Transition

One of my mates told me recently that he felt that he should be picking out engagement rings. Apparently he’d woken up next to his girlfriend and said that he could do that for the rest of his life. I’d smiled, because that’s what you’re supposed to do; let people bathe in their happiness even if it’s stupid. But I knew better. That type of shit is only true when you’re happy, when you still believe your girl is turning you into a better man, and even then, she still woke up half an hour before you to sneak out of bed so she could brush her hair, wash her face and gurgle some mouthwash.

Kayla had never been good at that, but then I hadn’t been used to sleeping next to someone who curled into me, locking one leg over mine as if to make sure I wouldn’t leave. I’d never considered myself a light sleeper but maybe that was after becoming accustomed to sleeping next to someone who slept like the dead, who didn’t sneak out of bed, who was so secure in our relationship, in the way we loved each other, that it wasn’t necessary. Not that it was necessary with Kayla, there was a time, before she was really mine, that I thought I’d always want to wake up to her too. But one person can’t have that much, or at least I couldn’t. Kayla and I didn’t have a honeymoon phase, didn’t even have an actual honeymoon after we married . After the baby was born, we said.

The alarm clock blared and I groaned, trying to turn it off as quickly as possible. Not quickly enough, though, as I heard Kayla stir next to me. “Sorry,” I muttered, a yawn cutting off my apology.

I turned toward Kayla, who was already looking at me through heavy lidded eyes that were swollen red, the tear tracks still clear on her cheeks. She looked dead tired and had to be even more tired than she looked. If I had only gotten four hours of sleep it was certain she’d gotten less. And despite that, she was still so fucking pretty. Not at all the type of girl I went after when I was in high school and still confused. I needed to be with average looking girls because everyone liked girls that looked like Kayla. She was the typical girl-next-door kind of person people lusted after. Long blonde hair, big blue eyes, high cheekbones, a body people liked to see plastered on billboards and freckles that made her seem so innocent even from across the room that night all too long ago, as I locked eyes with her and she suggestively sucked on the end of her straw. I remember feeling a pull deep in my gut then and thought, Oh. Oh this is what I’ve been waiting for.

As it was, I could do without waking up next to Kayla everyday. Her beauty failed to make an impression on me when it was masked by the sadness. Sadness that I knew wasn’t my fault, not entirely, not even mostly, but still made me feel guilty because I couldn’t do anything about it. I was so sick of feeling bad and even though it made me a horrible husband I was even more sick of Kayla being so goddamned sad all the time. I’d rather have an ugly wife that woke up happy every morning, because I could face that. I could wake up to happy everyday. I couldn’t keep waking up to this much longer.

“Thought you took a few days off work,” Kayla said hoarsely, her hand moving subconsciously to her swollen stomach. My eyes tracked the movement and I suppressed a sigh as my eyes locked on her abdomen. Still I reached out and touched her stomach, felt the baby move and felt marginally reassured.

“Yeah,” I said, my voice faint as Kayla touched the back of my hand lightly, for just a second, almost to confirm that she felt him move too. As I pulled my hand back I looked back up at her eyes. “Yeah. I did. I must have forgotten to turn off the alarm clock when we got back from the hospital. Go back to sleep.”

Kayla hummed and leaned in to kiss me. I indulged her for a few seconds, feeling obliged to, but broke the kiss off. I sat up, swinging my legs over the edge of the bed. “You know what day I’m looking forward to?” Kayla asked, softly.

I looked back at her and her face was inscrutable. “The day our baby is born?”

“No,” Kayla said, her tone edged with pessimism. I frowned and she closed her eyes tightly, grimacing. “Well, yes, obviously. But that’s not what I was talking about.”

“What then?”

I felt impatient for her to say whatever she had to say so that I could leave. It was selfish, of-course. The doctors had told us to keep a positive outlook when they confined Kayla to bedrest, and it would be nicer of me, better of me, to stay here with her and pretend that I felt positive when I didn’t, to comfort her with my presence because I still had the power to give her that much. But a positive outlook hadn’t helped lower Kayla’s blood pressure during the last two pregnancies even though the doctors routinely told us never to underestimate the power of positive thinking. Instead, Kayla had slowly convinced herself we were cursed and although I didn’t believe in curses I wasn’t totally sure she was wrong anymore.

“The day you kiss me without cringing.”

