go to his apartment after work.
Keira looked at the photo that hung on the refrigerator still. She covered Emily’s face and just looked at Brad’s expression wondering if it was joy on his face that she saw. She covered Brad’s face and looked at Emily. She couldn’t discern what either of them were thinking or feeling.
Kiera grabbed the key to her apartment and stuffed it into her running shorts pocket. She pulled the door closed behind her and started down the driveway of the complex and ran. She had tunnel vision and noticed nothing. She just wanted to expel the energy from her thoughts. Over and over again, she saw Emily hitch up her skirt and straddle her husband in his car. She couldn’t make her thoughts move Brad’s hands to push her away. Kiera reviewed the images she had when Brad told the tale. He looks over and her blouse is unbuttoned. Her bra is one with the clasp in the front. She fingers the clip and licks her lips while Brad is stopped at a red light. Brad turns the car down a dark alley and pulls Emily onto his lap. Kiera stopped running. She held her thighs and doubled over trying to catch her breath. Kiera looked around and felt like she didn’t recognize where she had run to. She wanted to keep going. She was still angry and knew she needed to process it before she said or did something regrettable to Brad.
“Stop thinking about them and run,” she said aloud, stretched her legs and started jogging again.
Kiera cleared her mind. Traffic lights became blurs and she crossed through intersections without looking for cars and trucks. Horns blared and drivers yelled at her to be careful. She ran faster and faster pushing everything from her thoughts.
The sun to the west warmed her skin. She felt the burn in her chest when she couldn’t catch her breath and her thighs were on fire. She ran faster. A truck swerved to miss Kiera crossing an intersection but a white sedan made impact, causing Kiera to fly across the road onto a patch of grass.
Horns blared. Traffic stopped. Kiera heard voices but couldn’t move. She closed her eyes and lay still feeling the earth beneath her and the sun above. She felt at peace.
“Don’t move; I called the police and an ambulance,” a voice called out.
Kiera lay still, closed her eyes and everything went dark.
Kiera’s eyelids fluttered and opened. Her body was sore and she felt pain with every breath. Her arm had an IV tube and she saw the fluids dripping from a pole above where she lay. Hospital? She tried to remember what happened. The machine controlling the IV drip sounded an alarm. A nurse hurried in to care for it.
“You’re awake? How do you feel?”
Kiera tried to sit up but winced in agony and fell back to the bed.
The nurse used the electric controls to move her back to a sitting position. “Let the bed do the work. You’re pretty banged up.”
Kiera asked, “What happened?”
“You have to tell us. We came in on the second act,” the nurse said and winked. “Do you know your name?”
Kiera nodded, “Kiera. There was a truck,” Kiera said. “Or a car?”
“I’ll get the doctor and we’ll see if we can figure it out, okay sweetie?”
Three doctors walked to her bed. “My name is Doctor Grace. You had a pretty big spill. Do you remember what you were doing?”
“I was running,” Kiera said.
“Do you know your name?”
“Well, the medics who brought you here said you had no wallet, no ID.”
“I just went for a run,” Kiera said. “It was a white car.”
“Are you hungry?”
Kiera shook her head. “I’m tired.”
“I imagine so,” Doctor Grace said. “We did a CT Scan and don’t see any internal bleeding. You have quite a bit of bruising and there’s a fracture in your tibia.”
Kiera felt the room spin. She closed her eyes.
“Are you okay?”
Kiera sat still.
“We need to know if you have any family. An emergency contact. If someone could bring your ID and your insurance information-”
“I’m married,” she said. Her head fell back to the pillow.
“Kiera, can you open your eyes for me?”
Kiera opened her eyelids but could not focus.
The doctor pulled a pen light from his pocket. “I think we’re treating a concussion here.” He moved Kiera’s bed to recline further down. “Are you nauseous?”
Kiera said, “No, just dizzy.”
The doctor asked the nurse, “Has there been vomiting? What time was she brought in again?”
“No vomiting. She’s been sleeping.”
The doctor smiled. “You have a concussion. And your temperature is low. Your body suffered a pretty big trauma.”
“It was a white car,” Kiera said again.
The doctor nodded. “I’m going to write up some orders for medications and we’ll see you again in a bit Kiera.”
The nurse stayed in the room. She sat in a chair next to the bed. “I’m going to ask you some questions. They may seem silly.”
