A/N: Really, really long chapter ahead. Thanks to Essy for her patience betaing and putting up with my response to the first go-around. I wrote one of the scenes out of this chapter about eighteen months ago, during a particularly boring day of work, and have been waiting and waiting to use it. A love note to New York seemed an appropriate setting. That said, screw you, Hurricane Sandy.
In order of importance, my requests to readers are as follows: 1) if you are American, remember to vote on Tuesday, 2) review so that I feel validated and don't resort to wearing black stockings and crying in the corner of my room while misinterpreting Tori Amos lyrics and drawing spider tattoos on myself in Sharpie, and 3) do not "favorite" 39 of my stories in one sitting, thus flooding my inbox, and fail to leave a review. It's annoying, and that's how I miss good Groupons.
We take the train to New York on Friday evening – I'm able to switch the last few hours of my shift with another attending so that we can catch a seven o' clock train, which means that Joe will be awake just long enough to be mesmerized by the whole experience and fall asleep before he loses interest. It's too dark for him to see anything out the window, but Luka holds him on his lap anyway, and points to pretty much anything with lights on it, which Joe seems to be perfectly content with. I watch them for a while, just enjoying the looks on both of their faces, and then Luka and I switch places and he hands Joe over to me. He's asleep before the second page of The Very Quiet Cricket, which long ago lost its chirping capabilities, and I drift off a couple of minutes later.
I wake up with my head on Luka's chest and his arm around me, and a damp spot on my shirt where Joe's head is. I'm not exactly sure at what point he's supposed to outgrow the drooling phase, but I wouldn't mind if it happened soon. Luka hands me a tissue and asks if I want him to take Joe.
"No." I wipe off my shirt and Joe's chin and then lean my head back against Luka. "We're good."
"Okay." I can feel him smiling against my head as he kisses it. It's strange – I've seen so many couples our age who look like they've completely outgrown any sort of affection or, well, desire, but I guess in the scheme of things, even if we have been together in some capacity, either as a couple or as friends, for eight years now, we're still technically newlyweds. I mean, I don't think all that time we weren't together counts in that respect, because we've only really lived together, in one house, as husband and wife for about six months. Sometimes I do think it's strange to be almost forty and in the same place, chronologically, as some twenty-somethings, but I also know that we've got a hell of a lot on twenty-somethings as far as a meaningful relationship goes. And I hope we don't outgrow the affection or desire and turn into one of those couples that are basically just roommates with a child. I don't think we will, but at the same time, I didn't think we'd ever be the sort of couple who lived in the suburbs and had playdates with our son and his best friend and her gay fathers who bring over quiche Lorraine and macaron. And I figured if we did, I'd be in the kitchen throwing back Percocet and vodka tonics, but I'm not. And I'm not even tempted these days. "Want some chocolate?"
I glance at him, and he frowns. "What?"
"Do you even have to ask?"
He laughs and pulls a candy bar from the bag under the seat. "Here."
"I've kind of got my hands full."
"Right." He breaks off a piece and holds it in front of my mouth for me. "Better?"
"Mmhmm." It occurs to me that this could be a very sexy moment, were it not for the drooling toddler sprawled on my lap and the train full of people. "How long did I sleep?"
"Not long. Still an hour to go. Bored?"
I rest my head back in the space where his shoulder meets his chest and let him feed me another piece of chocolate. "Not really. I can't remember the last time I didn't actually have something to do."
"Almost like a vacation, huh?"
"Almost." He holds out another piece of chocolate, but I shake my head and watch him eat it, himself. "You still owe me a trip somewhere tropical, you know. New York in November doesn't count."
I feel him laugh. "Yeah, I know."
"Well you better make it happen soon, before I get incredibly old and can't wear a bikini without scaring children."
"Never going to happen," he murmurs.
We're both quiet for a little while, and I just watch Joe sleep, twitching every so often. He's always done that, not in any way that makes me worry, just…I don't know. An active dreamer, I guess. Luka does it too, on his good nights, when he's sound asleep. I like those little things they share.
