content warning: miscarriage Goodbye Again The smell of roses and jasmine flows through my open car window, the air cool and fresh from the Pacific. Sonoma Avenue traffic hums in the background, while televisions flicker and burble behind lace curtains. The quaint neighborhood houses mostly young couples with children. Two and three-bedroom ramblers built in the 1950s, with apple trees in the front yard and irises beside the porch. I know because this used to be my neighborhood. Leaning my head against the headrest, I wonder for the twentieth time whether I should simply leave. He’ll never know I’d been waiting here tonight. Or suspect how many other nights I’d driven by trying to muster enough courage to knock on his door. But somehow I can’t bring myself to start the car. Somehow I know I'll regret it if I don't try. It's been almost three months since I’ve seen Mike…twelve weeks to be exact. Although I'm usually not one to count, counting had recently become important in my life. Two weeks ago on a Thursday, my world got tipped upside down by a simple urine test. News I never expected to hear for years—if ever. Definitely news I didn't want to hear, but I'd already sensed the body changes and dreamed about my daughter. I procrastinated going to the clinic, not wanting to confirm my suspicions. "Ten weeks," the Planned Parenthood counselor said, showing me the calendar. I left the clinic in dismay, a handful of pamphlets in my purse. My biggest question at the time was whether I was going to tell Mike, a question all the more troublesome because Mike and I had broken up again. Weeks before I knew I was pregnant. The question percolates in my mind as I wait for him to come home from closing Santa Rosa’s popular Moulin Bistro. I still didn’t know how I was going to tell him. Mike and I had been together off and on for years, the spark between us never growing old. Our story always unfolded the same: he wanting me to stay, me unwilling to make promises I wasn’t ready to keep. I'd say “I’m here now.” But now was never enough for Mike, so we were always saying goodbye again, then a few months later find ourselves back in each other’s arms. As I stare out into the dark, I know tonight is another one of those times I hope we fall together. Sink into that familiar place that's only ours, a place I might never find with anyone else. A place where we get tangled up in each other while the rest of the world fades away. Except I know tonight isn’t the same—that when I tell him this news nothing will ever be the same. I want it to be, but I'm only kidding myself. Shortly before 11p.m., he turns his truck down the street and into the driveway. From beneath an acacia tree two houses down, I watch him open the front door, turn on the lights, and head to the kitchen. I imagine him making a tuna fish sandwich with dill pickles, heavy on the mayonnaise: standard after-work fare. Hands shaking, I collect the six-pack from my passenger seat and make my way down the sidewalk. My luck I'll stumble and drop the beer bottles. But I arrive without incident, and climb the steps onto the porch, watching him through the front window. I admire his hands, sure and deliberate, the way his dark hair curls around his ears, his wide shoulders flexing as he spins from the kitchen counter to the refrigerator. He's handsome in a way I consider beautiful. I knock lightly and as I wait for him to answer I practice smiling. Ridiculous, I know, but I desperately want him to be happy to see me. Besides, you never know when you might need to produce a good smile under pressure. Mike whispers my name, as he opens the door. “Jesse.” He leans against the door frame without inviting me inside. My lungs contract and my breath feels short, but I manage a practice smile and pluck a beer out of the cardboard carrier. “I come beering gifts.” Mike rolls his eyes at my pun then studies me, his gaze traveling over my short denim skirt, tall black boots, and red lace top, long hair loose down my back. An outfit almost identical to the one I wore on our first date nearly three years ago, a combination he later labeled the most outrageously distracting getup in my closet and recommended I wear only if I brought him along to discourage any merry men intent on mischief. He sniffs a laugh and smiles, a swift transformation from hesitant to amused, dark eyes shining. “You,” he mutters, shaking his head. But he accepts the beer and twists open the top. “I heard you were moving to the city with what’s-his-name, Karl... Ken?” His tone is curious with a not-too-well-concealed edge. He still doesn't invite me in. I hand him a second beer to open. When he passes it back I touch it to his and take a swig. Then I broach the barrier between us. “We gonna talk on the porch?” Opening the door wide, he flourishes his arm in welcome. “My lady,” he says in a fake British accent and I can breathe freely again. We lean against the kitchen counter and share a second beer with a tuna fish sandwich, lettuce on mine. Talk comes easy as it always does between us, beginning with gossip, "Did you hear George broke his foot waterskiing?" to more personal, "Did you register for school?" to really personal. "So, why are you here, Jess?" A fair enough question with a complicated answer. I stick with something inane, but true: "I missed you." I smile up into his eyes wishing I did not sense him holding me at arm's-length, wishing I could return his promises. Our conversations typically follow the same path: he asks me to marry him and I