“Look how big he is,” Ann said as she walked in the front door holding a present. She’d spent so much time picking out a gift for Alan. One that was educational as well as fun. After all, she was considered “Aunt Ann.”
“He’s only two,” Sara laughed, “he really is my little football player.” She and Ann watched Alan as he would walk, fall down, get up, walk, fall down. He was so excited and couldn’t catch up with himself. You could almost feel the clunk when he fell.
“Well, where do you want me to put his present?” Ann looked around the alcove.
“Here, I’ll put it with the others,” Sara said.
“Great. Is Gwen already here?” Ann handed her the gift.
“Yea, in the backyard watching the older kids.”
“I’ll go back and say hello and then I’ll help you.” Ann smiled as she turned around and walked through the house to the back.
“What do you think Ann got him?” Jack came up behind Sara and hugged her around the waist. He loved these parties. They were so adult. Having Alan had certified their “adultness.”
“You were the same way last year Jack. You’d think you were getting the presents!” Sara turned around to look at him. Jack was a wonderful father. He was attentive, sensitive and wise. Every morning when she woke up, Sara thanked the heavens for her small family.
“Hey, there’s a lot of good stuff out there,” Jack chuckled.
“Well sweety,” Sara smiled, “we’ll open the presents in a little bit and you can sit right next to the birthday boy. How’s that?”
“Oh, can I mommy?”
“Silly man,” Sara kissed his cheek, “I’m taking Alan outside.”
“I’ll be out there in a minute,” Jack said, winking at her.
After depositing Ann’s present for Alan with the others, Sara went into the living room and scooped Alan up into her arms as she headed for the back of the house. Alan was such a handsome young boy. He had light and dark blonde wisps of hair, big, oval blue eyes a freckled nose, and traces of dimples on his cheeks. She knew she was biased, of course, but he had all of Stephen’s beautiful features. “There he is,” Gwen said as Sara walked out the door and put Alan down on the grass.
“The birthday boy would definitely like to play some games.” Sara said.
“Paul Junior,” Gwen yelled in the perfectly, prettiest mommy tone, “Let the other kids try now too,” Gwen paused and looked at Sara, “He can be so bossy. I just don’t know where he gets that.”
“I can’t imagine,” Sara replied as they both giggled. Gwen was wearing a long, casual blue sundress with a white t-shirt underneath. On her feet were espadrilles. She was exactly what Sara thought of when she pictured the “all around indoor/outdoor mom.”
“I’ll take Alan over there and teach him how to play pin the tail on the donkey, would you like that Alan?” Gwen leaned down and took Alan’s hand. He nodded his head profusely, nearly dragging her over to the game.
“I have to admit, as neurotic as Gwen can be, she’s a great mother,” Ann commented, sidling up to Sara with a full glass of wine.
“She is wonderful.” Sara watched as Gwen had Paul Junior don the blindfold, get spun around by a friend, and walk towards the donkey with a pin.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something, but I feel weird about bringing it up.” Ann sipped her wine, watching Sara’s eyes.
“When was the last time you saw Stephen,” Ann toned her voice down to a whisper, “I ask only because when I look at Alan, I see how different he looks from Jack.”
Sara glanced around, “I’ve had no excuse to go to New York in two years. That was the last time I saw Stephen. Right after Alan was born. If I go to check the Inn’s, Jack always comes with me now. It’s now a family trip. We’ve also hired someone, a sort of freelance manager, to do it when we can’t, so I’ve had no other reason to go.” “Are you distressed about it?”
“Very. I wrote him a couple of times, but he never wrote me back. I keep a post office box, and I have yet to receive anything from him. He’s either very hurt or trying to give Jack and I the space we need.” Sara thought about Stephen every day, Out of sight, out of mind definitely wasn’t full proof.
“Which do you think it is?” Ann looked around, making sure they were still alone.
“I’d say both. I am sure he’s hurt, but he’s respectful enough to stay away. I just think when he gets out, he’ll want to see Alan.”
“And then what?”
