"You'd do anything for him, wouldn't you? Why do you feel you owe him so much?"
"You wouldn't know, Sandy."
"Then tell me? Let me know what's going on. No secrets, remember?"
That was a tiny conversation piece between Sandy and Kirsten I came up with in my head, and the rest of it followed. I have, of course, taken liberties, but not enough to be noticeable I hope. This takes place between The Gamble and, um, later. I can't really narrow it down further, I don't think, since Jimmy is still obviously with Julie. Oh, and serious angst warning. Please review!
"So, what's for dinner?" Sandy walked into the house, dropped his briefcase and promptly kissed his wife, taking a moment to inhale the smell of her shampoo, the scent of her perfume, her skin.
"I've ordered Thai. Just need to pick it up in about twenty minutes." Kirsten reached up to encircle her arms around Sandy's neck.
"So, what wars of the world have you been solving today?" Sandy smiled, leaned into her embrace.
"Well, there was an issue with breast implants going wrong. There was a disagreement over fencing boundaries. And lets not forget the dog whose owners are in the middle of a divorce, both fighting for custody." Kirsten leaned up and gave him a lingering kiss.
"Well, you're still my hero."
"Thanks, honey." Another kiss. And another.
"Guys, really. I may already be emotionally stunted by this. As an angsty teen growing up in today's society, I don't need any more emotional bereavement." Seth walked through the kitchen, grimacing at his embracing parents.
"Good afternoon to you too, son." Sandy smiled, looking up to Seth. Kirsten reluctantly dropped her arms.
"I'm gonna go see if Ryan had a better day than me. Please, be across the kitchen from each other when we come back in." Seth left, leaving the kitchen door open behind him. Kirsten reached back up to Sandy.
"Dare we incur the wrath of Seth?" Sandy asked.
"You know them. They won't be back in until we call them in for dinner." Kirsten leaned her face up to Sandy's, waited for his lips to meet hers. Five minutes later, they both came up for air.
"Well, if that's a preview of coming attractions…" Kirsten smiled as she walked around the kitchen bench to grab her bag.
"So… You planning on staying after dinner, or do you have to go back to the office," she asked.
"Staying. Definitely staying." Sandy said.
"Glad to hear it. I'm going to get the food- could you do the table?" Sandy gave her a salute, as she wrinkled her nose at him.
Opening the front door, Kirsten was surprised to see a hand poised to knock.
"Jimmy?" She said, then looked back through the house to see if Sandy had noticed.
"Sorry to drop in on you like this Kirsten. I just…" Jimmy waited while Kirsten shut the front door.
"What is it, is everything okay? Julie, the kids?"
"What? Oh, yeah, you know, same as always."
"I have to get dinner, do you want to come along? We can talk in the car." Jimmy nodded, and they both climbed into Kirsten's SUV.
It was five minutes before anyone spoke.
"So, what's on your mind, Jimmy?" Kirsten finally broke the silence, waiting at a red light. She clasped both hands in her lap, waiting for green.
"It's just this thing with work."
"The hundred thousand was enough, right?" Kirsten put her foot down as the green light came on.
"Yeah, I… I think I'm in more trouble than I first thought."
"Jimmy, what is it?" Kirsten's eyes, luminous under each streetlight, found Jimmy's for the briefest of moments before turning back to the road.
"I don't think my family will survive what I've done. I don't think Julie will stick around if we've got no money. The girls will hate me… I just… I think I've let it all go too far." Kirsten waited, let his words sink in.
"Jimmy, Julie loves you. Not because you have money, but because you're you. She wouldn't leave you just because you have no money."
"We're not talking about you, Kirsten." Jimmy's words stopped Kirsten for a moment, paused her next sentence before it had begun.
"I'm sorry, Kirsten. That was out of line. I just… Sometimes I wish things had gone differently. Ended up differently. I mean, we started out okay, didn't we. Where did it all go so wrong?" Jimmy's last few words, uttered almost inaudibly, coincided with them pulling into the Thai takeaway place.
"Jimmy…" Kirsten didn't want to explain it to him. Again. They'd had this conversation many, many times before. It was their standard conversation, the one they always came back to. The unresolved feelings Jimmy had for her, her reservations in return. The secret that threatened to break free of her lips every time they got to this point.
"I'm going to run in and get the food. I'll be back soon." Kirsten grabbed her purse out of her bag and headed inside.