He runs the backs of his fingernails up and down my arm, over and over, and I kind of have to think if I ever developed some kind of anxiety disorder, I wouldn't need medication, just for him to do this for a few minutes, and I'd be fine. It's soothing, not just the rhythm or being touched, but because I know that when he's doing it, it means he's relaxed, too.
I drift off again and when I wake up, we're pulling into the station. Joe starts to whine but stops abruptly and pulls himself up on my lap to look out the window. "Look!" His palms are leaving imprints on the glass and I can see a couple of people on the platform looking back at him and smiling. He pounds his hand against the window. "Look!"
"Yes, I see the people."
"No." He smacks his hand on the window again. "Dere, 'dat look!"
"I don't – oh. The doggy?"
Luka starts to collect our things. "We're going to get off the train, okay?"
"Yes," I tell him. "We're going to go and ride in a taxi."
"My doggy ride?"
"I don't think that dogs are allowed in taxis. And that doggy needs to go with his family. Come on."
"No. Mine." He bats my hand away as I start to pick him up. "My doggy."
I suppose I should be glad that he's starting to grasp the concept of ownership and using the correct possessive pronouns and all that, but I decide I'll hold off on congratulating him on his mastery of language until after the impending tantrum. "Joe, we need to get off the train now. Don't you want to ride in the taxi?"
"Hey. Joe." Luka crouches down and tugs on his overalls just a little. Joe turns his head just enough that he can make eye contact. "You know what we can do if we go in the taxi?"
"No." He looks a little uncertain, like he's not sure if he's answering or disagreeing. His eyes go back to the dog.
"Well, like when you ride in the car, you can see the street outside. But here, you get to see lots of lights and very big buildings." Joe is almost completely facing Luka at this point. "You want to see if we can pick the biggest building?"
"Maybe Buzz can help," I add.
Joe looks from Luka to me, back to the dog, which is still sitting outside on the platform, and then back to Luka. "I help?"
Luka grins. "Yeah. Come on, you want Mama to carry you?"
"No." Joe clambers off my lap. "Tata up."
Luka rolls his eyes a little, but grabs Joe and hoists him up along with the bags. I reach out and grab the bigger of the two from him.
"Equal partnership." I shrug. I feel like I ought to be a little put out that Joe chose Luka over me, but really, I'm not. I think it's probably one of my favorite things, seeing how much Joe loves Luka, and I know he loves me too, and he demands our attention pretty evenly. But there's something about seeing that, the way Luka is with him and how Joe responds, that I can't explain. Reassures me that they're both happy. I guess it feels like kind of an accomplishment, that I was able to give Luka that feeling and that smile and that it's replicated on Joe.
I wake up on Saturday morning to find Joe snuggled contentedly beside me, with absolutely no clue how he got there. He has some magical ability to get on the bed without waking either me or Luka, and I'm honestly not sure if I'm facilitating the process in my sleep. It's entirely possible that I have developed the ability to pick him up and tuck him under the covers without ever waking up.
I slide Joe over just enough so that his elbow isn't digging into my liver – a hobby carried over from his days as a fetus – and reach over to check my watch. Quarter after seven. I hear the shower go off, and a few minutes later, Luka emerges, a towel wrapped around his waist.
I don't think that's an image I'll ever get tired of looking at.
"Hey," he whispers. "Go back to sleep. I'm meeting some of the students for breakfast, I can bring you something back."
"It's okay, Joe's going to be up soon. Unless you don't want to be seen with us."
He grins, and ignores my comment. "I said I'd be down at seven thirty. Do you want to meet us when you're ready?"
I slide out of bed, prompting Joe to pull his arms and legs close to his body like a turtle going into its shell and screw up his face in a scowl. He blinks sleepily and looks around, trying to work out what's different. "Mamaaa?" He looks at me unhappily and reaches up. "Mamaaa?"
"He really is just like you in the morning," Luka mutters.