“Well, if it’s the total 25 years, Alan will be about twelve. That’s such a terrible age to be confused even more than kids already are, but at least he’ll be old enough to talk to. I don’t know. I abhor thinking about it.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Ann said softly, “You have plenty of time before that. Who knows what can happen in 10 years.”
“You’re right,” Sara agreed.
“Let’s open presents!” Jack, giving them both a good start, darted out from behind them holding up a video camera.
“Honey, remember, the gifts are for Alan. You can play with them, but you have to ask Alan first.” Sara winked and waved at the camera.
“You two are too adorable,” Ann said.
“They are,” Gwen said, carrying Alan as she walked up to them, “Paul and I were the same way. It’s so great.
“You and Paul are always like that,” Ann commented, rolling her eyes.
“I guess we are.” Gwen blushed.
“Too much mushy stuff,” Sara stated, “Let’s get to those presents,” Sara held out her arms for Alan, “Can you round everyone up Gwen? Ann and I will get the ice cream and cake and all that good stuff.”
* * *
“I am exhausted!” Jack said, plopping down on their bed. His shirt was unbuttoned and flew open as he landed.
“Me too honey. It’s been a long day. I guess when you invite the parents too, no wants to leave. I bet Alan sleeps through the night though.” Sara sat on the bed and rubbed Jack’s shoulder.
“As much as I don’t mind getting up for him, that would be a wonderful thing if he slept the whole night through. I think he has been sleeping longer though.”
“I think so too. You know what, I am going to take a shower. I feel grimy.” Sara stood up.
“Maybe I could join you?” Jack asked.
“But of course my dear.” Sara smiled slyly as she slipped out of her dress. She lay the dress on the bed and started to unstrap her bra.
“Oh, I almost forgot. We got an anonymous present again. I still think it’s one of those nice nurses at the hospital,” Jack said carefully, “I just can’t figure out why they don’t sign a card or anything. It came yesterday, and I forgot to include it with the others.” Jack still didn’t understand why the nurses at the hospital where Alan was born would continue to send gifts, but he didn’t have any other explanation.
“Let me see it.” Sara’s face turned white.
“What’s wrong?” Jack got up and went to his closet.
“Nothing. I’m just a little full from all the food we ate.”
“What’d they give us last year? I think it was a Redskin football jersey. I don’t know how the nursing staff remembered you were such a huge football fan. I’d still like to wear it to a game, but I know you’re saving it for Alan.” Jack chuckled, almost in genuinely and handed her the box.
“I’d like to wear it too. I mean, after all, it’s an official jersey signed by Darryl Green,” Sara smiled, “but that’s why I hung it on his wall. That way he can decide what he wants to do with it. Now let’s see what this is.” Sara pulled a out smaller box from inside the mailing box. It was wrapped in green and white paper that looked like a football field. It even had numbers for the yard markers.
“Same theme this year I see,” Jack said.
“Looks that way.” She unwrapped the paper, carefully, trying not to rip it. She wasn’t the type to save things like wrapping paper or bags, but she had saved the helmet wrapping paper last year that had the football jersey in it for Alan.
“What is it? Is there a note?”
“No note,” Sara said as she opened the box, “Oh look at this,” she smiled, “it’s so cute. He’ll love sleeping with this.” Sara pulled out a huge, soft, furry, stuffed football.
“That’s great,” Jack replied, “Is there one in there for me?”
“Very funny,” Sara laughed, “It’s like another pillow for him. What a cute gift.”
“Yea, it’s great,” Jack said almost under his breath, a little jealous of this fabulous, anonymous gift giver, “I’ll take it in to him.”
“No! Let me. You’ll wake him sweety.”
“What makes you think I’ll wake him?” Jack felt immensely hurt by that.
“I don’t mean it in a bad way sweetheart,” Sara said kindly, “I know how much you love him, but he needs his rest. I don’t think you can hold yourself back from talking to him and playing with him.”
“You’re right,” Jack nodded conceding, “I do have a hard time going in there quietly.”
