The elevator door slid open to reveal a dark cavernous room. Candles dotted every small tabletop, most of which were occupied by young Asian people in twos and threes. As he stepped in, Keith could hear the vaguely sad electronic music that seemed to play at every lounge in New York City. To his right, he saw a bar where dozens of bottles in various colors stood like sentries in front of a mirrored wall. There was a faint smell of cigarette smoke, which surprised him since it had been a few years since Mayor Bloomberg has banned smoking indoors in New York.
He walked in a few steps more and was met by a slim young Asian woman in a black cocktail dress. He thought she was beautiful in a cold and forbidding way, and his opinion did not change when she flashed a tight smile at him.
“Are you alone, sir?” she asked in slightly accented English.
“No, I’m meeting someone here,” he replied. “But I think I’m a bit early.”
“Would you like to wait at the bar, or take a table?” she asked, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the tables.
He looked over at the bar again where several young Asian banker-types with ties loosened seemed to be nursing bottles of beer while two female bartenders were busy mixing drinks.
“A table would be fine,” he said. “I’m expecting a young woman….”
He did not get to finish the sentence, as the hostess turned and walked ahead of him. As he scurried behind her, Keith noticed that he was the only white person in the bar, and most of the other tables he walked past did not seem to feature English as the primary language.
The table she led him to was past the bar, in a corner that was more shadow than light, and he briefly wondered if she wanted to hide the gaijin away. A feeble overhead light cast a pale yellowish light onto the brass-topped table with the obligatory small candle. There were only two chairs. As he sat down, she placed two small menus in front of him, and walked away without looking back.
“Okay…,” Keith said to himself. “So customer service isn’t a strong suit here.”
Why Stacey picked a place like this to meet, he couldn’t begin to guess. Although the dark, overly hip lounges where they served $10 beers and $15 cocktails were exactly the kind of places she liked, he had never known her to venture north of 14th Street except for work. She much preferred the self-aware hipness of Soho and Tribeca, a denizen of its plush and over-designed nightlife, even while making fun of the artificiality of the whole scene. But an Asian lounge on the sixth floor of a nondescript office building in midtown Manhattan? Was this some new phase of exploring the more exotic corners of Manhattan for her?
Keith glanced at his watch and realized that he was early. It was barely 8:00PM and they were supposed to meet at 8:30PM. Holding back a sigh, he picked up the menu and glanced through the list of overpriced drinks and cocktails with fanciful names. At least the menu was in English, he noticed, while also noticing that the prices were in fact more expensive than other hipster lounges Stacey favored. When another beautiful young Asian woman showed up, he ordered a Ketel One martini and sat back in what he thought was a Brno chair, or at least a good replica of one.
He couldn’t wait to see Stacey, but tonight, he was just a little bit afraid to. He couldn’t understand why, but a small voice inside his head whispered caution. There was something off in her voice when they had spoken earlier that afternoon to make the date. She had sounded almost too cheerful, as if she were forcing it into her voice. He closed his eyes and tried to picture her face from the last time they saw each other. He hadn’t slept immediately after last week’s rendezvous; instead, he watched her sleep, her hair tickling his arm. Dark blonde hair with lighter wheat-colored streaks framed a heart-shaped face. The bridge of her nose was sprinkled with freckles — a light dusting, he had called it once, and she had laughed at that. With her eyes closed, her lashes looked impossibly long, and while she was sleeping, she had looked impossibly peaceful. He didn’t wake her then, though he had wanted to just to look into her hazel eyes.
They had met six months ago at a conference on sustainable urban design where Keith had been a panelist on green architecture. She was handling public relations for one of the developers, and had come up to him after the panel to compliment him on something or another he had spouted off. He had noticed her hazel eyes first, fell into their depths, and then and only then saw the ring on her hand.
“Keith, are you okay?”
Her voice in the here and now snapped him out of his reverie, and he opened his eyes with a start to see Stacey Kilmer standing in front of him. Behind her, the young Asian waitress was holding a tray.
“Hey, hey,” he said, half rising from his seat. “Sorry, I must have… oh I don’t know… but yeah, I’m fine. Just… dozed off or something I guess.” He tried to smile one of his crooked rueful smiles that she thought was so adorable.
