Thursday night, I talked to my sister Alice more about having Kimball’s baby for them. They’d been trying for ten years, had one miscarriage, and now Kimball was sick again, in the hospital again. I think we all knew this would be one of the last times.
“I’m thirty-six, Alice. I might not be able to get pregnant either,” I said. I was making lemon chicken at their house. She was sitting on the counter, making little braids in her white-blonde hair. “Why not do something with the sperm while there’s a chance Kimball could be a part of something? At least he could know his baby was going to be born.” They’d had Kimball’s sperm frozen before he started treatment.
Alice didn’t answer. “Dylan’s flight comes in at two on Saturday. Can you pick him up at the airport? I can’t leave work.” Dylan was Kimball’s 19-year-old brother.
I looked hard at her. “Sure.” I shook some garlic salt over the chicken.
Alice got off the counter and hugged me. “I want to get to the hospital.”
“I’ll leave the chicken in the oven for you. Think about what I said.”
“Veronica, it’s just too weird. I’m thinking, though. Love you.” She left.
The week before, when I’d told Alice about my idea, she laughed, out loud laughed, like she thought I was making a weird joke. It made sense to me. I was between jobs and for months had been doing what I could for them: taking Kimball to the doctor and his treatments, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning. Alice was always at work, trying make up for Kimball’s lost income. I was family. They had always wanted a baby.
She did not know that I’d been pregnant by Kimball before, when I was twenty. Neither of them knew. We’d only been together a few months. I was young, and scared, not interested in having a child, so I had an abortion. We broke up soon after, but stayed friends, and a few years later he started seeing my older sister.
After I cleaned up the kitchen I went into Alice and Kimball’s bedroom. I’d re-decorated it when Kimball had first been diagnosed. The bedding was plush: thick red velvet comforter, tons of oversized pillows. The comforter was on the floor and I picked it up and smoothed it on the bed, wondering what room might be converted for the nursery.
Friday morning Kimball had a feeding tube surgically put in his stomach so he could give himself fluids and wouldn’t have to keep getting hooked up to IVs.
That afternoon I took a pot of vegetable soup and a spinach casserole over to their house. Kimball wouldn’t be able to eat anything but Alice needed stuff for Dylan’s visit. Kimball was on the couch in clean blue pajamas. The top looked like a business shirt. He was looking at the TV, which was not on. I wanted to curl up with him.
“Food smells good,” he said. “Can you pick me up at the center tomorrow?”
“Of course.” We didn’t say “cancer center.” We didn’t say “cancer.” I put everything away and stretched out on the other couch, using a tangle of blankets as a pillow.
“What did you do last night?” he asked, still staring at the TV.
“Went to the Barbary, played some pool. Ran into a bunch of people. Forrest and Maggie said to tell you they miss you.”
“Who else? Fill me in.”
“Wait,” I said. “I want to ask you something. Has Alice talked to you?”
He turned on his side, his hand on his stomach over the feeding tube. “The baby?” He smiled. “I like it. A lot. But it’s completely her decision, of course.”
That burned for a second. I wanted him to want to fight for it. “Who knows if it would even work? It just seems worth a try.”
“Too bad I’m not up to trying the old fashioned way,” he said. I laughed. “Tell me about the Barbary.”
I started to tell him about the night, but noticed his eyelids shutting. A few minutes later he was asleep. I shut my eyes and folded my hands over my chest.
Alice woke me up when she came in at seven. I was disappointed to see that Kimball wasn’t on the other couch anymore.
I stretched, twisted my hair in a knot on top of my head. “So, Kimball said he liked the idea about the baby.”
Alice looked irritated. “I know. We talked about it.”
She sat on the couch and pulled her boots off. “It would be so complicated.”
I knew it was weird. It felt weird to me too, but it felt right, and urgent. “I just think we should grab opportunities when they come our way.”
“But we don’t have to decide right now. The stuff—the sperm—will be there,” she said.
I controlled my voice. “But if we wait, Kimball won’t get to know that he’ll have a baby.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes.
“I’d pretty much given up on the idea of getting pregnant, and then he got sick. But I do want his baby.” She shook her head. “If I can’t have it, you are the next best thing.”
Kimball padded out of the bedroom in his socks. “Next best thing to what?” he asked.
Alice and I looked at each other. “To me,” she said. “As the mother of your child.”
“I wouldn’t really be the mother,” I said. “I’d be a surrogate. It’d be your baby. Both of yours.”
“It would be all of ours,”Alice said. “We’ll be two mommies. You’re just about married to us anyway.”
Kimball scratched his foot on the hardwood floor. “I’d love to know that I’m leaving a child behind.”
“What do we do?” I asked Alice.
“I’ll call the fertility guy next week. We should talk to him, all of us. Can’t hurt.” She picked up her boots. “I’m still not sure, but I can kinda see this working.”
