At his bedroom window, I stepped behind the heavy, opaque drapes; the kind they have in hotel resorts that you can draw in the middle of the afternoon and catnap undisturbed. I tilted the louver window slightly open, enough to infuse fresh air into the room without letting in too much noise. Outside, the night creatures buzzed and hissed. It wasn’t as dark outside as I thought. The sky had started to turn silver; dawn was breaking. I had a view of his backyard where there was a tree in full bloom. Its flowers were yellow, funnel-shaped, and littered all around its base and the rest of the lawn.
Through its branches, the white light of a newly-installed street light reached me, casting a faint, eerie shadow of the tree against the window. On a powerline just beyond the perimeter wall, two birds huddled together, asleep. There was the dull drone of light traffic on the highway, the odd cock-a-doodle-do of a rooster far away. A chilly draught gave me goosebumps but I stood there a while longer watching twigs and leaves flitter lightly. Even the clouds and the wind seemed to be going somewhere.
Lenny was asleep on the bed. Of course, he would deliver an astounding piece of news and fall right to sleep, impervious to me imploding five feet away from him. I took one last snuffle of the cold air and tilted the window shut. He had obliterated any chance of me sleeping so I looked for something to wear using the light pouring in from a parting in the curtains. His shirt was the only thing I saw draped over a chair. I found my way to the living room and flipped on a light.
I immediately put my back against the wall. I felt like a lioness in the jungle that knows it’s walked into someone else’s territory. I don’t know what I expected. Certainly, there would be signs of her there. For the first time, I was seized by an urgent curiosity to know what she looked like – Lenny’s late wife. There were no photographs of them but her trail was still etched deeply around the house.
The drapes in the living room, like those in the bedroom, had stripes of apple-red and yellow; not as rich as the flowers on the tree outside, more pale, like the walls. They must have been her choice. Against one wall was an ink-black TV stand holding up an equally black 49” TV and silver home theatre – Lenny’s choice. The couches – where we’d tossed our clothes – were grey and boxy, upholstered with wool or maybe acrylic, the kind you would usually see in an executive office – his choice. The throw pillows on them were yellow-striped – her choice. I sensed that stripes were her thing. The carpet on the linoleum floor, where our shoes were strewn, was egg-white. I’m guessing it was his choice, he’s not the one who has to clean it. Which woman would buy an egg-white carpet knowing she’d have to clean it?
I found my way around the kitchen and fetched myself a glass of water. From a window in the living room, I looked out into the front yard. The house was old, L-shaped, and bland on the outside. It was clear that it had been refurbished on the inside in recent times. There was a garage where I imagined Lenny parked his bike even though it was big enough to fit a car, but I didn’t have a clear view of it then because my car was parked in front of it. I drew the curtains, killed the light, and settled on the couch. I watched the room grow brighter as I fell in and out of thought.
There is something about big news that makes it so that you can’t understand even the simplest of sentences. The words come apart, lose structure, and disappear to the place where foreign languages go in the brain. I started to question my hearing. Did he say he can’t have children or he doesn’t want children? And by ‘can’t’ did he mean an inability or a lack of willingness? Or did he say, “I can’t have any more children,” as in he’s already had enough? Was he just trying to manage my expectations? Was that his way of saying that this couldn’t be long-term? I mean the timing was suspect. Expect no less of a guy than to outline the terms of engagement, post-engagement. When it hardly matters! Tsk.
I don’t know how long I’d been sitting there or how long he’d been leaning against the doorjamb, watching me. The room was bright now. The sounds of traffic louder, music playing from a neighbor’s house.
“I woke up and you weren’t there. I’ve driven you away,” he said in a most unexpected and alarmingly needy way.
“I’m here,” I cracked a small, reassuring smile.
“Do you want breakfast?”
“Come back to bed.”
“I can’t sleep.”
“Okay,” he said coming towards me. Lifting my feet by the arches, he settled himself under them. His hands were warm and padded like a cat’s paw. “You want to talk.”
His voice rang between us accusingly, as though wanting to talk was such a woman’s thing and I was supposed to be better than that. I sighed, bit back a counter-accusation that he was the one who ambushed me.
“Tell me now, what you said earlier.”
“I only brought it up because you were talking about a safe, for my gun, in your house.”
“So I did say that out loud.”
“Yeah. What was that?”
“That was practically an invitation to move in!”
“It was not. I was just spitballing.”
“Why does my gun make you so uncomfortable?”
“Do you know how many people end up being shot with their guns?”
“I don’t know, but home gun accidents are a thing.”
“A safe is a big step,” he said after some thought. “I just thought you should know before you invest too much and then we have a problem.”
“I don’t think I understood what you said. Tell me again.”
“It’s like I said,” his face twisted as though he were swallowing rocks. “I can’t have children.”