The nurse asked what year it was and who was the president. She asked for Kiera’s phone number and emergency contact information. She asked about the accident until Kiera saw in her thoughts exactly what happened before she was thrown to the side of the road. “My husband may not come if you call him.”
“Is something wrong at home?”
Kiera said, “No. He just,” she paused realizing she was lying in a hospital bed with no control. She realized that she couldn’t get through this experience alone, but knew that Brad frequently abandoned her. “He works a lot.”
The nurse furrowed her brow and said, “Why don’t we call him now?” The nurse pulled the phone from the nightstand to sit on her lap. She dialed Brad’s number and waited for him to answer.
“Hi. Is this Brad?”
“Yes,” Brad confirmed.
The nurse looked at Kiera who had closed her eyes again.
“I’m calling from Fairview Hospital. I’m with Kiera.”
“Hospital?” Brad’s voice was anxious. “Is she okay?”
“There was a car accident and she seems like she’s going to be fine.”
Brad insisted, “Let me talk to her!”
The nurse held the phone out to Kiera and touched her arm so she opened her eyes. “He wants to talk to you.”
Kiera shook her head in negation and closed her eyes again. She didn’t want to tell Brad she needed him. She wanted that job to be someone else’s responsibility.
“She’s resting,” the nurse said. “I know this is shocking news. But we really have to ask that you bring her photo ID and insurance with you when you come to see your wife.”
“Yes, of course.” Brad paused and then asked, “She didn’t have her driver’s license?”
“She wasn’t driving. She was struck by a car while she was running.”
He asked to confirm, “But, she’s okay?”
“The doctor thinks she’s going to be fine.”
“Please let me talk to her,” Brad said.
The nurse held the phone out again. Kiera shook her head once again.
“She’s resting now,” the nurse reiterated.
“I’ll be there,” he said.
The nurse hung up the phone and asked Kiera, “Is there someone else you would like listed as your emergency contact?”
Kiera shook her head and closed her eyes.
It was almost midnight when Brad finally arrived at the hospital. Kiera had fallen asleep and woken several times on her own and was jolted awake by staff taking notes about her vital signs. The pain was steady but seemed to have dulled with the hours that passed. She called a nurse to help her walk with the cast for her fractured shin.
“Your husband just got here with your information. He’s just reviewing your record with the doctor and then will come in to see you.”
Did he ask to see me or asked for the paperwork first? Kiera’s thoughts were reasoning the importance she held in her husband’s life. Why did it take him so long to come? “What time was I brought in here?”
The nurse said, “It was just as shifts were changing. I think around seven.”
“And what time did we call Brad?”
“It was around nine. May nine-thirty.”
Kiera got to the door of the restroom and said, “It took my husband three hours to rush home, grab my wallet and come to the hospital for me.”
The nurse tightened her lips and lowered her eyes. Kiera closed the bathroom door behind her and the nurse could hear her sobbing. “If you need me, there is a red button in there too.”
“I’m okay,” Kiera called out.
The nurse stood at the door waiting for the water to stop. She heard Kiera blow her nose and when she opened the door, her eyes were all red.
Brad walked in the room and wrapped his arms around Kiera. She winced in pain. The nurse cautioned about his grip.
“I’ll leave you two alone. If you need anything. Use your call button.”
“Visiting hours are only until eight,” Kiera said when the two were alone.
“I got the call after nine,” Brad justified the time.
“It’s midnight,” Kiera said. “What were you doing?”
“I got here as soon as I could.”
“You flew around the world when that girl called you,” Kiera reminded him. “I’m your wife.”
“I’m sorry,” Brad said and helped her to the bed.
Kiera shook her head. “If you gave them the information they need, you can go.”
“I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m not okay. I was running, trying to process-” Kiera stopped. “I was careless and I ran into traffic. I’m fine. Just stupid.”
“You’re not stupid. You’ve had a lot of changes. We got married. You started a new job-”
“I realized I have to get a divorce.” Kiera’s words cut through Brad.
“Don’t say that.”
“Thanks for bringing what I need. You don’t have to stay here,” Kiera said.
Brad’s phone buzzed. He looked at the screen.
“Is it her again? Is she in labor? Maybe she’s coming to this hospital. You can multi-task.”
“Kiera, please don’t be cruel,” Brad asked of her.
“Cruel?” Kiera shook her head. “Answer your phone.”
“Hello,” Brad said looking into Kiera’s eyes. He paused and then said, “Of course. I’ll be there as soon as I can get there.”