try to explain how it's too soon... that I can't marry anyone... not yet anyway. His comeback: "you can, but you won't..." The hurt in his eyes is unbearable and I leave again to escape the torture of loving a man so completely yet not being able to give him what he wants most. "What about what's-his-name...?" Mike flaps his hand in the air and lets the question dangle. He doesn't really want to hear about Kyle, only whether there is someone else. "Ancient history," I say, dismissing the past two months. "I'm confused, Jess. I don't...." We both know what he doesn't understand. Quite simply, my choices, my resistance to committing to a relationship. He looks me in the eye and I see the hurt, but I also see his love. For the first time tonight, I realize the love is still there and I could cry with joy because I so very much wanted to find it again. Without thinking I cross the kitchen and step into his arms, my lips against his neck, my hands on his waist. His response is immediate, tinder flaring at the touch of a spark, the flames bright. He kisses me and I melt against him, both of us captured in the moment, entangled in a dance only ours. Later, we hold each other and he runs his hands over my hair. "How could something that good not make you want more? And more?" He's teasing but it's also a segue into the question I don't want to hear. "Are you coming home, Jess?" Mike pulls me against his shoulder and kisses my forehead, but my courage falters and I answer him the only way I know, dreading that when I deliver my news he may decide he doesn't want me after all. "I'm here now...." My words sound hollow. I can't bring myself to say something different. Or muster the courage to tell him about his child. He's entitled to know. I want him to know. I want to tell him the truth. A truth for which I've come seeking forgiveness I may not deserve. But the words die in my throat and the moment passes, while my heart sobs: We were going to have a daughter, Mike, but I screwed it up and I'm so sorry. Two weeks ago Saturday, my world tipped upside down for the second time in mere days. I didn't think to refuse when Kyle suggested we roller blade at Golden Gate Park. I'd always been fairly well-balanced on skates, able to flow through turns and negotiate stops. But an errant skateboarder sent me tumbling. No big deal. Until the bleeding started, and I knew I was losing my child. Mike's child. The little daughter I'd seen in my dreams. I cried in Kyle's bathroom while he slept, oblivious to my plight. All I could think was how I needed to tell Mike because she was his daughter too. The next day I left Kyle grumbling about what a drag I was with my feminine issues and ended up in the ER to stop the hemorrhaging in my uterus. Despite his apologetic phone messages, I haven't seen Kyle since. Mike turns and grabs the alarm clock from the bed stand. "I'm up and out early tomorrow." His voice sounds strained and I feel him distancing, but perhaps I'm making it up. "Where you headed?" I reestablish connection by running my hands down his back. "Up valley. With Jim and Cal." His tone is short and I sense his exhaustion. "G'night, Jess." I lay beside him, listening to his breathing, feeling the familiar warmth he radiates. I can't help wishing he'd invite me along, but I let him sleep, tabling further discussion until morning. Warning bells clang in my brain, but I doze fitfully until the alarm jars me awake at 5:30 a.m. Mike's warm body shifts and I snuggle against him, skin to skin. We tangle together, the loving a natural extension of our undeniable chemistry. Thirty minutes later he jolts upright in a panic. "Shit! I gotta go!" Then he's away into the shower. I stretch beneath the sheets, enjoying the comfort of his bed. Slipping on his discarded flannel shirt, I pad barefoot out to the kitchen. "Coffee?" "All out," he yells over the sound of pelting water. By then I'm staring at a full coffee canister in his cupboard. "Never mind...." Perplexed, I load the coffeemaker. Like he'd really go anywhere in the morning without coffee? The early morning knock on the front door surprises me. "I'll get it!" Mike's garbled voice rings from the bathroom. I pay him no mind. When I lived here before I answered his door all the time. Besides, it's probably Jim and Cal. No big deal. My hand is on the door handle when Mike arrives beside me, a towel wrapped around his waist, wet hair in his eyes. "I said I'd get it," he admonishes. But he's too late. I've opened the door to find a short dishwater blonde with a round face and a button nose. "Can I help you?" I say, unable to hide my surprise. The woman stares at me, her eyes noting my oversize flannel shirt and messy hair. Then she looks at Mike wrapped in a towel, dripping wet. Her face flushes bright red and her expression crumbles as if she might cry, but she doesn't speak. As she turns to leave, Mike pushes past me onto the porch and closes the door. Through the front window, I watch him touch the woman on the elbow and apologize, his voice a contrite mumble. The wheels in my head turn slowly until I translate what's happening: Mike has someone else. A someone else visiting him early on a Saturday morning. And in this moment she is more important than me. I stumble to the bedroom and dress, my face flushing for different reasons than hers, some of them not pretty, some of them devastatingly painful. Last night's tryst aside, Mike is seeing someone. Did I think he was just sitting on his hands waiting around? No... but I don't