“Thanks Brian,” Sara said as her brother took her suitcases into his house. He’d fought with his wife Laura about letting Sara stay, but she was his sister. He may not approve of all that was going on with her, and what had been going on, apparently, for years, but they were family, and he loved her.
“Where’s Laura?” Sara said.
“At her mom’s for a while,” Brian replied as he continued on, down the hall, to the guest room.
“Oh, I’m sorry Brian. I know it’s because of me.”
“Well,” he said from the hallway, “She’ll get over it. Things haven’t been so great recently anyway. This just added to it.”
Sara walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, perusing the shelves. When she found a bottle of white wine, she grabbed it from the shelf and shut the refrigerator door.
“You want some wine Brian?” she called out.
“Sure,” he said from the guest room.
“So what’s really going on with you and Laura? I didn’t realize there were problems.” Sara took two glasses from the cabinet next to the sink and starting pouring the wine.
“Well,” he said, joining her in the kitchen, “I’m not really sure. Things have been off for us for almost a year I guess.” Brian sat down at the kitchen table. Sara placed a glass in front of him.
“A year? And you haven’t called me to tell me?” Sara went to the counter to retrieve her glass and the bottle of wine and joined Brian at the table.
“I almost did. At first I thought we’d just work it out. So, I didn’t want to alarm anyone. I figured if I kept it to myself, it’d just go away. But when I realized things weren’t getting any better between us, I started talking. I told Carl, you know, because he’s been my closest friend since elementary school, and I told Jack too.”
Sara was shocked, “You told Jack? I can’t believe he didn’t tell me.”
“Well, it was pretty recent and that’s when he told me he thought you may be going to see Stephen again,” Brian looked down at his glass, “and I figured you probably had enough going on in your life.”
“That’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life Brian. You’re my brother for god’s sake; you should be able to tell me anything at any time.” Sara held her glass up before she took a sip, and the two of them toasted silently.
“I’m sorry. When Jack told me about Stephen, I was completely blown away. And I’m sorry Sara, but Jack is like a brother to me, and all those years ago when he asked me about him; I just couldn’t lie.”
“I know,” Sara sighed, “I thought I was angry with you, but I’m just angry at myself. Besides, we’re talking about you. What’re you going to do?”
“I think Laura had an affair,” Brian said almost too flatly, “I’m not sure though. There were some signs, but I just never bothered to ask. If she did, I forgive her.”
“Really? So easily? Why?”
“I’ve been working a lot. I’m never home. The kids are gone all the time whether it’s sports or dates or something. She’s lonely. I understand all that. And I guess I haven’t been really making an effort to change it.” Brian took a large gulp of his wine.
“If you know all that though, why wouldn’t you try to change it now?”
“Because I didn’t realize it until recently. We started talking about it, at least the fact that we weren’t talking much at all, and thought we’d see some kind of marriage counselor or something, and then you called and asked if you could stay and–“
“Oh Brian, I’m sorry. I wish you’d told me. I can stay somewhere else.” Sara took his hand from across the table. He looked really uncomfortable, as if he wanted to snatch his hand back but didn’t know how. She never realized how insecure he was.
“Where would you stay Sara? I know Anne would like you to stay, but Henry is against it. And your so-called dear friends Gwen and Paul, well, we know they don’t understand trouble since they never seem to have any. And Jack said they don’t even know if they could still be friends with you.”
“You and Jack have been talking a lot,” Sara commented, “And I know. Anne felt so badly, and I kept telling her I didn’t blame her. And Gwen and Paul, well, you know how the saying goes, if they don’t want to be my friends now, then they never were to begin with,” Sara paused, “I meant I could stay in a hotel. At the end of the week I was going to one of the Inn’s, but I can leave today so you and Laura can patch things up.”
“No. I want you to stay. Laura and I could use the space anyway right now. I’ll call her in a little bit. Besides, the kids would love to see you. They kind of think you’re exotic now that you’ve had such the wild life.” Brian chuckled.
“Oh yea, it’s been a wild one all right.” Sara smiled.
“Let’s just indulge in more wine,” Brian suggested. He picked up the bottle and poured more wine into each of their glasses.