“And I think that’s so sweet honey,” Sara said. She knew he didn’t buy it. Jack would have no problem quietly going into Alan’s room. They should be going in the room together, but she wasn’t making the offer.
“You’re going in there like that?”
“Why?” Sara still had her bra and panties on.
“If he does wake up, he’ll see you.”
“You are so funny Jack,” Sara leaned over and kissed his forehead, “he’s not going to remember seeing me like this. Can you imagine! He’ll go to a therapist when he’s eighteen and blame his problems on the fact that his mother went into his room on his second birthday in her skivvies!”
“I’m just jealous of all this attention he gets I guess. I read that sometimes fathers are jealous at first of all the time the mother is with the baby, especially if it’s a boy.”
“I could see how that would happen,” Sara agreed, “but it’s kind of a reversal.”
“What do you mean?” Jack picked up the wrapping paper from the floor and inspected it.
“Usually when the son is old enough to understand, he’s jealous of the all the time the father gets to spend with the mother. Wow, and I thought women were petty.”
“Funny,” Jack said as he started to crumple the paper.
“Don’t do that!” Sara yelled.
“What? You want to keep the paper? You never–“
“It’s cute. We can use it again.” Sara grabbed it from him.
“You’ve changed a lot Sara,” Jack paused to look at her, “I guess that maternal instinct comes out when you have a child.”
“I guess. I’m going to bring this in to Alan. I’ll be right back.”
“Then we can take that shower right?” Jack started pulled his shirt off.
“It’s a deal.” Sara walked out of the room and down the hall towards Alan’s room. When she got there, she tip-toed in towards his crib and carefully leaned over and peeked at him.
“Hello beautiful boy,” she whispered. Alan was barely awake with a tiny smile on his face. Sara turned around for a second, putting the wrapping paper on the rocking chair. When she turned back, she slowly brought the stuffed football into view.
“Look what your father got you,” she said almost silently, “I knew he wouldn’t forget. He loves you very much, but we just can’t see him now. To be honest with you, I don’t know how he gets these presents here on time, or how he buys them at all, let alone sending them without return address on them,” Sara said mostly to herself, “but he loves you.” Sara lowered the football carefully next to Alan. His eyes were completely closed now.
“I guess the next time will be Christmas. But for now, at least you know he’s thinking about you.” Sara gently stroked the top of Alan’s head with two of her fingers. Did Stephen really love Alan? Just sending a gift every so often didn’t really count for much. But for someone in Stephen’s situation, it was a lot.
Sara walked back to the bedroom. The bathroom door was wide open and the shower was already running. She unhooked her bra, pulling it from her breasts and slipped her panties off. She walked into the bathroom and saw Jack’s fit body behind the glass door to the shower. She slid the door open slowly and stepped into the tub.
“You’re just in time honey,” Jack smiled.
“I’m all lathered up. Now it’s your turn.” Jack held the soap up.
“You’re a crazy man,” Sara said, turning her back to him so he could soap her back.
“Crazy about you,” he replied, sliding his bubbly hands around her and under her breasts.
“Very Romance Novel.”
“Good. It’s about time.” Jack continued to soap her breasts, carefully moving his hands over her nipples.
“Let me turn around. It’ll be much easier that way.” Sara turned around with a furtive smile, and put her arms around Jack’s waist.
“I love you Sara.”
“I love you too Jack,” she said right before her lips reached his.
“Hello?” Sara picked up the phone in her office. Alan was playing with some blocks on the floor near the desk. She’d been trying to take care of the books for the Inn’s, but the phone kept ringing.
“Is anyone there?” Sara was about to hang up the phone when she finally heard a voice.
“Who is this?” Sara didn’t recognize the voice. She was so busy and needed to make phone calls. One of the Inn’s was expanding, and she was going to take over more responsibility once again, and she certainly didn’t have time for this.
“It’s me Sara,” the voice said urgently.
“Stephen?” It’d been almost two and a half years since she’d heard from him or seen him. The last thing she received from him was six months before which was the present for Alan’s second birthday. She wondered, though, how was Stephen able to call direct from the prison?