"Incredibly adorable?" I sit down on the bed and Joe immediately scoots closer to me, sort of burrowing against my side. "You want to get dressed so we can go down and have breakfast with Tata?"
He shoves his thumb in his mouth and nods his head. "No."
"No? You don't want breakfast?"
He shakes his head. "Want."
"Okay…" I glance at Luka, who is very invested in getting dressed without getting involved in this. "You want breakfast?" He nods. "Are you being silly right now?"
He grins around his thumb and shakes his head. "No silly."
"I don't understand. Can you tell me what you want to do?"
"You go breakfast." He grabs hold of my shirt and pulls himself up. "Now."
"I see." I glance at Luka and shrug. "Do you care if I show up to breakfast not showered and totally unglamorous?"
"It's fine. I'll just tell the students you're the nanny."
I grab a pillow off the bed and throw it at him, which Joe finds absolutely hilarious. "Again!"
Luka laughs, and all of a sudden I'm back in his hotel room eight years ago and he's reading the apartment listings and I'm terrified by the idea of living with him because it means letting go of the measure of control that keeps me from getting hurt, and admitting to myself that he has the ability to do that.
Luka leans over me and I tilt my head back so he can kiss me. "The hot, younger nanny, I mean."
He kisses me again and rests his forehead on mine. "Just…maybe brush your teeth first, yeah?"
After breakfast, which is less a meeting between Luka and his students and more an opportunity for Joe to play to an audience, we head back upstairs so I can shower while Luka gets the grape jelly out of Joe's hair and changes into a suit. We walk around the conference area with Luka for a bit until Joe starts to whine because he's not allowed to touch the displays or run around, at which point Luka goes off to some presentation on triage in the field and Joe and I head off in search of a merry-go-round that's rumored to be nearby.
We eventually find it, and Joe is in total awe and I have to say no to riding a fourth time because I'm very close to throwing up. I do manage to get a picture of him for Maggie, which I'm hoping will make up for the dead camera battery on Halloween. We wander around Bryant Park for awhile and spend about ninety seconds listening to a children's story reading until Joe decides he's much more interested in watching people play fetch with their dogs. I guess it's nice that "fetch" has a broad audience appeal.
We head back to the hotel lobby to meet Luka for lunch, and I'm sort of spacing out and staring at this really ugly painting, when I hear my name. I feel the hairs on the nape of my neck prickling, and sure enough, when I turn around, there he is.
Shit. Not the husband I was hoping for.
"Richard," I manage. My grip on Joe's stroller tightens. I don't know if it's a defensive mechanism or subconscious preparation to use it as a weapon. I'm suddenly very aware that I'm wearing a pair of jeans I bought when my last name was still Wyczenski.
"What are you doing here?" He seems pleasant enough, and I decide that I can act like an adult, too, instead of just kicking him in the knee and running away.
I shrug. "It's a medical conference."
"Oh." He looks a little bit surprised. "So you finished med school, then?"
I briefly reconsider the kneecap plan, but Joe might be a little traumatized by witnessing that. I grit my teeth instead. "Yes. I'm actually an attending now."
"So are you presenting, then? I didn't see you in the program." He smiles, and not a particularly nice one. "I'd have noticed, it being my name and all."
"Wrong name," I lie. So, technically, my last name is still Lockhart, but I decide he doesn't need to know that.
"You got married again?" The "again" is definitely not necessary.
I hold up my hand, and it takes work to show him all five fingers and not just the middle one. "Yup."
"Congratulations again. And – so is this…?" He gestures to Joe.
"My son." I decide he's not deserving of knowing Joe's name.
"Wow," he repeats. "I didn't imagine you with a kid. You never wanted one."
With you, asshole. Being the bigger person here is becoming more and more of a challenge. "Things change." Like who I'm married to.
"Just the one, then?"
I can't help it. I nod, and look at him as coolly as I can manage. "For now." I'm extremely thankful that Joe isn't vocal enough yet to call me out on my creative half-truths. "How about you, still married?" Probably still cheating, if he is. I'm really wallowing in moral high ground, here.