A tear fell down Kiera’s cheek. “I just wonder if there was ever a time when you would have run to me so quickly.”
Brad kissed Kiera on the forehead. “You’ve always been strong enough to not need anyone to run and care for you.”
“I hurt,” Kiera said.
“I know. I’m going to fix this.”
Brad left and Kiera closed her eyes. She thought about Brad’s words. Strong enough. She didn’t want to be strong. She wanted to be loved. He loves me, she told herself. But I’m this whole person without him in his mind. I wanted to be half of him. I wanted us to depend on one another to be pieces of one. I have to let him go.
Kiera turned over in the bed and shifted until the cast on her leg and the pain in her limbs were comfortable enough to be still. She wept in silence until she fell asleep.
“Good morning,” a voice woke Kiera while the sunlight poked through the curtains.
“Morning,” Kiera responded.
“My name’s Steve. I came to see you last night but you were sleeping a lot.”
“You’re a doctor?” Kiera looked at his white coat with his name stitched in blue embroidery.
“Yes,” Steve said. “But I don’t work on this floor. I’m,” he paused and pulled the chair next to Kiera’s bed. “You were jogging. Running fast actually. I saw you run in front of the truck. The truck swerved. I didn’t react quickly enough.”
“You drive the white car,” Kiera said.
Steve nodded. “I didn’t mean to,” he stopped talking.
Kiera shook her head. “I was distracted and wasn’t careful. I’m sorry.”
Steve tried to explain, “I saw all the things leading up to it. I couldn’t-”
Kiera touched his arm. “It’s okay. I’m okay. It was my fault.”
“Well, I came to see how you were.”
“Possible concussion,” Kiera said. “A lot of contusions they said. No internal bleeding, but low blood cell count due to trauma,” Kiera listed the things she heard the nurses and doctors talk about all night.
“And a fractured tibia,” Steve said.
“Yeah, my leg is broken too,” Kiera groaned.
“Do you run a lot?”
Kiera shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I run in spurts. I run every day for months and then I go that long without running at all.”
Steve smiled. “Maybe you need a gym buddy to keep you motivated regularly?”
“And keep me out of traffic?”
“Exactly.” Steve laughed. “I have the police report for you. You never know the complications that comes with accidents.”
“Oh I don’t want to press any charges. I’m glad you’re not hurt.” Kiera paused, “You’re not hurt are you?”
Steve smiled. “No, I was rear ended. My car is hurting. I’m not though.”
Kiera put her hand up to her mouth, “Oh your car! I’m sorry.” She knew the accident was her fault. She wanted to take responsibility but knew she couldn’t afford to pay for repairs to Steve’s car.
“It’s fine. I have insurance,” Steve said. “Honestly, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you slam into the grass and thought your injuries would be much worse. You look like a nice girl. I couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for-”
“No. Stop it,” Kiera said. “I ran into your car. Literally ran into you. This is just a speed bump, reminding me to slow down so I don’t go off route, you know?”
Steve smiled. “I wish my patients were so positive.”
“What kind of doctor are you?”
Steve smiled seeing Kiera had no clue what the word was he used. He clarified, “Kidney doctor. But, I have been looking into bones recently. I want to migrate into research. It’s a lot of work though.”
Kiera smiled and said, “Maybe you can fix my leg?”
Steve laughed and said, “You’ll be running on your leg again before I get the chance.” He looked at the clock. “I have to get back to my patients, but I wanted to let you know that I take responsibility for my actions. I’m going to check on you tell me to stop.” He handed her a business card. “My cell phone number is on there. If you need anything when I’m not around, please call me.”
Kiera nodded. When Steve left, she put the card in the nightstand.
“Hey sweetie,” Michelle kissed Kiera on the forehead. “What happened?”
Kiera moved the electric bed to sit up and smiled. “Hi,” Kiera said to the man standing next to her friend. “I’m Kiera,” she said and instinctively pushed out her hand to shake his and felt the pull of the IV tubes and recoiled saying, “I’m sorry. I’m not at my best.”
“Eric,” he laughed and said. “No worries. I’m just dropping off Michelle, but she insisted I meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you Eric,” Kiera said.
Eric walked over to Kiera and reached for her left hand instead of the right that was busy with medication. He shook her hand and said, “I look forward to spending time with you when you are feeling better.”
Kiera, “Yes, this is temporary. I’m not down for the count yet,” she said and winked.”