“Yes baby, it’s me,” he answered, whispering.
“Oh my god.” Sara stood up abruptly.
“Did I scare you?”
“A little,” she paused, “I’m in shock really. Why are you whispering? You didn’t escape did you?” Sara started to laugh, but then she realized she was nervous, and it just wasn’t funny.
“No baby, I didn’t escape. The parole board let me out last month. I’m working, but I don’t want anyone to know I am on the phone. I only started last week.” Stephen looked around his office. It was smaller than any office he’d ever had in the past, but who was he to complain. It wasn’t jail, and he was lucky to have been hired so quickly.
“Where are you? I want to come to you. I want to see you. I miss you Stephen.” Sara couldn’t hold back the tears. She looked at Alan playing on the floor. He was a constant reminder of Stephen.
“You can’t baby. We can’t right now. It wouldn’t work for either one of us.”
“Why not? You’re free. I’m so happy for you. It’s so much sooner than I thought. I’d like to see you.”
“How’s Jack, Sara?”
“He’s fine. Why?”
“Are you both happy?”
“Yes, very . Everything is going well here. Why are you asking me that?” Sara sat back down in her desk chair.
“Because think about it baby,” Stephen said calmly, “I would be a disruption to your marriage. And you know that. It’s just not a good time.” He hadn’t talked to Sara in almost two years, yet it seemed like yesterday. He had the same feelings for her, but now that he was out; he was jealous of her situation with Jack and Alan.
“You don’t want to see me?” Sara was hurt. He’d been out for a month and this was the first time he’d called. He didn’t even have her notified of the parole hearing. He always had in the past.
“You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to see you. Two years in there without you visiting me was torture. Officer Schuman kept asking about you, and I had to lie and tell him you got a job overseas, and I would be joining you when I got out if it was possible. I mean, two years Sara!” Stephen had to stop himself because his voice was starting to raise, “It’s been a long time. And when I found out I was getting out, all I wanted to do was go see you. It was the first thing I thought of. I wanted to go to you and Alan and take you away with me. But I couldn’t. And I can’t. You are not unhappily married baby. Your life has gone on without me. Besides, I don’t have a lot of money or a house yet even if I did want to come get you. But, like I said, I can’t do that. I can’t disrupt your life.” He’d desperately waited for this day when he would call her. Of course he wanted to see her. To see Alan. Was he an idiot for calling to say that none of that was possible?
“So what’s going to happen? I don’t ever see you again? We get anonymous presents for years and years? You call me once in a blue moon to let me know you’re okay? I don’t think I can do that Stephen. I love you, and I’ve missed you terribly.” Sara wiped tears from her face. This was what torture was.
“Well, it was your decision,” Stephen said curtly.
“Are you kidding me? How dare you! I didn’t know what else to do. Do you know how hard it’s been for me? None of this was very easy, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave you.” She couldn’t control her tears, and when she glanced at Alan, he was staring right back at her. She tried to smile at him, to let him know everything was all right, but children were a lot smarter than adults gave them credit for.
“Mommy?” Alan said.
“I’m fine baby,” she said to Alan, “Go back to playing.”
“I’m sorry Sara,” Stephen said sighing, holding back his own emotions, “I know it’s been hard. Look, I can’t really talk any longer. I have to get back to work. I just wanted to say hello and tell you and Alan I love you.” Stephen looked around his office again, to make sure no one was listening.
“And that’s it?”
“It has to be for now. When things are better for me, then we’ll discuss it.”
“I don’t understand.” Sara was so confused.
“Some day Sara, you’re going to have to choose,” Stephen wiped away the tear that had gotten loose.
“I have to go baby.”
“Stephen! Wait! Please don’t hang up yet!” Sara stood up from her desk quickly as if it would stop him.
“I have to go baby. Don’t make this any harder…Kiss Alan for me…I love you.” And then he hung up.