Before he manages to answer in what I'm sure would have been a delightfully sanctimonious manner, I feel a hand on the small of my back and hear my name. This time, it doesn't raise my hackles. "Sorry I'm late, they - " Luka stops and it takes a minute to register exactly what is going on. "Richard?"
It takes Richard a little longer, but I don't think it's particularly easy to forget someone like Luka. There're not a lot of six-foot-four Croatians wandering around stateside. "Luke, was it?" I'm pretty sure he knows it's not.
"Luka." Being a better person than either of us, Luka holds out his hand. Richard shakes it after a moment, and I have to relish the look on his face. I'm pretty sure the one on mine is the definition of smug. I clear my throat and give Luka a look that I hope Richard still recognizes. But then again, I don't think I ever looked at him quite the way I look at Luka.
"We should get going." I turn to Richard. "Nice to see you."
"You, too. Congratulations on everything, again."
Luka waits until we're outside before asking, "What just happened?"
"Oh, you know. Friendly, mature reunion between exes."
"That wasn't what I'd call friendly."
I sigh. "I might've told him that I'd taken your last name and that we had plans to make lots and lots of babies together."
"Excuse me?" He actually stops walking.
"I just...he called it 'his' name. And I didn't like the way he said it. I didn't...it was a white lie, that's all. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of owning that part of who I am."
"And...the other thing?"
"He doesn't need to know we can't. It's none of his business. I don't know, he just looked at Joe like...like he was an accident. I could see it on his face. Like he didn't believe I'd ever actually intend to have a child."
"So you told him we were planning to have a bunch more."
"I more implied it."
"I'm just a little..." His hand brushes my arm gently. "We never even talked about another. And you implied...lots?"
I sigh. "I wasn't being entirely rational. I just wanted to make a point."
"Okay." We walk in silence for another block, and then I feel him take my hand and squeeze it gently. "If we could...I know this isn't the place to talk about it, I just...we never - "
"Luka, what just happened was me being completely irrational and not at all mature about things. If we could...I'd probably have asked Richard to watch Joe, dragged you upstairs, and demanded you get me pregnant on the spot. It wouldn't have had anything to do with actually thinking things out or acting like a responsible adult. He gets under my skin and he makes me...I don't know. Say or do things I normally wouldn't." I squeeze his hand back. "I'm sorry I freaked you out."
"It's okay. But, just...maybe we should talk about this stuff. Rationally, I mean."
I nod. "Okay."
"What you said about him owning a part of you...you know that's not true, right?"
"He has an incredible ability to make me feel small, Luka. It's part of what made it impossible for us to have a relationship." Among many, many other things. "Half an hour ago, it didn't matter to me that it was his last name to begin with. But...he just reminded me that it still associates me with him. It's this sort of deference. Like, if I'd actually been presenting at the conference, our names would have been right next to each other in the program. It still ties me to him in some way."
"But...Abby, you're not his wife, anymore. Your medical license says 'Abby Lockhart,' our marriage license, Joe's birth certificate...it's not his, anymore."
"And I'd have completely agreed with you before I ran into him. I don't know how to explain it, he just...he knows how to get to me. Maybe he didn't even mean to, but he did."
"Well..." We stop outside the restaurant. "Look. I don't care if it was his, once. It's who you've been as long as I've known you. But if you really don't want it...you can always have mine."
We don't talk about it anymore after that - Luka tells me about the presentation over lunch, and it strikes me just how proud he sounds, like they're his own kids. I don't think either of us realized just how perfect this job would be for him, able to be a doctor but also interact with people outside a trauma room and have an influence on their lives. I'm actually pretty proud of him, for that.
I fill Luka in on our plans for the afternoon - visiting FAO Schwarz, because I sort of feel obligated as a parent to bring Joe to the Mecca of toys even if it will give me a migraine, and then the Central Park Zoo, because, again, it's my obligation as a parent to bring joy to my child's life. Plus, I'm pretty sure a toy store and the zoo will ensure he's out cold by seven, which will make things much more convenient for everyone, as Luka successfully managed to bribe one of his students to babysit so we can go out.