For a second, I couldn’t help but think that would be the same day our son was born, but then I felt guilt pool deep in my stomach. “I love you,” I said as imploringly as I could, taking her hand in mine and grazing my thumb against her wedding ring. Even I didn’t believe myself. I did love Kayla, it just took more reminding now than it used to.

“I know,” Kayla said with a sad smile and for a second I was worried she might start crying again.

I looked away from Kayla when she didn’t say anything else and stood up. “Since I’m up I’m going to do some errands,” I said, looking anywhere but at her. “Go back to sleep, babe.”

“I love you too, Robert,” Kayla said.

I closed my eyes and sighed. Opening my eyes again, I walked into the en suite knowing I was being a prick and that Kayla didn’t deserve it. By the time I was done showering, Kayla was asleep again. I felt relieved and subsequently guilty. Our children’s deaths certainly weren’t her fault, but I think Kayla felt like they were. I still had flashback nightmares of the way she apologised over and over and over again when she passed me the body of our last child, looking frail and weak from labour and tragedy. At the time, I’d tried shushing her, telling her it wasn’t her fault, trying to hold back tears as I looked at the corpse that should have been our daughter.

When we had gotten home from the hospital we had barely been able to look each other. We had slept in the same bed in a way to wordlessly convey to each other that our marriage wasn’t over, somehow. Weeks passed in near silence before finally one day, when I got home, Kayla looked up at me and told me she was ovulating in an uncertain way. And I felt that same pull in my stomach like the night we met. I wanted to be married. I wanted to have kids. This was what I’d been waiting for all my life even if it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.

Kayla wanted children before too, I imagine, even if she hadn’t been entirely sure she was ready to start a family the first time, but now it was almost like she was desperate to have a baby. She thought that if she didn’t give birth to a healthy child she’d lose me and she was probably right. However, it’s not like the decision to split up wouldn’t be mutual. Lately she was getting more distant, more standoffish, bringing up the fact that I wouldn’t have even married her had she not been pregnant over and over again, as if it made our marriage any less valid. Yesterday when I broke about 50 driving laws to get to the hospital after her call she could have been on a whole different continent for how absent she looked when I finally looked into her eyes.

I got dressed quickly and quietly and then went down to my car. Before starting the car I checked my cellphone. Last night, Kayla and I had called our parents after we got back from the hospital, but besides that and a call to our respective workplaces, we’d ignored all calls. I had gotten a few calls from my best friend, Alexis, and I called her and put the phone on speaker. As the phone started ringing, I pulled out of the driveway.

“Hello,” Alexis said, her voice cool with annoyance. She was one of the most high maintenance people I’d ever met, but we’d been friends since grade school.

“Sorry I didn’t call you back last night,” I said and with a sigh added, “I was at the hospital.”

There was a beat of silence. “How’s Kayla?” Alexis asked, trading her annoyance for concern. There was no love lost between Kayla and Alexis, they’d disliked each other from the moment they met due to circumstance as well as their actual lack of compatibility. And Alexis saying that the first failed pregnancy could very well be a dodged bullet hadn’t exactly helped Kayla warm up to her. It wasn’t until she realised how serious we were about having a baby that Alexis, at the very least, kept her opinion to herself and had gradually started to respect Kayla for her tenacity.

“She’s got preeclampsia. They said it’s mild but they’ve put her on bedrest and gave her some medication to lower her blood pressure,” I said, feeling like the words had lost all meaning since the first time I’d had to say them two and half years ago.

“How’s the baby? Is he okay?” Alexis asked, but she didn’t sound very optimistic either.

“Yes. They said so far the baby seems healthy. And the doctors said since it didn’t start as early as the previous two pregnancies that the probability of her getting to 30 weeks is higher,” I said. The tone of my voice sounded like it was begging Alexis to agree with me, even if it was a lie. However, Alexis was honest to a fault and the most she offered as way of kindness was no answer at all. I sighed, giving up, and asked, “What was up that you called so many times?”

“You know how I’m still friends with Michael?” Alexis asked.

My knuckles turned as white as they had been during my first ever driving lesson at the mention of Michael but I forced myself to loosen my grip. “Yes,” I said when Alexis paused long enough to show her question wasn’t rhetorical even though I wasn’t likely to forget after all the fights we’d had about it.

“He asked me to be one of his bridesmaids.”

I frowned at my phone as I tried to process it and then quickly looked back at the road, taking one steadying breath and then another. Alexis really should have known better than to tell me the news while I was driving. Except it didn’t really matter, I supposed, this didn’t bother me. It couldn’t bother me. “Well? Did you say yes?” I asked, when I could trust my voice again. My voice sounded strained, not nearly as nonchalant as I’d wanted.

