Asking for it, p.29
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       Asking for It, p.29

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  “I’m not tryin’ to drive!” Geordie bellows. “If you’d let me order some more food I’d be fine. ”

  The manager doesn’t even glance at him. “If he ever comes here alone again, we won’t even serve him. Maybe remind him of that tomorrow. That way he might actually remember it. ”

  With that, the manager walks away, leaving me standing there with Geordie’s weight heavy against my side. He smells like rum. “Thanks, Viv,” he murmurs, giving me his goofiest, most endearing smile.

  “Just get in the car. ” I can see his Fiat in the parking lot. Tomorrow morning someone will have to bring him back here to pick it up; probably that’s going to be me.

  As I head toward his apartment complex, Geordie says, “He’s exaggeratin’, you know he is. Two times I’ve been there. Maybe three. ”

  “But you were going to drive like this, Geordie. You can’t do that. ”

  “I didn’t want to drive like this. I wanted to eat and wait another couple of hours! I’d’ve been fine then, y’know I would. ”

  Maybe he would have been. Maybe the manager was in a shitty mood. And Geordie’s always partied hard without it screwing up his life.

  Yet I can’t help thinking over the last few times I’ve hung out with Geordie. He drank heavily every single time. Halloween, he even lost consciousness at Arturo and Shay’s. We’re not eighteen-year-olds experimenting with alcohol for the first time; Geordie is thirty. He should be past that by now.

  “You Americans. ” Geordie leans back in my passenger seat. The city lights flicker behind his handsome profile. “You’re Puritans, every one of ye. In Scotland, they’d call me a teetotaler. ”

  I went to Edinburgh one summer when I was eighteen, on one of those “if it’s Friday it must be Belgium” lightning tours of Europe. Plus I watched the fishermen at that inn where Jonah and I stayed on the Isle of Skye. Geordie’s not lying about the way they drink. Every pub fills at five P. M. with Scots from all walks of life. Over there, the day isn’t complete without a pint or two.

  You’re overthinking this, I tell myself. This is basically a cultural difference. Besides, Geordie’s been working so hard on his LLM. You know the pressure he’s under. Why shouldn’t he knock back with a drink once in a while? So he got carried away one time. It happens.

  Page 113

  I’ve said things like this to myself before. But tonight is the first time I realize what I sound like.

  I sound like my mom. I sound like Chloe.

  I sound like someone working very hard to deny the truth.

  We get to Geordie’s apartment complex. As I put the car in park, he says, “Thanks, luv. Sure you won’t come up? Oh, no, that’s right, it’s all Jonah now, isn’t it?”

  Jonah’s name feels like a lash against my skin. Yet I stay focused. “Geordie?”

  “Yeah?”

  I take a deep breath. “You drink too much. ”

  He laughs. “I told you—”

  “I know what you told me. But you’ve been drinking harder the past few months than you ever did before. You’ve been drinking alone—and not, like, a glass of wine with dinner. Drinking hard. ”

  Geordie groans. “Ah, Christ, the morality police. ”

  “Listen to me,” I plead. “Geordie, we may not be in love anymore, but you know I still love you as a friend. I care about you, and I want good things for you, always. So I have to say this. ”

  “Say what?”

  Telling the truth is terrifying. It’s a leap off a cliff. I’m going to hit the ground hard. All I can hope is that afterward, Geordie will think over what I’ve said and listen.

  So I look him in the eyes as I say, “You have a drinking problem. ”

  I expect him to laugh at me. Instead Geordie only stares. He’s not used to my being that blunt; that makes two of us. Only now am I finally learning how to be honest even when it’s hard.

  “Please,” I say more softly. “You’re the most incredible person. You can have a wonderful life and do so much good in the world. Don’t let this own you. Stop and think about what’s happening. Get some help. And know that I’m behind you no matter what. ”

  A long moment of silence passes, one in which I imagine him laughing at me, or cursing me. He does neither, only sighs deeply as he buries his face in his hand. “Christ, Viv. ”

  “I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t love you. ” Only as the words come out of my mouth does it hit me that the truth can be a gift of love. That no other gift can possibly compare.