“Stephen?” Sara knew he was gone, but she kept the phone to her ear and began to cry even harder.
“It’s okay mommy, we can play,” Alan said, watching his mother.
“Oh baby,” Sara replied, finally putting the phone down. She bent over and picked him up, “I love you.”
She held Alan tightly to her breasts, rocking back and forth. She wished Stephen hadn’t called. It just made everything more difficult. The past two years, she realized, had been easy. Safe. And now she had to choose something. Choose what?
Alan finally walked into his mother’s bedroom. He didn’t know what to wear. Mom said to pick out an outfit that he thought was appropriate for a birthday party at a bowling alley. He didn’t know what appropriate meant anyway. He was only nine.
“Let me see dear.” Sara came out of her bathroom, “Well don’t you look handsome!” Sara walked over to him. He actually looked hilarious, like a dull french-fry, but she had to hold her giggles in. She wanted him to feel free to dress how he wanted to. She didn’t want to “make” him do things, and picking his clothes out for him and telling him what to wear was one of them.
“Really?” Alan smiled, his already sleek smile. His hair was still blonde and thick, and his eyes stayed the same baby, blue color they were when he was born.
“Really darling. Maybe you could also wear that blue shirt we bought last week because I think the tan one you’re wearing might be dirty. But that’s up to you honey.” Sara figured she could at least make suggestions.
“But I thought tan went with tan pants?”
“Well, that’s fine too. But blue looks good with tan too. You could wear the tan one tomorrow if you like.”
“I’m gonna try the blue one on right now!” Alan ran out of the room. Sara wondered if she had actually manipulated him. Probably a little. She did want him to look nice. She couldn’t help that. But she knew if he’d decided to keep the tan shirt on, she would’ve let it go. After all, he was a kid. It didn’t really matter what he wore.
“What do you think mommy?” Alan ran back in the room.
“What do you think Alan?”
“It looks ok.”
“Well then, I think it looks ok too. Shall we go downstairs? Aunt Gwen will be here to pick you up any minute for the party.” Sara took Alan’s hand and they walked out of the bedroom. Alan still held her hand which made her happy and sad at the same time. She was happy because he was her little baby, and she loved touching him and holding him, but she was sad because she knew how close he was to the “my parents embarrass the hell out of me stage.”
As they approached the bottom of the steps, the doorbell rang . Alan ran to the closet to get his jacket as Sara went to answer the door.
“Mommy? I can’t zip the jacket. Can you help me?” Alan was still behind the closet door, struggling with his zipper. When Sara didn’t answer, he walked around the door and came up beside her.
“Stephen,” Sara finally whispered. It was so hard to get his name out of her mouth.
“Who’s that mommy?”
“It’s no, um, a friend sweety. Let me see your jacket.” Sara had to look away from Stephen. Maybe after she zipped Alan’s jacket, she would turn around towards the door and there would be no one there, or it would be really be Gwen instead. She had to be hallucinating. She zipped the jacket up and slowly turned around. Stephen was still there. He looked a lot older, but he was still a knock out. He didn’t have quite as much hair, and he definitely had some crinkles in his face, but he was still so beautiful to look at. She was truly stunned.
“Hi Sara,” he said softly. He thought she looked tired, although she didn’t seem to age. But the tired look was more a type of satisfaction that most people didn’t have. She looked content and comfortable, so it was all a good sign. She was having a fulfilling life. But there was some sadness in her eyes. He wondered if it was because of him.
“What’re you doing here?” Sara had her hand on Alan’s shoulder.
“That’s a strange question,” Stephen replied calmly.
“No it’s not,” Sara said, “I think it’s a pretty real question.”
“So, no hug or kiss or tears or anything?”
“Stephen!” Sara glanced down at Alan, “It’s been almost nine years since I’ve seen you. I’m in shock.”
“Mommy, aunt Gwen is here. Her car is driving up.” Alan squeezed through the door, brushing up against Stephen’s leg.
“Walk Alan! Don’t run to that car.” Sara stepped outside and watched as Alan walked up to Gwen’s car. Sara waved to Gwen, hoping that would be enough.