Jimmy sat in the car, sullenly staring out the window, still wondering how they'd come to this. Wondering how he'd lost her. Straining to remember memories that had been made so long ago.
Kirsten's cell phone rang, startling him. He found it in her bag, squinted at the display, flicked it open.
"Jimmy?" Sandy's voice was surprised, concerned, vaguely ominous.
"Yeah, I came for the drive with Kirsten. Needed to talk. She's inside, getting the Thai."
"Can you tell her to pick up some milk on the way back? We're nearly out. The boys will need cereal in the morning."
There was a stilted moment in the conversation, words between them, as always, left unsaid. The fear that too many words would be said, that they wouldn't restrain themselves. It was useless anyway, Sandy had won. Occasionally, very rarely, Jimmy would be able to unsettle their balance. In times like these, he held the upper hand. He was out with Kirsten, while Sandy was at home. But it was always Sandy she returned to. Sandy disconnected, and Jimmy flipped the phone shut.
Kirsten arrived back with arms full. Jimmy opened the back door for her to put everything on the backseat.
"Thanks." Kirsten brushed her hands, threw her purse into her bag in the front, turned to shut the door. Found Jimmy, standing uncomfortably close, half blocking her way out of the niche created between the door and the car. Kirsten waited. She hated that he did this, hated other people invading her space. Hated Jimmy for being able to unsettle her like this. Hated looking at him when he was this close, and remembering his taste, how he looked, naked in the dark. How he had touched her…
He stepped back, allowed her around him, shut the door.
"Sandy called." He said when they were both back in the car. She felt a quick flash of fear in her stomach, knowing there would be questions, accusations left hanging in the air.
"He asked you to pick up some milk on the way home." Kirsten nodded, put the car in reverse.
"I told him I just needed to talk." Kirsten nodded again, shifted back to drive.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to cause problems…" Jimmy trailed off, realising what he was saying wasn't quite true. He wanted to cause enough problems to have Kirsten run back to him, hold him the way she used to, save her kisses for him. Tell him she loved him as soon as they woke up. Kiss him just because she could. Allow him to kiss her.
"Sandy knows we're friends. He trusts me." Kirsten turned a corner, accelerated.
"Still… It sounded, on the phone." Jimmy stopped, knowing how hard he made it for her. For her to stay friends with him and still keep peace with her husband. For her to still like him after witnessing him at his worst.
"It's okay, Jimmy. Really, Sandy's okay with it." Kirsten made a left hand turn, started the drive back up the winding stretch to her house.
"I still love you, Kirsten. I know you might not still love me, as much as you love Sandy, but I love you. I can't help it. You don't know… It's like a drug, loving you. Except it never leaves your system." Kirsten pushed her foot a little harder on the accelerator. She didn't want to do this again. She didn't want to have to see the hurt in Jimmy's eyes, the accusations in Sandy's. Her own eyes, guarded but frightened… The secret…
"You can't hate me for that, Jimmy." Kirsten said quietly.
"I can't hate you at all!" Jimmy's sudden shout in that small space made Kirsten jump, swerve slightly, recorrect.
They were both silent, then. She, thinking of how he would hate her if he knew… Knew the secret they should've shared, when she was 17, when they were still young and foolishly in love, making plans for a future that she had forced their only child to miss out on. A future they had all missed out on. She didn't regret it, she just wished it hadn't happened at all. After cotillion, Jimmy's body, so heavy on hers. Her white dress, bunched on the floor. She remembered going to a party afterwards, feeling different, seeing Jimmy laughing with his friends, knowing she was the topic of conversation. He was getting a lot of backslaps, she was drinking too fast. She knew the risks. Unprotected sex. But it never happened to you on your first time. Or your second… Or third… They were stupid. She knew that. Knew, also, that stupidity was never an excuse for anything. When she'd finally figured out why she was feeling so sick, why she craved foods she usually never ate, why she was so moody, she felt like killing herself. She'd drank a bottle of vodka alone, and made her decision then. In the morning, suffering a hangover and morning sickness together, Kirsten thought her idea over again, and decided to make it her plan. She'd fly to New York by herself, tell her parents she needed a break from school to get better, find an anonymous clinic, take in some shopping and fly back. The plan worked perfectly until the afternoon after the clinic visit. Kirsten had managed to distance herself while it was actually happening… The three pills, forcing your body into early contractions. The pain, her womb contorting to push the foetus out. The suction, removing the rest of it. The polite aloofness of the doctor, probably pitying the waifish, wan blonde girl who walked around in Gucci and pretended she was okay about aborting her child. She was into her third shop, already laden with bags, when she looked around the expensive dresses in the boutique, looked at the other shoppers, probably all looking back at her with pity in their eyes, seeing the shame on her face. She was a murderer. She had killed her first born child, and she hadn't even tried to find out if it was a boy or a girl. She'd stayed in New York for a week, and cried for days. She'd consumed more vodka in a week than her mother usually drank in a month. And she finally convinced herself that she was okay, that no one had to know, that it was another dirty little secret in her family. That she could still look Jimmy in the eyes and tell him she loved him. She could still be the golden girl of Newport, the one everyone aspired to be. She promised herself she was done crying over her baby, promised herself people did this all the time, promised herself no one would find out. She promised Jimmy she'd be back by Sunday so they could go to a party. She had already promised him her body, used him to try and fill the void she created, knew it had turned sour, knew her love for him had somehow been aborted at the same time as their child. Knew they couldn't be together.