  But Geordie simply steps out of the car and slams it behind him. He trudges into the apartment complex without ever looking back.

  Even our greatest gifts sometimes come too late.

  Thirty-three

  After dropping Geordie off, I don’t return to the studio. My concentration is shot. Instead I head home, take a long shower, and go to bed early. Since Friday night, I’ve been riding various adrenaline rushes, from desire to terror to fury; by this point, I’m ready to drop.

  I slide into bed and turn out the lights, but sleep eludes me at first. Too wired. So I lie there on my side, wearing an oversized T-shirt from a charity 5K I ran two years ago, exhausted, unsexy, and very much alone.

  Alone isn’t the worst thing, I remind myself. My sister is probably lying in the same bed as Anthony right now. I’ll take my fate before hers any day. Besides, at the moment, I need the kind of silence only solitude provides.

  Someday soon, I’ll figure out what to think of all this. I’ll come to terms with losing Jonah, and find out if my friendship with Geordie is going to survive, and hold my own within the new dynamics of my family. Doreen will help me. So everything’s going to be okay.

  I tell myself this. For the most part, I believe it. But I remember how I fell asleep the night before last—how safe I felt in Jonah’s arms. It seems as if I’ll never feel that safe again.

  Right now he’s in his fancy downtown apartment, as alone as I am. I wonder if he’s already taken down my etching.

  Probably he has. Yet I hope he hasn’t. That way one thing I gave him—one message straight from my soul into his—that would live on.

  •   •   •

  My phone rings not long after four A. M.

  Fuck, I think grumpily. Just when I’d fallen deeply asleep. If this is a wrong number, I swear to God—

  But then I remember Dad’s surgery. Panic grips me as I lunge across my bed to snatch my phone from its charging dock. Dad could be okay—Chloe could be calling just to yell about Anthony, or maybe this is Geordie telling me to sod off, or—or it could be Jonah—

  None of the above.

  Frowning, I answer, “Arturo?”

  “You were asleep, weren’t you?”

  “At—four seventeen in the morning? Strangely enough, yes. What in the—” My voice trails off as I realize the answer to my own question.

  Page 114

  Arturo says it out loud. “You told us, when Shay went into labor, you wanted to know first thing. Well, we’re heading to the hospital now. ”

  “Oh, my God. ” As weary as I am, I laugh out loud. “Is she feeling okay?”

  “She’s doing great so far. ”

  In the background I hear Shay yell, “What do you mean great? Something the size of a watermelon is trying to come out of my—ohhhhhhhhh—”

  “We gotta go,” Arturo says hastily. “Come to the hospital when you can!” With that he hangs up.

  Labor can take a long time. Sometimes even days. I’ve spent some time leafing through Shay’s dog-eared copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, so I know the average length of a first-time labor is eight hours. I could certainly go back to bed and get some more much-needed sleep, and I’d probably still make it to the hospital before Shay gives birth.

  Instead I text Carmen. Which one of us is picking up the coffee?

  Immediately she sends back, I’ve got it. See you there!!!!


  Seton Central is all the way on the other side of town from my house, but at this time of night, the roads are empty. I get to the hospital within twenty minutes to find Carmen already pacing in the waiting room. Her outfit makes me giggle—a silver and black San Antonio Stars jersey and hot pink sweatpants—but I’m one to talk in my oversized fleece top and faded jeans. Carmen knows why I’m snickering and sticks her tongue out at me. “Laugh it up. ”

  “Sorry, sorry, I’m tired. Everything’s funny. ”

  And it is. A few hours ago I felt worn out and hopeless, but I guess the baby decided to remind me of all the good things still waiting in the world.

  We drink our coffees and walk up and down the halls, watching the sun rise. Carmen tells me about the conversations she’s had with Arturo over the past few days. “When he finally understood how freaked out I was about my graduate work, he told me I was being an idiot. Which was not exactly a helpful thing to say—but I knew what he meant. And Arturo said neither of us would let anybody down. ”

  “Because you’re both smart, and determined, and probably the two most together people I know,” I say.