Gwen stepped out of the car and yelled, “I’ll have him back in a couple of hours. Is everything ok?”
“Yes, fine. Thank you. I’ll see you when you get back.”
“Ok then,” Gwen took one last, long, serious look at Stephen and then got back into the car. Sara didn’t say anything until the car pulled away.
“What’re you doing here Stephen?”
“Can I at least come in?” Stephen wanted to touch her, but he knew it wasn’t the right moment.
“I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem right to me. Let’s just walk. We have a little bit of land here.”
“I see,” Stephen said, surveying their property. He followed her down the front steps.
“Alan is incredible isn’t he? He’s a great kid.”
“I’m sure you and Jack have a lot to do with that.”
“He looks just like you,” Sara said softly.
“I noticed.” The two of them walked on the grass along the long driveway towards the fence.
“I never thought I’d see you again Stephen.” Sara wiped a stray tear from her cheek.
“I’m sorry for that.”
“It’s not your fault. It was both of us. We didn’t have a choice.”
“Sara, none of this would ever have happened to you if it weren’t for the mistakes I made.”
“I know. But I can’t regret anything because then I wouldn’t have Alan. And he is worth every bit of pain and happiness I have had.” Sara stopped at the fence and leaned against it.
“Well, I’m free. No more parole, a great job, and a nice house.” Stephen leaned on the fence next to her.
“Are you married? Do you have children?”
“Are you kidding? You’re the only one I will ever love. I don’t want anyone else. And yes, I have a child. Alan.”
“Please don’t do this,” Sara said, “I’m not ready for this.”
Sara started to move away from the fence, but Stephen grabbed her hand and pulled her back, “I know what you’re doing. You want me to choose. I’ll never forget that phone call all those years ago Stephen.”
“I didn’t realize it was that obvious. I could’ve been stopping by to see how you were with no ulterior motive, but I suppose I’ve always been the obvious type.”
“I don’t want to say you should have called or it’s too late or let me think about it or any of that stuff I’m supposed to say because I really don’t know what to do. And that scares me more than anything. I’m not ready to tell Jack or Alan. I’m not ready for this. I mean, I’ve thought about this day for so many years. You know, how I would handle it…What expression Jack would have on his face…If Alan would cry or just not understand. But, now that it’s here, I’m blank.” Sara looked out towards the road.
“I’m not asking you to pack your stuff and go with me right now. I just want you to know where I am in my life, and you can feel what you need to feel…Let’s see, I bought a house in Connecticut. It’s in a wonderful neighborhood, has three bedrooms and a huge backyard with more than enough trees that give it total privacy. I was working in New York, but I wanted out of the city, so I found a small firm in New Haven, near my house. I got really lucky, but I’ve worked very hard these last years to rebuild my portfolio. I have not dated or been with a woman since you. I don’t even think I’ve had lunch with a woman unless it was a group business meeting. Now, I didn’t only do all this for you, because that would just be obsessive. I did it for myself. To prove to myself that I am a worthy person who can do things the right way, and who learned from his mistakes, as sappy as that may sound. But yes, I admit, a lot of it did have to do with you and Alan. I would be lying to myself as well as you if I didn’t say I want us to be together.” He was still holding Sara’s hand, but his hold was no longer as tight, and Sara had not tried to pull away.
“I don’t know what to say,” Sara said. She really didn’t. He’d probably rehearsed that speech for a long time, and it was perfect because every word he uttered touched her deeply.
“I love you Sara. I always have, and I always will. I can’t help myself. I knew the day I met you there was a bond. Maybe that’s silly. Maybe fate isn’t real. I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. I don’t want any other woman. Never have.” Stephen moved in close to her and carefully wrapped his arms around her.
“I love you too Stephen,” Sara whispered as she snuggled her head against her chest and wrapped her arms around him too.
“It’s been so long,” Stephen sighed, “I missed hugging you. Just hugging you. Your arms around my body, and the natural perfume smell of your body.”