“Call him first thing Monday,” Kimball said. “If we’re going to do this, I want to get it rolling.”
I got up early the next morning and went shopping. I bought a short-sleeved black dress, in case something happened with Kimball in the next month or so. It wouldn’t work for winter, though. On the way to pick up Kimball, Les—Kimball’s best friend—called my cell phone. I thought about not answering.
Les and I had been off and on for years. We weren’t into commitment and had nothing in common besides Kimball and Alice. He was basically a good guy, but he’d always end up doing something stupid and I’d be upset for a few days. Then months or years would go by and in a fit of loneliness, we’d start it all again. It was easy to be with him, and Kimball and Alice.
It had been over a year since we were last together, and it would never happen again, I was determined. I knew he’d come sniffing back around, and I liked the attention, but after Kimball got sick I decided it was time to start living my life differently. I wasn’t going to waste my time anymore.
“How’s Kimball?” he asked.
I updated him, then asked, “What do you think about me using Kimball’s frozen sperm to have a baby for him and Alice?”
“Is that the plan?”
“We’re going to see a specialist next week.”
“Give me a break, Veronica,” he laughed. “Anyway, I’ll probably swing up this weekend. And if Dylan’s in the guest room at their house, where am I sleeping?”
“Looks like couch time, babe.” I wasn’t going to give him an inch. “Gotta run. See you this weekend, maybe.”
Kimball was waiting outside.
“Howdy,” I said as he got in the car. “Want to go to the airport?”
He looked straight ahead, then shut his eyes and leaned back into the cracked black leather seat. “I need to go home.”
“Not a problem.” I rolled down my window. Kimball always smelled different after radiation, like singed dryer sheets.
“Thanks, baby.” His eyes were still shut and I wasn’t sure he remembered who was driving him.
After I dropped him off I was headed for the airport to get Dylan and got a mile down the interstate when I teared up. It wasn’t the first time I’d cried about Kimball, but it wasn’t usual.
I pulled off at a Wal-mart and bought some eyedrops. I went into the smelly bathroom and washed my face, then locked a stall and sat down to redo my makeup. I sang to the car radio the rest of the way to the airport.
I recognized Dylan as soon as I saw him; he looked just like Kimball did when we were in college, when I was dating him. Shaggy, blond, and laughing. He kissed my cheek. He was debonair, like Kimball. He was so tall that I felt like a child walking next to him.
In the car we did small talk for a bit, then he turned to me and said, “Can we stop somewhere and get a drink? I’m not ready.”
I tried to remember the bars off the highway, then realized he was nineteen. “You’re not allowed to drink.” He grinned at me, and I rolled my eyes. I pulled into a Ruby Tuesdays.
After we ordered glasses of wine—red for me, white for him—Dylan asked, “Okay, how bad is it?” He turned his head to the side and popped his neck. The Tiffany-style lamp overhead cast green and red light on his face.
I told him how bad it was. The waitress brought our wine and after she left I put my hand on his forearm. He flexed it a little. “You’ll be fine,” I said.
He nodded and leaned back, running his hands through his hair. “Still sleeping with Les?”
“Shut up,” I said, tilting my glass into his. “Here’s to better days.”
We had a couple more glasses and were soon pals. Back in the car I told him about my idea to have Alice and Kimball’s baby.
“I’d love to see the family extended,” he said. “Very cool, Veronica.”
At their house, Kimball was on the couch and struggled to sit up.
“Don’t get up, don’t get up.” Dylan bent over Kimball and they hugged. I straightened throw pillows. Dylan stood back up and pulled me over, put his arm around me. “Sorry we’re running late. This one tried to get me drunk on the way home.”
Kimball laughed and said, “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I nudged Dylan in the ribs.
“Make yourself another, little brother. Veronica will show you the bar.”
I grabbed two Waterford goblets from the china cabinet and rinsed the grime out, and opened a bottle of wine. Dylan came into the kitchen. “He’s weak, for sure,” he said, “but he really doesn’t look that bad. I was expecting worse.”
“Hang around a few weeks. We’ve been promised much worse.”
He looked crushed and I felt like a jackass. I opened my mouth to apologize, but instead patted him on the shoulder. We looked away from each other and went back to Kimball.
Dylan and I drank into the evening. Kimball didn’t talk much, but he was enjoying the party. It made me happy to see him happy. Dylan often punctuated things by pressing his forehead against mine, especially when he was telling dirty jokes.
Alice got home after dark. Dylan and I both got up and hugged her, and the three of us stood at the doorway. She finally turned to Kimball and asked how he was feeling. He shrugged. Dylan winked at me.
Kimball offered me one of his muscle relaxants. I took one; I was nervous. I couldn’t stop thinking about the baby. Plus I didn’t know if Les was going to show up.
