Monday, January 2, 2017

The Morning After a Long-Awaited Reunion





Connor Mackenzie

Connor…Connor….”
I woke with a start. I sat up and looked around, certain I’d heard someone calling my name. I looked over at my wife. Lynne stirred a little  but didn’t wake.
I had to smile. I’d wondered how much of an adjustment it would be for us to be together again after being apart for the past two years. I needn’t have worried. Last night, we’d made love as if we hadn’t even spent a night apart. It was as if the horror of the past two years had been erased.
If only it could be.
If only I could forget all of the things that had been done to me in those two years in captivity. There were no physical scars, but the emotional scars would remain with me until death.Of that I was certain.
Connor…Connor….”
I took a deep breath. Someone had indeed called my name. Why now? Why not when I wanted you to come, wanted you to tell me where to find Lynne and my son?
You must  find the other.”
Other? What other? Not wanting to wake Lynne, I got out of bed and went over near the window. It was early. The sun was rising on the horizon. In the distance, I could hear dogs barking. A boy on a bicycle delivered newspapers, flinging them toward the subscribers’ doorsteps but never even slowing down. A couple in shorts and tank tops ran together in a perfect rhythm along the peaceful street.
You are the prophet, my child. You have a responsibility.”
Not now. Not so soon after I’ve come back to them.
You are first the prophet.”
You ask too much of me.
Only that for which you were born.”
I need time.
There is no time. This is a war, Connor. A supernatural war. Time is of the essence.”
“Connor?”
I turned. Lynne raised her head off the pillow. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“I’m fine. Just needing a bit of adjustment to this time zone, I think.” I got back into bed and drew her into my arms. “Having a bit of trouble accepting that we’re really together again.”
“What did they do to you?” she asked, touching my face. Her touch felt comforting.
I shook my head. “Not something I want to remember.” I kissed her. “I’d much rather think about being with you and the wee laddie.”
She gave a little laugh. “You may see more of your son than you’d like.”
“Impossible!” I laughed.
“Oh, yeah? Wait til he comes charging in here and wants to get into bed with us,” she warned. “He’s only in his own bed now because he was so exhausted he didn’t wake during the night.”
“You’ve been letting him sleep with you,” I reminded her.
“I was always afraid to let him out of my sight,” she confessed. “I’d lost you--or I thought I had. I wasn’t going to lose him, too.”
I saw the pain in her eyes, even in the semi-darkness. We had been separated for the past two years. She’d believed I was dead.
“Daddy!”
The door burst open and our two-year-old son Daniel, nicknamed Kiwi because he’d been born in New Zealand, came rushing into the room. He climbed up onto the bed and wedged himself between us. I hugged him tightly, not wanting to ever let him go again. Lynne looked uncomfortable. “How am I supposed to get out of bed now?” she asked.
“Just get up,” I suggested.
“I’m naked,” she reminded me.
I laughed. “You Americans are such prudes,” I told her. “You think there’s something wrong with your two-year-old seeing you naked? When I was a wee boy in Scotland, I saw my mum naked all the time. There’s no shame in it.”
“No point in staying in bed.” She pointed at Kiwi. “He’s not going anywhere, you know.”
I got out of bed and scooped the child up in my arms. “You’ve taken good care of your mummy while I was away,” I said, kissing Kiwi’s cheek.
Kiwi nodded with enthusiasm.
“But Daddy’s back now, and Daddy and Mummy sleep in here, and you sleep in your room,” I attempted to explain.
“No!”
I pulled a face and Kiwi burst into laughter. “Sorry, chap, but how do you expect us to get you a wee brother or sister if you don’t leave us to--”
“Connor,” Lynne interrupted, “he’s only two. Precocious as he is, he’s not quite ready for that talk yet.”
“I want a baby sister!” Kiwi chortled.
“I’ll do my best,” I promised, “but I’m going to need some time alone with your mum here. From now on, this room’s off limits.”
“Good luck with that,” Lynne said, rolling her eyes.
“Let’s go downstairs and give your mum a bit of privacy,” I said, starting toward the door.
“You forgot something,” Lynne called after me. I turned, and she threw my pajama bottoms at me.
I caught them easily with one hand and laughed. “I thought you liked my bum.”
“I do,” she assured me. “But people will be arriving at the church soon for vacation Bible school. Just stay away from the doors and windows, okay? I don‘t think the older women could handle the sight of you in all your glory. Some of them have pacemakers.”

