by Loretta Hamilton
“You okay doing this?” John asked with his hands still gripping the steering wheel. Susan gave him uncertain smile and said “it’s too late to back out now.” John sighed, “You’re always so practical.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be close by the whole time.” She slid out of the car and walked to the coffee shop. At the door she paused and took a deep breath before pulling the door open and entering. She had been nervous all morning, fidgeting in the car all the way here. Actually, she’d been nervous for the past week or two, but that was to be expected. After all, it had been 17 years since she had last seen Sammy.
John parked the car down the street and briskly walked back to the coffee shop. He saw Susan seated at a table near the rear of the cafe and the back of someone he presumed to be Sammy. They appeared to already be deep in conversation. John ordered a cup of coffee and sat near the front of the shop where Susan could see him and he could see her, just in case things didn’t go well.
His eyes wandered around the cafe before returning to Susan. Absentmindedly, he started twirling his wedding band. It would be two years next month, but having a ring on his finger still felt new. He wondered if they would have a third year anniversary. The ring twirled off his finger and pinged across the floor. Two people turned to look and he felt the heat rise in his cheeks as he bent down to retrieve his ring. “Guess she isn’t the only one who is fidgety,” he said, surprising himself when he realized he said it out loud. He replaced his ring and began to read the paper to distract him from the mission in progress.
Thirty minutes later Susan tapped John on the shoulder and he jumped, startled. “He’s left,” she said with a sad smile.
“How did it go? Did you tell him?” John asked.
“No.” Susan paused, breathing in deeply as if this was her first real breath in years. “I can’t. I want to, I really want to, but….” Her eyes became glassy and a small tear ran down her cheek.
John wrapped his arms around her, and she rested her head on his shoulder as a silent sob shook her body. He led her out of the coffee shop and to the car. As he opened the door for her, he asked “Are you okay?” She turned, looked at him lovingly and made a small smile through her tears.
“He is just so, so put together. Especially for being just 18. He’s going to college in the fall. I don’t want to mess with any of that.”
John kissed her forehead and closed her door. He got in the car and put the key in the ignition, then turned and looked Susan in the eyes. “Honey, how can you not tell him? This is important. It’s your life. It affects him too.”
Her eyes welled up with tears again. “But how can I tell him? It could ruin him. It nearly ruined me.”
He gently picked up her hand and held it between his. “It didn’t ruin you. You did nothing wrong. You were incredibly strong. You ARE incredibly strong. But not telling him, not letting him have a say, that could ruin him.”
She turned away from him just as lightening flashed in the sky, highlighting her profile. He loved her more than he had loved anyone and he was scared, really scared. He held her hand tighter so that she wouldn’t notice that his hands were shaking.
They had met almost 15 years ago. It was after, just after, her step-father had been convicted and incarcerated, but he hadn’t known that then. All he had seen was her caramel hair, her green-blue eyes and such a deep sadness. He made it his mission to make her smile, and, eventually, to laugh again. Over time she shared with him the bits and pieces of the hell she went through before they met: losing her father, being raped and impregnated by her step-father, giving up her baby for adoption, and seeing her stepfather convicted for what he had done to her. All that had been a lifetime before, so long ago it seemed almost unreal compared to the life they had made for themselves. But three weeks ago that all changed.
He squeezed her hand one more time and then turned the key in the ignition and started the long trip home.
Susan continued staring out the window into the now torrential rain. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket and looked at John. “It was so hard to give him up, but I wanted him to have a clean start. A real chance. No dark clouds. It was so hard to know what was right to do then—I was a child myself—but now I know, really know that I did the right thing and picked the right family.”
“Did you tell him that you are sick?”
“Did you at least tell him that you are his mom?”
Susan looked away and said nothing.
“Susan.” John’s voice cracked with a mixture of anger and fear. “This is real. You cannot remain on dialysis forever. You heard what the doctor said. Your time is running out.” He turned the car into the gas station a little too fast and slammed on the breaks.
“God damn you Susan! How could the kid not love you? You gave him life and a family that loved him. You are so incredibly strong, and yet so stupid! Do you want him to learn all that you did for him at your funeral? Am I the one who will have to tell him while he looks at your lifeless body in the coffin? Is that better?” John got out of the car, slamming the door shut and stormed his way to the convenience store, his tears mixing with the pouring rain.
Susan put her face in her hands and wept.
John bought a pack of Marlboro’s and tried to light one up, but the air was too wet. He tried two more cigarettes before giving up, tossing the pack into a puddle and crushing it with the heel of his boot. As he calmed down, he shivered in his wet clothes and noticed Susan still in the car weeping.
John went back into the shop and returned to the car with two cups of steaming coffee in a tray. He opened the car door and passed the coffee to Susan. She put his cup in the cup holder and took a long sip from her cup before placing it next to his.
“Honey, I cannot lose you. You are my world. You need to call him. Tonight. You need to tell him everything. Especially the sick piece. If he is your child, he will do what is right. Just like you did.”