But Jimmy didn't know it, not then. He still didn't get it now.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy." Kirsten said, knew she was apologising for more than his misplaced love.
Another bout of silence between them as she rounded the corner towards her house. Kirsten pulled up outside his driveway.
"You don't have to apologise to me. It's me that should apologise. I can't keep doing this. I know I can't, but it's just…" Kirsten nodded. She knew old habits died hard. In an abrupt move, Jimmy reached across, lessened the space between them as he turned her head towards him and kissed her. At first, she relaxed into it, thinking of how much he needed this, how much she owed him. Then she thought of Sandy, of her surviving children, the ones that needed her now.
She pulled back. Jimmy let his hand trail over her cheek as she looked down, ashamed.
"Sorry, I just…" Jimmy tried to apologise, thought better of it. "Goodnight, Kirsten." Kirsten just nodded, tried not to let him see her eyes glistening in the half light. As soon as he shut the door, she drove up her own driveway. As she was grabbing the Thai, she remembered the milk.
"Shit." Kirsten said as she struggled to open the door.
"Dinner," she called out as she finally got in. Sandy appeared in the hallway, his face an impenetrable mask, eyes hooded, no familiar smile pulling at his lips.
"I forgot the milk." Kirsten admitted. She walked through to the kitchen, letting Sandy close the door.
"Why, other things on your mind?" Sandy asked. Kirsten put the Thai down and leaned against the counter, shutting her eyes.
"I'm not having this conversation with you. Not now." She said quietly.
"I didn't know there was a conversation to have. About driving around with your ex-boyfriend, the man you leant a hundred thousand dollars to without batting an eyelash, the man who comes running to you every time he had a problem, instead of telling his own wife… If there's a conversation there, I want to have it. I want to talk about it now." Sandy's final words fell on the ears of Seth and Ryan, who'd just come in from the poolhouse. Obviously, male teenage instincts had kicked in, and they'd smelt the Thai across the patio.
"So, guys, I didn't actually mean you should be standing across the kitchen from each other… I just didn't want there to be any hands-on action." Seth grabbed a few boxes of Thai and sat at the table. Ryan, less oblivious to the tension in the room, got juice out of the fridge. Kirsten had opened her eyes and was staring at Sandy. He had backed off a little, not wanting to upset Seth or Ryan. She could tell he still wanted to fight about it, could see he wanted to get it out of his system. She didn't think she could take Jimmy's yelling, his kiss, which she had almost returned, and Sandy as well.
"I'm going to go get the milk." Kirsten said. She nodded to herself, picked up the keys from where she had left them, and walked out of the room.
"Very mature. Just walk away. We're not done, you know." Sandy's voice echoed after her. She heard it quiet down as he started to talk to the boys, and slipped out into the cool night air.
"What's all that about Dad?" Seth asked with his mouth full. Sandy found the dumplings amongst all the food Kirsten had bought, and took it to the table.
"Just an argument. You know women. They always think they're right." He still couldn't bring himself to say anything bad about her, especially not to the boys. He didn't want them to see how deep Jimmy Cooper had crawled under his skin.
"So, how has your day been?" Sandy looked at Ryan, then at Seth.