“I thought I was early, but boy, look at you,” said Stacey, taking her seat. The waitress placed an empty glass in front of him, then took a small decanter and poured the martini in without speaking a word. She then glanced over at Stacey.
“I’ll take a club soda with a lime, please,” said Stacey without looking at the menu. The waitress just nodded once and walked away. Keith could feel his eyebrows rising, as if on their own. Club soda? “So what brings you here, Mr. Wright, and so early for once?”
Keith smiled, this time without trying. “I got out early, for once, and as for what brings me here… I’m sorry to say, miss, that I have a hot date.”
“Oooh, sounds exciting,” she said. “Is she cute?”
“Mmm… I guess you could say that.”
“Is she like, totally hot, like?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d describe her as hot, y’know? Hot is such a… such a loaded term.”
“Hey!” she mock-protested, and he chuckled, then reached across the table and took her hands in his. She was wearing her ring, he noticed.
“I might describe her more as smoldering than hot, I think.”
Stacey gave her one of her little half-smiles and gazed back at him with her incredible eyes. Even in that dark corner, he could see the colors seeming to shift with the flame from the little candle. She had amazing, scintillating eyes, he thought. Those eyes were now playing all over his face, as if Stacey were trying to drink his image.
The waitress reappeared, a silent phantom bearing tray and drink, and broke the moment. The ritual of placing a cocktail napkin and the glass of club soda (club soda? Stacey? he wondered again) on it forced Keith to let go of Stacey’s hands and lean back in his chair.
“Will there be anything else?” she said in perfect English, which surprised Keith a bit.
“No, no, I think we’re set for now,” he said. The waitress turned and left them alone without a word.
He raised his martini glass towards Stacey. “To you,” he said.
“To me,” she said, as they clinked. It was a private joke they shared, where he always toasted to her, and she always replied by toasting to herself.
For a moment, they sipped their drinks in silence, while the music changed to some sad-sounding ballad in an Asian language Keith did not understand.
“So,” he said. “How are you? And what’s with the club soda? I thought you were more of the Veuve Cliquot type of gal if you wanted something bubbly?”
She did not immediately answer, then raised her eyes and looked into his eyes. “Keith, what am I to you?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking…,” he said.
“I mean, what am I to you? Am I your girlfriend? Your lover? A friend with privileges? I’d just like to know what I am to you.”
Keith sat back in his chair. He hadn’t expected this from Stacey, a carefree sort of urban and urbane woman he thought was rather typical of the carefree rich in New York. He knew she was married to some investment banker who made too much money and had too little time to pay attention to his party-loving wife, but she never discussed her marriage or her family when she was with him. And he never inquired.
“Well, I guess you’re my lover, for sure,” he began. “To be frank, I hadn’t really thought about it, hon. I mean… you’re… you know….”
“Married? Yes, I am. And you knew it from day one, right?” she interrupted. “So is that what I am to you then? Just some married woman you’re having fun with?”
“Well, that is…,” he sighed and took a drink. “I don’t know, Stace. I’ve never done this before, you know? I didn’t plan on falling for a married woman, and you never tell me anything about your husband, or your life, or anything. So I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. I’ve just been… I don’t know what the right word is… thankful, maybe? That you’d spend time with me? That you’d call me when you’re feeling… lonely or whatever it is.”
Stacey remained silent, her expression unreadable. Keith felt lost. There were no rules for situations like this. He knew how to have the “State of the Relationship” talks with women; he had had a few of them in his thirty one years, and most of them had gone well. He knew how to break up with girlfriends in a gentle way that kept them as friendly acquaintances, if not precisely friends. But he didn’t know how the Other Man is supposed to talk to his married lover. This was Dangerous Liaisons territory, and one where he was a stranger.
“Stacey, sweetheart, I’m not really sure what you’re asking,” he started again. “But if you’re asking if you’re the only woman in my life right now, the answer is yes. If you’re asking if I’m just doing some playboy thing, the answer is no. If you’re asking if I have feelings for you, that this isn’t just a physical thing, then the answer is yes. But I don’t know how to answer your question. What are you to me? I don’t know — what can you be to me?”
“I… don’t know, Keith,” she whispered. “I don’t even know why I asked you the question, when you’re not the one engaging in mortal sin.”