“I think that’s really besides the point.”

“Then why did you call to announce it?”

“Oh, come on, Robert.”

“What? What reaction are you really expecting from me right now; Alexis?” I said, starting to raise voice and consequently giving away the fact that telling myself I didn’t care wasn’t enough to convince myself of the fact.

“Michael is getting married, Robert, married,” Alexis said in a patronisingly slow voice.

“Yes, I’m familiar with the concept, considering that I married Kayla,” I said, matching her tone.

“But you only married her because she was pregnant. And it’s not going well, even if she has the baby you’re still not happy with her. Hell, you looked depressed at your own fucking wedding,” Alexis said.

“I wasn’t depressed, I was nervous. And somebody with a fucking heart would realise how incredibly difficult it is for parents to lose their child no matter how much they love each other.”

“I’m not saying it was ea-”

“No, you’re just saying I should leave my wife for someone who has clearly moved on. So go, be his fucking bridesmaid, why not? Really drive home the idea that you’re the worst friend ever,” I snapped and hung up my phone.

My breathing was laboured from all the warring emotions going on inside me. I knew that the emotion that was supposed to permeate through everything was that Kayla had preeclampsia. And while it was a huge factor, the news of Michael’s engagement piled on top of it and I felt almost like I was suffocating under the pressure of everything that was going on. Part of me wanted to call Alexis back and yell at her, tell her that it was unfair of her to tell me this now, after having nearly no sleep and the insurmountable fear that I was going to lose another child and that my marriage was going to fall apart. But it wouldn’t be of any use because it didn’t change anything, I knew now, and I couldn’t help but feel that maybe I deserved my marriage to fall apart if the news of Michael moving on hurt this much. I wasn’t allowed to care, I didn’t have the right to care. Not after everything.

Yet I found myself taking the first exit out of town and letting muscle memory lead me down the route I had travelled so many times until I was outside of Michael’s apartment complex. For a while, I just stared up at the windows on the third floor that I knew were Michael’s. Or had been Michael’s. It hadn’t occurred to me until I was parking in one of the guest spots allotted for 3B that I didn’t actually know that Michael hadn’t moved. I almost wanted for him to have moved because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there. It’s not like I could hold Michael accountable for a relationship that had ended three years ago. Especially since the reason for the break up was almost entirely my fault and then I married Kayla so, despite what Alexis liked to think about soulmates and Michael being “the one”, there was no way to salvage that relationship. And even though that was all true, I still couldn’t swallow down the narcissistic feeling that Michael had betrayed me because it wasn’t supposed to hurt. Maybe I deserved it, after everything I had done to him, but a part of me couldn’t stand the thought of Michael being happier than I was.

I got out of the car and went up the stairs to his flat, remembering the hot July day in which I helped Michael move all his belongings up the stairs. We’d just gotten the mattress inside when Michael tossed himself on top of it and with a boyish smirk told me to give him his housewarming present and then rolled his eyes and hooked his foot around the underside of my knee when I told him I’d left the potted plant in the car. I wondered if he still had the plant.

When I got to his door, I hesitated for a few seconds before I rang the doorbell. There was a part of me that half-expected no one to open the door or that if someone did then that someone wouldn’t be Michael. I knew that if Michael were standing on my doorstep, I wouldn’t have answered the door. Then again, he had always been better at confrontation and less of a coward than I was, which was exemplified when the door opened before I could even entertain the idea that no one was home. Michael looked good, better than he had three years ago. He was still tall but leaner than he had been, his arms more muscled than before, and I wonder where the decision to work out came from when I could barely convince him to help me carry groceries up the stairs. His hair was longer and combed in a stylish, unkempt kind of hairstyle with his fringe gelled up like he was a teenager instead of a man that was pushing thirty. He was dressed nicer, like he had more money even though he still lived in the same apartment as he had three years ago. There was also an air of self-confidence and maturity that certainly hadn’t been there before.

A better person than I would have been happy for him. In turn, I resented him for growing into a different and seemingly better person when I still felt like relatively the same person I had been three years ago when I left this apartment for the last time. It was as if any personal growth was dependant on Kayla either giving birth to a living child or finally giving up and leaving me.

