"Aiden, damn it, stop that."
"Stop cracking your knuckles."
"You'll end up with hands that look like a horror movie swamp creature's."
"Who says? I read this article. This doctor cracked the knuckles of one hand every day for, like, twenty years, and didn't do the other hand, and after all that time, he couldn't tell the difference between his hands."
"So it affected his brain?"
"I don't care what you do, just don't do it around me."
Aiden shrugs. Fourteen-year-olds are stupid, so they don't know a lot of things, but sometimes that means that they don't know all the bogus stuff I know. I don't know why I think that cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis or who told me, it just comes from growing up with knuckles, I guess.
"So what are you going to do after school?"
"Billy and I are going to the mall."
"No, I mean when you graduate."
"Oh. Don't know. I was thinking about joining a band, maybe do some touring."
"A band? You don't even play an instrument."
"Not yet. I haven't decided what I want to play."
"And when were you going to do that?"
"I don't know."
"You need to start to think about that stuff." I don't want to say too much, because I'm not his father, but on the other hand, somebody needs to do something or he'll be hanging around until he's twenty-one. When I was fourteen, it used to piss me off when people would ask me what I was going to do. What was there to know? I mean, you grow up and move out. Now, I got a job that pays the bills, and together with my partner's salary, we can live pretty good. Jess actually makes more money than I do. She's willing to do the overtime and sucking up that's necessary to get ahead, I guess. I know she works hard -- harder than I care to do. We have enough. More than plenty for two, which is why I want Aiden at least thinking about what he needs to do to get out on his own. I'm not going to push him, but he needs to take some responsibility for himself.
The people will wander through the land, discouraged and hungry; they will curse their king and their God. They may look up to the sky or stare at the ground, but they will see nothing but trouble and darkness, terrifying darkness into which they are being driven.
--- The Book of Isaiah the Prophet
I wake up. I am naked, in Jess's bed, my bed for most of the last eight years until the Church got involved in my relationship and I ended up on the couch, and there is the smell of sex on me. Last night, Jess came to me, led me back to the bedroom, and without saying a word, made love to me -- slowly, sweetly. She would stop from time to time and simply trace the features of my face with her finger: my eyebrows, my nose, my cheek bones. She kissed my eyes and my lips. She controlled the pace so that she rode me for a very long time. When we were finished, I told her I loved her, because those are the words I've always used when the sex was good, and it had been very, very good. She didn't say a thing; she simply laid her head on my chest, and before I fell asleep, I felt her tears on my skin.
I put a robe on and make my way to the kitchen. I see Aiden at the open front door. He has an overfull knapsack on his back and a suitcase in each hand. There are two more suitcases on the floor next to him. Jess appears in the doorway. When she sees me, she stops. Her shoulders slump, and her head drops in apparent disappointment.
"Mike," she says pulling herself back up. "I was hoping to be gone before you got up. We're going to stay with my mother."
"All of us?"
"No. Aiden and I."
"The lease on this place is up at the end of next month. I've already made the last rent payment, and I told them we won't be renewing."
"Because I can't afford this place on my own."
"Well, I can't either."
"So, you've got six weeks to figure it out." She picks up the two suitcases. "Mike, I'm sorry."
"So, what? Is this still about the marriage thing?" I knew pretty much right away that "marriage thing" was probably the wrong choice of words.
"No, Mike. This is not about 'the marriage thing.'" Yeah, wrong choice. "This is what I've got to do."
"What about last night? You were all over me, Jess. What was that about?"
"Aiden," she says. "Go wait in the car."
"You're a dick, man," Aiden says and walks off shaking his head.
"Sorry," I say after Aiden is gone.
"No, you're not."
"Yeah, I am."
"No, you're not. You don't regret anything; you don't think you've done anything wrong. When you say you're sorry, all it means is that you expect me to accept and to excuse whatever you've done."
I don't know what to say, because I don't know what the hell that has to do with anything. Jess is like that sometimes. Things just seem to hatch out of her, things maybe she's been brooding for weeks or months. I should have learned by now that I should just let her blow off some steam, but right now I think she really needs to focus.