“Mortal sin, eh?” Keith grinned. This slightly sarcastic, urbane woman of the world was what he was used to. “I suppose I’d be on the hook for aiding and abetting the mortal sin, then. Sort of condemnation by association. At least a conspiracy charge.”
Stacey looked up at him, and Keith was shocked to see tears in her gorgeous hazel eyes. “Keith, I’m pregnant.”
In the ensuing silence, Keith heard the music change to one of his favorite songs. It was “C’Mon Through” by Lasse Lindh, the song he played for Stacey from his iPod on the little clock-radio in the hotel room the night they had met for the first time. The memory flooded into him as the lyrics unwound through the slightly smoky air of the Asian-only lounge on the sixth floor of a nondescript office building in New York City. What she was wearing that night, what they talked about, her initial hesitation at the invitation to dinner, then to drinks, then the boldness with which she invited him to her room, the abandon with which she made love — he remembered it all.
It ain’t so easy
To love you true
A count of all the rattlesnakes
And all that makes you blue
But it’s worth it
I love the thrill
Keith hesitated to ask the next obvious question, realizing just how trite and cliché it would sound. But he had to ask it.
“Are you…” he couldn’t even finish the question.
“Am I sure?” she finished his unspoken question for him. “Yes, I’m sure. I went to the doctor today just in case the home pregnancy kit was wrong. And are you asking if it’s yours? The answer is yes.”
“But we used protection… we were responsible.”
“Except that time two months ago after you finished the Madrid project, remember?” she said. And he did remember. He had finished a major project for a public library in Madrid that was well-received by the clients and the partners. And they had gone out to celebrate, knocking off three bottles of wine that evening.
“Well, that explains the odd drink of choice, then,” he said. If there were other words more appropriate to the situation, his blank mind was searching for them. The silence between them stretched, and Stacey was rotating the glass in her hands round and round, staring at the tabletop between them.
“Stace…,” he started. “I hate to even ask you this, but since you’re a married woman….”
“You want to know how I’m sure it’s yours,” she finished for him again. “I don’t blame you. After all, like you said, I am a properly married woman, even if a cheating whore.”
“I never suggested — “
“It’s okay, Keith,” she flashed a wan smile at him. “I know. I’m calling myself that, because that’s what I am, after all. But let me tell you why. I never told you much about my husband, did I?”
“No, you never mention him, at all.”
“Well, I suppose I just didn’t want to think about it when I’m… with you,” she said. “Michael is sixteen years older than me. He’s been married before. Twice, as a matter of fact; I’m his third wife.”
She paused, then drained her glass of wine. “His first marriage didn’t last four months. It was in college, and they were both young and stupid, and did one of those weekend Vegas trips. That one doesn’t even count, really. But he was married for ten years to his second wife. And they had three children together, before their divorce.”
“Oh, God, I think I know,” he said.
“You guessed, it,” she said. “Michael had a vasectomy after his third child. I knew that when he and I met, and I knew we would never have any children. It’s also why I wasn’t on the pill. How do you explain to your infertile husband why you’re taking birth control pills?”
“And I assume you were fine with not ever having kids of your own?” he asked, fascinated to learn so much about the woman who had been his lover for the past six months.
“Of course,” she said. “You know me well enough by now, Keith, to know I wasn’t exactly thinking about being a mom. I like my life exactly as it is now. I love my job, I don’t hate my husband, he leaves me alone for the most part, and obviously, thanks to him, I have financial security. I have a great life, Keith, and a baby would just… ruin all of that.”
He drained his martini. It had gotten warm and tasted oily going down. But he welcomed it nonetheless, feeling as if the mixture of disappointment and relief matched his mood perfectly.
“So it seems to me,” he said, “that this isn’t a huge crisis, after all. A baby would ruin your beautiful life — I understand. Why were you asking all those… confusing questions then? You know I’d support your decision to abort; I’d even go with you if you’d like. And of course I’d pay for it.”
“Keith,” she said without looking at him. “I’m not having an abortion. I’m keeping the baby.”
All he could do was stare at her, feeling the pressure in his chest seeming to expand. The silence between them went on, and in between, Keith heard the lyrics to the song.
Come, come, come
Come dig right into my heart
“Okay, I don’t understand,” he said. “Help me understand.”