Eric pulled Michelle in for a peck on her cheek. “I’ll be back at seven to get you for dinner, okay?”
Michelle nodded and then pulled his lips to hers for another kiss before he left. She then pulled a chair next to Kiera’s bed and said, “Okay, so what happened?”
“No,” Michelle said. “Who is Eric?”
Michelle smiled. “You know I was not looking for someone to care for me.”
“I don’t want to have to worry about someone else. I just want to be free and do whatever I’m doing without asking or telling someone. But, Eric,” Michelle’s words stopped.
Kiera asked, “Eric?”
Michelle focused on what she was sharing with her friend. “I care about Eric.”
“Where did you meet?”
“Coffee shop,” Michelle said. “I’ve seen him for months. He’s been chatting with me and it’s been no big deal. Last week some new guy started working and got my order wrong so I had to stand there a little longer. Eric was there and after the second cup of milk with a splash of coffee, he asked if I wanted to go to a bistro for brunch and coffee. A few hours later, I felt like I knew him for years. And when I went home, I wondered what he was doing. I wasn’t just thinking I’d like to be with him again, I wanted to share what I was doing with him and wanted him to tell me what he was doing. I was watching the news and wanted to know his opinion on the stories. I was going to bed and called him to say goodnight.”
“You’re in love,” Kiera said.
“No,” Michelle said and swatted at her friend.
“C’mon, I’m all bumped up!” Kiera winced in pain and laughed at the same time.
“I’m sorry,” Michelle said. “Is this love? It feels,” she paused, “It feels kind of great! This is what people are looking for. This is what people want.” She nodded. “I was wrong. If this is what you get with Brad when he is around, I understand why you put up with him leaving you alone for long stretches of time.”
Kiera’s smile thinned.
Michelle kept talking, “It’s probably just hormones and stuff, right?”
Kiera said, “There’s the cynic. I knew she was just tucked away and not gone for good.”
Michelle continues, “But it’s great! Eric is amazing. His parent have this buffalo farm. And we jsut spent the weekend there. That’s why he dropped me off. We’re on the way back. Kiera, I just gave him the keys to my house to drop off my luggage for me! I’m an open book with him. It’s-”
Kiera interrupted, “It’s startling what you will do for someone you love isn’t it?”
Michelle didn’t respond to Kiera’s question. Instead she digressed to the accident, “Enough of that. What happened to you?”
Kiera said, “Well, it’s kind of the same thing I guess.”
Michelle replied, “The same as what?”
“Love,” Kiera said. “I was distracted thinking about Brad and ran into a car.”
“You ran into the car? The car didn’t run into you?”
Kiera nodded and smiled. “Like I said, I was the one not paying attention.”
“Did they stop? Do they know you’re in the hospital? Are you going to sue them? Honey, I would make them pay-”
“Listen,” Kiera said, “Brad just told me,” she pursed her lips. “Listen to what happened.” She sighed heavily and then continued, “I told you he left me alone on my honeymoon, right?”
“Yeah, what an-”
“Michelle, just listen,” Kiera interrupted. “When I got back, I started my new job at Thru,”
“How’s that going? Do they know you’re in here?”
Kiera closed her mouth and sat quietly.
Michelle realized she interrupted again and gestured like she was closing a zipper on her lips while leaning back in the chair.
“I had to proof some captions for photographs. Brad’s in one of the photos!”
Michelle’s eyes widened, but she didn’t say a word.
“I ask him about it and the girl he is with in the photo worked with him. No big deal right? Except the photo was taken while I was on my honeymoon!”
Michelle covered her mouth with her hands.
“So, Emily is pregnant. And it turns out that the baby she is carrying may or may not be my husband’s,” Kiera paused waiting for Michelle to react.
Michelle sat with her hand over her mouth ready to burst with her opinions and harsh words.
Kiera asked, “You’ve got nothin’ to say about that? Okay, let me continue. Emily is eighteen now, but at the time of her encounter with my husband, she was underage. Your comments,” Kiera finished up and gestured toward Michelle.
Michelle took a breath. She shook her head and said, “I told you he was cheating on you. So, he’s gonna play house with this little girl now or is he staying with you and just sending support checks? What a scumbag! I told you something wasn’t right with all the time he’s gone. This is what falling in love does to you. So you were upset he was cheating on you and,” Michelle paused. “Oh, you called me to go running with you and I wasn’t there for you. I’m so sorry!”