"Well, I passed calculus. How it relates to real life, I'll never know, but it's now in my artillery of knowledge. And I found The X-Men second edition comic. It's rare. It centres around Jean Grey, who happens to be able to kick all their asses."
"Seth don't say ass." Sandy immediately took Kirsten's place as the censorship officer. "At least not at the dinner table," he amended himself.
"So, Ryan, what did you get up to?" Ryan shrugged.
"Went to the library. Studied some." Sandy nodded.
"So, like I was saying, I got the comic book. Then I happened to be talking to the guy who runs the comic book store and he said…" As usual, Seth filled the silence. It wasn't that he didn't want to listen to his son, but Sandy found his mind drifting to Kirsten. They seemed to be fighting more lately. He'd put it down to stress. They'd both been working flat out lately due, in part, to his firm suing her company. Maybe there was more to it, maybe there was something else there…
Sandy shook his head. He trusted Kirsten implicitly. Besides, she was a terrible liar. He'd know if anything had happened with Jimmy.
"Got Tourette's now, Dad? Saw you shaking your head. Are you disagreeing with my fine rendition of the story of how Jean Grey takes over Storm's mind to help direct the lightning?"
Kirsten saved Sandy from having to make up any kind of reply by returning.
"Milk," she said simply, putting it in the fridge.
"Are you eating, Mom?" Seth asked, motioning towards the cartons that littered the table.
"I'm not that hungry. I'm going to go take a shower." Where I can cry as much as I want without anyone knowing about it. Kirsten smiled as brightly as she could manage, while avoiding Sandy's eyes.
"Night, guys." She said, giving Seth and Ryan a small wave. Ryan nodded in return.
"Night, Mom." Seth countered, before continuing with his story. Kirsten made it as far as the shower, and had started taking her clothes off before Sandy came into their bedroom. She hadn't locked the bathroom door, had known it would make him more suspicious. He knocked as she reached in to turn the shower on. Immediately, steam began billowing over the top of the shower recess.
"It's open," Kirsten called, before stepping into the shower. She saw Sandy come in, perch on the edge of the spa.
"Just tell me he felt like getting Thai as well, and you happened to be going down there. Or that he needed to pick something up for Julie that couldn't have waited until morning." Sandy spoke over the top of the shower's loudness, his accent unusually harsh as it bounced around the room. Kirsten sniffed, scrubbed her scalp until it hurt, tried to hold back her tears. She hated herself for it. She hated that his simple hope, that nothing had happened, was something she would have to dash. She hated Jimmy for doing this to her. She hated herself for letting him. She hated having to make a choice 20 years ago that had left her guilt-struck and hollowed, even now. She couldn't hold back the tears, and she held her head up to the water, feeling her tears meet with the hotter water, flow down to the drain. Silent sobs shook her body, and she tried to get control, remind herself of the promise she had made so long ago. No more crying. Not over that. Kirsten couldn't help herself, and sniffed again, this time loud enough for Sandy to hear. He cracked open the door of the shower.
She was so thin. And getting thinner, he was sure. She'd always been petite, but was now smaller than that. Her eyes, wet not only from the shower but from pooling tears, met his, and he opened the shower door wider. She reached out to him, her face finally crumpling as they hugged. She was still silent as her body shook. She'd always been a quiet crier.
"What is it, honey?" Sandy rubbed her wet back, ran a hand over her wet hair. He knew it was more than this, more than Jimmy, more than their recent fights, more than the stress of her job and being perfect enough to keep her father happy.
"There's something I have to tell you, Sandy." As she drew back to look at him, he saw her eyes. They looked so sad. He didn't know if he'd seen her look this sad before without actually knowing whose funeral they were going to.
"It's okay, honey. I love you. Whatever you tell me, we can handle together. God, I love you so much." Sandy pulled her into another embrace, this time more for his benefit. He loved this woman more than heaven and earth, and he knew she loved him. But he could tell, whatever truth she wanted to uncover tonight, it was going to be difficult for the both of them.
Kirsten sniffed once more, before letting Sandy go. He reached in and turned the shower off for her, getting wetter in the process. She waited, childlike, until he got her a towel and wrapped it around her. He briskly rubbed her to warm her up. The steam was starting to settle, pooling around their ankles like a misty wonderland.