“I may be an adulteress, Keith,” she said. “But I’m not a murderer. What you and I did was a sin, fine; I’ll pay the price for that. But my baby — our baby — is blameless.”
“I’m sorry, babe, but… did you just say baby? Didn’t you just say you just found out you were pregnant?”
“Apparently, Keith Wright,” she replied, “there’s a lot that you don’t know about me.”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
Stacey looked into his eyes for a moment, then buried her head in her hands. Suddenly, the waitress materialized wraith-like next to the table.
“Is there… anything else I can get you?” she said, glancing sideways at Stacey.
“Uh, yeah, could we get a couple glasses of water, please?” he gestured vaguely. “And I’ll take another one as well, please.”
After the waitress walked away, Stacey raised her head, composed herself and sat back in her chair.
“Well, Keith,” she began. “I think this is neither the time, nor the place, nor the company with whom I’m going to have a conversation about a topic like, you know, abortion. But, I understand how you feel about it, so that will be the last of that.”
“Wait just a minute!” said Keith. “What the hell do you mean that will be the last of that? Last of what? If I said something wrong, then, I guess I’m sorry, but… was I supposed to know that you of all people are some sort of a fundamentalist pro-life girl?”
Stacey smiled at him across the table, a crooked, dangerous smile. “Oh, Keith… there’s so much wrong with what you just said, but… I think I’m just going to overlook it. I understand this must be shocking to you.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry about that,” he replied. “I didn’t mean whatever it is you think I meant by ‘you of all people’ and all that.”
“Apology accepted,” she said, as the waitress appeared once again. While she was placing the water glasses, shaking up his decanter, and pouring his martini, Keith heard Lasse Lindh’s voice in the background.
What is the body
If not a place
Where you store all anger
And happiness and pain
But it’s worth it
I love the thrill
He spent the time looking at the woman seated across from him. She was looking away from him, as if transfixed by the sight of New York City outside the grimy windows. He drank her in with his eyes, feeling as if this was the last time he’d see her. A strand of her hair fell across her face, and she absentmindedly brushed it behind her ear — a gesture he had always found incredibly alluring. The freckles across the bridge of her nose were nearly invisible in the dim light, but he remembered them in his mind’s eye. Who was this woman? What was she to him?
He realized with a start that whatever else she was, she was one thing for sure: the mother of his future child.
After the waitress left, he reached over and grabbed her hand, half-expecting her to pull away. She did not, but she turned to look at him.
“Listen, Stace,” he started, unsure of what words would come next from his lips. “I… I don’t know if I’m handling this well or not. But I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you right now. So if I said anything stupid, anything insensitive, well, I’m sorry.”
She did not answer, but continued to look right into his eyes. “So let me try again. Let me start over. I heard you. You are carrying my baby. You don’t believe in abortion. I made a mistake in assuming that you… you know, being a New Yorker… loving the nightlife… all that — well, I assumed wrong. Fine, so I’m over those assumptions. So fine, tell me. What can I do? What do you want me to do?”
For several heartbeats, Stacey said nothing, but continued to stare at him with a look he couldn’t decipher. Then she half-spoke and half-sighed, “Keith Wright, do you love me?”
“Yes, Stacey Kilmer, I do,” he surprised himself with how easily he said it. “I love you. Maybe that’s wrong, but I do. I love you. Always have since the day I met you.”
“Are you in love with me? Even knowing that I’m married to another man?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“Do you love me enough, are you in love with me enough, to let me go?”
Keith slowly let go of her hand, and leaned back in his chair. Then he picked up his drink and took a gulp. He put the drink down again. The moment stretched until it was uncomfortable, but Stacey just looked at him, waiting for the answer.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why am I letting you go if I’m in love with you?”
“Because that’s what’s best for our baby, Keith,” she said, her voice trembling.
“I don’t understand. That doesn’t make any sense!”
“What’s the alternative, Keith? What makes sense to you?”
“Leave him,” he said, once again wondering from where in his psyche these words were coming. “Leave him, and be with me. I’m the father, right? You said, I am this child’s father. Okay, well, let me be the father. Leave your husband, come to me, we’ll get married, and we’ll raise our child together.”
Stacey gave him one of her crooked smiles. “Oh, Keith… I do love you so.”