“Decided to take a break from playing the role of heterosexual father and husband?” Michael asked, feigning brightness. That certainly wasn’t the warm and heartfelt greeting I had imagined up when Kayla wasn’t around to make me feel guilty for pining over my old ex-boyfriend. Not that I thought those had been realistic but I had also counted on never having to talk to him again and finding out how far off base I was. He didn’t even muster up the energy to look surprised by my sudden appearance, he looked like he had been expecting this sooner or later and I supposed that we never did really talk apart from me telling him that Kayla, a woman he’d met in passing, was pregnant with my baby.

I frowned at him. “Are you being an asshole or did Alexis actually not tell you?”

“What?”

Even despite the roll of his eyes, Michael really didn’t seem to have an idea what I was talking about. Although it didn’t really look like he cared either. “I’m not a father yet.”

For a second, Michael looked torn between looking confused and not reacting at all. With a sigh he finally chose the former and pulled the door back to let me into his flat. “Alexis doesn’t talk about you and Kayla, I asked her not to.”

“Kayla got preeclampsia twice, well, three times now I guess. The last two babies had to be delivered before 30 weeks and didn’t live,” I said, trying to keep my voice as emotionless as I could as I went inside. He had completely new furniture to replace all the old furniture I had helped him pick out from yard sales and secondhand stores a long time ago when he was still budgeting to even have his own place. “You’re doing well as a realtor then?”

“Well enough,” Michael said, frowning now. “I didn’t know. Whatever happened I still wouldn’t have said that if I had. My condolences.”

“It’s fine,” I said, referring more to the implicit apology that the actual matter. He nodded once, to understood he got it. “So let me see the ring.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Michael asked, pursing his lips. He didn’t look like a very expressive person at a first glance, but his eyes made me feel the judgement in every fibre of my being. However, I still didn’t miss the way his thumb traced over the inside of the silver band that was on his ring finger. I felt a pang of something that felt a lot like jealousy deep inside my stomach.

“I was in the neighbourhood, I wanted to congratulate you,” I said in a falsely cheery tone. Michael raised an eyebrow and I plastered a smile on my face. “So congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Michael said flatly. He indicated toward the door and said, “If that’s all, I have to start getting ready for a house viewing.”

I shook my head and walked farther into the living room so that I was by the window and Michael gave me an exasperated look. “Of all people, why would you choose Alexis as one of your bridesmaids? She was going to be a bridesmaid at our wedding!”

Michael started laughing. “Our wedding? There was no ‘our wedding.’ It would have taken nothing short of holding you up at gunpoint to get you to the altar and I’m pretty sure the guests would have frowned upon that.”

“That’s besides the point.”

“Alexis isn’t one of my bridesmaids. Her cousin is one of them, it probably just gave her the inspiration to come up with a good enough excuse to tell you I was engaged,” Michael said. “Maybe you should ask her not to talk about Evan and me.”

I didn’t think asking Alexis to do anything would work, not from me. Michael was always the type that got angry enough to make someone regret they got them angry in the first place. Nothing short of that would convince Alexis to mind her own business, which is also why Michael’s theory didn’t sound far-fetched to me. It was batshit enough to fit Alexis’ MO. However, I still needed a reason to be pissed off. “It’s not a role, me liking women,” I said finally.

Michael rolled his eyes and sat down in the armchair. “It’s been three years. You really want to do this now?”

“No, it’s just – God, you never just fucking listen to me,” I said, getting frustrated because Michael always acted like he already knew what I was going to say. He decided on his reaction and what he was going to say without the slightest doubt that I might actually have a point.

“Because I really don’t give a fuck what you have to say about situation,” Michael said. “You like women? Fine, great, lots of people do, that’s not the problem. That was never the problem. The problem is you want so bad to be straight that you couldn’t come to grips with liking men when you were with one.”

“Because I don’t like men, I was just confused,” I said. I had said the same thing to Kayla, Alexis and my parents. So far the only people who had bought it were my parents and I had a feeling that’s just because they wanted to believe it. They never fully accepted my relationship with Michael, although they tried to pretend they were fine with it but even after years they never accepted him like they accepted Kayla the moment they heard we were getting married despite the fact that she was pregnant.

“No you weren’t,” Michael said, waving his hand dismissively. “You didn’t want to be gay, but you weren’t confused about it.”

“Does your fiancé get annoyed when you tell him how he feels and thinks?” I snapped.

“I don’t know, I’ve never had to do it with him,” Michael said. “And if you’re so straight that you didn’t love me, didn’t enjoy the sex, didn’t like me even a little then why are you here yelling at me about how Alexis should have been our bridesmaid and not leaving after I tell you she’s not?”