"I love you, Sandy." Kirsten said. She knew she needed to say it before she started. Knew she was worrying him more, but couldn't help it. She did love him. She was so overwhelmed, still, after all these years of marriage, that he still loved her, wanted to be with her. He might not when she was done, might see her as the 17-year-old child killer that she was. Kirsten almost let out another sob, but controlled herself. It was all about control. She didn't want to fall apart halfway through, without telling Sandy her reasoning, why she had to do it.
"You should get some dry clothes on." Kirsten said. Sandy was damp all down his front, and his right arm was soaked from turning the water off. He followed her out of the bathroom, turning the light off. She walked to the door, listened for a few moments- the boys were still in the kitchen, Seth talking, Ryan probably tolerating, before shutting the door, sealing them out.
Sandy had taken the opportunity to change into some boxer shorts and an old university shirt. He settled himself on the bed, turning on a bedside light so Kirsten could turn off the main light.
"Come here." Sandy patted the bed beside him. Kirsten took a deep breath before joining him. She was screaming inside, and shaking on the outside. Did she really want to let it out? Could she tell him? Would he still love her? Would telling someone make the guilt go away?
"Sandy." She started with his name. She loved his name. She loved saying it. Loved him smiling at her when she did. Although, tonight, there was no smile. Kirsten looked at the bedspread, found her hand unconsciously worrying at the expensive silk before Sandy captured it, like a wounded butterfly.
"Kirsten, please." She nodded, still not looking up. Not knowing if she could look him in the eye after this.
"When I was 17, Jimmy and I were… Together. We had plans… Marriage, children, house, careers…" Kirsten willed herself to just get it over with, knowing her padding the story wasn't helping Sandy's mood. Allaying her fears, she kept going.
"When I was 17, I got pregnant. It was unplanned." She felt Sandy's stillness, his shock. She forced herself to look up into his eyes.
"Jimmy didn't know, doesn't know now. I was really sick, and there was no one I could tell… We didn't have a baby in our plans," Kirsten stalled for a moment, realising how cold she sounded. "I went to New York and had an abortion in a clinic in Queens. I drank myself stupid and cried my eyes out for a week. And I came back and never told anyone. Jimmy… I just couldn't look at him. Still can't look at him without feeling guilty. I hate what I did, but I wouldn't have done it differently. I hate holding this secret to myself for so long." Kirsten felt tears trickle down her cheeks, quickly looked down, away from Sandy's eyes, to wipe them away. She wasn't surprised when he let go of her hand, but she was surprised when he wrapped her in a hug and pulled her close to him. His chin rested on the top of her head so that she could feel the vibrations of his voice through her body as he spoke.
"Oh, honey, you've kept this to yourself for this long…" Kirsten cried harder at his understanding. He stroked her drying hair, made shushing sounds.
"You don't hate me?" Kirsten asked, sitting up, turning herself around to look at him.
"No, it was a hard choice. You made the right choice for you at the time. I just can't believe you've kept it to yourself for so long." Kirsten moved herself fully over, onto Sandy. She wiped her eyes, relieved that they were staying dry. Maybe her crying had finished.
"Jimmy can't know. He can't, Sandy. But every time I see him… I just feel guilty." Kirsten leaned down into Sandy's warm embrace.
"That might be something you have to live with. But think about it, what do you think he would've wanted to do. You weren't out of high school. He was probably still partying, enjoying his lifestyle. He probably wouldn't have wanted it, Kirsten." Kirsten nodded against his chest. She couldn't help thinking, like she had for the last twenty years, that maybe he would've wanted her to have their child – old habits died hard.
"I love you, Sandy." Kirsten said. She moved up to kiss him, felt him respond, eagerly moved her hands downwards. Sandy pulled back a little, stilled her hands with his.
"Are you sure you want to do this now?" He asked, knowing she'd given a piece of herself to him with this new truth. She searched his eyes with hers, finding no pity, no hatred, nothing that she had imagined would be there. He was still her Sandy, and he still loved her. And she loved him.
"Definitely." She said. Sandy smiled, allowed her hands to roam free again, as his reached for the light, and her towel.
Afterwards, lying naked in Sandy's arms, hearing his steady breath, Kirsten smiled. The guilt didn't go away, but it lessened. And god, she loved him so much, this foolish man from the Bronx who had unwittingly entered her life. His patience, his love for her, his acceptance… Kirsten sighed into his chest as she stretched a hand down to interlace their fingers. As accepting as he was, she thought telling him about Jimmy kissing her should be saved for another day.