"Have you decided where you're taking me for dinner?" I nudge his foot a little under the table.
He shrugs noncommittally. "Maybe."
"Maybe as in, it's a surprise, or maybe as in, you forgot to make a reservation and we'll be the best dressed couple at Burger King?"
Joe holds up a French fry as if to illustrate the latter. Luka leans down like he's going to eat it, and Joe pulls it away with a maniacal giggle, accidentally flinging it onto the floor. I guess we have to work on the follow-through.
"Maybe like don't ask so many questions. And stop pretending you don't go to the drive-through for French fries on your way home."
"I do not."
He gives me a look. "Then why does the car smell like a fast-food place?"
"Air-freshener. It's a new scent. Eau de calories."
I narrow my eyes a little and decide it's best for everyone if we change the subject. "What are they making you do for the rest of the day?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I thought your students already presented. What are you doing after lunch?"
"Oh. There are a couple of sessions the department wanted me to attend. I guess so they get something in return for paying for the hotel." He reaches out just in time to stop Joe from knocking over his water. "Hey, tell me what you want, I can put it on your plate."
Joe frowns and studies Luka's plate with the expression he always gets when he's trying to find the word he wants. His eyes light up. "Little toast."
"What? I don't – "
"He wants a crouton, Luka."
"Oh." He picks one up and hands it to Joe, who gazes at it like it's the Holy Grail. Luka turns to me. "How do you do that?"
"Understand him. I can't figure out half of it."
I shrug. "I have experience."
"You took a class in gibberish?"
"No. I just happen to have gotten some practice deciphering broken English over the past eight years." I'm trying, and failing, to keep from grinning.
He picks up a crouton from his salad and raises an eyebrow. "That wasn't nice. My English is not broken."
"You're right. I'm sorry. Your English is excellent."
"Except when you're tired. Or in the middle of…certain things. Or eight years ago when we first started dating and your hotel doorman thought I was a prostitute for about three months because you told him I was your 'companion.'"
He groans. "You're never going to forgive me for that, are you?"
"He asked me my rate, Luka. I mean, I've always wanted a moment out of 'Pretty Woman,' but that wasn't the one I'd have chosen."
"Little toast." Joe looks up at Luka expectantly. "Please."
Luka sighs and hands him another crouton. "Little toast?" He takes one and holds it out to me like a peace offering.
"You're so lucky I find your accent charming."
We leave Joe with a movie and a pair of med students – one of whom I gather after about eight seconds has an enormous crush on Luka – at seven for what I think is our first date since Maggie visited. It's not that we don't spend time just us, but between work and Joe and AA and everything else, it's easier to just stay at home and watch a movie or something.
As emotionally high-maintenance as both of us are, we're pretty low-key when it comes to Friday night plans.
He hails a cab and holds the door open for me – not because we're on a date, but because he's Luka and he's like that – and tells the driver an address. I glance at him and he just nudges me. "You'll see."
And I do. It's very obvious what's going on as soon as we get there, because I can see Rockefeller Center from the entrance to the restaurant. I look up at him. "You're taking me skating?"
"I'm taking you to dinner," he corrects me. "Then I thought…if you wanted to, we could go skating. If it's not – "
"No, I – it's great." I squeeze his hand. "Really. I'm just…I was surprised."
"You mean because I can't skate and will fall down?"
"I didn't say that." He holds the door of the restaurant open. "But…yeah, kind of."
"It's okay. I know a good doctor."
"I told you – stop moving around. Just keep the ice there, and be quiet, or Joe's going to wake up."
I sigh. "Are you trying to make me feel guilty because you took me skating?"
"No. I'm just…"
"I do not whine," he hisses. "I am expressing my pain."
"Oh, come here, you big crybaby." I pull back the covers, and he lies down very tentatively beside me.