“Good idea.” Sara took a sip of her wine and glanced around the kitchen. It was so homey and lived in. The pots were hung up on one of those ceiling racks, but they weren’t neat or orderly, but rather askew because of so much use. The old, formica counters had cut marks from knives and faint stains from red wine or jelly. The refrigerator door had magnets pressed against it with notes and report cards and recipes and receipts and funny cartoons. The cushions in the chairs they sat on were molded from years of Brian’s family having breakfast or Saturday lunch or Wednesday night dinner on them, and the wooden table their wine glasses were set on contained nicks and scratches that could only have appeared from children pushing in chairs every day and plates being placed and replaced on top of it. It made her realize how cold and lonely Stephen’s kitchen was.
“So what’re you going to do Sara? I keep thinking, ‘if only mom and dad were here.'”
“I know. I wonder if they’d be proud or disappointed.”
“I think both,” Brian replied, “because I know how much they believed in supporting others and finishing what you started and forgiving people. But they’d be disappointed in how you handled it maybe. Because,” Brian cleared his throat, “that’s how I feel. I feel like you just didn’t go about it the right way. I can’t judge you Sara. You did what you did for your own reasons. But there had to be better ways.”
“Brian, don’t you think if there were alternatives, I would’ve explored them?”
“Honestly,” he raised his eyebrows, “No. I think you only saw one way and were somehow too scared to figure anything else out.”
“I guess,” Sara decided to just agree, “But there’s no point in wondering about it because it’s done. I need to figure out what to do now.”
“If I knew, I’d tell you, but I don’t.”
“I feel sorry for you, I really do.” Brian stood up when he heard the front door open.
“Why? I don’t want you to feel sorry for me.”
“I don’t know if I could make the choice,” Brian replied.
“I’m not really making a choice. It’s not whether I choose Stephen or Jack. I have to decide which path my life needs to continue. And Alan’s. It’s not a choice. It’s a path. I need to figure out which path to take. And there are more than two.” Sara stood up too when Jacqueline, her fifteen year old niece bounced into the kitchen.
“Aunt Sara!” Jacqueline screeched, running over to her and hugging her, “How’s the most exciting person in our whole family?”
“Jacqueline,” Brian warned her.
“What? Everybody knows dad. I’m old enough to be open about it.”
“You sure are,” Sara said, winking at Brian and squeezing her niece tightly, “Let me look at you,” she let go of Jacqueline and stood back, “I can’t believe I just said that. And now I’m going to say look how grown up you are! I never thought I’d be that kind of relative,” she chuckled, “but I guess we all become that at some point. How are you dear?”
“I’m fine Aunt Sara. And now that you’re here, can I talk to you about something? Oh, and you’re making the dinner right?” Jacqueline’s eyes were bright and wide, and still the same shade of blue as when she was born. She had black hair, like she and Brian, but it was curly and mussed and barely touched her shoulders. Her pale, pure white skin she got from her mother, Laura, and it never had a mark or a blemish on it, and her lips, also like Laura’s were pouty and rose colored.
“Of course I’ll make dinner, and you know you can tell me anything.”
“Alone I mean. Not with dad here.”
“All right,” Sara glanced at Brian who nodded in agreement, “Let’s go into your room. I haven’t seen your room in ages.”
“Let me run up there real quick and move some stuff so you can sit.” Jacqueline darted out of the kitchen and flew up the stairs, skipping a step at a time.
“She misses her mother,” Brian said sadly, “and I’ve never been there for them to talk to. They’ve never felt comfortable coming to me, even when Laura was here. But I’ve accepted that. I admit thought, I am glad you’re here. Jacqueline’s been on edge lately, and she needed someone to talk to. Thanks.”
“No problem Brian.” Sara touched his shoulder gently as she walked past him. As she left the kitchen and ascended the stairs, she felt a wave of relief come over her. Jacqueline had interrupted their talk, and she was glad. For this week while she stayed at Brian’s, she wanted to put it all out of her mind. When she got to the Inn next week, she would have plenty of time to ponder it all.
Sara settled in at the Eden Moon. The employees were surprised to see her with so much luggage, but they didn’t question her. It wasn’t their place really, and she had been so good to them over the years. She told them to just go about business as usual and ignore her if they could.