"I'm just saying Aiden didn't hear anything that he doesn't already know about, okay?"
"Think about what you're doing, Jess."
"I've been thinking, Mike. I've been thinking a lot."
"Things were good, Jess. Why do we have to screw it up?"
"We've been through this, Mike, and through it, and through it. I know you don't understand it. I know you just can't see it from my perspective."
"Maybe it's you who can't see it from my perspective."
"Sure," Jess says. "Let's let it go at that."
"Jess, that priest buddy of yours wasn't satisfied with me saying it was fine by me if you wanted to get married. He was asking me stuff that I don't think is any of his god-damn business."
"Like, did I want more kids."
"He asked you if you were open to life."
"What does that mean if it doesn't mean kids? You knew I didn't want kids, Jess. Hell, you didn't want kids."
"What if I want your kid?"
"No. I don't want kids."
"And what about Aiden, Mike?"
"Have I ever objected to Aiden?"
"No, seriously, have I ever suggested that you had to choose between Aiden and me?"
"Not in so many words."
"No, I didn't say that. In a couple of years he'll be own his own, and then it won't even be an issue."
"What if it's not a couple of years? What if Aiden wants to stay, or if Aiden can't leave?"
"He's fine. Nothing's going to happen to him."
"Say it. Go ahead and say it -- Aiden is our responsibility for as long as that may take."
"I'm not going to argue about stuff that may never happen." I never gave much thought to any possibility other than Aiden would be gone in a couple of years. Aiden's moving out has always been the light at the end of the tunnel, a point where things would become a little cozier with Jess, where money would become a little easier to manage, where there wasn't always another agenda to deal with. It was really nothing personal against Aiden, it's just that kids are supposed to grow up and leave. That's the way the birds and bees do it. Birds anyway. I don't really know that much about bees.
"See? There's no room in your life for me. Not really. What am I to you, Mike?"
"What about last night? Wasn't that something worth keeping?"
She doesn't say anything, but I can see her lips start to quake, and tears streak down her cheeks.
"That was a memory, Mike," she says. "A leaf pressing -- something I can stick between the pages of a book and put it on the shelf, so that years from now, I can pull it down, open the book and smile when I think of you."
"You're not a bad man, Mike. Some day you'll get over yourself and will be a wonderful human being, and I will be glad to have known you, but now is not the time. Bye."
And she leaves.
Jess doesn't take my calls, and she refuses to meet me, even when I suggest that we go talk to the priest again. I have two weeks to get everything out of the apartment. Jess's father told me (during one of the phone calls where Jess refused talk to me) that she said I could have whatever furniture I wanted, and that the rest should be put in storage. I can keep my car as long as I keep up with the payments, so I've got to find a place to stay with rent that fits the car payment. Maybe if I don't eat, I can get something decent and reasonably close to work. Hell, I don't know -- I was on my own before I met Jess, and things were fine. Well, maybe fine's not the right word.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Everything's become maybe for me of late. I would have thought that by this time in my life I would be a little more sure of things, that there would be less guessing, but not really. I don't know where I'm going to living in two weeks. I don't know how I'm going to live. I'd been with Jess for eight years, and not all of them have been easy, but the last three or four, man, they've been good. I don't know how she does it, but she smoothes out my life. Like this apartment -- I used to love coming home here, when Jess was here. It's not much, I guess, but all my stuff is here. I could come home, cue up Kenny G on the turntable, and let the sounds of his sax melt into me like lotion on dry skin, and I could look forward to Jess's touch, but now that she's not here, it's not the same. The place is too hollow; the sound is brittle, like there are only bare walls and concrete floors, yet everything is here. Except Jess, of course.
I want to be with Jess, or maybe it's that I don't want to be alone. Damn it, I don't know which it is, and that's what pisses me off about this whole thing -- I didn't have a problem with the way things were, Jess and I didn't have a problem with the way things were until the church got involved in our relationship. I was thinking maybe someday we'd get a house together, you know? I never mentioned that to Jess, but I figured maybe we'd get around to it. No sense rushing things. I don't like feeling pressured into stuff, but there was something we had. She's got to know that. You would think she would understand what it meant to me. Jesus, what was she thinking?