“I missed you too.” Sara had tears streaming down her face.
“I need you Sara,” Stephen said, pulling back a bit to look down at her face, “I need you so much.” Stephen leaned down and kissed her lips lightly, and when she didn’t pull back; he kissed her harder, almost wanting to swallow her into him.
“Damn!” Sara said, finally pushing him away from her.
“We can’t do this!”
“What’re you talking about? We did this for years.” Stephen was truly hurt from her rejection. Although he knew this would happen, he half expected it really, it cut into him more than he imagined.
“I know. That’s not what I mean. I’m at my house. Where I live with my husband. Being here with you is wrong. And kissing? Damn it Stephen! Nine years go by, and we’re supposed to go back to they way things were? How do we do that? It’s impossible. It was easier when you were in jail. I wish you were still there.” Sara started walking rapidly towards the house.
“What did you say to me?” Stephen was furious. How dare she say that to him. He caught up to her and grabbed her arm hard, turning her towards him.
“I’m sorry,” Sara started to cry again, “it was wrong to say. But you have to go. I don’t want to see you ever again. That’s just the way it has to be.” Sara tried to start walking again, but Stephen’s hold was too firm.
“Don’t say that Sara unless you really mean it. I love you. I want to get to know my son. My son! But if you’re not willing to give me that chance, then you better mean it. Because I promise you, if that’s what you want, because I want to do what you want, then I will never make contact with you ever again. Ever.” Stephen let go of her arm. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t let her see his weakness. And the fact that he’d just promised to never see her again finally hit him. If she agreed to it, he didn’t know if he could keep that promise.
“Stephen,” Sara said softly, “I could never live without any contact from you. I love you too much.” Sara looked up at his eyes. She saw his tears welling up, but she knew he was holding them back because he wanted to be strong.
“I love you too. It’s all I know. All I want to know.”
“Oh Stephen,” Sara threw her arms around him and held him as tightly as she could. Stephen wrapped his arms around her, reciprocating the emotion.
“I’m so sorry for all of this,” he said into her ear.
“Don’t be. Like I said, I have Alan. It’s the most special thing I’ve ever gotten, and you gave him to me, no matter what the circumstances were.”
“I knew there was a reason why I’ve only ever loved you,” Stephen replied, shutting his eyes and rocking her in his arms.
Sara was giving Alan his dinner although she knew he probably ate a lot of junk at the party. Gwen usually kept a stern eye on what the children ate, but Alan was good at sneaking things. And since Gwen was so fond of him, she probably didn’t notice. Sara made him some cooked vegetables, which unbelievably, he loved, even at only nine years old. At least he’d get a vitamin or two.
Jack wasn’t supposed to be home for another hour, which gave her time to cook the meal she’d planned. She took the veal chops she’d marinated in the morning out of the refrigerator, flipped them over in the pan and set them on the counter. She took some potatoes out of the bag she just bought and got ready to wash them. She was making mashed potatoes, which she made rarely, but she knew how much Jack loved them. Maybe she was just feeling guilty about Stephen’s visit which was why she was making Jack his favorite meal. But she didn’t. She wanted to, but it was just as if two, old friends had caught up with each other. The difference being they were still in love.
“Mommy, I’m done,” Alan said, pushing his plate away.
“Finished dear, and what did I tell you about pushing your plate?”
“That it’s rude.” Alan pulled his plate back in front of him.
“Let’s do it again then.” Sara smiled at him.
“Ok. I’m finished mommy. I am gonna take my plate to the sink.” Alan stood up and unsteadily carried the plate over to the sink.
“That was perfect sweety.” Sara took the plate from him and leaned down to kiss the top of his head.
“Can I watch t.v.?”
“Sure, but is there something that you want to see?”
“Maybe you should play with some of your toys then. When daddy gets home, we can all watch a movie. How’s that?”
“Great mommy!” Alan skipped out of the kitchen, and Sara heard him charging up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Daddy,” she said to herself. It just hit her how strange that was. Jack was Alan’s daddy. But not really. She needed to stop thinking about it. Jack and Alan were her family , plain and simple. And she loved them dearly.
