Despite our bodies and minds running nearly on empty, our eagerness to get home nudges us out of bed before the sunrise. Plus, we both carry mental shards that continue to pull the loose threads from our slumber. If it weren’t for my exhaustion and his jet lag, we might have not slept at all. I know I heard him stir during the simultaneous times I forced myself awake to push the images of Jacob from my thoughts. In fact, the boy in my dreams looked nothing like the young man who rode silently in my truck, yet my subconscious connected the emotions to the images leading me to the obvious conclusion that my ankle was healing faster than my head.
I expect Daniel’s restlessness stems from equal parts exhaustion, travel, professional frustration, and the embedded knowledge that his journeys abroad would continue. I, of course, continue to limp like a circus clown with only one oversized shoe, partially wanting to prop my foot up and also wishing we’d left last night, even if we were both in no condition to drive. So, as we pull ourselves from the sheets, we plod around the cluttered room, out of our routine, out of our familiar spaces, and out of sheer will to get ourselves home. We complete simple tasks – we brush our teeth, taking turns in the bathroom, he showers, I wash my face, we shove loose items into anything just to get our belongings to the car. We stop in the lobby for breakfast, and a cup of coffee for him, tea for me, and a piece of fruit each and we leave the warmth of Cheyenne.
Although it’s a snug fit for his full frame, he drives. I offer, knowing he might benefit from leaning the passenger seat back and using every inch of space, but he looks at my foot and says, “Absolutely not,” with his face. I don’t object. As we climb northward, the wind tosses the flurries across the hood of the car, reminding us we ought not to stop along the way, not that we have any such plans. Oddly, despite our separation and having a hotel room at the ready, we sleep only and proceed home still having not engaged in one of my favorite delights: welcome-home sex.
Despite being tired, I vow to stay awake and make conversation for the sake of our mutual alertness.
“So, what happens next?”
He responds uncharacteristically swiftly.
“Well, in about three and a half hours I-Twenty-Five will merge with I-Ninety and we’ll be almost home.” He glances at me and smiles.
Cheeky devil. I rub his shoulder affectionately.
“What’s next for what?”
“I don’t know…for you, for the project, for the firm, for whatever’s still going on overseas?”
“That’s a lot to unpack,” he answers after a pause of more appropriate length.
”It is, but we have four hours plus, so we might as well catch each other up.”
“Does that mean you telling me what’s going on with you?”
“I think we covered that last night.” Unless he wants to have a conversation about how our finances are impacted by the decisions his firm made yesterday, I think this is going to be more about him.
“As I recall, we left it that you were at the cabin and you didn’t tell me why. You also haven’t mentioned how long you are taking off from work.”
“We can talk about the cabin, but just so you know, I did winterize it before I left, so there’s no need to check up on me, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“No, Mrs. McClure, that’s not what I was thinking, but I would bet my last dollar on the likelihood that you did that after the ankle broke.”
“Why yes, I did. And given that you just put down a pile of your dollars on buying out, you know, Mitchell, you’d better hang on to every one of those you have left.” I try to be humorous, but it’s difficult to say Mitchell’s name and not cringe a little.
“I know, it’s not like us to talk about money, and I don’t need to know about what this is costing you, or us, or whatever. Mostly, I want to know about how you are managing with all of these added pressures on a project that was already steeped in memories from your own past.”
That was a mouthful, and a bit blunt, but I didn’t want him to think I was truly worried about the money.
“No, that thing you just did.”
“That thing you did when you said, ‘Mitchell.’ As I recall, that was the exact way you introduced me to your fish-friend, Jason.”
Wow, for a guy suffering from extreme jet lag, his senses are honed.
I bob and weave to avoid the subject, but I know at some point I will have to have that conversation.
He pokes at the topic. “You know something about Newbold, don’t you?”
“Yes. Let’s just say I’m not surprised by what you told me about him.”
“Oh really?” Clearly Daniel’s attention is piqued.
“Okay, yes. There’s a story there. But first I want to talk about you. And then, I promise, I will tell you what I know, but for the moment I will just say that he doesn’t deserve to be the lead story in this discussion.”
Daniel accepts my excuse, which should buy me plenty of time to figure out how to tell him what I know. For now, it’s my turn to ask the questions.
“So, you want to go back to Afghanistan when the baby is born?”
Thank goodness we have hours to go, because he’s already stalling for time and we’ve barely started this conversation.
“It’s not that I want to be there when the baby is born. I want to be there when the pregnancy ends so that I can make sure she gets settled and can move on with her life.”
“What do you think she’ll do?”
“She’ll have to give up the baby, I’m sure.”
“Did she tell you that? I mean, have you even had those kinds of discussions with her?” For all I know, they quite possibly haven’t spoken at all.
“Not in so many words, but I think that would make the most sense.”
“What do you think she’ll do when this is all behind her?”
“I’m not sure it will ever be behind her. I’m thinking between now and when the baby arrives, maybe I can find an organization that can sponsor her so she can perhaps relocate to another country, like the UK or something.”
I mull over that prospect for several miles. I know how it feels to abandon the only life you know, even if it is a crappy life. I cannot imagine if I had to move to Europe rather than Wyoming.
“That seems drastic, and incredibly difficult if she doesn’t know anyone.”
“Sure, but there are organizations that bring women, or families, or nationals from overseas to little hubs in western countries. You know, like the Somalis in Minnesota. Maybe we can find a sponsor family in the States where other Afghanis live.”
A bizarre little kernel begins to go to seed in my head.
“Would you ever consider bringing her here?”
“What if we sponsor her?”
Now it was his turn to be silent for miles.
“What would she do here?”
“Oh, I have no idea. I’m just thinking, if we can find a way to sponsor her here, you know maybe she could…”
He takes his eyes off the road to glance over at me. “Could what?”
“I don’t know, maybe she could keep the baby.”
Had it not been for her half-formed heart, I might be a single mother trying to make do with a child, and as difficult as that prospect feels in my current hobbled state, I think if we’re going to give her the chance of a new life, wouldn’t she want to have that chance along with her son or daughter?
I try to think of a way to vocalize that, to explain that, without making this about me, and I struggle to find the gentle words to convince Daniel that motherhood will never leave her, even if her child is no longer with her, so why not keep them together?
A few more miles and then the softest words come across the car at me, competing with the wind outside, “She could keep it.”
I love this man, and I love that he’s thinking about this as a real possibility. I love that he has that kind of courage to consider such a bold gesture of goodness to a stranger. At times, I am practically overcome with this life.
“It’s something to think about, and nothing we have to decide today, but if the paperwork is significant, it’s something that we might want to consider sooner rather than later. Otherwise, if she has to remain in country for a while after the baby arrives…”
“No. No, I want to get her out of there. I already feel like it’s too risky as I left it, but it was all I could do for now.”
“I am one hundred percent certain you did everything you could with the time you had.” He must have been a complete wreck trying to manage the project and the partners back in the states, and that fucking prick Mitchell, and a pregnant woman. I try to imagine him caring for a pregnant woman when he is making such a fuss over my broken ankle.
NEXT: The Secrets We Keep – Part 45