***

"Look what we've created," I said, putting an arm around Lynne as we watched Kiwi at play. "He's amazing."
"Amazing," Lynne said with a nod. "Let's see how you feel after a few weeks with him."
I followed her into the kitchen, where she began to prepare breakfast. I plucked an apple from the basket of fruit on the table and took a bite as I leaned against the counter. "If we're to give him a baby sister, I think we'll need to spend a great deal more time working on that," I suggested.
Lynne stopped what she was doing. "I don't want to have another baby, Connor," she said.
I couldn't hide my surprise. "There was a time you only wanted me for my sperm," I recalled with a wicked grin.
She didn’t smile. “I’m terrified every time he gets out of my sight,” she said finally. “There are--people--who want him dead.”
I shook my head. “Not dead, no.”
“No. Worse.” Lynne took a deep breath. “I won’t bring another child into the world to be hunted like some prize animal. I can’t.”
“What happened to your faith?” I asked. “What happened to accepting God’s will, trusting Him to protect our children?”
“I lost it when my family was massacred,” she said coldly. “I lost it when my team was killed because they couldn’t reveal our whereabouts. I lost it when we had to run for our lives. I lost it when I thought my husband, my baby’s father, was dead. Take your pick.”
I bit into the apple again. “You do realize that we had unprotected sex last night,” I reminded her. “You might already be pregnant again.”
Lynne avoided  eye contact. “We need to talk about that.”
“Don’t even suggest abstaining until we get birth control,” I warned.  “I’ve been abstaining for the past two years.”
“I’ll have a tubal ligation,” she said.
I shook his head. “No,” I said.
She stared at me. “No?”
“Too final. You may change your mind. I may change your mind.”
“Connor,” she started, “I’m already forty-three. You’re thirty-nine. Our childbearing years are nearing an end.”
“You’re married to a geneticist,” I reminded her. “There are ways--”
“No,” she cut me off emphatically. Then: “Would you consider adoption?”
“Of course.”
“Then let’s adopt. We can certainly afford to bring several children into our family. And the cartel won’t be interested in them because they won’t have your DNA.”
“Are you sorry we had Kiwi?” I asked then. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer.
“Of course not!”
“Would you have still had him if you’d known the truth about me then?”
She didn’t have an answer for me.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Written in the Stars?


 
Robyn Cantwell
I didn’t know exactly what it was about Alex Stewart that so intrigued me, but I’d been drawn to him from the moment I met him at the bus station. Sure, he was different from the others I’d known at the shelter.   He was very good-looking and intelligent, but that wasn’t it. No…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I knew only that I had to reach out to him, help him in any way I could.
By the time I finally got to go home, I was exhausted.  I had worked fourteen hours straight at the shelter after five hours of post grad classes at the university.  I braked my old SUV to a stop in the driveway and went inside.  The silence of the night was immediately interrupted by the enthusiastic welcome I received from my extended “family”—twelve dogs and seven cats of varying sizes. I made my way through the kitchen, stopping just long enough to drop my backpack on the table and hang my jacket on the back of a chair. I went on to my bedroom, noting that my brothers hadn’t even heard me come in. And nobody ever remembers to lock the doors, I thought as I peeled off my clothes, slipped into a faded old football jersey that was three sizes too big, and collapsed on the bed, too tired to even take a shower.
I thought I’d fall into a deep and immediate sleep, but I ended up lying awake several hours before finally drifting off.  My thoughts were on Alex.  He cracked jokes, but I had the feeling he’d left something quite disturbing behind, wherever he’d actually come from.
Most of the people I encountered at the shelter had left something behind, usually not by choice, and they longed to go back to their “old life.” Not Alex.  He seemed to want to forget his past life even existed. What, I wondered, could have been so awful that he would rather live like this than go back?
***
“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t even come here for a visit,” I told him as I brought my SUV to a stop in the driveway.
“Did I ever say that?”  He pushed open the door on the passenger side and climbed out just as my army of critters came charging across the yard to greet us.   “None of them bite, do they?” he called out to me.
“Some of them don’t even have teeth,” I laughed.  “About half of these guys are really, really old. Old critters in shelters are hard to place--a shame, since they make such good pets.”
“Most people who come in are looking for puppies or kittens,”  he agreed.
“They don’t know what they’re missing.”
He grabbed the grocery bags in the back seat as the animals ganged up on me.  I reached into my backpack and took out a large freezer bag full of treats, tossing them out.  The animals grabbed them enthusiastically.
He followed me into the house via the torn screen door off the kitchen. I wondered what he might be thinking. My kitchen was big and always cluttered. Jackets hung on the backs of the chairs.  Food and water bowls were lined up against one wall.  Dishes were piled up in the sink, and the trash can overflowed. The place was a mess. I could only imagine how it looked to Alex.
“I see Paulie forgot to take the trash out,” I observed with a shake of my head. My big brother had promised me he'd have it cleaned up by the time we arrived. Note to self: kill Paulie later.
“I can do that,”  Alex offered.
I nodded.  “Great.  There’s garbage cans out front, at the end of the drive,”  I said, in case he hadn’t noticed them when we came in.
He gathered up the trash. It took him less than five minutes to do the task. “Any other odd jobs I can do while I’m here?”  he asked when he returned to the house.
“Maybe after dinner.”
“I’ve changed my mind,”  he told me over dinner.
“About what?”  I asked.
“Your offer, if it’s still open,”  he said.  “I’d like to move in here—temporarily.”
“Of course the offer stands. As you can see, there’s plenty of room,” I said, tossing scraps under the table, which created a feeding frenzy. “I’m glad you changed your mind about this, Alex.  I think you’ll be happy here. I should probably warn you, though.”
“Warn me?”
“This is as quiet as it will ever be around here,” I told him.  “When everybody’s here, it can get pretty crazy.”
“I was sleeping in a bus station when you found me,” he reminded me.  “Does it get crazier than that?”
I laughed. “You have a point.” Then: “I do think you’ll like it here, once you adjust to the chaos.”
“I know I will.” he paused. “This is the first home I’ve ever been in that actually felt like a home.”
I hesitated.  “What about your own home?”  I finally asked. 
He shook his head.  “That was more like a hospital than a home,” he said.  “Sterile, antiseptic, never cozy.  Never comfortable.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Anything but,” he said.  “My father had a thing about germs.”
“Like Howard Hughes?” I asked, recalling the eccentric millionaire’s descent into mental illness in his last years of life.
“Yeah.  Times ten.”
Then he abruptly changed the subject.  Again….