“Look, you’re obviously not happy in your marriage, or you wouldn’t have gotten together with me in the first place,” he said. “And maybe what we’ve got, you know, maybe it started as just a recreational thing or something, but you know and I know that it’s become something much more. I love you, Stacey . I want you to be my wife, and make a family with me. We’ll move far away, so you never have to see your friends or his friends or whatever. How about San Francisco? How about Australia? My college roommate is in Sydney, working at a architecture firm there. I’m sure I could get a job there. And I’ll design us the perfect house, contemporary, inspired by the Bauhaus movement that you admire so much. It’s perfect! What do you say?”
There was sadness in the smile she gave him then, and Keith felt his heart drop.
“Keith, you’re ever the dreamer,” she said. “I love you for saying what you said, and I love you for making the gesture. But we both know that isn’t going to happen.”
“You know, before I found out that I was pregnant, I used to lie awake at night thinking how wonderful it would be if I were married to you instead of to Michael. I was always afraid that you were just in it for the fun and the free sex with someone who wouldn’t expect anything of you. I dreamed of this moment, when you’d ask me to leave him and marry you instead.”
She paused and took a sip from her glass of water. All he could do was stare at her, feeling the pressure in his chest seeming to expand.
“But once I found out I was pregnant,” she continued, “I realized that everything was going to have to change. Keith, you can hate me if you want, but I want my baby, our baby, to have the best life possible.”
He felt as if here were in a dream. Her words registered, he understood what they meant, but then again, he couldn’t understand what she was saying. She loved him, they were going to have a baby together, and yet… what?
“And why can’t you have that life with me?” he stammered. “I don’t understand. I love you; you love me. I can provide for the child — it’s my child. I might have been shocked initially, but I’m not anymore. What’s the problem?”
“Keith,” she replied. “I know you’re pretty successful. I know you’re brilliant, and I know one day you’ll be wining the Pritzker and traveling around the world designing museums and such. But I also know that today, you live in a rental in Brooklyn, because I’ve been there. I live in a ten-bedroom condo on two floors of a pre-war building on Washington Square Park. My closet is the size of your apartment. I work with developers, Keith, and I know what it’s like to be an architect bidding on those projects — I see and meet with brilliant architects all the time. I see how much you guys have to grovel in front of developers, how much you have to chase after business, how shaky things can be in your world. My husband is a partner at Goldman Sachs, and heads up their international division; he may be in line to be the head of the firm in a few years. Last year, his bonus alone was $35 million. We have a house in Vail, on Martha’s Vineyard, and a villa in Umbria. I don’t fly commercial.”
She pulled her blouse sleeves back to show him her watch. It was one he hadn’t seen before, and even in the dim lights, he could see the diamonds sparkle.
“This watch? It was his birthday gift to me last year. It costs more than you make in a year, Keith, and I have two others like it.”
“So you’re saying I don’t make enough money for you?” he said with far more calm than his beating heart suggested. “You can’t marry me because I’m too poor? You think I can’t provide for you and our baby? That’s what you’re saying?”
“No, Keith,” she said. “That’s not what I’m saying. I think you’d be a great father, and I’m sure you’d work yourself to the bone to provide for your kids, and for me. And I’m not as big a materialistic whore as you might think I am right now. In fact, if it were just me, I’d give up the houses, I’d give up the private jet, all the money, the jewelry, the parties, the dinners, and all of that. I’d leave him, take what I’m entitled to under the pre-nup — oh yes, you didn’t think people like Michael got married without a battalion of lawyers backing up the decision, did you? — and go to Australia with you. That was actually what I was planning on doing up until this week. Because I love you, and always have since the day we met, Keith Wright.”
The silence between them went on, and in between, Keith heard the final refrain of the song, fading into silence.
Come, come, come
Come dig right into my heart
“So you’re saying… the baby changes things,” he broke the silence. “Even though it’s mine.”
“The baby changes everything,” she sighed. “If it were just me, I don’t care about the money and all of that. I’d just want to be with you. But this child, our child yes, but my baby… you don’t know what Michael could do for this child. Doors that you and I on our own couldn’t even imagine will open for this child with one phone call from Michael. I know, because I’ve seen it. You’re going to be a successful architect, Keith; I believe in you. But you’re not going to be on a first-name basis with the President of Harvard. You’re not going to be on the first-name basis with the President of the United States. Michael is, with both men.”