“You’re going to run through those awfully quick,” Alice said, and looked at me.
Next time she got up I followed her into the kitchen and apologized. I wanted to start being more responsible, and I wanted her to know that.
“It’s okay.” She opened the fridge and got a bottle of water. “Guess what I did today on my lunch break?”
“I’m just glad you took a lunch break.” I took the bottle from her and had a sip. “What did you do?”
She smiled. “I went to the Purple Turtle and looked at baby clothes.”
“Aw.” I hugged her. “Wonderful, Alice.”
“I’m getting pretty excited.” She went to their bedroom to change clothes.
Back in the living room I sat down by Dylan, jubilant. Our whole family was pulling together. I got the hiccoughs and Dylan patted my back.
The next morning Kimball felt well enough to go to Sunday brunch at the Fairview Hotel. We dressed up. He drank sweet tea and we ate eggs Benedict over sirloins and drank Bellinis.
As we were leaving, I heard Dylan ask Alice if he could borrow her ring. In front of the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the gardened courtyard, he grabbed my arm and turned me around. He got down on one knee and I looked around the restaurant. Kimball was at the entrance, watching us. Dylan asked me to marry him, and everyone clapped while Alice stepped around us.
I said sure, and we got our meal free.
That afternoon, back at the house, we all sat outside and drank beer. Kimball kept resting his head on the wrought iron table, laughing every now and then. He had criss-cross impressions from the metal table on his forehead every time he sat up. Dylan chased me through the sprinklers, and I was drunk and muddy when Les pulled up. The sun was just starting to set.
Les was holding hands with a girl. Becky was young, with a big nose and too many freckles. She had a friendly smile but was really quite hideous. We all headed inside and Kimball said, “Nice to finally meet you, Becky. Want a beer?”
He went to the kitchen and came back with beer for everyone, including himself. Becky asked to use the restroom.
“Kimball,” Alice said, “are you sure you should try to drink that? You barely got your tea down today.”
He opened his bottle of muscle relaxants and tapped a couple in his mouth, swallowed them with the beer.
Alice muttered, “For Christ’s sake.”
“He’s in pain, let the guy do what he wants, Alice,” Les said.
“Don’t tell her what to do. That’s her husband,” I said. I looked at Kimball but he and Les were staring at each other.
Becky came out from the bathroom and I went in, tried to get some of the mud off my calves. I cleaned up around the sink, where Becky had splashed, taking my time. I didn’t want to go back out. Les was being a jerk. He’d been like this with me once or twice, but never in front of people.
Back in the living room, Becky was telling Kimball about her grandmother’s cancer. Kimball looked just past her, out the window. Les asked Dylan about college. I went and sat down by Alice.
“Thanks for defending me,” she said.
“No problem. Anything for the mother of our baby,” I joked.
Les heard us. “What?”
“Nothing,” Alice and I said at the same time.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he went on.
“You’re going to have her baby?” Becky pointed at me, then Alice, then Kimball. “Their baby?”
Les stood up. “This house does not need a baby. And Veronica is not who you want to be the mother of your child, Kimball.”
Dylan stood up too, and faced Les, standing close to him. “I think it’s a great idea. I’d love to have a little niece or nephew, see the family line carried on. And it’s very generous of Veronica.” He pulled me into the kitchen. I heard Becky say that she agreed.
In the kitchen he whispered, “Interesting girl. What’s up with Les? He acts like he owns the place.”
“He and Kimball have been friends forever.”
”He’s not family.” He grabbed a bottle of Stoli and went back into the living room. “Circle of Death, anyone?” I heard him say. I followed him. He explained that it was a drinking game, and I remembered that he was only in college.
As we played I kept looking at Becky. I liked that she disagreed with Les. Finally I said, “Thanks for your support, Becky.”
“No problem.” She snapped her gum. “So, it will be yours and Kimball’s actual baby, but you and Alice will raise it as hers and Kimball’s?”
Les interrupted. “Kimball, you’re an idiot if you let this happen. I’m not going to let it happen. Even if you’re gone, I’ll make sure it doesn’t. You don’t want Veronica involved in your life like that, trust me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“You know what it means,” he said. “It’s not like you haven’t been pregnant with his baby before, Veronica.”
Everyone looked at me. I had told him one night, probably ten years before. We hadn’t discussed it since and I’d almost forgotten I told him.
“What?” Alice said.
Les turned to her and said, “Why would you want a baby? Would you spend any time raising it? You’ve barely spent any time with your dying husband.”
“I’m sorry, my friend, but you can’t talk to her like that.” Kimball tried to stand up but didn’t have the energy. “She’s my wife. This is my family.”
Dylan was angry. “One you’re not a part of,” he said to Les.
“It’s okay, Dylan,” Kimball said. “What’s going on here?” he asked Les. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Veronica being pregnant before, but I don’t have any problem with her carrying my child.”
