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A Missing Heart(9)

By´╝ÜShari J. Ryan

Or not.

“AJ,” she says quietly.

I open my eyes and perk up, finding her standing in a towel, dripping wet, with tears running down her cheeks. “Babe, what’s wrong? Are you okay? Did something happen?” I’m up, on to my feet holding Gavin and repositioning him so he doesn’t wake up.

“I’m just—I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting.” What suddenly brought this to the surface for her? She’s been acting “off” since she was seven-months pregnant.

“We’ve had a lot going on. I understand. You don’t have to apologize,” I offer. “There’s nothing easy about being new parents.”

“Do you think we’d still be together if it weren’t for…” she peers down at Gavin, who looks so peaceful right now, “…him?”

I look right at her while she’s asking me this question. It’s a question I’ve debated the answer to many times before. We had been dating for only a few months when we found out she was pregnant. Things were incredible—the connection between us was something I hadn’t felt since I had been with Cammy, and I did think things were going to work out with us for the future. I even kept her existence hidden from the family for a few months, in fear of someone saying something to mess things up with her.

“Why are you asking me this now?”

She glances down toward her polished toes and the short strands of her wet, midnight-black hair fall in front of her face as droplets of water hit the ground. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’ve needed to tell you for a while, but I haven’t had the strength to say it.” Why won’t she look at me?

“T, look at me,” I tell her. “What is it?” Whatever it is, there’s anguish swimming within her large emerald eyes, and for the life of me, I don’t know what it could be.

“I have this guilt,” she begins to explain. Guilt? Did she cheat on me or something? If she did, it definitely wasn’t any time recently, I don’t think. All she has been doing is talking about the stretchmarks lining her body and the extra weight she can’t manage to get off. Personally, I think she looks amazing, especially given the fact that she gave birth to our nine-pound chunker just a few months ago, but Tori was one to care deeply about her looks and what people thought of her looks. Not in a shallow type of way but an insecure kind of thing. Since the day I met her in the supermarket, she’s been drop-dead gorgeous. Nothing has changed. I wish she’d believe that, though.

“You can tell me. It’s okay. Whatever it is, we can work through it,” because we’re together until death do us part. I hope.

“It’s ridiculous,” she tells me, laughing awkwardly.

“If it’s so ridiculous, why are you crying?” I ask her, starting to feel a little nervous about her difficulty in telling me whatever it is she needs to say. Tori doesn’t cry often. I’ve only known her to cry a few times in the year and a half we’ve been together, and it’s been due to a friend’s death, the day she found out she was pregnant, and the morning after the first sleepless night with Gavin.

“I feel like I’m living a lie,” she says.

“Like…your name isn’t Tori, or you’re a distant cousin kind of lie? What do you mean?” I ask, trying to sound a little less anxious than I feel.

“AJ.” She closes her eyes and pulls in a long shuddering breath while shaking her head to shoo me off. “It’s nothing, forget I said anything.” Yeah, like that’ll happen. Why do women always say stuff like that? Obviously I’m not going to forget she just said that.

“No, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours, T.”

“I’m just overtired and I don’t know what I’m thinking right now. Can we just drop this?” she pleads.

Now it’s my turn to give her the silent nod. Yeah, we can dodge another one of these blank confessions she so often has. “You must have gotten a little sleep last night though, right?” Gavin is only waking up once in the middle of the night now but...I was the one who got up to feed him last night, the night before that, and the night before that. And...yeah, I get it, though. I do. She housed the kid for nine months and now it’s my turn. I want her to sleep. She’s happier when she’s rested, but I guess she’s not as rested as I thought.

I peer down at my watch, checking out the blaring nine o’clock warning. A warning because, in about five minutes, Hunter’s going to be calling me, wondering where I am. That guy and his schedule are untouchable, but I understand. Kids, school, dinner...it all owns a time in the day.