“But you said he got a vasectomy,” he protested. “He’d know the child isn’t his. How the hell do you plan on explaining that?”
“I’ll tell him that I got artificial insemination,” she said.
“He knows he can’t give me children; I’ll tell him that I really wanted to be a mother, so I got artificially inseminated. I’ll tell him that I didn’t think he’d ever give me the permission. He’ll be furious at me, I know, but he won’t divorce me. It’ll be a really rough few months, but he’ll understand. And in time, he’ll come to accept my baby as his own. He’s that kind of a guy.”
Keith could not speak. This can’t be happening to me, he thought to himself.
“And that, darling, is why I need you to let me go,” she continued. “Michael will forgive me for having a child without his permission. He would never forgive me for cheating on him. He’s that kind of a man. If you really love me, like you said — if you’re really in love with me — then you have to let me go and promise never to seek me or this baby out.”
This time, the silence lasted long enough that Stacey leaned back in her chair, but kept her eyes fixed on his as she asked, “Can you do that, Keith? Can you do that for me? Can you do that for our baby? Can you do that for us?”
“I just don’t know what to say, Stacey,” he said. “Give me a minute.”
He got up, drained the rest of his martini, and headed to the bathroom. He locked the door behind him, splashed some water on his face, and stared at the reflection in the mirror. He had thought that he was prepared for the day when Stacey would break things off with him — it was always a possibility, given that she was a married woman. He had also thought that he would be prepared in the event she got tired of the lies and the hiding and the secrets and simply left her husband. He thought he loved Stacey, and was prepared to let her go or draw her closer, as she wished. But he wasn’t ready for this. He never had the time to be ready for something like this. He couldn’t imagine anyone could ever be ready for something like this.
He, Keith Wright, was going to be a father. There would be another human being with his blood running through his or her veins. And at the same time, he realized Stacey desperately wanted him not to be the father. He stood to lose both his lover and his child.
But what was the alternative? He could refuse to go along with Stacey’s crazy request. What then? His relationship with Stacey would be over tonight, one way or the other. They would stop seeing each other, either agreeably as part of her scheme, or out of anger, if he refused. And what of the child? Perhaps he could sue for joint custody — but was he prepared to be a part-time single dad? And ruin Stacey’s life in the process to boot? It wasn’t as if this child was something he had planned for or wanted. His career was just starting to take off, with major project responsibilities, and his work was just starting to draw notice from the partners at the firm as well as people in the industry. Could he really be involved with a kid? Did he even want to be?
The man in the mirror didn’t have any answers for Keith either. He walked back out into the dimness of the lounge.
“So?” asked Stacey as he took his seat.
“Sweetheart…,” he began. “I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going to come out of my mouth right now, so just… bear with me, okay?”
She nodded and he continued.
“I feel… that what you’re asking me to do is monstrous.” Stacey started to speak, and he held up his hand silencing her. “I understand why you’re asking me, but it’s really hard to take. I didn’t know until tonight that I was going to be a dad. You know, I never really thought about it before, and certainly wasn’t planning it… but now that this… situation is here… I don’t really know how I feel about it.”
He reached for his drink, noticed it was empty, and took a gulp of his water instead. His mouth felt dry, and he felt slightly nauseous, but he kept speaking.
“And everything you told me about your big swinging dick, master of the universe husband isn’t making me feel any better about myself. I work my ass off every fucking day, and I think I’m as successful as the next guy… but you’re right. I don’t know the fucking President. I don’t have millions in the bank and own private jets and the like. I guess I can’t compete with a guy like that; now I know why you’re married to him and not me. But it twists up my fucking guts, Stacey, to think that I can’t compete with a guy like that over my own kid. I’m having a hard time dealing with your saying that he’d make a better father to my kid because he’s got more money and because he knows Obama. That’s fucked up, Stace, it really is.”
“I’m sorry, Keith,” she said. “I’m really, really sorry, but — “
“I wasn’t finished,” he interrupted. “And I love you, Stacey. I really do. I guess what people say about not knowing what you have until you lose it is really fucking true, because I’m losing you, and realizing just how much I love you. So every muscle in my body and every beat of my heart are telling me that I need to fight for you and for our baby. I’m not a fucking man if I don’t, and I really don’t give a fuck how amazing your Goldman Sachs international division head husband is.”