“Are you kidding me? She’s crazy. She’s never gotten over you, and is trying to hold on any way she can. She’s always with you guys, she’s never gotten married, the most substantial relationship she’s had is with your best friend. Now she’s trying to have your kid.”
“She’s not crazy,” Alice said, but wouldn’t look at me. “Just because you couldn’t make sense of her doesn’t mean we can’t.” She headed towards their bedroom. “Veronica?” she said without looking back.
I waited a second, then went in, and shut the door. She was sitting on the bed.
“Tell me,” she said.
I wanted to sit down by her but didn’t. “Back when we were dating. Before you met him.”
“You didn’t tell him?”
“No. We weren’t that serious. It just wasn’t the right time.”
She leaned back into the big pillows. “Why didn’t you tell me? I thought we told each other everything.”
“I don’t know, Alice. I just wanted it to be done with.”
“Do you still have feelings for Kimball?”
“I love Kimball.” I didn’t know what else to say. I couldn’t explain to Alice what I didn’t understand myself. She still hadn’t met my eyes. “No. Not like that.”
She was quiet for a minute, then motioned for me to join her on the bed. I sat down, my jeans dragging across the velvet.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” she said. “I would have been there for you.”
“I’m sorry too, Alice.”
She hugged me. “We have bigger things to worry about,” she said. “I don’t think I can do this baby thing now. I know I can’t. This makes it feel very wrong.”
“The baby has nothing to do with the abortion.”
“I’m sorry, but no. It’s not right.”
“Kimball wants this baby,” I said.
“Kimball’s not going to be around to see this baby born. There is no ‘this’ baby. He and I agreed it’s my decision. My decision is no.”
I went out to the living room.
“You’ve got to talk to her. She’s changed her mind,” I said to Kimball.
Les started laughing. “Good. I’ll be damned if I see you hijack this family. Get your own life, Veronica,” he said.
“Goddammit, Les,” Kimball stood up and took two lopsided steps before he fell. We all looked at him on the floor for a second, then Dylan picked him up and carried him to the bedroom.
I shouldn’t have driven home, but I had to get away. I opened a bottle of wine and sat down at my kitchen table. I felt like I hadn’t been at my house in days. I drank a glass while I watched a ladybug crawl towards me.
I understood why it was creepy to Alice, to think that maybe I wanted this baby to replace the one I didn’t have, or to hold onto Kimball in some way. But I wanted her to respect my relationship with him. And I did want a part of him that wasn’t Alice’s. Something to authenticate my relationship with him. Maybe that’s what she was most scared of.
There was a knock at the door. Dylan was crying.
“Hey, it’s okay,” I said, “Come, sit down.”
He did, and put his head in his hands. “This is too much.”
I poured him a glass of wine and refilled mine and sat Indian-style on the couch next to him. I started laughing and couldn’t stop.
“It is pretty bad,” I finally said. “I’ve gotten so used to it, I’d forgotten how horrible it all is, until you got here. What an awful night.”
He leaned his head against the back of the sofa and looked at the ceiling. “God damn, Becky is one ugly lady.”
We both laughed. After a few minutes he wiped his eyes, and turned to face me, also sitting Indian-style. “Thanks.” He tilted his forehead against mine and we laughed again but didn’t pull away. I closed my eyes and for a second it felt like I was with Kimball. I kissed him.
After a while I got up and walked around the living room, stopping to arrange picture frames. Pictures of Kimball, me and Alice, Kimball and Alice. Dylan watched me. I went into my bedroom. He followed, and we didn’t say a word as we made love.
After he left, I rinsed our wine glasses and made some hot tea.
I woke up at noon Monday when Kimball called from the center and needed a ride. “Dylan’s not answering the phone at home, probably still asleep.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I just put a bra on under my t-shirt and left on my pajama bottoms, and brushed my teeth. Kimball had seen me look far worse.
He seemed healthier than he had in days, finally having some fluids. He asked if I minded if he drove. “I won’t tell Alice. It’s fine. I feel good today.”
I held out the keys, and he took them and flipped over my hand and kissed the back of it. We traded places.
He started the car and adjusted the mirrors and the seat, then turned to me. “I’m not going to be around, Veronica, so I have to leave this baby stuff up to Alice. And right now she’s saying no.”
I watched a UPS truck pull up to the center.
“She could change her mind, in a few months, a few years. She might not. She probably won’t.” He tapped my leg, and I looked at him. “I adore you for offering. You know that, right?”
I nodded and he leaned over and kissed me. Once on the mouth, then the forehead, then the mouth again. Then he sat back and started the car.
I put in an Allman Brothers CD. On the way home, we pretended we were them. Kimball drummed the steering wheel, I had guitar, and we were both on vocals.
Photo Source: Babble