By the middle of the week, Sara felt relaxed, yet she still didn’t know what she was going to do with her life. Not until Stephen called that night.
“I bet it’s beautiful up there,” Stephen said into the phone.
“It is,” Sara said, leaning against her pillow on the bed, “all the flowers have bloomed. I love the beginning of Spring.”
“Me too. Maybe I could join you for a day?” Stephen wanted to see her so badly. His yearning for her had never hurt so much, not even when he was in prison. At least there he knew he couldn’t have her, but now, he was free, and even though he could technically see her whenever he wanted, she had a barrier up.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea Stephen.”
“How’d I know you’d say that?” Stephen tried to laugh, “I miss you. This whole thing is killing me.”
“I’m sorry for that.”
“Has Jack called you?”
“No,” Sara said solemnly, “And I thought he would.”
“Does that upset you?”
“Of course it does. I want to know how he’s feeling. I want to know what he’s thinking. When I call to talk to Alan, he puts him right on the phone, and when Alan and I are finished, he doesn’t get back on.”
“Maybe he decided to let you go,” Stephen said hopefully.
“Maybe,” Sara said sadly, tears rolling down her face.
“Sara, I would take care of you forever. You know that. I’ve always wanted you. I love you. I want you and Alan to live with me. You don’t have to be sad anymore.”
“I will always be sad. I have lived my life sad. My parents died when I was eighteen. My first husband went to prison only after two years of marriage, and my second husband feels betrayed by me. I’m getting used to sad.”
“Ok,” Stephen said calmly, “But what does all that mean? You don’t deserve to be happy? Because if that’s what you think, you’re wrong.”
“I’ve been happy Stephen,” Sara nervously twirled the phone cord between her fingers, “Alan makes me happy. Jack makes me happy, and you make me happy. I can’t explain it. All I know is that I will always feel sad for losing one of you. Or both of you.”
“Exactly, but you’re not losing both of us. I want you. I love you. I don’t know what else to tell you. Please Sara, let me come up there. Or you come here for a few days.”
“No Stephen!” Sara finally yelled, “Stop pushing me! Look, I have to go. I need to rest. I don’t want to talk anymore.”
“I’m sorry, please don’t hang up. I’ll stop. I just miss you, and to be honest with you, I’m scared for you.”
“You’re scared for you,” Sara said adamantly.
“You’re damn right. I am. I love you. It’s all I know.”
“I know baby,” Sara said serenely, “I love you too.”
* * *
“When are you coming back Mrs. Randall?” Robert said as he helped carry her luggage to her car.
“I guess next month. The Inn looks great Robert. And thanks for not asking me a lot of questions. I just needed some time away.”
“No problem. Everyone needs to get some space once in a while. It was nice seeing you though.” Robert closed the trunk of her car and looked at her.
“Thank you. You too. And keep up the good work.” Sara took his hand and shook it.
“You drive safely now Mrs. Randall.” Robert backed up towards the entrance of the Inn.
“I will. Thanks.” Sara got in the car and started it. She took one last look at the Inn, waved at Robert, and drove out the long driveway. She was going home.
Sara reached the house in Virginia by five o’clock that night. She felt like she’d been away for years. As she drove up the driveway, she noticed Jack’s car. She was surprised to see he was home so early. It made her nervous. She thought she’d have a little more time.
She parked the car in front of the house and got out. She loved this house. It was where she belonged. She went to the trunk and opened it.
“Mommy!” Alan came running down the front steps.
“Hi darling,” Sara said, picking him up awkwardly. He was getting too big to bundle in her arms.
“I missed you mommy,” Alan said as he hugged her tightly.
“I missed you too honey,” Sara shut her eyes and hugged him back.
“I missed you too,” Jack said as he came down the front steps, startling her.
“Hi Jack,” Sara said as she gently put Alan down on the ground.
“How was your trip?”
“Good. Relaxing.” Sara felt so uncomfortable.
“I’m glad. Let me get your bags.” Jack walked over to the trunk, picked up the two suitcases and proceeded into the house.
“Daddy’s been waiting for you. He left work early just so he’d be home when you got here,” Alan said, hanging onto Sara’s hand.