“But — “
“I wasn’t fucking finished, Stacey,” he slammed on the table this time, making the glasses jump and spilling some of the water. “At the same time… my mind is telling me that I should listen to you, and let you go. You’re right about that. Michael could do things for this baby that I can’t right now — and I may never be able to, ever. He’s already made it; I’m trying to make it. You’re right. You’ve seen my shitty apartment in Brooklyn — I don’t know if I could raise a kid in that place. And unless you’re coming with me, I don’t even know how I would while working the hours I have to work right now. Plus, I don’t know that I’m ready to be a dad. At all. So I’d like to tear out my heart, and just stop thinking for a few years, I guess. That’d make it easier on me. But I can’t, so it isn’t, and so what you’re asking me to do is fucking monstrous.”
This time, Stacey said nothing. She just looked out the window when he finished, and he saw a teardop make its way down her cheek.
“And now, I’m finished,” he said.
Stacey sat still for another few seconds, and the teardrop became a stream of tears, which she wiped with the back of her hand. Then she got up without a word, and went towards the restrooms. He caught the eye of the ghostly waitress, motioned her over, and ordered three shots of Jameson’s, and another vodka martini. Stacey had not returned when the waitress reappeared, placed the drinks on the table, and cleared the empty glasses away. So Keith made three more empty glasses, one after the other, in succession. He didn’t want to be merely drunk; he wanted to be oblivious.
Stacey reappeared out of the gloom and sat down, her eyes slightly red, but otherwise composed.
“I know,” she said, glancing at the empty shot glasses on the table. “I know what I’m asking is monstrous, Keith. And I guess that makes me a monster. You’re torn up about it? How do you think I feel? My heart tells me one thing, and my head tells me another. You’re not the only one wanting to tear things out and get wasted, and wish that this was all a dream.”
She paused then, and took his hand in both of hers. “And Keith, whether you believe me or not,” she said, looking down at his hands caught between hers. “I have to tell you that I love you like I have never loved any man in my life. You… excite me. You thrill me. You make me feel alive and wonderful and I love talking to you and I love hearing you talk and I love being with you and making love to you and drinking coffee late at night on your fire escape in your tiny Brooklyn apartment. I love everything about you.”
“But I love this baby more,” she continued, after a short pause. “I can’t explain it, since I know it’s probably just a bunch of cells the size of a peanut or something. But Keith, I love this baby. I’ve never felt this way, and never thought I would, but I love this child of ours more than anything in the world. More than you, even. And I would do anything for this child, anything at all. I would stay with a man I don’t love, and abandon the one I do love, if that meant our boy or girl can have a better chance at life. I’d sacrifice anything for this baby.”
He did not speak, and Stacey looked up into his eyes as she spoke. “Maybe love is sacrifice, sweetheart. Because I would sacrifice anything and everything, including my dignity, for our baby. So yes, I’m asking you to make a monstrous sacrifice, knowing that I’m an unforgivable bitch for even asking you. But I’m asking it anyhow. Can you do this for me, for us?”
Some years later, Keith was working late at the office again when his Google Alert went off on the keyword “Stacey Kilmer”. He no longer liked to keep up with the news from the States, except when it concerned commercial development and possible client work, but he couldn’t help keeping track of her.
It was a link to a New York Times Online article about the off-year elections. Michael Kilmer, it appeared, had won his race for the governor’s mansion in Connecticut in a tightly contested race. There was a photo of him giving the victory speech surrounded by his supporters and family. His three grown children, one of whom had been the manager of his social media outreach, were there standing over his left shoulder. Standing next to him was his beautiful wife Stacey, and eight-year old Alexandra holding her mom’s hand. They looked like the perfect American family, and Keith felt the old pangs return.
At that moment, his stereo flipped to a new song, and the distinctive piano notes of Lasse Lindh’s “C’Mon Through” started playing on his speakers. Keith got up from his desk, stretched his stiff arms out while walking over to the window from which he could see Sydney harbor and the lights of the famous Sydney Opera House. And he listened, smiling the crooked smile that had become his trademark.
It ain’t so easy
To love you true