"Well, put the ice back on." I reach over him for the bag and pull the sheet over him before setting the ice on his knee. "There."
He looks at me with an expression that's unnervingly familiar, which I suspect is because Joe uses the same one when he wants something. "Aren't you going to give me a sponge bath?"
I roll onto my side and prop my head on my hand. "Mmm…no. I don't want you getting the idea that taking me to dinner automatically means I'll sleep with you."
The corners of his mouth twitch. "I don't recall ever having to buy you dinner to get you into bed."
"Did you really just imply that I'm easy?"
"No." He bites his lip. It's ridiculously sexy when he bites his lip. "I implied that you're unable to resist me."
"Oh. Well, that's true." I lean in to kiss him. I hear the bag of ice fall off the bed as he pulls me closer, and we just lie there for a little bit, kissing, and I have to say it's nice to just do that, make out, and not have it be the lead-up to anything.
We're interrupted by a creak and then a soft thud and scuffling feet. We disentangle ourselves just as Joe peers around the edge of the bed, looking suspicious.
"Joe?" I lean across Luka to look at him.
He shrinks back behind the edge of the bed like maybe we didn't see him. Luka gives me a look that's somewhere between amused and annoyed. "Joe?"
The top of his head and some fingers appear over the comforter. "Big bed?"
I climb out and go around to where he's standing, looking pitiful. "Not tonight. Come on, Buzz and Froggie are going to be lonely without you."
He keeps wheedling as I tuck him back in and Luka just watches us while I rub his back until he falls asleep again, which takes about three minutes.
"I just want to point out that I have always been a good sleeper," I whisper as I crawl back in next to Luka.
"Hey, I would have put him to bed. If I wasn't lying here in pain, suffering."
He rolls over so he's facing me and one arm is draped across me, his fingers on my hip. "Besides, he likes you better at night."
"Because I'm a sucker. I can't say no to either one of you." He smiles and brushes his fingers along my waist. It's funny – I can tell what he's thinking sometimes just by how he touches me. Like I know right now he's relaxed. And happy. "Can I ask you something?"
"If we could…if I still could…would you want another one?"
He looks at me for a minute or so, and I can't tell if he's surprised that I brought it up or not. But it's kind of been a question I've wanted an answer to for a while, and never got up the courage to ask him. Except ever since this afternoon, I've been thinking about how shocked he looked when I told him I'd implied to Richard that we'd have more. "I don't know. I guess…I might." He sighs. "I always just figured…"
He shrugs, and there's a flicker of a smile on his face. "That we'd have another little accident. I mean…we got him," he nods toward where Joe is sleeping, "on the first try. So odds are…"
"Oh shut up." I shove him gently, but I can't help grinning. "It wasn't exactly a try. You caught me off guard. I'm usually – was usually – more careful."
"You make it sound like I snuck up behind you and got you pregnant."
"No." I rake my fingers through my hair. "I'm pretty sure I remember you being on top of me. At least the first two times. After that it gets a little hazy."
Now he's grinning, too, and looking at me like maybe he'd like to be on top of me again.
"Seriously, though…" I breathe in against the pillow. It smells like hotel shampoo, perfume, and Luka. "Assuming we didn't have any happy accidents, and that I could. If everything else was the same, is that – do you think you'd have wanted to?"
He reaches over and cups my face in his hand, stroking my cheekbone with his thumb. "I…" He trails off, and I hold his gaze. Even though it's dark, I can see his eyes, and I know he's afraid of hurting me, however he answers.
I turn my head and kiss his hand. "It's okay."
"I think I would," he says, so softly he's almost whispering. "Not…not because it feels like anything's missing. I just think…" He glances over to where Joe is sleeping. "It's hard not to want another one. More of us. It doesn't mean I'm less happy than I would be if we had more, though."
"I know that."