  But Carmen shakes her head no. “He said it was because we were the most bullheaded people on earth. If we say we’re going to do it, it gets done. ” She pauses. “Unless, like, a meteor hits the earth or something. ”

  “I think we can give you a provisional meteor exception. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  Shay’s baby might have gotten an early start this morning, but is apparently in no rush. Carmen and I breakfast on reconstituted orange juice and stale pastries in the hospital cafeteria. You’d think a place dedicated to health wouldn’t serve this kind of junk. (Maybe they’re trying to drum up future business. ) We leaf through “women’s magazines” that are all about fugly crafts and baking and seem to be an average of eleven months old. We pace around the waiting room like Ricky Ricardo in that old episode of I Love Lucy. None of it makes the baby come any faster.

  At one point, just to make conversation, Carmen says, “So what’s up with you and Jonah?”

  All my exhaustion seems to descend on me again in a second. I sigh and lean back in my chair. “I don’t know. ”

  “You guys seemed pretty into each other at the party. ” Carmen bats her eyelashes, deliberately over-the-top, in an attempt to make me laugh. “What’s wrong?”

  “He came home with me this weekend. ”

  She sits upright and stares. “Jonah Marks went home with you after your father’s heart attack?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Vivienne, that’s major. ”

  “I know. ” I hug myself tightly, my fingers buried in the cranberry-colored fleece of my sleeves. “And having him there helped so much. But—”

  “But what, after that? You can’t agree on the chapel for the wedding?”

  It’s a joke, of course, but Carmen’s so far off-base it hurts. She understands that I don’t get along with my family, even if she doesn’t know exactly why. This means she knows something of what Jonah’s support meant to me. How can I possibly explain that it all fell apart within an hour? “I think maybe we rushed things. ”

  How inadequate. It’s all I’ve got.

  Carmen frowns, and I know I’m about to get the full third-degree treatment from her—but that’s when Arturo appears in the doorway. He’s wearing blue scrubs and an enormous smile, and while he’s still the same guy I know, he’s someone else now too, somebody new.

  Page 115

  We both get to our feet, clutching hands. Tears well in Arturo’s eyes as he says, “I have a son. ”

  Then we’re all crying, and hugging, and the weary, bitter world somehow feels brand new.

  Visiting Shay and holding the baby have to wait for a little later in the day. Carmen stays at the hospital, but I run a few necessary errands—picking up food for the new parents to keep in their room, putting out their trash at home, et cetera. I even buy a few pale blue balloons and tie them to their doorknob, so the neighbors will know the good news.

  And they’ll realize they need to buy earplugs now, I think as I smile. A newborn is moving in.

  It’s almost lunchtime before I return to the hospital. As I look around for someone to ask about visiting hours, I hear a cheerful voice say, “Hello there!”

  I turn to see Dr. Rosalind Campbell in her white coat and scrubs, looking nearly as tired as I feel. She wears a luminous smile nonetheless. “Hi,” I say. “Everyone’s okay?”

  “Right as rain. A good, easy birth. ”

  Bet Shay doesn’t describe it as easy. Then again, an obstetrician probably has an entirely different frame of reference for this sort of thing. “When can I go in?”

  “On the hour. But the baby’s in the nursery now, if you want to see. ”

  Just the thought of seeing this child—a brand-new person who is half Arturo, half Shay—fills me with delight. “Okay, I’ll head that way. ”

  “I’ve got another mother coming in any minute,” Rosalind sighs. “How do all the babies know to be born on the same day?”

  She waves as she heads off. From her friendliness and ease, I can tell Rosalind still has no idea that Jonah and I have split. He wouldn’t have gotten around to telling anyone yet. It’s hard for me to remember that Jonah and I had our last terrible argument just over forty-eight hours ago. The safety I felt with him already seems to belong to another lifetime.

  No. I’m not going to let anything drag me down right now. This is a special day—the birthday of someone I already love—and that should eclipse everything else.