like the thought of sharing him, the same way he never likes sharing me. Although part of me regrets spending the night, most of me regrets nothing Mike and I have done together and never will. The optimistic me thinks everything will work out. Because it always has. But that's before I see the determination in his eyes when he returns to the bedroom. "I'm sorry." Mike's tone is sincere, yet I sense the unspoken "but...". I want time to rewind. To go back to the night before when it was only he and I. "Did she leave?" I ask. "No." His eyes remain downcast. "I apologized and told her who you were. Explained we weren't really together anymore." I muster what grace I can while my heart sinks. "You guys spending the day up-valley?" I stick to generalities without asking deeper questions I've no right to ask. Because I don't really want to know the answers. Mike tosses his towel onto the bed and pulls some jeans out of the closet. "She's spending the weekend...with me." "You like her?" My voice sounds light and curious, not at all the way I feel. "Very much." Picking up the flannel shirt I recently discarded, Mike dons it and fastens the buttons. "The thing is, Jess... you come and go. You say you love me, but you never stay. You never want to stay. And my heart can't take it." He turns to face me. "I love you. More than you'll ever know. But this thing between us hurts too damn much." His face contorts with emotion and he holds his palms before his chest as if he is pushing the pain away. Pushing me away. "I deserve better, babe. I deserve someone who wants to be with me." "I do want to be with you." The words tumble out, a confession and a plea. Then tears pool in my eyes. Because although I should have, could have, said many things last night and we would perhaps not be having this conversation, I realize it's too late. There's someone else standing on the porch waiting for him, someone willing to forgive him sleeping with an old girlfriend and spend the day with him anyway. Mike shakes his head, dark eyes sad. "Not the same way I want to be with you. And I don't know how to change that. How to love you less. So I need to move on." He takes a deep breath. "Heather seems to like the same things I do, so...." "I understand," I say, wiping my nose on the back of my hand. I want to be reasonable, not histrionic or difficult. I never wanted to hurt him, but I had. No taking back all those tumultuous years — the good times and the bad. The laughter and tears. All the love we'd shared and the trips we'd taken. The disagreements and breakups. "I'm sorry about this morning. I never intended you guys to meet this way...." Mike sets the apology between us as he laces his boots. "I just want you to be happy." I speak the words with one of my pretend smiles, and I mean them with all my heart. "I'll just collect my purse and...." I stand, wanting to leave before I say anything I'll regret. Before the truth I came to share bubbles out. Because if he's beginning a relationship with someone else, there's no reason to tell him about his child. Our child. He would think he owed me some comfort or something, and that would only complicate his decision to start dating and make him feel bad. I bite my lip to stop the words spilling into the room. I want him to move on unencumbered by his past with me. Mike grabs his leather jacket and pauses by the bedroom door. "Why don't Heather and I leave first...." The petty me wants to push past him and confront the woman, so she can see my long legs and trim waist in the outfit he likes so much, and realize her pudgy figure couldn't come close to pulling it off. Silly, I know. High school crap. Stupid things you think about when your world is falling apart. When your heart is limping inside your chest, threatening to stall. Instead, I offer another pretend smile hoping I can keep it together until he leaves. "Sure." Motorbikes pull into the driveway, engines rumbling. Probably Jim and Cal with their girls. But today I wasn't Mike's girl anymore; today Heather would take my place. Mike clears his throat and I question whether he's changing his mind, but the moment passes and he turns away. Not trusting my voice, I cling to that Richard Bach saying about loving someone and setting them free, knowing if they return they're yours, but if they don't they never were. Nowhere does Bach mention that letting your lover go is the hardest thing you might ever do. After the front door closes, I lay on the bed and weep. I wonder whether I could have married him, what type of life we could have built together. Yesterday I felt certain I wanted to try. I intended to tell him everything last night — about his daughter and how much I love him and how I want to make things work. But today the choice is no longer mine. Although I know it's too late, I speak the words I came to say. He isn't there to listen, but I voice them anyway, wiping tears off my cheeks. I came home to tell you...we were going to have a daughter, but I screwed up and fell and lost her. I'm so sorry, Mike. For everything. I love you. Can we try again?
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Jesse Devyn Crowe (jessedevyncrowe.com) shares a home with her fisherman husband and two adventurous Labrador Retrievers at the very edge of the grid where she can see the stars. Her neighbors include mule deer, hawks, quail, ponderosa pines, and coyotes. Her work has appeared in Clamor, Minerva Rising, and The Friendship Book anthology. She is currently finishing a short story series.