I emerge from Veronica’s room after being with her for forty-five minutes and watching her fall asleep. Michael is sitting at his kitchen table, staring into space. I take a moment to simply look at him, hoping he doesn’t notice my staring.
He’s wearing a white undershirt, so his arms are bare, and my eyes are drawn to them, to the tattoo I haven’t seen since the divorce. A part of me wants to see the whole thing again, to gaze at the dark blue patterns on his chest and back, to run my hands over the familiarity of his torso. I don’t bother snapping out of that thought, not while I have these precious moments to look at him.
He has aged. We both have, obviously, but his hair has hints of grey and his face is more creased than I’ve ever seen it. Granted, I haven’t seen much of him over the past seven years. Because somehow, I know that if I spend too much time with him, I will end up forgiving him. And that’s something I can’t do.
But these are special circumstances. Our daughter is ill, so I am going to stay here with him for now. She comes first, regardless of how afraid I am to be alone with Michael.
His eyes snap onto me after a moment. “Do you want some coffee?” he asks, voice hoarse.
I nod, coming forward to join him at the table. It is strange to be in this apartment again. The last time I was here alone with Michael was for the most painful hour of my life.
He rises from the table, I sit.
“I want to take her to the hospital later today,” I tell him, leaning back against the chair. “She’s been sick too often lately, something could be seriously wrong.”
“I’m coming with you,” he replies without looking at me, turning on the coffee-maker.
“No you’re not.”
Now he turns around. “She’s my daughter, and I’m coming with you.” There’s an unfamiliar hint of anger to his voice and I tense at its presence. I’ve learned the hard way that there is a side to Michael I never really got to know. That he never cared to show me. “I have every right to know about her health. The court at least granted me that.”
The mention of our well-publicized divorce bothers me more than his assertions do. Memories of the humiliation come flooding back and I find myself glaring at him.
“Besides, what reason can you possibly have for not wanting me to come, other than spite? And Sara, I know you’re better than that.”
And that’s why I can’t spend time with him, he goes and says things like that even when I’m so perfectly awful to him and— “What if I’m not?” I whisper, ashamed at the weakness in my voice.
“You are,” he says simply, as though there were never anything more obvious in the world. “I know you.”
“Sometimes, you think you know someone,” I tell him significantly, trying not to glare and probably failing, “when you’ve really got no fucking clue.”
He avoids my eyes, but sits down across from me at the table nevertheless. “Touché,” he replies.
We sit in painfully awkward silence for a while. I wonder if he is also thinking about the last time I sat at this kitchen table, if he’s remembering the things I said to him. A wisp of guilt embraces my conscience for a moment before I firmly push it aside. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s beyond time to have moved on.
“So you’re seeing someone?” he finally mentions to break the silence, and my heart skips a beat, wondering if it hurts him to know that I’ve got someone else to fuck.
“Yeah.” I want to rub his face in it a little, but I resist the urge. We are not teenagers, although I’m tempted to be spiteful just to prove him wrong in his claim that he knows me.
“Do the kids like him?”
“He’s thinking about coaching Kyle’s soccer team.”
Michael’s eyes flash agony, just as I maybe wanted, but there’s no satisfaction gained from it. Instead, it hurts me too. But I can’t stop. “He’s outdoors-y. Making sure they get exercised, and that they’re well-rounded in learning their sports.”
“Is he responsible for their both knowing the batting order for the Yankees?”
I almost laugh, before I remember not to. “No, actually. He got them playing baseball, and Veronica found out from school that she could watch guys doing it professionally, and now they’re both really into the Yankees.”
“So you couldn’t convert them into Cubs fans, then?”
“Absolutely not. Veronica’s boyfriend is a diehard Yankees fan, so that’s what she’s familiar with.”
“A boyfriend?” Michael growls incredulously. “She’s eight!”
This time, I can’t control the laugh that slips from my lips. “Didn’t you have an elementary school girlfriend?”
He folds his arms in consternation. “No. Third-graders shouldn’t have significant others.”
“I think it’s adorable.”
A deep sigh lowers his shoulders. “If you say so.”
“Oh come on, Michael. At their age it’s just a label.”
He smiles sheepishly, and something clenches in my gut. God, I’ve missed that smile. That’s when I realize what I’m doing. I’m talking with my ex-husband, casually, as though it’s no big deal. As though it won’t lead me to inevitable disaster.
And suddenly, “Mommy!”
It’s a weak, horrible, frightening moan, and Michael and I both rush into Veronica’s room. She’s crying, shaking, and I feel her forehead.
“Let’s take her temperature,” Michael declares, dashing into the bathroom and emerging seconds later with a thermometer in his fingers.
It comes out at 104.2. “We need to take her now,” I tell him.
He nods apprehensively. “Can I come with, then?”
I look at him, at the fear that I’m sure is mirrored on my own face. And I give in.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Wow! It’s great to get all these reviews! Since I’m not one who normally gets lots of reviews, especially now that the show’s over and fandom’s shrinking, it really means a ton to me, so thank you everyone. I’m sorry this chapter took a long time, but school’s been kicking my ass for the past few weeks. The next few chapters should be coming at a much faster pace.