"Do you?" He frowns. "Because…before, when I said I thought being a father would make me feel whole again, I didn't…"
"Luka – "
"No, I want…I need to say it. I keep…not saying things." I feel his fingertips stroking my temple. "Feeling like I needed that to be whole, it – I felt that way before. And then…I know it was only a few weeks, but when we were together, before you told me you were pregnant, I didn't…I felt…" I kiss his palm again. "It didn't feel like that then. If you hadn't gotten pregnant, I think…I know it would have been enough. I think maybe wanting to be a father was just wanting to love something again."
I feel for a minute like I've walked into a live wire, or maybe a defibrillator, and there's this kind of electric sensation that goes through me and I'm not sure I can feel my hands. And then I definitely can, because they're on either side of his face and I'm halfway on top of him, kissing him, just completely desperate and I'm not sure for what. But god.
Eventually, Luka peels me off of him and there's a sort of bewildered, lopsided smile on his face. "If I'd known that was how to get you into bed…"
"Shut up, Luka." I can hear my voice and it's hoarse and I don't think I screamed, so it must be the other thing. I reach up and touch my face and realize it's wet "I don't…honestly, Luka…fuck."
He strokes my arm. "What?"
"I don't know. I don't know!" I cover my face with my hands, which are shaking. I'm halfway tempted to call down to the front desk and ask if they can send up a priest and a bottle of holy water, because whatever is going on is completely foreign to me. I lower my voice again. "I don't know why…why hearing that makes me feel…I don't know."
"I thought you knew that, Abby. What I said that day, when I thought…what I said about not wanting that one decision to define us…did you think I was just saying that?"
"I don't know." I need to get that tattooed on my forehead. "I…maybe."
He pulls my hands off my face and there's this incredulous expression on his face. "Jesus, Abby, you actually don't know how much I love you."
"I do. I just – "
"I don't think so." He moves his hand from my face to his and rubs his forehead. "God, I get it now."
"Why…" He trails off and doesn't say anything for a few minutes. And then he does, but his voice is different. Almost sad. "You didn't…you really didn't know if I'd come back."
I look at him and he looks back at me and suddenly I feel a little bit ashamed of myself. "I'm sorry."
"Why would you be sorry?"
"I should have…when you said…everything. I should have trusted you."
"I should have said it in the first place." He shakes his head a little. "I took it for granted. I knew what that felt like, having somebody who felt that way, and…you didn't. And I – I knew. When you said you wanted the baby…and when you asked me to ask you again…even though it scared you." He reaches for my hand. "When I asked you the first time, did you think it was just because I wanted to do the right thing?"
I don't say anything. I'm not sure anything good would come of admitting that when he said we should get married, all I could think about was how he'd said he wanted to do the right thing when he'd thought Nicole was the one having his baby. As much as I want to talk to him and be honest with him so that we make this all work, there are a couple of things that he never needs to hear.
He rolls onto his side so his head is hovering above mine and he's looking right into my eyes. "It wasn't because I thought I should. I wanted to be with you. Baby or no baby." He traces my cheekbone with his thumb. "I still do."
"Me too." It comes out as a sort of scratchy whisper.
He leans down to kiss me again. "I'm glad."
I pull him toward me and we lie there awhile, holding onto each other, and after awhile I stop feeling I've been shot full of epi and relax against him. I turn my head so I can see his face, and he looks back at me in that way that makes me shiver. "Luka."
"What?" He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear.
"It wasn't just that."
"I mean, thinking you wanted to do the right thing. I was scared. I'm still scared, I guess."
I don't answer him right away. Not because I don't know, but because saying it will inevitably sound either accusatory or like I'm making excuses for being screwed up.
"Hey." He slides his hand over my cheekbone and up into my hair and turns my head toward him. "Just tell me."
I swallow, and it comes down on me in a wave just how much this trust thing has allowed me to sabotage myself and just how many times it's been a roadblock in our relationship. A lot of people would've just let it be and said screw it, and he didn't. I think he's the first person who's ever actually gotten through that barrier.
"I wasn't sure you meant it."