A tear rolled in the corner of Kiera’s eye. “No, I was fine alone.” She tried to smile. “I’m always alone, right?”
Michelle said, “But you shouldn’t be. You are beautiful and smart and do so much for Brad and he is an idiot for going to someone else. What was he looking for?”
Kiera shrugged her shoulders. “You know, you could be perfect and the one you’re with just wants a vacation.”
Michelle exploded, “Jerk!”
“And the cheating. I could forgive that. Not easily,” Kiera said with gravity, “But, I think it’s something I could understand. A child though? He may have a child with this woman. He may have a son who should be able to rely on his father. And whether Brad chooses to be a part of his life and in what capacity is up to him.” Kiera shook her head. “I’m not going to stand in the way of that. And, I’m not going to let the thought of him prioritizing his son interrupt the family I want.”
Michelle said, “It sounds like you’ve thought about this a lot.”
Kierra nodded. “I’m ashamed to say when I ran into the car, I was thinking about the cheating. But since I’ve been lying in this bed alone I realized there is so much more to this than him putting his hands,” Kiera paused before anger came through her words. “I love him. And his behavior doesn’t change that love I have. But it does change how I have to react to him. He doesn’t want it, but I’m filing for an annulment when I get out of here.”
“What do you mean, he doesn’t want it?”
“He keeps telling me he’s not going to leave me.” Kiera considered, “I guess he loves me too and he doesn’t know how to process being without me.”
“He didn’t want you. He wanted-”
“It seems like it was situational and she manipulated-”
“Don’t justify it,” Michelle said.
“I can’t justify,” Kiera said, “I can see what happened, but, justifying,” she paused and then said, “No.”
The door opened. “Hello Kiera,” a nurse said. “I have to check your vital signs.”
Kiera held out her arm so the nurse could wrap the blood pressure cuff around her bicep, attach a clip to her finger to read oxygen levels, and put a thermometer in her mouth for her temperature.
“Kiera?” Steve walked in the room. “My shift is,” he paused seeing Michelle sitting in the chair.
The nurse said numbers aloud while she recorded them on Kiera’s medical records.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Steve said.
“This is Steve,” Kiera introduced him. “And, this is my friend Michelle.”
Kiera smiled and said, “Steve called the ambulance,”
Michelle stood up and interrupted, “Oh thank God you were there!”
Steve looked down and said, “Yeah, without me, Kiera wouldn’t be,”
Kiera interrupted and said, “Steve called the ambulance after he hit me with his car.”
Michelle was taken aback. “YOU did this,” she said and gestured toward Kiera’s bed.
Kiera laughed. “I did this! I told you I was completely distracted and ran into the street.”
“Well, you had a good reason to be distracted, thinking about,” she paused realizing Kiera may not want her husband’s indiscretions mentioned.
Kiera reached to Michelle’s arm. “Honey, shut up. Just shut up.” She turned to Steve and said, “My friend has control issues when it comes to talking.”
Steve smiled. “It’s okay. I told you I take responsibility for my actions.”
Kiera said, “Steve is a doctor here and has come to see me every day. He’s not even going to make me pay for the damage to his car.”
Kiera winked at Steve who smiled.
Steve said, “I don’t mean to interrupt your visit. I just wanted to check on you. I hear tomorrow may be the day you go.”
Kiera straightened up in the bed, “Really?”
Steve nodded. “It’s in your charts. They are waiting for some blood results. And you have a little work to do to get back to a hundred percent, but your progress has been fast.”
Kiera leaned back in the bed. Her head dizzied from the concussion. She didn’t want to tell Steve she couldn’t sit without support for very long. Although he wasn’t her doctor, she understood that a comment from him to a colleague could delay her discharge. She said, “I’ll do what I have to.”
Steve leaned into Kiera and said quietly, “I hope you let me check in on you after you get out as well.”
Kiera smiled. “I expect you to.”
Steve left and closed the door behind him leaving Michelle and Kiera alone again.
“Oh my! You’re gonna get with that doctor, aren’t you?”
Kiera shook her head and laughed. “No.”
“Doctor Rebound, at your service,” Michelle said.
Kiera said, “He’s very sweet. I hate that I messed up his car and can’t pay for it.”
“He messed up your leg!” Michelle poked at Kiera and saw she closed her eyes to steady the spin in the room. “Hey, are you okay?”
Kiera nodded and kept her eyes closed. “I get dizzy. Don’t tell them though. I just want to get out of here and get back to normal.”