Once again, the sentence turned into a plume of vapor from his mouth and failed to materialize in my mind.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s my guys, my marshals. Apparently, they’re funny-shaped and I think they’re blind or they’re just not clear on the mission. They don’t go where they’re supposed to go.”
“You’re making it sound funny,” I chuckled. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. I’ve made peace with it,” he said.
“But to be clear, you want children?”
“Angie and I tried for a while,” he said. Her name was Angie. “It didn’t work out and I think I’m done trying for now.”
I tore away from his gaze. Hmmm. Now, what am I supposed to do with that?
“So am I a catch or a catch 22?” he asked. “I can see the gears turning in your mind.”
I chuckled. “You know you’ve put me between a rock and a hard place.”
“A hard place can be just the thing you need.”
“Mmmh but rocks are bad for the back.”
The conversation halted again. An unsettling silence took over.
“While you chew on that, I’m going to make some breakfast,” he said. “Music?”
“No, just play what you listen to.”
He put on a rock playlist – pop and indie rock mostly. There were songs by The Script, One Republic, Imagine Dragons – he was a rock person. He, with his cruiser and the open road, I could see that. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it sooner.
“So you like boy bands,” I teased from the kitchen doorway. He was cracking eggs over a glass bowl.
He laughed long and deep. “Not just any boyband. Rock boybands. That’s a newer playlist. I listen to some of the old ones too. 3 Doors Down, Nickelback, Oasis…Are you a fan?”
“I had a phase.”
“Aaand…Was that also the tattoo phase?”
I laughed and nodded.
“I knew you had some fire in you,” he said. “Where did that girl go?”
“She became a mom. And a woman.”
“Unacceptable,” he said whipping up the eggs. I marveled at how he moved around the kitchen with ease. “We have to get her back.”
I bit my thumbnail. I did miss that girl. He made scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and tea for breakfast. It was delicious, and that was what I should’ve said but instead, I complained that he’d fatten me up with all that butter. We dwelt on the subject of toast, peppered with anecdotes from our childhood over breakfast. Neither of us knew how to address the elephant in the room. I, for one, felt like my thoughts had turned to mercury and I couldn’t hold them. I couldn’t process them.
At last, Lenny decided to take the hit. He said, “Don’t tell me you’re one of those women who think a relationship isn’t real if it doesn’t end in a wedding.”
“What? You have something against marriage too?” My tone sliced through the air. He cocked his head to the side.
“You are one of those women!”
Until that point, I had kept my ego at bay, kept myself from hinging too much emotion on the night we’d spent together. But my ego is like a 1990s barmaid – loud, vulgar, and quick to take offense.
“Is this your long-winded way of saying you just want to be friends?”
“Not if you can accept me as I am.”
“And how’s that, exactly?”
“I’m in a place Em, and I don’t quite know how to put it to you, but this is where I’m at. I have a car in the garage outside that I haven’t driven in almost a year now. I think even the battery died kitambo because I can’t stand to be in it. I hate driving. I’m done driving. And I don’t even want to be in a car unless I have to, I mean I’m not entirely unreasonable. But I get these panic attacks – you’ve seen me have one of them. Remember that night?”
“I carry a gun. I’m a gun carrier. A firearm holder. Now and for the unforeseen future because, sure, people get shot with their guns but you can’t understand what it’s like to get carjacked and all you have in your car is a rungu under your seat that you can’t even reach. I had a rungu in my car that night, and you know I’m a Samburu man. I also had a machete, you know the ones that are sheathed a walking cane? So much good it did me. If I’d had a gun, Em, if I’d had a gun …”
He trailed off. I had started to feel like we’d hit a snag but this was good. He was talking. He was telling me things, making me understand.
“I can’t drive you anywhere. I know it’s not practical to ride on my bike all the time so I’ll ride in your car if Josh is there. But I have to bring my gun. If it makes you feel safer we’ll get the safe then. If you’re willing to put off having any more children. I mean, I don’t know. Is one enough for you? It doesn’t seem like it. I know that after your ex you were hoping for some kind of fairytale where everything goes the way it’s supposed to. I can’t give you that. I’m a biker, so maybe I’ll give you the Biker’s version. Guns, bikes, and no boredom. Never boredom. I’ll protect you. I’ll love your son like he’s my blood and bones. But only if you have enough room for me as I am right now.”
I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about all that, but he seemed like he really believed what he was saying and it gave me all the feels.
“Does it have better legroom than mine?”
“Your car, does it have better legroom?”
“Oh,” he exhaled a laugh. “You know it does.”
“Can I drive it?”
“If I can ever get it to start. But yes, that’s a brilliant idea.”
“Then let’s start with a safe and see how it goes from there,” I said. I was going to need one anyway since Alan would be coming around the house more often and I had a gnawing feeling that he couldn’t be trusted.
It was decided.
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