“Has he really?” Sara asked. She and Alan walked into the house. They traipsed into the kitchen where they heard Jack open the refrigerator.
“Alan, why don’t you go upstairs so I can talk to mommy. We’ll get you when it’s time for dinner. We’ll go have pizza or something, all right?”
“Ok daddy!” Alan left the kitchen and went up to his room.
“Cream?” Jack said as he poured two cups of coffee.
“Please,” Sara said, sitting down at their booth in the kitchen.
“So the drive was ok?” Jack said, sitting across from her and putting two coffee cups down on the table.
“Yes, it was lovely. Pretty day for a drive.”
“So,” Sara sipped her coffee, “You came home early today?”
“Yes. I wanted to be here when you arrived.”
“Thank you,” Sara smiled, “You look good. I feel like I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”
“Sara,” Jack started right in, “I love you. I wanted to not love you. I mean, I wanted to hate you. To hate you for what you did. For how you made me feel. But I can’t. You’ve been my best friend, my partner for so many years. I can’t just throw that away.”
“Let me finish honey,” Jack said calmly, “I just wanted you to know all that, no matter what you decide to do. Our twenty year anniversary is next week. Twenty years! Not a lot of people make it that far. But we did, despite it all. You can choose whatever you want, and I promise you I will still always be your friend. No matter what. I mean, I got to have twenty incredible years with someone I truly loved. I’m lucky really. The only favor I ask, however, is that when you tell Alan that Stephen is his father, you also tell him that I am his father as well, because I loved him as a father when he was born, and I will always love him as a father until I die.”
“Jack,” Sara couldn’t control her tears, “I love you. I want you. I’ve always wanted you. You’ve always been the one.”
“What about Stephen?” Jack wiped a stray tear from his eye.
“I thought I couldn’t let him go. I thought I had to love him. And I did. But you are my life. You are the one and only. I guess I never let myself know that. In a way, Stephen was my way of holding back from you. All I’ve ever wanted was you. You’re my other half. I would die without you.” Sara had to get up from the table. She went over to the sink and grabbed a paper towel to wipe her face.
“Come here,” Jack said looking over at her. Sara threw the paper towel in the trash and went back over to the table.
“Sit down,” Jack patted his leg, and Sara sat in his lap. Jack put his arms around her, and Sara leaned her head on his.
“I love you Jack,” Sara said, tears starting all over.
“I love you too. I have to ask though, what about Stephen?”
“I’ll call him and tell him.”
“What’re you going to say? What about Alan?”
“Alan is your son. You’re right. Stephen has never been a father to him. He called me a couple of times at the Inn. He told me that if I chose you, then Alan should remain your son. That he didn’t deserve to be his father. And I agree with that. If you want, Alan never has to know. It doesn’t matter to me, but Stephen will not be involved in our lives ever again. All I have to do is let him know.”
“That was very mature of Stephen,” Jack said, “I can see why you loved him. He’s a good man.”
“How about this, we tell Alan when we feel he is old enough to understand. If he wants to seek out Stephen and get to know him, that’ll be his choice.”
“I think that’s lovely. I think you’re wonderful Jack.” Sara kissed his forehead.
“How about we have our anniversary dinner tonight? Just the three of us. You, me and Alan. We’ll go to Fredo’s and have cheap wine and pizza. What do you say?”
“I can’t think of any other way to spend our twentieth anniversary. It’s perfect!” Sara stood up.
“I’m not finished yet,” Jack said sternly, standing up.
“Come here.” Jack pulled her hard against him.
“This is the non-audio portion,” Jack said as he grabbed her waist and began kissing her passionately. Sara still had tears streaming down her face, but Jack was so strong and loving and passionate.
“Daddy!” Alan said giggling. He’d snuck downstairs and was standing next to Sara’s legs.
“Alan!” Jack said, only moving his face back from Sara’s, “You are very sneaky!”
“Sorry!” Alan said, still giggling.
“It’s ok,” Jack said, “How about a big family hug?”
“Ok!” Alan latched onto Sara’s waist, and she and Jack put their arms around him.
“I love you,” Sara whispered to Jack.
“I love you more,” Jack replied.
“Romance Novel?” Sara smiled.
“Romance Novel,” Jack agreed.* * *