  I walk to the nursery, which is filled with infants bundled tight in white blankets, their tiny pink faces peeping out. Every single one of them is adorable, in the squished way that newborns are adorable. Like miniature Winston Churchills. They seem identical to me, until I look at one baby and recognize him. Because I know him already, even though he’s hours old. He has Arturo’s nose, and Shay’s stubborn chin, and I would know this kid anywhere.

  When I tap on the window, one of the nurses looks up at me, amused but tolerant. They must get this all day. I point and say, “Can I see him?”

  In response, the nurse lifts the baby up and holds him close to the window. He blinks in the weary confusion of the newborn.

  Nicolas Gillespie Ortiz, I think. Welcome to the world.

  They settle him back in his crib after only a few moments, but I stay where I am. Until he’s taken up to Shay’s room and I can visit with the whole family there, I might as well enjoy the sight of a dozen infants, all exhausted by their long journey into this life. Yet they sleep peacefully, and something about this sight quiets the anger and fear inside me as few other things ever have.

  At one point, a young Chinese man stands there for a moment, looking at a tiny girl very near the window. I remember hearing the nurses whisper about him and his wife earlier: This baby’s a citizen. That means they get to stay in the United States. Which is great for them, I guess. But right now, that’s not what this man is thinking about. Instead he gazes down at his newborn daughter as if astonished to discover just how much love he can contain.

  Someone else walks up not long afterward and comes to stand only a few steps from me. Nicolas is yawning his first yawn, so I don’t turn to see who has come close. Then I hear, “The baby looks just like his parents. ”

  I turn my head to see Jonah. His hands are jammed in the pockets of his navy blue coat; dark circles shadow his eyes. He stands there, awkward and uncertain. Probably that’s how I look too.

  The difference is that I’ve never seen Jonah like this. His confidence defines him; his command of himself is as absolute as his authority over others. Now, though, he stands before me and lets me see how vulnerable he truly is.

  I always thought of Jonah as a strong man, but this is the first time I’ve realized he is also brave.

  “They’re all so new,” he whispers.
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  “Well, yeah. ” My voice sounds calmer than I would have expected.

  “I meant—the world breaks so many of us. Maybe all of us, in the end. But everyone starts out like this. Untouched, happy. Perfect. And we put all our hopes on children, all the hopes we can’t believe in for ourselves any longer. ”

  Page 116

  “Not all,” I say, but I know what he means. “It’s not really fair, is it? We expect so much of them, even when we let ourselves down. ”

  “Who knows. Maybe they’ll do better than we ever have. Eventually someone has to get it right. ”

  If only Nicolas could have that kind of life. For today, I refuse to think of all the disappointments and dangers ahead. Right now his world is only about food and warmth and love. Let him enjoy it.

  Jonah doesn’t seem to have anything else to say yet, so I ask, “Rosalind called you?”

  He shakes his head. “When I came into the office this morning, people were passing around a card for Shay. I signed it, did what I had to do, and then came straight here. ”

  “I’m sure she’ll appreciate that. ”

  “You know I’m not here for Shay. ”

  I hug myself more tightly. “Are you here to . . . what . . . take it all back?”

  “No. I’m here to explain, if you’re willing to listen. ”

  What could Jonah tell me that would make everything all right? Nothing, I realize. But that’s not why he’s here. We can’t fix this; we were smashed up long before we ever met. Jonah only wants to tell me the truth. His truth.

  And I should tell him mine.

  I’ve come to realize that speaking the truth can be a form of love. Maybe listening can be too.

  Thirty-four

  Seton Central is located in a major urban area, not far from a highway—and yet, right next to it stretches Seider Spring Park. It’s a long, skinny green space that runs alongside the winding Shoal Creek Trail. Within a few minutes of leaving the hospital, Jonah and I are walking between trees, next to the water, seemingly away from the rest of the world—even though the distant roar of cars sometimes mingles with the rustling of leaves.

  Pale skin, shadowed eyes, stubble, beat-up jeans beneath his coat: Jonah looks like hell. No doubt I do too. We’re long past worrying about appearances, yet I can’t help but notice.

 
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