"Meant it…you mean you thought I didn't want to marry you at all?"
I shrug a little and now I can't look at him because I know how much it must've hurt when I didn't say yes and how much it must hurt now to hear me say I didn't believe him. I feel him take my hand and his breath on my shoulder and I know I have to answer him. "It's stupid. I was stupid. I – you shouldn't have – "
"Abby." He touches my cheek.
"I – I was twenty when Richard and I started going out. And I moved in with him six months later. I didn't want to live on campus, and he had graduated and didn't want to have to 'be around a bunch of college kids' whenever he wanted to see me, as he put it. So I moved in with him. And it was fine, for awhile, and then we started fighting a lot, and it always ended with us…" I pause. "Well, we weren't talking things out. And eventually that was just sort of what we did, and I was young and incredibly stupid so I just chalked it up to being passionate instead of being completely dysfunctional." I shift a little and he doesn't say anything, but he doesn't move his hand from the base of my head. "The night he proposed was the first time it ever went beyond just yelling. We completely trashed the apartment."
"Did he…" I can feel Luka tense up.
"No. Whatever else went on, he never hit me. Probably because he knew I was good with a bat. But no, I mean, it started out that one of us threw a glass – I can't even remember who – and we both just lost it, breaking each other's stuff and screaming and it was all very made-for-television. Particularly the part when we'd kind of hit the peak and were completely exhausted, and I started crying and he started apologizing and then he just…proposed. And that was that. We cleaned up and it was like nothing happened, and a couple days later he bought me a ring." I leave out the part about having decidedly violent sex in the midst of it all. I don't think I figured out until we were getting divorced that passionate didn't mean leaving each other with bite marks and bruises. When all was said and done, that was probably the only time we were honest with each other, when we were actually expressing our anger. "When I filed the divorce papers, he told me he should've left it alone, that he hadn't wanted to marry me to begin with and he bought the ring because it was cheaper than breaking up."
He's quiet for a few minutes, and I can feel my heart beating and my pulse rushing, just waiting for him to say something. Anything.
"Did you believe him?"
"I don't know. Sometimes. There were plenty of times when we were together that he seemed like he'd rather be somewhere else. And I probably seemed the same. I can't really blame him for having buyer's remorse."
"Abby," he murmurs.
"And I mean – Carter, and the ring, and I can't actually blame him for changing his mind. I was beyond screwed up, and we'd said the words, kind of, but it never really meant anything, I don't think. It was like when you hang up the phone and you say it."
"And I mean – I shouldn't put that on you. I know you're not the same and I know…cognitively, I know you wouldn't have asked me if you didn't want to. I just…I was scared and I was still stupid. I couldn't even tell you I loved you."
"Abby." He smiles a little. "You weren't the only one. I could say it in Croatian and when you were asleep, but I was so afraid of…I guess of scaring you, of what the hell I'd say next, of what I'd do if you didn't say it back…I asked you to marry me – badly – and I still hadn't said it to you."
I reach for him and he gets the hint and kisses me back, and my heart is beating even faster now, probably because it doesn't know what to do with itself. I pull back a little. "Looks like we're both kind of fucked up, huh?"
"I think maybe we're getting better."
"Maybe." I reach over and shove the bag full of half-melted ice off the bed and pull the covers up over both of us. I feel Luka's hand settle back on my waist. "Sometimes I wasn't asleep."
"When you said it. I wasn't always asleep."
"No. And I know you think it's a secret code or something, but I figured it out in Croatian like…eight years ago."
He smiles. "Is that so?"
"So I'm incredibly irrational and don't know how to trust other people. And I have a knack for getting in my own way." I frown. "And I should probably come with an instruction manual or something."
I feel his fingers skim across the curve of my hip. "I don't mind figuring it out ourselves. Although, the part about you being irrational and not knowing how to trust people and getting in your own way?"
"Yeah." He's looking me dead in the eye and the thing is, it doesn't scare me anymore when he looks at me like that. "And you're worth the challenge."