She started to peel the potatoes after washing them in the sink when the phone rang. She debated answering, but realized it could be about one of the Inn’s, or Jack calling to let her know he’d be late.
“Sara!” Ann yelled hurriedly into the phone.
“Is everything all right Ann?”
“That’s why I’m calling you!”
“What do you mean?” Sara continued to peel potatoes and throw them into the now boiling pot of water, “Everything’s fine.”
“I just talked to Gwen. She said when she picked up Alan today there was a man there talking to you, and when she dropped Alan off after the party, she said you told her it was some old friend named Stephen. She didn’t hesitate to mention how nice looking he was, and then I just knew!” Ann was anxious to hear about it. As soon as Gwen told her a tall, good looking blonde-haired man she’d never seen before was talking to Sara, she knew it had to be Stephen.
“You didn’t tell Gwen anything did you?” Sara stopped peeling the potato in her hand and glanced out the window, as if Ann could see her.
“Of course not. I just said, ‘That’s nice.’ But you have to tell me what happened!”
“He showed up out of the blue. I haven’t seen him in nine years, and he just shows up.”
“I thought he sends presents every year,” Ann interrupted.
“He does. But I haven’t seen him in nine years. Nor talked to him for that matter. And then today, he’s at my door as I’m getting Alan ready for Tommy Johansen’s birthday party.”
“Sorry to interrupt so much, but don’t you think it’s odd that showed up on a Saturday when the whole family would most likely be home?”
“I thought about that. I think he knew Jack would be gone. He probably drove up early and saw Jack leave with his golf clubs. I don’t know…” Sara trailed off and started to peel another potato.
“And so? Come on! I’m so curious!” Ann said.
“Geez Ann, it’s not a soap opera, it’s real life.”
“I know,” Ann sighed, “I’m sorry. I just figured you’d need someone to talk to who knew about it, but I am really curious. I can’t help it.”
“Well, thank you for caring,” Sara said, throwing the last potato into the pot, “he looked good, you know. I mean, he’s definitely aged, we all have, but he looked so healthy. Apparently he’s got some great job, bought a nice house and has a whole new life.”
“Is he married?”
“Nope. And no children. He told me he didn’t want to be with anyone else. I would have figured he met someone in nine years.”
“I know,” Ann replied, “He hasn’t had sex since you? That’s like twelve years. Do you believe him?”
“Actually, as weird as all that may seem, I do. He is very honest. His honesty is what got him in trouble in the first place. He was trying to stop the other employees from taking any more money from the company, and they thought he couldn’t be trusted any more so they leaked to the firm that he was embezzling funds. But what they didn’t realize, was that the firm was already having it investigated and knew who all the suspects involved were. Anyway, the point is, I believe him. It scares me though.” Sara took the pan with the veal chops and placed it in the oven. It wasn’t quite time to start them yet.
“I’m not sure. I can’t really explain it I guess. It felt a little more safe when Stephen was in jail. I mean, it was always a little nerve wracking going to the jail and trying to hide it from Jack, but Stephen was still stuck there. He couldn’t just come to me whenever he wanted. That made it all easier I suppose. And it makes me sound selfish, but now with him free to roam, I feel very confused.”
“Do you love Jack?” Ann asked.
“Of course I do. I would never stay with him if I didn’t.”
“Do you love Stephen?”
“I’ll always love Stephen. That can’t be helped. I’ve tried not to.” Sara got the linen placemats and napkins from one of the lower cabinets.
“I feel sorry for you then. I remember when you told me Stephen called all those years ago, and he said someday you were going to have to choose. What do you think you should do?”
“What should I do?” Sara had to take a deep breath as she finally turned the broiler knob of the oven to the on position, “I should continue on as I have with Jack.”
“All right,” Ann chuckled nervously, “I’ll put it this way, what are you going to do?”
“Honestly Ann,” Sara sighed, “I just don’t know.”