“We never talked about it,” I said frowning and sitting down. “I just don’t want you to get married without ever talking about it.”

“Kayla was pregnant, Robert, there was nothing to talk about,” Michael said slowly. “And there’s nothing to talk about now. You’re married, I’m engaged.”

“But I don’t like how things ended.”

“Well if you didn’t want things to end the way they did then you shouldn’t have cheated on me for six months or at the very least, you should have used a fucking condom,” Michael said.

“I’m sorry, okay?” I said, my voice weakening. “I’m really, really sorry.”

“I don’t care,” Michael said and when I frowned at him he shook his head and said, “I don’t care. You cheated on me, you got someone pregnant, you married her and now you come here so that I can tell you it’s all fine, no hard feelings, just because you apologised? No, fuck that. You’re not forgiven. Feel guilty for the rest of you life, I really don’t care. Or you can go home, forget about me and be with your wife who is apparently going through hell to have your baby.”

Michael stood up, walked over to the door and opened it, clearly conveying he wanted me to leave. It was the same as three years ago. After I told him Kayla was pregnant he stayed silent for a full minute before nodding once, then twice and then saying, “Congratulations. Get out.” And then when I tried to insist he talk to me he opened the door and told me to to get out before he threw me out. I stood up and walked over to the door but stopped when I was in front of him.

“We were together for seven years, Michael. You don’t care at all?” I asked, my voice sounding like I was pleading with him.

“I care as much as you cared three years ago,” Michael said coldly, his gaze steady as he looked me in the eyes.

I shook my head because I’d cared, I really had, about our relationship, about us. It’d been a relief, yes, to meet Kayla, to get to know her, to fall in love with her and get the confirmation that I could have the life I’d always told Michael I wanted. To get married, buy a house, to have children, maybe even grandchildren. He’d always grabbed my hand or kissed me on the cheek and told me that I could have that, that he wanted that too. And I didn’t think he was lying, but it wasn’t the same, it had never been the same as dating a girl in high school. I’d never had to deal with the disapproval of my friends and family; the only person who had ever really even supported our relationship was Alexis and it had still taken her three years to get used to the idea. Everything that I doubted I could have with Michael was what I had with Kayla. But Kayla had never changed what I felt toward Michael and the life I had with him. I’d cared, but it felt nice to just feel normal for once.

Regardless, I still walked out the door and let it shut behind me because Michael didn’t look like he was willing to listen to me and anyways, he was right, I should be with Kayla right now. Talking to Michael hadn’t really changed anything, I still felt hurt and overwhelmed. If anything, it had just added to my current frustration. Everything with Michael still felt open-ended, even if it wasn’t. I wondered if I’d always feel like that in regards to Michael. Like there should have been more because whatever our relationship may have lacked, there was something there that I didn’t have with Kayla and that I selfishly hoped he didn’t have with Evan. Because in all seven years of being with Michael, even when things were bad, even when we fought and went to sleep angry, I was never not glad to wake up and find him next to me.


I generally don’t like author’s notes but oh well:

1.) My general process is to edit something until I do a read-through where I can’t find a mistake. However, I have read this ten times and found problems every single times and I need to move on with my life and from this post. So, sorry about the mistakes.

2.) I’ve argued with myself a bit about whether or not I wanted and/or needed to add a note about this. From my point of view, I don’t think I’m making any biphobic or homophobic statements in this story but I also don’t want anyone to in anyway misinterpret my intentions. Robert is 100% in love with Kayla. And he was 100% in love with Michael. There’s a recurring theme of soulmates in a lot of my work, which might be why his romantic attraction and interests tend toward Michael stronger, but definitely not because I consider any relationship to be more valid than the other.

Along the same line of thinking, Robert did not cheat on Michael with someone of the opposite sex because I agree with the rhetoric that that’s just what bisexual people do, I tried to be as transparent as possible in that he cheated on him because he himself did not want to be bisexual. And finally, the word bisexual is never used in this story is because many bisexual people end up either identifying or being represented by other people as either straight or gay depending on who their partner ends up being or who they’ve been with in the past, which in turn ends up invalidating either their past or current relationship. I think it is clear that invalidating the person who Robert spent seven years of his life with or invalidating his wife who he is trying to start a family with would be incorrect because those are two people and two relationships that he unarguably cares about. The point was to show that and I hope that came through.

xxx

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